Sunshine Recorder

Link: Chris Hedges: American Psychosis

What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.

Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.

It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.

We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us investment houses like Goldman Sachs … that willfully trashed the global economy and stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. It is fused into one bizarre, perverted belief system and it has banished the possibility of the country returning to a reality-based world or avoiding internal collapse. A society that cannot distinguish reality from illusion dies.

The tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture, however, are vanishing for most citizens as we head toward collapse. The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The jobs we are shedding are not coming back, as the White House economist Lawrence Summers tacitly acknowledges when he talks of a “jobless recovery.” The belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the accumulation of vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others is exposed as a fraud. Freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

America is sinking under trillions in debt it can never repay and stays afloat by frantically selling about $2 billion in Treasury bonds a day to the Chinese. It saw 2.8 million people lose their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions – nearly 8,000 people a day – and stands idle as they are joined by another 2.4 million people this year. It refuses to prosecute the Bush administration for obvious war crimes, including the use of torture, and sees no reason to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Deficits are pushing individual states to bankruptcy and forcing the closure of everything from schools to parks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have squandered trillions of dollars, appear endless. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called “near poverty.” One in eight Americans – and one in four children – depend on food stamps to eat. And yet, in the midst of it all, we continue to be a country consumed by happy talk and happy thoughts. We continue to embrace the illusion of inevitable progress, personal success and rising prosperity. Reality is not considered an impediment to desire.

When a culture lives within an illusion it perpetuates a state of permanent infantilism or childishness. As the gap widens between the illusion and reality, as we suddenly grasp that it is our home being foreclosed or our job that is not coming back, we react like children. We scream and yell for a savior, someone who promises us revenge, moral renewal and new glory. It is not a new story. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually, emotionally and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans and will usher America into a new dark age. It was the economic collapse in Yugoslavia that gave us Slobodan Milosevic. It was the Weimar Republic that vomited up Adolf Hitler. And it was the breakdown in Tsarist Russia that opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we naïvely dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. And as in all totalitarian societies, those who do not pay fealty to the illusions imposed by the state become the outcasts, the persecuted.

The decline of American empire began long ago before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of Harvard historian Charles Maier, from an “empire of production” to an “empire of consumption.” By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies.

As the pressure mounts, as the despair and desperation reach into larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state. This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” warrantless wiretapping on American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. The motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to seize and maintain internal control. It is about controlling us.

And yet, even in the face of catastrophe, mass culture continues to assure us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, by Hollywood or by Christian preachers, is magical thinking. It turns worthless mortgages and debt into wealth. It turns the destruction of our manufacturing base into an opportunity for growth. It turns alienation and anxiety into a cheerful conformity. It turns a nation that wages illegal wars and administers offshore penal colonies where it openly practices torture into the greatest democracy on earth. And it keeps us from fighting back.

Resistance movements will have to look now at the long night of slavery, the decades of oppression in the Soviet Union and the curse of fascism for models. The goal will no longer be the possibility of reforming the system but of protecting truth, civility and culture from mass contamination. It will require the kind of schizophrenic lifestyle that characterizes all totalitarian societies. Our private and public demeanors will often have to stand in stark contrast. Acts of defiance will often be subtle and nuanced. They will be carried out not for short term gain but the assertion of our integrity. Rebellion will have an ultimate if not easily definable purpose. The more we retreat from the culture at large the more room we will have to carve out lives of meaning, the more we will be able to wall off the flood of illusions disseminated by mass culture and the more we will retain sanity in an insane world. The goal will become the ability to endure.

Link: Noam Chomsky on Propaganda in the US vs in the USSR.

October 24, 1986.

David Barsamian: C.P. Otero, who has edited a collection of your essays entitled Radical Priorities, has written in its preface, “The totalitarian system of thought control is far less effective than the democratic one, since the official doctrine parroted by the intellectuals at the service of the state is readily identifiable as pure propaganda, and this helps free the mind.” In contrast, he writes, “the democratic system seeks to determine and limit the entire spectrum of thought by leaving the fundamental assumptions unexpressed. They are presupposed but not asserted.”

Noam Chomsky: That’s quite accurate. I’ve also written about that many times. Just think about it. Take, say, a country which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from us domestically, the Soviet Union. That’s a country run by the bludgeon, essentially. It’s a command state: the state controls, everybody basically follows orders. It’s more complicated than that, but essentially that’s the way it works. There, it’s very easy to determine what propaganda is: what the state produces is propaganda. That’s the kind of thing that Orwell described in 1984. In a country like that, where there’s a kind of Ministry of Truth, propaganda is very easily identifiable. Everybody knows what it is, and you can choose to repeat it if you like, but basically it’s not really trying to control your thought very much; it’s giving you the party line. It’s saying, “Here’s the official doctrine; as long as you don’t disobey you won’t get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we’ll do something to you because we have force.”

Democratic societies can’t really work like that, because the state can’t control behavior by force. It can to some extent, but it’s much more limited in its capacity to control by force. Therefore, it has to control what you think. And again, democratic theorists have understood this for 50 or 60 years and have been very articulate about it. If the voice of the people is heard, you’d better control what that voice says, meaning you have to control what they think. The method Otero mentions there is one of the major methods. One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins. Namely, you have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions, and those assumptions turn out to be the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, then you can have a debate.

