Jan 092012
 

 

* THE EVIL OF INDEFINITE DETENTION AND THOSE WANTING TO DE-PRIORITIZE IT

By Glenn Greenwald

This Wednesday will mark the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo prison camp. In The New York Times, one of the camp’s former prisoners, Lakhdar Boumediene, has an incredibly powerful Op-Ed recounting the gross injustice of his due-process-free detention, which lasted seven years. It was clear from the start that the accusations against this Bosnian citizen — who at the time of the 9/11 attack was the Red Crescent Society’s director of humanitarian aid for Bosnian children — were false; indeed, a high court in Bosnia investigated and cleared him of American charges of Terrorism. But U.S. forces nonetheless abducted him, tied him up, shipped him to Guantanamo, and kept him there for seven years with no trial.

In September, 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA) which, among other things, not only authorized the detention of accused Terrorist suspects without a trial, but even explicitly denied all Guantanamo detainees the right of habeas corpus: the Constitutionally mandated procedure to allow prisoners at least one opportunity to convince a court that they are being wrongfully held. Habeas hearings are a much lower form of protection than a full trial: the government need not convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty, but rather merely present some credible evidence to justify the imprisonment. But the MCA denied even habeas rights to detainees.

Only once the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2008 decision bearing Boumediene’s name, ruled that this habeas-denying provision of the MCA was unconstitutional, and that Guantanamo detainees were entitled to habeas corpus review, was the U.S. government finally required to show its evidence against Boumediene in an actual court. A Bush-43 appointed federal judge then ruled that there was no credible evidence to support the accusations against him, and he was finally released in May, 2009. Please first go read Boumediene’s short though gripping account of what this indefinite detention did to his life, and then consider the following points:

(1) Since the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision, dozens of Guantanamo detainees like Boumediene were finally able to have a federal court review whether there was any credible evidence against them, and the vast majority have won their cases on the ground that there was no such evidence (at one point, 75% of Guantanamo detainees prevailed, though the percentage is now somewhat lower). Had the Military Commissions Act been upheld as constitutional, Boumediene — and dozens of other innocent, now-released Guantanamo detainees — would undoubtedly still be indefinitely imprisoned.

Put another way, if those who voted for the MCA had their way — and that includes all GOP Senators except Lincoln Chafee along with 12 Democrats, including Jay Rockefeller, Debbie Stabenow, Robert Menendez, Frank Lautenberg, and current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — then Boumediene and dozens of other innocent detainees would still be wrongly imprisoned. Moreover, the Democrats had 46 Senators at the time and could have filibustered but did not; indeed, even many Democrats who voted against the bill anointed John McCain as their negotiator and were prepared to vote for the MCA until the very last weekend when some unrelated changes were made without their input and they were offended on that procedural ground. As Boumediene’s Op-Ed reflects, acting to empower the President to imprison people indefinitely with no charges is one of the most pernicious and dangerous steps a government can take, and yet the U.S. Congress in 2006 did exactly that.

(2) The Boumediene Supreme Court decision was a 5-4 vote; thus, four Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court voted to uphold the constitutionality of imprisoning human beings indefinitely, possibly for life, without even the minimal protections of a habeas hearing. Had Anthony Kennedy voted with his conservative colleagues, not only would Boumediene and dozens of others still be wrongly imprisoned, but the power which the U.S. has long taught its citizens is the defining hallmark of tyranny — the power to imprison without due process — would have been fully enshrined under American law.

(3) Post-Boumediene, indefinite detention remains a staple of Obama policy. The Obama DOJ has repeatedly argued that the Boumediene ruling should not apply to Bagram, where — the Obama administration insists — it has the power to imprison people with no due process, not even a habeas hearing; the Obama DOJ has succeeded in having that power enshrined. Obama has proposed a law to vest him with powers of “prolonged detention” to allow Terrorist suspects to be imprisoned with no trials. His plan for closing Guantanamo entailed the mere re-location of its indefinite detention system to U.S. soil, where dozens of detainees, at least, would continue to be imprisoned with no trial. And, of course, the President just signed into law the NDAA which contains — as the ACLU put it — “a sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provision,” meaning — as Human Rights Watch put it — that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.” Those held at Guantanamo will continue to receive at least a habeas hearing, but those held in other American War on Terror prisons will not. Read Boumediene’s Op-Ed to see why this is so odious.

(4) As we head into Election Year, there is an increasingly common, bizarre and self-evidently repellent tactic being employed by some Democratic partisans against those of us who insist that issues like indefinite detention (along with ongoing killing of civilians in the Muslim world) merit high priority. The argument is that to place emphasis on such issues is to harm President Obama (because he’s responsible for indefinite detention, substantial civilian deaths, and war-risking aggression) while helping competing candidates (such as Gary Johnson or Ron Paul) who vehemently oppose such policies. Thus, so goes this reasoning, to demand that issues like indefinite detention and civilian deaths be prioritized in assessing the presidential race is to subordinate the importance of other issues such as abortion, gay equality, and domestic civil rights enforcement on which Obama and the Democrats are better. Many of these commentators strongly imply, or now even outright state, that only white males are willing to argue for such a prioritization scheme because the de-prioritized issues do not affect them. See here (Megan Carpentier), here (Katha Pollitt) and here (Dylan Matthews) as three of many examples of this grotesque accusatory innuendo.

There are numerous glaring flaws with this divisive tactic. For one, it relies on a full-scale, deliberate distortion of the argument being made; demanding that issues like indefinite detention, civilian deaths and aggressive war be given high priority in the presidential race does not remotely advocate the de-prioritization of any other issues. For another, many women and ethnic and racial minorities – as well as gay Americans — are making similar arguments about the need for these issues to receive substantial attention in the election.

More important, it’s irrational in the extreme to argue that self-interest or “privilege” would cause someone to want to prioritize issues like indefinite detention and civilian causalities given that the civil liberties and anti-war advocates being so accused are extremely unlikely themselves to be affected by the abuses they protest. For the most part, it isn’t white males being indefinitely detained, rendered, and having their houses and cars exploded with drones — the victims of those policies are people like Boumediene, or Gulet Mohamed, or Jose Padilla, or Awal Gul, or Sami al-Haj, or Binyam Mohamed, or Afghan villagers, or Pakistani families, or Yemeni teenagers.

