America’s Psyche Is Bushed

America's strained psyche

The above editorial cartoon by M.e. Cohen is presumably intended to parody comments made by President Bush in his press conference last week. When asked whether he was frustrated about the escalating conflict in Iraq—which many view as a civil war—Mr. Bush offered the following response, which pretty much speaks for itself:

Frustrated? Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy. This is — but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country. I understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. [full text]

In Pursuit of the Beast

As the War on Terror nears its fifth anniversary, the casualties mount—none greater perhaps than truth, justice, and decency. Stunned and deeply hurt by a vicious attack on September 11, 2001, America has responded to such with all the grace and good sense of the wounded Ahab in Moby Dick. Helmed by foolhardy and arrogant men, this nation pursues vengeance on the white whale of terrorism with single-minded fervor, seemingly unconcerned about the damage done to innocent others or to its own soul. Undeterred by the costs and unwilling to admit failure or even error, the Pequod that America has become presses tragically on. The whale must be vanquished. The terrorists must be eliminated.

Never mind that, in this pursuit that is less righteous cause than unseemly compulsion, the hunter draws closer to the quarry—not so much in location as in demeanor and character. Disregard for human life and well-being is met with a like disregard. Wrong is met with wrong, violation with violation. However the actions and motivations of one side or the other may differ—and differ they do—it nonetheless appears evident that America is increasingly becoming that which it fears and opposes. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.�

Consider the case of Murat Kurnaz, a young man seized from a bus in Pakistan in October of 2001 while traveling with an Islamic missionary group and subsequently detained at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He was among the first there, joined by hundreds of other “enemy combatants� that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld categorized in 2002 as “the worst of the worst� and being “among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth.� Despite such brash claims, the evidence now suggests that a large number of those detained at Guantánamo—often for years without charges or trials—have been little more than victims of circumstance, bad intelligence, unfounded allegations, and stubborn politics. Consider the case of Murat Kurnaz, as reported here by the Washington Post in March of 2005:

Panel Ignored Evidence on Detainee

A military tribunal determined last fall that Murat Kurnaz, a German national seized in Pakistan in 2001, was a member of al Qaeda and an enemy combatant whom the government could detain indefinitely at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The three military officers on the panel, whose identities are kept secret, said in papers filed in federal court that they reached their conclusion based largely on classified evidence that was too sensitive to release to the public.

In fact, that evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities.

In recently declassified portions of a January ruling, a federal judge criticized the military panel for ignoring the exculpatory information that dominates Kurnaz’s file and for relying instead on a brief, unsupported memo filed shortly before Kurnaz’s hearing by an unidentified government official.

Kurnaz has been detained at Guantánamo Bay since at least January 2002.

“The U.S. government has known for almost two years that he’s innocent of these charges,â€? said Baher Azmy, Kurnaz’s attorney. “That begs a lot of questions about what the purpose of Guantánamo really is. He can’t be useful to them. He has no intelligence for them. Why in the world is he still there?â€? [full text]

Why, indeed? And why did it take another 17 months or so, until just this past week, before Mr. Kurnaz was finally released, after years of undeserved detainment and treatment? Here again, the Washington Post reports:

Turk Was Abused at Guantanamo, Lawyers Say

Lawyers for Murat Kurnaz, a German native released Thursday after spending more than four years locked up at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, said he was mistreated to the end by U.S. military personnel, who kept him shackled and blindfolded until his flight home landed.

Bernhard Docke, an attorney representing Kurnaz, a 24-year-old Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany, said his client was kept in a “cage� and under bright neon lights 24 hours a day during his captivity at Guantánamo. “The Americans are incorrigible, they have not learned a thing,� Docke said at a news conference in Bremen, Kurnaz’s home town. “He was returned home in chains, humiliated and dishonored to the very end.�

Defense Department officials said they agreed to free Kurnaz on the condition that Germany treat him humanely and that it ensure he would no longer pose a security threat. The U.S. government still considers Kurnaz an enemy combatant. [full text]

Many dozens of others like Kurnaz, arbitrarily imprisoned and subjected to cruel and inhuman interrogation and treatment (as documented by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), are at long last gaining their release from the hellish confines of Guantánamo. In short, mistakes were made, and they are seemingly being rectified. (For more details, see William Fisher’s article, “Gitmo Releases Suggest Numerous Mistakes.�) But such progress, however welcome, cannot undo the many wrongs. “Justice delayed is justice denied,� the 19th century British statesman William Gladstone once opined.

