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Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
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Too much power is not good for a person, or for a nation. It leads to hubris, to the childish illusion of omnipotence, and, even when driven by good intentions, to abuse.
In the case of the United States, the illusion of being exceptional, the idea that the "Greatest Nation in the History of the World" can do anything, is doubtless fed by the manner of the country's inception. France and the United States are the only Western democracies born from revolutions. Like France, the American republic likes to claim that it represents not only the hopes of humankind, but universal values. The American way is the global way, or it jolly well should be.
What the French call la mission civilisatrice has also been a driving force for Americans. The national destiny is to civilize the benighted world. To believers in this mission -- who are not always in the mainstream of U.S. politics, but have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in the decade since the 9/11 attacks -- it is not sufficient for the United States to be an example to the world. It is incumbent on the republic to export freedom and democracy, by force if necessary.
This is the Napoleonic side of U.S. foreign policy. As was true of France, the Napoleonic urge is rooted in the Christian tradition. French and American democracies may be secular, but the missionary zeal and the claims of universality surely owe something to the countries' religious past.
Still, the illusion of American omnipotence was held in check by other powers, notably by the British Empire, and later by the Soviet Union, for much of America's history. This is not to extol the virtues of the Soviet system, which were limited, to say the least. But Moscow at a minimum played the role of keeping things in perspective.
After 1989, there was ostensibly nothing to stop the American dream of shaping the world to its liking. You might say it was America's Palmerstonian moment, when it acted like Victorian England's Lord Palmerston, who believed that Britain's duty was to use its might to reorder other nations, from Belgium to Afghanistan to China. Bush the Elder was still too cautious to fully embrace Palmerston's liberal interventionism. His son was not. It was 9/11 that released American hubris in full force.
"We don't want to fight, but by Jingo if we do: We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too.…" These were the words of a popular music-hall ditty in London in the 1870s, but they might have been sung in the streets of Washington around 2003.
But this American hubris, mixed with an atmosphere of paranoia, has brought disastrous results for others, and for the United States itself. Unnecessary wars, sometimes undertaken with true missionary zeal, are bleeding the country's treasury and costing countless lives.
Not all the costs are direct. The gradual militarization of American society -- the ritual genuflections to "our men and women in uniform," the bloated military budgets, the fawning attitude to generals -- has resulted in something more often associated with tin-pot dictatorships in the developing world: crumbling bridges, potholed roads, rotten schools, and an overbearing military loaded with all the best and latest hardware.
This is clearly not good for most Americans. But it isn't good for U.S. allies, either. Sick of waging wars, for excellent reasons, Europeans and the Japanese have become like spoiled adolescents, almost totally dependent for their security on the big American father. Too indolent, or scared, to take more responsibility for their own protection, they express the humiliation of their dependency in fits of anti-American pique.
In East Asia, Pax Americana still rules, not only because the Japanese can't make up their minds about whether to change their (American-written) pacifist constitution, but also because China, too, has long preferred the status quo. The alternative to being ringed by U.S. bases, after all, is to see the Japanese take over.
There are some signs that Europeans are beginning to wean themselves from the American parent. Yet the form this takes seems to be flattery through imitation. Just a few years ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair still believed that it was Britain's role to be an obedient, even zealous junior partner in the U.S. military mission to spread light unto the world. The latest venture in Libya, however, showed a more independent European spirit, led, unsurprisingly, by the French. It was as if President Nicolas Sarkozy, cheered on by some prominent French chauvinists, wanted to hitch the tricolor once more to its own mission civilisatrice. This time, the United States, exhausted by too many recent failures, took a back seat. Nonetheless, even this Franco-British mission could never have had any success without the wherewithal of U.S. power.
There is much talk, none of it very new, of the decline of the West, and of the United States in particular. China, so people claim, and in the long run perhaps India too, will assume the mantle of world power, just as Washington once took over from London. Perhaps this will come to pass. All great powers come to an end.
Yet neither China nor India, nor any other country, is likely to dominate the world soon in the way the United States has done. China's ambition does not stretch beyond its Asian periphery, and India is still too poor and too battered by domestic rebellions to control its own territory successfully, let alone anywhere beyond Kashmir. American decline might still be a lengthy process. Failures in some sectors of the economy are partly made up for by successes in others: For all the Detroit plant closures, there's a Google, a Microsoft, a Facebook. And whatever people might say to criticize America, many still wish to bask a bit longer in the security it claims to provide. But if history offers any indication, Napoleonic, or even Palmerstonian, politics always end up in mental and physical exhaustion. There is little doubt in my mind that the illusion of omnipotence, rather than lengthening the days of Pax Americana, has speeded up its eventual demise.
JOHN MILTON XIV
"As recently as 2003, it was "As recently as 2003, it was considered absurd to talk of the decline of the United States. Now, however, such a belief has become common currency among theorists, policymakers, and the media. What significantly raised the awareness of this concept was, of course, the fiasco of the United States' preemptive invasion of Iraq. What is not yet sufficiently appreciated is the precise nature of this decline and when it specifically began.
Most analysts contend that the United States was at its hegemonic apex in the post-1991 era when the world was marked by unipolarity, as contrasted with the bipolar structure that existed during the Cold War.
But this notion has reality absolutely backwards. The United States was the sole hegemonic power from 1945 to approximately 1970. Its hegemony has been in decline ever since. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major blow to US power in the world. And the invasion of Iraq in 2003 transformed the situation from one of slow decline into one of precipitous collapse. By 2007, the United States had lost its credibility not only as the economic and political leader of the world-system, but also as the dominant military power. Since I am aware that this is not the standard picture either in the media or in scholarly literature, let me spell this out in some detail. I shall divide this accountinto three periods: 1945-1970, 1970-2001, and 2001 to the present. They correspond to the period of US hegemony, that of slow US decline giving rise to a creeping multipolarity, and that of the precipitate decline and effective multipolarityof the era inaugurated by US President George W. Bush."
from Immanuel Wallerstein's "Precipitate Decline: The Advent of Multipolarity"
"Since the end of the Second World War, the geopolitics of the world-system has traversed three different phases. From 1945 till ca. 1970 the us hegemony exercised unquestioned hegemony in the world-system. The period from 1970 to 2001 was a time in which American hegemony began to decline, but the extent of its decline was limited by the strategy that the US evolved to delay and minimize the effects of its loss of ascendancy. In the period since 2001, the us has sought to recuperate its standing by more unilateralist policies, which have, however, boomeranged-indeed actually accelerating the speed and depth of its decline."
both above from
Nov 1, 2011 | FPThe idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans. Too bad it's not true.
Over the last two centuries, prominent Americans have described the United States as an "empire of liberty," a "shining city on a hill," the "last best hope of Earth," the "leader of the free world," and the "indispensable nation." These enduring tropes explain why all presidential candidates feel compelled to offer ritualistic paeans to America's greatness and why President Barack Obama landed in hot water -- most recently, from Mitt Romney -- for saying that while he believed in "American exceptionalism," it was no different from "British exceptionalism," "Greek exceptionalism," or any other country's brand of patriotic chest-thumping.
Most statements of "American exceptionalism" presume that America's values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. They also imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.
The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth. Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities -- from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom -- the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics. By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else.
This unchallenged faith in American exceptionalism makes it harder for Americans to understand why others are less enthusiastic about U.S. dominance, often alarmed by U.S. policies, and frequently irritated by what they see as U.S. hypocrisy, whether the subject is possession of nuclear weapons, conformity with international law, or America's tendency to condemn the conduct of others while ignoring its own failings. Ironically, U.S. foreign policy would probably be more effective if Americans were less convinced of their own unique virtues and less eager to proclaim them.
What we need, in short, is a more realistic and critical assessment of America's true character and contributions. In that spirit, I offer here the Top 5 Myths about American Exceptionalism.
Myth 1: There Is Something Exceptional About American Exceptionalism.
Whenever American leaders refer to the "unique" responsibilities of the United States, they are saying that it is different from other powers and that these differences require them to take on special burdens.
Yet there is nothing unusual about such lofty declarations; indeed, those who make them are treading a well-worn path. Most great powers have considered themselves superior to their rivals and have believed that they were advancing some greater good when they imposed their preferences on others. The British thought they were bearing the "white man's burden," while French colonialists invoked la mission civilisatrice to justify their empire. Portugal, whose imperial activities were hardly distinguished, believed it was promoting a certain missão civilizadora. Even many of the officials of the former Soviet Union genuinely believed they were leading the world toward a socialist utopia despite the many cruelties that communist rule inflicted. Of course, the United States has by far the better claim to virtue than Stalin or his successors, but Obama was right to remind us that all countries prize their own particular qualities.
So when Americans proclaim they are exceptional and indispensable, they are simply the latest nation to sing a familiar old song. Among great powers, thinking you're special is the norm, not the exception.
Myth 2: The United States Behaves Better Than Other Nations Do.
Declarations of American exceptionalism rest on the belief that the United States is a uniquely virtuous nation, one that loves peace, nurtures liberty, respects human rights, and embraces the rule of law. Americans like to think their country behaves much better than other states do, and certainly better than other great powers.
