Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chris Hedges: One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists


Posted on Dec 28, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting comfortable with imperfect security Posted By Stephen M. Walt

After reading several post-mortems on the abortive attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 the other day, there's little doubt that the security procedures failed badly. Here's the kicker, courtesy of the New York Times:

The family of the suspect arrested in the Dec. 25 incident, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, said on Monday that they had been trying to locate him for weeks, had sought help from Nigerian and American officials and would cooperate with an investigation. His father, a prominent Nigerian banker and former government official, phoned the American Embassy in Abuja in October with a warning that his son had developed radical views, had disappeared and might have traveled to Yemen. But embassy officials did not revoke the young man's visa to enter the United States, which was good until June 2010.

Instead, officials said on Sunday, they marked the file of the son, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, for a full investigation should he ever reapply for a visa. And when they passed the information on to Washington, Mr. Abdulmutallab's name was added to 550,000 others with some alleged terrorist connections -- but not to the no-fly list. That meant no flags were raised when he used cash to buy a ticket to the United States and boarded a plane, checking no bags.

Other commentators have already pointed out some of the reasons for the failure (among other things, our "watch lists" are bloated with lots of people who got placed on them on dubious grounds), but the predictable outrage at this obvious failure needs to be tempered with a bit of, well, realism.

The cruel reality is that no combination of security measures and counter-terrorist action can drive the risk of terrorist attacks-including attacks on airliners-down to zero. All of these protective measures involve considerable expense and divert resources away from other initiatives that could also save lives or make people safer. We should of course take reasonable precautions -- like secure locks on cockpit doors so that planes cannot be commandeered and transformed into weapons as they were on 9/11 -- and continue to work on refining security procedures. Varying routines and holding officials accountable (now there's a novel concept!) makes sense too.

But we also need to recognize that we can never achieve perfect security, and that means terrorist attacks will sometimes succeed. (Airline travel is a lot safer than it was fifty years ago, but airplanes sometimes crash for other reasons and we can't make that impossible either). There are enough angry people out there; destructive technology is too plentiful, and all security procedures are fallible, especially in the face of adversaries who can calculate and plan and look for chinks in the armor. This danger -- which is often overstated but will not disappear completely -- is simply part of the price of doing business in the contemporary world. And we are kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.

Moreover, at some point the cost of additional security precautions simply isn't worth it in terms of the additional safety gained, especially if it means neglecting other steps that could improve human well-being. Our aim should be to prevent the worst sorts of attacks -- and especially those involving weapons of mass destruction -- while admitting to ourselves that perfect security is impossible. The good news -- and it really is good -- is that the probability that any of us will be harmed in a terrorist incident is far lower than the odds we will die in a car accident or a bathroom mishap.

Nonetheless, as economist Kip Viscusi argues in a recent article, the public appears to place a greater premium on preventing deaths by terrorism than some other possible dangers (such as natural disasters). So let's by all means learn from this latest incident and try to do better. But I hope that grandstanding politicians quickly move on to something else, and that we don't impose another costly and time-consuming layer of security procedures in a fruitless attempt to achieve complete invulnerability.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New York Ranks Last in Happiness Rating

December 22, 2009

In this season given to tidings of comfort and joy, word has come that we New Yorkers are the sad sacks of the United States. This is something of a surprise. Sure, we complain a lot. Grumbling could qualify as the official state sport. But are we really the unhappiest of them all?

It seems so, judging from a study by two economics professors, newly published in Science magazine. The academics — Andrew J. Oswald, of the University of Warwick in Britain, and Stephen Wu, of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. — examined piles of data, tossed them into a research Cuisinart and came up with a guide to American happiness, ranked by state. On the smiley scale, New York landed on the bottom.

Dead last?

“I’m sorry about that,” Professor Oswald said by phone from Warwick.

It’s rather dismal. If there were a National Happy League, we’d be the New Jersey Nets. We’re No. 51 out of 51. The District of Columbia was included in the list as if it were a state. It made it all the way to No. 37 despite the handicap of having Congress in its midst.

At least New Yorkers can take comfort in knowing that their immediate neighbors in Connecticut (No. 50) and New Jersey (No. 49) are not appreciably happier.

A remarkable aspect of this study is that Professors Wu and Oswald concluded that we are not gruntled without even having asked what we think of Albany, Donald Trump or Thom Browne suits. Rather, they focused on two sets of information.

One was a survey of 1.3 million Americans done over four years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which asked people about their health and how satisfied they were with their lives. Those self-assessments were stacked against “objective indicators” borrowed from researchers at U.C.L.A. They included state-by-state variances on quality-of-life gauges like climate, taxes, cost of living, commuting times, crime rates and schools.

When the two sets were blended, the economists discovered that the subjective judgments closely tracked the objective ones. In other words, people knew what they were talking about when they said if they were happy or not. Americans who described themselves as satisfied tended to live in places where the quality of life was good by most standards — where the sun shone a lot, the air was reasonably clear, housing didn’t leave you busted, traffic wasn’t too fierce and so on.

“We were actually surprised that the match was as strong as it was,” Professor Wu said in a phone interview. “The strength of the correlation is very, very high.”

The state-by-state rankings were not a priority, he said. But they are what has inevitably drawn the most attention. In case you were wondering — and you know you were — the Top 10 states on the happiness scale are, in descending order, Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Alabama and Maine.

