Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Note to regular readers

Most days over the next few months on the Mainsteaming Torture bookapalooza and road trip, regular posts will appear here daily. We're not rushing and will usually find internet access. But if there is nothing new here for a day or two, just figure we're momentarily off the grid and will be back.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A nation of cowards

Yesterday Rebecca carried on an animated conversation about Mainstreaming Torturewith students and faculty at Loyola Law School in New Orleans. In every talk, she elaborates on the point that by embracing torture of enemies -- whether those enemies are resisting occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other distant lands or among the "tortureable" class of persons in our domestic prisons -- the United States is transforming its more privileged citizens into "a nation of cowards." We, the spectators of state terror, are encouraged to be attached to a false "security" that our authorities promise is guaranteed by their outrages on human persons. And we become easy marks for those who would terrify us.

According to Joshua Marshall, current US political developments confirm her thesis:

The Return of Terror Politics
... Something very big happened in June when ISIL burst out of Syria and overran a huge chunk of Sunni Iraq. But in the field of US domestic opinion something much bigger and graver happened in September when ISIL beheaded US reporter James Foley and again when they behead fellow journalist and captive Steven Sotloff. (The filmed executions of other foreign nationals followed.) Public opinion data seems to show that these two incidents had a massive and galvanizing effect on US public opinion - driving a public extremely unsupportive of further foreign military operations toward overwhelming support for attacking ISIL.

To make the point clear, what happened in June was a very big deal in terms of the already fractured and fragmented state system in the Arab Middle East. But the executions changed the equation for the US public. It goes without saying that the executions were grisly and brutal, deeply disturbing and revealing about the character of this group. So June and September have an obvious connection. But hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis have been killed in recent years. Thousand of US military personnel have been killed. And even many US civilians and captives have been killed.

But these executions were packaged - there's no other way to put - as brilliantly evil propaganda. That made all the difference in the world in terms of the shifting sands of US public opinion which soon bore fruit in shifting US policy.

Republican Senate candidates and the right wing media generally are all too happy to stoke the fear. They seek to gain advantage over President Obama and Democrats who, once again, can be tarred as bumblers when faced with mortal perils. They would love to return to their glory days in the traumatic aftermath of 9/11 when war hawks ruled the roost.

For the media, stoking fear makes for better story lines. For good or ill, media need elections to be close contests. Turmoil and ferment, emotion and strife sell. Our trained, habitual cowardice is good for the wingers and good for business.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A tribute to Tom Ammiano

Yesterday we spent time with a man who had worked for the election of the late Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago. Decades later, he was still proud of that work. He maintained that Washington was a politician of unrivaled integrity; he never had to regret that campaign.

San Franciscans have been fortunate for decades to play host to the political career of Tom Ammiano, another of that rare breed. This video is a little longer than most I post, but if you want to see what the evolution of a true champion of decent values in the political arena looks like, do take the time to watch it.
H/t to 48 Hills for the video.

New Orleans has messages for us

We're in New Orleans; Rebecca talks about torture at Loyola University law school today.

Our kind host here, whose neighborhood was under 8 feet of water nine years ago during what locals call "the storm" (Hurricane Katrina) urged me to look at and listen to the good folks at They present a warning to many of us: the kind of flooding we associate with this city could happen in many places.

Fifty five percent (55%) of the U.S. population lives in counties protected by levees. This represents 157 million people.

Not to go all apocalyptic, but this could happen a lot more places than we realize. In California, the Sacramento river delta is at particular risk.

We are told citizen activism has reached new peaks since the storm; in multiple ways, people work to protect communities and to demand that the political structure serve that end.

Climate change probably makes such climate disasters more likely. Just saying ...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Regional commandments

Who says our homogenized consumer culture erases all local variations?

These crop up all over the Pacific Northwest. They are a project of this outfit which seems to hold we can cure all our ills if they place enough of them. Most are far more garish than this from Montana.

Right now we're in New Orleans where this is more the style.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My thoughts refuse to congeal this morning

So I'll pass along a bit of sky I photographed last night.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: mid-America miscellany

This, from central Illinois, is for my coastal friends laboring under much higher gas prices. Actually, we've seen as low as $2.91. Yes, much of this country could afford to put a price on our carbon pollution!

Mr. Cheeseman is a cheerful feature of central Wisconsin. Gotta like the fellow. He's about 15 feet tall.

We actually ate here outside Indianapolis in the hope that it would be preferable to McD's and Arby's. Don't repeat our mistake.

Who knew the downtown area of Battle Creek, Michigan was so commandingly beautiful? On closer inspection, it seems pretty depressed, but it sure puts up a good front.

Here's another image from Battle Creek.

There's craft beer everywhere, but I can't say I've been bowled over by the quality of any of it. Great labels, though -- this from Wisconsin.

It will perhaps not surprise that this one is from Chicago.

They apparently hold elections for this office in rural Maryland. Slightly frightening idea, though possibly lucrative for the winner.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who benefits? It is always worth wondering ...

In comments on yesterday's post, Hattie reminded us to ask who benefits from our country's endless wars. Here's a link to good article about contractor profiteering by Dan Froomkin at The Intercept.