The Vietnam War is a classic example. In the major media, the New York Times or CBS or whatever — in fact, all across the spectrum except at the very far-out periphery which reaches almost no one — in the major media which reach the overwhelming majority of the population, there was a lively debate. It was between people called “doves” and people called “hawks”. The people called hawks said, “If we keep at it we can win.” The people called doves said, “Even if we keep at it we probably can’t win, and besides, it would probably be too costly for us, and besides maybe we’re killing too many people,” something like that. Both sides, the doves and the hawks, agreed on something: we have a right to carry out aggression against South Vietnam. In fact, they didn’t even admit that it was taking place. They called it the “defense” of South Vietnam, using “defense” for “aggression” in the standard Orwellian manner. We were in fact attacking South Vietnam, just as much as the Russians are attacking Afghanistan. Like them, we first established a government that invited us in, and until we found one we had to overturn government after government. Finally we got one that invited us in, after we’d been there for years, attacking the countryside and the population. That’s aggression. Nobody thought it was wrong, or rather, anyone who thought that was wrong was not admitted to the discussion. If you’re a dove, you’re in favor of aggression, if you’re a hawk you’re in favor of aggression. The debate between the hawks and the doves, then, is purely tactical: “Can we get away with it? Is it too bloody or too costly?” All basically irrelevant.

The real point is that aggression is wrong. When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, they got away with it. They didn’t kill many people, but it was wrong because aggression is wrong. We all understand that. But we can’t allow that understanding to be expressed when it relates to the violent actions of our state, obviously. If this were a totalitarian state, the Ministry of Truth would simply have said, “It’s right for us to go into Vietnam, period. Don’t argue with it.” People would have known that’s the propaganda system talking and they could have thought what they wanted. They could have seen that we were attacking Vietnam just like we can see that the Russians are attacking Afghanistan.

You couldn’t permit that understanding of reality in this country; it’s too dangerous. People are much more free, they can express themselves, they can do things. Therefore, it was necessary to try to control thought, to try to make it appear as if the only issue was a tactical one: can we get away with it? There’s no issue of right or wrong. That worked partially, but not entirely. Among the educated part of the population it worked almost totally.

There are good studies of this that show, with only the most marginal statistical error, that among the more educated parts of the population the government propaganda system was accepted unquestioningly. On the other hand, after a long period of popular spontaneous opposition, dissent and organization, the general population got out of control. As recently as 1982, according to the latest polls I’ve seen, over 70 percent of the population still was saying that the war was, quoting the wording of the Gallup poll, “fundamentally wrong and immoral,” not “a mistake.” That is, the overwhelming majority of the population is neither hawks nor doves, but opposed to aggression. On the other hand, the educated part of the population, they’re in line. For them, it’s just the tactical question of hawk vs. dove.

This is, incidentally, not untypical. Propaganda very often works better for the educated than it does for the uneducated. This is true on many issues. There are a lot of reasons for this, one being that the educated receive more of the propaganda because they read more. Another thing is that they are the agents of propaganda. After all, their job is that of commissars; they’re supposed to be the agents of the propaganda system so they believe it. It’s very hard to say something unless you believe it. Other reasons are that, by and large, they are just part of the privileged elite so they share their interests and perceptions, whereas the general population is more marginalized. It, by and large, doesn’t participate in the democratic system, which is overwhelmingly an elite game. People learn from their own lives to be skeptical, and in fact most of them are. There’s a lot of skepticism and dissent and so on.

Here’s a case which is an interesting one because, while the technique of thought control worked very effectively, in fact to virtually 100 percent effectiveness among the educated part of the population, after many years of atrocities and massacres and hundreds of thousands of people killed and so on, it began to erode among the general population. There’s even a name for that: it’s called the “Vietnam Syndrome”, a grave disease: people understand too much. But it’s very striking, very illuminating to see how well it’s worked among the educated. If you pick up a book on American history and look at the Vietnam War, there is no such event as the American attack against South Vietnam. It’s as if in the Soviet Union, say, in the early part of the 21st century, nobody will have ever said there was a Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Everyone says it’s a Russian defense of Afghanistan. That’s not going to happen. In fact, people already talk about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan — maybe they defend it, maybe not — but they admit that it exists. But in the United States, where the indoctrination system is vastly more effective, the educated part of the population can’t even see that it exists. We cannot see that there was an American invasion of South Vietnam. It’s out of history, down Orwell’s memory hole.

Link: How to Spot a Communist Using Literary Criticism: A 1955 Manual from the U.S. Military

In 1955, the United States was entering the final stages of McCarthyism or the Second Red Scare. During this low point in American history, the US government looked high and low for Communist spies. Entertainers, educators, government employees and union members were often viewed with suspicion, and many careers and lives were destroyed by the flimsiest of allegations. Congress, the FBI, and the US military, they all fueled the 20th century version of the Salem Witch trials, partly by encouraging Americans to look for Communists in unsuspecting places.

