The late William Safire, conservative columnist and veteran of the Nixon White House, called the lie detector test a “form of torture” that “breeds the opposite of security.” Writing in The New York Times a decade ago, he said “the hit-and-miss machine” had been thoroughly “discredited.”
But this week, the nation’s top intelligence official announced that the government is expanding its use of the polygraph to expose federal employees who leak classified information to the media.
The testing could put intelligence workers at risk of being falsely stigmatized, jeopardizing their careers and their ability to contribute to the national security. It also could have a chilling effect on employees considering blowing the whistle on government wrongdoing, whistleblower advocates said.
“It is clearly at odds with everything we learned in our report,” said Stephen E. Fienberg, a professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University who led a 2003 National Research Council study of the use of polygraphs in security screenings.
Briefing a Senate committee on the study in 2003, Fienberg put it this way: “Unfortunately tests that are sensitive enough to spot most violators will also mistakenly mark large numbers of innocent test takers as guilty.”
In an interview with the Project On Government Oversight this week, Fienberg said the study’s findings still apply.
Additionally, over the last few years, Pakistanis have become less willing to work with the U.S. on efforts to combat extremist groups. While 50% still want the U.S. to provide financial and humanitarian aid to areas where extremists operate, this is down from 72% in 2009. Similarly, fewer Pakistanis now want intelligence and logistical support from the U.S. than they did three years ago. And only 17% back American drone strikes against leaders of extremist groups, even if they are conducted in conjunction with the Pakistani government.
Since 2009, the Pakistani public has also become less willing to use its own military to combat extremist groups. Three years ago, 53% favored using the army to fight extremists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but today just 32% hold this view.
“For you optimists, I should point out that living sustainably need not mean suffering. We could live better lives with less consumption and destruction. Our culture can grow while our population declines. Our society can advance while our production of waste products retreats. Our mental horizons can broaden while our food sources narrow. Millennia from now, people living sustainably on this planet could look back with wonder at the insanity of the notion that everything had to grow, and with gratitude toward those who gave their fellow passengers an awakening smack to the face.”—David Swanson
To enforce corporate control over the London 2012 Olympics, we are to have a security lock-down by 50,000 soldiers, police, and security guards – five times the number of British troops deployed in Afghanistan at the height of the war.
This is presented as a defence against terrorism. It has much more to do with what Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher liked to call ‘the enemy within’. If terrorism was the prime concern, they would not be creating the Games Lanes – essentially a freeway across London for official cars – which is the terrorist equivalent of a pirate map where X marks the spot.
The security lock-down is directed against the British people – and especially against the socially excluded of East London.It is there to defend class privilege and corporate power against democratic protest. The corporatisation of society goes hand-in-hand with its securitisation.
Some 2.2 million tickets – 25% of the total, and perhaps two-thirds or more at premier events – have been reserved for the millionaires: VIPs, Olympic officials, invited ‘guests’, and corporate sponsors. Most of the public who applied for some of the 6.6 million tickets on sale got nothing. It is estimated that half those who staked £1,000 and two-thirds of those who staked £250 got no tickets. Most poor people never had a chance. The great majority of those living around the Stratford stadium will not be going to the Games.
Meantime, the rich are getting ready to party. Corporate sponsors are doling out tickets as bonuses to staff and ‘hospitality’ to clients. Deloitte is using a large proportion of its freebie tickets ‘to reward staff achievements’. Thomas Cook is marketing exclusive ‘corporate Olympic hospitality events’. City HQs are to be turned into ‘Olympic reception centres’.
The so-called ‘Games Lanes’ will run like a band of class privilege written across the surface of the capital for the duration of the Olympics. In Ancient Greece, athletes and officials walked to the Olympics. In London 1948, they used the buses and the underground. In both cases, they went to the Games the same way spectators did. Not now: not in early 21st century London, where conspicuous displays of class privilege have become instinctive among the neoliberal elite
The outside carriageways on designated roads are to be reserved for a fleet of 4,000 BMWs that will ferry the elite from their 5-star hotels in the West End to the Olympic venues. These Lanes are to be turned into unrestricted freeways: 48 sets of traffic lights will be shut down, 50 local side roads blocked, all the pedestrian crossings closed, and all daytime parking and unloading suspended.
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Londoners will find the daily routines of getting to work, delivering the kids, and doing the shopping disrupted. Millions will be affected by congestion and delays as traffic is funnelled off the Games Lanes.
“In 1992, governments finally got together in Rio and took some baby steps. In 2012, they reconvened and collectively proclaimed, “To hell with all that. This rock may be doomed, but that’s our great-grandchildren’s problem. Screw them! This is Rio. Roll down the windows. Turn up the air conditioning. Pass me a drink!” Well, actually, a few scientists and diplomats stood off to the side and muttered, “What we need to save us is a really bad catastrophe.” And a 17-year-old girl stood up and blurted out the truth, which made everybody feel really important. Imagine: you were at the meeting that could have chosen to save the planet; how cool is that? Imagine how the judge feels who is sitting in Washington, D.C., deliberating on whether the atmosphere ought to be protected or destroyed. The atmosphere! Of the earth! Now that’s power, and the longer you deliberate the longer you can fantasize about possibly even using that power.”—The End Is Near
“I cannot understand anti-abortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.”—Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman (via booshbabyxx)
Despite the strong recovery in cash flow, to record-breaking levels, firms are investing at levels typically seen at cyclical lows, not highs. Some cash flow is going abroad, in the form of direct investment, but still you’d think returns like these would encourage investment. Instead, they’ve been shipping out gobs to shareholders.
