The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Sharing science is a crime | Charles Davis

You did it, friend. You helped discover the cure for cancer. Pretty big deal, that. Just imagine: Within 20 years, leukemia and lymphoma could end up being nothing more than trendy baby names - alongside yours.

Understandably, your first impulse might be to share your discovery. Tell the world! But not so fast, professor. Your holier-than-thou plan for sainthood has one big flaw: that fancy little cure of yours is worth a pretty little penny. And divulging that cure before someone can patent it is likely to land you in a prison cell for crimes against economic disparity. Quarterly profits are people too, you know. And the reality is whether you want to be a saint or not, the economic considerations that govern academic research in the United States almost give one no choice but to be a scoundrel.

It doesn’t matter if you start out working for a university. Scientists are given two choices for getting their research funded, academia or not: go to work for the Pentagon or start making something you can patent. And the government and its corporations want it that way.

Of the $140bn in research and development funding requested by President Barack Obama for 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than half goes through the Department of Defense; less than $30bn through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That invariably leads to a shift in resources, with scientists going to where the money is: instead of finding ways to cure, finding high-tech ways to kill or otherwise aid the war effort. Researchers at the University of Arizona, for instance, received a $1.5m grant to “adapt their breast cancer imaging research for detection of embedded explosives”, which speaks rather well to the US government’s priorities and the toll it takes on research that has the general public in mind. [READ]

The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza | Lisa Hajjar

“The principle of the lesser evil is often presented as a dilemma between two or more bad choices in situations where available options are, or seem to be, limited….Both aspects of the principle are understood as taking place within a closed system in which those posing the dilemma, the options available for choice, the factors to be calculated and the very parameters of calculation are unchallenged. Each calculation is taken anew, as if the previous accumulation of events has not taken place, and the future implications are out of bounds.” - Eyal Weizman

[…] The siege of Gaza was part of a larger transformation of Israeli power and control, from direct physical occupation to “unilateral” withdrawal in 2005 and “humanitarian management” thereafter. In 2007, Israel decreed Gaza a “hostile entity,” and imposed tight restrictions on the inflow of all essential resources. The stated objective was to “put Gaza on a diet” while preventing a “humanitarian crisis,” which was understood as mass starvation. Gaza became a walled-in laboratory within which thresholds of suffering could be tested and pushed. The proportionality algebraists worked to determine the contents of a humanitarian minimum, a concept that does not exist in IHL. To challenge the siege in the HCJ, as Adalah and eleven other human rights organizations did, lawyers had to wrangle with the Israeli military over how little—calories, vitamins, electricity, building materials—was too little to avert crisis. In larger terms, Israel’s obligations as an occupying state were pushed aside by the cult of proportionality.

The growing field of humanitarian forensic architecture and the proportionality assessment of ruins evince a larger transformation by which “the expression of care for victims was replaced by attempts to uncover the mechanisms of violations.” Marc Garlasco has become the preeminent practitioner in this field and the best example of the kinds of collusions between humanitarians and militaries that define the humanitarian present. Garlasco served for seven years as a US military expert in targeting and “battle damage assessment.” He acquired the skills to predict the likely number of civilian casualties in specific bombings, and how to calibrate the amount of force and the directionality of strikes to achieve “pinpoint” effects. In 2003, he joined Human Rights Watch, where his expertise was used to “interrogate” ruins. This information was the substance of assessments and allegations of violations of proportionality. After Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the United Nations sent an investigating commission headed by Richard Goldstone. Garlasco’s reading of the ruins for Human Rights Watch formed a significant empirical element of the Goldstone Report.

Weizman sums up the trajectory of the humanitarian present that culminates in forensic architecture: Developments in precision bombing ushered in aerial targeted assassinations, along with capacities to predict civilian casualties. Together, these allowed for proportionality analysis prior to bombings and ex post facto assessments by humanitarians who could study and interpret the details of attacks. The result is that “today’s forensic investigators of violence move alongside its perpetrators.”

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U.S. Kicks Drug-War Habit, Makes Peace With Afghan Poppies | David Axe

“They’re a source of stability,” Maj. Charles Ford, the bookish operations officer at 3-41 Infantry, says of Afghanistan’s poppies. Sitting in a plywood-walled office at a Forward Operating Base in Kandahar city in early April, Ford cites all the people in Afghanistan who rely on poppies for some or all of their income: the Taliban, granted, but also millions of everyday farmers and their families as well as all levels of corrupt Afghan government from the subdistricts up to Kabul.