Victim of a brutal and unjust attack that wounds painfully still, America has lashed out with brutal and unjust acts of its own. Legal or not, such behavior is immoral. It does not become this nation. The moral high ground does not belong to those who are simply less wicked. To lay claim deservedly to such territory demands one eschew wickedness entirely. Tragically, America has failed in this regard and, in so doing, much like Ahab, has lost not just its way but its soul.

Evil Vampire Rises From Grave

Hey kids, here’s a fun test you can do at home. Go to a mirror and look at your skin. If it’s brown, you might be descended from slaves. If it’s white, you might be descended from indentured servants. Now take a look at your wallet. Is it bulging with cash? If not, you might be descended from people who worked for starvation wages. Next, take a look at your main source of income. Is it the interest on your estate? Is it a paycheck? If so, you might be a worker.

You have just taken an ‘empathy-building’ exercise, like the kind Human Resources likes to do when they get us all together to build up our morale about our wretched jobs. The point is to de-pornify and de-exoticize the topic of trafficking for prostitution. Maybe build a little empathy for those whose circumstances of birth were so desperate that they borrowed every cent their extended family could raise to pay a criminal to get them to America. Desperation like in North Korea, where people are starving.

Last week there was another Providence Journal article about a bust on a massage parlor that was not run by certified massage therapists. It was one of a string of disconnected back- page news stories about forced prostitution. The first one appeared in 1998, when the police raided a little establishment in a strip mall in Pawtucket, called ‘Club Osaka’. One police officer said the conditions were‘like slavery’. Illegal immigrant women from Korea were living and working as prostitutes in a storefront next to popular chain restaurant. I took this personally, because I patronized that restaurant. It gave me the creeps. I don’t feel any compulsion to purify Rhode Island, but slavery is something else again. This is no ‘victimless crime’. To this day, there has been no follow-up story of whether these women agreed or were forced into prostitution. In any case, when you’re illegal and in debt to your boss, quitting is not an option.

This is actually the classic picture of the indentured servant. You work to pay off the cost of your passage. In the early days of our country, indentured servants as well as slaves supplied the cheap labor that dug the foundations. We missed a golden opportunity to establish a new model for society in the American Revolution. There was too much to lose and too many politicos to be appeased. The profit you could make when you didn’t have to pay the people who work for you was too seductive. George Washington would have had to live in a trailer, Thomas Jefferson would have had to eat Spam. They were slow to free their slaves, even after the Newport Black Regiment helped win the war that changed us from a colony to a nation.

This little history lesson, my fellow Americans, is just intended as a reminder. Those of us who are not Narragansett are descended from people who arrived here from elsewhere in the world. Our ancestors were immigrants, refugees, illegals, trafficked persons or slaves and that is the truth. So when we get all pious about immigration we better remember where we came from.

When you read your newspaper you will see a couple of disconnected stories about the poor exploited women in the brothels, and some lurid tv dramas, and it will all seem very foreign and kind of sexy but gross and nothing to do with you. You have rights. But remember, my fellow Americans in Rhode Island, you live on the coast. Our fellow Americans in New Orleans are not only out of their homes, but out of their jobs. And some enterprising bidnessmen have found a way to avoid paying the going rate for a good day’s work by luring workers from more poor and desperate parts of the world, and stiffing them on their wages. Whole neighborhoods are still devastated, but the luxury hotels were up and running in a jiffy. The trafficking of people from poor countries to rich ones exists on a spectrum of legality, and most of the work is ordinary drudge labor. It’s not that there is work that Americans won’t do, but that there are wages Americans can’t live on.

