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Undernews News For May 7, 2008

Undernews News For May 7, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith

7 MAY 2008


There's nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and a lot of dead armadillos. -- Jim Hightower

How business culture dragged America down with it

Sam Smith

FIFTY YEARS ago, America was just a decade past the last major war it would ever win. The length of the average work week was down significantly from the 1930s but real income had been soaring and would continue do so through the 1970s. We had a positive trade balance and the share of total income gained by the top 1% of the country was only around 8%, down from 24% in the 1930s.

As Jermie D. Cullip describes it:

"From 1950 to 1959, the total number of females employed increased by 18%. The standard of living during the fifties also steadily rose. Most people expected to own a car and a house, and believed that life for their children would be even better. . . The number of college students doubled. Getting a college education was no longer for the rich or elite

"The decade of the fifties was a decade of major breakthroughs in technology. James Watson and Francis Crick won the Nobel Prize for decoding the molecular structure of DNA. Tuberculosis had all but disappeared, and Jonas Salk's vaccine was wiping out polio in the United States. . .

"Over the decade the housing supply increased 27 percent . . . Growth in the economy also led to increasing popularity of other financial intermediaries. Life insurance companies flourished for the first half of the decade and a large number of new private firms entered the market to absorb the excesses of personal savings. Savings and Loan Association holdings of mortgage loans during the decade clearly demonstrate the boom in construction at this time. In 1950 $13.6 billion was held rising to $60.1 billion in 1960. Another important growth in the 1950s capital markets was in pension funds. This industry grew from $11 billion in 1950 to $44 billion in 1960.

"By mid- 1955, the country had pulled out of the previous year's recession and gross national product was growing at a rate of 7.6 percent. The boom was so great that the budget for 1956 predicted a surplus of $4.1 billion. With the surges in production and the economy, the 1950s is often recognized as the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Americans. Over the decade, GNP per capita almost doubled and the public welfare reacted accordingly as the cost of living index rose by just 1 percent and unemployment dropped to 4.1 percent'"

All in all not a bad decade to be in if you were running a business. So much so, in fact, that some began griping about it all in books like The Organization Man and plays like Death of a Salesman.

But here is the truly amazing part - given all we have been taught in recent years: America did it all as its universities turned out less than 5,000 MBAs a year.

By 2005 these schools graduated 142,000 MBAs. In the other words, in the 1950s it would take two centuries to produce a million MBAs. By 2005, with huge trade and budget deficits, a disappearing auto industry, the most costly and disastrous war since the mid 19th century, a growing gap between rich and poor, a constantly projected inability to care for our ill or elderly and a pessimism repeatedly confirmed in polls, we could produce a million MBAs in only seven years.

There are plenty of worthy arguments to be made correlating the rise of business school culture with the decline of the our economy. For example, in the period that corporate culture has been in ascendance - roughly since the Reagan years - wages of lower income workers have declined, the ratio of executive to worker pay has soared, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by almost a third, total hours worked has increased, percent of jobs with pensions has dropped, our balance of payments has become increasingly negative, the top 1% is back to getting 21% of all income and the age at which one receives Social Security has increased.

A few years back I put it this way: "A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product is wasted energy. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout." And this was all before the rise of the killer hedge fund.

But that is not the issue here. If that was all there was to it, we could just wait out a few recessions or depressions and some intuitive, imaginative smart asses would get things rolling again, much as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates did once.

But the business school influence has not limited itself to business. Far from it. Over the past three decades it has done an incredibly effective job of turning all America into just so many more corporate employees desperate for a strategic vision that will foster formulations of actions and processes to be taken to attain the vision in accordance with agreed upon procedures in order to achieve a hierarchy of goals. It has - with bombast, bullying and bullshit - convinced an extraordinary number of Americans that its childishly verbose and coldly abstract culture is transferable to every human activity from running a church to driving a tractor across a field.

One need look no further than the nearest mission statement. But don't look too far back. I checked by Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary from 1996 and the phrase hadn't even appeared yet. Now it is everywhere.

To be sure, I did find this on the Internet:

"As with many of the terms currently being used in industry, mission statement is a Christian term. In Matthew 28, Jesus gave the apostles the first mission statement:

"'Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'

"A mission statement has always been a summary of the basic beliefs and aims of any Christian missionary organization. So, in summary, the origins of the term go back to AD 33."

Some devoted Christian is permitting his most sacred icon to be reduced to the status of a corporate CEO and his holy gospel put on a par with business how-to books from an airport bookstore.

Admittedly, a few have stood up against the assault. The alternative newspaper Eat the State once had a mission statement that read: "Missions were created by the Catholic Church to subjugate Native Americans in California. We oppose them." And a small computer consultancy business in West London posted a sign: 'We are not ruled by a Mission Statement, we are smarter than that'. But when you start to count the number of organizations - from religious to non-profit to social to political - that feel they can't get along without some corporate gobbledygook on the inside cover of whatever they're publishing, you know the cultural invasion is complete.

At the time of the Enron collapse, I noted, "The last two administrations have been characterized by the invasive influence of an arrogant, autistic, and amoral class of late 20th century MBAs and similar members of the technocratic elite. This class has junked sixty years of social democracy, helped wreck the Russian economy, made every American worker a temp-in-waiting, carpet bombed the English language, trashed every moral concept in their way, and twisted reality so effectively they even convinced many that they were sex objects.

