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Social Security Facts vs Fog

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Dave Johnson's picture

By Dave Johnson

November 24, 2010 – 3:47pm ET

Conservative just hate Social Security. The Social Security program is an example of government at its best. It demonstrates We, the People taking care of and watching out for each other. It works, it is efficient and effective, and people love it. For their war against government to work conservatives have to find a way to undermine Social Security.

Conservatives have been at war with Social Security since its inception. They call it a “Ponzi scheme.” They claim that it is “going broke.” They claim that people live longer so we should increase the retirement age… They claim a lot of things. The question is, are any of them true? Or is each just one more area where conservatives are trying to throw up a smokescreen to mask their real intentions? (because it’s what they do.)

How much of what we hear about Social Security are facts, and how much is just fog?

One thing that most people do not know is that conservatives have been following an actual plan, a step-by-step strategy to get rid of Social Security, that was laid out a couple of decades a go. A 1983 Cato Institute Journal document, “Achieving a Leninist Strategy” by Stuart Butler of the Cato Institute and Peter Germanis of The Heritage Foundation lays it out for us. The document is still available at Cato, and select quotes are available at Plotting Privatization? from Z Magazine. It is worth reading the entire document (in particular the section “Weakening the Opposition”) to understand completely the strategy that has been unfolding in the years since, but the following quotes give you an idea:

“Lenin recognized that fundamental change is contingent upon … its success in isolating and weakening its opponents. … we would do well to draw a few lessons from the Leninist strategy.”

” construct … a coalition that will … reap benefits from the IRA-based private system … but also the banks, insurance companies, and other institutions that will gain from providing such plans to the public.”

“The first element consists of a campaign to achieve small legislative changes that embellish the present IRA system, making it in practice a small-scale private Social Security system.

“The second main element … involves what one might crudely call guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.”

“The banking industry and other business groups that can benefit from expanded IRAs …” “… the strategy must be to propose moving to a private Social Security system in such a way as to … neutralize … the coalition that supports the existing system.”

“The next Social Security crisis may be further away than many people believe. … it could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible. But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform.”

So there you have it. This shows how many of the arguments are just fog, not fact. And it shows how private interests intend to “reap benefits” from getting rid of Social Security: namely, they get a lot of the money instead of the retirees.

This time the attack is riding piggyback on concerns about budget deficits. First there was a big brouhaha about deficits, then the answer is offered: cut Social Security’s benefits. But Social Security is not allowed to borrow by law, so it cannot contribute to deficits. In fact, since the 1983 changes in the program Social Security has run surpluses, not deficits, and has built up a huge trust fund! Social Security won’t run short until possibly 2037, and even then can pay most of its benefits with no changes. (Compare that to the military budget, which has to borrow hundreds of billions every single year.)

Last time it was President George W Bush attacking the program. Remember? Social Security was supposed to be “in crisis” and needed to be “privatized.” The fog machine was trying to convince us to put the money into the stock market. But progressives rallied, saved the program, and now it is years later and the program is fine. Imagine where we would be if the program had been put into stocks!

Other times the fog machine has told us that Social Security “has a lower return” than putting the money into other investments, even though it is more than just retirement funds and also provides disability payments and other benefits. Or that there aren’t as many workers per retiree as there used to be, even though that is not how the program works. Or that people live longer, even though that is mostly because fewer babies die. (The program was designed for increasing longevity and the 1983 changes accounted for any differences.) There is always a new attack.

Whatever the current attack might be, keep in mind that it is just one more attack. Instead of spending all your time trying to refute each lie while they throw up a dozen more, remember that they hate Social Security and they just lie. Of course, there is a risk that each time Social Security is attacked more of the public will get the idea that something must be wrong with the program, when there isn’t. Keeping in mind that there is a corporate/conservative strategy at work to undermine the program helps to fight off the fog.