The issue of sex slavery is not separate from the issue of exploitation of workers. Forced prostitution is a special horror, and women understand. But we can’t stop this human rights disaster by getting moralistic or sensationalistic. And women can’t stop it alone. For readers of the male persuasion I have provided this view from the perspective of the global/historical labor market, so you can see how it affects you. In the end, it’s all about money.

The U.S. is full of illegal immigrants and trafficked persons and always has been. But when you see the same story over and over, ‘korean massage parlor brothel bust’, this is not coincidence. This type of organized crime is happening all over the country, not just the East Coast.. The mayor and city council of Providence are working on a law to make our city a lousy place for pimps to do business. But if the law is not written carefully, it will just drive prostitution further underground and make life even more hellish for the women and children who do not have power in this world.

It is also important to keep in mind that there are many legal citizens who are working under the table at drudge labor for starvation wages. It is economic inequality that keeps the vampire of slavery alive. We won’t kill it with one stake through the heart, we will need many years of good laws, wise policy and labor solidarity across borders. If we think we have shut down the illegal immigrant brothels, and we haven’t dealt with the conditions that drive people to risk their lives for a chance at a job, then the vampire will rise again.

Next installment- Evil Vampire II- Child Labor

Hysterical Antecedents

Sheiks On A Plane

Never mind Snakes On A Plane, airline travelers and crew members are much more apprehensive about terrorists on a plane. Indeed, in the aftermath of the alleged British terror plot that was foiled earlier this month and the heightened security that followed this event, the friendly skies have been downright hysterical. Fliers are jumpier than members of Dick Cheney’s hunting party (and perhaps his political party). They’re seeing terrorists everywhere. Suspects abound. And, by suspects, I mean those who appear of Middle Eastern descent or of Muslim faith. Thanks to their dangerously extremist brethren, these are exceedingly difficult times for such folks, who, however innocent or unassuming, are viewed with more suspicion than Cindy Sheehan at a GOP fundraiser. Consider the recent consequences…

From the Washington Post:

Travelers Are Jittery After Air Plot Arrests

At an airport in Spain, a terrified 12-year-old girl began crying and pointing at two passengers, both Muslim college students, fueling a panic that led to their removal from the plane. A West Virginia airport terminal was evacuated when officials wrongly suspected that luggage belonging to a woman of Pakistani descent contained liquid explosives. A Muslim doctor was escorted off a United Airlines flight in Denver after passengers became suspicious when he recited prayers.

A growing number of these kinds of incidents in recent days suggest how jittery and suspicious air travelers have become. Since British police announced earlier this month that they had broken up an alleged plot by young British Muslims to bomb jetliners flying from Britain to the United States, passengers and pilots are reporting high anxiety in the skies.

Some say the feeling is an understandable response to extraordinarily unsettling events involving airplanes, beginning with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But many Muslims—and even Sikhs and other non-Muslim people who appear Asian—say they are suffering for doing nothing more than “TWA: traveling while Asian.� [full text]

From the New York Times:

Dutch, Seeing No Terror Link, Free 12 Held After India Flight

Dutch authorities said Thursday that they were releasing all 12 passengers arrested on Wednesday after they aroused suspicion on a Northwest Airlines flight to India and it made an emergency landing in Amsterdam.

The police said that the men had been unruly but that no evidence was found that they were planning any terrorist actions.

The men, all Indian citizens or of Indian descent, had aroused the suspicion of the crew and several federal air marshals when they began using and passing around cellphones soon after takeoff from Amsterdam and ignored orders to keep their seat belts on and stay in their seats.

Because of the group’s behavior, the pilot of the DC-10 decided to return to Amsterdam, and on the way back the plane was escorted by two Dutch fighter jets. On arrival, the 12 men were handcuffed and led away by the police, who held them overnight in a detention center. [full text]

From the Bangor Daily News:

Handcuffed Man Removed from Plane Diverted to Bangor

A man was handcuffed and removed Friday from a trans-Atlantic flight that was diverted to Bangor International Airport, passengers said.