If only it were true. The United States may not have been as brutal as the worst states in world history, but a dispassionate look at the historical record belies most claims about America's moral superiority.
For starters, the United States has been one of the most expansionist powers in modern history. It began as 13 small colonies clinging to the Eastern Seaboard, but eventually expanded across North America, seizing Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California from Mexico in 1846. Along the way, it eliminated most of the native population and confined the survivors to impoverished reservations. By the mid-19th century, it had pushed Britain out of the Pacific Northwest and consolidated its hegemony over the Western Hemisphere.
The United States has fought numerous wars since then -- starting several of them -- and its wartime conduct has hardly been a model of restraint. The 1899-1902 conquest of the Philippines killed some 200,000 to 400,000 Filipinos, most of them civilians, and the United States and its allies did not hesitate to dispatch some 305,000 German and 330,000 Japanese civilians through aerial bombing during World War II, mostly through deliberate campaigns against enemy cities. No wonder Gen. Curtis LeMay, who directed the bombing campaign against Japan, told an aide, "If the U.S. lost the war, we would be prosecuted as war criminals." The United States dropped more than 6 million tons of bombs during the Indochina war, including tons of napalm and lethal defoliants like Agent Orange, and it is directly responsible for the deaths of many of the roughly 1 million civilians who died in that war.
More recently, the U.S.-backed Contra war in Nicaragua killed some 30,000 Nicaraguans, a percentage of their population equivalent to 2 million dead Americans. U.S. military action has led directly or indirectly to the deaths of 250,000 Muslims over the past three decades (and that's a low-end estimate, not counting the deaths resulting from the sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s), including the more than 100,000 people who died following the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. U.S. drones and Special Forces are going after suspected terrorists in at least five countries at present and have killed an unknown number of innocent civilians in the process. Some of these actions may have been necessary to make Americans more prosperous and secure. But while Americans would undoubtedly regard such acts as indefensible if some foreign country were doing them to us, hardly any U.S. politicians have questioned these policies. Instead, Americans still wonder, "Why do they hate us?"
The United States talks a good game on human rights and international law, but it has refused to sign most human rights treaties, is not a party to the International Criminal Court, and has been all too willing to cozy up to dictators -- remember our friend Hosni Mubarak? -- with abysmal human rights records. If that were not enough, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the George W. Bush administration's reliance on waterboarding, extraordinary rendition, and preventive detention should shake America's belief that it consistently acts in a morally superior fashion. Obama's decision to retain many of these policies suggests they were not a temporary aberration.
The United States never conquered a vast overseas empire or caused millions to die through tyrannical blunders like China's Great Leap Forward or Stalin's forced collectivization. And given the vast power at its disposal for much of the past century, Washington could certainly have done much worse. But the record is clear: U.S. leaders have done what they thought they had to do when confronted by external dangers, and they paid scant attention to moral principles along the way. The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans; too bad it's not true.
Myth 3: America's Success Is Due to Its Special Genius.
The United States has enjoyed remarkable success, and Americans tend to portray their rise to world power as a direct result of the political foresight of the Founding Fathers, the virtues of the U.S. Constitution, the priority placed on individual liberty, and the creativity and hard work of the American people. In this narrative, the United States enjoys an exceptional global position today because it is, well, exceptional.
There is more than a grain of truth to this version of American history. It's not an accident that immigrants came to America in droves in search of economic opportunity, and the "melting pot" myth facilitated the assimilation of each wave of new Americans. America's scientific and technological achievements are fully deserving of praise and owe something to the openness and vitality of the American political order.
But America's past success is due as much to good luck as to any uniquely American virtues. The new nation was lucky that the continent was lavishly endowed with natural resources and traversed by navigable rivers. It was lucky to have been founded far from the other great powers and even luckier that the native population was less advanced and highly susceptible to European diseases. Americans were fortunate that the European great powers were at war for much of the republic's early history, which greatly facilitated its expansion across the continent, and its global primacy was ensured after the other great powers fought two devastating world wars. This account of America's rise does not deny that the United States did many things right, but it also acknowledges that America's present position owes as much to good fortune as to any special genius or "manifest destiny."
Myth 4: The United States Is Responsible for Most of the Good in the World.
Americans are fond of giving themselves credit for positive international developments. President Bill Clinton believed the United States was "indispensable to the forging of stable political relations," and the late Harvard University political scientist Samuel P. Huntington thought U.S. primacy was central "to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world." Journalist Michael Hirsh has gone even further, writing in his book At War With Ourselves that America's global role is "the greatest gift the world has received in many, many centuries, possibly all of recorded history." Scholarly works such as Tony Smith's America's Mission and G. John Ikenberry's Liberal Leviathan emphasize America's contribution to the spread of democracy and its promotion of a supposedly liberal world order. Given all the high-fives American leaders have given themselves, it is hardly surprising that most Americans see their country as an overwhelmingly positive force in world affairs.
Once again, there is something to this line of argument, just not enough to make it entirely accurate. The United States has made undeniable contributions to peace and stability in the world over the past century, including the Marshall Plan, the creation and management of the Bretton Woods system, its rhetorical support for the core principles of democracy and human rights, and its mostly stabilizing military presence in Europe and the Far East. But the belief that all good things flow from Washington's wisdom overstates the U.S. contribution by a wide margin.
For starters, though Americans watching Saving Private Ryan or Patton may conclude that the United States played the central role in vanquishing Nazi Germany, most of the fighting was in Eastern Europe and the main burden of defeating Hitler's war machine was borne by the Soviet Union. Similarly, though the Marshall Plan and NATO played important roles in Europe's post-World War II success, Europeans deserve at least as much credit for rebuilding their economies, constructing a novel economic and political union, and moving beyond four centuries of sometimes bitter rivalry. Americans also tend to think they won the Cold War all by themselves, a view that ignores the contributions of other anti-Soviet adversaries and the courageous dissidents whose resistance to communist rule produced the "velvet revolutions" of 1989.
Moreover, as Godfrey Hodgson recently noted in his sympathetic but clear-eyed book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, the spread of liberal ideals is a global phenomenon with roots in the Enlightenment, and European philosophers and political leaders did much to advance the democratic ideal. Similarly, the abolition of slavery and the long effort to improve the status of women owe more to Britain and other democracies than to the United States, where progress in both areas trailed many other countries. Nor can the United States claim a global leadership role today on gay rights, criminal justice, or economic equality -- Europe's got those areas covered.
Finally, any honest accounting of the past half-century must acknowledge the downside of American primacy. The United States has been the major producer of greenhouse gases for most of the last hundred years and thus a principal cause of the adverse changes that are altering the global environment. The United States stood on the wrong side of the long struggle against apartheid in South Africa and backed plenty of unsavory dictatorships -- including Saddam Hussein's -- when short-term strategic interests dictated. Americans may be justly proud of their role in creating and defending Israel and in combating global anti-Semitism, but its one-sided policies have also prolonged Palestinian statelessness and sustained Israel's brutal occupation.
Bottom line: Americans take too much credit for global progress and accept too little blame for areas where U.S. policy has in fact been counterproductive. Americans are blind to their weak spots, and in ways that have real-world consequences. Remember when Pentagon planners thought U.S. troops would be greeted in Baghdad with flowers and parades? They mostly got RPGs and IEDs instead.
Myth 5: God Is on Our Side.
A crucial component of American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States has a divinely ordained mission to lead the rest of the world. Ronald Reagan told audiences that there was "some divine plan" that had placed America here, and once quoted Pope Pius XII saying, "Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind." Bush offered a similar view in 2004, saying, "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom." The same idea was expressed, albeit less nobly, in Otto von Bismarck's alleged quip that "God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States."
Confidence is a valuable commodity for any country. But when a nation starts to think it enjoys the mandate of heaven and becomes convinced that it cannot fail or be led astray by scoundrels or incompetents, then reality is likely to deliver a swift rebuke. Ancient Athens, Napoleonic France, imperial Japan, and countless other countries have succumbed to this sort of hubris, and nearly always with catastrophic results.
Despite America's many successes, the country is hardly immune from setbacks, follies, and boneheaded blunders. If you have any doubts about that, just reflect on how a decade of ill-advised tax cuts, two costly and unsuccessful wars, and a financial meltdown driven mostly by greed and corruption have managed to squander the privileged position the United States enjoyed at the end of the 20th century. Instead of assuming that God is on their side, perhaps Americans should heed Abraham Lincoln's admonition that our greatest concern should be "whether we are on God's side."
Given the many challenges Americans now face, from persistent unemployment to the burden of winding down two deadly wars, it's unsurprising that they find the idea of their own exceptionalism comforting -- and that their aspiring political leaders have been proclaiming it with increasing fervor. Such patriotism has its benefits, but not when it leads to a basic misunderstanding of America's role in the world. This is exactly how bad decisions get made.