"And they are everywhere. You will find them running schools and universities and managing once great museums. They talk mush, think mush, market mush, report mush, and defend mush. They attempt to make up in certitude what they lack in wisdom; they can't tell the difference between a phrase and a product; and they create infantile and self-serving distortions of economic principles that they declare to be the only principles in life worth observing. They are, in the end, just so many more televangelists, but with themselves as God. Perhaps worst of all, they are without the capacity for shame. Like other sociopaths, they are remorseless."

Since then, it's only gotten worse. As a writer, I pay attention to verbal genres, whether they be the patois of public housing, sports or the board room. Over and over, I am struck by how many have adopted corporate jargon so fully that they are not aware of using it even when describing acts of love or carnal desire. I sit quietly at meetings of non-profits as some one suggests we "define goals and objectives and a map a route for achieving these goals and objectives." I begin to boil when something I love or admire is reduced to a mere "product." Still I know it is a losing battle; the corporate culture has won.

The tragedy is that each of the infected cultures, organizations and individuals once had their own culture that often was infinitely more appealing, intelligent, inspiriting and honest than that which has sullied it. Why is the corporate and business school tradition preferable to that of the church, the artist, the non-profit, the political movement or education? Is politics just branding, is art just a product, is education just a learning process, would Martin Luther King have done better if he had gone to business rather than theological school? Each of these traditions have centuries of wisdom and experience behind them, but all that is increasingly put aside to fit the corporate model.

We pay for this in numerous ways. Some are obvious such as political candidates and public officials carefully avoiding real issues in favor of creating artificial images of themselves, backed by such words as "hope" and "change." And if you don't join with the change huckster, you are accused of "fear of change."

Other effects are more subtle. For example, we now live in the second robber baron era. One of the things that happens in such times is that the wealthy and powerful get to construct huge building and homes. Yet, however we may feel about the 19th century power hoggers, we are still attracted to the architecture and structures they were rich enough to build.

Now, take a stroll through the downtown of a gentrified city of today or drive into the carelessly wealthy suburbs. Which of these buildings would you like to visit a hundred years from today? It's not the architects' fault. As a Washington architect recently noted, her clients won't let her build beautiful places; they are too concerned with getting every last dollar out of the project.

The late activist attorney George LaRoche explained it well: "Once, I think, we knew our greedy were greedy but they were obligated to justify their greed by reference to some of the other values in which all of us could participate. Thus, maybe 'old Joe' was a crook but he was also a 'pillar of the business community' or 'a member of the Lodge' or a 'good husband' and these things mattered. Now the pretense of justification is gone and greed is its own justification."

The result is a stunning lack of restraint. We find ourselves without heroism, without debate over right and wrong, with little but an endless narcissistic struggle by the powerful to get more money, more power, and more press than the next person. In the chase, anything goes and the only standard is whether you win, lose, or get caught.

Thus we find a new breed of mayors and governors who think they are running a large company. They think they should have the power of a CEO and the obedience of those below them. Citizens have become mere customers and urban policy is reduced to economic development, frequently actually just a synonym for payoffs to big time campaign contributors. This sort of politics is marked by arrogance, indifference to the citizenry with justifications veiled in abstractions such as "change" and "progress" - abstractions will remain unmeasured until well after the offender leaves office.

We find evidence of the damage everywhere. Such as churches that were once involved in civil rights or other progressive causes that now have become scared of anything that might endanger their budgets. In my town a few years back, two activist black preachers moved in from elsewhere. They took over local churches and within months were making waves. I dubbed them Batman & Robin. But it didn't last long. One preacher was told by his vestry to quiet down and the other was removed as head of what had been once one of the most activist congregations in town. Press a minister on what happened to religious activism and it won't be long before the budget comes up. Didn't they have budgets in the 1960s?

The same with political movements. Political campaigns are so driven by money that the media doesn't even notice that it has raised campaign contributions in its stories to equal or higher status to the vote, even though the Constitution suggests nothing of the sort. Supposed models of political action, such as Move On or Emily's List, are basically fund-raising and signature gathering organizations patterned on corporate principles. Movements that lead large numbers of people to promote a cause have largely disappeared, in part because their structure is so antithetical to the tacitly preferred corporate model. Could we today have a civil rights, women's, labor or gay movement of the sort that once changed America? It doesn't seem likely without a conscious rejection of corporate values that have been unconsciously accepted.

Consider also the corporatizing of public spaces: sports stadiums, public buildings and museums.. What precisely is the price that each of these places pays to "partner" with the corporate world? And what is precisely the price we pay for letting them do so?

And it is much more than just a matter of signs. In many urban areas, there is a growing interest in what are called "multi-use" facilities, which in fact are former icons of community becoming hidden in corporate high rise buildings. Thus a library or a school disappears from view and lessens in public importance by being treated like just another cafeteria in an office development.

But we hardly notice. One of the things what used to keep corporate culture in check was that, whatever its grandiose notions of itself, its most outward and visible sign was often the salesman, the man Arthur Miller had Charlie describe in his tale of the trade: "For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine."

This classic character was so ubiquitous that it seemed every other joke began with, "A salesman knocked on the door and . . . "

Then came television and the individual salesman was finished. A little ahead of the rise of business schools but deeply intertwined with them in creating today's corporaphilic culture. Think of television as the virrtual salesman, not knocking on your door, but in your living and bed room 24 hours a day bringing you the products, the values, the language and the corporate inspired crudity that exemplify our time. Those who once caused Americans to close the door, hang up, or say "no thank you," now teach our children, run our government, and tell us what to think. In a few decades Willy Loman has moved from being a tragic figure to being a role model.