In the short Armed Forces Information Film above, you can see the dynamic at work. Some Communists were out in the open; however, others “worked more silently.” So how to find those hidden communists? Not to worry, the US military had that covered. In 1955, the U.S. First Army Headquarters prepared a manual called How to Spot a Communist. Later published in popular American magazines, the propaganda piece warned readers, “there is no fool-proof system in spotting a Communist.” “U.S. Communists come from all walks of life, profess all faiths, and exercise all trades and professions. In addition, the Communist Party, USA, has made concerted efforts to go underground for the purpose of infiltration.” And yet the pamphlet adds, letting readers breathe a sigh of relief, “there are, fortunately, indications that may give him away. These indications are often subtle but always present, for the Communist, by reason of his “faith” must act and talk along certain lines.” In short, you’ll know a Communist not by how he walks, but how he talks. Asking citizens to become literary critics for the sake of national security, the publication told readers to watch out for the following:

While a preference for long sentences is common to most Communist writing, a distinct vocabulary provides the more easily recognized feature of the “Communist Language.” Even a superficial reading of an article written by a Communist or a conversation with one will probably reveal the use of some of the following expressions: integrative thinking, vanguard, comrade, hootenanny, chauvinism, book-burning, syncretistic faith, bourgeois-nationalism, jingoism, colonialism, hooliganism, ruling class, progressive, demagogy, dialectical, witch-hunt, reactionary, exploitation, oppressive, materialist.

This list, selected at random, could be extended almost indefinitely. While all of the above expressions are part of the English language, their use by Communists is infinitely more frequent than by the general public…

Rather chillingly, the pamphlet also warned that Communists revealed themselves if and when they talked about “McCarthyism,” “violation of civil rights,” “racial or religious discrimination” or “peace.” In other words, they were guilty if they suggested that the government was overstepping its bounds.

According to Lamont Corliss’ book, Freedom Is As Freedom Does, the First Army withdrew the pamphlet after Murray Kempton slammed it in The New York Post and The New York Times wrote its own scathing op-ed.In 1955, the press could take those risks. The year before, Joseph Welch had faced up to Joe McCarthy, asking with his immortal words, ”Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Link: David Foster Wallace: Just Asking

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, PATRIOT Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

Link: Excerpt from "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" by Steven Pinker

… Why has the South had such a long history of violence? The most sweeping answer is that the civilizing mission of government never penetrated the American South as deeply as it had the Northeast, to say nothing of Europe. The historian Pieter Spierenburg has provocatively suggested that “democracy came too early” to America. In Europe, first the state disarmed the people and claimed a monopoly on violence, then the people took over the apparatus of the state. In America, the people took over the state before it had forced them to lay down their arms—which, as the Second Amendment famously affirms, they reserve the right to keep and bear. In other words Americans, and especially Americans in the South and West, never fully signed on to a social contract that would vest the government with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In much of American history, legitimate force was also wielded by posses, vigilantes, lynch mobs, company police, detective agencies, and Pinkertons, and even more often kept as a prerogative of the individual.

This power sharing, historians have noted, has always been sacred in the South. As Eric Monkkonen puts it, in the 19th century “the South had a deliberately weak state, eschewing things such as penitentiaries in favor of local, personal violence.” Homicides were treated lightly if the killing was deemed “reasonable,” and “most killings … in the rural South were reasonable, in the sense that the victim had not done everything possible to escape from the killer, that the killing resulted from a personal dispute, or because the killer and victim were the kinds of people who kill each other.”

The South’s reliance on self-help justice has long been a part of its mythology. It was instilled early in life, such as in the maternal advice given to the young Andrew Jackson (the dueling president who claimed to rattle with bullets when he walked): “Never … sue anyone for slander or assault or battery; always settle those cases yourself.” It was flaunted by pugnacious icons of the mountainous South like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, the “King of the Wild Frontier.” It fueled the war between the prototypical feuding families, the Hatfields and McCoys of the Kentucky–West Virginia backcountry. And it not only swelled the homicide statistics for as long as they have been recorded, but has left its mark on the southern psyche today.

Self-help justice depends on the credibility of one’s prowess and resolve, and to this day the American South is marked by an obsession with credible deterrence, otherwise known as a culture of honor. The essence of a culture of honor is that it does not sanction predatory or instrumental violence, but only retaliation after an insult or other mistreatment. The psychologists Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen have shown that this mindset continues to pervade southern laws, politics, and attitudes. Southerners do not outkill northerners in homicides carried out during robberies, they found, only in those sparked by quarrels. In surveys, southerners do not endorse the use of violence in the abstract, but only to protect home and family. The laws of the southern states sanction this morality. They give a person wide latitude to kill in defense of self or property, put fewer restrictions on gun purchases, allow corporal punishment (“paddling”) in schools, and specify the death penalty for murder, which their judicial systems are happy to carry out. Southern men and women are more likely to serve in the military, to study at military academies, and to take hawkish positions on foreign policy.

In a series of ingenious experiments, Nisbett and Cohen also showed that honor looms large in the behavior of individual southerners. In one study, they sent fake letters inquiring about jobs to companies all over the country. Half of them contained the following confession:

There is one thing I must explain, because I feel I must be honest and I want no misunderstandings. I have been convicted of a felony, namely manslaughter. You will probably want an explanation for this before you send me an application, so I will provide it. I got into a fight with someone who was having an affair with my fiancée. I lived in a small town, and one night this person confronted me in front of my friends at the bar. He told everyone that he and my fiancée were sleeping together. He laughed at me to my face and asked me to step outside if I was man enough. I was young and didn’t want to back down from a challenge in front of everyone. As we went into the alley, he started to attack me. He knocked me down, and he picked up a bottle. I could have run away and the judge said I should have, but my pride wouldn’t let me. Instead I picked up a pipe that was laying in the alley and hit him with it. I didn’t mean to kill him, but he died a few hours later at the hospital. I realize that what I did was wrong.