For politicians, Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson of the Strengthen Social Security coalition have a warning. In an LA Times op-ed the other day, Touching the ‘third rail’, they wrote,

For all the talk of polarization, the American people are clear and united about Social Security. A recent poll of those who voted in the midterm election found that 67% of respondents opposed cuts in benefits; 69% opposed raising the Social Security retirement age to 69. Respondents were also clear about what steps should be taken to address a looming shortfall. Some 66% of those polled favored doing away with the current cap on payroll taxes to fund Social Security. Currently, taxpayers are taxed only on their first $106,800 in income. Simply requiring upper-income taxpayers to pay the tax on all their income would bring in enough revenue to allow benefits to be raised across the board and still have the program in balance for at least the next 75 years.

. . . The message of the midterm election is that the American people are fed up with Washington elites who don’t seem to listen. Despite the clear view of the American people, the elites in Washington seem to think it would be better to reduce benefits than to require the wealthy to pay the same percentage of their salaries into Social Security as everyone else does.

If politicians choose to cut Social Security benefits, when they could simply scrap the cap, we predict that this midterm will seem like a walk in the park compared to what awaits them in 2012.

Take Action

Don’t mess with Social Security! November 30 is national Call Congress day, to say HANDS OFF SOCIAL SECURITY! Click the link to learn more.

Also, sign this petition from Campaign for America’s Future and CREDO Action, Tell Obama: Reject Social Security Cuts

(This post originally appeared at Open Left)

Bill Quigley | Bush Pens True Crime Book

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

President George W. Bush addresses the class o...

Official photograph portrait of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Bill Quigley, Truthout: “In his memoir (which some wise people have already moved in bookstores to the CRIME section) George W. Bush admitted that he authorized that detainees be waterboarded, tortured, a crime under US and international law.

Bush’s crime confession coincides with reports that no one will face criminal charges from the US Department of Justice for the destruction of 92 CIA videotapes which contained interrogations using waterboarding.”
Read the Article


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Obama’s Biggest Mistake: Selling Out to the Bankers

November 10, 2010 1 comment

The original sin of Obama’s presidency was to trust bank-friendly economists and Bush carry-overs, whose primary goal was to protect their own past decisions and futures.
November 7, 2010 |
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Bruce Bartlett says it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says it was a failure of nerve. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy’s failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure — to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy.

As Krugman rightly stipulates, Monday-morning quarterbacks should say exactly what different play they would have called. Paul’s answer is that the stimulus package should have been bigger. No disagreement: I was one voice calling for a much larger program back when. Yet this answer is not sufficient.

The original sin of Obama’s presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures.

Up to a point, one can defend the decisions taken in September-October 2008 under the stress of a rapidly collapsing financial system. The Bush administration was, by that time, nearly defunct. Panic was in the air, as was political blackmail — with the threat that the October through January months might be irreparably brutal. Stopgaps were needed, they were concocted, and they held the line.

But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

Team Obama did none of these things. Instead they announced “stress tests,” plainly designed so as to obscure the banks’ true condition. They pressured the Federal Accounting Standards Board to permit the banks to ignore the market value of their toxic assets. Management stayed in place. They prosecuted no one. The Fed cut the cost of funds to zero. The President justified all this by repeating, many times, that the goal of policy was “to get credit flowing again.”

The banks threw a party. Reported profits soared, as did bonuses. With free funds, the banks could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. They could boom the stock market. They could make a mint on proprietary trading. Their losses on mortgages were concealed — until the fact came out that they’d so neglected basic mortgage paperwork, as to be unable to foreclose in many cases, without the help of forged documents and perjured affidavits.

But new loans? The big banks had given up on that. They no longer did real underwriting. And anyway, who could qualify? Businesses mostly had no investment plans. And homeowners were, to an increasing degree, upside-down on their mortgages and therefore unqualified to refinance.

These facts were obvious to everybody, fueling rage at “bailouts.” They also underlie the economy’s failure to create jobs. What usually happens (and did, for example, in 1994 – 2000) is that credit growth takes over from Keynesian fiscal expansion. Armed with credit, businesses expand, and with higher incomes, public deficits decline. This cannot happen if the financial sector isn’t working.