America has its own special qualities, as all countries do, but it is still a state embedded in a competitive global system. It is far stronger and richer than most, and its geopolitical position is remarkably favorable. These advantages give the United States a wider range of choice in its conduct of foreign affairs, but they don't ensure that its choices will be good ones. Far from being a unique state whose behavior is radically different from that of other great powers, the United States has behaved like all the rest, pursuing its own self-interest first and foremost, seeking to improve its relative position over time, and devoting relatively little blood or treasure to purely idealistic pursuits. Yet, just like past great powers, it has convinced itself that it is different, and better, than everyone else.
International politics is a contact sport, and even powerful states must compromise their political principles for the sake of security and prosperity. Nationalism is also a powerful force, and it inevitably highlights the country's virtues and sugarcoats its less savory aspects. But if Americans want to be truly exceptional, they might start by viewing the whole idea of "American exceptionalism" with a much more skeptical eye.
The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse edited by Marjorie Cohn (New York University Press: 2011), 342 pages.
When I was a child in Reagan's America, a common theme in Cold War rhetoric was that the Soviets tortured people and detained them without cause, extracted phony confessions through cruel violence, did the unspeakable to detainees who were helpless against the full, heartless weight of the communist state. It was torture as much as any evil that differentiated the bad guys, the commies, from the good guys, the American people and their government. However imperfect the U.S. system was, it had civilized standards rejected by the enemy.
In April 2004, the world was shocked to see photos exposing the torment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, one of Saddam Hussein's most infamous prisons, which was taken over and used by the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Well, most of the world was shocked. Some, mostly conservative commentators, dismissed or defended the barbarity, even comparing it to frat-boy hazing. Others were disgusted but shrugged it off as the work of a few bad apples, not something that should draw judgment down on the whole of U.S. policy and the brave men and women in uniform. Still others of us were horrified but did not see the mistreatment as any sort of aberration - we expected such torture to occur in a war of aggression, figured we had not seen the worst of it, and even argued that what goes on in America's domestic prisons easily compares with some of the milder photos dominating the nightly news.
A national debate arose out of that scandal. More than one question was pondered: Do these photos depict torture? Is this an anomaly or a systemic problem? Who should be held accountable? Should torture always be illegal?
Over the next few years, more torture controversies came up. The question of whether water-boarding actually constitutes torture was particularly disheartening. Some defenders of the U.S. government said the United States should not and does not torture, but waterboarding doesn't count. Others said that even if the United States does torture, it is doing so in service of a greater good.
We have actually come to the point where the rhetoric of Reagan's day no longer holds: American exceptionalists and conservatives no longer claim emphatically that the United States does not and never will torture, as they did before (however disingenuously). An AP poll in June 2009 found that 52 percent of Americans thought torture was justified in some situations - up from only 38 percent in 2005. In Obama's America, torture is now normalized.
But Americans should recoil from torture absolutely, should recognize it is not an anomaly of the Bush war in Iraq but a practice with decades of U.S. precedent, should understand that responsibility for the Bush-era torture went all the way to the top, should know that domestic and international laws were unambiguously violated in the war on terrorism, should understand and oppose torture even when it's "only" psychological or used against domestic criminal convicts, and should recognize that Obama has not put a stop to the abuse. A single book will offer a crash course in all these elements of the U.S. torture state: The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, a remarkable and multidisciplinary collection of chapters by scholars, lawyers, and journalists, all compiled by Marjorie Cohn, past president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.
Not just Bush
It is crucial to recognize that torture is not a new policy that began with George W. Bush's war on terrorism. Despite the Cold War rhetoric, the U.S. government has been responsible for torture for decades, particularly in Latin America. The preface to the book is written by Dianna Ortiz, a nun who was raped, burnt, beaten, and otherwise tortured in Guatemala in 1989, all under the auspices of a U.S. commander, she is sure. There is no reason to doubt her. A chapter by Bill Quigley surveys the legacy of the School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S. Army installation with origins in Panama in 1946 that was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984 and renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. "Together these schools have trained more than 60,000 members of the military from 22 Central and South American countries."
Students were trained in "the systematic use of torture and executions to neutralize dissidents." In 1996 the Pentagon admitted using torture training manuals in the SOA. The manuals "were based on materials used in the Vietnam War in the 1960s."
Some of the worst graduates include Bolivian Gen. Hugo Banzer, who seized the country in a violent coup in 1971; the dictator of Guatemala, Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, who is implicated in "5,000 political murders and up to 25,000 civilian deaths"; Panama's famed dictator, Manuel Noriega; and "most of the Chilean military who overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973."
El Salvador was probably the scene of most of this U.S.-sponsored barbarity. American support for the death squads is the focus of Terry Lynn Karl's chapter. The Reagan administration repeatedly defended the regime in El Salvador, despite its outright murder of moderate reformers, Jesuit priests and nuns, and other innocent men, women, and children. "On December 10, 1981, units of the Atlactl Battalion and the Third Infantry Brigade detained between 500 and 900 people in the village of El Mozote and the surrounding area, then executed them in groups, first the men, and then the women and children." It is telling that "U.S. aid totals in the two years of greatest repression (1980–1981) were far greater than the total for the previous 33 years." This is one great shame of both the Carter and the Reagan administrations.
Even before George W. Bush took office, what became one of his most scandalous torture programs - the outsourcing of abusive interrogation to foreign thugs, known as "extraordinary renditioning" - was already being developed. Jane Mayer tells of its fledgling beginnings in the Clinton years, when it was also used in the war on al-Qaeda, with most of the renditioned detainees handed over to Egypt, "the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel." At the hands of Mubarak's brutal regime, Shawki Salama Attiya claims "that he suffered electrical shocks to his genitals, was hung from his limbs, and was kept in a cell in filthy water up to his knees." The abuses only expanded under Bush, who renditioned at least dozens of terror suspects. At least some of them, such as Canadian citizen Maher Arar, tortured in Syria, appear to have been completely innocent of any terrorist-related activities.
Just as U.S.-sponsored torture didn't begin with Bush, it didn't end with him. The last chapter, written by Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, points out that the Obama administration has "implied that it would continue the practice of extraordinary rendition" and as of his writing Obama "is not complying with the UN Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions, or other obligations under international and domestic law, as reports from the Washington Post and other reputable news organizations indicate that torture continues at various U.S. prisons oversees." Of course, indefinite detention without charge has also continued and Obama has shielded Bush officials from legal recourse.
Psychological abuse and solitary confinement
One misconception about torture is that it has to leave a physical mark, or be physical at all. Alfred W. McCoy's chapter, "The CIA's Pursuit of Psychological Torture," dispels this myth, detailing the agency's most disturbing past in attempting to master the art of mind control. Starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s and guided by a report on Nazi experiments, chemist Henry Beecher consulted for the CIA in psychological experiments in postwar Germany. Later, "Beecher won a classified military contract to test heavy LSD doses on unwitting human subjects at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1953-4 - a clear violation of the Nuremberg medical code." McCoy explains how severe psychological torture techniques can be and traces their propagation "among anti-communist allies across Asia and Latin America" and their link to the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam.
The importance of psychological torture is not lost on U.S. officials, who have in the war on terrorism cooperated with professional psychologists to hone this diabolical craft. "[Psychologists] helped to define what constitutes 'torture' in general terms of detainee breaking points" to help the administration find the threshold of what would "officially constitute illegal torture," writes Stephen Soldz. The psychologists "were not just monitors of abuse." They helped design it. U.S. troops are put through abusive conditions to "evaluate how much stress an individual could tolerate. It was these psychologists on whom the government relied, when it 'reversed engineered' … techniques to design 'counterresistance techniques' to break down detainees." Soldz is highly critical of the American Psychological Association for what he says is complicity in this shameful collaboration between members of the profession and the torture state.
Just as physical torture is not the only kind of torture, so wartime enemies are not the only victims. Lance Tapley indicts the entire institution of solitary confinement in America's supermax prisons as a form of torture. But is he exaggerating?
Severe pain and suffering as punishment are plainly the norm in a supermax. Even when mental suffering alone is considered - ignoring, for example, the coordinated beatings and violent subjugation of recalcitrant prisoners known as "cell extractions" - the prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners has increasingly been described by UN agencies and human-rights organizations as cruel, inhuman, degrading, or torturous.
You don't have to take the UN's word for it. Tapley describes compellingly a totalitarian hell for domestic prisoners. Nothing like it can be found in the world of criminal justice, especially the so-called civilized world. And what are "cell extractions"? The author describes one prisoner who endures them "up to five times a day":
Five hollering guards wearing helmets and body armor charge into a cell. The point-man smashes a big shield into the prisoner, knocking him down. The others spray Mace into his face, push him onto the bed, and twist his arms behind his back to handcuff him, connecting the cuffs by a chain to leg irons. Then they haul him into the corridor, cut off all his clothes, and carry him screaming through the cell block while they continue to Mace him. They put him in an observation room, and bind him to a special chair. He remains there for hours, naked and cold, yelling and mumbling.
Estimates of how many American prisoners sit in supermaxes range between 36,000 and 100,000. Not all inmates are violent rapists and murderers. Many are mentally troubled. Their terrible treatment is one reason some of us were not so shocked by the photos at Abu Ghraib.