The other half contained a similar paragraph in which the applicant confessed to a felony conviction for grand theft auto, which, he said, he had foolishly committed to help support his wife and young children. In response to the letter confessing to the honor killing, companies based in the South and West were more likely than those in the North to send the letter-writer a job application, and their replies were warmer in tone. For example, the owner of one southern store apologized that she had no jobs available at the time and added:

As for your problem of the past, anyone could probably be in the situation you were in. It was just an unfortunate incident that shouldn’t be held against you. Your honesty shows that you are sincere…. I wish you the best of luck for your future. You have a positive attitude and a willingness to work. Those are the qualities that businesses look for in an employee. Once you get settled, if you are near here, please stop in and see us.

No such warmth came from companies based in the North, nor from any company when the letter confessed to auto theft. Indeed, northern companies were more forgiving of the auto theft than the honor killing; the southern and western companies were more forgiving of the honor killing than the auto theft.

Nisbett and Cohen also captured the southern culture of honor in the lab. Their subjects were not bubbas from the bayous but affluent students at the University of Michigan who had lived in the South for at least six years. Students were recruited for a psychology experiment on “limited response time conditions on certain facets of human judgment” (a bit of gobbledygook to hide the real purpose of the study). In the hallway on their way to the lab, the students had to pass by an accomplice of the experimenter who was filing papers in a cabinet. In half of the cases, when the student brushed past the accomplice, he slammed the drawer shut and muttered, “Asshole.” Then the experimenter (who was kept in the dark as to whether the student had been insulted) welcomed the student into the lab, observed his demeanor, gave him a questionnaire, and drew a blood sample. The students from the northern states, they found, laughed off the insult and behaved no differently from the control group who had entered without incident. But the insulted students from the southern states walked in fuming. They reported lower self-esteem in a questionnaire, and their blood samples showed elevated levels of testosterone and of cortisol, a stress hormone. They behaved more dominantly toward the experimenter and shook his hand more firmly, and when approaching another accomplice in the narrow hallway on their way out, they refused to step aside to let him pass.

Is there an exogenous cause that might explain why the South rather than the North developed a culture of honor? Certainly the brutality needed to maintain a slave economy might have been a factor, but the most violent parts of the South were backcountry regions that never depended on plantation slavery (see figure 3–15). Nisbett and Cohen were influenced by David Hackett Fisher’s Albion’s Seed, a history of the British colonization of the United States, and zeroed in on the origins of the first colonists from different parts of Europe. The northern states were settled by Puritan, Quaker, Dutch, and German farmers, but the interior South was largely settled by Scots-Irish, many of them sheepherders, who hailed from the mountainous periphery of the British Isles beyond the reach of the central government. Herding, Nisbett and Cohen suggest, may have been an exogenous cause of the culture of honor. Not only does a herder’s wealth lie in stealable physical assets, but those assets have feet and can be led away in an eyeblink, far more easily than land can be stolen out from under a farmer. Herders all over the world cultivate a hair trigger for violent retaliation. Nisbett and Cohen suggest that the Scots-Irish brought their culture of honor with them and kept it alive when they took up herding in the South’s mountainous frontier. Though contemporary southerners are no longer shepherds, cultural mores can persist long after the ecological circumstances that gave rise to them are gone, and to this day southerners behave as if they have to be tough enough to deter livestock rustlers.

The herding hypothesis requires that people cling to an occupational strategy for centuries after it has become dysfunctional, but the more general theory of a culture of honor does not depend on that assumption. People often take up herding in mountainous areas because it’s hard to grow crops on mountains, and mountainous areas are often anarchic because they are the hardest regions for a state to conquer, pacify, and administer. The immediate trigger for self-help justice, then, is anarchy, not herding itself. Recall that the ranchers of Shasta County have herded cattle for more than a century, yet when one of them suffers a minor loss of cattle or property, he is expected to “lump it,” not lash out with violence to defend his honor. Also, a recent study that compared southern counties in their rates of violence and their suitability for herding found no correlation when other variables were controlled.

So it’s sufficient to assume that settlers from the remote parts of Britain ended up in the remote parts of the South, and that both regions were lawless for a long time, fostering a culture of honor. We still have to explain why their culture of honor is so self-sustaining. After all, a functioning criminal justice system has been in place in southern states for some time now. Perhaps honor has staying power because the first man who dares to abjure it would be heaped with contempt for cowardice and treated as an easy mark.

Link: Allen, South Dakota

Allen is a census-designated place in Bennett County, South Dakota. As of the 2010 census, the CDP had a population of 420. It is considered the poorest place in the United States.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $7,578, and the median income for a family was $3,819. Males had a median income of $10 versus $12,188 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $1,539. About 95.9% of families and 96.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 97.1% of those under age 18 and 100.0% of those age 65 or over.

As of 2010 the racial makeup was 96.4% Native American, 3.3% white and 0.2% of two races. 1.0% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race. The racial makeup of the CDP was 4.30% White, 94.03% Native American, and 1.67% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.43% of the population.

