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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, June 26, 2006

Leading off With Victoria
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

What constitutes terror?

This question was posed again and again–re-framed by reporters and respondents among them President Bush and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel–at the June 21st press conference in Vienna for the EU (European Union) meeting.

Is Iran a terrorist nation?
Is North Korea a terrorist nation?
Is the United States a terrorist nation?
Who poses the greatest threat to the world today?

Most Americans would answer "yes" to the first two questions and "no" to the last. But at the EU press conference and throughout Europe in general, the country that poses the most concern in terms of threat is not North Korea nor Iran, but the United States.Europe was once America's stalwart ally in all things political, but since the Bush Administration took office, and more dramatically since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that attitude has shifted.

Throughout Europe today, President Bush is largely perceived as a rogue leader, not perceptibly different from President Kim Jung Il of North Korea and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

How did this happen?

Quite simply, this is the price of torture. When a nation like the U.S., which has previously stood for democratic ideals and been a standard-bearer for human rights appears to turn its back on those ideals, then other democracies are bound to step back in revulsion, distancing themselves from what they consider barbaric behavior.That repugnance has become the legacy of Bush's so-called war on terror among both our friends and our enemies. The war against terror that was supposed to make both America and the rest of the non-rogue, non-terrorist world safer, has done the opposite: it has brought wave upon wave of terror into a region already fraught with centuries of conflict and has brought new waves of terror to our own shores and to those of Europe.

Far from being the world's messenger of democracy, the title the U.S. wore so proudly when it liberated Europe in World War II, the U.S. is now viewed as a messenger of imperialism and threat, a nation with the power and arrogance to invade nations with impunity and utter lack of regard for world opinion, as it did in Iraq. The Bush war on terror has been marked not by moments like the clean and non-violent raid on the Miami terror cell June 22, but by the revolting photographs of Iraqi civilians dressed in hoods and strapped to electric wires at Abu Ghraib. The war on Iraq has not been a tidy deposing of a brutal dictator as was promised by Bush and his cohort, but a long and bloody conflict with no apparent end point in which countless Iraqis have died, more than 2,500 Americans have been killed and another 20,000 have been injured and maimed.

Now Bush's war on terror has taken an uglier and more disturbing turn: American soldiers have been accused of horrifying crimes: seven soldiers are currently charged with the kidnaping, torture and murder of an unarmed, disabled Iraqi man and ten Marines are being investigated for the slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha. The Iraqis in Haditha were mostly women with their children–under the age of ten, including two babies. The Haditha victims had been shot execution-style, in the head, some in a kneeling position, pleading for their lives.

Last week three young American soldiers were ambushed in Iraq. One was killed at the scene, the others were kidnapped. The bodies of the two kidnapped soldiers were found two days later; they had been tortured, mutilated and beheaded.

Each of these events is an atrocity. The murder of civilians is against all rules of war. So is the torture of captured soldiers. But the war on terror isn't like other wars, according to President Bush and al-Qeada. That, apparently, means that torture and atrocity signal the new rules of engagement. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales even wrote a memo to Bush declaring that there must be flexibility in the war on terror for dealing with terrorists.

"Flexibility" is code for torture.

Most Americans have never been tortured and never will be. I have been tortured–not by a foreign terrorist or so-called enemy combatant, but by a couple of men in a violent crime perpetrated against me in which I was tortured, raped, sodomized with a knife, badly beaten, slashed and threatened with death. I can say declaratively, having experienced the terror and pain, the residual physical scars and the recurring waves of traumatizing memories, that torture changes a person forever.

At the risk of sounding trite, I would say that forever is a very long time in any person's life. You simply don't forget being tortured. Most people also don't forgive it.That is how America came to be reviled by the ordinary people of Europe, some of whom can still remember the joy with which they welcomed the arrival of the Allied Forces during World War II.

It all comes down to torture.

Torture is the singular weapon of the terrorist–all terrorists. It doesn't matter if they are so-called "enemy combatants," a term invented by the Bush Administration to allow prisoners to be held indefinitely without trial (a form of torture) and to allow the outright torture of prisoners either at Guantanamo Bay or through rendition to other countries where they are tortured in exchange for U.S. aid. Torture is against all the rules. Torture is what the bad people do, not the good people, which is who America is supposed to be.

Two years ago three British citizens were released from Guantanamo after having been held captive for more than two years. The men, all Muslim, were never tried in Britain. Rather, after Prime Minister Tony Blair secured their release, they were roundly perceived as having been victimized by the U.S. government–kidnapped, tortured and held against their will for years, as if by some rogue nation like Somalia or Sudan. A film–a docudrama–of their experiences has just been released by noted British director Michael Winterbottom. *The Road to Guantanamo* has garnered the support of Amnesty International and has also already won several film awards.