Geithner, Summers and Bernanke should have known this. One can be fairly sure that they did know it. But Geithner and Bernanke had cast their lots, with continuity and coverup. And Summers, with his own record of deregulation, could hardly have complained.

To counter calls for more action, Team Obama produced sunny forecasts. Their program was right-sized, because anyway unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009. So Larry Summers said. In making that forecast, the Obama White House took responsibility for the entire excess of joblessness above eight percent. They made it impossible to blame the ongoing disaster on George W. Bush. If this wasn’t rank incompetence, it was sabotage.

This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them.

President Obama didn’t see this. Or perhaps, he didn’t want to see it. His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know, about who he really is.

James K. Galbraith is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, and of a new preface to The Great Crash, 1929, by John Kenneth Galbraith. He teaches at The University of Texas at Austin.

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It Was the Banks – a failure to focus

November 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Published on Friday, November 5, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by James K. Galbraith

Bruce Bartlett [1] it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says [2] it was a failure of nerve. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy’s failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure – to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy.

As Krugman rightly [2] stipulates, Monday-morning quarterbacks should say exactly what different play they would have called. Paul’s answer is that the stimulus package should have been bigger. No disagreement: I was one voice calling for a much larger program back when. Yet this answer is not sufficient.

The original sin of Obama’s presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures.

Up to a point, one can defend the decisions taken in September-October 2008 under the stress of a rapidly collapsing financial system. The Bush administration was, by that time, nearly defunct. Panic was in the air, as was political blackmail – with the threat that the October through January months might be irreparably brutal. Stopgaps were needed, they were concocted, and they held the line.

But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

Team Obama did none of these things. Instead they announced “stress tests,” plainly designed so as to obscure the banks’ true condition. They pressured the Federal Accounting Standards Board to permit the banks to ignore the market value of their toxic assets. Management stayed in place. They prosecuted no one. The Fed cut the cost of funds to zero. The President justified all this by repeating, many times, that the goal of policy was “to get credit flowing again.”

The banks threw a party. Reported profits soared, as did bonuses. With free funds, the banks could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. They could boom the stock market. They could make a mint on proprietary trading. Their losses on mortgages were concealed – until the fact came out that they’d so neglected basic mortgage paperwork, as to be unable to foreclose in many cases, without the help of forged documents and perjured affidavits.

But new loans? The big banks had given up on that. They no longer did real underwriting. And anyway, who could qualify? Businesses mostly had no investment plans. And homeowners were, to an increasing degree, upside- down on their mortgages and therefore unqualified to refinance.

These facts were obvious to everybody, fueling rage at “bailouts.” They also underlie the economy’s failure to create jobs. What usually happens (and did, for example, in 1994 – 2000) is that credit growth takes over from Keynesian fiscal expansion. Armed with credit, businesses expand, and with higher incomes, public deficits decline. This cannot happen if the financial sector isn’t working.

Geithner, Summers and Bernanke should have known this. One can be fairly sure that they did know it. But Geithner and Bernanke had cast their lots, with continuity and coverup. And Summers, with his own record of deregulation, could hardly complain.

To counter calls for more action, Team Obama produced sunny forecasts. Their program was right-sized, because anyway unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009. So Larry Summers said. In making that forecast, the Obama White House took responsibility for the entire excess of joblessness above eight percent. They made it impossible to blame the ongoing disaster on George W. Bush. If this wasn’t rank incompetence, it was sabotage.

This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them.

President Obama didn’t see this. Or perhaps, he didn’t want to see it. His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know about who he really is.

James K. Galbraith teaches at UT-Austin and is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too [3].


Article printed from http://www.CommonDreams.org

URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/11/05-13

 

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America and Obama Hit Bottom: Pressuring Child Soldier to Plead Guilty to Murder Violates International Law and Decency

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo of Omar Khadr, copyright released into t...

Photo of Omar Khadr, copyright released into the public domain by the Khadr family in Toronto.

