It starts like an itch. Something happens in our lives that causes us to question what we know and our understanding of it. We open our eyes, our minds in order to seek the truth we can not see. The more we discover, the hungrier we are for a deeper reckoning. But the world isn’t perfect, humans less so, and there is a lot of pain, suffering and deception going on. We have the burning desire to do more to stop the pain. We read, a lot. We start protesting, questioning. Our families labels us as being too sensitive, too negative, our friends start to pull away, our families and spouses reject us and our way of thinking. We are labeled as hippies, anarchists, angry kids, conspiracy theorists and terrorists. We are beaten by the police and mocked for our caring by the media in the news. Yet we can’t help ourselves, we are the cursed liberals the world warns about, those town criers who have become obsessed with spreading the truth. It becomes a very solitary journey for many are not obligated to participate and you don’t get an invite to this way of life, you can’t train for it, you see wrong hurt and automatically step up as life calls upon you from somewhere within your soul and the rough ride stays with you until your last breath feeling that with all you gave it still wasn’t enough to stop the pain and wishing for one more moment to step and say; Hey, What The Fuck Are You Doing, Stop That! You can’t do that…
© 2014, agentleman.
I am posting this special comment and other material to establish points of reference for my special comment series on why this war crime must be investigated to whatever end the truth will bear.
This transcript comes from MSNBC.com:
It is a fact startling in its cynical simplicity and it requires cynical and simple words to be properly expressed: The presidency of George W. Bush has now devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush.
All the petulancy, all the childish threats, all the blank-stare stupidity; all the invocations of World War III, all the sophistic questions about which terrorist attacks we wanted him not to stop, all the phony secrets; all the claims of executive privilege, all the stumbling tap-dancing of his nominees, all the verbal flatulence of his apologists…
All of it is now, after one revelation last week, transparently clear for what it is: the pathetic and desperate manipulation of the government, the refocusing of our entire nation, toward keeping this mock president and this unstable vice president and this departed wildly self-overrating attorney general, and the others, from potential prosecution for having approved or ordered the illegal torture of prisoners being held in the name of this country.
“Waterboarding is torture,” Daniel Levin was to write. Daniel Levin was no theorist and no protester. He was no troublemaking politician. He was no table-pounding commentator. Daniel Levin was an astonishingly patriotic American and a brave man.
Brave not just with words or with stances, even in a dark time when that kind of bravery can usually be scared or bought off.
Charged, as you heard in the story from ABC News last Friday, with assessing the relative legality of the various nightmares in the Pandora’s box that is the Orwell-worthy euphemism “Enhanced Interrogation,” Mr. Levin decided that the simplest, and the most honest, way to evaluate them … was to have them enacted upon himself.
Daniel Levin took himself to a military base and let himself be waterboarded.
Mr. Bush, ever done anything that personally courageous?
Perhaps when you’ve gone to Walter Reed and teared up over the maimed servicemen? And then gone back to the White House and determined that there would be more maimed servicemen?
Has it been that kind of personal courage, Mr. Bush, when you’ve spoken of American victims and the triumph of freedom and the sacrifice of your own popularity for the sake of our safety? And then permitted others to fire or discredit or destroy anybody who disagreed with you, whether they were your own generals, or Max Cleland, or Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, or Daniel Levin?
Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now.
Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn’t do in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his country, for the sake of what is right.
And they waterboarded him. And he wrote that even though he knew those doing it meant him no harm, and he knew they would rescue him at the instant of the slightest distress, and he knew he would not die — still, with all that reassurance, he could not stop the terror screaming from inside of him, could not quell the horror, could not convince that which is at the core of each of us, the entity who exists behind all the embellishments we strap to ourselves, like purpose and name and family and love, he could not convince his being that he wasn’t drowning.
Waterboarding, he said, is torture. Legally, it is torture! Practically, it is torture! Ethically, it is torture! And he wrote it down.
Wrote it down somewhere, where it could be contrasted with the words of this country’s 43rd president: “The United States of America … does not torture.”
Made you into a liar, Mr. Bush.
Made you into, if anybody had the guts to pursue it, a criminal, Mr. Bush.
And the man your Justice Department selected to decide whether or not waterboarding was torture had decided, and not in some phony academic fashion, nor while wearing the Walter Mitty poseur attire of flight suit and helmet.
He had put his money, Mr. Bush, where your mouth was.
So, your sleazy sycophantic henchman Mr. Gonzales had him append an asterisk suggesting his black-and-white answer wasn’t black-and-white, that there might have been a quasi-legal way of torturing people, maybe with an absolute time limit and a physician entitled to stop it, maybe, if your administration had ever bothered to set any rules or any guidelines.
And then when your people realized that even that was too dangerous, Daniel Levin was branded “too independent” and “someone who could (not) be counted on.”
In other words, Mr. Bush, somebody you couldn’t count on to lie for you.
So, Levin was fired.
Because if it ever got out what he’d concluded, and the lengths to which he went to validate that conclusion, anybody who had sanctioned waterboarding and who-knows-what-else on anybody, you yourself, you would have been screwed.
And screwed you are.
It can’t be coincidence that the story of Daniel Levin should emerge from the black hole of this secret society of a presidency just at the conclusion of the unhappy saga of the newest attorney general nominee.
Another patriot somewhere listened as Judge Mukasey mumbled like he’d never heard of waterboarding and refused to answer in words … that which Daniel Levin answered on a waterboard somewhere in Maryland or Virginia three years ago.
And this someone also heard George Bush say, “The United States of America does not torture,” and realized either he was lying or this wasn’t the United States of America anymore, and either way, he needed to do something about it.
Not in the way Levin needed to do something about it, but in a brave way nonetheless.
We have U.S. senators who need to do something about it, too.
Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee has seen this for what it is and said “enough.”
Sen. Schumer has seen it, reportedly, as some kind of puzzle piece in the New York political patronage system, and he has failed.
