Friday, December 19, 2014

A composite of recent polls may depress progressives & those who have read the Constitution

By Marc Jampole

Recent polls paint an unappetizing portrait of the United States and its citizens. If you believe these polls, we have a violent, gun-toting, intolerant and racist society ruled by lies. These polls are very disappointing for progressive Americans, as majorities or large pluralities support conservative positions. Funny thing is—in almost every case the rightwing position works against the best interests of virtually all Americans. These polls show how much the rightwing has succeeded in manipulating large portions of the American people through fear-mongering, lies and racism.

Here are what the latest surveys tell us:


Americans support torture, which is illegal in the United States and most of the world, has been proven to yield no results and is a debasing, shameful practice that goes against most moral codes. According to a Washington-Post­-ABC –TV poll, 59% of all Americans believe the United States was justified to engage in torture after the 9/11 attacks. A Pew Research Center study says that 51% of Americans support our now-dismantled torture program.

Gun Control

Studies conducted mainly in foreign countries demonstrate that the number of violent crimes increases in societies in which there is more gun ownership. The more guns out there, the more deaths by guns and the more violent crimes occur. These studies of the impact of gun ownership dismantle the old saw that “when guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns,” since in countries that outlaw guns, fewer crimes are committed using them. Note that these studies only involve foreign countries, because a federal law passed forbids the use of federal money to conduct studies involving gun ownership and gun violence.

But most people haven’t seen these studies but do hear National Rifle Association propaganda on a weekly basis. Thus, a recent Pew Research poll finds that 52% of the population support additional protection of gun rights and 46% support gun control, the first time in about 20 years that Pew found more support for gun rights than gun control.

Police treatment of African-AmericansNumerous statistics and studies show that police departments and the criminal justice system treat African-Americans unfairly. Blacks are caught and convicted of more victimless crimes, i.e., drug-related offenses, than are whites. Stop-and-frisk policies focus almost exclusively on black and Hispanic neighborhoods. African-Americans represent 14% of the population, but 39% of unarmed people killed by the police.

And yet a recent NBC/Marist poll concluded that 52% of whites believe that police officers in their community treat blacks and whites equally and just 39 percent of whites say law enforcement uses different standards for whites and blacks.

A Diverse and Secular Society

The Constitution established the United States as a secular society with a strict separation between church and state. The American ideal has always been that people of different faiths and creeds come together in public places to conduct the business of the economy, government and our society, and then everyone goes home to her or his own belief system. And yet in the 21st century, yet another Pew study reveals that a whopping 72% of all Americans want nativity scenes on public property. Planting a nativity scene inside a public school or in front of a government building shows a decided preference for the various sects that make up Christianity over the other religions practiced by Americans. It imposes one belief system on the public realm and makes many holding a different faith feel estranged or at least oppressed.

Using these surveys to build a composite picture of the average American leaves us with someone who believes in torture, feels comfortable in an inherently violent society, sees nothing wrong with the criminal justice system singling out one race for harassment and has no problem committing society-wide acts of cultural imperialism.

And yet virtually everyone I know is against torture, favors gun control, is distraught over the unequal treatment of and the all-too-frequent acts of police brutality against minorities and prefers to practice religion (or lack thereof) in private. Of course, I have always lived in big cities in blue states (except for two horrible years in Florida during high school) and mostly know educated professionals, many of whom are minorities.

Based on these studies, I must have been doing anecdotal thinking all these years by imagining that a majority of my fellow Americans matched the views that I learned during my university years and are held by my very large circle of acquaintances. I consider myself a real-world kind of guy. But I think I may prefer living in my anecdotes, which, while they may not represent the views of most Americans, do reflect both factual reality and the ideals we are taught in public school.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Like the Nazis & other evil-doers, American torture apologists use language to sanitize evil

By Marc Jampole

How do we know that those who are defending the American torture program under the presidency of George W. Bush recognize that they are wrong and that torture is both illegal and immoral, in other words, evil?

We can tell in the language they use.

As soon as the Central Intelligence Agency, Dick Cheney and his cute little friend George Junior decided to call it Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, they as much as admitted they knew it was wrong and illegal. They understood full well that knowledge of the program would revolt a large part of the population, and that even most of those who approved it would do so reluctantly and that their approval would be based on a lie—that torture works to get bad people to tell us where their fellow baddies are hiding. So they decide to call it something else.

Calling torture Enhanced Interrogation Techniques surely raises a lot fewer eyebrows than calling it torture. Except for one thing: lots of Americans have become cynical of such euphemisms. From “pacification” of villages in Viet Nam to “Clear Skies” to describe a program to gut the Clean Air Act, for decades the federal government has been trying to soften the impact of bad stuff they want to do by giving it a pretty name.

Enter one of the favorite friends of corporate communicators throughout the world: the abbreviation or acronym (which technically is a word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term). In testimonies and interviews, virtually all defenders of U.S. torture have depended heavily on the abbreviation EIT.

I’ve worked and consulted for many large organizations, so I can tell you that they deal in abbreviations and acronyms. They breed them and use them. There can be no doubt that the torture program was primarily referred to as EIT, especially among the cognoscenti. Even secret programs must make their way through bureaucratic channels: budgets, human resources, purchase order numbers, all must be tied to specific activity for all bureaucracies, government and private enterprise. Requisitions for the EIT program. Reports from the EIT program.

All of this use of an abbreviation of a smelly euphemism among the coteries of people who knew exactly what EIT meant. At one point, I can imagine Rumsfeld exploding to Tenet, “This EIT program uses a shitload of electricity! Dick is going to have a heart attack when he sees these numbers.”

Just like the Nazis used euphemisms to conceal their destruction of the Jews. Just like Stalin and Mao Zedong, who also used euphemisms for programs they knew were evil or would hurt or kill many innocent people.

Compare the lengths to which the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union and China have gone to hide the evil they perpetrated on people to the Spanish Inquisition, which burned people at the stake in public. The implementers of the Spanish Inquisition believed that what they did was just, mortal and sanctioned by their god, so they did it in public.

The only conclusion we can come to is that our torture gang knew it was illegal and immoral, AKA evil.

All large bureaucracies tend to sanitized their decisions—good and bad—through language and language shortening that turns great masses of activity with enormous impact on individuals into bite-sized phrases that the bureaucracy further sanitizes by putting them through the jargon-laden special language it has evolved for internal communications. People are too busy developing and monitoring budgets, evaluating metrics, requisitioning and processing invoices for the ABC, ABACUS or EIT program to remember what each program does, whether it helps poor women with children or tortures other human beings.

We can certainly improve the bureaucracy by making it more open, changing the way it approaches communications at all levels and making it easier for oversight. But let’s be clear: Bureaucracies don’t create evil, they just process it in their emotionlessly banal way. Men in women as individuals and in small groups create the evil. If we want to make sure that no future American government engages in torture, we have to prosecute those involved in creating the Bush II gulag, including our former President and Vice President.