Put another way, when you spend the vast bulk of your time working against the injustices imposed almost exclusively on minorities and the marginalized — as anyone who works on these war and civil liberties issues by definition does — it’s reprehensible for someone to deploy these sorts of accusatory tactics, all in service of the shallow goal of partisan loyalty enforcement. Those who were actually driven primarily by privileged self-interest would want to de-prioritize these issues in a presidential campaign, not insist on their vital importance.

And that is this real point here: what’s so warped about those who employ this tactic for partisan ends is how easily it could be used against them, rather than by them. All of the authors of the three accusatory examples linked above (Carpentier, Pollitt, and Matthews) — as well as most of those Democrats who have now sunk to explicitly arguing that such matters are unimportant — are white and non-Muslim. To apply their degraded rhetoric to them, one could easily say:

Of course they don’t consider indefinite detention, invasions and occupations, and civilian slaughter to be disqualifying in a President or even meriting substantial attention in the presidential election — of course they will demand that everyone faithfully support a President who continues to do these things aggressively — because, as non-Muslims, they’re not the ones who will be imprisoned for years with no trial or have their children blown to bits by a U.S. drone or air strike, so what do they care?

I don’t employ or endorse that wretched reasoning, but those who do — such as the authors of the above-linked accusations — should have it applied to them and their own political priorities; they deserve to reap what they are sowing.

Indeed, The Washington Post today has an excellent article on the millions of civilian deaths which the U.S. has caused over the last several decades and how steadfastly those civilian deaths are ignored in U.S. political and media discourse. The article is by John Tirman, the executive director and principal research scientist at the MIT Center for International Studies who just released a book on that topic. One primary reason that these deaths receive such low priority is because Americans are unaffected by these casaulties and can thus easily de-prioritize them as aberrational:

This explains much of our response to the violence in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. When the wars went badly and violence escalated, Americans tended to ignore or even blame the victims. The public dismissed the civilians because their high mortality rates, displacement and demolished cities were discordant with our understandings of the missions and the U.S. role in the world.

These attitudes have consequences. Perhaps the most important one — apart from the tensions created with the host governments, which have been quite vocal in protesting civilian casualties — is that indifference provides permission to our military and political leaders to pursue more interventions.

To invoke the exploitative, accusatory tactics of Megan Carpentier, Katha Pollitt, Dylan Matthews and the other accusers linked above: it’s much easier to view these policies as non-disqualifying and to insist on their de-prioritization in favor of other policies because their white, non-Muslim privilege means that they aren’t the ones who are going to be indefinitely detained, assassinated without due process, or have their homes and children targeted with drones and cluster bombs. Muslims have a much harder time so blithely acquiescing to such abuses — as do non-Muslims who are capable of protesting grave injustices even when they’re not directly affected by them. Again, that is not a form of reasoning I accept or use — there may be all sorts of reasons why one would want these policies to be de-prioritized or at least not be seen as disqualifying beyond selfish, privilege-based indifference — but those who spew those kinds of smears should understand how easy it is to subject them to those accusations.

Ultimately, it really isn’t that complicated to understand why many people consider these issues to be so imperative. Those struggling to understand it should go read Lakhdar Boumediene’s Op-Ed. Or this story and this Op-Ed about a 16-year-old boy and his 12-year-old cousin whose lives were ended when the 16-year-old was targeted (in secret and with no checks) with a drone strike in Pakistan. Or these newly documented findings of ongoing abuse of detainees at Bagram. Or the dozens of Yemeni women and children killed by a U.S. cluster bomb. Or the secretive process by which the current President has seized the unilateral power to target even U.S. citizens for assassination.

There are many reasons why one might insist on attention being paid to these issues, even in an Election Year. As I explained in my response to Carpentier’s lowly Guardian attack, self-interest and “privilege” are not among them. If anything, those traits are likely to produce exactly the opposite reaction, i.e., that these issues not be prioritized because empowering one’s own political party and caring about issues that personally harm oneself is the overriding goal. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2012/01/08/the_evils_of_indefinite_detention_and_those_wanting_to_de_prioritze_them/singleton/

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* MY GUANTANAMO NIGHTMARE

By Lakhdar Boumediene, NYTimes

ON Wednesday, America’s detention camp at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 10 years. For seven of them, I was held there without explanation or charge. During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. Most of their letters were returned as “undeliverable,” and the few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that their messages of love and support were lost.

Some American politicians say that people at Guantánamo are terrorists, but I have never been a terrorist. Had I been brought before a court when I was seized, my children’s lives would not have been torn apart, and my family would not have been thrown into poverty. It was only after the United States Supreme Court ordered the government to defend its actions before a federal judge that I was finally able to clear my name and be with them again.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.

The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.

I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.

I went on a hunger strike for two years because no one would tell me why I was being imprisoned. Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me. It was excruciating, but I was innocent and so I kept up my protest.

In 2008, my demand for a fair legal process went all the way to America’s highest court. In a decision that bears my name, the Supreme Court declared that “the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” It ruled that prisoners like me, no matter how serious the accusations, have a right to a day in court. The Supreme Court recognized a basic truth: the government makes mistakes. And the court said that because “the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore.” […]

READ @ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/opinion/sunday/my-guantanamo-nightmare.html?_r=2&smid=fb-share

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* IRAQ: A COUNTRY IN SHAMBLES

By Dahr Jamail, OpEdNews

In Sadr City, Baghdad, the streets are cracked, filled with potholes, and strewn with refuse  Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera

As a daily drumbeat of violence continues to reverberate across Iraq, people here continue to struggle to find some sense of normality, a task made increasingly difficult due to ongoing violence and the lack of both water and electricity.

During the build-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration promised the war would bring Iraqis a better life, and vast improvements in their infrastructure, which had been severely debilitated by nearly 13 years of strangling economic sanctions.

More jobs, improved water availability, better electricity, and major rehabilitation of the medical infrastructure were promised.

But now that the US military has ended its formal military occupation of Iraq, nearly eight years of war has left the promises as little more than a mirage.

Ongoing water shortages

Hashim Hassan is the Deputy Director of the Baghdad Water Authority (BWA), and he admits to an ongoing shortage of clean drinking water for Baghdad’s seven million residents.

“We produce 2.5 million cubic litres daily, so there is a shortage of 1m cubic litres every day,” Hassan explained to Al Jazeera. “We’ve added projects to increase water availability, and we are hoping to stop the ongoing shortage by the end of 2012.”

According to Hassan, 80 percent of the Baghdad’s piping network needs rehabilitation — work currently underway — in addition to positioning 100 compact units around the city, which would increase clean water availability until larger plants can come fully online.