Fortunately for all these groups, there are some 400,000 acres of poppies in Afghanistan — “enough to go around,” according to Ford, who is responsible for devising his battalion’s combat strategy. Plentiful and lucrative — 15 pounds of poppy paste, the output of a typical acre family plot, sells for around $600 in a country where $.25 buys bread for a day — the illicit crop offers “access to prosperity” for much of Afghanistan. And that access is all that most Afghans really want.

Leave the poppies alone, and most Afghans will happily go about their business farming and selling the colorful crop — or so Ford’s line of thinking goes. …

Conversely, attempting to eradicate poppies — as has been the Army’s policy in the recent past — could mean destitution for countless Afghans. Sure, destroying the flowers might deprive the Taliban of one of its major revenue streams, but the violent popular backlash against eradication would probably represent a net victory for the insurgent group.

Tanks, But No Tanks? Congress Reverses Army Decision And Moves To Order Half A Billion Dollars Worth Of New Unwanted Tanks | Jonathan Turley

Many of us have criticized our politicians for years for abandoning the national interest in favor of petty or corrupt interests. I have worked in this town for decades and I have never seen the situation quite this bad where lobbyists seem to have unprecedented and open control of Congress. No greater example can be found than the move this week to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that the Army does not want and experts overwhelming say the country does not need.

Both Republicans and Democrats (the same people complaining about the cuts in budget under the sequester) joined together to order $500 million of new Abrams M-1 tanks that no one wants. Why? Because of a powerful lobby and a company who sweetened the pot by spreading the contracts around to key districts. The Army has other uses for the $436 million that would make the country safer but members want their cut of the defense pork. Then of course there are also those countless educational, scientific, and public welfare programs slashed for lack of money.

The money has changed two budget hawks into pork profiteers. Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman have insisted that the Army will order the tanks which will likely add to hundreds now rusting in storage areas. They are joined by liberal Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Ohio will benefit most from building the tanks. The Lima plant is operated by the land systems division of General Dynamics, which spread around $11 million last year on lobbyist members of Congress.

Jordan makes no apologies for insisting that money needed for national security should be shifted to an unwanted program: “Look, (the plant) is in the 4th Congressional District and my job is to represent the 4th Congressional District, so I understand that … But the fact remains, if it was not in the best interests of the national defense for the United States of America, then you would not see me supporting it like we do.” Really? Experts have lined up to say it is not in our best interests. The military has told you it is not in our best interest. But you are not convinced?

By the way, our tank fleet, on average, is less than 3 years old.

Source: NPR

America’s Next War: Coming Soon

Since 2001 our Armed Forces have been totally engaged in two major, unjustified wars and various minor “peace actions”. A child born in 1990 in the U.S. grew up in a world where there has been constant warfare and warfare’s necessary companion glorification of military service. The admixture of America’s warlike behavior and the faux glorification of the nobility of our military has become a constant in that young persons mind, only to better make them future cannon fodder for our dominant Corporate/Military Industrial Complex. Sadly, the less educated that young person is the more they are gullible to the siren call of that propaganda of military glorification. As the Great U.S. General Smedley Butler said so long ago: “War is a racket”.

In truth we honor our soldiers far more in words than in deeds. “America’s Greatest Generation” as establishment mouthpiece Tom Brokaw put it, was also the one generation of military personnel that was actually very well treated in the aftermath of their service. The World War II returning troops were educated via the generous G.I. Bill, had their homes financed through special discount programs and entered the marketplace at a time of phenomenal growth of the U.S. economy due to our country’s new position as the World’s dominant power. Every generation of returning veterans before and after World War II was treated rather shabbily in comparisons, despite the lavish praise given them for their service. The huge backlog in receiving benefits and medical treatment for our latest generation of returning veterans is masked by our presumed “honoring of the troops”, which is constantly accomplished merely in words, with a paucity of actual services delivered.

The reality is that the only real bi-partisanship that exists in our politicians today is that the overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans are enthusiastic supporters of American military hegemony and bought stooges of the Corporate/Military Industrial Complex. That many beyond their corporate donors are indeed true believers in American military supremacy is no doubt true. The fact is that if you were born after let’s say 1960, your view of the world was shaped by American interventionism and American military supremacy. Barack Obama was born in 1961 and one can count him as one of those who for the most part supports America’s military interventionism. The proofs of my assertions are simple. In this time of supposed budgetary crisis, there is barely minimal support for cutting anything out of our Military and Intelligence budget. I lump Military and Intelligence together because there has been such a blurring of the lines between these two formerly discrete government entities, that today it is impossible to distinguish boundaries.