Link: The Secret Army Still Fighting Vietnam war

“Western Frieze” by Bryan Schutmaat

Throughout the ages people have had different ideas about what the American West represents, but many agree that it harbors a certain mystique born from wilderness. Though much of the West has been populated, paved over, and commercialized, I believe it still retains this mystique in various forms, and to find it means looking from various perspectives. This body of work takes on these perspectives and seeks to update our collective impression of the West by putting forth a vision of Americaʼs landscape that uses roadside culture to convey where the West has been and where itʼs going. Yet by no means are these photos meant to be pure documentation of America and its identity, but rather a portrait of what American identity means to me. And by photographing the West – where enigma, nostalgia, and history can be found in everyday scenes – I hope to help viewers find out what it means to them, whether or not they ever visit these sleepy towns and loneliest of landscapes for themselves.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: David Graeber: Democracy in America? What Democracy?

With the news this week that gun control efforts in the Senate have failed, even though a majority of Americans want stronger curbs on weapons, attention has turned once again to how democracy works—or doesn’t—in America. David Graeber, bestselling author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” has written a new book, “The Democracy Project,” and in this essay for Bookish he casts a stringent eye on the state of the D-word in America.

The American system was never designed to be a democracy.

For the framers of the U.S. constitution, “democracy” meant “the exercise of the powers of government by the people,” and they made clear, over and over, that they were explicitly against this. This is not to say that significant democratic elements have not managed to work their way into the system—but insofar as they have, it was despite the Founders’ intentions, not because of them. Starting with the Bill of Rights, the most cherished aspects of our system—the ones we think of when we think of ourselves as a “democracy”—were fought for and won through mass mobilization, civil disobedience and even the prospect of outright revolt.

We’ve had moments of movement toward great democracy in the U.S., and we’ve had moments of retreat, and at the moment, we’re very definitely in the latter. One reason we can’t see this is we have no sense of where we stand in relation to other countries that call themselves “democracies”—whether it’s Holland, Uruguay or Zambia. Most Americans automatically assume that we must be much more democratic than other countries. In fact, we’re decidedly less. Here’s why:

1. Our constitution is fundamentally anti-democratic

The US, unlike almost any other country on earth, continues to maintain an antiquated 18th- century constitution designed to severely limit democracy. This guarantees, for example, that in Presidential elections tw thirds of voters—the ones who don’t happen to live in a swing state—will have no effect the outcome at all. In other words, a supermajority of the electorate is effectively disenfranchised. Yet few seem to find this scandalous. Even in the House, which is supposed to be the most “democratic” branch of government, a situation can still exist where one party can win the overall popular vote and the other party still ends up with a majority of Representatives. This happened in 2012 and failed to spark any significant reflection on what this means for U.S. claims to be the world’s leading democracy. The fact that such outcomes are calmly accepted by the political classes demonstrates at best indifference to—and at worst contempt for—the very principle of majority rule.

2. Two parties aren’t nearly enough

Even when voters are actually in a position to affect the outcome of elections, the U.S. two-party system—a system that, again, exists in almost no other country in the world—gives voters the narrowest political choice possible. Even during primaries, most voters don’t vote for the candidates whose views on policy issues most closely reflect their own, since they are constantly and aggressively reminded that voting for anyone who does not cleave to an extremely narrow mainstream consensus is tantamount to “throwing away one’s vote.”

3. Popular opinion is routinely ignored

The “mainstream consensus,” however, has nothing to do with the policy views of the majority of voters. To take a famous example, roughly two thirds of Americans would favor creation of a single-payer health insurance system, but in mainstream politics, this position has never even been considered. So if it’s not based on popular opinion, where does this “consensus” come from? Well, it’s established through what most countries would consider a system of outright bribery. It is donors and lobbyists, not voters, who determine the range of publicly acceptable (“serious”) positions that can be presented in political campaigns.

4. Pundits are just paid mouthpieces

Even within the extremely narrow range of “acceptable” positions there is almost no public debate about policy issues. Political journalism instead focuses almost exclusively on the game of politics itself (performance, “gaffes,” scandals) rather than those issues that directly affect voter’s lives. In most parts of the world, whether it’s Latin America or Eastern Europe, intellectuals (few of whom are personally rich) play a role in shaping public debate; in the US, intellectuals are almost entirely excluded, their places taken by professional “pundits” (most of them millionaires), and even basic facts available for debate are pre-selected, “spun,” and often overtly fabricated by professional PR firms pursuing some political or economic interest.

5. One rule for citizens, another for corporations

Lobbyists representing corporations often write the very legislation by which those corporations are “regulated,” reducing the government to little more than an enforcer for corporate interests. Increasingly, for instance, policy is designed to ensure that more and more Americans fall more and more into debt to financial interests: debts which are then backed up by the full force of the legal system, even as the financial interests themselves are now allowed to operate entirely outside the law. Ordinary citizens can now be jailed for a few hundred dollars of unpaid debt while their creditors can do business in the knowledge they will not be seriously punished even for billions in fraud.

6. Dissent now equals treason

In most parts in the world, ordinary citizens will likely have at least some experience in taking part in democratically organized political groups: trade unions, neighborhood groups, community assemblies, political parties and clubs and so forth. Most Americans have no idea what participating in grassroots democratic decision-making would even mean. Similarly, in most countries other than the most authoritarian, popular political action such as rallies, strikes, marches, and civil disobedience are considered a normal and expected part of democratic life—just as they once were in America—and are allowed to take place without significant interference from police. In the U.S., since the rise of the labor movement in the 1880s and ‘90s, constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly, previously held sacrosanct, were legislated away, to the point where citizens are now forbidden even to hold a rally in a park or public square without government permission, and those who defy such laws can expect to be greeted with extreme militarized violence.