Several water treatment plants are already being extended, including one that would increase the capacity of a wastewater treatment facility in Sadr City, a sprawling slum of roughly three million people.

Hassan said that health committees and the Ministry of Environment carry out tests, and along with BWA testing, 1,000 water samples are checked daily, “less than one percent of the samples fail,” he said. The “acceptable threshold” is five percent.

Bechtel, a multi-billion dollar US-based global engineering and construction company — whose board members have close ties to the former Bush administration — received $2.3bn of Iraqi reconstruction funds and US taxpayer money, but left the country without completing many of the tasks it set out to.

Bechtel’s contract for Iraq had included reconstruction of water treatment systems, electricity plants, sewage systems, airports and roads.

Managers at water departments around Iraq say that the only repairs they managed during the US occupation were through UN offices and humanitarian aid organizations. The ministry provided them with very little chlorine for water treatment. “New projects” were no more than simple maintenance operations that did little to halt collapsing infrastructure.

Bechtel was among the first companies, along with Halliburton (where former US Vice-President Dick Cheney once worked), to have received fixed-fee contracts drawn to guarantee profit.

Ahmed al-Ani who works with a major Iraqi construction contracting company told Al Jazeera the model Bechtel adopted was certain to fail.

“They charged huge sums of money for the contracts they signed, then they sold them to smaller companies who resold them again to small inexperienced Iraqi contractors,” Ani said. “These inexperienced contractors then had to execute the works badly because of the very low prices they get, and the lack of experience.”

According to a March 2011 report by the UN’s Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, one in five Iraqi households use an unsafe source of drinking water, and another 16 percent report daily supply problems.

The situation is even worse in rural areas, where only 43 percent have access to safe drinking water, and water available for agriculture is usually scarce and of very poor quality. These facts have led more Iraqis than ever to leave rural communities in search of water and work in the cities, further compounding already existing problems there.

The UN report states: “Quality of water used for drinking and agriculture is poor, violating Iraq National Standards and WHO guidelines. Leaking sewage pipes and septic tanks contaminate the drinking water network with wastewater. 80 per cent of households do not treat water before drinking. Furthermore, just 18 per cent of wastewater is treated, with the rest released directly into waterways.”

And this is exactly what many Iraqis experience first-hand.

“Sometimes we turn on the tap and nothing comes,” explained Baghdad resident Ali Abdullah. “Other times the colour is brown, or yellow, or sometimes even smells of benzene.”

Electricity and sewage

Street-side electricity generators are now a common sight around Iraq’s capital city, where the average home receives between four and eight hours of electricity each day. Some areas, such as Sadr City, receive an average of less than five hours a day, with some portions of the area receiving a mere hour to two a day — and sometimes none at all.

Many people opt to simply pay private vendors for electricity from the generators, whose owners run lines to their respective clients.

Some areas of Baghdad continue to receive one to five hours of electricity a day
Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera

Abu Zahra, a media liaison worker with the office of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City, Baghdad, explained that, in addition to the ongoing lack of electricity, every aspect of the infrastructure in the area needs improvement.Nabil Toufiq is a generator operator who serves 220 homes for 12 hours each day. “We buy our diesel on the black market, not from the government,” he told Al Jazeera. “We expect this business to continue forever because government corruption prevents them from fixing our problems.”

“We are depending on the street generators,” Zahra said, before going on to say that roads have been resurfaced, but due to corruption causing corners to be cut, the pavement begins to fracture and break apart within six months, causing the cycle to begin again.

This is readily apparent, as the garbage-strewn roads are bumpy, cracking, with potholes abundant.

Turn off of one of the main thoroughfares through the area and one quickly finds dirt roads with sewage streaming down the gutters.

Zahra said that one of the hopes of Sadr joining the political fray was that this area of Baghdad would obtain better services — but this has clearly not come to pass.

“Sadr asked the government to give better services and jobs here, but nothing has happened,” he said, while children played near raw sewage. “There have been demonstrations here where people carried shovels asking for work, and empty kerosene cans asking for fuel. Meanwhile, we have a totally failed sewage system that needs complete reconstruction.”

While water-borne diseases and diarrhoea are common across Baghdad, but they are rampant in Sadr City, where the lack of potable water, coupled with raw sewage flowing through many of the streets, make the spread of disease inevitable.

Toufiq pointed out an issue that does not bode well for the future — and likely aptly describes the root of Iraq’s myriad problems. “Many people make a living from the system being broken,” he said. “From the government, to me, to the gas sellers.”

Broken economy

According to the UNDP, Iraq has a poverty rate of 23 percent, which means roughly six million Iraqis are plagued by poverty and hunger, despite the recent increase in Iraq’s oil exports. Iraq’s Ministry of Planning has also announced that the country needed some $6.8bn to reduce the level of poverty in the country.

Zahra concurs. “No one in my family has a job,” he said. “And in my sister’s house, they are seven adults, and only two of them work.”

Inside a busy market, Hassan Jaibur, a medical assistant who cannot find work in his field, is instead selling fruit. “The situation is bad and getting worse,” he said. “Prices continue to rise, and there are no real jobs. All we can do is live today.”

Jaibur said he and his family are living on the fruit he sells, but he has a sick child and any profits he earns all go to medication. “All of my relatives and friends are in a similar situation,” he added. “Most of them try to find work as day labourers.”

Gheda Karam, like so many in Iraq today, is the sole supporter of her family
Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera

Gheda Karam sells dates and fruits. Her husband was paralyzed during the Iraq-Iran war, and the benefits they get from the government for his disability are not enough.

“My family is suffering too much,” she told Al Jazeera. “Even yesterday we did not eat dinner. We are 20 of us in an old house, and I’m the only one with work.”

She paused to cry, then wiped away the tears.

“My children see things in the market they want to eat or drink, but we can afford none of it, and I am in debt to the fruit sellers. God help us.”

The state of the economy in Iraq is a disaster. Yet this irony is highlighted by the fact that Iraq has proven oil reserves third only behind Saudi Arabia and Iran — hence one would expect it to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

But nowhere is the lack of economic growth more evident than in Baghdad. According to the Central Bank of Iraq, unemployment and “under-employment” are both at 46 percent, although many in Iraq feel this is a generously low estimate.

Iraq continues to have a cash economy; meaning there are no credit cards, almost no checking accounts, no transfer of electronic funds, and only a few ATMs.