Louisiana? Uh, didn’t it have that huge hurricane, what’s her name, a few years back?

Yeah, Katrina is a complication, the professors said. Some of their data predated the storm. But the hurricane is not all that defines Louisiana. Like nearly all the other states in the Top 10, it is warm. (Surprisingly, sunny California is way down in the ranks, No. 46.)

It falls to a New Yorker to ask how it is, if this is such an unhappy place, that more people are living in the city than ever before: an estimated 8.4 million. “That’s a very sensible point,” Professor Oswald said. Many people, he said, do indeed think of states like New York and California as “marvelous places to live in.”

“The problem,” he said, “is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a nonfulfilling prophecy.”

Not to be unkind, but some states that made the Top 10 are among the poorest in the country. Are people there truly happy, or are they wearing “What, me worry?” smiles.

More important, might contentment be overrated? Seriously, isn’t restlessness, even outright discontent, often a catalyst for creativity?

We’re from the Harry Lime school. If you’ve seen the film classic “The Third Man,” you will remember that character’s admonition: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.

“In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”


Refusal to release autopsy raises suspicions

December 22, 2009

Refusal to release autopsy raises suspicions

County medical examiner cites investigation as the reason for holding on to information

The Detroit News

Dearborn -- The Wayne County medical examiner's refusal to release its autopsy report on Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah is fueling concerns in the Muslim community about a possible cover-up of facts surrounding his death, a community leader said Monday.

Abdullah, 53, was killed Oct. 28 in a gunfight with the FBI at a Dearborn warehouse. The FBI said Abdullah, an alleged leader of a radical Muslim separatist group involved in fencing stolen goods, fired a weapon that killed an FBI dog.

The county Medical Examiner's Office denied a Nov. 2 request The Detroit News filed for Abdullah's medical examiner report, saying it was not complete.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, said the county office has not responded to a request from his organization requesting a copy of the report once it is completed. The office also quoted exorbitant fees for copies of autopsy photos, he said.

Dennis Niemiec, a spokesman for the county, confirmed Monday that the report is completed but is being withheld at the request of Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad, who does not want the report released until his department completes its investigation. The county will seek more information from Haddad about how the release of the report would hamper his investigation, Niemiec said.

Haddad could not be reached for comment.

Walid said medical examiner reports are frequently released during active police investigations.

"The unfortunate and perhaps unintended consequence is that the failure to release the autopsy report and the very exorbitant amount for the pictures is raising in the minds of some people in the community that there's a potential cover-up," Walid said.

How many times he was shot, whether he suffered dog bites, and whether Abdullah was handcuffed after he was shot are among the questions on people's minds, Walid said.

Special Agent Sandra Berchtold, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said it was not the federal agency's call to withhold the report. However, "evidence is often not released during an ongoing investigation," she said.

© Copyright 2009 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

the tragedy of the political neutralisation of the American Muslim community

Also dismally absent from the discussion is the tragedy of the political neutralisation of the American Muslim community. Dissent, a core American political value, is one denied to American Muslims who cannot point to the vacuity of many of the terror charges produced against suspects or that pronouncements about the radicalisation of their community may be premature.

Any critique whatsoever of the policies that lead to terror arrests or that highlight the injustice of condemning those who have yet to be charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime is deemed as apologia favouring terrorism. As the unabated political fever for establishing a connection between AfPak and American security rises; American Muslims must contend not simply with the burden of increased scrutiny but also with a tragic political silencing.
-"Climate of suspicion" by Rafia Zakaria

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."

"Perhaps the most important thing for all of us to remember is that which Martin Luther King Jr. tried to tell us in his last full book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?: namely, that 'Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.'"

Q&A from "The Sacred Trust" with Imam Zaid for MSA National

Watch live streaming video from mcontributor at

Imam Zaid on "Thomas Friedman: Prisoner in a Glass House"

New Islamic Directions

19 December 2009

Thomas Friedman, in his recent New York Times Op-ed entitled, “,” states that Muslims lack the moral courage to condemn the murderous outrages of “Jihadi” extremists. Part of the reason for this moral failure, in his view, is because the West has not demanded that Muslims take responsibility for their societies, beginning with a strong condemnation of their violent extremists. Without such a condemnation, coupled with concerted action, America’s efforts to rebuild the Muslim world in her image will prove a futile endeavor.

Mr. Friedman posits that very few Muslim political or religious leaders are willing to challenge the violent ideology of Islamic extremists. Mr. Friedman apparently fails to realize is that there is an intense ideological struggle underway in the Muslim world, and at the heart of that struggle is the effort of orthodox scholars to delegitimize the arguments of those who would use Islamic teachings to justify wanton violence and destruction. Furthermore, contrary to his assessment, orthodoxy is gaining the upper hand.

In making his argument, Friedman quotes Mamoun Fandy, an analyst at London’s Institute of Strategic Studies, as saying: “What Muslims were talking about last week were the minarets of Switzerland, not the killings of people in Iraq or Pakistan.” Indeed, there are Muslims who are concerned about the fate of their coreligionists in the West, and are quick to comment on the real or perceived injustices involving Muslims in western lands. However, most of those commentators condemn the violence of the modern-day Khawarij [1] with far more words, passion and fervor.