Original Content at http://www.opednews.com/articles/America-and-Obama-Hit-Bott-by-Dave-Lindorff-101025-861.html


October 25, 2010

 

By Dave Lindorff

As the author of The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), I never thought in my lifetime that I would see a president reach the depth of moral decay and depravity of President George W. Bush, but sad to say, our current president, Barack Obama, has managed to do it, and what makes it worse, as a former Constitutional law professor, he knows better.

This president’s moral nadir was hit yesterday, when he allowed a military tribunal based at Guantanamo to pressure Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured, gravely wounded, and arrested at the age of 15 in Afghanistan, and held at Guantanamo now for nine years, to plead guilty to murder.

Khadr’s crime? He was in a house that was struck by a US air strike and then raided by US special forces during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. The gravely wounded Khadr was accused of tossing a grenade at advancing US troops, which killed US Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, and caused another soldier to lose an eye.

Although Khadr, after nine years of harsh confinement in Guantanamo, and facing a military tribunal, has pleaded guilty in a plea bargain, after insisting for nine years that he did not throw the grenade (there is no living witness to his having done so), one issue here is that even if he did toss it, that action would have been seen as that heroic act of a gravely-wounded young fighter facing a superior enemy force, but for the fact that the US is claiming Khadr was not a legitimate soldier, but rather a “terrorist.”

This is a rather spurious claim, since the US says it went to “war” in Afghanistan to go after Al Qaeda forces there, who had been set up with CIA assistance initially to help the Mujahadeen fight the Soviet occupiers. So the force that Khadr was supposedly fighting with was a legitimate fighting force once, but became not a fighting force when the enemy was the US. Clearly, such fine distinctions would have meant nothing to a 15-year-old boy who had been “drafted” into the war at 14 by his Al Qaeda-member father, who was later killed by US fire. Note too that the US can say its soldiers, who have been killing a prodigious number of civilians in Afghanistan, cannot be charged with murder or manslaughter because they are soldiers, but the enemy they are fighting can be charged with murder if they fight back, because they are supposedly not legitimate soldiers.

But Alice-in-Wonderland semantic games aside, in any case, the biggest outrage in this case is that Khadr was 15 when he was captured. Under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child , a treaty that was signed by the US and that is thus part of US law, all children under the age of 18 captured while fighting in wars are to be offered “special protection” and treated as victims, not as combatants.

The “special treatment” afforded to Khadr after his capture, however, was to be tortured, as has been recounted even by US military witnesses, who have described his being chained with his arms above his head, despite being seriously wounded, threatened with rape, interrogated only hours after being operated on for his wounds, kept in solitary confinement, and so on.

This is simply a disgusting case that offends any sense of decency, and makes both America and this president look no better than Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

When Barack Obama was running for president, he vowed to shut down the concentration camp at Guantanamo. He has not done that. He said, furthermore, that the very existence of that facility was harming America’s image around the world. He was absolutely correct.

How outrageous then that he not only left the offshore prison in place but that for the first test of his new supposedly “fair” military tribunal process, he allowed the military prosecutors to choose the now 24-year-old Khadr.

Khadr should have been immediately released and repatriated to his native Canada when the president took office. Instead he now faces more time imprisoned at Guantanamo (he may eventually be released to Canadian authorities under the terms of his plea agreement, which has not been disclosed yet, but would face at least another year in Guantanamo’s hell).

There is no good way to spin this atrocity. President Obama now stands guilty of a war crime–the abuse of a child soldier. Khadr’s initial arrest and torture happened on Bush’s watch, but of course, as with the rest of the torture that occurred during the Bush/Cheney years, President Obama has done nothing to prosecute the criminals who engaged in it or ordered it, or allowed it to happen. That dereliction of duty in itself by the current commander in chief, under the Geneva Conventions, is a war crime.

But all legal arguments aside, it is simply an abomination that this president has allowed the Pentagon to prosecute and force an admission of “guilt” from a child soldier who has literally grown up in the hellish environs of Guantanamo’s concentration camp.