7. Democracy or police state?

The US far more resembles a police state than ordinary democracies like Holland, Uruguay, Zambia, even the U.S. itself in previous periods of its history. Even the most trivial government documents are routinely classified, the rate of surveillance on political dissidents and citizens in general is far higher than it ever was even in East Germany at the height of the Cold War, and the U.S. has a larger proportion of its population in prison than the Soviet Union did at the height of the gulag, indeed, than any known society ever. Soldiers and police are endlessly glorified in the media, and the most extreme forms of state-directed sadism including (prison) rape, torture, and murder regularly justified and even celebrated in popular entertainment. The branches of the U.S. government that operate largely through violence or the threat of violence—military, prisons, police, homeland security—continually to receive more funding and expand, even as other aspects of the U.S. government shrink.

Americans continually say they love democracy—and they do. But they also show great antipathy and skepticism toward politicians, bureaucrats, elections and the idea of the government itself. How can both be true? It’s simple: We love democracy, but we don’t live in one.

Link: Gitmo is Killing Me

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.

ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.

When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.

I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.

It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.

When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.

The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.

I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.

Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.

I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.

The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

Link: "Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons."

It’s been seven month since I’ve been inside a prison cell. Now I’m back, sort of. The experience is eerily like my dreams, where I am a prisoner in another man’s cell. Like the cell I go back to in my sleep, this one is built for solitary confinement. I’m taking intermittent, heaving breaths, like I can’t get enough air. This still happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. At a little over 11 by 7 feet, this cell is smaller than any I’ve ever inhabited. You can’t pace in it.

Like in my dreams, I case the space for the means of staying sane. Is there a TV to watch, a book to read, a round object to toss? The pathetic artifacts of this inmate’s life remind me of objects that were once everything to me: a stack of books, a handmade chessboard, a few scattered pieces of artwork taped to the concrete, a family photo, large manila envelopes full of letters. I know that these things are his world.

"So when you’re in Iran and in solitary confinement," asks my guide, Lieutenant Chris Acosta, "was it different?" His tone makes clear that he believes an Iranian prison to be a bad place.

He’s right about that. After being apprehended on the Iran-Iraq border, Sarah ShourdJosh Fattal, and I were held in Evin Prison's isolation ward for political prisoners. Sarah remained there for 13 months, Josh and I for 26 months. We were held incommunicado. We never knew when, or if, we would get out. We didn’t go to trial for two years. When we did we had no way to speak to a lawyer and no means of contesting the charges against us, which included espionage. The alleged evidence the court held was “confidential.”

What I want to tell Acosta is that no part of my experience—not the uncertainty of when I would be free again, not the tortured screams of other prisoners—was worse than the four months I spent in solitary confinement. What would he say if I told him I needed human contact so badly that I woke every morning hoping to be interrogated? Would he believe that I once yearned to be sat down in a padded, soundproof room, blindfolded, and questioned, just so I could talk to somebody?

I want to answer his question—of course my experience was different from those of the men at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison—but I’m not sure how to do it. How do you compare, when the difference between one person’s stability and another’s insanity is found in tiny details? Do I point out that I had a mattress, and they have thin pieces of foam; that the concrete open-air cell I exercised in was twice the size of the “dog run” at Pelican Bay, which is about 16 by 25 feet; that I got 15 minutes of phone calls in 26 months, and they get none; that I couldn’t write letters, but they can; that we could only talk to nearby prisoners in secret, but they can shout to each other without being punished; that unlike where I was imprisoned, whoever lives here has to shit at the front of his cell, in view of the guards?

"There was a window," I say. I don’t quite know how to tell him what I mean by that answer. "Just having that light come in, seeing the light move across the cell, seeing what time of day it was—" Without those windows, I wouldn’t have had the sound of ravens, the rare breezes, or the drops of rain that I let wash over my face some nights. My world would have been utterly restricted to my concrete box, to watching the miniature ocean waves I made by sloshing water back and forth in a bottle; to marveling at ants; to calculating the mean, median, and mode of the tick marks on the wall; to talking to myself without realizing it. For hours, days, I fixated on the patch of sunlight cast against my wall through those barred and grated windows. When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back. Its slow creeping against the wall reminded me that the world did in fact turn and that time was something other than the stagnant pool my life was draining into.

Here, there are no windows.

Acosta, Pelican Bay’s public information officer, is giving me a tour of the Security Housing Unit. Inmates deemed a threat to the security of any of California’s 33 prisons are shipped to one of the state’s five SHUs (pronounced “shoes”), which hold nearly 4,000 people in long-term isolation. In the Pelican Bay SHU, 94 percent of prisoners are celled alone; overcrowding has forced the prison to double up the rest. Statewide, about 32 percent of SHU cells—hardly large enough for one person—are crammed with two inmates.

The cell I am standing in is one of eight in a “pod,” a large concrete room with cells along one side and only one exit, which leads to the guards’ control room. A guard watches over us, rifle in hand, through a set of bars in the wall. He can easily shoot into any one of six pods around him. He communicates with prisoners through speakers and opens their steel grated cell doors via remote. That is how they are let out to the dog run, where they exercise for an hour a day, alone. They don’t leave the cell to eat. If they ever leave the pod, they have to strip naked, pass their hands through a food slot to be handcuffed, then wait for the door to open and be bellycuffed.