The film details the tortures of Guantanamo and the hideous circumstances under which the three men were held. It is yet another indictment of the Bush war on terror.

Guantanamo was a key topic during the EU conference, but most Americans wouldn't know that because there was a veritable news blackout on the topic. Not a single network news program carried video or news reports of the repeated questions from the European press addressed to President Bush about Guantanamo, about torture or about the fact that even in Britain, America's only EU ally in Iraq, fewer than 30 percent of the people support the war on terror.

So much for freedom of the press. The BBC World News report was damning: Reporter after reporter asked Bush what it meant to him that most Europeans viewed Bush and the U.S. as more dangerous than Ahmadinejad. Bush's response was classic dismissal, "That's absurd," was all he had to say, his lips pursed and his anger visible. But the questions kept coming, particularly about Guantanamo, on which the EU was scheduled to vote–to censure the U.S. for its treatment of prisoners there.

On Guantanamo, Bush was again defensive and evasive. The U.S. should close the camp, he acknowledged, but asserted that "we won't be putting dangerous killers back on the streets."

Except that Guantanamo is, like Abu Ghraib was, filled with people who are not terrorists but men like the three British citizens, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time–Afghanistan–and were captured, given no legal representation and held without charges. No one at Guantanamo has been charged with any crime thus far. All the prisoners currently at Guantanamo have been held since 2001 without being charged and without legal representation. Amnesty International has cited Guantanamo and charged the U.S. with human rights violations because to hold prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial is what rogue nations do, and is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

I have friends in Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who consistently ask me when the U.S. is going to stop torturing people.

How do I answer such a question? When did I ever imagine that such a question would be posed to me, a citizen of the country that has in the past stood for protection of human rights and defense of individual liberty?

Torture breeds torture: that's my personal experience and the documented experience of torture victims worldwide. I have had vivid images of torturing the men who tortured me. Revolting, violent images and yet, there they are–I have wanted to hurt, violate and terrify them the same way they did me. I have wanted to hear them plead for their lives as I did. I have wanted to hear them tell me–as I told them–that I can do anything to them, as long as I don't kill them.

That's where torture leads: to the tortured dreaming of torturing their torturers. And that is how two young American soldiers ended up dumped on a roadside, their bodies so badly mutilated it required DNA testing to positively identify them. Do you think their families don't want an hour in a room with the men who killed their sons? Think again. And then think of all the families of all those killed by Americans and that's a whole lot of retaliatory torture being dreamed about.

No one can say for certain that our soldiers were killed in retaliation for Haditha or any other atrocity committed by Americans in Iraq or Guantanamo or Afghanistan, all places where the U.S. had committed atrocities. But I imagine, as someone who has been tortured, that the sounds of those soldiers pleading and screaming was not much different from the sounds of the women and children in Haditha pleading and screaming. That's the thing that gets lost first in war: We are *all* human.

No one is more human than anyone else. And when we begin to think that some of us are and some of us aren't–well, did we learn nothing from the testimony at the Nuremberg Trials (clearly not, since so many still deny the Holocaust ever happened)?

Torture is the first step toward dehumanization: of the tortured and the torturer.

America has taken that first step, we have been led there by George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice.

When you accept with merely a shrug the first step onto the path of dehumanization, the second step is so much easier, as is the step after that. There are Nazi war criminals alive today who assert they were "just following orders"–yet those orders to torture, maim and kill were orders to be ignored and subverted. As were the orders at Abu Ghraib and Haditha.

The Bush Administration, with its anti-science attitudes, has never seemed to understand the concept of cause and effect, but the war on terror is its proving ground. The U.S. is breeding torturers with the war on terror–in the ranks of our own military as well as on the streets of Bagdhad. And those torturers are coming home to their families in the U.S. and they are going off to their families in Iraq and they are telling stories to their friends here and there and now we have terror cells in Canada and Britain and America where there were none before.

The war on terror isn't a war in any real sense–there is no battleground, there is no achievable end point. All we can be certain of in the war on terror is that every time an innocent person is murdered by one side, the other will retaliate in kind. An eye for an eye–literally.

Next week we celebrate Independence Day in the U.S.–the birth of our own liberty from the oppression of the British monarchy 230 years ago. It would behoove us as a nation to review the standards upon which this nation was founded. Torture isn't in our Constitution or our Bill of Rights. Torture has diminished us in the eyes of the world, giving our friends cause to repudiate us and our enemies cause to kill us.

We cannot win a war on terror if we play by the rules of terror. Torture is terror, pure and inhumanely simple. And even if the other side never stops, we must. Because if we don't, we are nothing more than terrorists.

"Talking" Poverty

Today some noise is finally being made in regard to poverty, both nationwide and worldwide. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate John Edwards (D-NC) have decided that it's time to take on one of the 900 pound gorillas sitting at the dinner table.