The corporate virus even affects the arts, that supposed haven from our lesser selves. Watch American Idol, for example, and count the number of times corporate interests intrude on the proceedings - from the participants taking part on a loudly cheered automobile ad to a handful of listener questions that serve no purpose other than to promote a phone company.

You think you're above American Idol? Think again. More votes were cast in a recent American Idol poll than Bill Clinton got the first time he ran for president. Even if we hate such manifestations of corporatized culture, we can't hide from their effect.

As a musician, I watch the show with mesmerized masochism. Why don't I like more songs? Why does the audience become so hysterical about so little? Whatever happened to melody? Why do looks and attitude swamp talent?

And then Ryan Seacrest slips into a pitch and I'm reminded that I'm just watching another commercial.

Sometimes it's just the little things. For example, I squirm every time I hear someone talk about doing a cover version of a song because I come from a time when songs belonged to everyone, and because they did, there was a lot more singing instead of just listening and screaming and waving your arms around. Once music had been created, it entered a cultural public domain. No one spoke disparagingly of the Philadelphia Orchestra doing a cover of J.S. Bach and when you picked up your horn and played a Charlie Byrd number you were probably doing the best thing you could have done that evening.

But now you find comments such as "Cheap wedding bands and party cover bands are needed in some places" but "a cover song is what a worthless bar band does to make money."

When you dig into this psyche a bit, you find not too deep down more traces of corporate culture. For the tune that has been covered is tacitly considered owned by the first to record it in a fiscally successful way. Centuries of music being created and then being happily replayed has been turned into one more intellectual copyright issue, coincidentally eliminating the ancient distinction beetween composer and musician.

But cultures don't grow by copyright; they grow by sharing: values, experience, fun, strengths, words, weaknesses and music. In a thriving culture everyone in some way covers everyone else.

One of the most tragic manifestations of corporate overload can be found in our school system and efforts to allegedly reform it. To use standardized tests as the sole criteria of someone's achievement ignores matters such as wisdom, judgment, social factors and morality. If you educate kids in such a manner you basically end up with adults able to absorb a large amount of data but often incapable of using it sensibly in a social situation. The last thing we want to do is to train our children to be as socially dysfunctional as some of our leaders.

As John Taylor Gatto has put it:

"There's a widespread feeling these days, both here and abroad, that America has lost its way, that we've gone crazy, and that school has something to do with it. Personally, I agree. But what change in schooling could restore our lost national vigor?
"Since 1983, the answer from policy circles has been: even more of the same. More hours, more days, more homework, more tests, more college, and a more coercive transfer of officially-approved curricula designed to make classrooms teacher-proof. In this tight prescription, critical thinking, artistic expression, and actual applications of learning have received short shrift. But what if regimented schooling is the disease making us sick and not its cure?"

Perhaps most discouraging is that the very institutions that could once be counted upon to help American correct its mistakes and move on to better days have become as corporatized as everything else. The names are there - environmental protection, civil rights or economic justice - but the character and structure of non-profits increasingly mimic those in the corporate world, propelled in no small part by the demands of major sources of income such as corporatized foundations and the business community itself.

There are, happily, exceptions. For example, I have sat on the board of the Fund for Constitutional Government for over two decades that has helped back a handful of activist organizations so effectively that on a single day the New York Times cited their findings three times as major substance for articles and once in an editorial. When I try to analyze why this group has worked so well I come up with a number of answers:

- Its business affairs, including the protection of its endowment, are carried out with the care for detail and internal discussion more typical of small business than of a large corporation. Although you'd never guess it from the media, it was small business that originally got America economically on its feet. We were intensely commercial, not corporate, in part because business was one of the few ways one could escape the social and economic hierarchy of the times. Throughout our history it has repeatedly been the little guy with the big idea who has made a difference. But this requires a strikingly different approach, as different, say, than that between the military and a sports team. In small business, there is less time and tolerance for irrelevant abstractions, more attention to detail (what corporate officials would call "micromanaging"), more leeway for individualism and more respect for imagination and novelty. Sadly, fewer and fewer Americans have direct experience with small enterprise and more and more work for large corporations and institutions

- The organization has a goal that integrates the economic and social sides of its being not unlike they used to say of Quakers: they came to this country to do good and do very well. In many aspects of our culture we are repeatedly told that we can't have this or do that for economic reasons. But why, in such a corporaphilic time, are we less able to do what we want or have what we need then in simpler times? One possible answer: the corporate solutions offered these days aren't all that good.

- You can easily test out a group's raison d'etre by attending a board meeting and calculating how much time is spent on matters that, if you had just wandered accidentally into the room, would in no way identify the organization's reason for existence. This includes all discussions of budgets, by-law changes, and most mission statements. Bear in mind that one of the most important American organizations of the last century was the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. It went some 40 years without bylaws or a constitution.

The Fund for Constitutional Government met all these criteria, but fewer and fewer non profits do.

Sadly, for too many, America has become one big standardized test. Between exams we are meant to listen, obey and buy.

But humans have risen against worst oppressions. The main power of this one is that it so unseen, so unmentioned, so undebated. It is time to rise up against the corporate culture killers and send them back to their offices so America can learn to be America once again. We need to tear up our mission statements and start to actually do something. We need to trash our strategic visions and regain our ability to see things as they really are.