The guilty plea is a bad joke, designed to put lipstick on the ugly pig that is the president’s war tribunal policy. As Khadr’s attorney said, “There’s not much choice. He either pleads guilty to avoid trial, or he goes to trial (in a military tribunal where the jury is composed of US military officers), and the trial is an unfair process.” Military tribunals, significantly, allow testimony that has been obtained through torture, while such evidence is inadmissible in any American court of law.

When I wrote The Case for Impeachment, I warned that if Congress did not impeach the president and vice president for their myriad crimes, including massive serial violations of the Geneva Conventions, any future president would feel completely free to continue committing those crimes.

In the Khadr case, we see that very thing happening.


Our leaders, from the president on down, are moral reprobates and war criminals, and as we Americans allow this kind of grotesque violation of our fundamental principals to occur without protest, we become no different from or better than the Germans of World War II.


DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalistically-run online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues John Grant, Linn Washington and Charles Young, can be found at ThisCantBeHappening!


Author’s Bio: Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books (“This Can’t Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy” and “Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal”). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara Olshanshky, is “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin’s Press, May 2006).

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Judge bars torture evidence in ex-Guantánamo detainee trial

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bill Van Auken

WSWS

A federal judge in Manhattan Wednesday barred testimony from the government’s star witness in the trial of accused African embassy bomber Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani because the evidence was derived through torture.

Ghailani, a Tanzanian, was grabbed by the CIA in Pakistan in 2004 and disappeared for more than two years into the agency’s overseas “black sites,” including one in Poland, where he was subjected to “enhance interrogation techniques,” or torture. In 2006, he was transferred to Guantánamo together with other so-called “high value detainees” from whom the agency presumably believed it had forcibly extracted all of the information possible.

The Obama administration chose Ghailani as the first ex-Guantánamo detainee to be put on trial in a normal civilian court because of what it considered overwhelming evidence guaranteeing a guilty verdict.

The trial is widely seen as the precursor to the prosecution in federal court of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of organizing the 9/11 terror attacks, who was repeatedly interrogated under torture, subjected to waterboarding 183 times.

Ghailani is accused of conspiracy in relation to the August 7, 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, which killed at least 11 people and injured another 85.

One reason for the government’s confidence is that four others accused in the conspiracy were apprehended in Africa and tried and sentenced to life in prison at a trial held in the same Manhattan federal court just months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City.

The Justice Department’s star witness, however, was Hussein Abebe, who was prepared to testify that he sold TNT to Ghailani that was subsequently used to blow up the embassy.

Ghailani has pleaded not guilty, insisting that he did not know that the explosives and other material that he is implicated in procuring were to be used in the attack on the embassy.

Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favor of a defense motion to exclude Abebe’s testimony on the grounds that the identity of the witness had been obtained from Ghailani through torture at the CIA’s clandestine prisons. Defense attorneys also argued that the case should be dismissed because of Ghailani’s having been denied his right to a speedy trial in the 12-year-old case.

A federal prosecutor, Michael Farbiarz, argued last week that without putting Abebe on the witness stand the government “has no way of putting such evidence in front of the jury at all.” Previously, the prosecution had described Abebe as “a giant witness for the government.”

The Justice Department, however, has not challenged the charge that Ghailani was subjected to torture, because it wants no public airing of the crimes carried out by CIA and military interrogators. Instead, it insisted that it had other means than the information extracted from Ghailani to discover the witness. The judge rejected this claim.

In issuing his ruling, Judge Kaplan said he was “acutely aware of the perilous nature of the world in which we live. But the Constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests.” He continued: “We must follow it not only when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction. To do less would diminish us and undermine the foundation upon which we stand.”

The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which insists that that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” has long been held by US courts to bar the admissibility of coerced confessions or other evidence obtained through police “third degree” methods or torture. International law also prohibits the use of torture evidence in criminal prosecutions.

In the same statement, however, Judge Kaplan made it clear that his ruling would, in the end, have no real consequence. His upholding of the Constitution would not extend so far as to prevent the government’s unlawful imprisonment of the defendant, even if he were to be acquitted at trial.

