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January 08 2015 | Politics | 1 comment
Free Speech
photo: Richard Harris

Everyone is carrying on about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo yesterday.

And especially about the freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

1) I would like to suggest that these freedoms come with responsibilities, such as not screaming Fire! in a crowded theatre. The Moslem interdiction against any images of Mohammed can seem silly and superstitious by many (including myself) but I don't see how respecting someone's convictions and not creating such an image is limiting anyone's freedom of expression. if one has a point to make about Islamic terrorists there are plenty of other ways to do it. And, of course, what C H published over the past few years were not just depictions of Mohammed. Some were funny but a great many were shocking, insulting and disgusting (such as Mohammed in explicit sexual positions). Considering the explosive tensions in the world and the horrific abuses carried out by the US (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the destruction of Iraq etc) against Moslems in the millions, C H's brazen provocation is the equivalent of screaming Fire! and an abuse of those freedoms everyone is going on about. When you see the sheer number of cartoons they did it also takes on the appearance of an obsession. What possible good can come out of pouring oil on the fire? "I have the right to say what I want regardless of any other factors" isn't good enough.

On a separate related topic:
2) Who profits from this attack? The attackers? Are they just two misguided people (one of them was reportedly radicalized by the Abu Ghraib mess)? And lest you think that that's a facile way of shifting the blame, let's not forget that the US government used the excuse that the release of the Abu Ghraib photos would foment terrorist attacks to resist releasing them. What do the attackers gain from this?
Meanwhile the media are whipping up a frenzy of patriotism, outrage and sentimentality that threatens to create new incidents (already a number of mosques have been attacked). Will French public opinion now reverse itself and be for French involvement in Syria? And if it's just two crazy misguided guys who did this, then what's all the foofarah about freedom of expression and "we won't be cowed"?

3) How were they identified so quickly? Supposedly they left their ID cards in the car. Seriously? These guys who executed the massacre so professionally that one of the witnesses thought that they were members of France's anti-terrorist unit just happened to leave their ID cards on the back seat? Shades of the terrorist's passport that somehow managed to survive intact the WTC attack.
Any bets on whether they will be taken alive? After all, dead men tell no tales...

Final note: C H will be published next week. Normally printed at 50,000 copies, next week the printing is for 1,000,000 copies.
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December 18 2014 | Cinema | 0 comments
RIP Virna

"Con quella bocca può dire ciò che vuole"

The Italian Bombshells. We loved them. Though I was never a Sophia fan, which may explain my adoration of Virna Lisi. I always thought that among the two main contenders Gina had Sophia trumped. Maybe I just didn't react well to earthiness and that's why I thought that Virna was the shit. Those eyes!!! And she was funny. In fact I don't think I saw any of her movies except La Tulipe Noir, The Birds, the Bees and the Italians, and maybe The Secret of Santa Vittoria.

And the Esquire cover of her shaving her face: That was groundbreaking.

Will definitely have to watch La Reine Margot. How come I didn't know about it?

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December 16 2014 | Architecture - Brussels | 0 comments
Before And After
photo: Richard Harris

This looks like a before and after photo. Two identical houses, one newly painted and cleaned the other not. Look at that splendid Belgian blue stone on the left, while on the right you can't even tell that it's any kind of stone.
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December 16 2014 | Pitchforks - USA | 0 comments
85%
photo: Richard Harris

"One big revelation in the explosive summary of the Senate report on CIA torture is just how much the U.S. government is outsourcing its dirty work.

The 500-page report on CIA interrogation tactics, released last week, details shocking instances of waterboarding, forced rectal feedings and various other torture methods, in one case leading up to a detainee's death. It also includes a somewhat-overlooked statistic: Eighty-five percent of the interrogations completed as part of the CIA's covert program in the wake of 9/11 were conducted by private contractors, who were paid tens of millions of dollars for actions.

The use of contractors for interrogations continues a recent, troubling trend of the U.S. government giving some of its hardest jobs to companies motivated by profit. It raises moral and logistical questions about the use of such contractors, several experts told The Huffington Post, and could make it more difficult to hold people accountable for any crimes committed in the course of the CIA interrogation program.

