VIDEO: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu GhraibC

Abu Ghraib – Iraq


Welcome to the land of greed, imperialism and colonialism.
Oh, and twisted sexual upbringing…

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Three Years After Katrina

As headlines focus on conventions and running mates, the third anniversary of Katrina offers an opportunity to examine the results of disastrous federal, state and local policy on the people of New Orleans. Several organizations have released reports in the past week, examining the current state of the city, and grassroots activists have plans to broadcast their message from the streets. For those who have heard only uplifting stories about the city’s recovery, the facts on the ground may be surprising.

According to a study by PolicyLink, 81 percent of those who received the Federally-funded, State-administered Road Home grants had insufficient resources to cover their damages. The average Road Home applicant fell about $35,000 short of the money they need to rebuild their home, and African-American households on average had an almost 35% higher shortfall than white households.

More than one in three residential addresses – over 70,000 – remain vacant or unoccupied, according to a report by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. While workers with Brad Pitt’s Make It Right project are working on overdrive to finish the first of their scores of planned houses in the notoriously devastated Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood overall ranks far behind other neighborhoods in recovery, with only 11 percent of its pre-Katrina number of households. The same report notes that since the devastation of the city, rents have raised by 46% citywide (much more in some neighborhoods), while many city services remain very limited – for example, only 21% of public transit buses are running.

Divided City

Its not just activists that speak of race and class divisions in New Orleans. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70% of residents feel we’re divided by class and/or race. The Kaiser survey also found unity among New Orleanians: we’re united in feeling forgotten by the rest of the US. Eight out of 10 said the federal government has not provided sufficient support. Nearly two-thirds think that the US public has largely forgotten about the city.

The survey found large percentages saying that their own situation has deteriorated. Fifty-three percent of low- income residents report that their financial situation is worse today than pre-Katrina. The percentage of residents who say they have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness such as depression has tripled since 2006.

There is a continuing debate about how many people live in New Orleans, with no definitive figures until the next complete census. But last year, the census bureau estimated a population of 239,000. Other analysts – and Mayor C. Ray Nagin – estimate the population to be nearly 100,000 higher. By any measurement, the growth has stagnated, while even optimistic figures report that 150,000 – 200,000 former residents (out of a former population of nearly 500,000) have been unable to return. The once nearly 70% African American city is now estimated to be less than 50% African American, a change reflected in the changing face of electoral politics statewide. While Republicans have been losing across the US, Christian Coalition candidate Bobby Jindal was easily elected Governor last year, and in the city, decades of Black-majority city council shifted to a white majority.

Blank Slate or Burial Ground

Much of the change in the city is led by a new strata of the city’s population – planners, architects, developers, and other reformers. Many of them self-identify as “YURPs” – Young, Urban Rebuilding Professionals – in their work with countless nonprofits, foundations, and businesses. Some of New Orlean’s newer residents have spoken of the city as a blank slate on which they can project and practice their ideas of reform, whether in health care, architecture, urban planning, or education. What this worldview leaves out, according to some advocates, is the people who lived here before, who are the most affected by these changes, and have the least say in how they are carried out. “It wasn’t a blank slate, it was a cemetery,” says poet and educator Kalamu Ya Salaam. “People were killed, and they’re building on top of their bones.”

The vast majority of New Orleans’ new professionals have come here with the best intentions, with a love for this city and a desire to help with the recovery. However, many activists criticize what they see as token attempts at community involvement, and a paternalistic attitude among many of the new decision makers.

For example, our education system was in crisis pre-Katrina, and certainly needed revolutionary change. Change is what we have gotten – the current system is in many ways unrecognizable from the system of three years ago – but this revolution has been overwhelmingly led from outside, with little input from the parents, students and staff of the New Orleans school system.

Shortly after the post-Katrina evacuation of the city, the entire staff of the public school system was fired. Not long after that, school board officials chose to end recognition or negotiation with the teachers’ union – the largest union in the city, and arguably the biggest outlet of Black middle class political power in the city. Since then, the school landscape has changed remarkably – from staff to decision-making structure to facilities. According to Tulane professor Lance Hill, “New Orleans has experienced a profound change in who governs schools and a dramatic reduction of parent and local taxpayer control of schools.”