What Sen. Feinstein has seen, to justify joining Schumer in rubber-stamping Mukasey, I cannot guess.
It is obvious that both those senators should look to the meaning of the story of Daniel Levin and recant their support for Mukasey’s confirmation.
And they should look into their own committee’s history and recall that in 1973, their predecessors were able to wring even from Richard Nixon a guarantee of a special prosecutor (ultimately a special prosecutor of Richard Nixon!), in exchange for their approval of his new attorney general, Elliott Richardson.
If they could get that out of Nixon, before you confirm the president’s latest human echo on Tuesday, you had better be able to get a “yes” or a “no” out of Michael Mukasey.
Ideally you should lock this government down financially until a special prosecutor is appointed, or 50 of them, but I’m not holding my breath. The “yes” or the “no” on waterboarding will have to suffice.
Because, remember, if you can’t get it, or you won’t with the time between tonight and the next presidential election likely to be the longest year of our lives, you are leaving this country, and all of us, to the waterboards, symbolic and otherwise, of George W. Bush.
Ultimately, Mr. Bush, the real question isn’t who approved the waterboarding of this fiend Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two others.
It is: Why were they waterboarded?
Study after study for generation after generation has confirmed that torture gets people to talk, torture gets people to plead, torture gets people to break, but torture does not get them to tell the truth.
Of course, Mr. Bush, this isn’t a problem if you don’t care if the terrorist plots they tell you about are the truth or just something to stop the tormentors from drowning them.
If, say, a president simply needed a constant supply of terrorist threats to keep a country scared.
If, say, he needed phony plots to play hero during, and to boast about interrupting, and to use to distract people from the threat he didn’t interrupt.
If, say, he realized that even terrorized people still need good ghost stories before they will let a president pillage the Constitution,
Well, Mr. Bush, who better to dream them up for you than an actual terrorist?
He’ll tell you everything he ever fantasized doing in his most horrific of daydreams, his equivalent of the day you “flew” onto the deck of the Lincoln to explain you’d won in Iraq.
Now if that’s what this is all about, you tortured not because you’re so stupid you think torture produces confession but you tortured because you’re smart enough to know it produces really authentic-sounding fiction — well, then, you’re going to need all the lawyers you can find … because that crime wouldn’t just mean impeachment, would it?
That crime would mean George W. Bush is going to prison.
Thus the master tumblers turn, and the lock yields, and the hidden explanations can all be perceived, in their exact proportions, in their exact progressions.
Daniel Levin’s eminently practical, eminently logical, eminently patriotic way of testing the legality of waterboarding has to vanish, and him with it.
Thus Alberto Gonzales has to use that brain that sounds like an old car trying to start on a freezing morning to undo eight centuries of the forward march of law and government.
Thus Dick Cheney has to ridiculously assert that confirming we do or do not use any particular interrogation technique would somehow help the terrorists.
Thus Michael Mukasey, on the eve of the vote that will make him the high priest of the law of this land, cannot and must not answer a question, nor even hint that he has thought about a question, which merely concerns the theoretical definition of waterboarding as torture.
Because, Mr. Bush, in the seven years of your nightmare presidency, this whole string of events has been transformed.
From its beginning as the most neglectful protection ever of the lives and safety of the American people … into the most efficient and cynical exploitation of tragedy for political gain in this country’s history … and, then, to the giddying prospect that you could do what the military fanatics did in Japan in the 1930s and remake a nation into a fascist state so efficient and so self-sustaining that the fascism would be nearly invisible.
But at last this frightful plan is ending with an unexpected crash, the shocking reality that no matter how thoroughly you might try to extinguish them, Mr. Bush, how thoroughly you tried to brand disagreement as disloyalty, Mr. Bush, there are still people like Daniel Levin who believe in the United States of America as true freedom, where we are better, not because of schemes and wars, but because of dreams and morals.
And ultimately these men, these patriots, will defeat you and they will return this country to its righteous standards, and to its rightful owners, the people.
© 2009 – 2014, agentleman.
14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014
There were plenty of women of color who made an impact, although their achievements didn’t always make the news.
14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014 By Miriam Zoila Perez
As 2014 comes to an end, I wanted to look back at the accomplishments of women of color who’ve been doing amazing work in the face of this really challenging and turbulent year. There would be no way to create a truly exhaustive list, so apologies in advance for all of the folks not included below. If you’re interested in perusing a much longer list, a post looking for suggestions on my Facebook page generated more than 50 possible women to recognize. Without further ado, 14 women of color who rocked 2014, in no particular order:
1. Civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta is having a big year. As deputy political director with the ACLU, she spearheaded the group’s efforts in Ferguson. In October, she was selected to join the Obama administration as the acting assistant attorney general of the new Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. (She’ll face congressional approval before she can take the position on permanently.) Both roles are just the most recent steps in a career dedicated to eliminating excessive use of force by police departments, as well as prejudicial policing in communities of color.
2. You’re probably not surprised to see Janet Mock on a list like this—she is one of the most high-profile black trans women the U.S. This year started with the publication of her New York Times bestselling book, “Redefining Realness.” She’s continued her work in journalism as a contributing editor for Marie Clare, and she’ll start hosting her own weekly pop culture television show on MSNBC’s Shift network. Mock continues to elevate the issues facing the trans community with her hashtag #girlslikeus, and is bringing these issues to wider audiences all the time.
3, 4 & 5: Even if you don’t recognize the names of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, you’ve no doubt experienced the hashtag-turned-movement these three women* created: #BlackLivesMatter. While they came up with the hashtag in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal, it gained worldwide momentum this year after the police killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Thousands have used #BlackLivesMatter on- and off-line, the result of Garza’s, Cullors’ and Tometi’s organizing. (Garza lays out the origins of the movementover at Feminist Wire.) Outside of #BlackLivesMatter work, Garza is special projects director for National Domestic Workers Alliance; Tometi is the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration; and Cullors is an artist, organizer and the founder of Dignity and Power Now, a group “dedicated to protecting incarcerated people and their families” in Los Angeles.