Though not at the preposterously elevated levels of the late 1990s and mid-2000s, transfers are at the high end of their historical range. Instead of serving the textbook role of raising capital for productive investment, the stock market has become a conduit for shoveling money out of the “real” sector and into the pockets of shareholders, who besides buying other securities, pay themselves nice bonuses they transform into Jaguars and houses in Southampton. Is this a decadent phase of American capitalism, where its owners choose to liquidate rather than accumulate?
Profit may call the tune, but it doesn’t necessarily guide the choreographer.
“Why … would the NSA refuse to provide a vague estimate to the lawmakers constitutionally obligated to oversee the agency? Most likely because such an estimate would be a number so big as to become a political problem for the entire national security establishment.”—Wiretapping run amok
If there was an ongoing contest in the art of self-contradicting newspeak, a quote from a U.S. military official during the Vietnam War would be the reigning, iconic victor for most of the modern era. In describing the decision to ignore the prospect of civilian casualties and shell a town, that unnamed official famously told Peter Arnett of the Associated Press that “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”
Epitomizing the futility, immorality and nihilism of that era-defining war, that line has achieved true aphorism status — employed most often to describe every political endeavor that is, well, futile, immoral and nihilistic.
But now, ever so quietly, the Vietnam quote has suddenly been dethroned by an equally oxymoronic line — one that perfectly summarizes the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 era. As Wired’s Spencer Ackerman reports:
The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.
That claim comes in a short letter sent Monday to civil libertarian Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall…In a letter acquired by Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.
While the line’s bureaucratic lingo doesn’t roll off the tongue like its Vietnam-era predecessor, it does equal it for sheer audacity. Yes, those actively violating Americans’ privacy claim their stonewalling is all about trying to protect Americans’ privacy.
The ThinkProgress blog today accuses a U.S. citizen — the Chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party, Roy Nicholson — of treason; says ThinkProgress (emphasis in original):
Of all the right-wing meltdowns following yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, this statement put out by the chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party may take the cake:
When a gang of criminals subvert legitimate government offices and seize all power to themselves without the real consent of the governed their every act and edict is of itself illegal and is outside the bounds of the Rule of Law. In such cases submission is treason. Treason against the Constitution and the valid legitimate government of the nation to which we have pledged our allegiance for years. To resist by all means that are right in the eyes of God is not rebellion or insurrection, it is patriotic resistance to invasion.
May all of us fall on our faces before the Heavenly Judge, repent of our sins, and humbly cry out to Him for mercy on our country. And, may godly courageous leaders rise up in His wisdom and power to lead us in displacing the criminal invaders from their seats and restore our constitutional republic.
Despite Nicholson’s repeated charge that the Obama administration is guilty of high crimes, the only treason in play here is the suggestion of an open revolt against the federal government.
In light of this treason accusation, here’s my question: does President Obama have the power to order Nicholson assassinated without charges or trial? Should he have this right? I asked this question on Twitter, and — fascinatingly — virtually everyone who did not realize that I was referencing the Awlaki assassination reacted with extreme negativity, as though I had proposed something heinous, unthinkable and profoundly un-American.
But what’s the principled distinction that makes assassinating Awlaki acceptable but not Nicholson? The most likely answer is that Awlaki was in Yemen while Nicholson is in the U.S., but that’s just a pragmatic difference, one that cannot make any legal or Constitutional difference: American citizens don’t renounce their Constitutional protections against the U.S. Government when they leave the country. If the President has the legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens without charges on the ground that they are allegedly plotting against the U.S. when they’re on foreign soil, then shouldn’t the President have this same right for citizens on American soil? Think Progresscelebrates the Awlaki assassination as an Obama “success”; would they do the same if the President ordered Nicholson ordered assassinated without charges?
Obama defenders often justify Obama’s assassination of Awlaki by equating it to Lincoln’s killing of Confederate soldiers (revealingly, justifying War on Terror abuses by pretending this “war” is analogous to the Civil War was also the long-standing favorite tactic of neocons during the Bush years). Leaving aside the painfully glaring differences between the two “wars” — and the glaring difference between killing uniformed soldiers on a battlefield versus killing individuals in their homes far from any battlefield (see point 5) — wouldn’t acceptance of that analogy justify the targeting of Nicholson without due process? If Nicholson is in open revolt against the U.S. Government, then shouldn’t the President order him killed?
Think Progress’ accusation that Nicholson is guilty of “treason” is absurd — the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly held that the First Amendment free speech clause guarantees the right even to advocate violence or terrorism against government officials — but that did not stop the Democratic think tank and many others from cheering Awlaki’s assassination. And here’s a related question: for those who justified the due-process-free imprisonment of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla (who was arrested by the Bush administration on U.S. soil and then indefinitely detained without charges based on the allegation that he had joined Al Qaeda): should President Obama have the power to order Nicholson indefinitely detained without charges or trial? Would those who oppose such a power be guilty of advocating for traitors?