The school system used to consist of 128 schools, 124 of them controlled by the New Orleans School Board. Now according to Hill, 88 have opened for the fall, and “50 of them are charter schools (privatized management) governed by self-appointed, self-perpetuating boards; 33 are run by the State Department of Education through the Recovery School District; and only five are governed by the elected school board.”

“There are now 42 separate school systems operating in New Orleans,” Hill continues, with their own “school policies, including teacher requirements, curriculum, discipline policies, enrollment limits, and social promotions. Publicly accountable schools in which parents have methods for publicly redressing grievances are limited to only five schools (5.6% of the total).”

Several recent articles have expressed excitement and admiration for the new school system, including extended pieces in the New York Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. For school reformers, who came to New Orleans with a desire to try out the changes they had imagined, this represents a dream come true. They have media support, federal, state and city officials on their side, and a massive influx of money and cheap (and young, idealistic) labor. Teach for America supplied 112 teachers last year, has committed 250 this year, and a projected 500 next year, while tens of millions of dollars in funding is coming through sources such as the Gates and Walton foundations.

There is no doubt that some students receive an excellent education in the new New Orleans school districts, but critics are concerned that the students that are being left behind, are those that need the most help – those without someone to advocate for them, to research and apply for the best schools. According to New Orleanian Kalamu Ya Salaam, who is director of a school program called Students at the Center, the new systems represent “an experimentation with privatization, and everything that implies.”

Although the new charter schools have been able to choose from the best facilities and have used methods such as state standardized tests to pick only select students (including 40% fewer special education students), there are still serious questions over the extent to their much-heralded success. G.W. Carver School, the subject of a fawning NYTimes piece last Spring, received an 88% failure rate for English and an 86% failure rate for Math on state standardized tests.

Anniversary and Commemoration

August 29, the anniversary of the devastation of the city, falls between the Democratic and Republican conventions. While the Democratic and Republican parties crown their nominees, activists on the ground will be on the streets, still fighting for a just recovery. “It ain’t to rain on Obama’s parade,” says Sess 4-5, a New Orleans-based hip hop star and activist, “but the people down here need the world to understand that its still a tragic situation. The rent has tripled, the health care system is in shambles, we have less access to education for our kids. The working class and poor are being exploited, while everyone at the top is getting fat off our misery.”

“We think August 29 should be holy day, not a day for business as usual,” explains Sess, who is one of the organizers of a Katrina March and Commemoration, starting Friday morning in the Lower Ninth Ward, and marching into the 7th Ward. That march is one of two activist commemorations in the city that day, the other starting uptown, near the BW Cooper development, one of the major housing developments torn down this year. “The Mayor announced to the world that New Orleans was ‘open for business’ but we’re here to tell you that it is closed for families,” declares former public housing resident Barbara Jackson, who will be part of the demonstration at BW Cooper, called Sankofa Day of Commemoration. “Five thousand demolished homes. Eight thousand new jail beds. This is their one for one replacement plan for us.”

Taking to the streets is not the only agenda of local activists. In New Orleans, people have been organizing at the grassroots, working together to build a movement. In the aftermath of the US Social Forum last year in Atlanta, a broad coalition of social justice organizations began meeting monthly to combine efforts. This group, called the Organizers Roundtable, is an important spot for collaborations and community building.

It’s been community, not foundations or government, that has led this city’s recovery at the grassroots. Bayou Road – a street of Black-owned, community-oriented, businesses in New Orleans’ seventh ward – has rebuilt post-Katrina to more businesses than they had before the storm. It hasn’t been government help that has enabled these businesses to come back, but the effort of community members coming together. It was also community, and local support, that has brought back the membership of many local cultural organizations, like the network of Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, who organize secondline parades nearly every weekend throughout the year, as well as benefits that provide school supplies for area youth.

The Right to the City alliance (RTTC), a nationwide coalition of organizations that focuses on urban issues such as health care, criminal justice, and education, sees the continuing crisis in New Orleans as central to their work. They are co-sponsoring the march in New Orleans, as well as actions in seven other cities, including Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Providence, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Miami.