"...millions who campaigned in the run-up to the G8 summit (last year in in Gleneagles, Scotland) have every right to expect immediate action to start to put (global poverty) right."
"one key element of the 2005 agenda where we have failed to make the progress we hoped" and urged World Trade Organization members to have the "courage and imagination to remove obstacles".
-Blair seemingly giving a "shot" to the WTO (World Trade Organization) who, as a group, are taking their own, sweet time

But let's remember that these "obstacles" are put there by the very same people in charge of removing them. Too bad there's no oil under the feet of the people of Africa who really need our help, isn't it?

As far as US poverty levels are concerned, former Sen. Edwards has his own thoughts:
"The debate on poverty is so stuck in the old policies of the past, the old days. We've got one side driven by guilt and then we have another side who just doesn't believe government can do anything effectively. . . . The truth is that both sides (Democrat and Republican) should recognize that our whole economic future depends on providing upward mobility for everybody."
-Sen. Edwards

Edwards is correct. Much like health care, there is no debate on poverty in our nation. Edwards is calling for a minimum wage increase to $7.50 per hour, creating temporary government subsidized jobs over a five year period, tax credits for first time home-buyers and low income families. His agenda would cost between $15 and $20 billion but would have to be paid by rescinding some of "G"lobal "W"arming Bush's tax give-backs to his "base" of "haves and have-mores".

The problem with eliminating both world and US poverty doesn't reside in the will of the people, it resides in the actions of our leaders. There is no desire to help out those less fortunate than ourselves because of our "What's in it for me?" attitude.

"A panel can be no substitute for political action. The true test of its credibility is whether it spurs G8 countries into going further than they have to date,"
-Patrick Watt, UK policy coordinator for Action Aid

"People are good at talking. What we are seeking to do is to ensure that there is translation from talk to action -- that the actual cash is delivered,"
-Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane

Both men are right. Rhetoric will get nothing done, but it seems as if it is the only thing we have right now. And the worst culprit is the administration of "G"lobal "W"arming Bush. All of the finger pointing and "wait and see" attitudes towards poverty, health care and pollution are no substitute for action. And, let's face it, this administration takes no action unless they can see "What's in it for them", or Halliburton, or the Carlisle Group, or Charles Schwab, or... well, you get the picture.

The WTO and World Bank, run by none other than neo-con favorite and former "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party stooge Paul Wolfowitz, want to see the natural resources of any nation wishing to "get help" turned over to the "most favorite bidder" so they can make outrageous profits. Whether or not these nations become bankrupt or can't feed their people is of no concern to them. They'll bribe dishonest third-world leaders to get what thy want and call it an "investment".

As far as US poverty goes, there is no fix. As long as we keep giving huge tax breaks to those who don't need it and belittle anyone with a bona fide idea toward fixing our nation's ills, there will be no "solutions". The "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party need you poor, stupid and out of touch in order to stay in charge. Let's hope that this November the American people put a real referendum together - one which punishes bad leaders and that starts putting their own self-interests first.

-Noah Greenberg

Health Care The Jim Hightower Way

IT'S SOCIALIZED MEDICINE. Wrong, Limbaugh-breath. Like Medicare, government doesn't deliver the health care under a single-payer system (SPS) -- you still go to your choice of doctors and hospitals. SPS, as the name suggests, is merely a government-run payment system. Instead of you and me paying inflated premiums to profit-seeking insurance giants which then pay our medical bills, SPS eliminates the rip-off overhead of the middleman and pays all of our bills directly to the providers.

PRIVATE IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN PUBLIC. Not at performing truly public functions, such as assuring health care for all. Presently, up to a third of the health premiums we pay to insurance corporations go not to health care but to their profits, marketing campaigns, CEO pay packages, posh headquarters, lobbying firms, and -- most damning -- massive bureaucracies whose sole purpose is to try to deny coverage for our medical treatments.
With SPS, all of these costs are eliminated -- Medicare, for example, spends only 2 percent of its revenues on administrative costs.

WE CAN'T AFFORD TO COVER EVERYONE. We can't afford NOT to have universal care. When today's uninsured millions get sick, they end up at the ER -- the most expensive care there is. Also, they get no preventative care, which is far cheaper than paying for the serious illnesses that they later develop. A decade ago, Taiwan switched from a U.S.-style corporatized system to a Canadian-style SPS. It quickly went from 60 percent of its people covered to practically all -- with virtually zero increase in overall health spending.

THERE'LL BE WAITING LISTS. Hello! Have you ever tried to get a quick appointment with your family doctor -- especially at night or on weekends? Only a third of Americans have same-day access to their own doctor. It takes days, even if you have insurance -- ask an uninsured American about waiting lists! And forget about trying to see a specialist within a month of calling. No country with SPS has a waiting list for emergency care and few have them for primary care. Waits for other procedures are almost always for elective surgeries (liposuction, face lifts, tennis elbow, nonessential MRIs, etc.).