Iraq lacks a functioning postal service, has no public transportation, nor a national airline — and most goods sold in Iraq are imported.

Only in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq is there rapid development and an effectively functioning government.

Iraq is ranked the eighth most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International. That means Iraq is tied with Haiti, and just barely less corrupt than Afghanistan.

One of Iraq’s ministers recently took a forced resignation because he signed a billion-dollar contract with a bankrupt German company, along with a Shell company in Canada, which had no assets or operations, only an address. […]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/articles/Iraq-A-country-in-shamble-by-Dahr-Jamail-120108-687.html

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* WHY DO WE IGNORE THE CIVILIANS KILLED IN AMERICAN WARS

By John Tirman, Washington Post

As the United States officially ended the war in Iraq last month, President Obama spoke eloquently at Fort Bragg, N.C., lauding troops for “your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another,” and offering words of grief for the nearly 4,500 members of the U.S. armed forces who died in Iraq. He did not, however, mention the sacrifices of the Iraqi people.

This inattention to civilian deaths in America’s wars isn’t unique to Iraq. There’s little evidence that the American public gives much thought to the people who live in the nations where our military interventions take place. Think about the memorials on the Mall honoring American sacrifices in Korea and Vietnam. These are powerful, sacred spots, but neither mentions the people of those countries who perished in the conflicts.

The major wars the United States has fought since the surrender of Japan in 1945 — in Korea, Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan — have produced colossal carnage. For most of them, we do not have an accurate sense of how many people died, but a conservative estimate is at least 6 million civilians and soldiers.

Our lack of acknowledgment is less oversight than habit, a self-reflective reaction to the horrors of war and an American tradition that goes back decades. We consider ourselves a generous and compassionate nation, and often we are. From the Asian tsunami in 2004 toHurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Americans have been quick to open their pocketbooks and their hearts.

However, when it comes to our wars overseas, concern for the victims is limited to U.S. troops. When concern for the native populations is expressed, it tends to be more strategic than empathetic, as with Gen. David H. Petraeus’s acknowledgment in late 2006 that harsh U.S. tactics were alienating Iraqi civilians and undermining Operation Iraqi Freedom. The switch to counterinsurgency, which involves more restraint by the military, was billed as a change that would save the U.S. mission, not primarily as a strategy to reduce civilian deaths.

The wars in Korea and Indochina were extremely deadly. While estimates of Korean War deaths are mainly guesswork, the three-year conflict is widely believed to have taken 3 million lives, about half of them civilians. The sizable civilian toll was partly due to the fact that the country’s population is among the world’s densest and the war’s front lines were often moving.

The war in Vietnam and the spillover conflicts in Laos and Cambodia were even more lethal. These numbers are also hard to pin down, although by several scholarly estimates, Vietnamese military and civilian deaths ranged from 1.5 million to 3.8 million, with the U.S.-led campaign in Cambodia resulting in 600,000 to 800,000 deaths, and Laotian war mortality estimated at about 1 million.

Despite the fact that contemporary weapons are vastly more precise, Iraq war casualties, which are also hard to quantify, have reached several hundred thousand. In mid-2006, two household surveys — the most scientific means of calculating — found 400,000 to 650,000 deaths, and there has been a lot of killing since then. (The oft-cited Iraq Body Count Web site mainly uses news accounts, which miss much of the violence.) […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-do-we-ignore-the-civilians-killed-in-american-wars/2011/12/05/gIQALCO4eP_story.html?hpid=z3

IRAQ: IMAGES OF WAR AND ITS TOLL @ http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/iraq-images-of-a-war-and-its-toll/2011/12/13/gIQA2di5sO_gallery.html#photo=1

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* POLICE CLUB YOUNG WOMAN RIDING BIKE AT OAKLAND PROTEST (VIDEO)

By Eric W. Dolan, Raw Story

Police officers knocked down and clubbed a young woman during an anti-police march in Oakland late Saturday night, and arrested six people.

Video of the incident uploaded to YouTube showed the young woman riding her bicycle towards a small group of officers. As she approached, officers shoved her to the ground and at least one clubs her with his baton.

Protesters quickly rushed to her aid, and dragged her away from police.

An “Occupy Oakland” press release said the “Fuck the Police” march was held to protest the “brutal campaign of repression” conducted by Oakland police to prevent protesters from re-establishing their camp in Frank Ogawa Plaza. It describes the City of Oakland as a “war zone.”

About 100 people marched from Frank Ogawa Plaza to the Oakland Police headquarters at 7th and Broadway, where more than 50 officers stood guard.

Police clashed with the protesters after some people threw bottles at the officers. Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said the protesters also broke patrol vehicle windows and vandalized a media van.

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube, below:

READ and VIDEO @ http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/01/08/police-club-young-woman-riding-bike-at-oakland-protest/

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* THE COST OF TRICKLE-DOWN GOVERNMENT JOB CREATION: $1.5 MILLION PER WORKER

By Ravi Batra, Truthout

Suppose I were to tell you that for the past two years the federal government has been spending nearly $1.5 million to create one job, what would your reaction be? Would it be one of disbelief and bewilderment? But suppose I were to prove my statement by citing official data, then how would you react? Well, you make up your own mind, but my response is that the administration’s advisers should rethink their approach. Does it make sense to spend so much money to generate one job when the average wage is less than $50,000 per year? In fact, this policy is so foolish that it might even be better just to hand over the average salary to the unemployed so they stay calm, make both ends meet and create consumer demand.

Let me prove my point. The administration’s tack is that we should keep spending money at the current rate to preserve jobs, even though the annual federal budget deficit has been around $1.4 trillion over the past two years. In fact, the government even plans to increase its shortfall by raising the size of the payroll tax cut. It seems apparent that the main purpose of excessive federal spending is to preserve or generate jobs. This is a point emphasized by every American president since 1976, and especially since 1981 when the federal deficit began to soar. This is also how most experts defend the deficit nowadays.

In 2010, according to the Economic Report of the President, as many as 800,000 jobs were created, and the government’s excess spending was $1.4 trillion, which when divided by 800,000 yields 1.7 million. In other words, our government spent $1.7 million to generate a single job. The economy has improved this year, providing work to 1.1 million people for the same expense. So, dividing 1.4 trillion by the new figure yields $1.3 million, which is now the cost of creating one job. Thus, the average federal deficit or cost per job over the past two years has been $1.5 million.