The perhaps surprising thing is that if the corporate world stuck to business and let every other aspect of American culture thrive in its own way again, if it stopped trying to boss us around and swallow us up with its infantile words and principles, everyone's bottom line would be better off. We might even feel as good about ourselves as we did fifty years ago.



TREE HUGGER - A young Canadian inventor named Ben Gulak has created a new electric motorbike that takes some of the lessons learned from the Segway device, but implements them in a cooler package. The bike, called the Uno, looks from its profile like a strange powered unicycle but actually employs two wheels side-by-side. Riders lean forward to accelerate -- a feature used by the Segway - and can hit a top speed of 25 mph in its current configuration. The Uno also makes use of a set of gyros to enhance ease of balance, and the wheels are independently operated making turning much more precise.

Gulak, who's 18 years old, says that the Uno is relatively simple to ride but, "takes a bit of getting used to because you have to learn to trust it. The young inventor is currently courting investors for his project. . . "It has a range of about 2.5 hours and it is designed for the commute to work through busy towns" says Gulak." MORE


MUZZLE WATCH U.S. Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced the Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act , or CARTER Act, last week in the wake of former President Jimmy Carter's recent outreach to Hamas. "America must speak with one voice against our terrorist enemies," Knollenberg said in a statement. "It sends a fundamentally troubling message when an American dignitary is engaged in dialogue with terrorists. My legislation will make sure that taxpayer dollars are not being used to support discussions or negotiations with terrorist groups." The Zionist Organization of American praised the legislation.


SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST Three years ago, during an appearance on CBS, Sen. Hillary Clinton stated that she agreed with the overarching premise of John McCain's Iraq policy: that America's commitment to the war shouldn't be based on time frames but rather on the level of troop casualties. She even cited, as McCain now regularly does, that the United States would be well suited to follow a model for troop presence based on South Korea, Japan, or Germany. "Senator McCain made the point earlier today, which I agree with, and that is, it's not so much a question of time when it comes to American military presence for the average American; I include myself in this. But it is a question of casualties," said Clinton. "We don't want to see our young men and women dying and suffering these grievous injuries that so many of them have. We've been in South Korea for 50-plus years. We've been in Europe for 50-plus. We're still in Okinawa with respect to protection there coming out of World War II."


GUARDIAN, UK Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe. . .

Use of CCTV images for court evidence has so far been very poor, according to Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, the officer in charge of the Metropolitan police unit. "CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure," Neville told the Security Document World Conference in London. "Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It's been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. There's no fear of CCTV. Why don't people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working."


AVRAM GOLDSTEIN, BLOOMBERG The number of suicides among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care, the U.S. government's top psychiatric researcher said. Community mental health centers, hobbled by financial limits, haven't provided enough scientifically sound care, especially in rural areas, said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He briefed reporters today at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in Washington.

Insel echoed a Rand Corporation study published last month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S. soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment. About 1.6 million U.S. troops have fought in the two wars since October 2001, the report said. About 4,560 soldiers had died in the conflicts as of today, the Defense Department reported on its Web site.

Based on those figures and established suicide rates for similar patients who commonly develop substance abuse and other complications of post-traumatic stress disorder, "it's quite possible that the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the combat deaths," Insel said.


DAILY MIRROR, UK Tourists visiting the US face even tougher security checks now airport officials can search through mobile phones and laptops. Guards can download any details contained in the items and keep them indefinitely, following a new court ruling.

The latest legislation could mean lengthier queues as security copy photos, emails and phone records. Visitors already face hour-long waits while armed officers take fingerprints and photos.
Travel agents' group ABTA stormed: "It's another ratcheting up of Fortress America. It's certainly not a good thing for passengers - it is rather Big Brother."

There are also fears immigration staff may mistakenly corrupt or erase vital computer details. ABTA added: "We'd like to know if they're going to be properly trained to check computers and conduct many spot checks they plan to carry out.". . .

Dr Guy Bunker, of UK-based IT security experts Symantec, said: "Hopefully, they won't search everybody's data - or we may wait in line for weeks. There's also the chance of data being compromised."

He added that some business travelers particularly were now so alarmed they may fly to America with blank laptops.

It comes after a US Appeal Court ruled Los Angeles airport officials acted lawfully when a random search found child porn on a passenger's computer.

Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain said: "Reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices."


AP The woman known as the "D.C. Madam" apologized to her mother and sister in suicide notes, saying she couldn't bear going to prison and saw killing herself as the only "exit strategy." Deborah Jeane Palfrey, convicted last month of running an elite Washington prostitution ring, wrote to her mother that she could not "live the next 6-8 years behind bars for what you and I have come to regard as this 'modern day lynching,' only to come out of prison in my late '50s a broken, penniless and very much alone woman." The notes were released by police Monday.

Palfrey, 52, hanged herself with a nylon rope Thursday in a shed outside her mother's mobile home in the Florida Gulf Coast community of Tarpon Springs, northwest of Tampa. Her mother, 76-year-old Blanche Palfrey, discovered the . . .

The note to her mother was dated April 25, nearly a week before she killed herself. Police said the notes were found on a night stand in the bedroom where she'd been staying. One of the notes said, "Do not revive. Do not feed under any circumstances." In the note to her younger sister, Bobbie, Palfrey expressed her love and told her to "be strong for mom."