Paulina Helm-Hernandez (Southernersonnewground.org)
6. As co-director of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), an LGBT organization at the forefront of queer organizing in the South, Paulina Helm-Hernandez has led incredible work this year. The group has organized to stop deportations through the Not1More campaign, worked to hold police and government accountable for discriminatory profiling in small Southern cities, and continued their annual “Gaycation” event which attracts many folks from across the region looking to build community.
7. Ai-jen Poo recieved lots of media attention this year because she received a so-called “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. But Poo also made incredible strides in her work as executive director of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign: Poo has been part of a successful push to get the Department of Labor to extend basic protections for home-care workers, including minimum wage and overtime pay.
8. There’s no question that 13-year-old Mo’Ne Davis has had a great year. She pitched the first shut-out by a female player at the Little League World Series this past summer, and she boasts a 70-mph fastball. She evenlanded on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Her memoir is set to be published by HarperCollins in March of 2015. You can also join the 34,000 people following her on Twitter.
9. Bamby Salcedo is the founder and president of the Los Angeles-based TransLatin@ Coalition. As the high murder rate of trans women of color receives more media attention, Salcedo has played an important role in organizing and advocating for the community. This year the trans Latina activist was also recognized in a new film, “TransVisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story.”
Cherisse A. Scott
10. Cherisse A. Scott has been part of the reproductive justice movement for more than a decade. As the founder and CEO of SisterReach, the only reproductive justice organization in Tennessee, Scott recieved national attention this year for her work to defeat Amendment 1, a statewide anti-choice measure. SisterReach conducted phone banking and canvassing on two Memphis zip codes with high rates of poverty, sexually transmitted infections, low birth weight and maternal mortality. It also reached out to voters at historically black universities. The amendment passed, but Scott’s continues to argue for a political strategy that engages black communities.
11. Lucy Flores: While Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis received much attention for telling her abortion story on the floor of the state legislature, she wasn’t the only politician to do so this year. As a Nevada state assemblywoman, Lucy Flores took a risk by telling the public she’d had an abortion becuase she wasn’t ready for a child. While she lost her bid for lieutenant governor of Nevada this fall, we’ll being seeing more of Flores, who many think has a bright future in the Democratic Party.
Veronica Arreola (Photo courtesy of Veronica Arreola)
12. Veronica Arreola: A long-time Latina feminist writer and activist, Arreola started a year-long feminist selfie project with one hashtag: #365feministselfie. What began as a Flickr group formed in response to a Jezebel article calling selfies a “call for help,” the project has collected more than 1,700 photos and you can find the hashtag across social media. As the first year of radical self-love and representation comes to an end, the project is moving offline and organizing two feminist conferences next year.
13. An attorney, activist and advocate, Gina Clayton received three prestigious fellowships this year that have allowed her to start the Essie Justice Group, an organization centered on women with incarcerated loved ones. Essie brings these women together, providing them with healing, financial advice and advocacy. The first group is being piloted in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki
14. Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki became a prominent voice on campus sexual assault after starting the #survivorprivilege hashtag. A sexual assault survivor from Tufts University, Wanjuki created her hashtag in June in response to a Washington Post column that minimized campus rape. Since then, she has continued to speak out—in writing and during media appearances—on the national conversation about campus sexual assault. An example: her recent piece about the Rolling Stone/UVA controversy.
*Article updated to reflect the fact that only two of the women (Garza and Cullors) identify as queer, not all three as originally stated.
© 2014, agentleman.
Latest Evidence of America’s Institutional Racism: Almost All Political Donors Are White
And the House-passed 2015 budget just raised contribution caps tenfold.
(Editor’s note: What follows is the executive summary of a new report by Demos documenting the racial bias in America’s campaign finance system.)
One-hundred and fifty years after the Reconstruction Amendments and more than a generation after the civil rights revolution, achieving true racial equity remains a central challenge of our time.
Both structural barriers and racially biased policies contribute to a racial wealth and income gap that is higher today than at any point since the Federal Reserve began tracking it 30 years ago. And the drive for racial equity in America faces a serious headwind: the role of private wealth and big business in our political system. While the undemocratic role of big money hurts us all, its consequences are particularly dire for people of color, who are severely underrepresented in the “donor class” whose large contributions fuel campaigns and therefore set the agendas in Washington and state capitals across the country.
Race intersects with our big money system in two important ways. First, because donor and corporate interests often diverge significantly from those of working families on economic policies such as the minimum wage and paid sick leave, people of color are disproportionately harmed because a larger percentage are poor or working class. Second, and more profound, our nation’s legacy of racism and persistently racialized politics depresses the political power of people of color, creating opportunities for exploitation and targeting—exemplified by the subprime lending crisis, mass incarceration, and voter suppression laws.
The dominance of big money in our politics makes it far harder for people of color to exert political power and effectively advocate for their interests as both wealth and power are consolidated by a small, very white, share of the population.
Summarized below are this study’s findings on (1) the racial bias inherent in our big-money political system; (2) our policy recommendations on how to make government more responsive to all people; and (3) five case studies detailing the real-world impact of money in politics on people of color and examples of how to shift power from wealthy interests to all voters.
The Racial Bias Inherent in Our Big-Money Political System
Recent research has demonstrated that a) the rich have different policy preferences than the general public; and b) the government is sharply more responsive to the preferences of the wealthy than to those of the average voter.
The economic bias in our political system creates and sustains similar racial bias because the donor class as a whole and campaign contributors specifically are overwhelmingly white; and because the policy preferences of people of color are much more similar to those of the general public than to those of the rich.
• The top 10 percent of wealth holders are more than 90 percent white, whereas the rest of the country is less than 70 percent white.
• A significant majority of campaign money at the federal and state levels comes from a small number of elite donors (less than 1 percent of the population) making large contributions (of $1,000 or more).