When it comes to my premise for this piece which is that this country will soon be involved in its “next” war, let me explain my reasoning. First of all there is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room of American politics that almost no one that I’m aware of talks about. We are mired in a recession with countless American unemployed. If we bring our troops home and cut our defense budget we will add hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to our jobless rolls. Truly, the military has been the escape for many with otherwise poor employment prospects into obtaining a respectable job and the semblance of a future career. By cutting the military/intelligence budget, as things now stand economically in this country, we will recede from “recession” into “depression”. However, without something to justify the existence of our military budget, the U.S. spends more on our military budget than the next thirteen countries combined military expenditures, the truth that we are squandering the riches of this country to support the profits of private corporations becomes obvious. Therefore we need something to justify this unnecessary expense and that is another war. [++]

Boeing Helps Kill Proposed Law to Regulate Drones | Pratap Chatterjee

Boeing, the aircraft manufacturing giant from Seattle, helped defeat a Republican proposal in Washington state that would have forced government agencies to get approval to buy unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones, and to obtain a warrant before using them to conduct surveillance on individuals.

Local authorities in Seattle and in King county experimented with conducting surveillance from Draganfly Innovations drones last year, only to cancel both programs in the fact of public protest. “I’m not really surprised that people are upset,” said Jennifer Shaw from the American Civil Liberties Union … . “It’s a frightening thing to think that there’s government surveillance cameras overhead.”

On February 7, 2013, David Taylor, a Republican member of the state legislature, introduced a bill to regulate drone use. The proposed law quickly won support from several Democratic party politicians on the state Public Safety Committee.

Alarmed by the growing bipartisan coalition, Boeing jumped into the fray. “We believe that as the technology matures, best practices and new understanding will emerge, and that it would be counterproductive to rush into regulating a burgeoning industry,” Boeing spokeswoman Sue Bradley wrote in a statement. (The company makes a variety of drones from the Unmanned Little Bird and the A160 Hummingbird helicopters to the ScanEagle which has been used in Iran and Iraq and the proposed new X-45C combat aircraft)

After the company approached several lawmakers, Frank Chopp, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington state, canceled a scheduled March 13 vote on the bill. Instead Jeff Morris, another Democrat who chairs the House Technology and Economic Development Committee, was asked to lead a “more comprehensive study of surveillance issues.”

“This is all about profit,” said a disappointed Taylor. “This is about profit over people’s rights.”

While local and state use of drones has been limited to short pilot projects so far, concern about the federal use of drones has been on the rise in the last few months especially as the Obama administration has refused to divulge details on how drones are used by government authorities like the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency. Republicans in the U.S. Congress have even voted to ask the Pentagon to reveal whether it is using drones inside the U.S.

Privacy groups have raised questions about what might be legally possible. “We don’t believe that there are actually any federal statutes that would provide limits on drone surveillance in the United States,” says Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “The privacy laws that do exist are very targeted [and] don’t encompass the type of surveillance that drones are able to conduct.”

To date lawmakers in some 32 states have introduced bills to restrict drone use. While none have been voted into law (North Dakota and Oklahoma both opposed such laws in order to attract more investment in their states), last month the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, pledged not to conduct drone surveillance and voted in favor of a resolution that calls on the federal and state governments to adopt laws banning “information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court.” [++]

Government Pain = Drone Makers' Gain | Josh Harkinson

Defense cuts have forced commanders at Southern California’s Naval Base Ventura County to idle planes and cancel troop deployments, but you’d never know it from looking at nearby defense contractor Northrup Grumman: Its stock price has risen 9 percent in less than a month, buoyed by brisk sales of drones such as the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, which will be deployed at the base this summer.

Indeed, lean times in the public sector appear to be helping drone manufacturers, as they pitch unmanned aircraft as cheaper replacements for a wide range of activities involving human labor and/or dangerous conditions. "We can capitalize on this budget-constrained environment to keep this development going," explained Janis Pamiljans, Northrup Grumman’s head of unmanned air systems.