"Also, you must comprehend that there was no other way out, i.e., 'exit strategy,' other than the one I have chosen here," she wrote. "Know I am at peace, with complete certainty, I believe Dad is standing watch-prepared to guide me into the light."

Also Monday, police announced that the medical examiner's office officially ruled Palfrey's death a suicide by hanging. A toxicology report is pending.

Sam Smith

Both Clinton and Obama are trying hard to identify with working class Americans by accent, anecdote and analogy rather than offering them actual policies the voters might like. Thus we find Obama at a Joe's Junction convenience store in Indianapolis saying, "One of the ironies of the last two or three weeks was this idea that somehow Michelle and I are elitist, pointy-headed intellectual types. . . The fact is Michelle and I, our lives - if you look back over the last two decades - more closely approximate the lives of the average voter than any other candidate. We struggled with paying student loans, we tried to figure out how to make sure that we got adequate day care, I filled up my own gas tanks.". . . This is a pretty embarrassing and desperate routine which, say, elitist Franklin Roosevelt avoided by giving people things like Social Security and a minimum wage. It still might work.

As probably the only journalist in America to have defended both Al Sharpton and Don Imus, I'm pleased to note that podcasts of individual Imus interviews are now available from WABC. Recent goodies included Craig Crawford and Bill Richardson, the former my favorite reporter to hear on the air and the latter one of the more natural pols you'll run into these days. The irony of the whole Imus mess is that if the liberal fundamentalists had left him alone after a good scolding, Obama might have been the nominee some time ago, because Imus clearly prefers him over Clinton and reaches just the sort of people the liberals can't. The one group who understood this were the Clintonistas who seem to have been behind the fire Imus movement.



MARJORIE COHN, COUNTERPUNCH What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. Jus cogens is Latin for "higher law" or "compelling law." This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition.

The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions. We have ratified three treaties that all outlaw torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. When the United States ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of the Supreme Law of the Land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3.

We have federal laws that criminalize torture.

The War Crimes Act punishes any grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as well as any violation of Common Article 3. That includes torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute provides for life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies, for anyone who commits, attempts, or conspires to commit torture outside the United States.

The U.S. Army Field Manual's provisions governing intelligence interrogations prohibit the "use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind." Brainwashing, mental torture, or any other form of mental coercion, including the use of drugs, are also prohibited. Military personnel who mistreat prisoners can be prosecuted by court-martial under provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These include conspiracy, cruelty and maltreatment, murder, manslaughter, maiming, sodomy, and assault.

In Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the Second Circuit declared the prohibition against torture is universal, obligatory, specific and definable. Since then, every U.S. circuit court has reaffirmed that torture violates universal and customary international law. In the Paquete Habana, the Supreme Court held that customary international law is part of U.S. law.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to make the laws and the President the duty to carry them out. Yet on February 7, 2002, President Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members. Bush said, however,

"As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva."

But torture is never allowed under our laws.

Lawyers in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel wrote memos at the request of high-ranking government officials in order to insulate them from future prosecution for subjecting detainees to torture. In memos dated August 1, 2002 and March 18, 2003, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo (Jay Bybee, now a federal judge, signed the 2002 memo), advised the Bush administration that the Department of Justice would not enforce the U.S. criminal laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

The federal maiming statute makes it a crime for someone "with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure" to "cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person." It further prohibits individuals from "throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance" with like intent.

Yoo said in an interview in Esquire that "just because the statute says -- that doesn't mean you have to do it." In a debate with Notre Dame Professor Doug Cassell, Yoo said there is no treaty that prohibits the President from torturing someone by crushing the testicles of the person's child. In Yoo's view, it depends on the President's motive, notwithstanding the absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances.

The Torture Convention defines torture as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The U.S. attached an "understanding" to its ratification of the Torture Convention, which added the requirement that the torturer "specifically" intend to inflict the severe physical or mental pain or suffering. This is a distinction without a difference for three reasons.

First, under well-established principles of criminal law, a person specifically intends to cause a result when he either consciously desires that result or when he knows the result is practically certain to follow.

Second, unlike a "reservation" to a treaty provision, an "understanding" cannot change an international legal obligation.

Third, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an "understanding" that violates the object and purpose of a treaty is void. The claim that treatment of prisoners which would amount to torture under the Torture Convention does not constitute torture under the U.S. "understanding" violates the object and purpose of the Convention, which is to ensure that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The U.S. "understanding" that adds the specific intent requirement is embodied in the U.S. Torture Statute.

Nevertheless, Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the definitions in the Convention Against Torture and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo's definition, the victim must experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result.

Yoo wrote that self-defense or necessity could be used as a defense to war crimes prosecutions for torture, notwithstanding the Torture Convention's absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances. There can be no justification for torture.

After the exposure of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and the publication of the August 1, 2002 memo, the Department of Justice knew the memo could not be legally defended. That memo was withdrawn as of June 1, 2004. A new opinion, authored by Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General Office of Legal Counsel, is dated December 30, 2004. It specifically rejects Yoo's definition of torture, and admits that a defendant's motives to protect national security will not shield him from a torture prosecution. The rescission of the August 2002 memo constitutes an admission by the Justice Department that the legal reasoning in that memo was wrong. But for 22 months, it was in effect, which sanctioned and led to the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

John Yoo admitted the coercive interrogation "policies were part of a common, unifying approach to the war on terrorism." Yoo and other Department of Justice lawyers, including Jay Bybee, David Addington, William Haynes and Alberto Gonzalez, were part of a common plan to violate U.S. and international laws outlawing torture. It was reasonably foreseeable that the advice they gave would result in great physical or mental harm or death to many detainees. Indeed, more than 100 have died, many from torture.