In light of all this, does anyone have difficulty understanding the complaint that the U.S. Government has a radically different system of justice for Muslims than it does everyone else? The primary “evolution” of the War on Terror over the past several years has been the importation of its civil liberties erosions onto U.S. soil and applied to U.S. citizens on the claimed groundthat Homegrown Terrorism is now the gravest threat. As the country largely cheered the due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizen Awlaki, is it really difficult to envision the same power being applied in cases like this?
The real losers in the latest Supreme Court decision, however, are the people of the United States. Not those who will be required to go out and buy some over-priced, minimal coverage, rip-off insurance plan offered by the private insurance industry, or to pay a “tax” to the IRS for not doing so, but everyone.
This is because the Affordable Health Care Act is not affordable. It does little or nothing to control health care costs, which are destined to continue to gobble up an ever increasing amount of the total US Gross Domestic Product as well as of corporate profits and families’ incomes.
The new federal version of Romneycare simply prolongs the day when the US finally does what it should have done decades ago, should have done during the first Clinton administration, and should have done at the start of the Obama administration: namely expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.
Instead of going for this option when he had broad and enthusiastic support as the newly elected president, Obama deliberately shut out all discussion of the Canadian-style approach to national health coverage — a national program of government insurance for all, with doctors’ rates and hospital charges negotiated by the government — and instead devised a scheme that leaves the whole payment system in the hands of the private insurance industry, and effectively lets doctors and hospitals charge what they can get away with.
Obama did this because he was a huge recipient of money from all sectors of the health care industry — the insurance companies, the hospital companies, the American Medical Association, the big pharmaceutical firms, and the medical supply firms.
ObamaRomneyCare is at its core an enrichment scheme for nearly all elements of the Medical Industrial Complex, with the possible exception of the lowly family practice physician, nurses, and hospital workers.
“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.” — Henry David Thoreau
To me, this quote from Thoreau expresses the only rational, moral and humane stance that a citizen can take toward the vast and brutal machinery of the American imperial state in our time. The crimes of this state are monstrous, and mounting. But what is worse is that these crimes are not aberrations; they are the very essence of the system — they are its goal, its product, its lifeblood.
And what is this crimeful essence? Matt Taibbi described it well in a recent article:
Our Western society quite openly embraces war as a means of solving problems, and for quite some time now has fashioned its entire social and economic structure around the preparation for war.
I believe this is an indisputable fact. Decades of historical evidence give it proof. The last three decades especially have seen the relentless acceleration of this systemic evolution. The quality of life for ordinary Americans, those outside the golden circle of the elite and their retainers, has decayed immeasurably – and measurably. Stagnant wages. Degraded infrastructure. A poisoned food chain. Whole communities — with all their social, political, cultural and family networks — gutted by the heedless flight of capital to cheap labor (and slave labor) markets abroad, and by the dissolution of an embodied economic life into the shadow-play of high finance, the ghostly manipulation of numbers that produces nothing of value except gargantuan profits for a very few. A bonfire of public amenities, making daily life harder, harsher, constricted, diminished. Ever-growing social and economic disparity, shrinking the circle of opportunity. Two million citizens behind bars, in prisons overflowing with non-violent drug cases – nightmarish institutions given over to gangs, neglect, punitive regimens and private profit.
Yet this long, grinding process of diminishment and degradation has been accompanied by a never-ending expansion of the war machine into a dominant position over almost every aspect of American life. Not even the ending of the Cold War slowed this excrescence; defense budgets grew, new enemies were found, there were new missions, new commands, new wars. The ruling elite of American society were – and are – obviously willing to let the welfare, prosperity, opportunities and liberties of the common people sink deeper and deeper into the mire, in order to finance a system structured around war, with all the attendant corruption, brutalization and accrual of authoritarian power that war brings.
This is the system we have. It’s right out in the open. There is a deep-rooted expectation – and not, alas, just among the elite — that the world should jump to America’s tune, by force if necessary. And when, for whatever reason, some part of the world does not jump – or bump and grind – to the Potomac beat, then it becomes a “problem” that must be “solved,” by one means or another, with, of course, “all options on the table,” all the time. And whether these “problems” are approached with blunt, bullying talk or a degree of cajolery and pious rhetoric, the chosen stance is always backed up with the ever-present threat of military action, up to and including the last of those “options” that always decorate the table: utter annihilation.
This is not even questioned, must less debated or challenged. America’s right to intervene in the affairs other nations by violent force (along with a constant series of illegal covert activities) – and to impose an empire of military plantations across the length and breadth of the entire planet – is the basic assumption, the underlying principle, the fervently held faith shared by both national parties, and the entire elite Establishment. And if you want to have the necessary instruments to maintain such a state of hegemony, then you must indeed structure your society and economy around war.
Many nations – all vanished now – have done this. The Roman Empire was one. Nazi Germany was another. At great cost to the economic, social and political life of ordinary Germans, Adolf Hitler geared the state to produce the war machine necessary to assert the dominance in world affairs which he felt was Germany’s natural right. One of his chief aims was to procure enough “living space” and natural resources in Eastern Europe to compete with America’s growing economic might. The Holocaust of European Jews was, for all its horror, just a preliminary to the greater “ethnic cleansing” to come. As historian Adam Tooze reminds us in The Wages of Destruction, the Nazis had drawn up detailed plans for the extermination – by active mass murder and deliberate starvation – of up to 40 million East Europeans.