• More than 90 percent of $200+ federal contributions in the 2012 election cycle came from majority white neighborhoods.
• When asked whether it’s more important to create jobs or hold down the deficit, people of color agree with lower-income Americans that creating jobs is the clear priority, whereas the wealthy have the opposite view.
• Elections funded primarily by wealthy, white donors mean that candidates as a whole are less likely to prioritize the needs of people of color; and that candidates of color are less likely to run for elected office, raise less money when they do, and are less likely to win. Ultimately, people of color are not adequately represented by elected officials.
• A recent study of black candidate success concluded that “the underrepresentation of blacks is driven by constraints on their entry onto the ballot” and that the level of resources in the black community is “an important factor for shaping the size of the black candidate pool.”
• Candidates of color raised 47 percent less money than white candidates in 2006 state legislative races, and 64 percent less in the South.
• Latino candidates for state House raised less money than non-Latinos in 67 percent of the states where Latinos ran in the 2004 election cycle.
• In a typical election cycle, 90 percent or more of the candidates who raise the most money win their races.
• Ninety percent of our elected leaders are white, despite the fact that people of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population.
• Latinos and Asians are more than 22 percent of the population, but hold fewer than 2 percent of the elected positions nationwide.
• In 2009, just 9 percent of all state legislators were African American and 3 percent Latino, compared with 13.5 percent and 15.4 percent of the total population, respectively.
• In a 2011 study, researchers found that white state legislators of both major political parties were less likely to reply to letters received from assumed constituents with apparently African American names (like “DeShawn Jackson”).
• Record corporate political spending on election campaigns and lobbying has amplified the political exclusion of people of color.
• The policy outcomes resulting from this big-money campaign finance system fail to address the needs of people of color, and in some cases actively restrict progress on racial equity in America.
(Read the rest of the report by Demos, Stacked Deck: How the Racial Bias in Our Big Money Political System Undermines Our Democracy and Our Economy).
By Adam Lioz
© 2014, agentleman.
How Ayn Rand Helped Turn the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation
The ‘Atlas Shrugged’ author made selfishness heroic and caring about others weakness.
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society….To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961
Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.
In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.
But Rand’s impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.
The Seduction of Nathan Blumenthal
Ayn Rand’s books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and her philosophy that celebrates self-interest and disdains altruism may well be, as Vidal assessed, “nearly perfect in its immorality.” But is Vidal right about evil? Charles Manson, who himself did not kill anyone, is the personification of evil for many of us because of his psychological success at exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people and seducing them to murder. What should we call Ayn Rand’s psychological ability to exploit the vulnerabilities of millions of young people so as to influence them not to care about anyone besides themselves?
While Greenspan (tagged “A.G.” by Rand) was the most famous name that would emerge from Rand’s Collective, the second most well-known name to emerge from the Collective was Nathaniel Branden, psychotherapist, author and “self-esteem” advocate. Before he was Nathaniel Branden, he was Nathan Blumenthal, a 14-year-old who read Rand’s The Fountainhead again and again. He later would say, “I felt hypnotized.” He describes how Rand gave him a sense that he could be powerful, that he could be a hero. He wrote one letter to his idol Rand, then a second. To his amazement, she telephoned him, and at age 20, Nathan received an invitation to Ayn Rand’s home. Shortly after, Nathan Blumenthal announced to the world that he was incorporating Rand in his new name: Nathaniel Branden. And in 1955, with Rand approaching her 50th birthday and Branden his 25th, and both in dissatisfying marriages, Ayn bedded Nathaniel.
What followed sounds straight out of Hollywood, but Rand was straight out of Hollywood, having worked for Cecil B. DeMille. Rand convened a meeting with Nathaniel, his wife Barbara (also a Collective member), and Rand’s own husband Frank. To Branden’s astonishment, Rand convinced both spouses that a time-structured affair—she and Branden were to have one afternoon and one evening a week together—was “reasonable.” Within the Collective, Rand is purported to have never lost an argument. On his trysts at Rand’s New York City apartment, Branden would sometimes shake hands with Frank before he exited. Later, all discovered that Rand’s sweet but passive husband would leave for a bar, where he began his self-destructive affair with alcohol.
By 1964, the 34-year-old Nathaniel Branden had grown tired of the now 59-year-old Ayn Rand. Still sexually dissatisfied in his marriage to Barbara and afraid to end his affair with Rand, Branden began sleeping with a married 24-year-old model, Patrecia Scott. Rand, now “the woman scorned,” called Branden to appear before the Collective, whose nickname had by now lost its irony for both Barbara and Branden. Rand’s justice was swift. She humiliated Branden and then put a curse on him: “If you have one ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you’ll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve potency sooner, you’ll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!”
Rand completed the evening with two welt-producing slaps across Branden’s face. Finally, in a move that Stalin and Hitler would have admired, Rand also expelled poor Barbara from the Collective, declaring her treasonous because Barbara, preoccupied by her own extramarital affair, had neglected to fill Rand in soon enough on Branden’s extra-extra-marital betrayal. (If anyone doubts Alan Greenspan’s political savvy, keep in mind that he somehow stayed in Rand’s good graces even though he, fixed up by Branden with Patrecia’s twin sister, had double-dated with the outlaws.)
After being banished by Rand, Nathaniel Branden was worried that he might be assassinated by other members of the Collective, so he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where Rand fans were less fanatical. Branden established a lucrative psychotherapy practice and authored approximately 20 books, 10 of them with either “Self” or “Self-Esteem” in the title. Rand and Branden never reconciled, but he remains an admirer of her philosophy of self-interest.