[…]

READ @ http://www.truth-out.org/cost-government-job-creation-15-million-worker/1325800265

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* THERE ARE 5,000 JANITORS IN THE U.S. WITH PhDs

Source: Gizmodo

There are 18,000 parking lot attendants in the U.S. with college degrees. There are 5,000 janitors in the U.S. with PhDs. In all, some 17 million college-educated Americans have jobs that don’t require their level of education. Why?

The data comes from a the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and can be seen here in handy, depressing chart form:

Full size

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At the Chronicle, where the above chart was posted, Richard Vedder argues that maybe we place too much importance on higher education, citing a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research:

This week an extraordinarily interesting new study was posted on the Web site of America’s most prestigious economic-research organization, the National Bureau of Economic Research. Three highly regarded economists (one of whom has won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science) have produced “Estimating Marginal Returns in Education,” Working Paper 16474 of the NBER. After very sophisticated and elaborate analysis, the authors conclude “In general, marginal and average returns to college are not the same.” (p. 28)

In other words, even if on average, an investment in higher education yields a good, say 10 percent, rate of return, it does not follow that adding to existing investments will yield that return, partly for reasons outlined above. […]

READ @ http://gizmodo.com/5671062/there-are-5000-janitors-in-the-us-with-phds

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* WHY DOESN’T THE PLUTOCRAT OWNED AMERICAN MEDIA REPORT ON THE EUROPEAN SOCIAL SAFETY NET?

By Democrats Ramshield, Daily Kos

We need your help in getting the word out that America needs an EU style social safety net, will you please help?

As an American expat living in the European Union I am continually astonished to find that the folks back home seem to be unaware of the extensive social safety net that is available to workers, even low wage workers in the European Union from cradle to grave as a human right. So as a New Year’s resolution I have written this diary which asks you to please help us spread the word that there is a better way.

Why don’t you know the facts of the EU social safety net? Why won’t the plutocrat owned American media cover this?

In the European Union everyone to include low wage workers who aren’t even unionized are able to receive 4 weeks paid vacation a year. They are able to receive as a human right complete medical and dental to include a prescription plan with little or no co-pays or deductibles. They are never exposed to exclusion of medical services based on pre-existing conditions, which seems to be a uniquely American phenomenon. Everyone to include low wage workers gets paid sick leave. Everyone gets job protected paid maternity leave by right of law. Now why don’t these things exist in America? Is it by accident or by design and if it is by design, who designed it? Who profits from it? To whose benefit and whose detriment. Moreover why isn’t this on every news channel. Why is it you have to read about this on a Kos diary. Why isn’t this news headlines all across the country everyday? Who owns those media outlets? Who influences editorial policy. Is the American media complicit in aiding and abetting Wall Street in screwing the American worker and screwing the American taxpayer. Why aren’t we mad as hell about this everyday! When is it enough??

Here are some simple facts, simply put did you know that students in Continental Europe basically don’t have student loan debt? Why don’t you know that?

Isn’t it enough that they’re drowning your kids in student loan debt. You want to know something even crazier which I’m sure you don’t know, did you know the lifetime limit of the Federal Stafford Student Loan hasn’t been increased in over 20 years! Now why the hell is that? Who are they trying to keep out of higher education, could it be that if too many working class stiffs get too educated, that they will try to dismantle this system which is rotten to the core from the inside, because that’s it isn’t it. They want to limit educational opportunity to just their people on the one hand, on the other hand they want to drown you and your kids in student loan debt. Did you know this doesn’t happen in any country in Continental Europe, I’m sure you don’t know that. I want to know why you don’t know that? Who has kept that information from you? And why? Did you know and this is serious, that education in Continental Europe is almost free. Let me just say that again, so that nobody thinks this is a typo, education in Continental Europe is almost free of charge that is to say, that American students probably spend as much or more on books, just books for the school year, than students in Continental Europe spend in an entire year’s tuition. You may ask how is that possible? Let me ask you how is it possible that you didn’t know that? Could it be so they can continue to drown you and your kids in student loan debt, because this has become a source of neo-indentured servitude, therein creating a really compliant workforce, because now you really need that job. You have got to pay off a lot of student debt, imagine that. Well you don’t have to imagine that, you live it everyday, and you swallow it and you take it and you take it until you can’t take it anymore, and then it’s enough! Oh by the way those same students in Europe get virtually free health insurance and if they have a family they are covered as well. Again tiny or no co-pays or deductibles, no pre-existing conditions to exclude one from health care coverage.

Did you know that subsidies are normal throughout the European Union in support of family values? Why doesn’t the American media report on this measurably?

Did you know throughout Europe subsidizied childcare and subsidized eldercare is the norm. They have something else called child allowance which is also the norm. That is to say everybody who has a child gets help from the government to raise that child. But the rich plutocrat owned for profit American news media’s propaganda preaching self-reliance is so pervasive I have to explain to you that everybody gets this in Europe even billionaires, it is not a poverty program it is a human right. I have also got to explain something to you, this is in addition to child tax credits. When you explain child allowance to Americans they always get massively confused and say we have child tax credits here too. Child allowance has nothing to do with child tax credits. It is something in support of real family values that you don’t know anything about because the plutocrat owned American media won’t report on it, but this Kos diary has. We are asking and pleading with you to help us get the word out which is while we can all be proud Americans, we don’t have to be proud of the broken American social safety net do we. There we should, can and must do better!

Did you know that single people can get cash assistance so they can pay their rent in the European Union? Why don’t you know that? Is this why America has 2.3 million people in jail?

In the European Union single people can get cash assistance in paying rent, did you know that? Even if they are not disabled. The reason I mention that is because single adults who are not disabled in America receive no cash from the government to pay rent, and therefore can wind up on the streets homeless. What that means is that there are millions of desperate people in America that wouldn’t be desperate if America had a European social safety net. Why is that important? Because desperate people may take desperate measures and commit crimes. Now this is not to excuse criminal activity this merely recognizes that it is cheaper to fund a social safety net, than an expensive prison system. But then again the prison system there are too many people in America who make money off the prison system and have good paying jobs as a result of the prison system. They would lose that cushion if there was a strong social safety net. So it is there are 2.3 million people in America in prison and the American taxpayers pay for them to be in prison in a clear case where it is cheaper to send someone to go to Harvard University than for them to be in prison for a year. this is to say nothing of the fact that the taxpayers wind up subsidizing the families of these people who we put in prison. Did you know America has more people in prison per capita than anywhere in the European Union, why is that? Could it be that in the EU they have a social safety net. Did you know there are more people in jail in America than there are people on active duty in the US military? What a staggering loss of human potential this represents. It is an international badge of shame! […]

READ @ http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/01/07/1052395/-Why-doesnt-the-plutocrat-owned-American-media-report-on-the-European-social-safety-net?via=siderec

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* THE HOLLOW DEMOCRACY

By Robert C. Koehler, The Smirking Chimp

Maybe they’re trying to remind us that democracy isn’t merely a matter of casting that little vote once every Leap Year — but, far, far more significantly, it’s about getting that right to vote in the first place, keeping that right, and having it matter.