Pamiljans was addressing a who’s who of manufacturers, hobbyists, and public officials who showed up at the naval base last week during a conference on civilian applications of drones (the industry calls them “unmanned aerial vehicles”), which could constitute a $90 billion market within a decade—or so says the industry’s trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). “We are not darkening the skies yet,” said Richard Christiansen, the vice-president of the NASA contractor Sierra Lobo Inc., “but we are poised.”

[…] The drone industry acknowledges that privacy concerns are its single biggest obstacle. At the conference, AUVSI president Mike Toscano showed a photograph of his toddler grandson on an iPad. “These [young] people know connectivity,” he said. “They don’t know privacy, because they’ve never had it. So we could just wait this thing out!” Everyone laughed. The crowd didn’t figure commercializing drones will take nearly that long. [++]

Right now would be a great time to read Glenn Greenwald’s Domestic drones and their unique dangers if you haven’t already.

The Shame of America’s Gulag | Chris Hedges

… As long as profit remains an incentive to incarcerate human beings and our corporate state abounds in surplus, redundant labor, there is little chance that the prison system will be reformed. It is making our corporate overlords wealthy. Our prisons serve the engine of corporate capitalism, transferring state money to private corporations. These corporations will continue to stymie rational prison reform because the system, however inhumane and unjust, feeds corporate bank accounts. At its bottom the problem is not race—although race plays a huge part in incarceration rates—nor is it finally poverty; it is the predatory nature of corporate capitalism itself. And until we slay the beast of corporate capitalism, until we wrest power back from corporations, until we build social institutions and a system of governance designed not to profit the few but foster the common good, our prison industry and the horror it perpetuates will only expand. [++]

People have said to me that the criminal justice system doesn’t work. … I’ve come to believe exactly the opposite—that it works perfectly, just as slavery did, as a matter of economic and political policy. How is it that a 15-year-old in Newark who the country labels worthless to the economy, who has no hope of getting a job or affording college, can suddenly generate 20,000 to 30,000 dollars a year once trapped in the criminal justice system? The expansion of prisons, parole, probation, the court and police systems has resulted in an enormous bureaucracy which has been a boon to everyone from architects to food vendors—all with one thing in common, a paycheck earned by keeping human beings in cages. The criminalization of poverty is a lucrative business, and we have replaced the social safety net with a dragnet.

Bonnie Kurness

The Shame of America’s Gulag

Study: 250,000 U.S. Guns Smuggled into Mexico Each Year

The U.N. global arms talks come as a new study has revealed that about 2 percent of all U.S. gun sales are made to groups that smuggle them into Mexico. More than 250,000 U.S. guns head into Mexico each year as part of an illegal trade worth nearly $130 million annually, according to researchers at the University of San Diego. In fact, thousands of U.S. sellers depend on the illegal sales and would go out of business without them, the report found.

Fear, Corporate Profiteering, and Government Expansion of the Security Surveillance State on the US Borderland

On an institutional and personal level, the language of “border security” functions simultaneously as a mask and crutch. The military jargon of threats, forward-operating bases, operational control, etc. hides the fact that this agency’s operations have little or nothing to do with security. Rather, it is more about sitting bored, shift after shift, in green-and-white trucks looking for immigrants and weed. Perhaps, just perhaps, this glorified sense of mission - this security mask - would be okay if it existed primarily to keep up morale (lowest among federal bureaucracies) and to keep these gals and guys awake in their trucks. But as seen in the strategy statements of all these homeland security agencies, especially CBP along with USBP and Office of Air and Marine, the mask is much more than an internal morale booster; it functions to justify ever higher budgets, increased presence in border communities, and enormously expensive high-tech solutions. [read]

A Football Stadium Becomes Ground Zero in the Fight Against the New Jim Crow | Dave Zirin

A sit-in at the university president’s office; calls for their resignation; a packed, campus-wide meeting that resolves nothing and opens the door to further conflict. Such actions are notable enough on their own, but we’ve never seen a protest movement quite like what’s happening at Florida Atlantic University. For the first time on record, hundreds of students are raising their voices against the renaming of their school’s football stadium. FAU decided to sell the stadium’s naming rights to Geo Group, a notorious private prison corporation, and students are saying, “Hell no.” Their efforts signal something even more significant than pushing back against the inviolate prerogatives of a school’s football program. It’s a high-profile sign of the growing movement against our system of mass incarceration otherwise known as “the New Jim Crow.”

Geo Group will pay $6 million over twelve years to rebrand the football stadium, home of the FAU Owls. Protesters have now also rebranded the stadium, calling it “Owlcatraz.”