Ayn Rand’s personal life was consistent with her philosophy of not giving a shit about anybody but herself. Rand was an ardent two-pack-a-day smoker, and when questioned about the dangers of smoking, she loved to light up with a defiant flourish and then scold her young questioners on the “unscientific and irrational nature of the statistical evidence.” After an x-ray showed that she had lung cancer, Rand quit smoking and had surgery for her cancer. Collective members explained to her that many people still smoked because they respected her and her assessment of the evidence; and that since she no longer smoked, she ought to tell them. They told her that she needn’t mention her lung cancer, that she could simply say she had reconsidered the evidence. Rand refused.
How Rand’s Philosophy Seduced Young Minds
When I was a kid, my reading included comic books and Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There wasn’t much difference between the comic books and Rand’s novels in terms of the simplicity of the heroes. What was different was that unlike Superman or Batman, Rand made selfishness heroic, and she made caring about others weakness.
Rand said, “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible….The choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequences of freedom, justice, progress and man’s happiness on earth—or the primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces.” For many young people, hearing that it is “moral” to care only about oneself can be intoxicating, and some get addicted to this idea for life.
I have known several people, professionally and socially, whose lives have been changed by those close to them who became infatuated with Ayn Rand. A common theme is something like this: “My ex-husband wasn’t a bad guy until he started reading Ayn Rand. Then he became a completely selfish jerk who destroyed our family, and our children no longer even talk to him.”
To wow her young admirers, Rand would often tell a story of how a smart-aleck book salesman had once challenged her to explain her philosophy while standing on one leg. She replied: “Metaphysics—objective reality. Epistemology—reason. Ethics—self-interest. Politics—capitalism.” How did that philosophy capture young minds?
Metaphysics—objective reality. Rand offered a narcotic for confused young people: complete certainty and a relief from their anxiety. Rand believed that an “objective reality” existed, and she knew exactly what that objective reality was. It included skyscrapers, industries, railroads, and ideas—at least her ideas. Rand’s objective reality did not include anxiety or sadness. Nor did it include much humor, at least the kind where one pokes fun at oneself. Rand assured her Collective that objective reality did not include Beethoven’s, Rembrandt’s, and Shakespeare’s realities—they were too gloomy and too tragic, basically buzzkillers. Rand preferred Mickey Spillane and, towards the end of her life, “Charlie’s Angels.”
Epistemology—reason. Rand’s kind of reason was a “cool-tool” to control the universe. Rand demonized Plato, and her youthful Collective members were taught to despise him. If Rand really believed that the Socratic Method described by Plato of discovering accurate definitions and clear thinking did not qualify as “reason,” why then did she regularly attempt it with her Collective? Also oddly, while Rand mocked dark moods and despair, her “reasoning” directed that Collective members should admire Dostoyevsky, whose novels are filled with dark moods and despair. A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.
Ethics—self-interest. For Rand, all altruists were manipulators. What could be more seductive to kids who discerned the motives of martyr parents, Christian missionaries and U.S. foreign aiders? Her champions, Nathaniel Branden still among them, feel that Rand’s view of “self-interest” has been horribly misrepresented. For them, self-interest is her hero architect Howard Roark turning down a commission because he couldn’t do it exactly his way. Some of Rand’s novel heroes did have integrity, however, for Rand there is no struggle to discover the distinction between true integrity and childish vanity. Rand’s integrity was her vanity, and it consisted of getting as much money and control as possible, copulating with whomever she wanted regardless of who would get hurt, and her always being right. To equate one’s selfishness, vanity, and egotism with one’s integrity liberates young people from the struggle to distinguish integrity from selfishness, vanity, and egotism.
Politics—capitalism. While Rand often disparaged Soviet totalitarian collectivism, she had little to say about corporate totalitarian collectivism, as she conveniently neglected the reality that giant U.S. corporations, like the Soviet Union, do not exactly celebrate individualism, freedom, or courage. Rand was clever and hypocritical enough to know that you don’t get rich in the United States talking about compliance and conformity within corporate America. Rather, Rand gave lectures titled: “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.” So, young careerist corporatists could embrace Rand’s self-styled “radical capitalism” and feel radical — radical without risk.
In recent years, we have entered a phase where it is apparently okay for major political figures to publicly embrace Rand despite her contempt for Christianity. In contrast, during Ayn Rand’s life, her philosophy that celebrated self-interest was a private pleasure for the 1 percent but she was a public embarrassment for them. They used her books to congratulate themselves on the morality of their selfishness, but they publicly steered clear of Rand because of her views on religion and God. Rand, for example, had stated on national television, “I am against God. I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness. I regard it as an evil.”
Actually, again inconsistent, Rand did have a God. It was herself. She said:
I am done with the monster of “we,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: “I.”
While Harriet Beecher Stowe shamed Americans about the United States’ dehumanization of African Americans and slavery, Ayn Rand removed Americans’ guilt for being selfish and uncaring about anyone except themselves. Not only did Rand make it “moral” for the wealthy not to pay their fair share of taxes, she “liberated” millions of other Americans from caring about the suffering of others, even the suffering of their own children.
The good news is that I’ve seen ex-Rand fans grasp the damage that Rand’s philosophy has done to their lives and to then exorcize it from their psyche. Can the United States as a nation do the same thing?
Bruce E. Levine
© 2014, agentleman.
Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Relations
By PETER BAKER
The president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba.
WASHINGTON — The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
The surprise announcement represented a dramatic turning point in more than five decades of hostility born in the depths of the Cold War and yet frozen in time long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Once a geopolitical flash point in a global struggle of ideology and power, Cuba obsessed American leaders of a different era, who sponsored covert schemes like the failed Bay of Pigs operation in 1961 aimed at toppling Fidel Castro, the charismatic revolutionary leader. A Soviet move to station nuclear missiles in Cuba led to a 13-day showdown in 1962 and the most perilous moment of the nuclear era.
In more recent years, the Cuban-American relationship faded in significance yet remained a thorn in the side of multiple presidents who waited for Mr. Castro’s demise and experienced false hope when he passed power to his brother, Raúl. Even today, Cuba remains a powerful touchstone in American politics, and critics characterized Mr. Obama’s diplomatic thaw as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship.