The judge said, “It is appropriate to emphasize that Ghailani remains subject to trial on the pending indictment, that he faces the possibility of life imprisonment if convicted, and that his status as an ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty in this case.”

Indeed, the Obama administration has asserted the “right” to continue to detain anyone accused of terrorism indefinitely, even if they are tried and found not guilty. In this, as in many other areas, the administration has defended and amplified the police-state powers claimed by the administration of George W. Bush in conducting Washington’s “global war on terrorism.”

Judge Kaplan’s ruling provoked a predictable barrage from the administration’s right-wing critics, who claimed that the exclusion of evidence based on torture proved that the Obama Justice Department was wrong to attempt the prosecution of terror suspects in civilian courts.

Typical was an article by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the architect’s of the US policies of torture and indefinite detention without charges or trial. “If the American people needed any further proof that this administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today,” she wrote.

Many of these critics have insisted that if those detained as “enemy combatants” are to be tried at all, it should only be before military tribunals that are less sensitive to the Constitution and the admission of forced confessions and other evidence extracted by CIA and military torturers.

The reality, however, is that while attempting to stage a showcase trial with the prosecution of Ghailani, the Obama administration is continuing the use of military kangaroo courts for some detainees and the indefinite detention without charges for others. This multi-track system is designed to put a legal gloss on the illegal system associated with Guantánamo that was established under the Bush administration.

For example, the administration is moving ahead with the trial before a military commission of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was captured by US Special Forces troops in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old.

In that trial, which began in August, Khadr is being prosecuted for alleged offenses—throwing a grenade at a US soldier and conspiring with Al Qaeda—committed when he was a child. He faces life imprisonment. The military judge has waved aside defense objections to the use of confessions forced from the youth under torture, including beatings, sensory and sleep deprivation, threats of gang rape and being used as a “human mop.”

Upon taking office, Obama promised that he would shut down the prison camp at the Guantánamo naval base in Cuba by January 2010. Ten months later, 174 men remain imprisoned at the camp. Only 36 have been slated for prosecution. Meanwhile the US administration has indicated that it will continue to hold 48 of them without charges or trial in violation of US and international law because it lacks any evidence against them that it can produce in a court of law. The rest, many of whom US intelligence and the Pentagon acknowledge pose no threat, remain in legal limbo.


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HOMOPHOBIA, RELIGION, AND THE COLLAPSE OF INDUSTRIAL CIVILIZATION

October 4, 2010 1 comment

By Carolyn Baker PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 October 2010
His face is everywhere-on the internet, on TV, and throughout print media-that gentle, timid, barely-smiling young man with red hair, glasses, and a prodigious talent for playing the classical violin. I’m talking about Tyler Clementi, the freshman student at Rutgers who suicided last week after his roommate video taped him having sex with another man then uploaded the video to You Tube for all the world to see. Four other young people killed themselves in the last three weeks because of wrenching internal conflicts regarding their sexual orientation. Their faces were not as widely seen as Tyler’s, but they remain casualties of a culture in which meanness-whether related to homophobia, bullying, or demented religiosity is epidemic.

The subject comes close to home for me. Four decades ago, I could have been Tyler or any of these sweet kids who decided that life was not worth living if they must choose between death and an existence in which they would be forced to murder their souls and be someone they were not. Fortunately, I survived and at a time when there was virtually no sanity, support, or substantial research on the topic-and during a time when many more suicides were committed over sexual orientation than today and with the real reasons undisclosed.

Yes I know, in some countries, such as Iran and Uganda, gay and lesbian people are routinely imprisoned, put to death, or assassinated. Bullying, rather than happening randomly among the citizenry, has been institutionalized in the legal systems of those nations. And in some ways, that might be easier to deal with, would it not? One realizes one lives in a culture that maintains a barbaric attitude toward sexual orientation where in order to be who one really is, one must leave the country. The opposition to homosexuality is ubiquitous and daunting, rather than irregular, unpredictable, and in Tyler’s case, uber hypocritical. It was not Fred Phelps of “God Hates Fags” who videotaped him and You Tubed his sexual activity, but rather a roommate who proclaimed tolerance and neutrality on the topic of sexual orientation.

