Archive for July, 2008

All Too Human

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

By Bob Herbert

Thursday was the 21st anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

It was also the same day that two Bush administration lawyers appeared before a House subcommittee to answer questions about their roles in providing the legal framework for harsh interrogation techniques that inevitably rose to the level of torture and shamed the U.S. before the rest of the world.

The lawyers, both former Justice Department officials, were David Addington, who is now Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and John Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. There is no danger of either being enshrined as heroes in the history books of the future.

For most Americans, torture is something remote, abstract, reprehensible, but in the eyes of some, perhaps necessary — when the bomb is ticking, for example, or when interrogators are trying to get information from terrorists willing to kill Americans in huge numbers.

Reality offers something much different. We saw the hideous photos from Abu Ghraib. And now the Nobel Prize-winning organization Physicians for Human Rights has released a report, called “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” that puts an appropriately horrifying face on a practice that is so fundamentally evil that it cannot co-exist with the idea of a just and humane society.

The report profiles 11 detainees who were tortured while in U.S. custody and then released — their lives ruined — without ever having been charged with a crime or told why they were detained. All of the prisoners were men, and all were badly beaten. One was sodomized with a broomstick, the report said, and forced by his interrogators to howl like a dog while a soldier urinated on him.

He fainted, the report said, “after a soldier stepped on his genitals.”


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

Polluter appeasement — should we question the patriotism of deniers?

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

– I have mixed feelings about some of this. I know that people of great sincerity hold beliefs on all sides of these questions. It is easy, when you are strongly on one side, to demonize folks on the other side as being intentionally evil – but, in many cases, it simply isn’t true.

– I’ll qualify this in two ways, however. First, this argument doesn’t let off the folks who run the big Oil and Coal companies that intentionally spread disinformation to confuse the public about global climate change. Once folks have reached that level of power, there is no excuse for misusing their power. With power goes responsibility.

– My other qualification is that while I agree that many good hearted and sincere folks disbelieve in global climate change, this does not give them a free ticket for the rest of their lives. All of us in democratic societies have an obligation to maintain an open mind and to challenge our own belief systems by taking a good look at what the other side is saying periodically and seriously considering it.

– If folks do not open themselves up intentionally to absorb and assimilate new information periodically, then they are badly misusing their democratic rights by accepting all the benefits of democracy and shunning the work of being an informed and thoughtful citizen.

– We have the right to our opinions, but we pull the system down if we do not work to make sure that our opinions are informed and fair opinions.

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Independence Day may be the best day to ask ourselves — what is the greatest, preventable threat to Americans’ life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (LLPH). The answer is simple — human-caused global warming. Certainly there are other major threats to LLPH, the gravest of which is probably terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapon, in this country.

Between Homeland Security and the Pentagon, we spend billions of dollars every month to try to prevent terrorism. Indeed, President Bush and John McCain say Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. If so, the government spends more than $20 billion a month just to fight terrorism — of which more than half is new money we were’nt spending before 9/11 (and we spend more than $50 billion a month total on military and homeland security). And those who oppose such spending are routinely labeled unpatriotic or even appeasers.

But unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions are by far the greatest preventable threat to Americans’ LLPH (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction and Part 2: The Solution“). Yet the government spends virtually nothing to fight global warming — certainly no significant amount of new money has been allocated for this major threat (the Clinton Administration tried, but the Gingrich Congress reversed that effort, reducing or zeroing out every program aimed at climate mitigation or even adaptation).


Long Trip: Magic Mushrooms’ Transcendent Effect Lingers

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

People who took magic mushrooms were still feeling the love more than a year later, and one might say they were on cloud nine about it, scientists report in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

“Most of the volunteers looked back on their experience up to 14 months later and rated it as the most, or one of the five most, personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives,” comparing it with the birth of a child or the death of a parent, says neuroscientist Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who led the research. “It’s one thing to have a dramatic experience you say is impressive. It’s another thing to say you consider it as meaningful 14 months later. There’s something about the saliency of these experiences that’s stunning.”


New Zealanders fastest with uptake of Fairtrade products

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

New Zealand has reported the fastest growth in sales of Fairtrade products in the world – a 45-fold increase in just four years.

Barry Coates, executive director Oxfam NZ, said there had been a huge increase in Fairtrade sales here, from $200,000 a year in 2004 to annual sales of about $9.13 million.

He said it was the fastest growth rate in the Fairtrade market of any country. That was partly explained by the mainstreaming of products such as coffee, tea and chocolate into supermarkets and cafes, as well as speciality stores. “They used to only be available in Trade Aid shops … now they are even served up in some government departments.”