Today, we all recognize the inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition. We shake our heads and say, “Whatever evils we may be accused of, we have never and would never do such a thing.” Perhaps. But leaving aside for a moment the millions – millions – of African slaves and Native Americans who died in order to procure the living space and natural resources of North and South America for European peoples, it is clear that most Americans – the elite above all – can easily countenance the deaths of, say, more than one million innocent Iraqis, or upwards of three million Southeast Asians, without any disturbance in their sense of national righteousness, their bedrock belief that the United States has the natural right, even the duty, to assert its hegemony over world affairs.
The mass murder in Iraq, the horrible slaughter in Vietnam and Cambodia, the direct involvement in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia, Latin America, and the Iran-Iraq War – to name just a few such operations carried out within the last generation – are regarded as actions which, however “mistaken” some might feel them to have been, were undertaken in good faith, to “preserve our way of life” from this or that imminent, overwhelming threat to our very national existence. [Which was, of course, the same reasoning Hitler used to justify his militarism: the urgent need to protect the German people from maniacal, irrational, bloodsworn enemies bent on their total destruction.]
And let us not forget that American war planners also drew up detailed plans involving the extermination of tens of millions of East Europeans in “first strike” nuclear attacks – plans which they often urged national leaders to put into practice. And even today, the constantly asserted vow to keep the nuclear option “on the table” at all times means that every single action or policy toward a “problem” nation carries with it the explicit threat to kill millions of people – to outdo the Holocaust in a matter of minutes.
Can one really look at such plans and attitudes, and at the towering, Everest-like mountain of corpses produced by American polices – just in the last generation – and say that there is not also a form of inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition as well? Is this really a system that one can be associated with honorably in any way? What should we think about a person who wants to lead such a system, who wants to take hold of the driving wheel of the war machine, to use it, to expand it, to accept all of its premises, to keep all of its horrific “options” forever on the table, to feed it and gorge it and coddle it and appease it at every turn, while millions of their own people sink further into degradation and diminishment?
Shouldn’t someone who knowingly, willingly, eagerly bent all of their energies toward taking power in such a system instantly and irretrievably forfeit our regard and support? Should we really give such a “leader” the benefit of the doubt, cut him some slack, be ready to praise him when he or his government momentarily behaves in a normal, rational or legal manner? Should we grimly insist that he is the only choice we have, that his heart is probably in the right place, and that all we can do is try and cajole him into being “better”?
“It didn’t have to be this way. It was not preordained that President Obama would become Corporate-Globalizer-in-Chief. The base of the Democratic Party has aligned itself firmly against the ‘free trade’ agenda—so much so that both Obama and Clinton campaigned in 2008 against the NAFTA model and in favor of a ‘fair trade’ alternative. In fact, going into the 2012 elections, there’s evidence that Obama’s betrayal of earlier vows could be a significant liability among voters and a bitter pill for key constituencies the president needs if his campaign is going to overcome the enthusiasm gap between progressives and the Republican faithful.”—President Obama: Corporate Globalizer | Mark Engler
It is not surprising that ‘terrorism’ has become the bogeyman, in whose name, every last lunacy of the government can be justified; including committing acts that would otherwise be illegal and anathema to any civilised society. Using predator drones, equipped with hellfire missiles to summarily execute people based on ‘suspicious’ activities, without any due process of law, and even at the cost of substantial civilian deaths, all seem to be forgiven.
Ignoring for a moment the bogus methodology of counting all military aged males in a drone strike zone as combatants, the focus on civilian casualties of drone attacks seems to miss the bigger question. This was neatly summarised by Dr Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the treasury;
It has never been revealed how a single citizen, or any number thereof, could possibly comprise a threat to a government that has a trillion plus dollars to spend each year on security and weapons, the world’s largest navy and air force, 700 plus military bases across the world, large numbers of nuclear weapons, 16 intelligence agencies plus the intelligence agencies of its NATO puppet states and the intelligence service of Israel.
It has also never been adequately explained why the most powerful military superpower in history, which overcame the mighty Wehrmacht, crushed the Imperial Japanese Army, and stared down a nuclear armed Soviet Union in an existential contest of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), now considers it necessary to carry out state sponsored assassinations, based on mere suspicion, of individuals who have none of the resources, technological sophistication, or military prowess of its erstwhile enemies.
I know that drone warfare is very popular among most of my American friends. Moreover, I suspect that arguing for the sanctity of human life and in favour of protecting basic human rights of all people is probably not going to sit well with those who favour a more gung-ho, trigger-happy, ‘let’s kill’ approach.
But when the entire basis of the post 9/11 war on terror is rooted in the claimed superiority of western moral values and traditions over those cherished by the terrorists, then advocating targeted killings of people without due process of law ─ the same acts which were cited as rationales to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place ─ results in a logical and moral contradiction.
In advocating premeditated murder, proponents of drone warfare have accepted the premise that in order to fight the terrorists, we must imitate their violent ideology and tactics. In essence, we have now become the monsters that we pursue.
We have moralised the indefensible; we have normalised extra-judicial, pre-meditated murder based on mere suspicion – all in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’.