ABC News reported last month that the National Security Council Principals Committee consisting of Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. Bush admitted, "Yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

These top U.S. officials are liable for war crimes under the U.S. War Crimes Act and torture under the Torture Statute. They ordered the torture that was carried out by the interrogators. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, used at Nuremberg and enshrined in the Army Field Manual, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander in chief, can be liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.

But Yoo and the other Justice Department lawyers who wrote the enabling memos are also liable for the same offenses. They were an integral part of a criminal conspiracy to violate our criminal laws. Yoo admitted in an Esquire interview last month that he knew interrogators would take action based on what he advised.

The President can no more order the commission of torture than he can order the commission of genocide, or establish a system of slavery, or wage a war of aggression.

A Select Committee of Congress should launch an immediate and thorough investigation of the circumstances under which torture was authorized and rationalized. The high officials of our government and their lawyers who advised them should be investigated and prosecuted by a Special Prosecutor, independent of the Justice Department, for their crimes.

John Yoo, Jay Byee, and David Addington should be subjected to particular scrutiny because of the seriousness of their roles in misusing the rule of law and legal analysis to justify torture and other crimes in flagrant violation of domestic and international law.

This essay is adapted from Marjorie Cohn's testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee. Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Cowboy Republic.


Nostalgic moments from the Clinton years

JACQUELINE TRESCOTT, WASHINGTON POST: In an unheard–of last–minute gambit, Ronald I. Dozoretz resigned from the Kennedy Center board and then was reappointed to it last month by President Clinton. The maneuver by the outgoing president gives Dozoretz an additional four years in a post considered one of the choicest plums of Washington art and social circles. Dozoretz is a friend of the Clintons and has given thousands of dollars to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign and other Democratic Party organizations.

NY POST, 2001 Ties between the pardoned and the pardoner:

Linda Medlar Jones: fraud and obstruction of justice in Cisneros case. Was Cisneros' lover

Roger Clinton: conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Bill's half–brother

Tom Bhakta: tax evasion. His family gave $5,000 to Hillary's campaign Outcome: Pardoned

Almon Glenn Braswell: Vitamin peddler convicted of mail fraud and perjury. Hillary's brother Hugh Rodham lobbied for pardon.

Carlos Vignali Offense: cocaine trafficking. Hugh Rodham lobbied for him

John Bustamante: fraudulently obtaining a loan and stealing from a woman's estate. Former adviser to Clinton friend Jesse Jackson

Melvin Reynolds: bank fraud and having sex with underage staffer. Jesse Jackson asked Clinton for commutation.

Henry Cisneros: lying in independent counsel probe. Served in Bill Clinton's Cabinet

Dorothy Rivers Offense: Embezzled federal aid for homeless children. Jesse Jackson associate.

John Deutch: security violations. Served Bill Clinton at CIA

Robert Clinton Fain and James Lowell Manning: tax charges. William Cunningham, Hillary's Senate campaign treasurer, acted as their lawyer.

Susan McDougal: fraud in Whitewater scandal; refusal to testify against Bill Clinton. Longtime friend and Whitewater partner of the Clintons.

Edward R. Downe Jr.: securities fraud. Hillary donor.

Alvarez Ferrouillet laundering money to cover loan for congressional campaign of Mike Espy's brother. Espy was Clinton's agriculture secretary; petition was pushed by Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe

Ronald H. Blackley: Former Espy chief–of–staff convicted of making false statements related to Espy probe. Espy asked for clemency 27–month sentence commuted along with those of four others convicted of lesser charges in Espy probe

Arnold Paul Prosperi: Convicted in 1997 of filing false tax returns and using fake bank records to hide embezzlement. College buddy of Clinton.

Peg Bargon: Possessing eagle feather that her son found in a zoo. She gave feather to Hillary Clinton.

Charles D. Ravenel: bank–fraud conspiracy. Clinton friend since 1980.

Richard Riley Jr.: federal drug charges. Son of Clinton's education secretary.

Stephen A. Smith and Robert Palmer: charges related to Whitewater. Smith was former Clinton aide; Palmer worked as appraiser on Whitewater.

Christopher V. Wade: Whitewater bankruptcy fraud. One of the original developers of Clintons' Whitewater.

Marc Rich: 50 felony counts, including tax evasion of $48 million. Former Clinton counsel Jack Quinn urged Bill Clinton to grant pardon; ex–wife, Denise, a major Clinton donor

John Fife Symington III: false statements to obtain loans. Longtime Clinton friend; once saved Bill's life in boating mishap.

Harvey Weinig: Helped launder at least $19 million for drug cartel. A relative, former White House aide David Dreyer, asked Clinton confidants for clemency.



DAN PILLER, DES MOINES REGISTER - Here's another sign that wind energy is coming of age: Wind law is now piling up in court precedents and is being taught at law school. Drake University law professor Neil Hamilton, the director of the school's Agricultural Law Center, has just finished teaching the school's first class in wind law to eight law school students and three practicing attorneys. . .

Hamilton's wind law course covers the gamut of the legal nitty-gritty about wind energy, including easements and leases, property issues, land-use regulations, utility regulation, metering and financing, and state and federal tax, energy and environmental policies. Hamilton's class is one of three in the United States. The University of Texas at Austin has a wind law class and so does the University of Oregon in Eugene. . .