And here are some additional direct beneficiaries of U.S. military power projection and the campaign to keep us Very Afraid:
I don't believe that contractor interests (or even control of oil reserves) make up the totality of what drives our persistent military adventures. There's also a nasty stew of prideful national ignorance and atavistic impulses underlying to the drive toward war. But some good old fashioned profiteering sure helps keep the war fires burning brightly.

Friday cat blogging: Carly meets Morty

Carly so wants to play. Don't miss Morty's parting flick of tail.

Thanks to videographer Catherine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

War hawks crowing

It feels incongruous and sad to be in Washington, DC watching a President elected to end unjustified wars in which there could be no "victory" leaping back into the fray.

We happened to be a captive audience to Obama's speech to the UN, passing a slow morning in the crowded waiting area of a car dealer while our faithful Wowser got her oil changed. Loomed over by CNN's feed, our fellow citizens either followed anxiously, dozed, or tried to ignore the speech.

The Prez was at his serious and idealistic best, calling on the better angels of our human nature to overcome aggression, atrocity and oppression.

The questions remain. To what purpose is this country going abroad to kill demons? How would we know if our efforts had "won"? You can maim and blast humans, but you can't without genocide kill a nationalism or a deeply anchored cultural dream, such as that of a Caliphate. You can "degrade" -- but is that a victory? What kind of victory have you won if you've sowed the seeds of one million resentments and vengeances?

Before and after the speech, the cable talking heads reminded us to be VERY AFRAID of terrorist plots and cells that might have infiltrated "the Homeland." What have you won if you reduce your own people to shivering cowards who spy on each other and bluster for the cameras?

To what purpose are we called to this war?

(The triumphal neo-conservative headline pictured above is still on display in tourist areas of the capital.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Creative disruption in bookselling: a case in point

This almost seems as if it ought to be a "strange country" post. But it is not. The pictured offering of Mainstreaming Torture from Walmart is real.

Improbable as it may seem, Rebecca's book about which she is currently touring is available through Walmart.

That doesn't mean that it is available in the discount retailer's stores. According to marketing experts, the stores carry about 200 titles, all by famous best selling authors. Much as we might hope, Mainstreaming isn't likely to be among them.

But this is apparently a symptom of an emerging struggle between online and big box retailers for our dollars. Even Walmart fears the Amazon "Borg" will eat them. So Walmart has been dipping a toe into online book sales -- Amazon's original turf. In June when Amazon was impeding sales of Hachette titles in a pricing dispute, Walmart emailed blasted its customers, promoting the availability of the books through its channels.

Some commentators think it would be foolish to bet against Walmart.

Unlike Amazon, Wal-Mart has physical locations that it can use to grow its digital brand. The company has plans to do that by using technology to improve the in-store shopping experience. Over 140 million people visit a Wal-mart store each week, so it would be silly for the company to not look to use both platforms to support each other.

Amazon's competitive advantage over Walmart is its unrivaled, hyper-efficient distribution capacity. Walmart aims to improve its own logistic capacity.

For the moment, I can't say Walmart has made itself competitive on this particular Oxford Press title. Its current listed price is about $5 higher that Amazon's and, to the West Coast, Walmart only promises about 7 day shipping at the regular, "value," level.

But clearly there's a retail war brewing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Folly recycled; to what purpose?

So it's begun, the "hot" phase of the United States' Mid-East War 3.0 -- or whatever you want to call our bombing of targets in Syria.

Neither we (the people) nor our leaders can know what this adventure will mean or where the conflict will end.

No war in history has been won by air power. Since what we have is air power, it is hard to believe that. But since Guernica and Dresden, despite "Shock and Awe" in Baghdad and apartment towers imploded in Gaza, bombing campaigns have failed to conquer determined resistance. They can maim, kill and destroy the remnants of civilization, but they do not conquer.

For years now, the U.S. peace movement, such as there is one, has asked the Obama administration, what is the continuing purpose of the endless war in Afghanistan? What is the excuse for killing one more Afghan, one more U.S. soldier? At length, the majority of the people in this country came to ask the same thing.

We ask now, what is the point of fiercely bombing barely understood, shape-shifting, forces in several distant countries? Oh, the chicken hawks and the addled junkies of empire are howling for more blood. But "to what purpose?" is still the right question.

As costs in lives, in treasure, in domestic decay, and in international hatred rise, we can expect the U.S. populace to begin to ask the same question. We are not as stupid all the time as our leaders take us to be.

A statement of the obvious from CREDOaction:

...the United States cannot lead any intervention without making a terrible situation even worse ...

It's probably worth clicking the link to sign their petition, if only to receive more practical alerts as many forces strive to build a domestic political opposition to the latest folly.

War has particular dangers for Democrats. Simply by being out of office in the mid '00s, Democrats became the defacto antiwar party. A generation-worth of the sharpest, most engaged young people were attracted to it as the vehicle for their revulsion at the war. If both parties fully endorse a permanent futile war, expect alienation from the political process to increase. This has happened before -- we got Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Wall Street ascendant, and social collapse out of mass alienation. We've got less margin for error these days.
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