Mr. Obama has long expressed hope of transforming relations with the island nation, an aspiration that remained untenable as long as Cuba held Alan P. Gross, the American government contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison. In agreeing to free him, Cuba cleared the way for Mr. Obama to take a political risk with the last national election of his presidency behind him.
Mr. Gross traveled on an American government plane back to the United States late Wednesday morning, and the United States sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. American officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States intelligence agent who had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds.”
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In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.
“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s time for a new approach.”
Addressing critics of his new approach, he said he shares their commitment to freedom. “The question is how we uphold that commitment,” he said. “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”
Mr. Castro spoke simultaneously on Cuban television, taking to the airwaves with no introduction and announcing that he had spoken by telephone with Mr. Obama.
Alan Gross arrives at a news conference on Wednesday with his wife, Judy, in Washington. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
“We have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations,” he announced, emphasizing the release of the three Cubans. “President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”
Only afterward did he mention the reopening of diplomatic relations. “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved,” he said. “The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.” But, he added, “the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.”
Mr. Castro acknowledged that Mr. Obama was easing the blockade through his executive authority and called on the United States government to go further to “remove the obstacles that impede or restrict the links between our peoples, the families and the citizens of both our countries.”
Mr. Gross, accompanied by his wife, Judy, and three members of Congress, landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington shortly before noon. His sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, was “beyond ecstatic” at the news, according to her husband, Harold. “We are extremely grateful that he’s on his way home,” Mr. Rubinstein said by telephone from Dallas. “It’s been a long ordeal.”
Secretary of State John Kerry landed at Andrews shortly afterward and met with Mr. Gross, his wife, other members of his family and his lawyer, Scott Gilbert. While the meeting was unplanned, a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said it gave Mr. Kerry a chance to “express his overwhelming happiness that Alan Gross is now free and reunited with his family on American soil.”
At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Gross said he supported Mr. Obama’s move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, adding that his own ordeal and the injustice with which Cuban people have been treated were “a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”
“Five and a half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment,” Mr. Gross said. “Two wrongs never make a right. This is a game-changer, which I fully support.”
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Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a son of Cuban immigrants who may run for president in 2016, denounced the new policy as “another concession to a tyranny” and a sign that Mr. Obama’s administration is “willfully ignorant of the way the world truly works.”
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” Mr. Rubio said. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”
Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was also sharply critical. “Let’s be clear, this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” Mr. Menendez said in a written statement. “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”
Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to finalize the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years, American officials said.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were severed in January 1961 after the rise of Fidel Castro and his Communist government. Mr. Obama has instructed Mr. Kerry to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba about re-establishing diplomatic relations and to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on since 1982, the White House said.
Officials said they would re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the two governments within months. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next month for talks on Cuban-American migration and will attend a Summit of the Americas meeting along with Mr. Castro. The United States will begin working with Cuba on issues like counternarcotics, environmental protection and human trafficking.
The United States will also ease travel restrictions across all 12 categories currently envisioned under limited circumstances in American law, including family visits, official visits, journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, and public performances, officials said. Ordinary tourism, however, will remain prohibited.
Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties, making it possible to use debit cards in Cuba, and raise the level of remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals to $2,000 every three months from the current limit of $500. Intermediaries forwarding remittances will no longer require a specific license from the government.
American travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products.
The Vatican hailed the agreement. “The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” it said in a statement.
Mr. Gross’s health has been failing. He reportedly lost more than 100 pounds in prison and is losing vision in his right eye. He went on a nine-day hunger strike in April. After turning 65 in May, he told relatives that he might try to kill himself if not released soon
President Obama discussed the release of the contractor, Alan P. Gross, who had been held in Cuba for five years, as well as the release of an intelligence agent held for nearly 20 years.
Three members of Congress were on the plane that picked up Mr. Gross in Cuba on Wednesday and accompanied him back to the United States, officials said: Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
Mr. Gross was in Cuba to deliver satellite telephone equipment that was capable of cloaking connections to the Internet when he was arrested in 2009. The Cuban authorities, who tightly control access to the Internet in their country, initially said he was a spy, and a court there convicted him of bringing in the devices without a permit as part of a subversive plot to “destroy the revolution.”
Mr. Gross’s case drew increasing attention as his health deteriorated. He grew despondent and talked of suicide, and his wife, Judy Gross, and other supporters made urgent pleas for his release, but off-and-on diplomatic talks seemed to go nowhere.
Cuba has often raised the case of three of its spies serving federal prison time in Florida, saying they had been prosecuted unjustly and urging that they be released on humanitarian grounds. State Department officials insisted that the cases were not comparable and that Mr. Gross was not an intelligence agent.
The three Cuban agents were part of the Red Avispa, or the Wasp Network, in Florida along with two other Cuban agents. Mr. Obama used his clemency power to commute their sentences, and they were flown to Cuba by the United States Marshals Service, according to the Justice Department.
The unnamed United States intelligence agent traded for them returned to American soil on Wednesday as well. That agent, described by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence only as “a Cuban individual,” has been imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two decades.
Officials said he was instrumental in identifying the Cuban agents who were sent back on Wednesday. Separately, he also provided information that led to the conviction of Ana Belén Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency senior analyst; Walter Kendall Myers, a former State Department official; and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers.
“In light of his sacrifice on behalf of the United States, securing his release from prison after 20 years — in a swap for three of the Cuban spies he helped put behind bars — is fitting closure to this Cold War chapter of U.S.-Cuban relations,” the intelligence director’s office said in a statement.
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Mr. Gross worked for Development Alternatives, of Bethesda, Md., and had traveled to more than 50 countries as an international development worker. The company had a $6 million contract with the United States Agency for International Development to distribute equipment that could get around Cuba’s Internet blockade, and Mr. Gross had made four previous trips to Cuba in 2009.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the former New Mexico governor and cabinet secretary Bill Richardson and several members of Congress appealed for Mr. Gross’s release, along with Jewish advocacy groups in the United States.