While wind has a gentle image, the industry has had its share of disputes. Some farmers in Buena Vista and Cherokee counties were angered earlier this year when the owner of the 10-year-old wind farm on their properties cut their annual payments, which totaled up to $2,100, by two-thirds. . .

Hamilton said most wind leases today don't have royalty clauses for electricity production, like the lease Meyer signed. Rather, they tend to pay $3,500 to $4,000 per year to lease land, with no production royalties. This differs from the structure of many oil and gas lease agreements. "You can claim your land rights, but how can you claim the wind?" Hamilton said.



FAIR - On March 16, the New York Times presented a discussion of the Iraq War with "nine experts on military and foreign affairs"--all of whom supported George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. As FAIR asked at the time, why should the debate over the war should be restricted to those who made erroneous predictions about the invasion? We received no response.

On May 4, the Week in Review section featured the exact same line-up of "experts," this time reacting to the fifth anniversary of George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech. Thus, Times readers could hear from Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute--who, five years ago, penned an op-ed for USA Today headlined "Relax, Celebrate Victory." The Times also shared the views of AEI's Danielle Pletka, who five years ago said on CNBC, "We just won a war in Iraq."



JOSEPH RAGO, WALL STREET JOURNAL Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will "name names."

The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern. She declined to comment for this piece, pointing instead to the multiple interviews she conducted with the campus press.

Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bullyish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. "They'd argue with your ideas." This caused "subversiveness," a principle English professors usually favor.

Ms. Venkatesan's scholarly specialty is "science studies," which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, "teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth." She continues: "Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct."

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to "problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. . . .

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms. Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about "intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation. . .



A civil liberties group filed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD's practice of stopping hundreds of thousands of people each year for questioning, saying it is racially biased. The New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit lists New York Post reporter Leonardo Blair as the sole plaintiff, saying he was stopped and frisked by police officers as he walked from his car to his Bronx home last November. He was taken to a police station, where officers expressed surprise that though he was black, he was not from "the projects," the lawsuit said. Blair has a master's degree from Columbia University. The lawsuit said the NYPD has stopped people in New York nearly 1 million times over the last two years. It said more than half of the people targeted were black, even though blacks make up only about a quarter of the city's population. It asks that the practice be declared unconstitutional. - Boston Globe

A half-dozen Philadelphia police officers kicked and beat three men pulled from a car during a traffic stop as a TV helicopter taped the confrontation. Aerial video captures Philly officers in a confrontation with shooting suspects. . . The tape shows about a dozen officers gathering around the vehicle. About a half-dozen officers hold two of the men on the ground. Both are kicked repeatedly, while one is seen being punched; one also appears to be struck with a baton. The third man is also kicked and ends up on the ground. ABC News

Legislation was offered in the Pennsylvania state Senate Tuesday making it illegal to get a divorce in Pennsylvania. Sen. Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat, proposed it as a political antidote to a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and civil unions. But the Senate yesterday tabled the measure that would define marriage as between a man and a woman or the "functional equivalent." Opponents claim the bill's language would ban civil unions among lesbians and gays. So Fumo -- twice-divorced -- never got to advance his no-divorce proposal. In a news release, he challenged proponents of the marriage amendment who claim they are protecting the sanctity of marriage. If that's the case, then "there's no greater threat to families and to marriage than the high divorce rate," Fumo said. - Brad Bumsted, Pittsburgh Tribune Review


Lease-abiding renters in four New England states are losing their homes to foreclosure as fast or faster than single-family homeowners who default on mortgages. That's the conclusion of a report released Wednesday by the Washington-based National Low Income Housing Coalition. DC Examiner

Nearly 30 percent of domestic flights were late or canceled in March, more bad news for an industry plagued with safety concerns and buckling under record fuel costs. . . It was the worst March on record and second-worst opening quarter for a year since comparable data began being collected in 1995. One reason for the continued poor performance is that airlines are replacing big planes with smaller ones to fly with fewer empty seats. But that crowds the skies and gates, analysts say.


In a speech at Harvard's Institute of Politics, Chris Matthews admitted that MSNBC bosses were "basically pro-war during the war." The remark came in a larger discussion of top-down editorial control at the network - of which Matthews claimed there was none, citing the fact that many of his bosses supported Hillary Clinton while he has been very vocal for Obama. Huffington Post


Those seeking more information on The Fellowship - or The Family as it's also called - will have a book on the topic out May 20 by Jeff Sharlet from Harper Collins. The largely unreported ties of Hillary Clinton to this group was the topic of on item yesterday in the Review. Sharlet notes that the book is "facing a very tough reception from my colleagues in mainstream media. Not 'tough' as in scrutiny; tough as in it's not slated for much attention at all. The press would simply rather not debate this group, which too many journalists find confusing since it doesn't fit into the traditional categories of pulpit pounders and sweet preachers."