Legal violations and philosophical dilemmas
Yet there was something particularly evil about the Bush administration's torture policies. Many thousands were detained without due process and were exposed to particularly disturbing cruelties. Up to a hundred died in detention, many tortured to death.
The chapter by Marc D. Falkoff, a lawyer for a Guantánamo inmate, humanizes such prisoners, many of whom were swept up in the war in Afghanistan, called the "worst of the worst" by American officials, and deprived of due process for years, even as the Supreme Court struck down one administration attempt after another to circumvent habeas corpus. Falkoff's client, Adnan, appears to be an innocent victim of circumstance, deprived of the right to see the evidence against him, accused of connections with al-Qaeda, an organization he seems not to know anything about. He suffers from chronic headaches and inner ear pain, the results of a 1994 car accident. He is denied suitable food or anywhere near adequate medical attention for his many health problems. The water he is given has bugs in it. Excerpts from the proceedings and interrogations indicate a code of justice reaching Kafkaesque absurdity. After years of torturous confinement, Adnan went on a hunger strike. In response, "twice a day, soldiers force-feed Adnan a liquid nutrient by inserting a tube up his nose and into his stomach. His arms and legs are strapped to a special restraint chair during the feedings." Force-feeding is considered torture by the UN.
The legal questions surrounding Bush's detention and torture policies are discussed at length, in multiple chapters. His narrow redefinition of torture to escape the sanctions of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law is exposed as a despicable yet still technically failing undertaking. The book confronts the extremist argument that the president could inflict even deadly abuse or torture on a child without being in violation of the law.
Michael Ratner writes about attempts to bring U.S. torturers to justice outside of U.S. borders, in other nations' courts. Jeanne Mirer makes a comprehensive case that the lawyers who guided Bush administration torture policy are legally culpable. Phillippe Sands demonstrates starkly that the arguments of John Yoo and others that the president was above all international law were completely without merit. According to Jordan J. Paust's chapter, the various legal memos of infamy, from Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, Steven G. Bradbury, and Jay Bybee, far from providing a legal shield for the administration, demonstrate their authors' complicity in the U.S. torture state. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are also exposed for their involvement in "the Bush legacy of serial and cascading criminality."
Some philosophical issues are also tackled in the book. John W. Lango has an interesting chapter grappling with the common, yet seemingly absurd, argument that torture might be necessary to stop a ticking time bomb and save thousands or millions of innocent lives. After a thoughtful discussion of the potential ethical dilemmas, he convincingly concludes, "Despite real-world counterexamples to moral absolutism about informational torment, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment must be legally prohibited absolutely." Richard Falk's chapter criticizes the left-liberal mind-set that appropriately recoils in horror at the prospect of torture, but not in such completely asymmetrical wars as Vietnam, Kosovo, and Iraq. Although "the prohibition of 'torture' has been benevolently inscribed in the political mentality of liberal legality … the reliance on one-sided warfare stirs no comparable moral concern." He traces that disconnect back to World War II and the reliance on weapons of mass destruction in the Cold War and calls on people to see wars against the defenseless as deserving condemnation in moral terms and not just in practical ones.
Understanding America's torture state
Abu Ghraib was no aberration. It was the result of policies approved by George W. Bush and his immediate executive, military, and legal subordinates. It was also morally consistent with policies pursued by the U.S. government since at least the dawn of the Cold War. American officials have used torture domestically and internationally, directly and by proxy, through methods both physically brutal and psychologically crippling. It is express U.S. policy, even when the government denies what it is doing is torture, for it has explicitly endorsed techniques long recognized internationally to be forms of torture. Torture is also a predictable outcome of U.S. wars of aggression.
At the center of American government is an ethical bankruptcy. There is a rot at the center of the U.S. warfare and welfare state. But aside from the mass looting and mass killing there is also systematic abuse of helpless detainees - in U.S.-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, at Guantánamo, in the dungeons of U.S.-backed and U.S.-sponsored foreign dictatorships, in the hands of terrorists trained by the U.S. Army, in the practice of thugs in league with the CIA, and even in America's state and federal prisons.
Nothing better demonstrates the moral degeneracy of American political culture than the U.S. torture state. Read Marjorie Cohn's chilling book and learn about the cruelty inflicted in your name, with your tax dollars, on the guilty and innocent, foreigners and American citizens alike.
Reprinted with permission courtesy of the Future of Freedom Foundation
Moments after tramping out of my building's swaying stairwell and into the street during August's D.C. earthquake, I checked my phone's Twitter app and got my first good postquake laugh. Salon's Alex Pareene cracked: "I think Chris Christie just jumped into the race."
It's not clear yet whether he will or won't, but one of the most-discussed issues in the current Christie, er, "boomlet" is whether the New Jersey governor is "too fat to be president."
If we're casting a romantic comedy, we'd want someone built more like Matthew McConaughey, but since we're picking a president here, we could stand to focus on Christie's ideas.
The governor's speech at the Reagan Library last week, on American exceptionalism, provided good insight into how the governor thinks about America's role in the world.
American exceptionalism once stood for the proposition that America had developed a unique political culture of "liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire," (as sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset put it) that served as an example for the world.
Lately, alas, the phrase has become shorthand for jingoism, bombast and national self-flattery. It's turned from justifiable pride in our country's uniqueness to something more bellicose and juvenile: "My dad can beat up your dad."
You can see this in the manufactured outrage over President Obama's 2009 comments to a foreign reporter: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
Now, whatever those countries' current difficulties, the British did invent the common law, and the Greeks came up with philosophy and drama, so maybe we can permit them their dram of national pride. It's not a zero-sum game.
Yet in his book "Fed Up!" Texas Gov. Rick Perry lambastes Obama for suggesting as much: "You got the first half right, Mr. President," he snarls.
Perry actually seems concerned that people will think he's unpatriotic for criticizing the federal government: "Now, do not misunderstand me. America is great." Perry's rival, Mitt Romney, played it safe, calling his campaign book "No Apology: The Case for America's Greatness."
There's something a little desperate and insecure about this competition to see who can bray the loudest at proclaiming our greatness.
At the Reagan Library, Christie refused to play along. American exceptionalism, he argued, "must be demonstrated, not just asserted."
Christie emphasized reform at home, America living up to its free-market, limited-government principles, to better serve as "a beacon of hope for the world."
In Christie's formulation, austerity is, in a way, a "forward strategy of freedom," minus the bombs and bloodshed. Solving our entitlements crisis at home is a way to enhance our influence abroad.
Of the ongoing Arab revolutions, Christie argued: "There is no better way to reinforce the likelihood that others in the world will opt for more open societies and economies than to demonstrate that our own system is working."
There's nothing in the speech to suggest that it's America's role to democratize other nations at gunpoint. He closes with Reagan's invocation of John Winthrop: America is "a city on a hill" that leads the world mainly by force of example.
Christie has never been accused of being subtle, but you can read the speech as a subtle rebuke to neoconservatives and armed humanitarians on the left.
A Christie-Obama race would pit our lean, ambitious president -- who's proven so profligate with American blood and treasure -- against this brash bulky figure, arguing that we need to check our appetites and tighten our belts.
That would make for an interesting contrast and an instructive debate.
Examiner Columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of "The Cult of the Presidency."
Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/2011/10/corpulent-christie-may-be-guy-slim-down-america#ixzz1ZuwCrAJ8
October 18, 2008 | Zed244'sNow – as promised – Diary of American Boy, in (my non-native) English. But first, I will have to explain why I bothered with "translating" the original from Russian.
I know how the West sees the Russians – I have been reading enough of western (American) fiction and newspapers and I have been watching (American) movies for quite some time already. A mirror. Not a straight one, but whatever is available. Whatever they use themselves, though it distorts the Russians and Americans very differently.
I read Russian press and watched Russian movies too and I didn't see a trace of symmetrical reaction there. Are Americans not without flaws? Do they not deserve to see themselves in a similar kind of mirror? Perhaps, if they had one– it would help them to understand a bit more about the world we all live in and, especially, how they actually look in the eyes of that world?
And then one day I was looking up the web for a word I did not know – "pendosy" – and found this marvel – "Невниг Пендоского Потцана". It actually looked to me more like a not very good or not completed attempt of an adult to imitate a style of a Russian teenager – at places the form obviously deviated from the generally well structured content, in other parts – it was the content not matching the form. But some observations were strikingly similar to what I myself had observed – of course, in a grotesque form, but funny, nevertheless.
So I decided to translate the text– if not for the benefit of Americans, then just for fun – to see how I manage. I also decided that I want to edit the original slightly – not to match the style of an American teenager, because I cannot possibly do it – but because the text just begged for obvious insertions and/or sometimes – corrections. So I did it. Here it is, not as good as I hoped it would be, but at least something to read for the monolingual mates – sorry, pals. The original in Russian is at the end, so the non-monolinguals can compare the two versions. Enjoy!As a reality check – here is a piece of interview with Brzezinsky and ScowcroftBrzezinski: ..[..]..Diary of American Boy
Quite a few Americans entering college could not locate Great Britain on the map. They couldn't locate Iraq on the map after five years of war. Thirty percent couldn't identify the Pacific Ocean. We don't teach global history; we don't teach global geography. I think most Americans don't have the kind of sophistication that an America that inspires, and thereby leads, will have to have if it is to do what this 21st century really will demand of us.