Why not now?

The American people overwhelmingly support a major, progressive shift from corporatized "care" to universal care. Recent polls show consistent agreement on the need for real action:

-Forwarded by Robert Scardapane


Sect trains 'through the bible,' worships in 'temple,' not mosque

WASHINGTON, DC, 6/23/06 - A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today called on media professionals not to refer to seven terror suspects arrested in Miami as "Muslims."

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said media reports indicate that the suspects are part of a sect called "Seas of David."

When asked by CNN why group members refer to themselves as "soldiers," "Brother Corey" said: "Because we study and we train through the bible, not only physical -- not only physical, but mentally." Group members also worship in a "temple," not in an Islamic mosque.

The group bears some resemblance to the cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh, which operated in the same part of Miami, Liberty City, in the 1980's.

"Given that the reported beliefs of this bizarre group have nothing to do with Islam, we ask members of the media to refrain from calling them 'Muslims,'" said CAIR spokesperson Ahmed Bedier. He thanked U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta for noting that "today's indictment. . .is not against a particular group or a particular faith."


If you think THIS is bad, folks, just think what the implications of the following are! Either way you look at the possibilities, the whole thing bodes badly for innocent American citizens. Why? Because, had they been MUSLIM wannabe terrorists, it would further justify this administration's crackdown on ALL Muslim and Arab-American citizens in this country. But the fact that they have turned out not to be Muslim is even scarier in terms of the use to which such an incident can be put, namely, the further expansion of the already rapidly growing security apparatus in this country to cover ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS, any one of whom could conceivably pose a terrorist threat, which, in this administration's eyes further justifies the the growing web of spying on private citizens. In short, we will all become regarded as potential "enemies of the state" and thus liable to domestic surveillance in total disregard of our constitutional rights and without any oversight whatsoever, in which case, it will become necessary to establish detention centers to house those who come under suspicion, for there will be many, I assure you. Moreover, such centers are already under construction, the contract for which was awarded to none other than Halliburton.

-Forwarded and commented by Chris Tennant

In response to "We Democrats Make Good Decisions," Billie M. Spaight writes:

We Democrats Make Good Decisions?

Huh? Like supporting the war in Iraq?
Like refusing to vote for a pullout date?
Like agreeing to let Roberts and Alito in the Supreme Idiots?
Like refusing to pass the minimum wage increase?
Like refusing to censure Bush?
Like backing down when vote counts were in doubt?
Like agreeing to pass Medicare Part D?
Like endorsing the Massachusetts Mess in healthcare?
Like "Don't Ask Don't Tell?
Like "welfare reform" that allows 5 year of bad luck and then too bad?

Good decisions? Since when? It's been so long since any group of Democrats I know stopped thinking about how to win elections and started thinking about what's good for the country. There have been a few courageous souls but they never got the backing of the party.

The party is just too involved with tying itself up into knots to prove how "Republican" it can be.

That is a bad decision.

When the Democrats stop wimping out and start to make decisions that matter, then maybe I'll be proud to be a Democrat. For now I am disaffected, disaffiliated, and disappointed.

Sorry to say it, but the man on the radio was correct much as I hate what's in office these days.

If Democrats make bad decisions, then how would one describe the decisions that the are Republicans making? -NG

In response to "Well, Dumbya didn't get a significant pop in the polls because of Zarqawi. So, you just knew it was coming - terror, terror, terror," Pat Thompson writes:

Oh yes, lots of new fear and terror. It should continue like that right through the November elections.

In response to "So, if you analyze the Dark One's (Cheney's) statement it amounts to - no matter what we do we are screwed. Swell! In that case, I vote for troops home now and stop the useless expenditure of blood and money.," Pat Thompson writes:

I agree. And I do think that Iraq will wind up as three countries, not one. A Kurd, Sunni and Shiite country. Sort of like what happened to the former Yugoslavia. Then, in the future, there may be an Arab union -- like the European Union. If you look closely at a map of Europe, post WWII and post Soviet bloc Communism, there are so many tiny countries. Then, as time goes on, they want to join the EU. But before that happens Iraq will continue their civil war. We unleashed a lot of pent up animosities. And created lots of new ones. Getting out would take away their anger at being occupied.

In response to, "I'm imagining a fresh-out-of-med-school doctor waiting at the entrance of Wal-Mart," Dorothy Schwartz writes:

Actually, my understanding is that a lot of these in-store clinics are using Advanced Practice Nurses. APN's are a bargain, because they generally are holistic in orientation as well as oriented to education of the patient, and are cheaper. I am an APN, and I've gotten recruiting calls -- but my specialty is psychiatry, and I don't think Walgreens or whatever is going to be the first stop for someone seeking psychiatric help. Tho having an opportunity for a thorough screening for depression could be useful.

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-Noah Greenberg