The United States and Russia failed on Friday to bridge differences over a plan to ease Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power, end violence and create a new government, setting the stage for the potential collapse of a key multinational conference that was to have endorsed the proposal.
On the eve of Saturday’s conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met one-on-one for about an hour in St.-Petersburg, Russia, but could not reach agreement on key elements of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan’s proposed plan for a Syrian political transition, officials said.
They also discussed the “serious risk” of destabilizing Jordan and the potential impact on Israel.
A senior U.S.¬ official traveling with Clinton said areas of “difference and difficulty” remain and was not optimistic that the gathering in Geneva would produce agreement. “We may get there tomorrow, we may not,” the official told reporters as Clinton left Russia for Switzerland, where she arrived early Saturday morning.
The official said Clinton and Lavrov would try to resolve differences in Geneva out of respect for Annan, the former U.N. chief whose efforts to end the Syrian crisis have thus far fallen short.
“[Those] who profess their adherence to “progressive” values such as peace, justice, liberty, equality and truth would serve their cause better by focusing on the essential nature of a system that eviscerates those values, and on the actual operations of power, the crimes and atrocities being committed by the actual wielders and servants of power, instead of mocking people for “throwing fits” and being “puerile” when they denounce the system’s leaders for leading the nation deeper and deeper into evil.”—Chris Floyd
“[It] is clear that most Americans – the elite above all – can easily countenance the deaths of, say, more than one million innocent Iraqis, or upwards of three million Southeast Asians, without any disturbance in their sense of national righteousness, their bedrock belief that the United States has the natural right, even the duty, to assert its hegemony over world affairs.”—Savvy to a Fault: Coming to Terms With Imperial Power
“That [some people benefit from a law] cannot ever be the standard for judgment. The standard must focus on the primary or major effect of the legislation: on what lies at the heart of the bill. What lies at the heart of the health ‘reform’ bill is a massive transfer of wealth from ‘ordinary’ Americans to an already hugely wealthy and powerful insurance industry via the mandate system, which is made still worse by being a subsidized mandate system (which means that taxpayers are robbed at gunpoint twice). As a result, the legislation in its totality is, right, a piece of shit.”—
America’s past is full of laws that help “some”, but not all, of its citizens. Enough. We have to keep pushing for single-payer healthcare for everyone, even if it means at the state level. Vermont did it - with bipartisan support - through their state legislature. Wherever it can happen, we need to push. The ACA corporate give-away is not a “win”, but a really shitty step towards (maybe backwards) from a humane healthcare system.
Monsanto is using its money and influence to push Congress to attach a rider to the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would effectively end judicial review of approvals of new genetically engineered crops.
If this rider (Sec. 733) isn’t removed, organic and non-GMO farmers will lose their access to the court system and they’ll have no recourse when the U.S. Department of Agriculture illegally approves new genetically engineered crops that threaten to contaminate their fields and seed supplies.
Monsanto’s sneak attack is a response to successful lawsuits brought by the Center for Food Safety on behalf of organic and non-GMO farmers and seed growers that have attempted to block planting of genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa while the USDA conducted a court-ordered review of the dangers of contamination.
A vote to remove Monsanto’s rider from the Agriculture Appropriations bill was expected this week, but now has been delayed until after Congress returns from their July 4th recess. Let’s use this time to spread the word and send tens of thousands of letters to Congress!
“[The] longer one clings to the preferred story, the stupider one becomes. This is why the truth or falsity of the stories we tell is so critical, and why our methodology matters so much. If a story that is central to our view of ourselves fails to comport with the facts, and if we refuse to give up or even question the story, this necessitates that we block ourselves off from more and more information that might “undermine” that story … Rather than eagerly seeking out further facts and trying to find out if a given story remains accurate or needs to be significantly revised (and sometimes even jettisoned altogether), we will lower our heads, narrow the scope of our inquiry, and progressively restrict the kind of data we permit ourselves to examine and even acknowledge. As time goes on, our intellectual curiosity steadily decreases. We won’t want certain facts and information, because we might have to wonder whether particular cherished beliefs are correct.”—
In those cases where the preexisting and preferred narrative is crucial to a person’s sense of self-worth (and often, when it is critical to their livelihood), it is close to impossible that a fundamental reassessment of that narrative will be permitted or seriously considered. The only direction psychologically is steadily downward: the frame of reference constantly diminishes, and the person becomes less and less able to address any issue accurately and truthfully. Neither “side” has a monopoly on this fundamental failure — and even though both conservatives and liberals furiously deny that they act in this manner, their own commentary and behavior reveals the truth on a daily basis.
I’m discovering now that some left-wing bloggers don’t understand the Court’s job in a case like the Affordable Care Act. These bloggers believe that the ACA is bad policy; they would much rather have single-payer healthcare. I agree with them on that. However, these bloggers also seem to think that because the ACA is bad policy, it would have been better for the Court to strike it down. This is a profound misunderstanding of the Court’s role.
The job of the Supreme Court is not to determine whether laws are desirable or effective. The job of the Court is to rule on constitutionality. The Affordable Care Act was challenged as being unconstitutional: its opponents charged that Congress did not have the power under the Constitution to enact the legislation. The only way the Court could strike down the ACA was by finding it unconstitutional.