Scowcroft:I could easily just say amen. But again, this is a part of who we are and from where we have arisen…Americans don't have to learn foreign languages.
[...].Brzezinski: They want to enjoy the good life.
Scowcroft: They want to enjoy the good life. And our political structure seems more and more to cater to the narrow interests of Americans rather than their broader interests.[..]
Scowcroft: We're the only ones who can be the guiding light.
The Brzezinski-Scowcroft conversation has been gathered into a book, "America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy," published by Basic Books and the New America Foundation, http://www.america-russia.net/eng/geopolitics/193208145
My name is Michael Dawn. I live in the US. My country is in the center of rotation of the Earth and the Sun. Recently I did a research project about this and I got high distinction.
Today I woke up early and immediately measured my weight. Hurray! I lost another 0.4 lbs! And now my weight is only 320 lbs . Only one month ago it was 322 lbs! Back then my Dad said that if I didn't loose weight, I wouldn't be able to date girls. As a matter of fact, I prefer boys, because dating girls is not cool.
Then I had my breakfast. It was a diet – corn flakes with reduced-fat milk and two toasts with jam. For a dessert I had four double hamburgers. The breakfast was fun. We had a who-farts-louder competition with my Dad. I won. Now Dad owes me $5. If he doesn't pay up by the evening – I sue the shit out of him.
My school is way too far – almost half a mile. I'm lucky that I have a car. Today's traffic was OK, so it took me only one hour to get to the school. Lessons were boring, as usual. For example, on American history lesson the teacher was telling us a bullshit – that America was discovered by Columbus. How could such a dork get teacher's certificate?! Elementary logic tells you that America was discovered by us, Americans. That is why it is called America.
But Geography lesson was cool. Boy, how many awesome things happen in the world! For example, the teacher told us about this country Africa. Many years ago, in its capital, Egypt, we, Americans, built triangular skyscrapers but now there live the evil Russian mummies. Just why these Russians interfere with everything we do?
In the evening I went to a party at my friend Leslie's house. Everyone thinks that the party was cool. There were about 40 of us. My friend Jimmy stole two bottles of beer from his father. That was clearly too much because we barfed Leslie's pool into a stinky pot liqueur pond. Sam thinks that was because we blew couple of sticks made from what Leslie had near his swimming pool. Me, I barfed into the pool for the shear fun. Anyways, one brick for all of us is just a normal daily dose to keep the lungs trained and head clear. Hey, even my grandmother has more for breakfast every day.
Today is a holiday. I wanted to sleep a bit longer, but my Dad made me play baseball on the front lawn. Actually, it was really cool – we were throwing the ball to each other from three meters for three hours in a row! Remarkable sport and very intellectual!
After lunch my Dad made us watch the President Bush's TV address. We had a good time: we ate pop-corn and listened to the President. He was explaining why it was important for the US to bomb every undemocratic country – because when there is no democracy, people only listen to what is coming from above and so the bombing was an ingenious way to explain to the primitive peoples what the US democratic ideals were about. I never could understand why those idiots protested when we bombed them. Because without our bombing they would never know the taste of coca-cola and hamburgers and thus they wouldn't be able to build a true democracy. God save USA – the country which is always ready to help everyone who does not want to be helped. After watching Bush's address, we sang "God Bless America" and wept from the full realization of our greatness and great responsibility for the mission given to every American by the God.
Today our teacher gave us exciting lesson about this remarkable discipline – Geography. He told us about a far-away undemocratic country which was called Russia. I new a lot about this savage country even without his lesson. For example, everyone knows that Russians are a cross-breed between a bear and a human, they eat birch and drink pure alcohol, live in deep burrows in taiga (which is a Russian jungle), and during their celebrations they put Kremlin on fire and dance around it. But now, after the lesson, I know about Russia much more then its inhabitants. For example, I know that in this country there are immense deposits of American oil and gas. When we need them – we will come to claim our property. There are deposits of vodka in Russia and black and red caviar and mushrooms are mined in open pits. All this treasure is used by Russians in a truly barbarian style: they drink and eat it, thus robbing us – the future generations of Americans. Russia is a true Empire of Evil!After the school I went to my psychoanalyst. I visit him twice a week. He gives me advice how to enjoy life. Today he taught me how to flash the toilet after use. All my life I was wondering why our toilet stinks so much.In the night before going to bed, I played Tetris. Cool action! I was cut on the third level, though. After that I searched porno-sites on the web – http://www.whitehouse.gov/ and http://www.defense.gov/. Their banging is not for kids! I put a photo of Monica Lewinsky on my table and, satisfied with my day and my right hand, I went to sleep. When I grow up I want to become a President of USA and ride in White House lifts all day! Or, maybe, join The Australian Defense Force Academy.
On math lesson today we were learning how to count to ten. Math is very hard. Now I understand why they start teaching it only in a college. I managed to count to seven from the first try. My teacher said it was very good.
During the lunch break Bob showed me a hand gun he borrowed from his Dad and then we decided to see how it works on the girls. It was real fun! The girls were screaming exactly as in Friday, 13th and tried to escape, but Bob always managed to catch up and shoot a control shot into their heads. Then police arrived and took Bob with them ending all the fun…
Immediately after that we were allowed to go home.
Today we had an unusual history lesson. The teacher told us that exactly 28 years ago, the US troops captured Berlin and defeated Germany. Apparently, in 1958, bloody dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ruling Germany at that time, attacked London and bombed its capital Warsaw. Germans on tanks and bicycles captured Paris, Brussels, Kiev and Birobidjan. After Birobijan had fallen, the USA lost their patience and joined the war. In the beginning, the Germans were bombed in Afghanistan, then in Syria, then in Disneyland. The Germans were forced to retreat. Then American army surrounded Germany and using precision spot-target bombs, reduced to a rubble all of the Berlin and then put our proud stars-and-stripes flag on the top of Eiffel tower. Saddam Hussein was captured in Berlin's suburbs, where he was hiding in the basement of a whorehouse. The bloody dictator was court-marshaled and then sent to serve his prison term first to Saint Helen Island and then to Guantanamo Bay.
There he wrote numerous requests to CIA, asking to be publicly hanged. Eventually, all his wishes were generously granted, including the one where he asked to destroy all the evidence about the interrogation techniques used on him and his fellow prisoners. After the US victory, all the nations of the world applauded to the brave soldiers of the US and in their excitement, people were throwing to the US soldiers their most valuable possetions – during the war, of course, it was their food – mostly tomatoes and eggs.
This was how the WWII came to an end and how the bloody dictators of the whole world came to understand that nobody can survive the coming of American democracy ….
REMINDER: The Jacob Hornberger Show every Saturday at 7-8 pm EST. Listen and watch live on the Internet: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-future-of-freedom-foundation
They Also Hate Us for Our Hypocrisy
by Jacob G. Hornberger
The front page of today's New York Times details another instance of the rank hypocrisy that underlies U.S. foreign policy. According to the article, U.S. officials are hopping mad at their partner and ally, the Pakistani government, for trying to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Pakistan's position in its longtime dispute with India over Kashmir.
The feds have indicted two U.S. citizens over the matter. They work for a Washington-based organization named the Kashmiri American Council, which "lobbies for and holds conferences and media events to promote the cause of self-determination for Kashmir" and also donates around $100,000 to U.S. political campaigns.
What's wrong with that? Well, it turns out that a major donor to the organization is the Pakistani government and, specifically, the ISI, which is Pakistan's counterpart to the CIA. Apparently, the feds are claiming that the Kashmiri American Council is just a sham or a ruse to enable the Pakistani government to influence U.S. foreign policy.
What's wrong with that? Well, U.S. officials consider it evil or bad or morally wrong for foreign governments to be interfering with the U.S. political system. That's why they've made it illegal for foreign governments to donate to American political candidates.
The U.S. indictment of those two American citizens is as audacious - and, of course, hypocritical - example of U.S. foreign policy as one could ever hope to find.
After all, virtually all of U.S. foreign policy is oriented toward influencing the political situation in foreign countries. That's what foreign aid to dictators and others, financial aid to NGOs, the CIA's secret funneling of money into countries, CIA front companies, embargoes, sanctions, invasions, occupations, coups, regime-change operations, and assassinations are all about.
Indeed, how much money has the CIA funneled into the coffers of "pro-democracy" groups in Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries whose rulers are not among U.S.-favored dictators? We don't know because it's all secret. They won't let us know because, they say, if we were to know how they distributing the money that the IRS forcibly collects from us, "national security" would be threatened.
How many millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been funneled into the coffers of dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world? Isn't the point of such government-to-government "donations" to keep the dictatorship in power? Examples: The Shah of Iran, who the CIA installed into power through a coup, the military dictatorships installed in Guatemala through a CIA coup, the CIA's interference in Argentina to prevent Salvador Allende from being democratically elected, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, one of the most corrupt dictators in history.