By way of example, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, one of the preeminent jurists in the Muslim world, has written a brief statement on the Swiss minaret controversy. However, he has recently written an entire book condemning the violence and misinterpretations of the so-called “Jihadis.” That book is currently being translated into English and will be available in this country early next year.

Shaykh bin Bayyah is not alone. Many scholars from al-Azhar University, the most prestigious center of learning in the Muslim world, have been engaging in a deep dialogue with members of al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyya, Jihad Islami and other violent Egyptian groups. This dialogue has led to hundreds if not thousands of members of these groups renouncing violence against civilian and noncombatant forces. It has resulted in thousands of pages of literature and a deep societal debate in Egypt. Dr. Sherman Jackson, an Islamic studies and Arabic professor at the University of Michigan is currently translating some of this literature into English and has lectured extensively about this initiative.

A similar effort by scholars and jurists in Yemen has also met with tremendous success. Even within the Jihad movement, there is a deep debate about the moral sanction and strategic efficacy of violence against civilian and noncombatant targets. An excellent article, The Rebellion Within, examining this debate in great detail appeared in the June 2, 2008 edition of the New Yorker Magazine. Written by Lawrence Wright, the article highlighted one of the most influential theorists of the Jihad movement, Dr. Fadl, born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, and his rejection of the wanton violence of al-Qaeda. In England, Johann Hari has recently written, in The Independent, about similar ideological debates and their influence on British-born Muslim radicals.

This debate about the moral validity and strategic efficacy of wanton violence is raging in every Muslim society. Even in Palestine, many have questioned the moral, strategic, and tactical efficacy of suicide bombings against Israeli targets. The disappearance of that tactic there indicates that the voices arguing against it have prevailed. One wonders how Mr. Friedman can miss all of these developments as he pontificates to “infantilized” Muslims about what they must do to put their house in order.

Mr. Friedman is free to condemn Muslims for a lack of moral courage. However, the same issue he raises can be posed to American political and religious leaders. Namely, when will they find the moral courage to seriously challenge the American military machine that is currently spending a trillion dollars a year, more than the rest of the world combined, for war? If Mr. Friedman thinks that the wanton violence visited upon Muslims by America is less a factor in stimulating Muslims to contemplate violent actions than the agitation of al-Qaeda or similar movements he is seriously mistaken.

I ask Mr. Friedman, are not Americans just as “objectified” in their passive acquiescence to what President Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the military industrial complex, and the tremendous violence ensuing from it, as are Muslims, according to his view? If, as Mr. Friedman argues, Islam needs a civil war to confront the odious idea of a violent minority that believes it is okay to murder Muslims and non-Muslims who will not accept “the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate,” does not America need another civil war to challenge the foul idea that any country, Muslim or non-Muslim, that will not submit to American strategic designs can be bombed, invaded, occupied, or otherwise systematically destroyed?

Yes, Americans defeated the idea of slavery domestically. However, have we as a society defeated that idea internationally? What is the fate of those weak people and states that will not submit to our political and economic domination? Are they not brutalized in the most horrific fashion like rebellious slaves?

As Mr. Friedman argues, a corrosive mindset has indeed set in since 9/11. That corrosion is not limited to what he mentions. It also states that hapless Muslims are the major cause of violence and instability in the world and to deal with them we can engage in preemptive wars, we can develop a generation of tactical nuclear weapons to use against them, we can bomb, invade and occupy their lands on the flimsiest pretexts, and we can silently sit back as they are demonized and dehumanized in the media –as if we do not know what the ensuing political climate has led to in places like Bosnia and Rwanda.

I will make Mr. Friedman a wager. I bet that Muslims will wage an ideological civil war to address their violent extremists long before Americans will. I bet that long after Muslims have reclaimed their subjectivity in this regard, most “objectified” Americans will still be passively acquiescing to the imperatives of the military, and now, terrorist industrial complexes. Like Mr. Friedman, their failure to meaningfully address Americas militarism, aggression and violence will render them prisoners in a glass house.

[1] The Khawarij were a fanatical group who emerged in the early days of Islam. One of their well-known excesses was there removing Muslims who disagreed with them from the fold of Islam, and then making it lawful to kill them.

Robert Fisk on Belgian talk show 'Phara'

Thanks to Dawud McCarthy for making me aware of this interview

The Colbert Report: The Word - Spyvate Sector

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

from the Autobiography of Malcolm X

"I have given to this book so much of whatever time I have because I feel, and I hope, that if I honestly and fully tell my life's account, read objectively it might prove to a testimony of some social value.

I think than an objective reader may see how in the society to which I was exposed as a black youth here in America, for me to wind up in a prison was really just about inevitable. It happens to so many thousands of black youth.


I believe that it would be almost impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant than I have; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come.

For the freedom of my twenty-two million black brothers and sisters here in America, I do believe that I have fought the best that I knew how, and the best that I could, with the shortcomings that I have had. I know that my shortcomings are many.

My greatest lack has been, I believe, that I don't have the kind of academic education I wish I had been able to get...You can believe me that if I had the time right now, I would not be one bit ashamed to go back into any New York City public school and start where I left off at the ninth grade, and go on through a degree. Because I don't begin to be academically equipped for so many of the interests that I have. For instance, I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist....