The Affordable Care Act is not unconstitutional. The legal challenges to it consisted of right-wing intellectual garbage largely cooked up in the past few years explicitly to oppose Obamacare. In contrast, the Administration’s triple arguments for constitutionality (under the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the Taxing Clause) all fit comfortably within longstanding jurisprudence. There’s a reason that legal scholars could see no constitutional problem with the ACA when it was passed; there wasn’t any. (I again urge everyone to read Justice Ginsburg’s concurrence, which is a model of clarity on the legal issues and reasoning involved.)
… If you dislike the Affordable Care Act, the answer is to work towards a better legislative solution. The answer is not to have the law struck down for partisan reasons by an unprincipled renegade Court acting on nothing but its own political sympathies.
“Behind closed doors corporate America is implementing a stealth strategy to consolidate its rule. As Public Citizen’s Executive Director Lori Wallach explains in the new issue of The Nation, the mechanism is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose negotiations have been conducted in extreme secrecy and whose essential function seems to be to act as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny. Branded as a “trade deal” by its corporate proponents, the TPP would actually establish new corporate rights to undermine environmental and health laws, offshore millions of American jobs, flood the US with untested food products, and extend the duration of medical patents.”—The Nation (via kate-e-kaboom)
This argument requires some explanation. Here’s the backstory: As the Bush administration commenced in the early 2000s, many argued that his foreign policy represented a continuation of the Clinton-era approach to promoting “free trade” neoliberalism overseas. However, I contended that, especially after the launch of the Iraq war in 2003, the unilateralist bullying of the neocons represented a split from past practice.
No doubt, big arms and big oil had their needs met by the Bush agenda. But his administration was wary of multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank, which were central instruments of U.S. policy under Clinton. The Bush approach relied on our-way-or-the-highway, coalition-of-the-willing hard power. This made a significant portion of corporate America uncomfortable, especially businesses trying to navigate and expand in foreign markets. It also left the soft-power agenda of “free trade” in an uncertain state.
This was essentially the thesis of my 2008 book, How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy. Around the time the book came out, I wrote:
In October 2007…the Wall Street Journal reported that the [Republican] party could be facing a brand crisis as “[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share.”
When it comes to corporate responses to [Bush’s] Global War on Terror, we mostly hear about the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater—companies directly implicated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and with the mentality of looters. Such firms have done their best to score quick profits from the military machine. However, there was always a faction of realist, business-oriented Republicans .who opposed the invasion from the start, in part because they believed it would negatively impact the U.S. economy. As the [Bush administration’s] adventure in Iraq has descended into the morass, the ranks of corporate complainers have only grown.
The “free trade” elite have become particularly upset about the administration’s focus on go-it-alone nationalism and its disregard for multilateral means of securing influence. This belligerent approach to foreign affairs, they believe, has thwarted the advance of corporate globalization. In an April 2006 column in the Washington Post, globalist cheerleader Sebastian Mallaby laid blame for “why globalization has stalled” at the feet of the Bush administration. The White House, Mallaby charged, was unwilling to invest any political capital in the IMF, the World Bank, or the WTO….Frustrated by Bush’s failures, many in the business elite want to return to the softer empire of corporate globalization and, increasingly, they are looking to the Democrats to navigate this return.
My concern back then was that a Democrat (either Obama or Hillary Clinton) would be elected to office and then abandon the overt militarism and “imperial globalization” of the Bush administration, but embrace a subtler, more multilateralist “free trade” neoliberalism—reclaiming the agenda of corporate globalization. I would have been pleased if this prediction had proved wrong. Sadly, Obama has provided irrefutable evidence that he has boarded the corporate globalist bandwagon. [READ]
“The Supreme Court reminds us this week that it is one of the three co-equal branches of government and that it has the power to make policy and law as forcefully as the others, but also that it will sometimes defer to the political branches, even when they enact legislation it obviously does not like. Yet it reminds us, too, that it is every bit as partisan as the other two branches. As the only branch now in the hands of the G.O.P., the Roberts Court has used its power to give its party an advantage on the electoral battleground, thanks to the Citizens United and Montana rulings, which together ensure Mitt Romney an enormous funding advantage in the coming battle. That’s hardly the way the Founders conceived the federal judiciary, but it is what the system they created permits.”—Our Politicized Judiciary | Scott Horton
“[Personally] I don’t like neoclassical economics. I think, institutional framework aside, it’s founded on quasi-theological principles (teleology/equilibrium etc.). Nor do I think it conforms to real scientific methodology. Not to mention the fact that, contrary to what some of its more naïve practitioners assert, it almost certainly acts as an ideology for the powers-that-be. However, all this aside I hope that people will believe me when I say that something weird is going on in the economics profession and has been going on for over 30 years; something that I strongly believe it would be in the educated public’s interest to scrutinise closely. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so important if economic discourse were not today the language of power in much of the world. But it is. And for these reasons, the conduct of the economics profession should be subject to some sort of serious outside scrutiny.”—Philip Pilkington | Neoclassical Economics and the Foreclosing of Dissent
"An old adage holds that science progresses funeral by funeral. Today, with the benefits of longer life expectancy, it would be more accurate (if less vivid) to say that science progresses retirement by retirement. In macroeconomics, as the older generation of protagonists has retired or neared retirement, it has been replaced by a younger generation of macroeconomists who have adopted a culture of greater civility." — Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw
At a superficial glance one might think that economics have succeeded where other disciplines had failed. But all is not so rosy; in actual fact this ‘civility’ was won by a de facto exclusion of literally anyone who disagreed with certain precepts from the upper echelons of the profession. Such exclusion one would rarely encountered outside of a cult or a religion, and it was cast upon a number of groups who make up a fair amount of the profession (broadly speaking we could refer to the neo-Marxians, the Austrians, the neo-Ricardians and the post-Keynesians – although there is much overlap between the different groups). One could imagine the Monty Python crew’s Judean People’s Front and their People’s Front of Judea meeting in similar formal gatherings or sharing information about their common goal – but not the orthodox and the heterodox economists. This isn’t just whisperings behind someone else’s back at a conference; this is a ring-fencing, a wholesale exclusion of anyone that dissents.