How much U.S. taxpayer money has been used to finance and subsidize torture centers in U.S.-favored dictatorships, especially ones that have tortured people pursuant to torture partnerships between such regimes and the U.S. government? Syria and Egypt come to mind.
Let's not forget those 1,000 military bases in some 130 countries around the world. How many foreign regimes have military bases inside the United States? Why are they not permitted to do what the U.S. Empire does? Could the reason be that they might be perceived as influencing U.S. policy with a strong military presence within the country?
Let's not forget the CIA's regime-change operations in Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other nations.
In fact, let's not forget the CIA's decades-long obsession with Cuba, which has included terrorist attacks inside the country and even assassination attempts on Cuba's president, Fidel Castro. Pardon me, but wouldn't trying to assassinate a ruler of a foreign country constitute more direct interference with the internal political affairs of another country than simply making campaign contributions to some candidates?
Let's also not forget the case of Alan Gross, who has been jailed in Cuba for the last year for spying. Sure, the CIA denies that he works for the CIA but the CIA would deny it even if he were, so the denial is worthless. According to the BBC, at the very least Gross was "working for the Cuba Democracy Programme, a U.S. government programme aimed at promoting political change in Cuba."
And we really shouldn't forget the military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan - or, for that matter, Panama, Granada, Cuba, and others - for the purpose of ousting the rulers of such countries and installing a U.S.-appointed ruler in their stead.
Let's also not forget that while the U.S. is now charging the Pakistani government with interfering with the political system within the United States, the U.S. government has never been reluctant to interfere with the political system within Pakistan. It was the U.S. government who long propped up Pakistan's military dictator Pervez Musharraf, especially with money, until the Pakistani people were finally able to oust him from power and install a democratically elected ruler. Also, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, it's not the Pakistani government that is assassinating people living in the United States with pilotless drones. It is the U.S. government that is assassinating people living in Pakistan with pilotless drones.
The death and destruction that the U.S. government wreaks around the world, along with its callous indifference to suffering among foreigners that such death and destruction bring, are among the principal reasons that people around the world hate the U.S. government. Another big reason is the rank hypocrisy that runs through U.S. foreign policy.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
March 22, 2011 | truthout
by: Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, | Investigative Report
This diagram was included in a paper written by Dr. Bruce Jessen's and shows his view of the conflicting psychological pressures bearing down on a prisoner who is held captive by an enemy. (Click here to view full image.)
Dr. Bruce Jessen's handwritten notes describe some of the torture techniques that were used to "exploit" "war on terror" detainees in custody of the CIA and Department of Defense.
Bush administration officials have long asserted that the torture techniques used on "war on terror" detainees were utilized as a last resort in an effort to gain actionable intelligence to thwart pending terrorist attacks against the United States and its interests abroad.
But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government's top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence. Rather, as Jessen's notes explain, torture was used to "exploit" detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to "collaborate" with government authorities. Jessen's notes emphasize how a "detainer" uses the stresses of detention to produce the appearance of compliance in a prisoner.
Click to view larger.
Indeed, a report released in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the treatment of detainees in US custody said Jessen was the author of a "Draft Exploitation Plan" presented to the Pentagon in April 2002 that was used at Guantanamo and at prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jessen also co-authored a memo in February 2002 on "Prisoner Handling Recommendations" at Guantanamo. Both of those documents remain classified.
Moreover, the Armed Services Committee's report noted that torture techniques approved by the Bush administration were based on survival training exercises US military personnel were taught by individuals like Jessen if they were captured by an enemy regime and subjected to "illegal exploitation" in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Jessen's notes, prepared for an Air Force survival training course that he later "reverse engineered" when he helped design the Bush administration's torture program, however, go into far greater detail than the Armed Services Committee's report in explaining how prisoners would be broken down physically and psychologically by their captors. The notes say survival training students could "combat interrogation and torture" if they are captured by an enemy regime by undergoing intense training exercises, using "cognitive" and "exposure techniques" to develop "stress inoculation." [Click here to download a PDF file of Jessen's handwritten notes. Click here to download a zip file of Jessen's notes in typewritten form.]
The documents stand as the first piece of hard evidence to surface in nine years that further explains the psychological aspects of the Bush administration's torture program and the rationale for subjecting detainees to so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Jessen's notes were provided to Truthout by retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, a "master" SERE instructor and decorated veteran who has previously held high-ranking positions within the Air Force Headquarters Staff and Department of Defense (DoD).
Kearns and his boss, Roger Aldrich, the head of the Air Force Intelligence's Special Survial Training Program (SSTP), based out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, hired Jessen in May 1989. Kearns, who was head of operations at SSTP and trained thousands of service members, said Jessen was brought into the program due to an increase in the number of new survival training courses being taught and "the fact that it required psychological expertise on hand in a full-time basis."
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"Special Mission Units"
Jessen, then the chief of Psychology Service at the US Air Force Survival School, immediately started to work directly with Kearns on "a new course for special mission units (SMUs), which had as its goal individual resistance to terrorist exploitation."
The course, known as SV-91, was developed for the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) branch of the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, which acted as the Executive Agent Action Office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jessen's notes formed the basis for one part of SV-91, "Psychological Aspects of Detention."
Capt. Michael Kearns (left) and Dr. Bruce Jessen at Fort Bragg's Nick Rowe SERE Training Center, 1989 (Photo courtesy of retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns)
Special mission units fall under the guise of the DoD's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and engage in a wide-range of highly classified counterterrorist and covert operations, or "special missions," around the world, hundreds of who were personally trained by Kearns. The SV-91 course Jessen and Kearns were developing back in 1989 would later become known as "Special Survival for Special Mission Units."
Before the inception of SV-91, the primary SERE course was SV-80, or Basic Combat Survival School for Resistance to Interrogation, which is where Jessen formerly worked. When Jessen was hired to work on SV-91, the vacancy at SV-80 was filled by psychologist Dr. James Mitchell, who was also contracted by the CIA to work at the agency's top-secret black site prisons in Europe employing SERE torture techniques, such as the controlled drowning technique know as waterboarding, against detainees.
While they were still under contract to the CIA, the two men formed the "consulting" firm Mitchell, Jessen & Associates in March 2005. The "governing persons" of the company included Kearns' former boss, Aldrich, SERE contractor David Tate, Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the American Psychological Association and Randall Spivey, the ex-chief of Operations, Policy and Oversight Division of JPRA.
Mitchell, Jessen & Associates' articles of incorporation have been "inactive" since October 22, 2009 and the business is now listed as "dissolved," according to Washington state's Secretary of State website.
Lifting the "Veil of Secrecy"
Kearns was one of only two officers within DoD qualified to teach all three SERE-related courses within SSTP on a worldwide basis, according to a copy of a 1989 letter written by Aldrich, who nominated Kearns officer of the year.
He said he decided to come forward because he is outraged that Jessen used their work to help design the Bush administration's torture program.
"I think it's about time for SERE to come out from behind the veil of secrecy if we are to progress as a moral nation of laws," Kearns said during a wide-ranging interview with Truthout. "To take this survival training program and turn it into some form of nationally sanctioned, purposeful program for the extraction of information, or to apply exploitation, is in total contradiction to human morality, and defies basic logic. When I first learned about interrogation, at basic intelligence training school, I read about Hans Scharff, a Nazi interrogator who later wrote an article for Argosy Magazine titled 'Without Torture.' That's what I was taught - torture doesn't work."
What stands out in Jessen's notes is that he believed torture was often used to produce false confessions. That was the end result after one high-value detainee who was tortured in early 2002 confessed to having information proving a link between the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, according to one former Bush administration official.
It was later revealed, however, that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, had simply provided his captors a false confession so they would stop torturing him. Jessen appeared to be concerned with protecting the US military against falling victim to this exact kind of physical and psychological pressure in a hostile detention environment, recognizing that it would lead to, among other things, false confessions.
In a paper Jessen wrote accompanying his notes, "Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture," which was prepared for the symposium: "Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course," he suggested that additional "research" should be undertaken to determine "the measurability of optimum stress levels in training students to resist captivity."
"The avenues appear inexhaustible" for further research in human exploitation, Jessen wrote.
Such "research" appears to have been the main underpinning of the Bush administration's torture program. The experimental nature of these interrogation methods used on detainees held at Guantanamo and at CIA black site prisons have been noted by military and intelligence officials. The Armed Services Committee report cited a statement from Col. Britt Mallow, the commander of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), who noted that Guantanamo officials Maj. Gen. Mike Dunleavy and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller used the term "battle lab" to describe the facility, meaning "that interrogations and other procedures there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit [the Department of Defense] in other places."
What remains a mystery is why Jessen took a defensive survival training course and assisted in turning it into an offensive torture program.
Truthout attempted to reach Jessen over the past two months for comment, but we were unable to track him down. Messages left for him at a security firm in Alexandria, Virginia he has been affiliated with were not returned and phone numbers listed for him in Spokane were disconnected.
A New Emphasis on Terrorism
SV-91 was developed to place a new emphasis on terrorism as SERE-related courses pertaining to the cold war, such as SV-83, Special Survival for Sensitive Reconnaissance Operations (SRO), whose students flew secret missions over the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, and other communist countries, were being scaled back.