After visiting Mr. Gross in November, Mr. Flake, a longtime advocate of loosening the 50-year-old American trade embargo with Cuba, said he was optimistic that the case would be resolved.
American lawmakers who have drawn attention to Mr. Gross’s case celebrated his departure from Cuba. “Today, news of Alan’s release brings great relief to his loved ones and to every American who has called for his freedom,” said Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. “I admire Alan’s strength and that of his wife Judy, who has worked tirelessly for years to free Alan and reunite her family.”
The American government has spent $264 million over the last 18 years, much of it through the development agency, in an effort to spur democratic change in Cuba. The agency said in November that it would cease the kinds of operations that Mr. Gross was involved in when he was arrested, as well as those, disclosed by The Associated Press, that allowed a contractor to set up a Twitter-like social network that hid its ties to the United States government.
© 2014, agentleman.
Let’s Count the Nails in the Coffin of the Drug War That Got Hammered in This Year
There’s been so much going on with drug policy reform this year, it wouldn’t all fit in a “Top 10″ list.
2014 was another nail in the coffin in the United States’ disastrous war on drugs. The majority of the country now supports marijuana legalization and Oregon, Alaska and D.C. made it a reality by legalizing it. World leaders like former UN head Kofi Annan and Presidents of Latin America called for an end to the drug war and for legally regulating drugs.
U.S. Attorney General Erik Holder continued to speak out against racist mandatory minimum drug laws and mass incarceration. President Obama made national news when he spoke out against racist marijuana enforcement and said that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.
Below are some of the top stories that made 2014 a watershed year in the fight to end America’s longest failed war.
1. Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. Legalize Marijuana
Voters across the country accelerated the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana by passing measures in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. These victories build on Colorado and Washington State’s historic legalization initiatives in 2012.
2. CA Passes Historic Sentencing Reform Initiative: No More Felonies for Drug Possession
California voters took a significant step toward ending mass incarceration and the war on drugs by approving Proposition 47 in November. Californians overwhelmingly voted to change six low-level, nonviolent offenses – including simple drug possession – from felonies to misdemeanors. This builds on California reforming their “three strikes” law in the 2012 election,
3. World Leaders call for All Drug Decrim and Legal Regulation of Drugs
The Global Commission on Drug Policy made worldwide news when they launched a report calling for all drug decriminalization and also legal regulation of drugs. The Commission is made of former UN head Kofi Annan, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, Richard Branson and more. The Commission is the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for such far-reaching changes.
4. Attorney General Eric Holder Continues to Slams U.S. Mass Incarceration and Mandatory Minimums
Eric Holder will go down in history as the Attorney General who began unwinding the war on drugs and steering our country away from mass incarceration. In 2014, Holder continued to make a series of moves to fix our broken criminal justice system, including: calling on policymakers to find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars; supporting efforts in Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce punitive sentencing; changing how the Justice Department charges people to reduce the application of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing; promoting efforts to re-integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and eliminate barriers to successful re-entry; advocating for the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated and urging federal law enforcement agencies to identify, train and equip personnel who may interact with a victim of a heroin overdose with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.
5. Colorado and Washington Show World Benefits of Marijuana Legalization
Colorado and Washington rolled out marijuana legalization in 2014 and showed us that legalization works in the real world. Despite scare claims from opponents, the “sky didn’t fall” and instead lead to millions of dollars of tax revenues and more importantly, 10,000’s of fewer arrests.
6. Eighty Organizations Highlight Plight of Drug War’s Youngest Victims At Home and Abroad
A diverse coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarians called for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting children both in Latin America and here in the United States. The coalition connected the dots between the 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S. border, many of whom are fleeing drug war violence in Central America and the devastating consequences of the drug war in the U.S., mass incarceration driven by overly-punitive drug laws tears apart families and communities, leaving children – particularly children of color – vulnerable.
7. The New York Times Comes Out Big for Marijuana Legalization
The New York Times editorial board made history in June when they became the first major national paper to call for an end to marijuana prohibition. What made the news so huge was not only their position, but the passion and space they gave to the issue. In addition to the lead editorial, “Repeal Prohibition, Again”, there was a six-part series on marijuana legalization with long, thoughtful editorials on related issues such as criminal justice, public health, regulatory models, and so forth. The Times’ editorial had the feeling of legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite coming out against the Vietnam War. They dropped a bomb on our country’s disastrous war on marijuana with unprecedented force.
8. People Around the World Hit the Streets Over Police Killings and Racist Criminal Justice System
Outrage around police violence, corruption and discrimination in the criminal justice system is more intense than ever in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. Protests have erupted all over the world. Those united in the fight against the drug war know how racist, cruel, inhumane and unfair law enforcement can be when there is absolute power and no accountability. #BlackLivesMatter
9. Overdose Prevention Strategies and Harm Reduction Spread Around Country
The country mourned the overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman at the beginning of the year. He reminds us that 105 people die in the United States every day from an overdose involving heroin or pharmaceutical opioids. With more than 30,000 deaths annually, accidental overdose has overtaken car accidents as our country’s leading cause of accidental death for people 25 to 64. Fortunately there has been major momentum in states passing overdose prevention laws. This year California became the latest and largest state in the country topass legislation to increase access to the opiate overdose reversal medicine naloxone by allowing people to obtain through a pharmacist.
10. Marijuana Reform is A Racial Justice Issue: DC Legalizes and NYC Halts Arrests
Washington D.C. and New York City won major marijuana reform by organizing for racial justice. In D.C., the Initiative 71 legalization campaign was based squarely on ending racially-biased enforcement of marijuana laws, following a 2013 ACLU report that showed that African Americans were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite use rates being the same across races. For years advocates have hammered the racist marijuana arrests under Mayors Giuliani, Bloomberg and now DeBlasio. Finally, DeBlasio was forced to take action and announced a new policy where people would not be arrested, but given tickets for under an ounce of marijuana. There is more work to be done, as advocates worry about racial disparities in tickets given out. But DC and New York make clear that legalizing marijuana is a civil rights issue.