The work of RTTC deserves special notice, as a coalition that has worked to support the struggles of the people of New Orleans, and to bring that struggle and solidarity home to their own communities, while taking guidance from voices on the ground. In this time of many competing visionaries struggling to reshape this city, that willingness to listen to the people who lives are being affected, and to take that struggle and those lessons home to their own communities, may be the radical change New Orleans needs most.

Ref: Counter punch, by Jordan Flaherty
Jordan Flaherty is an editor of Left Turn Magazine, and a journalist based in New Orleans. Most recently, his writing can be seen in the anthology Red State Rebels, released this month by AK Press. He can be reached at neworleans@leftturn.org.

Resources for Information and Action:
Sankofa New Orleans March:
http://www.sankofanola.org.

Katrina March and Commemoration:
http://katrinacommemoration.ning.com/

Greater New Orleans Community Data Center
http://www.gnocdc.org/

Kaiser Family Foundation Poll:
http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/7789.cfm

Policylink Report:
http://www.policylink.org/threeyearslater/

Left Turn Magazine:
http://www.leftturn.org

Right To The City Alliance
http://www.righttothecity.org/

War and Empire Are and Always Have Been the American Way of Life

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth…could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio…If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. – Abraham Lincoln, 1838

Introduction

When President Bush announced the war on terror in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, a majority of American citizens, according to opinion polls, strongly supported the president’s invasion of Iraq based on their faith in the president’s mendacious assertions that Saddam Hussein’s regime was complicit in the atrocities, and was also planning more, thus leaving the nation no alternative. Despite all claims that Bush is departing radically from American tradition, there is nothing new about this. Presidents have deceived the American people time and again about justifications for war. Speaking of Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, the historian Thomas A. Bailey said that FDR was “like the doctor who must tell the patient lies for the patient’s own good?” It has long been a central tenet of the American national ideology that warfare is an aberration from the normal pursuits of our democratic society. Accordingly, only the perfidy of evildoers compels us to take up the sword.

Though historians have known for a half-century that significant information indicating Japan’s plans to go to war with the U.S. was pouring into Washington throughout the fateful year 1941 as a result of U.S. possession of the code-breaking development “Magic,” as well as radio tracking stations around the Pacific rim, and American spies in Tokyo, the Japanese “sneak” attack on Pearl Harbor that initiated U.S. entry into World War II is still the quintessential paradigm employed to illustrate and justify such doctrine. Though lesser known, the popular expositions of the Mexican and the Spanish-American Wars, and World War I, and many other examples, also suit the creed. Leaders have consistently employed duplicity to lead the nation into war in order to carry out agendas radically different from the rhetorical ones employed to justify the wars.

As serious scholars know well, the real history of the nation is far removed from what James Loewen would call the “disneyfied” notions of American exceptionalism. An honest appraisal of the nation’s past obliges us to conclude that warfare and empire are and have always been the American way. The facts of history clearly contradict the national ideology. Are the ideals we instill in the nation’s public schools only fairy tales for children; or is the vaunted commitment to proclaimed American values something that can be salvaged?

The conquest and colonization of North America by the British, and French and Spanish, was the result of bitter competition between the Atlantic maritime nations for control of the newly discovered lands in the western hemisphere, as well as in Asia and Africa. Indeed, the origins of the 20th century’s global wars can be found in those conflicts five centuries ago. The stable global system that appeared to have taken shape by 1900 was the direct result of armed strife between European rivals over the previous centuries, who by the turn of the 20th century had wrested dominion over most of the arable land surface and peoples of the planet, with Britain the dominant player upon whose empire the “sun never set.” Having just reached a plateau of homeostasis in the late 19th century, this world system’s balance was severely upset by the growing power of arrivistes hungry for their “place in the sun,” Germany, Japan and the United States.

While the conquest of North America was the outgrowth of Europe’s economic and military expansion, once the nascent United States had thrown off British rule, the nation began to compete directly with the former “mother country” for hegemony in the western hemisphere, and then throughout the 20th century in the world at large. The Monroe Doctrine, announced in 1823 to assert American predominance in the western hemisphere, has been progressively amplified ever since by succeeding administrations to encompass the entire planet. American military forces are deployed in over 140 nations, more than two-thirds of the states comprising the United Nations, on a scale that dwarfs anything ever seen in history. American arms patrol all the oceans and skies, including outer space, in what the Pentagon calls its intent to achieve “full-spectrum dominance” on a planetary scale.

