Thursday, December 22, 2005
The Independent, UK, December 21, 2005: http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article334427.ece
Why we should all share in these celebrations
Much of the opposition to equal rights for gays was downright spiteful
Across the country this week, hundreds of couples will be celebrating a major milestone in their lives. They will be followed by thousands more in the coming months as same sex couples take the opportunity to gain legal recognition and protection for their relationship.
The Civil Partnership Act may not be the biggest change that this Government has brought in. But, by correcting an obvious injustice, removing fear and providing security, it will change the lives of tens of thousands of people for the better. It is also, importantly, another step towards the fairer, more tolerant country which this Labour Government pledged to build.
This landmark measure ends the situation where same-sex relationships were invisible in the eyes of the law, denied any recognition of their commitment. It gives gay and lesbian couples who register their relationship the same safeguards over inheritance, insurance and employment and pension benefits as married couples. No longer will same sex couples who have decided to share their lives fear they will be denied a say over the partner's medical treatment or find themselves denied a home if their partner dies.
As you would expect from this New Labour Government, new rights and privileges are also matched by new responsibilities. Financial support will be expected to be provided for the couple's children, for example, in the event of a breakdown in the relationship.
Such a wide-ranging reform was long overdue. By 1997, society's attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual people had changed dramatically. There is, as we have seen already this week, still some opposition to these measures. But I don't believe these views reflect the opinions of the overwhelming majority of people in our country.
Past hostility and suspicions have been replaced with tolerance and understanding. Our laws and political culture, however, had simply not kept pace with these changes. So when we came to power, Britain still had an unequal age of consent and it was lawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion and age.
It was something I was determined to help tackle. I was struck when I listened in the Commons to debates on the age of consent and other issues like this just how much of the opposition was based on prejudice which was very old-fashioned and, at times, downright spiteful. It seemed to me that a Labour Government committed to equality must take action.
In the last eight years, we have seen steady and, at times, remarkable progress. The age of consent for gay men has been equalised. Section 28, a law of which a great many Tory MPs were rightly ashamed but which they still put in place, has been repealed. Anti-gay discrimination in the workplace has been outlawed as it will soon be, we intend, in the provision of goods and services. From 1 January, gay and lesbian couples will be able to adopt children jointly for the first time.
I am proud it was this Labour Government that has brought in these modernising and fair measures - and I can't imagine that any government will reverse them. I wouldn't pretend for a moment that MPs from other parties did not campaign for these changes. But I am convinced that we would not have come so far or so fast without the election of a Labour government determined to turn its words on an equal, opportunity society into action.
For the Civil Partnership Act helps highlight again this Government's determination to create a more modern, open, fairer and democratic country.
It's a commitment which can be seen in a wide array of measures, not all of which Independent readers may welcome as much as this Act. So along with the Freedom of Information Act, improved rights for parents at work, devolution for Scotland and Wales, better public services, and the creation of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, we have also seen new powers - with more to come - to tackle the antisocial behaviour that still blights too many communities. All are part of our central mission to provide security and opportunity for all.
They are having an impact. Britain is, in many different ways, a more modern, fairer and better place to live than it was. One of the greatest delights about London's winning bid for the 2012 Olympics was that the decision by the IOC was based, in no small part, on their recognition of the dynamism, strength, tolerance and diversity of our society.
There is, of course, no room for complacency. There is still too much injustice, discrimination and unfairness. But in ceremonies up and down the country this week, we can also see that, as a society and country, we continue to move in the right direction. That's a good enough reason for us all to celebrate.
Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall. - Oliver Goldsmith
Sunday, December 11, 2005
I've just read something so disturbing that I felt it had to be blogged here and on MySpace. Occasional emphasis added by me.
'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate
by Naomi Klein
It was the "Mission Accomplished" of George W. Bush's second term, and an announcement of that magnitude called for a suitably dramatic location. But what was the right backdrop for the infamous "We do not torture" declaration? With characteristic audacity, the Bush team settled on downtown Panama City.Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador).
It was certainly bold. An hour and a half's drive from where Bush stood, the US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been "We do torture." It is here in Panama and, later, at the school's new location in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found. According to declassified training manuals, SOA students--military and police officers from across the hemisphere--were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation" techniques that have since migrated to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food "manipulation," humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions--and worse. In 1996 President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned "execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment."
Some of the Panama school's graduates returned to their countries to commit the continent's greatest war crimes of the past half-century: the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, the systematic theft of babies from Argentina's "disappeared" prisoners, the massacre of 900 civilians in El Mozote in El Salvador and military coups too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that choosing Panama to declare "We do not torture" is a little like dropping by a slaughterhouse to pronounce the United States a nation of vegetarians.
And yet when covering the Bush announcement, not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the sordid history of its location. How could they? To do so would require something totally absent from the current debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials long predates the Bush Administration and has in fact been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.