Every one of these rights is in jeopardy as 2012 opens and another presidential election season gets serious. But this is nothing new.

After all, democracy is nothing if not a perpetual nuisance to the powerful. It asserts that public policy is everyone’s business, and that the concerns of even the most financially and socially marginal citizens are equal to those of the most elite. Indeed, no one is marginal in a democracy — a concept we embrace as a nation but don’t believe. And thus citizens are marginalized all the time.

“Even in 2008, which saw the highest voter turnout in four decades,” Ari Berman wrote last September in Rolling Stone, “fewer than two-thirds of eligible voters went to the polls. And according to a study by MIT, 9 million voters were denied an opportunity to cast ballots that year because of problems with their voter registration . . . long lines at the polls . . . uncertainty about the location of their polling place . . . or lack of proper ID.”

Berman pinpoints two serious problems in this passage. The lesser of the two, though still immensely troubling, is the cheat factor: the placing of impediments in the way of vulnerable voters or the outright disenfranchisement of certain constituencies, by legal, quasi-legal or outright illegal means. The cheat factor can also refer to the actual manipulation of election results, something eerily easy to do on electronic voting machines — with evidence of widespread irregularities permanently tarnishing George Bush’s re-election in 2004, for instance. […]

READ @ http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/robert-c-koehler/40593/the-hollow-democracy

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* FROM DEMOCRACY TO PLUTOCRACY

Democracy is Phasing Out, We are Becoming a Nation Run by the Rich for the Rich Causing the Whole Middle Class to Evaporate!

By Benjamin Clement, Economy in Crisis

In Citizens United vs.FCC, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are equivalent to people, and thus have the same first amendment rights. Any attempt to abridge those rights (for example, the McCain-Feingold bill, which limited campaign donations) is a violation of the Constitution. This disastrous decision has paved the way for companies that care more about overseas profits than America to destroy the country.

Thanks to the Citizens United ruling, it is painfully obvious that our elected officials have sold out to multinational companies at the expense of the American people. This has led to a steady degradation of our democracy and economy that has destroyed the middle class in this nation.

For example, despite the fact that studies by the U.S. International Trade Commission and Economic Policy Institute have shown that KORUS will not be beneficial for the economy, numerous elected officials are in favor of more job-killing “free” trade deals. Why? Because their campaign donations are dependent upon keeping their corporate benefactors happy.

The political process has been usurped from the American people by the ultra-rich, who are working to ensure they stay extraordinarily wealthy, at the expense of everyone else. According to the CIA World Factbook, only the wages of the top 20 percent of earners in America have risen since 1980. “Free” trade is the mechanism of choice to do so.

These are the conditions we are forced to live with now. In other countries, like Egypt, the evaporation of the middle class has caused revolutions. America is now facing a similar crisis with respect to income disparity and youth unemployment. We need to do something to bring back democracy and our economy before our middle class is gone!

READ @ http://economyincrisis.org/content/democracy-plutocracy

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* AMERICA’S MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY IS A THREAT TO OUR SANITY

By Bruce E. Levine, Truthout

[…] Long before the Rebecca Riley tragedy hit the headlines, I was embarrassed by the mental health profession for seven major reasons:

1. Corruption by Big Pharma

How did it become within responsible professional standards for a two-year-old to get an ADHD diagnosis, for a three-year-old to get a bipolar diagnosis, and for toddlers to be prescribed multiple heavily sedating drugs? The short answer is drug company corruption of the mental health profession.

Congressional hearings in 2008 revealed that psychiatry’s “thought leaders” and major institutions are on the take from drug companies.

On June 8, 2008, the New York Times reported about psychiatrist Joseph Biederman: “A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007.”

Due in large part to Biederman’s influence, the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003. Pediatrician and author Lawrence Diller notes about Biederman, “He single-handedly put pediatric bipolar disorder on the map.” In addition to his popularization of bipolar disorder for children, Biederman is one of the most significant forces behind the expanding numbers diagnosed with ADHD; and congressional investigators also discovered that Biederman conducted studies of Eli Lilly’s ADHD drug Strattera that were funded by National Institute of Health at the same time he was receiving money from Lilly.

Not only does the drug industry have influential psychiatrists such as Biederman in their pocket, virtually every major mental health institution is financially interconnected with Big Pharma. Congressional hearings also exposed the American Psychiatric Association psychiatry’s premier professional organization, as being on the take from drug companies. In 2006, the drug industry accounted for about 30 percent of the APA’s $62.5 million in financing. Most relevant here, the APA is the publisher of the psychiatric diagnostic bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and thus the APA is the institution responsible for creating mental illnesses and disorders.

2. Invalid Illnesses and Disorders

Psychiatry’s first DSM (1952) and its DSM-II (1968) listed homosexuality as a mental illness. Only because of a fierce political fight waged in the 1970s by gay activists did the APA abolish homosexuality as an illness and eliminate it from its DSM-III (1980). Gay activists’ fight was not only a victory for themselves but a service for everyone else, as it made public the important scientific problem of psychiatric disorder invalidity. Specifically, are psychiatric disorders scientifically valid illnesses, or are they simply behaviors that create discomfort for some authorities at a given moment in time?

While psychiatry lost homosexuality as a mental illness in the 1980 DSM-III, the APA found other groups it could pathologize, groups that could not mobilize and resist, most notably children, who are now routinely given psychiatric diagnoses for behaviors that many of us view as normal for their ages.

Psychiatry sees it as within responsible professional standards to diagnose three-year-olds such as Rebecca Riley with bipolar disorder. The symptoms of bipolar disorder include irritable and rapidly changing moods, severe temper tantrums, defiance of authority, agitation and distractibility, sleeping too little or too much, poor judgment, impulsivity and grandiose beliefs.