I’ve been corresponding with at least 20 inmates in SHUs around California as part of an investigation into why and how people end up here. While at Pelican Bay, I’m not allowed to see or speak to any of them. Since 1996, California law has given prison authorities full control of which inmates journalists can interview. The only one I’m permitted to speak to isthe same person the New York Times was allowed to interview months before. He is getting out of the SHU because he informed on other prisoners. In fact, this SHU pod—the only one I am allowed to see—is populated entirely by prison informants. I ask repeatedly why I’m not allowed to visit another pod or speak to other SHU inmates. Eventually, Acosta snaps: “You’re just not.”


From director Amy Berg, in collaboration with first time Producers Damien Echols and Lorri Davis along with filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh comes West of Memphis, a powerful examination of a catastrophic failure of justice in Arkansas. The documentary tells the hitherto unknown story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light. Told and made by those who lived it, Berg’s unprecedented access to the inner workings of the defense, allows the film to show the investigation, research and appeals process in a way that has never been seen before; revealing shocking and disturbing new information about a case that still haunts the American South. 
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, movie critic Joe Morgenstern described West of Memphis as “a devastating account of police incompetence, civic hysteria and prosecutorial behavior that was totally at odds with a vastly persuasive body of evidence uncovered in a privately funded investigation.” Director Amy Berg, wrote Morgenstern, “has a dramatist’s eye for what was irretrievably lost — the innocent lives of the children, plus 18 years of three other innocent lives. And she saw, equally well, what was there to be gained: dramatic new insights into an inexorable progression from random arrests through groundless supposition, fevered conjecture and flagrant perjury to official disgrace in a supposedly airtight case.” Film critic Philip French of The Observer called West of Memphis ”riveting,” and a “shocking indictment of the American criminal justice system and a tribute to the dedication of selfless civil rights lawyers and their supporters from all over the world.”
Watch the trailer.

From director Amy Berg, in collaboration with first time Producers Damien Echols and Lorri Davis along with filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh comes West of Memphis, a powerful examination of a catastrophic failure of justice in Arkansas. The documentary tells the hitherto unknown story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light. Told and made by those who lived it, Berg’s unprecedented access to the inner workings of the defense, allows the film to show the investigation, research and appeals process in a way that has never been seen before; revealing shocking and disturbing new information about a case that still haunts the American South. 

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, movie critic Joe Morgenstern described West of Memphis as “a devastating account of police incompetence, civic hysteria and prosecutorial behavior that was totally at odds with a vastly persuasive body of evidence uncovered in a privately funded investigation.” Director Amy Berg, wrote Morgenstern, “has a dramatist’s eye for what was irretrievably lost — the innocent lives of the children, plus 18 years of three other innocent lives. And she saw, equally well, what was there to be gained: dramatic new insights into an inexorable progression from random arrests through groundless supposition, fevered conjecture and flagrant perjury to official disgrace in a supposedly airtight case.” Film critic Philip French of The Observer called West of Memphis ”riveting,” and a “shocking indictment of the American criminal justice system and a tribute to the dedication of selfless civil rights lawyers and their supporters from all over the world.”

Watch the trailer.

Link: The Throwaways: Pawns in the War on Drugs

Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants. But the work is high-risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.

On the evening of May 7, 2008, a twenty-three-year-old woman named Rachel Hoffman got into her silver Volvo sedan, put on calming jam-band music, and headed north to a public park in Tallahassee, Florida. A recent graduate of Florida State, she was dressed to blend into a crowd—bluejeans, green-and-white patterned T-shirt, black Reef flip-flops. On the passenger seat beside her was a handbag that contained thirteen thousand dollars in marked bills.

Before she reached the Georgia-peach stands and Tupelo-honey venders on North Meridian Road, she texted her boyfriend. “I just got wired up,” she wrote at 6:34 P.M. “Wish me luck I’m on my way.”

“Good luck babe!” he replied. “Call me and let me know what’s up.”

“It’s about to go down,” she texted back.

Behind the park’s oaks and blooming crape myrtles, the sun was beginning to set. Young mothers were pushing strollers near the baseball diamonds; kids were running amok on the playground. As Hoffman spoke on her iPhone to the man she was on her way to meet, her voice was filtered through a wire that was hidden in her purse. “I’m pulling into the park with the tennis courts now,” she said, sounding casual.

Perhaps what put her at ease was the knowledge that nineteen law-enforcement agents were tracking her every move, and that a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance plane was circling overhead. In any case, Rachel Hoffman, a tall, wide-eyed redhead, was by nature laid-back and trusting. She was not a trained narcotics operative. On her Facebook page you could see her dancing at music festivals with a big, goofy smile, and the faux profile she’d made for her cat (“Favorite music: cat stevens, straycat blues, pussycat dolls”).

A few weeks earlier, police officers had arrived at her apartment after someone complained about the smell of marijuana and voiced suspicion that she was selling drugs. When they asked if she had any illegal substances inside, Hoffman said yes and allowed them in to search. The cops seized slightly more than five ounces of pot and several Ecstasy and Valium pills, tucked beneath the cushions of her couch. Hoffman could face serious prison time for felony charges, including “possession of cannabis with intent to sell” and “maintaining a drug house.” The officer in charge, a sandy-haired vice cop named Ryan Pender, told her that she might be able to help herself if she provided “substantial assistance” to the city’s narcotics team. She believed that any charges against her could be reduced, or even dropped.