The official patch and coin of the Special Survival Training Program. (Photo courtesy of retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns)
SSTP evolved into the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD's executive agency for SERE training, and was tapped by DoD General Counsel William "Jim" Haynes in 2002 to provide the agency with a list of interrogation techniques and the psychological impact those methods had on SERE trainees, with the aim of utilizing the same methods for use on detainees. Aldrich was working in a senior capacity at JPRA when Haynes contacted the agency to inquire about SERE.
The Army also runs a SERE school as does the Navy, which had utilized waterboarding as a training exercise on Navy SERE students that JPRA recommended to DoD as one of the torture techniques to use on high-value detainees.
Kearns said the value of Jessen's notes, particularly as they relate to the psychological aspects of the Bush administration's torture program, cannot be overstated.
"The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered - not just 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar," he said. "What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen's instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to 'reverse-engineer' a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press."
Ironically, in late 2001, while the DoD started to make inquiries about adapting SERE methods for the government's interrogation program, Kearns received special permission from the US government to work as an intelligence officer for the Australian Department of Defence to teach the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) how to use SERE techniques to resist interrogation and torture if they were captured by terrorists. Australia had been a staunch supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan and sent troops there in late 2001.
Kearns, who recently waged an unsuccessful Congressional campaign in Colorado, was working on a spy novel two years ago and dug through boxes of "unclassified historical materials on intelligence" as part of his research when he happened to stumble upon Jessen's notes for SV-91. He said he was "deeply shocked and surprised to see I'd kept a copy of these handwritten notes as certainly the originals would have been destroyed (shredded)" once they were typed up and made into proper course materials.
"I hadn't seen these notes for over twenty years," he said. "However, I'll never forget that day in September 2009 when I discovered them. I instantly felt sick, and eventually vomited because I felt so badly physically and emotionally that day knowing that I worked with this person and this was the material that I believe was 'reverse-engineered' and used in part to design the torture program. When I found the Jessen papers, I made several copies and sent them to my friends as I thought this could be the smoking gun, which proves who knew what and when and possibly who sold a bag of rotten apples to the Bush administration."
Kearns was, however, aware of the role SERE played in the torture program before he found Jessen's notes, and in July 2008, he sent an email to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, who was investigating the issue and offered to share information with Levin about Jessen and the SERE program in general. The Michigan Democrat responded to Kearns saying he was "concerned about this issue" and that he "needed more information on the subject," but Levin never followed up when Kearns offered to help.
"I don't know how it went off the tracks, but the names of the people who testified at the Senate Armed Services, Senate Judiciary, and Select Intelligence committees were people I worked with, and several I supervised," Kearns said. "It makes me sick to know people who knew better allowed this to happen."
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Levin's office did not return phone calls or emails for comment. However, the report he released in April 2009, "Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody," refers to SV-91. The report includes a list of acronyms used throughout the report, one of which is "S-V91," identified as "the Department of Defense High Risk Survival Training" course. But there is no other mention throughout the report of SV-91 or the term "High Risk Survival Training," possibly due to the fact that sections of the report where it is discussed remain classified. Still, the failure by Levin and his staff to follow up with Kearns--the key military official who had retained Jessen's notes and helped develop the very course those notes were based upon that was cited in the report--suggests Levin's investigation is somewhat incomplete.
Control and Dependence
A copy of the syllabus for SV-91, obtained by Truthout from another source who requested anonymity, states that the class was created "to provide special training for selected individuals that will enable them to withstand exploitation methods in the event of capture during peacetime operations.... to cope with such exploitation and deny their detainers useable information or propaganda."
Although the syllabus focuses on propaganda and interrogation for information as the primary means of exploiting prisoners, Jessen's notes amplify what was taught to SERE students and later used against detainees captured after 9/11 . He wrote that a prisoner's captors seek to "exploit" the prisoner through control and dependence.
"From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer's goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION," Jessen wrote. "Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel 'EVERYTHING' is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind."
Jessen wrote that cooperation is the "end goal" of the detainer, who wants the detainee "to see that [the detainer] has 'total' control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.)."
Jessen described the kinds of pressures that would be exerted on the prisoner to achieve this goal, including "fear of the unknown, loss of control, dehumanization, isolation," and use of sensory deprivation and sensory "flooding." He also included "physical" deprivations in his list of detainer "pressures."
"Unlike everyday experiences, however, as a detainee we could be subjected to stressors/coercive pressures which we cannot completely control," he wrote. "If these stressors are manipulated and increased against us, the cumulative effect can push us out of the optimum range of functioning. This is what the detainer wants, to get us 'off balance.'"
"The Detainer wants us to experience a loss of composure in hopes we can be manipulated into some kind of collaboration..." Jessen wrote. "This is where you are most vulnerable to exploitation. This is where you are most likely to make mistakes, show emotions, act impulsively, become discouraged, etc. You are still close enough to being intact that you would appear convincing and your behavior would appear 'uncoerced.'"
Kearns said, based on what he has read in declassified government documents and news reports about the role SERE played in the Bush administration's torture program, Jessen clearly "reverse-engieered" his lesson plan and used resistance methods to abuse "war on terror" detainees.
The SSTP course was "specifically and intentionally designed to assist American personnel held in hostile detention," Kearns said. It was "not designed for interrogation, and certainly not torture. We were not interrogators we were 'role-players' who introduced enemy exploitation techniques into survival scenarios as student learning objectives in what could be called Socratic-style dilemma settings. More specifically, resistance techniques were learned via significant emotional experiences, which were intended to inculcate long-term valid and reliable survival routines in the student's memory. The one rule we had was 'hands off.' No (human intelligence) operator could lay hands on a student in a 'role play scenario' because we knew they could never 'go there' in the real world."
But after Jessen was hired, Kearns contends, Aldrich immediately trained him to become a mock interrogator using "SERE harsh resistance to interrogation methods even though medical services officers were explicitly excluded from the 'laying on' of hands in [resistance] 'role-play' scenarios."
Aldrich, who now works with the Center for Personal Protection & Safety in Spokane, did not return calls for comment.
The companion paper Jessen wrote included with his notes, which was also provided to Truthout by Kearns, eerily describes the same torturous interrogation methods US military personnel would face during detention that Jessen and Mitchell "reverse engineered" a little more than a decade later and that the CIA and DoD used against detainees.
Indeed, in a subsection of the paper, "Understanding the Prisoner of War Environment," Jessen notes how a prisoner will be broken down in an attempt to get him to "collaborate" with his "detainer."
"This issue of collaboration is 'the most prominent deliberately controlled force against the (prisoner of war)," Jessen wrote. "The ability of the (prisoner of war) to successfully resist collaboration and cope with the obviously severe approach-avoidance conflict is complicated in a systematic and calculated way by his captors.
"These complications include: Threats of death, physical pressures including torture which result in psychological disturbances or deterioration, inadequate diet and sanitary facilities with constant debilitation and illness, attacks on the mental health via isolation, reinforcement of anxieties, sleeplessness, stimulus deprivation or flooding, disorientation, loss of control both internal and external locus, direct and indirect attack on the (prisoner of war's) standards of honor, faith in himself, his organization, family, country, religion, or political beliefs ... Few seem to be able to hold themselves completely immune to such rigorous behavior throughout all the vicissitudes of long captivity. Confronted with these conditions, the unprepared prisoner of war experiences unmanageable levels of fear and despair."
"Specific (torture resistance) techniques," Jessen wrote, "taught to and implemented by the military member in the prisoner of war setting are classified" and were not discussed in the paper he wrote. He added, "Resistance Training students must leave training with useful resistance skills and a clear understanding that they can successfully resist captivity, interrogation or torture."
Kearns also declined to cite the specific interrogation techniques used during SERE training exercises because that information is still classified. Nor would he comment as to whether the interrogations used methods that matched or were similar to those identified in the August 2002 torture memo prepared by former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee.
However, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report "SERE resistance training ... was used to inform" Yoo and Bybee's torture memo, specifically, nearly a dozen of the brutal techniques detainees were subjected to, which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, wall slamming and placing detainees in a confined space, such as a container, where his movement is restricted. The CIA's Office of Technical Services told Yoo and Bybee the SERE techniques used to inform the torture memo were not harmful, according to declassified government documents.
Many of the "complications," or torture techniques, Jessen wrote about, declassified government documents show, became a standard method of interrogation and torture used against all of the high-value detainees in custody of the CIA in early 2002, including Abu Zubaydah and self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as well as detainees held at Guantanamo and prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The issue of "collaborating" with one's detainer, which Jessen noted was the most important in terms of controlling a prisoner, is a common theme among the stories of detainees who were tortured and later released from Guantanamo.
For example, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who was rendered to Egypt and other countries where he was tortured before being sent to Guantanamo, wrote in his memoir, "My Story: the Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn't," after he was released without charge, that interrogators at Guantanamo "tried to make detainees mistrust one another so that they would inform on each other during interrogation."