Students marched and occupied President Mary Jane Saunders’ office last week, submitting a letter that read, “We are protesting because we believe that institutions of higher learning like FAU have the responsibility to stand up to the systemic racism, corruption and human rights violations that define the prison-for-profit system, and advocate instead for the equality and human rights.”

The students are, of course, correct. Private prisons are immoral, Orwellian institutions. To combat any trend against growing levels of incarceration, they spend millions on political lobbying to make sure that provably racist institutions like “the War on Drugs”, “three strikes” laws and, their latest ripe plum, the incarceration of undocumented immigrants, remain the rule of the land. But if private prisons are diseases, then Geo Group is the Ebola virus. Describing one of their juvenile jails in Mississippi, a judge called Geo Group’s facilities “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.”

Throwing more gasoline on the fire, President Saunders’s initial response to Geo Group’s offer was pure, uncritical glee, calling it “delightful” and saying without a sprig of irony, “This gift is a true representation of The GEO Group’s incredible generosity to FAU and the community it serves.”

[…] This movement isn’t stopping despite President Saunders’s most fervent wishes. By, at best, not doing her due diligence or, at worst, valuing the money over any attendant moral or ethical concerns, Saunders has turned the school into a national punch line. By standing up to this synthesis of football and prison, and Geo Group’s uniquely American horror story, the students are trying to map a different way forward for the university. If it’s remembered as a place where a campus movement was finally launched against the private prison industry and the New Jim Crow, that will be a far prouder legacy than the place that sold their soul for the dirty money of a for-profit gulag.

You’re going to have to have a program that assures those farms and those processing plants that there will be workers, because if you give them legal status, they can work anywhere in the United States — they’re not going to necessarily work at the hardest, toughest, dirtiest jobs.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte explaining why there should not be a path to citizenship for agricultural and meatpacking workers. 

I actually heard this interview last night on NPR and was amazed by it. The original sin of this country is that it was built by an underclass (actually several underclasses) of laborers who were denied a just return on their efforts. This system in which some people are overseers and others are drudges — most of all, a system which is specifically designed to prevent people from moving from lower to higher position within the system — is inherently unjust. The existence of such a system warped our nation at its founding, and has constantly degraded our character as we have grown and developed. We have, over time, pulled down several versions of this system, including slavery, indentured servitude, sweatshops and sharecropping and the company store. But we have not moved beyond the impulse to be masters of people desperate enough to put themselves into serfdom. That this impulse still, in this new century, shapes the proposals of our Congress… makes me deeply ashamed.

(via wateringgoodseeds)

Get Corporations Out of Education: An Open Letter to Arne Duncan | Common Dreams

Dear Mr. Duncan,

As primary, secondary, and university educators who are passionate about the importance of a liberal arts education in building and maintaining a democratic society, we are very concerned with the impact of standardized testing on humanities curricula. The widespread trend of teaching to the test is undermining primary and secondary education. Social studies, history, the fine arts, the study of literatures and languages, drama and music; these and other subjects not assessed in the standardized tests of “No Child Left Behind” are subjects that are themselves being left behind as administrators pressure teachers to raise narrowly conceived test scores in a few core areas.

We seek to build respect for the democratic process, critical thinking skills, writing skills, and understanding that is not accurately measured in multiple-choice tests. (see the Fair Test website for a review of the literature: http://www.fairtest.org/k-12/high%20stakes). While we see the Common Core Curriculum as a step in the right direction, we steadfastly reject attempts pushed by testing companies to devise standardized assessments to measure progress in reading, writing, and speaking. Nor do we believe that computer programs currently being developed by major assessment corporations, or any form of outsourcing of essay assessments, are viable solutions.

Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.

Instead of relying on standardized tests, we believe that the best way to pursue higher standards in reading, writing, and speaking skills is to develop standardized and widely accepted rubrics for assessment and allow teachers to assess their students with these rubrics.

We are very concerned with the extent to which current educational policies have embraced what John Dewey would call “instrumental rationality” in seeking solutions that can be statistically measured. We are currently seeing a national backlash against such measurements from parents, teachers, and administrators. These statistical measures merely confirm the very real social gaps between the haves and the have-nots in American education. (For a review of the literature see here).

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[H]uman beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, ‘Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,’ than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined. The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible. Chris Hedges, Profiting From Human Misery