Psychiatry also sees it as within responsible professional standards for Rebecca Riley to have been diagnosed at 28 months old with ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD are inattention (easily distracted and bored, difficulty organizing and completing tasks, losing things, not seeming to listen, not following instructions); hyperactivity (fidgeting, talking nonstop, having trouble sitting still, difficulty with quiet tasks), and impulsivity (impatience, blurting out inappropriate comments, interrupting conversations).

Today, children and teens are also diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), the symptoms of which include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” and “often argues with adults.”

The standard for a medical disorder should not be whether or not an individual causes friction.

3. Scientifically Unreliable Diagnoses

Even if you believe that bipolar disorder for three-year-olds, ADHD for two-year-olds, ODD for teenagers, and all the other DSM diagnoses are valid disorders, there is still the scientific issue of diagnostic unreliability—the lack of diagnostic agreement among professionals examining the same person.

A generation ago, psychiatrists admitted that their diagnoses were unreliable and agreed that this was a major scientific problem. So in 1980, in an attempt to eliminate this embarrassment, they created the DSM-III with concrete behavioral checklists and formal decision-making rules, but they failed to correct the problem. Psychiatric diagnoses remain unreliable, but now psychiatry no longer talks about the unreliability problem.

If a measurement is a reliable one, then clinicians trained with it should be in high agreement on the diagnosis. A major 1992 study, conducted at six sites with 600 prospective patients, was done to examine the reliability of psychiatric diagnoses. Experienced mental health professionals were given extensive training in how to make accurate DSM diagnoses. Because of the extensive training, one would expect that diagnostic agreement would be much higher than in typical clinical settings. Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk summarize the study in Making Us Crazy (1997):

What this study demonstrated was that even when experienced clinicians with special training and supervision are asked to use DSM and make a diagnosis, they frequently disagree, even though the standards for defining agreement are very generous. . . . [For example,] if one of the two therapists made a diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder and the other therapist selected Avoidant Personality Disorder, the therapists were judged to be in complete agreement of the diagnosis because they both found a personality disorder—even though they disagreed completely on which one! So even with this liberal definition of agreement, reliability using DSM is not very good.

Kutchins and Kirk conclude: “Mental health clinicians independently interviewing the same person in the community are as likely to agree as disagree that the person has a mental disorder and are as likely to agree as disagree on which of the over 300 DSM disorders is present.”

4. Biochemical Imbalance Mumbo Jumbo

Just as nothing was more important in selling the Iraq war in 2003 than the Bush administration’s certainty that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, nothing has been more important in selling psychiatric drugs than psychiatry’s certainty of biochemical brain imbalances as the cause for mental illnesses.

Prior to psychiatry’s proclamation that depression was caused by too little of the neurotransmitter serotonin, few Americans were taking antidepressants. But by declaring that depression was caused by a serotonin imbalance analogous to diabetes and an insulin imbalance, depressed Americans became far more receptive to serotonin-enhancing drugs such as the “selective-serotonin-reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs) Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft.

SSRIs can make some depressed people feel better; however, alcohol makes some shy people less shy, but that’s not enough evidence to say that shyness is caused by an alcohol imbalance. The truth is—and scientists have known this for quite some time—that serotonin levels are not associated with depression.

Researchers have used a variety of methods to test the serotonin imbalance theory of depression, including comparing serotonin metabolites in depressed and nondepressed people, and depleting serotonin levels through a variety of means and then observing whether this resulted in depression. Elliot Valenstein, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, reviewed the research in his book Blaming the Brain (1998) and reported that it is just as likely for people with normal serotonin levels to feel depressed as it is for people with abnormal serotonin levels, and that it is just as likely for people with abnormally high serotonin levels to feel depressed as it is for people with abnormally low serotonin levels. Valenstein concluded, “Furthermore, there is no convincing evidence that depressed people have a serotonin or norepinephrine deficiency.”

In 2002, the New York Times reported: “Researchers knew that antidepressants seemed to raise the brain’s levels of messenger chemicals called neurotransmitters, so they theorized that depression must result from a deficiency of these chemicals. Yet a multitude of studies failed to prove this precept.”

Yet even now, many psychiatrists and other mental health professionals continue to promulgate the serotonin imbalance theory of depression, and polls show that the majority of Americans continue to believe it.

5. Pseudoscientific Drug Effectiveness Research

There are multiple tricks that psychiatric drug manufacturers and their researcher psychiatrists and psychologists use to make their drugs look more effective than they really are. One of the most common depression measurements used by researchers paid by drug companies is the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. In the HRSD, researchers rate subjects, and the higher the point total, the more one is deemed to be suffering from depression. On the HRSD, there are three separate items about insomnia (early, middle and late) and one can receive up to six points for difficulty either falling or remaining asleep; however, there is only one suicide item, in which one is awarded only two points for wishing to be dead. The HRSD is heavily loaded with items that are most affected by drugs, and it is therefore especially damning for antidepressants that even with such measurement dice-loading, these drugs routinely fail to outperform placebos—even dice-loaded placebos.

Proper drug research requires that neither subject nor experimenter knows who is getting the drug and who is getting the placebo (a true double-blind control). Drug company antidepressant researchers use inactive placebos such as sugar pills (which don’t create side effects). Independent research on inactive placebos show that many subjects in antidepressant and other studies can guess if they are getting the actual drug or not, which changes their expectations and subverts the double-blind control. In order to make it more difficult to guess correctly, an active placebo (which creates side effects) should be used. In 2000, a Psychiatric Times article concluded: “In fact, when antidepressants are compared with active placebos, there appear to be no differences in clinical effectiveness.”

Dice-loading depression measurements and placebos are just two of many techniques drug company researchers use to make antidepressants look more effective than they really are. But even with such dice-loading, antidepressants have not fared well, at least when one examines all the studies.

Drug companies try to ensure that those studies showing antidepressants to be no more effective than placebos are not published; however, all studies must be submitted to the FDA. So independent researcher Irving Kirsch and his research team at the University of Connecticut used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to all data, and analyzed 47 studies that had been sponsored by drug companies on Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, and Serzone. Kirsch discovered that in the majority of the trials, the antidepressant failed to outperform a sugar pill placebo (and in the trials where the antidepressant did outperform the placebo, the advantage was slight).