I would just like to study. I mean mean ranging study, because I have a wide-open mind. I'm interested in almost any subject you can mention. I know this is the reason I have come to really like, as individuals, some of the hosts of radio or television panel programs I have been on, and to respect their minds - because even if they been almost steadily in disagreement with me on the race issue, they still kept their minds open and objective about the truths of things happening in this world....They also let me see that they respected my mind - in a way I know they never realized. The way I knew was that often they would invite my opinion on subjects off the race issue. Sometimes, after the programs, we would sit around and talk about all kinds of things, current events and other things, for an hour or more. You see, most whites, even when they credit a Negro with some intelligence, will still feel that all he can talk about is the race issue; most whites never feel that Negroes can contribute anything to other areas of thought, and ideas. You just notice how rarely you will ever hear whites asking any Negroes what they think about the problem of world health, or the space race to land men on the moon."

-pg. 415-416 of the Autobiography of Malcolm X

Mark Twain on the Shouts for War

"The loud little handful -- as usual -- will shout for the war.

The pulpit will -- warily and cautiously -- object -- at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.'

Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will out shout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity.

Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers -- as earlier -- but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation -- pulpit and all -- will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open.

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."

-Mark Twain, Chapter 9, The Mysterious Stranger

New York Finds Extreme Crisis in Youth Prisons

December 14, 2009


ALBANY — New York’s system of juvenile prisons is broken, with young people battling mental illness or addiction held alongside violent offenders in abysmal facilities where they receive little counseling, can be physically abused and rarely get even a basic education, according to a report by a state panel.

The problems are so acute that the state agency overseeing the prisons has asked New York’s Family Court judges not to send youths to any of them unless they are a significant risk to public safety, recommending alternatives, like therapeutic foster care.

“New York State’s current approach fails the young people who are drawn into the system, the public whose safety it is intended to protect, and the principles of good governance that demand effective use of scarce state resources,” said the confidential draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The report, prepared by a task force appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson and led by Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, comes three months after a federal investigation found that excessive force was routinely used at four prisons, resulting in injuries as severe as broken bones and shattered teeth.

The situation was so serious the Department of Justice, which made the investigation, threatened to take over the system.

But according to the task force, the problems uncovered at the four prisons are endemic to the entire system, which houses about 900 young people at 28 facilities around the state.

While some prisons for violent and dangerous offenders should be preserved, the report calls for most to be replaced with a system of smaller centers closer to the communities where most of the families of the youths in custody live.

The task force was convened in 2008 after years of complaints about the prisons, punctuated by the death in 2006 of an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old boy at one center after two workers pinned him to the ground. The task force’s recommendations are likely to help shape the state’s response to the federal findings.

“I was not proud of my state when I saw some of these facilities,” Mr. Travis said in an interview on Friday. “New York is no longer the leader it once was in the juvenile justice field.”

New York’s juvenile prisons are both extremely expensive and extraordinarily ineffective, according to the report, which will be given to Mr. Paterson on Monday. The state spends roughly $210,000 per youth annually, but three-quarters of those released from detention are arrested again within three years. And though the median age of those admitted to juvenile facilities is almost 16, one-third of those held read at a third-grade level.

The prisons are meant to house youths considered dangerous to themselves or others, but there is no standardized statewide system for assessing such risks, the report found.

In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.

Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have developmental disabilities.

Yet there are only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers assigned to the prisons, according to the task force. And none of the facilities employ psychiatrists, who have the authority to prescribe the drugs many mentally ill teenagers require.

While 76 percent of youths in custody are from the New York City area, nearly all the prisons are upstate, and the youths’ relatives, many of them poor, cannot afford frequent visits, cutting them off from support networks.

“These institutions are often sorely underresourced, and some fail to keep their young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment needs,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with workers and youths in custody, visits to prisons and advice from experts. “In some facilities, youth are subjected to shocking violence and abuse.”

Even before the task force’s report is released, the Paterson administration is moving to reduce the number of youths held in juvenile prisons.

Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, the agency that oversees the juvenile justice system, has recommended that judges find alternative placements for most young offenders, according to an internal memorandum issued Oct. 28 by the state’s deputy chief administrative judge.

Ms. Carrión also advised court officials that New York would not contest the Justice Department findings, according to the memo, and that officials were negotiating a settlement agreement to remedy the system.

Peter E. Kauffmann, a spokesman for Mr. Paterson, said the governor “looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the task force as we continue our efforts to transform the state’s juvenile justice system from a correctional-punitive model to a therapeutic model.”

The report contends that smaller facilities would place less strain on workers, helping reduce the use of physical force, and would be better able to tailor rehabilitation programs.

New York is not unique in using its juvenile prisons to house mentally ill teenagers, particularly as many states confront huge budget shortfalls that have resulted in significant cuts to mental health programs. Still, some states are trying to shift to smaller, community-based programs.

The report by New York’s task force does not say how much money would be needed to overhaul the system, but as Mr. Paterson and state lawmakers try to close a $3.2 billion deficit, cost could become a major hurdle.

Ms. Carrión has faced resistance from some prison workers, who accuse her of making them scapegoats for the system’s problems and minimizing the dangerous conditions they face. State records show a significant spike in on-the-job injuries, for which some workers blame Ms. Carrión’s efforts to limit the use of force.

“We embrace the idea of moving towards a more therapeutic model of care, but you can’t do that without more training and more staff,” said Stephen A. Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents prison workers. “You’re not dealing with wayward youth. In the more secure facilities, you’re dealing with individuals who have been involved in pretty serious crimes.”