As I looked into it more and more, two key points emerged that made sense of the schism. First of all, the reason that the heterodox had been left by the wayside was because they felt that many of their arguments completely undermined the entire neoclassical research program. Thus the neoclassicals had, at some point in history, made a fairly violent institutional attempt to supress dissenters. This actually makes a lot of sense if you understand that many neoclassicals see themselves more akin to hard scientists than to social scientists – an idea most scientists and philosophers of science deride, but the neoclassicals just ignore them (starting to see a pattern here?).
This brings us to point number two – which, to be honest, shocked me a little. I got a strong impression that there was a subtle bullying of sorts going on within the profession – a sort of fascistic atmosphere through which rules of behaviour and thought were enforced. Indeed, I increasingly got the impression that this was precisely what allowed for the ‘civility’ that Mankiw referred to – the exclusion of an out-group being a well-known prerequisite among social psychologists for strong, quasi-totalitarian in-group formation.
This phenomenon was hard to pinpoint and I was reluctant to write anything based on the complaints of those who saw themselves as victims (or even those in the public eye who vouched for them). But recently I stumbled upon an anecdote from a neoclassical economist that highlighted precisely this very dynamic.
The following anecdote is told by Dani Rodrik who, although part of the neoclassical ‘club’, nevertheless maintains more cautious views on a number of issues of doctrine than many of his colleagues. It is taken from a blog entitled ‘Is neoclassical economics a mafia?’ which is a response to a piece written by Christopher Hayes and published in The Nation in 2007 about the exclusion of heterodox economists in the profession:
Hayes makes a number of good points about how ideology permeates a lot of thinking by orthodox economists. Anybody who strays from conventional wisdom is in danger of being ostracized. Some years ago, when I first presented an empirical paper questioning some of the conventional views on trade to a high profile economics conference, a member of the audience (a very prominent economist and a former co-author of mine) shocked me with the question “why are you doing this?”
Rodrik goes on to reflect that the methodology of neoclassical economics has served him well and he has never found it constricting. That’s fine – but is he not moving the goalposts here a bit? It seems that to move the conversation from an anecdote about a very strange sort of censorship being imposed through a pretty creepy sort of groupthink to reflecting on the relative merits of said groupthink is to miss the point entirely. If a cult member related to you a story where someone clearly dictated to them, in a strange, indirect and suffocating fashion, what they should and should not be allowed talk about (remember, Rodrik was talking about empirical research here!) and then moved on to tell you about the relative value of the cult’s belief system would you not feel a bit alienated? Would you not think that the person’s scepticism had been almost wholly absorbed into the cult mind-set – then sanitised, sectioned and channelled into assent? Very Orwell.
Perhaps readers will think me biased because I don’t subscribe to neoclassical methodology and have often attacked it in the past, but Rodrik’s blog post strikes me as alienating and weird – and I invite readers to read it carefully and judge for themselves in this regard. As heterodox economist Matias Vernengo put it in response to this anecdote:
Clearly his co-author was concerned with the effects that being critical of free trade might have on Rodrik’s career. Rodrik’s co-author is, most likely, just a good friend, but his question reveals a lot about the dark corners of the edge of the profession.
The media has occasionally picked up on this general weirdness too. In addition to Hayes’ piece cited above, Playboy recently ran a piece on exactly this topic which Bill Black responded to over at Bezinga. Then, of course, there was Charles Ferguson’s excellent film ‘Inside Job’ which dealt with one side of this issue. In fact if you think about it, it is quite unusual that the media would weigh in on factional fights in academia. But if the above is taken into account it should not be hard to understand why the economics profession might pique the media’s interest. Basically, it’s a pretty damned weird place!
The fact is that there is something pretty nefarious going on in economics departments across the Western world, something that is making them resemble more so a church or a cloister than an academic institution. Adherents such as Mankiw call this shift – which seems to have taken hold over most of the last generation of economists – one of ‘civility’ to one’s fellow economists, but when looked at from without it more so resembles the formation of a powerful sect which violently demarcates the lines of accepted discourse to ensure that their hegemony is maintained.
A group of GOP senators introduced a new version of their cybersecurity bill, the Secure IT Act, on Wednesday.
The bill, backed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and others, is similar to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that passed the House in April. The bill is an alternative to the measure favored by the Senate Democratic leadership and the White House.
Like CISPA, Secure IT would remove legal barriers that prevent companies from sharing information about cyber threats with one another and with the government.