American Airlines Flight 55, a Boeing 767, was en route from Manchester, England, to Chicago, when it was diverted for security reasons, said Arlene Murray, New England regional spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

She declined to elaborate….

Passengers told reporters that a man they believed to be of Middle Eastern descent was handcuffed and taken away by police. [full text]

Despite these incidents and others like them, government officials in the U.S. and abroad seem rather blasé about the growing hysteria and the prejudice and harassment that such breeds. Through their inaction or collusion, they sow further seeds of discontent in the Muslim and Arab world and so, rather than creating greater security, create less.

Cranston Ward 2 Debate Last Night

It sounds like this was a lively debate. I’m sorry I had to miss it, but we already had an important commitment to honor — the publication party for The Book of Regrets, a poetry collection published by Little Pear Press, which I’ll say more about soon. The summary of the debate seems to focus more on the clashes between Navarro and Castellone, so if others can add comments fleshing out what was covered, that would be great. From Projo:

CRANSTON — Emilio L. Navarro stressed his “lifelong commitment” to the Democratic Party, drawing attention to his opponent’s past Republican affiliation. Joseph C. Castellone praised the city’s fiscal strength and suggested that Navarro was allied with politicians who had nearly bankrupted the city four years ago.

That was just in their opening remarks.

The candidates for the Democratic nomination for the Ward 2 City Council seat faced off last night in what will probably be the only debate before the Sept. 12 primary, and they seized on the opportunity to distinguish their platforms.

“I am the only choice for that seat,” said Navarro, 39, a truck salesman who heads the local Little League. “If you want what’s best for your family, you will give me your vote.”

Republican Mark J. Lucas, who has no primary opponent in his bid for the Ward 2 seat, also participated in the debate, held at the Central Library, on Sockanosset Cross Road. The debate, sponsored by the Cranston Herald newspaper, attracted more than 50 people.

The most pointed exchanges, however, were between Navarro and Castellone, 42, who appeared eager to stake out conflicting positions on most issues and, at times, ridiculed each other’s ideas.

At one point, Castellone mocked Navarro’s proposal to drain the Budlong Pool every fall to accommodate skateboarders, saying mischievous youths need structure and parental oversight. “Rather than send them off on a skateboard,” he said, “I’d like to send them off in the right direction.”

Later, when Castellone called for eliminating the fees residents pay to use the pool, Navarro dismissed the idea as counterproductive. He said the city needed to raise revenue to improve the aging facility. (Residents pay $50 for a season family pass, $25 for an individual.)

“The fee that’s charged is a bargain,” Navarro said, agreeing with Lucas. “Every little bit helps.”

Navarro, who has never before sought elective office, said the City Council should strip developer Piyush Patel of the liquor license it issued him for the restaurant Patel says would be part of his redevelopment of the long-closed Park Cinema.

That project, he said, is as good as dead. “The only thing that’s happened is weeds growing,” he said. “We need to tell Patel to just give it up.”

Castellone, the owner of Cranston Firearms, disagreed. Navarro’s plan, he countered, would doom the project. “The idea is not to continue to strangle this businessman,” he said, a position echoed by Lucas. “We need to work with him.”

The two switched their postures dramatically when asked about the council’s strained relationship with the School Committee, with Navarro counseling reconciliation, and Castellone taking a hard line.

Navarro, running with the endorsement of the Democratic Ward 2 City Committee, said the council members should “build relationships” with the school board members to find common ground. He said the department should continue to enjoy virtual autonomy over its spending. [full text]

I was wondering if the issue of the Cullion Corporation Concrete batching plant came up. The latest news on this issue seemed discouraging, as the lawyer for Cullion was quoted in the Projo earlier in the week saying he fully expected the DEM to approve their building permit, over the strong objections of residents and businesses in the area. Council President Garabedian said that there will be another hearing of the City Council to solicit testimony from the DEM about the project.