Advocates have credited Ms. Carrión, who was appointed in 2007 by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with instituting significant reforms, including installing cameras in some of the more troubled prisons and providing more counseling.

But the state has a long way to go, many advocates say.

“Even the kids that are not considered dangerous are shackled when they are being transferred from their homes to the centers upstate — hands and feet, sometimes even belly chains,” said Clara Hemphill, a researcher and author of a report on the state’s youth prisons published in October by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

“It really is barbaric,” she added, “the way they treat these kids.”

Poll Reveals Depth and Trauma of Joblessness in U.S.

December 15, 2009


More than half of the nation’s unemployed workers have borrowed money from friends or relatives since losing their jobs. An equal number have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments because they are out of work.

Almost half have suffered from depression or anxiety. About 4 in 10 parents have noticed behavioral changes in their children that they attribute to their difficulties in finding work.

Joblessness has wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the lives of many of those out of work, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults, causing major life changes, mental health issues and trouble maintaining even basic necessities.

The results of the poll, which surveyed 708 unemployed adults from Dec. 5 to Dec. 10 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points, help to lay bare the depth of the trauma experienced by millions across the country who are out of work as the jobless rate hovers at 10 percent and, in particular, as the ranks of the long-term unemployed soar.

Roughly half of the respondents described the recession as a hardship that had caused fundamental changes in their lives. Generally, those who have been out of work longer reported experiencing more acute financial and emotional effects.

“I lost my job in March, and from there on, everything went downhill,” said Vicky Newton, 38, of Mount Pleasant, Mich., a single mother who had been a customer-service representative in an insurance agency.

“After struggling and struggling and not being able to pay my house payments or my other bills, I finally sucked up my pride,” she said in an interview after the poll was conducted. “I got food stamps just to help feed my daughter.”

Over the summer, she abandoned her home in Flint, Mich., after she started receiving foreclosure notices. She now lives 90 minutes away, in a rental house owned by her father.

With unemployment driving foreclosures nationwide, a quarter of those polled said they had either lost their home or been threatened with foreclosure or eviction for not paying their mortgage or rent. About a quarter, like Ms. Newton, have received food stamps. More than half said they had cut back on both luxuries and necessities in their spending. Seven in 10 rated their family’s financial situation as fairly bad or very bad.

But the impact on their lives was not limited to the difficulty in paying bills. Almost half said unemployment had led to more conflicts or arguments with family members and friends; 55 percent have suffered from insomnia.

“Everything gets touched,” said Colleen Klemm, 51, of North Lake, Wis., who lost her job as a manager at a landscaping company last November. “All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’ ”

A quarter of those who experienced anxiety or depression said they had gone to see a mental health professional. Women were significantly more likely than men to acknowledge emotional issues.

Tammy Linville, 29, of Louisville, Ky., said she lost her job as a clerical worker for the Census Bureau a year and a half ago. She began seeing a therapist for depression every week through Medicaid but recently has not been able to go because her car broke down and she cannot afford to fix it.

Her partner works at the Ford plant in the area, but his schedule has been sporadic. They have two small children and at this point, she said, they are “saving quarters for diapers.”

“Every time I think about money, I shut down because there is none,” Ms. Linville said. “I get major panic attacks. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Nearly half of the adults surveyed admitted to feeling embarrassed or ashamed most of the time or sometimes as a result of being out of work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the traditional image of men as breadwinners, men were significantly more likely than women to report feeling ashamed most of the time.

There was a pervasive sense from the poll that the American dream had been upended for many. Nearly half of those polled said they felt in danger of falling out of their social class, with those out of work six months or more feeling especially vulnerable. Working-class respondents felt at risk in the greatest numbers.

Nearly half of respondents said they did not have health insurance, with the vast majority citing job loss as a reason, a notable finding given the tug of war in Congress over a health care overhaul. The poll offered a glimpse of the potential ripple effect of having no coverage. More than half characterized the cost of basic medical care as a hardship.

Many in the ranks of the unemployed appear to be rethinking their career and life choices. Just over 40 percent said they had moved or considered moving to another part of the state or country where there were more jobs. More than two-thirds of respondents had considered changing their career or field, and 44 percent of those surveyed had pursued job retraining or other educational opportunities.

Joe Whitlow, 31, of Nashville, worked as a mechanic until a repair shop he was running with a friend finally petered out in August. He had contemplated going back to school before, but the potential loss in income always deterred him. Now he is enrolled at a local community college, planning to study accounting.

“When everything went bad, not that I didn’t have a choice, but it made the choice easier,” Mr. Whitlow said.

The poll also shed light on the formal and informal safety nets that the jobless have relied upon. More than half said they were receiving or had received unemployment benefits. But 61 percent of those receiving benefits said the amount was not enough to cover basic necessities.

Meanwhile, a fifth said they had received food from a nonprofit organization or religious institution. Among those with a working spouse, half said their spouse had taken on additional hours or another job to help make ends meet.

Even those who have stayed employed have not escaped the recession’s bite. According to a New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll conducted at the same time as the poll of unemployed adults, about 3 in 10 people said that in the past year, as a result of bad economic conditions, their pay had been cut.