Mainstream media myopically attempts to analyze this carnage in the limited context of bullying without connecting dots to the larger picture of a planet that appears to be increasingly marinated in anger. Last year, author and spiritual teacher, Caroline Myss, wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled “An Epidemic of Global Anger“:

We are a community of nations on fire with anger. And we are getting angrier by the day. Whether we look at the increase in uprisings occurring around the world or at the escalating tension brewing in America, what is becoming more apparent is that we are witnessing a rapidly increasing rate of global anger, so much so that it qualifies as an epidemic

For nearly a decade I have been writing and speaking incessantly about the convergence of the Three E’s: energy, economy, and environment and the unprecedented suffering the earth community is experiencing as a result of the deepening crises created by this convergence. The human race is angry, and perhaps the planet itself, but it is within the belly of industrial civilization that young men and women are killing themselves because of who they love.

This is also the civilization that has distorted the core teachings of Christianity beyond recognition, particularly in the area of love and sexuality. To a large extent, this is one of the tragic legacies of early Colonial Puritanism in the United States. More recently in the nineteenth century, one school of mainstream Protestantism dramatically diverged in a more conservative direction and gave birth to what we now know as fundamentalist Christianity. Irish minister, John Nelson Darby, began preaching a strain of apocalyptic theology that emphasized the imminent return of Christ and proclaimed that when evil is seen in a society, Christians should rejoice because it is evidence of the second coming. Since then, the growth of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States has exploded, but it was not until the George W. Bush administration of this decade that this historically new strain of the Christian faith in America blatantly sought to eliminate the separation of church and state and establish theocratic governance based on the principles of Christian fundamentalism.

Intellectually immersed in a literal interpretation of the bible and, in my opinion, emotionally terrified of the notion of same gender attraction, American fundamentalist Christianity has pronounced it as an abomination in the eyes of God. Yet the research I gathered for my 2007 book, Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity, suggests that significant numbers of individuals who identify as homosexual in the United States have been influenced by fundamentalist Christianity at some point in their lives. In the 1980s a number of fundamentalist movements claiming to “cure” individuals of homosexual attraction began to proliferate in this country and are still drawing in men and women from fundamentalist backgrounds who hope to be liberated from same-gender attraction. In countless cases, the “cure” has been psychologically devastating to individuals who have chosen it, and in fact, author Wayne Besen who has researched the “Ex-Gay” movement extensively writes that Ex-Gay therapy is nothing less than scandalous.

Nevertheless, the extent to which fundamentalist Christianity has influenced the American political system is painfully obvious. Without exception, Tea Party candidates are vehemently opposed to homosexual orientation and gay marriage. And although Tea Party candidates vary slightly in their opposition to abortion, illegal immigration, Social Security, unemployment benefits, and Medicare, their intellectually impaired agenda is conspicuously informed by a fundamentalist Christian perspective based on a literal interpretation of the bible and a predominantly Anglo-American perspective of privilege and xenophobia.

Moreover, as we learned last week, atheists and agnostics know more about religion than people who profess to be religious. One finding in the Pew Religious Survey revealed that many of the religious are devoted readers of the bible but, “More than a third (37%) say they read the Bible or other Holy Scriptures at least once a week, not counting worship services. But Americans as a whole are much less inclined to read other books about religion. Nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they “seldom” or “never” read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.”

Intellectual integrity demands that anyone who embraces any belief system investigates its origin and history. All religions and belief systems have their light and dark sides, but fundamentalist Christians overall tend either to be unaware of the dark side of Christianity or to minimize it. In her stunning 1995 book The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe notes the principal danger in doing so:

Ignoring the dark side of Christian history allows the beliefs which have motivated cruelty to go unexamined. The belief in a singular face of God who reigns at the pinnacle of a hierarchy sustained by fear has devastating consequences. People must constantly determine who is superior to whom. Every aspect which differentiates people whether it be gender, race, belief, sexual preference, or soci-economic status, becomes a criterion by which to rank an individual as either better than or less than another. And it is the ranking and subordination of a person’s humanity and value that comprises sexism, racism, and the intolerance of difference. (186-187)