The new version of the legislation, S. 3342, aims to address the concerns of privacy advocates, who had warned that the old bill would give spy agencies access to Americans’ private online information.
The Republican senators said their new bill tightens the definition of “cyber threat information” and clarifies that the government cannot use or retain the information for reasons other those specified in the bill. They also said it creates new oversight authorities to protect privacy and civil liberties.
Hutchison said the lawmakers worked closely with interest groups to draft the new version of the bill, and they believe the new Secure IT is a “consensus bill that will significantly advance the security of our government and private sector networks.”
“I grow increasingly convinced that the four great innovations of the Enlightenment: Democracy, Markets, Science and Justice, absolutely depend on most of the participants knowing most of what’s going on, most of the time. All four languish, sicken and die if secrecy prevails.”—David Brin (via azspot)
Welcome Back to the Land of the Liberal Delusion of Empire
Another excerpt from Bassam Haddad’s amazing piece at Jadaliyya, Ajamindustry:
"That dark prospect [all out killing] surely explains the reluctance of the Obama administration to try to stop Bashar’s killing machine, even as the Syrian rebels beg for our help. It’s too easy to envision an Iraqi-style blood bath after Bashar’s demise. Ajami is frustrated by Obama’s passivity, and indeed, as the killing goes on, it is getting harder for all of us to avert our eyes. Why is Syria different from Libya, where Obama and NATO, at very low cost, stopped an almost certain humanitarian disaster? Why is it different from Yugoslavia?" — Dexter Filkins
I probably would watch myself get older as I address the gamut of problematic assumptions and assertions here. Only in America can one write such words, and in the New York Times nonetheless.
To take the first part of the quote, we are to understand that the United States is not interfering on humanitarian grounds to avert a bigger humanitarian disaster. Because otherwise, the United States would have certainly been motivated to avert the killing machine. Since when did the United States make it a habit to intervene on such grounds? The record shows that the United States has supported killing machines for decades, from those of the Shah of Iran and Noriega, to Pinochet and Saddam. And when it had to, it cut the “middle man” and presided over the most structurally egregious killing machine of sanctions in Iraq after 1991, only to invade that country militarily and usher in, with its own killing, a devastatingly systematic killing spree there that lasted for years. The reviewer and the reviewed author speak of the United States like children asking why there are mean people in the world—except they can know better when they so desire. They jettison regional politics, national interests, balances of power, and all semblance of realism in favor of highlighting the humanity of a leadership that is seldom exercised in international affairs. The United States may well be reluctant, but it is no secret that this reluctance is rooted in a calculation based on the (in)ability to control outcomes and unintended consequences, and on a host of other factors dealing with regional and international impediments/considerations.
And now we arrive at the central part in the world of delusion, and, let us say unintended imperial cruelty: “Why is Syria different from Libya, where Obama and NATO, at very low cost, stopped an almost certain humanitarian disaster?”
Let us assume NATO’s intervention averted a humanitarian disaster for real. What kind of imperial pompousness would allow anyone to attach the phrase “at very low cost” to an intervention that produced anywhere between thirty thousand to fifty thousand deaths, compared to about two thousand before the NATO invasion? That “at very low cost” is very difficult to swallow or assign to analytical faux pas. It is very much part of the value assigned to Arab life. We have seen it in the discussions on Iraq and elsewhere in the region. The most significant aspect of such commentary is that it is firmly internalized, and many of its users and consumers take it for granted, or at least are not aware of its cruelty. In fact, the staggering numbers of those killed make it very difficult to speak of averting a humanitarian disaster. Finally, a similar intervention in Syria would make Libya look like a picnic for the same reasons that Mr. Obama is reluctant—except that the reluctance is about the uncertainty of the outcome, not about the humanitarian dimension. As for “Why is it different from Yugoslavia?” maybe it has to do with the presence of Hizballah, Iran, Israel, Islamists, and oil around Syria.
Let us leave it at that. Ajamindustry is alive and well, just in case one thought the uprisings would shake monolithic reductionism.
“The analytical weakness of the sectarian argument, like the weakness of all reductionist arguments, is not that it does not carry a grain of truth (it does). Rather, the totalizing effects of such arguments tend either to eliminate or marginalize the influence of other factors. In fact, in Ajamindustry, other factors matter little, even if they have played a far more concrete role in shaping the societies he depicts: political economy, institutional life, geography, international relations, class, and other factors are not sufficiently important, or not applicable. Even the “Asad family” project is far more than an “essentially sectarian one.” I am not in a position to deconstruct the “project” of the Syrian regime at this point, and neither is it a requirement to debunk this silly analytical reductionism.”—Ajamindustry by Bassam Haddad
When Hafez died, in 2000, he bequeathed power to his son, the London-educated Bashar, age 34.
Where do I begin? This “western-educated” drug fascinates westerners. “He was educated in the West.” It is such an important and telling part of the puzzle. “But he was educated in the West, how could he commit this horror?” Had he been educated not in the West, it would have been more understandable. Nothing beats “he was educated in the West,” except that Hitler was also educated in the West. In fact, Most Western leaders, from colonial masters to former president George W. Bush, were educated in the West. It did not do them any good. The faith in the dichotomy continues to fascinate. To be fair, the reviewer is not the only one. I got this question in almost every interview about Syria at the outset of the uprising.