British contingency planners worried there would be a dramatic shortage of tea in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, recently declassified documents showed. The shortfall of the staple British beverage would be "very serious" if the country were to come under attack with atomic and hydrogen bombs, said according to a memo drafted between 1954 and 1956. "The tea position would be very serious with a loss of 75 percent of stocks and substantial delays in imports and with no system of rationing it would be wrong to consider that even one ounce per head per week could be ensured," it said. "No satisfactory solution has yet been found." Agence France Presse

Shelley Batts, Two Minds - Once, back in the day, when I was interning in Ted Kennedy's press office we got a call from a woman (this was a pretty usual occurrence) demanding to know why the CIA, et al were monitoring her brainwaves. Our quick thinking secretary (a Harvard grad making 16k a year for the privilege of working in the Senate) told her to hold he was going to go check the list. He let her sit for a few minutes, got back on the phone, and told her she wasn't on the list and there must be a mistake. He would have her mind control removed immediately and he was sorry for the mix up. She never did call back from what I heard.



NOTE: You can post your comments on any of the above stories by going to our Undernews site and searching for the headline. Once posted, a copy is immediately mailed to the Review and we pick some of the most interesting to publish here.


Please Mr. Sam, John Hagee an extremist? He simply preaches the gospel.


- This is just show that the Americans have an incredibly silly attitude towards prostitution...

- The Postal Service wasn't the only ones trying to get into Ms. Palfrey's home illegally. I am one of Ms. Palfrey's neighbors in Vallejo. In the summer of 2003 or 2004, I caught a couple of guys trying to push her front door open one evening. When they couldn't get in they went to her side window and tried to raise it. At that point I told them to stop and get out of here. They continued trying to get in, acting like they didn't hear me. As I approached I told them to get out of here or I'll call the police. One of the two clean cut business-casual dressed men told me they were the police. When asked for their badges they threatened me with arrest. At no time did they show a badge. Additionally, they did not look like the Vallejo PD. I left and called a friend on the Vallejo PD. He told me there were no VPD operations in the area.

It took two weeks to make contact with Ms. Palfrey to let her know about the incident. She did not seem concerned in the least, which I found unusual considering she lived alone.

- Hanging can be a nearly instantaneous death if done correctly---short rope, long fall, broken neck and immediate unconsciousness. However, I'm reluctant to believe this hanging death had anything to do with suicide. And, maybe the way it was implemented possibly did lead to a slow, tortuous death. If that was indeed the case, I'm willing to wager that it had more to do with sadism than ineptitude, which is to say the correct description for this crime ought to be murder.

- Hollywood style suicide hangings are celluloid fiction. Even those done by practiced executioners using the military height/weight tables for computing the drop all too often have gone awry. It is not only the drop, but also the correct placement and fall of the knot which lead to the jerking of the neck sideways, a clean break and near instantaneous death. From a description of the execution of the so called "Young Turks" in Angora: "Dr. Nazim Pasha's executioner, a man of skill, drew the noose tight under one ear. Ensued "a perfect hanging." The head, jerked to one side by the knot, snapped the neck vertebra, bringing instant death. Less fortunate was Deputy Hilmi Bey. His hangman, a clumsy lout, was forced to hang him twice."

- Exit strategy. . .Yeah, everybody talks like that, everybody that does black bag dirty tricks for the powerful in government that is.


- In this day and age, whether some of us want to admit to or not, 'Sundown Towns' still exist. It is unfortunate and pathetic, but otherwise still apart of this supposedly 'equal' society of ours. The basis of the book is to shine light on what was done in the past, what is currently going on in the present day, to become more active now and in the future in putting an end to this arbitrary foolishness that stemmed from some very ignorant, half-witted individuals.


- I think brother Neil Bush, whose company created and marketed the reading program, can actually read, unlike his more famous sibling. I doubt the fact that the product has proven worthless will result in the refund of any of our tax dollars, however.


- You jumped on the bandwagon when the same people, playing the guilt by association game, smeared Ron Paul as a bigot. Now it's your candidate's turn.


- What is it about people's attitudes to teachers in this country? Legislators (and average people) wouldn't dream of telling their doctor, their lawyer, their hairstylist, their gardener, hell, even their cleaning staff how to do their jobs, but when the topic is teaching, suddenly everyone's an expert.

Teachers are professionals, college-educated in their subject areas. And most are highly committed. If the schools are organized right teachers learn how to teach through experience, from their colleagues and most of all from their students. The best thing administrators and legislators could do would be to be respectful and supportive, and to provide the environment where this process can take place. US the best in the world? Not at the public school level, according to the OECD. Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea consistently top their list. Interestingly, in all these societies, teachers are respected and reasonably well-paid.


- I'll take Ayers over Liddy any day. I'm sure McCain is buds with Ollie North as well.


- While insuring that children do not fill up on junk food and become obese from hollow calories is very important. Feeding children, especially young children low fat diets is extremely dangerous. Children need fats from healthy sources to grow and develop properly, and denying children those valuble fats will cause them serious health consequences.

- Of course we should not discriminate based on a person's size. We should be kind and understanding toward all people. This article presents no evidence for a genetic cause of weight gain. The rapid rise in obesity over the past 20 years demands a non-genetic explanation. Obesity is especially prevalent in particular racial, ethnic, and class groups. Are you prepared to say that these disparities are caused by genes? Wendell Berry has noted that the largest untapped energy reserve in the USA may be in our bodies.


- Let us not forget the million or so Iraqis that have been killed as well as the 4000 Americans.


- "Liberal fundamentalists"? While it may have been these "liberal fundamentalists" who stirred the pot, it was the "corporate dollar-worshippers" that pulled the advertising and got Imus fired. I doubt he would have been fired if the advertisers hadn't scampered away. By the way, those basketball players who were the subject of his derision: don't they count? - Robbie


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