Binyam Mohamed, am Ethiopian-born British citizen, who the US rendered to a black site prison in Morocco, said that a British intelligence informant, a person he knew and who was recurited, came to him in his Moroccan cell and told him that if he became an intelligence asset for the British, his torture, which included scalpel cuts to his penis, would end. In December 2009, British government officials released documents that show Mohamed was subjected to SERE torture techniques during his captivity in the spring of 2002.
Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian prisoner at Guantanamo until he was forcibly repatriated against his wishes to Algeria in July 2010, told an Algerian newspaper that "some detainees had been promised to be granted political asylum opportunity in exchange of [sic] a spying role within the detention camp."
Mohamedou Ould Salahi, whose surname is sometimes spelled "Slahi," is a Mauritanian who was tortured in Jordan and Guantanamo. Investigative journalist Andy Worthington reported that Salahi was subjected to "prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, beatings, death threats, and threats that his mother would be brought to Guantanamo and gang-raped" unless he collaborated with his interrogators. Salahi finally decided to become an informant for the US in 2003. As a result, Salahi was allowed to live in a special fenced-in compound, with television and refrigerator, allowed to garden, write and paint, "separated from other detainees in a cocoon designed to reward and protect."
Still, despite collaborating with his detainers, the US government mounted a vigorous defense against Salahi's petition for habeas corpus. His case continues to hang in legal limbo. Salahi's fate speaks to the lesson Habib said he learned at Guantanamo: "you could never satisfy your interrogator." Habib felt informants were never released "because the Americans used them against the other detainees."
Jessen's and Mitchell's mutimillion dollar government contract was terminated by CIA Director Leon Panetta in 2009. According to an Associated Press report, the CIA agreed to pay - to the tune of $5 million - the legal bills incurred by their consulting firm.
Recently a complaint filed against Mitchell with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists by a San Antonio-based psychologist, an attorney who defended three suspected terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo and by Zubaydah's attorney Joseph Margulies. Their complaint sought to strip Mitchell of his license to practice psychology for violating the board's rules as a result of the hands-on role he played in torturing detainees, was dismissed due to what the board said was a lack of evidence. Mitchell, who lives in Florida, is licensed in Texas. A similar complaint against Jessen may soon be filed in Idaho, where he is licensed to practice psychology.
Kearns, who took a graduate course in cognitive psychotherapy in 1988 taught by Jessen, still can't comprehend what motivated his former colleague to turn to the "dark side."
"Bruce Jessen knew better," Kearns said, who retired in 1991 and is now working on his Ph.D in educational psychology. "His duplicitous act is appalling to me and shall haunt me for the rest of my life."
January 18, 2011 | guardian.co.uk
Until the 1970s, US capitalism shared its spoils with American workers. But since 2008, it has made them pay for its failures
One aspect of "American Exceptionalism" was always economic. US workers, so the story went, enjoyed a rising level of real wages that afforded their families a rising standard of living. Ever harder work paid off in rising consumption. The rich got richer faster than the middle and poor, but almost no one got poorer. Nearly all citizens felt "middle class". A profitable US capitalism kept running ahead of labor supply. So, it kept raising wages to attract waves of immigration and to retain employees, across the 19th century until the 1970s.
Then everything changed. Real wages stopped rising, as US capitalists redirected their investments to produce and employ abroad, while replacing millions of workers in the US with computers. The US women's liberation moved millions of US adult women to seek paid employment. US capitalism no longer faced a shortage of labor.
US employers took advantage of the changed situation: they stopped raising wages. When basic labor scarcity became labor excess, not only real wages, but eventually benefits, too, would stop rising. Over the last 30 years, the vast majority of US workers have, in fact, gotten poorer, when you sum up flat real wages, reduced benefits (pensions, medical insurance, etc), reduced public services and raised tax burdens. In economic terms, American "Exceptionalism" began to die in the 1970s.
The rich, however, have got much richer since the 1970s, as every measure of US income and wealth inequality attests. The explanation is simple: while workers' average real wages stayed flat, their productivity rose (the goods and services that an average hour's labor provided to employers). More and better machines (including computers), better education, and harder and faster labor effort raised productivity since the 1970s. While workers delivered more and more value to employers, those employers paid workers no more. The employers reaped all the benefits of rising productivity: rising profits, rising salaries and bonuses to managers, rising dividends to shareholders, and rising payments to the professionals who serve employers (lawyers, architects, consultants, etc).
Since the 1970s, most US workers postponed facing up to what capitalism had come to mean for them. They sent more family members to do more hours of paid labor, and they borrowed huge amounts. By exhausting themselves, stressing family life to the breaking point in many households, and by taking on unsustainable levels of debt, the US working class delayed the end of American Exceptionalism – until the global crisis hit in 2007. By then, their buying power could no longer grow: rising unemployment kept wages flat, no more hours of work, nor more borrowing, were possible. Reckoning time had arrived. A US capitalism built on expanding mass consumption lost its foundation.
The richest 10-15% – those cashing in on employers' good fortune from no longer-rising wages – helped bring on the crisis by speculating wildly and unsuccessfully in all sorts of new financial instruments (asset-backed securities, credit default swaps, etc). The richest also contributed to the crisis by using their money to shift US politics to the right, rendering government regulation and oversight inadequate to anticipate or moderate the crisis or even to react properly once it hit.
Indeed, the rich have so far been able to use the crisis to widen still further the gulf separating themselves from the rest, to finally bury American Exceptionalism. First, they utilized both parties' dependence on their financial support to make sure there would be no mass federal hiring programme for the unemployed (as FDR used between 1934 and 1940). The absence of such a programme guaranteed that real wages would not rise and, with job benefits, would likely fall – as they indeed have done. Second, the rich made sure that the prime focus of government response to the crisis would benefit banks, large corporations and the stock markets. These have more or less "recovered".
Third, the current drive for government budget austerity – especially focused on the 50 states and the thousands of municipalities – forces the mass of people to pick up the costs for the government's unjustly imbalanced response to the crisis. The trillions spent to save the banks and selected other corporations (AIG, GM, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc) were mostly borrowed because the government dared not tax the corporations and the richest citizens to raise the needed rescue funds. Indeed, a good part of what the government borrowed came precisely from those funds left in the hands of corporations and the rich, because they had not been taxed to overcome the crisis. With sharply enlarged debts, all levels of government face the pressure of needing to take too much from current tax revenues to pay interest on debts, leaving too little to sustain public services. So, they demand the people pay more taxes and suffer reduced public services, so that government can reduce its debt burden.
For example, California's new governor proposes to continue for five more years the massive, broad-based tax increases begun during the crisis and also to cut state services for the poor (reduced Medicaid funding) and the middle class(reduced budgets for community colleges, state colleges, and the university system). The governor admits that California's budget faces sky-high interest costs and reduced federal government assistance just when the crisis increases demands for public services. The governor does not admit his fear to tax the state's huge corporate and private individual wealth. So, he announces an "austerity programme", as if no alternative existed. Indeed, a major support for austerity comes from the large corporations and wealthiest Californians, who hold the state's bonds and want reassurances that the interest on those bonds will be paid.
California's austerity programme parallels similar programmes in many other states, in thousands of municipalities, and at the federal level (for example, social security). Together, they reinforce falling real wages, falling benefits, falling government services and rising taxes. In the US, capitalism has stopped "delivering the goods", as it so long boasted. The reality of ever-deeper economic division clashes with expectations built up when wages rose over the century before the 1970s. US capitalism now brings long-term painful decline for its working class, the end of "American Exceptionalism" and rising social, cultural and political tensions.
• Richard Wolff gives his monthly talk on global capitalism at the Brecht Forum in New York on 18 January; for more information about Professor Wolff's lectures, podcasts and media appearance, visit his websiteStrummered
And the richest are now persuading the poor to vote against their own best interests whilst demanding tax cuts for the already obscenely wealthy - makes you sick.
01/02/2011 | zero hedge
ForaTV, in conjunction with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, shares another terrific must watch presentation, this time by one of our favorite socioeconomic historians, Niall Ferguson, who in this lecture talks in depth, and with an objective perspective that only few can share, about empires on the verge of decline, emphasizing the precarious position the US has found itself in, now that China's ascendancy is undisputed, and only matched by the accelerating descent of the once great US nation. The fact that Ferguson is Paul Krugman's natural nemesis in all things only makes his insights all that more relevant (not to mention correct). And while the various chapters discuss such key concepts as the limits and implications of complexity theory, the ever increasing portion of US federal revenues attributed to interest payments (surpassing defense spending), China's military sustainability, the limits of Keynesian stimulus, investing in gold and hyperinflationary concerns, the primary highlight is Ferguson's discussion on what may be the primary topic of 2011: whether ot not debt will trigger the collapse of the US. To wit: "Sometime over the next decade the US will reach the crossover point at which it will be spending more on debt service, than it is able to spend on defense...The Chinese have noticed what the rest of the world's investors pretend not to see: that the US is on a completely unsustainable fiscal course with no apparent political means of self-correcting.
Ladies and gentlemen, military retreat from the mountains of the Hindu Kush, or the plains of Mesopotamia has long been the harbinger of imperial fall."
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