6. Psychotropic Drug Hypocrisy

Chemists consider psychiatric prescription drugs and illegal mood-altering drugs all to be psychotropic or psychoactive drugs. Cocaine and ADHD drugs such as Adderall and other amphetamines affect the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine; and antidepressants used in combination also affect the same neurotransmitters. Not only are prescription psychotropics and illegal psychotropics chemically similar, they are used by people for similar reasons, including taking the edge off their discomfort so they can function. The hypocrisy surrounding illegal and prescription psychotropic drugs is harmful to society in at least two ways.

At one level, because people are being misinformed about the realities of prescription psychotropic drugs, they are more likely to gulp them down and to give them to their children. This has helped create a tragic phenomenon detailed by investigative reporter Robert Whitaker in his book Anatomy of an Epidemic (2010). Psychiatric drug use turning mild and episodic conditions into severe and chronic ones has helped create a huge increase of Americans with severe mental illness, especially among children.

At a second level, this psychiatric-illegal psychotropic drug hypocrisy allows for unfair criminalizing and incarceration of people using illegal psychotropics.

7. Diversion from Societal, Cultural and Political Sources of Misery

When we hear the words disorder, disease or illness, we think of an individual in need of treatment, not of a troubled society in need of transformation. Mental illness expansionism diverts us from examining a dehumanizing society.

In addition to pathologizing normal behavior, the mental health profession also diverts us from examining a society that creates the ingredients—helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, and isolation—that cause emotional difficulties. We are diverted from the reality that many emotional problems are natural human reactions to loss in our society of autonomy and community. Thus, the mental health profession not only has financial value for drug companies but it has political value for those at the top of societal hierarchies who want to retain the status quo.

Today, a handful of dissident mental health professionals do challenge and resist their profession’s dehumanizing standard practicies. I know several of these dissidents, and they are the only psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health professionals that I have any respect for.

READ @ http://www.truth-out.org/7-reasons-americas-mental-health-industry-threat-our-sanity/1326036648

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* MV RENA CARGO SHIP BREAKS UP OFF NE ZEALAND, THREATENING NEW OIL SPILL (VIDEO)

The Rena cargo ship that ran aground off the coast of New Zealand in October has broken up in strong waves, leading to fears of a fresh oil spill.

Source: Global Post

The MV Rena cargo ship that ran aground off the coast of New Zealand in October has broken up in heavy seas, sparking fears of a new oil spill.

According to the New Zealand Herald, the Rena is lying in two pieces near Astrolabe Reef, off the North Island, where it crashed on Oct. 5. The Greek-owned vessel split apart after being pounded by waves of up to 6 meters (20 feet) on Saturday night, a spokesman for Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), Ross Henderson, told the BBC.

More from GlobalPost: Oil from stricken ship reaches NZ beaches (PHOTOS)

Oil has been seen leaking from the wreck, the Associated Press reported. According to Alex van Wijngaarden, on-scene commander for the national response team:

“While reports at this stage indicate there has not been a significant release of oil, with the Rena in its current fragile state, a further release is likely.”

Authorities did not know how much oil had been leaked, van Wijngaarden said, but were “ready to respond” to whatever comes ashore.

About 385 tonnes of oil are believed to be still aboard the Rena. According to Environment Minister Nick Smith, any new spill now will be significantly less dangerous than the original leak:

“The risk to the environment is a fragment of what it was, with at the most tens of tonnes of oil rather than hundreds of tonnes that potentially could be spilled.

Most of the oil is reported to be in tanks in the Rena’s stern section, which MNZ warns is listing heavily and looks likely to capsize. Some of the oil could end up dispersing in the ocean rather than washing up on beaches, the AP said.

Tonnes of milk powder that were among the Rena’s cargo have already been spilled, surrounding the Rena with cloudy waters. Timber and other debris have also been spotted, the Herald reported.

More from GlobalPost: New Zealand braces for further oil spills

Between 200 and 300 cargo containers had been washed overboard by this morning. Most are expected to sink. The main priority is to stop debris coming to shore, clean-up specialists said.

Modelling suggests that the Bay of Plenty coastline, particularly south-east of Mount Maunganui, is mostly likely to be affected. Maritime New Zealand has advised residents to stay out of the water and report any debris to authorities.

Hundreds of tonnes of oil and containers were spilt when the Rena first ran aground, killing more than 1,000 sea birds, covering hundreds of penguins in oil and necessitating months of clean-up. The incident has been described as New Zealand’s worst-ever maritime disaster.

The ship’s captain and other officers face criminal charges relating to the wreck, the BBC reported. […]

READ and VIDEO @ http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120108/rena-cargo-ship-new-zealand-new-oil-spill

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* RECORD HEAT FLOODS AMERICA WITH TEMPERATURES 40 DEGREES ABOVE NORMAL

By Brad Johnson, ThinkProgress

Fueled by billions of tons of greenhouse pollution, a surge of record warmth has flooded the United States, shattering records from southern California to North Dakota. “Temperatures have reached up to 40 degrees above early January averages in North Dakota,” the Weather Channel reports. Cities are seeing late-April temperatures at the start of January — Minot, ND hit 61 degrees, Aberdeen, SD hit 63 degrees, and Williston, ND hit 58 degrees, all-time record highs for the month of January.

Daily record highs have been set in Des Moines, Iowa (65 degrees), Rapid City, S.D. (73 degrees), International Falls, Minn. (46 degrees), St. Louis, Mo. (66 degrees) and Fargo, N.D. (55 degrees), to name a few locations. Although the record warmth subsides on Friday for the Plains, the mild air mass will bully its way eastward. We’re talking temperatures in cities such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cincinnati enjoying highs on the order of 10-to-20 degrees above average. High temperatures around 5-to-15 degrees above average will make it all the way to the East Coast including New York City, Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, N.C.

“There has never been a 60 degree temperature recorded during the first week of January in Minnesota’s modern climate record.” Southwestern Minnesota reached the lower 60s.

In Southern California, decades-old records were snapped with 80- and even 90-degree weather, sending surfers to the beaches. Long Beach hit 88 degrees, UCLA hit 89 degrees, San Diego hit 83 degrees, and San Gabriel reached 91.

Although this heat is welcome to schoolchildren, this breakdown of normal seasons threatens serious economic disruption. The total lack of snowcover in the Dakotas means that wildland fires are much more likely. The seasonally cold air following this surge of heat will severely damage the winter crops that are usually protected by at least 3 inches of snow at this time of year. […]

READ @ http://thinkprogress.org/green/2012/01/06/399386/record-heat-floods-america-with-temperatures-40-degrees-above-normal/

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