11. Ethan Nadelmann Rocks the Crowd at TEDGlobal 2014: The War on Drugs Has Got to End
Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, delivered a fiery TED Talk last month at TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the talk, Nadelmann delivers an unflinching and powerful analysis of U.S. drug policy that was greeted with a standing ovation. “The reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs,” said Nadelmann during his TedGlobal talk. “If the principal smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men and the principal users of Viagra were young black men, using Viagra would land you time behind bars.” The piece has been viewed 700,000 times in just month.
12. President Obama: Marijuana No More Dangerous Than Alcohol
In an interview with the New Yorker published in January, President Obama spoke about his past drug use, said marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol and said the new laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington are ‘important’. The president expressed concern about disparities in arrests for marijuana possession. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said, adding that individual users shouldn’t be locked up “for long stretches of jail time.” The New Yorker interview solidified his green light to Colorado and Washington being allowed to move forward with their legalization. His New Yorker interview generated 1,000’s of articles around the world.
13. Congress Prohibits Justice Department from Undermining State Medical Marijuana Laws
The final federal spending bill that Congress passed this week includes an amendment that prohibits the U.S. Justice Department from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws. The spending bill also includes a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the DEA from blocking implementation of a federal law passed last year by Congress that allows hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it.
Despite Progress, the Drug War Grinds On as Viciously as Ever
For all of the progress in 2014, the war on drugs is as vicious as ever. The worst drug war policies remain entrenched, as close to three-quarters of a million people are arrested for marijuana possession every year, and more than half a million people are still behind bars today for nothing more than a drug law violation. The bloodbath in Mexico has taken 100,000 lives in the last eight years. And overdose fatalities have doubled in the last decade.
We are at a paradoxical moment in our country. We are clearly moving in the right direction, toward a more rational drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights. But we need to step up our efforts, grow our numbers, and continue to win hearts and minds because the casualties from the war continue to mount every day. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.
© 2014, agentleman.
Answering Evil With Evil
By Eugene Robinson
The “debate” over torture is almost as grotesque as torture itself. There can be no legitimate debate about the intentional infliction of pain upon captive and defenseless human beings. The torturers and their enablers may deny it, but they know—and knew from the beginning—that what they did was obscenely wrong.
We relied on legal advice, the torturers say. We were just following orders. We believed the ends justified the means. It is nauseating to hear such pathetic excuses from those who, in the name of the United States, sanctioned or committed acts that long have been recognized as war crimes.
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the treatment of detainees after the 9/11 attacks, members of a CIA interrogation team were “profoundly affected … some to the point of tears and choking up” at the brutal treatment in 2002 of an important al-Qaeda detainee named Abu Zubaida.
Captured in Pakistan and whisked to a secret facility in Thailand, Zubaida was initially cooperative, willingly providing answers under normal, non-coercive questioning. But the CIA abruptly halted his interrogation, placed him in isolation for 47 days and then began a regime of astonishing and gratuitous cruelty.
Torturers slammed him against walls, confined him in coffin-size boxes for a total of nearly 300 hours and subjected him to 83 sessions of waterboarding, which simulates drowning—a practice for which Japanese war criminals were tried, convicted and harshly punished following World War II. After one waterboarding assault, according to the Senate report, Zubaida was “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
In all, 119 detainees were held in the CIA’s archipelago of secret prisons, according to the report; at least 26 of them were wrongfully detained and never should have been arrested in the first place.
The report says 39 prisoners were tortured with what the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney called “enhanced interrogation techniques”—a chilling bit of Orwellian newspeak. They were kept awake for up to 180 hours, often standing, sometimes in “stress” positions designed to induce pain. Their arms were shackled above their heads. They were stripped naked and placed in ice baths. At least five prisoners were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding.” While the CIA says only three detainees were waterboarded, Senate investigators found waterboarding equipment at a site where supposedly no such torture took place.
We know of two men who were tortured to death. One of them, Gul Rahman, was held at a facility in Afghanistan that the Senate report refers to as COBALT, described in a CIA memo as a “dungeon.” Rahman was put in a dank, frigid cell wearing only a shirt—no pants or underwear—and chained so that he had to sit or lie on a bare concrete floor. He was found dead the next morning, apparently of hypothermia. The other man, Manadel al-Jamadi, died in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after being beaten and shackled to a window.
The report seeks to demonstrate that the torture was useless because valuable information in the fight against al-Qaeda came from conventional interrogation methods, not the brutal treatment. Torture’s apologists—including Cheney, who says he’d “do it again in a minute”—claim otherwise. This dispute cannot be settled. No one can say that a name, date or phone number extracted by torture could never have been obtained by other means.
But efficacy is not the point. What matters is not whether torture produces more information or less. What matters is that torture is manifestly immoral—and clearly illegal under U.S. and international law.
The CIA says it relied on Bush administration legal opinions attesting that torture is not really torture. The Senate report shows, however, that the CIA was less than honest in its representations to the Department of Justice lawyers about what was being done to the detainees. Again, this argument misses the big picture: Those who ordered and committed torture would not be so eager to hide behind a paper-thin legalistic veneer if they truly believed what they did was right.
Why would the CIA officer in charge of the program destroy all videotapes of waterboarding sessions? Why would the agency fight the Senate investigators so fiercely, at one point hacking into the committee’s computers? Why would there be such a coordinated attempt by torture’s apologists to steer the “debate” toward subsidiary questions and away from the central issue?
There is only one answer: They decided to answer evil with evil, rather than justice. And they knew it was wrong.
© 2014, agentleman.