It's a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture," based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
It's not only apologists for torture who ignore this history when they blame abuses on "a few bad apples"--so too do many of torture's most prominent opponents. Apparently forgetting everything they once knew about US cold war misadventures, a startling number have begun to subscribe to an antihistorical narrative in which the idea of torturing prisoners first occurred to US officials on September 11, 2001, at which point the interrogation methods used in Guantánamo apparently emerged, fully formed, from the sadistic recesses of Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's brains. Up until that moment, we are told, America fought its enemies while keeping its humanity intact.
The principal propagator of this narrative (what Garry Wills termed "original sinlessness") is Senator John McCain. Writing recently in Newsweek on the need for a ban on torture, McCain says that when he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he held fast to the knowledge "that we were different from our enemies...that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them." It is a stunning historical distortion. By the time McCain was taken captive, the CIA had already launched the Phoenix program and, as McCoy writes, "its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed more than twenty thousand suspects and tortured thousands more," a claim he backs up with pages of quotes from press reports as well as Congressional and Senate probes.
Does it somehow lessen the horrors of today to admit that this is not the first time the US government has used torture to wipe out its political opponents--that it has operated secret prisons before, that it has actively supported regimes that tried to erase the left by dropping students out of airplanes? That, at home, photographs of lynchings were traded and sold as trophies and warnings? Many seem to think so. On November 8 Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott made the astonishing claim to the House of Representatives that "America has never had a
question about its moral integrity, until now." Molly Ivins, expressing her shock that the United States is running a prison gulag, wrote that "it's just this one administration...and even at that, it seems to be mostly Vice President Dick Cheney." And in the November issue of Harper's, William Pfaff argues that what truly sets the Bush Administration apart from its predecessors is "its installation of torture as integral to American military and clandestine operations." Pfaff acknowledges that long before Abu Ghraib, there were those who claimed that the School of the Americas was a "torture school," but he says that he was "inclined to doubt that it was really so." Perhaps it's time for Pfaff to have a look at the SOA textbooks coaching illegal torture techniques, all readily available in both Spanish and English, as well as the hair-raising list of SOA grads.
Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring "Never again!" Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying "Never Before"? I suspect it has to do with a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this Administration's crimes. And the Bush Administration's open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented--but let's be clear about what is unprecedented about it: not the torture but the openness. Past administrations tactfully kept their "black ops" secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were practiced in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush Administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.
Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush Administration's real innovation has been its in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette, more than the actual crimes, that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: By daring to torture unapologetically and out in the open, Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability.
For those nervously wondering if it is time to start using alarmist words like totalitarianism, this shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practiced but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and when those responsible merely deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called "the juridical person in man"; soon enough, victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility (and danger) of that quest. This impunity is a mass version of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.
In Latin America the revelations of US torture in Iraq have not been met with shock and disbelief but with powerful déjà vu and reawakened fears. Hector Mondragon, a Colombian activist who was tortured in the 1970s by an officer trained at the School of the Americas, wrote: "It was hard to
see the photos of the torture in Iraq because I too was tortured. I saw myself naked with my feet fastened together and my hands tied behind my back. I saw my own head covered with a cloth bag. I remembered my feelings--the humiliation, pain." Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was brutally tortured in a Guatemalan jail, said, "I could not even stand to look at those photographs...so many of the things in the photographs had also been done to me. I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming."
Ortiz has testified that the men who raped her and burned her with cigarettes more than 100 times deferred to a man who spoke Spanish with an American accent whom they called "Boss." It is one of many stories told by prisoners in Latin America of mysterious English-speaking men walking in and out of their torture cells, proposing questions, offering tips. Several of these cases are documented in Jennifer Harbury's powerful new book, Truth, Torture, and the American Way.
Some of the countries that were mauled by US-sponsored torture regimes have tried to repair their social fabric through truth commissions and war crimes trials. In most cases, justice has been elusive, but past abuses have been entered into the official record and entire societies have asked themselves questions not only about individual responsibility but collective complicity. The United States, though an active participant in these "dirty wars," has gone through no parallel process of national soul-searching.
The result is that the memory of US complicity in far-away crimes remains fragile, living on in old newspaper articles, out-of-print books and tenacious grassroots initiatives like the annual protests outside the School of the Americas (which has been renamed but remains largely unchanged). The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the current torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, these past crimes are being erased from the record. Every time Americans repeat the fairy tale about their pre-Cheney innocence, these already hazy memories fade even further. The hard evidence still exists, of course, carefully archived in the tens of thousands of declassified documents available from the National Security Archive. But inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again.