The key word in Ellerbe’s assessment is, I believe, cruelty. Any altruism provided to the suffering masses by any belief system is unequivocally mitigated by theological underpinnings which promote racism, sexism, homophobia-and I would add, disregard for the ecosystems. Don’t tell me how much good you’re doing in the world when you justify your profligate lifestyle by distorting the Old Testament declaration that humans have “dominion” over the earth, when you pathologize people for who they love, when you attempt to rid your country of the “scourge” of illegal immigrants, and when you demand the end of abortion for any reason, including rape and incest, because those are “part of God’s plan.”

When empires collapse, there are rarely enough scapegoats to go around, and the collapse of industrial civilization is no an exception. The global anger epidemic is real, and rage on the political right in the United States is palpable. Fundamentalist Christians, some of whom are Tea Party candidates, insist that the empire is not collapsing, but instead point to world events and behavior that defies their dogma as proof that the second coming of Christ is imminent and will rescue them from an apocalypse. Thus, their objective is to save as many souls as possible and acquire as much political power as quickly as possible in order to restrain and punish the evildoers. During the process of collapse, previous empires in human history have frequently been replete with acrimonious religious and political sects, escalating violence, scapegoating, and myriad schemes for rescuing a society in tatters from the “bad guys.”

So they welcome an apocalypse, but sadly, fundamentalist Christians do not understand that the original meaning of “apocalypse” was “unveiling.” Let’s see, what exactly is being unveiled? A way of life based on power and control sanctioned by abusive religious dogma; the scapegoating of all who live on the fringes of the despicable paradigm on which industrial civilization is based; the delusional assumption that economic growth is endless or even desirable; the infantile loathing of placing limits on humans in relation to climate chaos, the ecosystems, and all other species that occupy this planet; the implacable determination to rape, plunder, and pillage every centimeter of earth in search of resources and profit? Yes, the bankruptcy of civilization’s paradigm is being revealed in its demise, portending the possibility that as humanity stands on the threshold of annihilation, it will forsake the old paradigm and embrace not only a new paradigm but become a new human species.

At the same time that I call out fundamentalist Christianity in order to expose it for what it is, I call out my LGBT sisters and brothers who have been myopically focused on gay marriage and the right to bear or adopt children legally within marriage to question the kind of future your children will have as crises converge. As we champion our rights, we must ask what our responsibilities are. In response to fundamentalism’s literal interpretation of the biblical assertion that humans have “dominion” over the earth, we must illumine and counter this distortion of an Old Testament directive to be conscientious stewards of the earth by living accordingly.

As the severity of the convergence of crises exacerbates, we can expect to see more fundamentalist Christians in power and their voices becoming ever more cacophonous and cruel.

So what can be done?

  • We can research and prepare for the escalating consequences of the Three E’s. A number of resources may be found at my website.
  • We can disengage from global and national politics and direct our energy toward local solutions which the Three E’s will increasingly force us to address in our neighborhoods and communities.
  • We can expose the politics of fundamentalism in all religions, and in the United States, the ghastly misinterpretation of American history by Christian fundamentalists and their doctrine of scapegoating all who do not imbibe the Kool Aid with them.
  • As economic collapse intensifies and services and educational programs evaporate, we can reach out as individuals and in our neighborhoods and communities to those targeted by scapegoating-our LGBT brothers and sisters, immigrants, at-risk youth, the unemployed, the homeless, and all who are different from us in every way.

Indeed homophobia and oppressive belief systems are not new, but at this historical juncture, they are escalating in the context of the disintegration of industrial civilization and the paradigm that has fostered it for nearly 5,000 years. This means that their influence is almost guaranteed to intensify and therefore, so too must our response.

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is the author of Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity: An Autobiography Affirming Sensuality, Social Justice and The Sacred (2007) and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (2009). She manages the Speaking Truth to Power website at http://www.carolynbaker.net/.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 03 October 2010 )

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