In terms of casting blame for the high unemployment rate, 26 percent of unemployed adults cited former President George W. Bush; 12 percent pointed the finger at banks; 8 percent highlighted jobs going overseas and the same number blamed politicians. Only 3 percent blamed President Obama.

Those out of work were split, however, on the president’s handling of job creation, with 47 percent expressing approval and 44 percent disapproval.

Unemployed Americans are divided over what the future holds for the job market: 39 percent anticipate improvement, 36 percent expect it will stay the same, and 22 percent say it will get worse.

Marina Stefan and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Timur Yuskaev: "A Spoken Qur'an: American Voices"

In his Friday lecture, "A Spoken Qur'an: American Voices," [PhD candidate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Timur] Yuskaev analyzed how two influential American Muslim preachers brought the Quran to life in their speeches.

Yuskaev played a clip of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed belting out an impassioned commentary about the Quranic character Yusuf being thrown into the "bottomless pit" and sold into slavery by his brothers. The clip, like many of Mohammed's speeches, reveals a redemption theme in the Quran, which resonated with Mohammed's African-American audience, Yuskaev said.

"To his audiences, he tells them their history has a God-ordained meaning," Yuskaev said. "Their collective historical suffering has a parallel in the Quran. Like Yusuf, they were once cast off, considered to be worthless. Just as God worked in Yusuf, God has also been working in his people in the United States."

The preachers Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf have localized the teachings of the Quran to their modern-day audiences, Yuskaev said. He said Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who emerged as a prominent Muslim preacher after Sept. 11, encouraged American Muslims to be active in public life.

Yuskaev said speaking the Quran means orally explaining the text and relating it to modern-day life.

"There's a problem when we approach a religious text, such as the Quran," Yuskaev said. "The text is there, we can look at it, we can read it. But how does it enter the daily lives of human beings?"

Source: "Religious Studies sponsors Islam lectures"

Chris Hedges: Gravel’s Lament: Fighting Another Dumb War


Posted on Dec 13, 2009

By Chris Hedges

Editor’s note: Video of Gravel’s speech can be found on Page 2.

I have spent enough time inside the American military to have tasted its dark brutality, frequent incompetence and profligate ability to waste human lives and taxpayer dollars. The deviousness and stupidity of generals, the absurdity of most war plans and the pathological addiction to violence—which is the only language most who command our armed forces are able to understand—make the American military the gravest threat to our anemic democracy, especially as we head toward economic collapse.

Barack Obama, who is as mesmerized by the red, white and blue bunting draped around our vast killing machine as the press, the two main political parties and our entertainment industry, will not halt our doomed imperial projects or renege on the $1 trillion in defense-related spending that is hollowing out the country from the inside. A plague of unchecked militarism has seeped outward from the Pentagon since the end of World War II and is now sucking our marrow dry. It is a familiar disease in imperial empires. We are in the terminal stage. We spend more on our military—half of all discretionary spending—than all of the other countries on Earth combined, although we face no explicit threat.

Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential candidate, sat Saturday on a park bench in Lafayette Park facing the White House. Gravel and I were in the park, along with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and other anti-war activists, to denounce the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a sparsely attended rally. [Click here for video clips of speeches by Kucinich, Hedges and Nader.] Few voices in American politics have been as consistent, as reasoned and as moral as his, which is why Gravel, on a chilly December morning, is in front of the White House, not inside it.

“I suspect that from the get-go he had an inferiority complex with respect to the military,” Gravel, who was a first lieutenant in the Army, said of the president. “It is the same problem [Bill] Clinton had by not serving in the military, by not having an actual experience. You don’t have to go into combat, you just have to get into the military and recognize at the lower reaches how incompetent the military can be. So not having that experience, and only dealing with generals, who of course learn to be charming—it’s the sergeants who inflict the pain—he has this aura about the military. We have acculturated the nation to a military culture. This is the sadness of it all because that sustains the military-industrial complex.”

“Obama comes on the scene,” he added. “He is endorsed in the course of the campaign by some 19 generals and admirals. These people had no confidence in [George W.] Bush. They recognized that Bush’s unilateralism and cavalier approach to torture was injurious to the American military. They gravitated towards Obama. It turned his head. He thought he could be commander in chief and he could, he has the intelligence, but he does not have fortitude. He lacks courage.”

Time is rapidly running out. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the country struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt by 2010. This will require the United States to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which is inevitable, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as 2 trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. A backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will tear apart the social fabric, unleash chaos and violence, and strengthen the calls for more draconian measures by our security apparatus and military.

Obama uses the veneer of intellectualism to promote the dirty politics of Bush. The president spoke in Oslo, when he accepted the Nobel Prize, of “just war” theory, although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not meet the criteria laid down by Thomas Aquinas or traditional Catholic just-war doctrine. He spoke of battling evil, dividing human reality into binary poles of black and white as Bush did, without examining the evil of pre-emptive war, sustained military occupation and imperialism. He compared al-Qaida to Hitler, ignoring the difference between a protean group of terrorists and a nation-state with the capacity to overwhelm its neighbors with conventional military force. “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace,” Obama insisted in Oslo. The U.S., he said, has the right to “act unilaterally if necessary” and to launch wars whose purpose “extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor.” Obama’s policies, despite the high-blown rhetoric, are as morally bankrupt as those of his predecessor.