This casual amnesia does a profound disservice not only to the victims of these crimes but also to the cause of trying to remove torture from the US policy arsenal once and for all. Already there are signs that the Administration will deal with the current torture uproar by returning to the cold war model of plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government"; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators. And in Iraq the dirty work is already being handed over to Iraqi death squads, trained by US commanders like Jim Steele, who prepared for the job by setting up similarly lawless units in El
Salvador. The US role in training and supervising Iraq's Interior Ministry was forgotten, moreover, when 173 prisoners were recently discovered in a Ministry dungeon, some tortured so badly that their skin was falling off. "Look, it's a sovereign country. The Iraqi government exists," Rumsfeld said. He sounded just like the CIA's William Colby, who when asked in a 1971 Congressional probe about the thousands killed under Phoenix--a program he helped launch--replied that it was now "entirely a South Vietnamese program."
And that's the problem with pretending that the Bush Administration invented torture. "If you don't understand the history and the depths of the institutional and public complicity," says McCoy, "then you can't begin to undertake meaningful reforms." Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus--closing a prison, shutting down a program, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But, McCoy says, "they will preserve the prerogative to torture."
The Center for American Progress has just launched an advertising campaign called "Torture is not US." The hard truth is that for at least five decades it has been. But it doesn't have to be.
(c) 2005 The Nation
Published on Friday, December 9, 2005 by The Nation
I heard Jennifer Harbury on KUOW tonight, on KUOW Speaker's Forum (12/14/2005). She has spoken out against U.S. torture practices long before the Iraq war. Harbury's husband was tortured and murdered in Guatemala in 1992. Since her husband’s death, Harbury has urged the U.S. to disclose involvement in abuses in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Some defend torture as the only means to access vital information that can save lives. Harbury makes convincing arguments against the use of torture in any circumstances. The audio should be available 12/15: http://kuow.org/program_lecture_series.asp.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his own life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
I promised a friend to tell him how to improve privacy on the profile page. Anyone who is not out, but wants to join some groups with "gay" in the name, should not display their groups publicly. To privatize your group memberships, go to Home > Account Settings > Profile Settings, and uncheck Display Groups belong to if you want to hide links to the groups you've joined on MySpace. Your MySpace groups will no longer be displayed on your Profile. You will still be able to access them by clicking your Groups link while logged in.
Each of your blogs can be posted as a public or private blog. Once you have finished writing, at the bottom you will see a number of choices, below mood and other stuff: Comments: disable Kudos & comments; Privacy: Public Diary Friends Preferred List [help].
Public - Anyone can read your post; Diary - Only you can read your post (you can use this like a diary); Friends - Only Myspace "Friends" can read your post; Preferred List - Only those on your Preferred List can read your post. The Subject of all of your blogs will always show on your profile page regardless of their privacy setting.
To create a Preferred list, go to Blog, and then on the left top, under MySpace Blog, you will see: Blog Home, My Subscriptions, My Readers, My Preferred List. Click on the Preferred list, and then search for the names of the people you want to allow to see your semi-private blogs. You can remove people from this list at any time.
If you want to ensure the ultimate MySpace privacy, make your Profile only viewable by your friends. To do that, change your age to 14 or 15. Home > Edit Profile > Basic Info: Edit: Date of Birth. Change the year to 1990 or 1991.
An alternate method of creating a private profile page is found in the Private Profile Tutorial: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=16065805&blogID=92748942
This method requires some HTML, but the author gives you very clear step-by-step instructions on how to do it. Also, the Terms of Service of MySpace prohibit you from lying about your age, so this version is more "legal" than simply changing your birthdate-of-record.
You can also go to Home > Account Settings > Privacy Settings, and
Check Require email or last name to add me as a friend if you want other users to be required to know your email address or your last name in order to send you an add friend request (this prevents people who don't know you from trying to add you as a friend).
Check Approve Comments before Posting if you want to review comments to your profile and journals before they are posted. Comments will NOT appear unless and until you approve them.
Check iHide Online Now to make your online status invisible to other users.
Check No Pic Forwarding to prevent other users from emailing links to your images from the site.
Check Friend Only Journal Comments to allow only your friends to post comments on your blog entries.
Check Block Friend Request From Bands to block unwanted friend request from bands.
I think this last stuff isn't very important, but it might make life easier for you. The only thing I do is hide my online status so people don't try to chat with me late at night.
Myspace profile: http://www.myspace.com/valoriez. Blog: http://blog.myspace.com/valoriez
One does not discover new lands without consenting to leave sight of the shore for a very long time. - Andre Gide
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride. - William James (thank you John D for this wonderful quotation)
Friday, December 02, 2005
Today is World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS is a disease that continues to affect millions across the United States and abroad. Take a moment today to reflect on those who have been lost to this terrible disease and think about what you might do to help, even if it's as little as visiting Bristol-Myers Squibb. They are donating a dollar to AIDS research for every candle that is lit on their website.
Bristol-Myers Squibb makes drugs that contain the AIDS virus. They make loads of money. Let's make sure they donate the $100,000 maximum. Go to http://www.lighttounite.com/ and light a candle.
No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the horizon of the spirit. - Helen Keller