“These people are outside the normal rules of the game,” said Brigitte Nacos, an adjunct professor of political science at Columbia University who specializes in counterterrorism. Nacos noted that contractors like the psychologists who the report describes as the main architects of the CIA interrogation program are not subject to court martial. “I think in this case it was a big mistake,” she said.

On average, there was just one civilian contractor in Vietnam for every six active duty soldiers fighting there, according to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, which establishes policies for Defense Department contracts. In the Iraq War, that ratio rose to 1 to 1. During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, there were at least 200 different private security companies in operation, according to a 2009 report from the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a think tank...

Although torture is a violation of both international and federal law, and Obama banned the use of harsh interrogation techniques in 2009, the two psychologists almost certainly won’t be prosecuted. The same is true of their employees, many of whom were private contractors and directly participated in the controversial interrogations, according to the Senate report. Obama has said he wants to leave the incidents “where they belong -- in the past,” and the Justice Department has explicitly said it will not prosecute the torturers.


While the contractors could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, it’s extremely unlikely that will happen, said Eric Stover, a law professor and the faculty director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley. If it decides to take action at all, the court is more likely to go after the high-level officials who authorized the torture, rather than the contractors who carried it out. “They usually go after those most responsible for the most serious crimes,” Stover said.

If they were to be prosecuted, taxpayers would end up footing the bill. The CIA has agreed to pay the legal expenses for the psychologists' company through 2021, the Senate report said...

Click here for the whole article.

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December 14 2014 | Pitchforks - USA | 0 comments
Not Who We Are?
photo: Richard Harris

"...George W. Bush and Dick Cheney might have "authorized" the torture program, but it's still a war crime that violates the Convention Against Torture, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the U.S. Constitution. Letting the people responsible for torture ride off into the sunset free of any criminal charges throws out the window international and domestic law, as well as almost everything we've learned from the Nuremberg Trials, Hannah Arendt, or the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

One of the CIA's "black" (secret) torture sites was located at Guantanamo, which should raise some thorny legal issues because, unlike Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Afghanistan, or Thailand, the Supreme Court has ruled that Guantanamo is considered "U.S. soil."

Absent any criminal prosecutions, the only conclusion we will be left with is that these guys really are "patriots" and torturing people really is "who we are." But we shouldn't need "experts" like Max Boot, Joe Klein, or other apologists for torture to judge the morality of turning to torturers posing as "doctors" to root out suspected terrorists.

The morality and ethics of whether or not the CIA can torture people in our name are non-negotiable. There is no argument that can be made to justify this atrocity. The corporate media are treating torture as if it's just another "issue" like immigration reform or the federal budget. It isn't. You cannot justify the unjustifiable. People who attempt to apologize for torture done in their name are embarrassing themselves; raising their heads to be counted as barbarians at the gate.


We don't fight against terrorists to become more like them, but to maintain our differences. And after all of the criticism the Arab and Islamic world has gotten for being behind the West in embracing the Enlightenment from the Sam Harrises and Bill Mahers, our own government tossed out any semblance of Enlightenment thinking against torturing prisoners going back to Voltaire and Beccaria.

Not long ago Alan Dershowitz was advocating "torture warrants," whereby judges could issue a legal justification for torture. I suppose that would be better than what we had: the CIA acting in secret and employing contractors to torture people willy-nilly.

Mitchell and Jessen and their underlings weren't going after any "ticking time bombs." They wanted to use coercion to get the names of other potential bad guys. The Senate report shows that they routinely kept prisoners in solitary confinement in a dark hole for up to 47 days just to "soften them up" before asking them any questions. So much for disarming the "ticking time bomb." The report also shows that any real intelligence gleaned from the interrogations came before prisoners were subjected to torture.

One of the creepiest revelations from the Senate report is the description of a torturer who has broken down one of his subjects through water-boarding and other "techniques" to the point where he can merely raise an eyebrow or snap his fingers and that broken human being would willingly go over to the water board and strap himself in. That's straight out of Orwell's 1984.

Mitchell and Jessen (and a number of other agents who are still receiving government salaries) engaged in "interrogating" their prisoners with beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, dark and cold or light and hot environments, rectal feeding, rectal hydration, sensory overload or sensory deprivation, and any other humiliating abuse that leapt into their imaginations..."

Click here for Joseph Palermo's complete article.
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