Hoffman’s legal worries were augmented by the fact that this wasn’t her first drug offense. A year earlier, while she was a senior, police pulled her over for speeding and found almost an ounce of marijuana in her car. She was ordered into a substance-abuse program, which required regular drug testing. Later, after failing to report for a test, she spent three days in jail.

Hoffman chose to coöperate. She had never fired a gun or handled a significant stash of hard drugs. Now she was on her way to conduct a major undercover deal for the Tallahassee Police Department, meeting two convicted felons alone in her car to buy two and a half ounces of cocaine, fifteen hundred Ecstasy pills, and a semi-automatic handgun.

The operation did not go as intended. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. Late that night, they arrived at her boyfriend’s town house and asked him if Hoffman was inside. They wanted to know if she might have run off with the money. Her boyfriend didn’t know where she was.

“She was with us,” he recalled an officer saying. “Until shit got crazy.”

Two days after Hoffman disappeared, her body was found in Perry, Florida, a small town some fifty miles southeast of Tallahassee, in a ravine overgrown with tangled vines. Draped in an improvised shroud made from her Grateful Dead sweatshirt and an orange-and-purple sleeping bag, Hoffman had been shot five times in the chest and head with the gun that the police had sent her to buy.

By the evening of her death, Rachel Hoffman had been working for the police department for almost three weeks. In bureaucratic terms, she was Confidential Informant No. 1129, or C.I. Hoffman. In legal parlance, she was a “coöperator,” one of thousands of people who, each year, help the police build cases against others, often in exchange for a promise of leniency in the criminal-justice system.

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

“They can get us into the places we can’t go,” says Brian Sallee, a police officer who is the president of B.B.S. Narcotics Enforcement Training and Consulting, a firm that instructs officers around the country in drug-bust procedures. “Without them, narcotics operations would practically cease to function.”

Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, occasionally as young as fourteen or fifteen. Some operate through the haze of addiction; others, like Hoffman, are enrolled in state-mandated treatment programs that prohibit their association with illegal drugs of any kind. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used without regard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.

The recruitment of young informants often involves risks that are incommensurate with the charges that they are facing. And the costs of coöperating can be high. A case that has dragged on for years in the courts involved LeBron Gaither, a sixteen-year-old student at a public high school in Lebanon, Kentucky. One afternoon, Gaither, who, according to his family, was generally mild-mannered, had an outburst in which he punched the school’s assistant principal in the jaw. He was taken into custody for juvenile assault. An officer from the Kentucky State Police came to see him, and told him that he could face a prison term or he could agree to become a local drug informant.

Most of the world’s media, which has rightly commemorated the children of Newtown, either ignores Obama’s murders or accepts the official version that all those killed are ‘militants’. The children of north-west Pakistan, it seems, are not like our children. They have no names, no pictures, no memorials of candles and flowers and teddy bears. They belong to the other: to the non-human world of bugs and grass and tissue. ‘Are we,’ Obama asked on Sunday, ‘prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?’ It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.

Link: Marilyn Manson on the 1999 Columbine shooting

“The devil we blame our atrocities on is really just each one of us”

It is sad to think that the first few people on earth needed no books, movies, games or music to inspire cold-blooded murder. The day that Cain bashed his brother Abel’s brains in, the only motivation he needed was his own human disposition to violence. Whether you interpret the Bible as literature or as the final word of whatever God may be, Christianity has given us an image of death and sexuality that we have based our culture around. A half-naked dead man hangs in most homes and around our necks, and we have just taken that for granted all our lives. Is it a symbol of hope or hopelessness? The world’s most famous murder-suicide was also the birth of the death icon – the blueprint for celebrity. Unfortunately, for all of their inspiring morality, nowhere in the Gospels is intelligence praised as a virtue.

A lot of people forget or never realize that I started my band as a criticism of these very issues of despair and hypocrisy. The name Marilyn Manson has never celebrated the sad fact that America puts killers on the cover of Time magazine, giving them as much notoriety as our favorite movie stars. From Jesse James to Charles Manson, the media, since their inception, have turned criminals into folk heroes. They just created two new ones when they plastered those dip-shits Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’ pictures on the front of every newspaper. Don’t be surprised if every kid who gets pushed around has two new idols.

We applaud the creation of a bomb whose sole purpose is to destroy all of mankind, and we grow up watching our president’s brains splattered all over Texas. Times have not become more violent. They have just become more televised. Does anyone think the Civil War was the least bit civil? If television had existed, you could be sure they would have been there to cover it, or maybe even participate in it, like their violent car chase of Princess Di. Disgusting vultures looking for corpses, exploiting, fucking, filming and serving it up for our hungry appetites in a gluttonous display of endless human stupidity.

When it comes down to who’s to blame for the high school murders in Littleton, Colorado, throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who’s guilty. We’re the people who sit back and tolerate children owning guns, and we’re the ones who tune in and watch the up-to-the-minute details of what they do with them. I think it’s terrible when anyone dies, especially if it is someone you know and love. But what is more offensive is that when these tragedies happen, most people don’t really care any more than they Would about the season finale of Friends or The Real World. I was dumbfounded as I watched the media snake right in, not missing a teardrop, interviewing the parents of dead children, televising the funerals. Then came the witch hunt.

(Source: sunrec)