Help Chafee Take a Position on Net Neutrality

The issue of net neutrality has been an issue that Lincoln Chafee, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Steve Laffey have all avoided taking a position on. The House of Representatives has already voted to give more power to corporations on the issue of internet communication. Now there is an effort from corporate lobbyists to force a vote on this issue in the Senate. Senators like Lincoln Chafee need to know that this is not a small, insignificant issue. Further, if Chafee takes a position on this issue, it may help encourage the other candidates to research this issue thoroughly and let the public know where they stand. From Moveon.org:

Can you help deliver the petitions next Wednesday—asking Senator Chafee to protect Net Neutrality? Please RSVP below.

What: Internet freedom petition delivery to the senator’s office
Where: Senator Chafee’s Providence Office, 170 Westminster Street, Providence, RI
When: Wednesday, 30 Aug 2006, 12:00 PM

Link to RSVP

Sign the petition here

For more on net neutrality, visit Save The Internet.

Failing Health Care

Bush is for inadequate health care

Occasionally, President Bush is forthcoming about what he stands for, as illustrated in the photo above. Earlier this year, Mr. Bush presented his proposed 2007 budget to the nation. A careful review of the budget revealed cuts to many valuable health care programs, as reported by the Washington Post:

If enacted, the 2007 budget would eliminate federal programs that support inner-city Indian health clinics, defibrillators in rural areas, an educational campaign about Alzheimer’s disease, centers for traumatic brain injuries, and a nationwide registry for Lou Gehrig’s disease. It would cut close to $1 billion in health care grants to states and would kill the entire budget of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center.

In a $2.8 trillion budget, the amounts involved may seem minuscule, but proponents argue that the health care projects Bush has singled out are the “ultimate homeland security,” as Vinay Nadkarni put it. The spokesman for the American Heart Association said he cannot fathom why the administration has recommended eliminating a $1.5 million program that provides defibrillators to rural communities and trains local personnel on how to use the machines to restart hearts that go into cardiac arrest.

“Coronary heart disease is the number one killer in the United States,” Nadkarni said. “This is actually something we can arm ourselves with.” [full text]

There appears little question that the health care system in this country is inadequate, inefficient, and inequitable and that the Bush administration and Congress have failed to take any substantive action to remedy the situation. Compelling evidence of the health care crisis is offered by Doug Pibel and Sarah van Gelder in an article in the Fall 2006 issue of YES! Magazine:

Health Care: It’s What Ails Us

For Joel Segal, it was the day he was kicked out of George Washington Hospital, still on an IV after knee surgery, without insurance, and with $100,000 in medical debt. For Kiki Peppard, it was having to postpone needed surgery until she could find a job with insurance—it took her two years. People all over the United States are waking up to the fact that our system of providing health care is a disaster.

An estimated 50 million Americans lack medical insurance, and a similar and rapidly growing number are underinsured. The uninsured are excluded from services, charged more for services, and die when medical care could save them—an estimated 18,000 die each year because they lack medical coverage.

But it’s not only the uninsured who suffer. Of the more than 1.5 million bankruptcies filed in the U.S. each year, about half are a result of medical bills; of those, three-quarters of filers had health insurance.

Businesses are suffering too. Insurance premiums increased 73 percent between 2000 and 2005, and per capita costs are expected to keep rising. The National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) estimates that, without reform, national health care spending will double over the next 10 years. The NCHC is not some fringe advocacy group—its co-chairs are Congressmen Robert D. Ray (R-IA) and Paul G. Rogers (D-FL), and it counts General Electric and Verizon among its members.

Employers who want to offer employee health care benefits can’t compete with low-road employers who offer none. Nor can they compete with companies located in countries that offer national health insurance.

The shocking facts about health care in the United States are well known. There’s little argument that the system is broken. What’s not well known is that the dialogue about fixing the health care system is just as broken.

Among politicians and pundits, a universal, publicly funded system is off the table. But Americans in increasing numbers know what their leaders seem not to — that the United States is the only industrialized nation where such stories as Joel’s and Kiki’s can happen.

And most Americans know why: the United States leaves the health of its citizens at the mercy of an expensive, patchwork system where some get great care while others get none at all.

The overwhelming majority — 75 percent, according to an October 2005 Harris Poll — want what people in other wealthy countries have: the peace of mind of universal health insurance. [full text]