“The first time I met him I felt there was arrogance with a touch of cynicism,” Gravel said of the president. “Now the cynicism and the arrogance have overwhelmed his intelligence. Like Clinton, he is into power.”

Gravel’s shining moment as a politician occurred in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, handed the secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. The newspaper published portions of the document, which painted a picture of a failing war at odds with official pronouncements. The Justice Department swiftly blocked further publication and moved to punish newspaper publishers who revealed its contents. Gravel responded by reading large portions of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. His courageous public release of the papers made it possible for the publication to resume. Gravel also launched in 1971 a one-man five-month filibuster to end the peacetime military draft, forcing the Nixon administration to cut a deal that allowed the draft to expire in 1973. He was a feisty and blunt candidate in 2008 who lambasted the Democratic Party and its major candidates for being in the service of corporations, especially the arms industry. His outspokenness saw him banned by the Democratic leadership from later primary debates.

“Obama has wasted an opportunity to be a great president,” Gravel lamented. “More than 50 percent of the American people do not buy into this war. He could have stood up and said ‘we are getting out.’ Forget the Congress. Forget the Republicans. Forget the hawks. Forget mainstream media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are hawks. He would have weathered that storm because he would have had the American people on his side. And what did he do? He caved in to the leadership of [David] Petraeus and [Stanley A.] McChrystal and adopted a scenario that is a total loser.”

“When he hugs his children at night, when he puts them to bed, he has got to begin to think there are little girls like this in Afghanistan who are being killed and maimed,” Gravel told me. “If he can’t have that kind of a thought then his arrogance knows no boundaries. I saw this in the Senate during the Vietnam War. People detach themselves from the immediacy of the crime. They vote for the money. They vote for the policy. The picture of people dying is distant. My God, if you are sitting next to me and a bomb explodes and your arm is ripped off that is not distant. It is immediate. I saw the film by Robert Greenwald, “Rethink Afghanistan.” It rips your heart out. And America under the leadership of Obama is a party to this crime. Close your eyes. Listen to the media. Listen to the pundits. Listen to the rhetoric. It is Vietnam all over again. What is the difference between our vital interests and the domino theory? We could leave Afghanistan and it would be as significant as when we left Vietnam.”

“Don’t be hoodwinked by Obama going to Dover [Air Force Base] to watch the caskets or going to Arlington to salute the graves, with his snappy salute,” Gravel says. “Adolf Hitler lionized soldiers dying. This is the old idea that it is honorable to die. It is not honorable to die in vain. People died in vain in Vietnam. They are dying in vain in Iraq and Afghanistan. And more people will die in vain because of the leadership of Barack Obama.”

“They don’t hate us because we are free,” Gravel said of the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They hate us because we are killing them.”

Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009) and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003).

Collage: Gravel photo from Flickr / Center for American Progress Action Fund

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.
Copyright © 2009 Truthdig, L.L.C. All rights reserved.


In contrast to the New York Times editorial "Europe and Afghanistan," see Chris Hedges' "Gravel’s Lament: Fighting Another Dumb War"

LA Times - Antiwar movement fighting burnout and awkwardness,0,5678687.story

By Kate Linthicum

December 12, 2009

The antiwar movement isn't what it was in 2003.

Then, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across America to protest the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Today in Washington -- in what's billed as the largest peace protest since President Obama announced that he would send more soldiers to Afghanistan -- organizers are planning for a crowd of 1,500.

"People are burned out," explained the rally's organizer, Laurie Dobson. As she and other antiwar activists struggle to remake their movement, they also acknowledge there are obstacles.

"We're fighting a harder fight right now," said Dobson, who said antiwar efforts had been upstaged by the battle for healthcare reform and had been hampered by the bad economy. She and others also acknowledge a certain awkwardness: Activists now find themselves up against the same politician many of them helped elect.

"The peace movement has a new adversary in front of them," said Tom Hayden, a former California state senator who was a leading critic of the Vietnam War. "He's intelligent, speaks the language of the peace movement and is trying to reach out to the center-left of the country with his message. It's much more formidable to argue with Barack Obama than it was with Bush or Cheney."

Hayden said many of the activists who once used antiwar protest to convey their contempt of President George W. Bush have been reluctant to criticize Obama, who, while he was a candidate, made much of his opposition to the war in Iraq.

While he was campaigning, Obama pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of entering office. His current timeline calls for most soldiers to be out of Iraq by the end of August, but he has said he will keep up to 50,000 troops there through 2011 to train Iraqi military and protect "our ongoing civilian and military efforts" -- a plan that displeased antiwar activists.

Neither were they happy when Obama announced this month that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Obama's Afghanistan plans didn't come as a surprise -- during the campaign he spoke of sending additional brigades there -- but they were a disappointment, said activist and Iraq war veteran Mike Prysner.

"There was this honeymoon period where people believed we were going to get some change," said Prysner, who works for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, a coalition of antiwar groups.

Prysner, whose group helped organize a Los Angeles protest last week against the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, predicted that the antiwar movement would strengthen once people start realizing that "Obama represents the same interests that the Bush administration represents."

He expects protests to be increasingly aimed at Obama -- and to shift focus from Iraq to Afghanistan.

More than 5,000 U.S. military and Department of Defense-employed civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For activists, it may be harder to drum up opposition to the war in Afghanistan because it served as a base for Al Qaeda, which launched the Sept. 11 attacks.