The only thing really new about all of this is the scale but even that was fully predictable after World War II.

Neo-Conservatives aver that their motives are altruistic and that they are performing a vital service for the world community by forcibly spreading “democracy” because no other nation is capable of defeating rogue states and dictatorships. Yet the most cursory examination of the self-serving economic boons being reaped by the the well-connected patrons of the Bush Administration give the lie to their claims of global benefaction. Numerous liberals also assert that the United States is not embarked upon an imperial mission, comparing the American present to the Greek, Roman and British past, and highlighting the obvious differences. Yet the American experiment was calculated to settle land already known to be inhabited by others, under circumstances that required the bloody conquest of those peoples and the annexation of their land. Once embarked upon nationhood the United States immediately began to wrest territory from the Spanish, French, British and other native peoples, and within little more than half a century conquered and took from Mexico approximately one-quarter of our present continental territory, an expansion unprecedented in history, and which dwarfed imperial Rome in scale. Private individuals known as filibusters, encouraged by politicians at home, even dreamt of annexing all of Mexico, and attempted to annex Nicaragua and Santo Domingo but were halted when the logistics of ruling over an immense non-white majority were realized.

So war and empire were the realities of the first two centuries of the American nation. At the dawn of the 20th century the U.S. emerged onto the world stage to compete with the great powers of Europe and Asia, employing methods that did not involve outright annexation, but which were calculated to assert dominance over the resources, labor, and markets of as much of the planet as could be managed for the benefit of the United States. That process, the process of neo-empire, continues now on a planetary scale.

But what has impelled these wars, and the establishment of this new form of empire? From the outset, the British colonists who forcibly took control of North America did so with the goal of enriching themselves as they could not hope to do in Europe. Profit was the primary motive, even among those who came as indentured servants, since a continent seemed ripe for their taking once such debts were paid. By the time of the American Revolution the colonies had developed to the point where they could challenge Britain itself for mastery, and retain the riches of the continent for themselves. Though both Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians had different plans for the expansion of the new nation, expansionism was the goal of both. A fusion of both approaches characterized the early Republic, which expanded across the continent ruthlessly, dislodging all who stood in the way, natives, Spanish, French, British, Mexicans. As we know, it was Hamilton’s vision of an industrial-financial capitalism that prevailed. By the turn of the 20th Century the U.S. had arrived as an international great power and articulated its central foreign policy goal: the Open Door. In pursuit of markets, resources and access to cheap labor, the U.S. has used every method and stratagem, including outright military intervention, covert intervention, assassination, toppling governments, torture, propping up friendly dictatorships, all to achieve the overarching goal of opening markets for American goods and services on American terms, and gaining access to vital resources to maintain American production and profit.

Read the full artical here…

Ref: Global Policy

Iraq: Stripped naked and humiliated by US soldiers

Amnesty International expressed concern today at the disturbing article and images portrayed in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet which show American soldiers escorting naked Iraqi men through a park in Baghdad. The pictures reveal that someone has written the words ‘Ali Baba – Haram(i)’ (which means Ali Baba – thief) in Arabic on the prisoners’ chests.

The article quotes a US military officer as saying that this treatment is an effective method of deterring thieves from entering the park and is a method which will be used again; another US military officer is quoted as saying that US soldiers are not allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely.

“If these pictures are accurate, this is an appalling way to treat prisoners. Such degrading treatment is a clear violation of the responsibilities of the occupying powers,” Amnesty International said today.

“Whatever the reason for their detention, these men must at all times be treated humanely. The US authorities must investigate this incident and publicly release their findings.”

Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that “Protected persons are entitled in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manner and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity”.

To link to the article from Dagbladet please go to: http://www.dagbladet.no/nyheter/2003/04/25/367175.html

For a full copy of Amnesty International’s report: Iraq: Responsibilities of the occupying powers please go to:http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde140892003

Ref: Amnesty