The fact that some Americans may find the war in Afghanistan "morally ambiguous" has hurt antiwar efforts, said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor who studies social movements.

During the Vietnam War, Gitlin said, many people on the left "felt very clear emotionally that the war was wrong and unjustified." Without that conviction, he said, "you won't throw yourself into the antiwar movement."

Julie Schneyer, an activist in New York City, said peace protesters have always struggled to make wars abroad seem relevant to people at home.

Schneyer said antiwar activists should shift efforts away from marches and use new tactics to draw connections between America's defense spending and the financial crisis. "We need to ask people: 'What are we giving up, and what are we getting, and are those things equal?' " she said.

Others say activists need to rethink their mission.

"The so-called antiwar movement has been a colossal failure," said the Rev. James Lawson, a longtime peace activist who played a key role in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. "The whole thing has failed. We have not prevented the United States from becoming the most militarized society in the world. We have not stopped our tax dollars from going toward military and war."

Dobson, the organizer of today's rally, said future antiwar efforts would be fueled by criticism of Obama. "People have struggled and fought, and they need new blood and new passion and a new vision," she said. "But the president who campaigned for change is instead continuing war."

The theme of the rally, she said, is "No You Can't."

US Protesters Seek New Anti-War Movement

Demonstration follows President Obama's Nobel speech

Anti-War Movement Wakes Up From Obama-Induced Slumber

By Kevin Gosztola

Americans may think that after Obama's speech at West Point Academy to call for 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and after Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech,which laid out clear guidelines for waging a just war and how those guidelines will be followed during the oncoming surge in Afghanistan, there is no reason for Americans to voice their disapproval of the war.

However, a coalition of antiwar organizers, peace and justice advocates, and citizens of conscience disagree and are not willing to accept Obama's efforts to deflect criticism and tamp down outrage toward the Afghanistan War. Hundreds if not thousands of people will be in Lafayette Square nearby the White House in Washington, D.C. today at 11 am ET.

Rally organizers have put together a roster of speakers that include consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, former Sen. Mike Gravel, Kathy Kelly, Chris Hedges, David Swanson, Gael Murphy, Debra Sweet, and others opposed to current U.S. war policies in the Middle East.

The rally will directly call for vigorous opposition to the military escalation in Afghanistan and a rejection of defeatist thinking and futile rationales, which have been hampering the anti-war movement in America.

Laurie Dobson, a lead organizer of the rally believes it is the peace community's responsibility to focus on peace and justice for the world's people and for our people. And the reason she and others are taking action is because the peace movement must be the consciences for our leaders especially when they choose expansion of war rather than a phased withdrawal of war.

Speakers will directly challenge Obama's bizarre justifications for continuing the war in Afghanistan especially the idea that expanding a war is the best way to prepare for a withdrawal.

For example, Ralph Nader recently wrote in his In the Public Interest column, To say as Obama inferred in his Oslo speech that the greater plunge into Afghanistan is self-defense, with proportional force and sparing civilians from violence is a scale of self-delusion or political cowardliness that is dejecting his liberal base.

There is no real way to gauge right now how disenchanted liberals and progressives might become with Obama but if he stays the course, this surge could create a trap for Democrats in this country.

Cynthia McKinney says in Congress Republicans may be willing to support Obama and vote for his war legislation now but come 2012 they will put up their own candidate. She suspects that voters will remember Obama's actions on U.S. wars and Obama could be in trouble.

Elaine Brower, who is with Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and who will be speaking at the rally, thinks many didn't expect Obama to do this because his rhetoric suggested he would act differently when elected president.

Brower suggests people of this country look past his rhetoric and see the politician. She says Obama is trying to sell the American people a war that isn't really a war because we aren't really fighting anybody; we are really just waging a massive occupation that is resulting an enormous loss of human lives.

Those participating in the rally see this as a way of reigniting the fire within a movement that unfortunately chose to temper their opposition during Obama's presidential campaign and now his first year in office.

For those wondering why they should be participating in any actions that allow people to show they oppose the Afghanistan War, Matthis Chiroux, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who will be speaking at the rally, thinks the Nobel Peace prize speech Obama gave should give people reason to oppose this war.

Chiroux hopes all would resist this war because Americans did not elect Obama to wage war but to wage peace instead.

Kathy Kelly, a peace advocate who has visited and witnessed firsthand the impact of conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Sarajevo is convinced that if the U.S. public can recognize the folly of the war in Iraq, followed by the folly of the war in Afghanistan, and then recognize the folly of maintaining 700-900 bases around the world then we will be able to stop these wars.

She hopes people that are retired and still have a lot of energy will use their twilight years to ensure that there will be an inhabitable world for those grandchildren. And she hopes parents who love their children will begin to recognize the choices ahead, engage in the community, change their lifestyle, and let the elected leaders know Americans won't accommodate their ruthless warmongering behavior anymore.

Chris Hedges, columnist and author whose most recent book is The Empire of Illusion, will also be a speaker at the rally and suggests that, A lot of this is about doing something rather than doing nothing and attempting to influence events because it's clear the Democratic Party has betrayed us.

Hedges understands no antiwar organizer or leader can promise it will work but if we do nothing, we're guaranteeing that the imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will go on for years.

It's all we have left, says Hedges. Unless people get out in the street and actively build grassroots opposition against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's going to be never-ending war.