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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lesser of Two Evils Vote is Counterproductive and Morally Corrupt

Lesser of Two Evils Vote is Counterproductive and Morally Corrupt

A liberal case for Donald Trump: The lesser of two evils is not at all clear in 2016

There’s probably never been a US presidential election where both likely nominees are more despised by more people. Millions on both sides plan to vote for the least despicable candidate. Do you need more proof our political system is corrupt to the core? If you’re a Hillary Clinton supporter and plan to vote for her, that’s fine. But Bernie Sanders supporters are being pressured and shamed into voting for Clinton. This “pragmatic” lesser of two evilstactic may work for the short term, but it will just embolden establishment politics and undermine future chances for real progressive change.
Even if your vote helps defeat Trump you’re clearly telling Democratic party elites they can confidently betray your concerns as long as they offer you someone marginally better than the Republican alternative. Where will it end? The Democratic Party will just continue to betray progressive causes with impunity. Progressives should say enough is enough and put moral principles above short-term political expediency.
The Democratic Party elites are going out of their way with all manner of dirty tricks to stack the deck for Clinton. They’re counting on Sanders supporters to “feel the guilt” if they dare to not vote for their chosen one. But if Trump wins, it won’t be the fault of Sanders supporters voting their conscience. It will be the fault of party elites trying to force an establishment faux progressive down the throats of true progressives knowing full well their choice will alienate millions of progressive Democrats and independents while bringing Trump supporters out in droves.
Like Clinton supporters, Sanders supporters have every right to vote forsomeone based on their moral principles. Sanders supporters shouldn’t be coerced to compromise their moral principles and merely vote againstsomeone. Democratic Party elites are blackmailing them by claiming, “if you don’t vote for our chosen one, it’s your fault if Trump wins.” No, it’s the fault of the Democratic Party for ignoring and marginalizing progressives. If it were really about beating Trump, party elites would change their allegiance to Sanders who would beat Trump more handily than Clinton according to multiple polls.
The onus is on the Democratic Party to promote someone who is worthy of your vote. The party elites shouldn’t expect to be exonerated for second-rate judgment by getting Sanders supporters to violate their moral principles and vote for the lesser of two evils.
Voting for the lesser of two evils is a logical fallacy called false dilemma
Voting for the lesser of two evils is not like choosing to switch a runaway train to another track so it kills one person instead of five if you do nothing. In this hypothetical case, there are only two choices. But when faced with two repulsive candidates for office, there are other choices – abstain from voting, vote for a third party candidate, or write someone in. If you aren’t fooled by the Democratic Party’s propaganda, you’ll see the real lesser of two evils choice here is voting for the lesser of two evils versus refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils. Which choice is really the lesser evil?
A Trump win may actually stimulate progressive change
Trump may be a (loose-cannon) unpredictable evil. But then, based on her long track record, Clinton is a very predictable evil. In fact, Trump is left of Clinton on such things as legal marijuana,  NATO aggression, and trade policy. His crazy proposals (e.g. Mexican wall, banning Muslims) are just bluster with zero chance of becoming reality. If Congress can stop Obama, it can stop Trump. But Clinton has a predictable pro-war track record (Iraq, Libya, Syria) and a predictable track record of changing positions for political expediency (e.g. Iraq war, NAFTA, Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2000, immigration, gun control, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, same-sex marriage). How can you be sure she won’t conveniently change her current progressive positions as president? A Trump presidency just might force Democratic Party elites to start seriously addressing the populist concerns they now arrogantly ignore.
If you vote for Clinton as the lesser of two evils, you’re compromising your moral values, you’re condoning the Democratic Party’s shoddy treatment of millions of progressives, and you’re sabotaging future real change. You’re virtually guaranteeing the Democratic Party elites will put you in this position again and again. If you refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils,maybe you’ll help elect Trump (or maybe your write-in or third party choice will win). But you’ll certainly send a very clear message to Democratic Party elites that you’ll no longer tolerate being ignored, marginalized, or shamed with false lesser of two evil choices.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Leadership Training or Bullshit Training at Harvard? The Price of Pseudo-Certainty in Business, Government, and Medicine

  Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace  

Harvard calls "leadership" speaking with conviction when you don't even believe it.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/alterfalter

The Harvard Business School information session on how to be a good class participant instructs, “Speak with conviction. Even if you believe something only 55 percent, say it as if you believe it 100 percent,” Susan Cain reported in her bestselling book Quiet. At HBS, Cain noticed, “If a student talks often and forcefully, then he’s a player; if he doesn’t, he’s on the margins.”

Cain observed that the men at HBS “look like people who expect to be in charge.... I have the feeling that if you asked one of them for driving directions, he’d greet you with a can-do smile and throw himself into the task of helping you to your destination — whether or not he knew the way.”
HBS alumni include George W. Bush, class of 1975, as well as:
  • Jamie Dimon, 1982, CEO and chairman of JP Morgan Chase
  • Grover Norquist, 1981, president of Americans for Tax Reform
  • Henry Paulson, 1970, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, former CEO of Goldman Sachs
  • Mitt Romney, 1975, former governor of Massachusetts, co-founder of Bain Capital
  • Jeffrey Skilling, 1979, former CEO of Enron, convicted of securities fraud and insider trading
People with great power over our lives, in government, business, medicine, and elsewhere, who don’t know what they are talking about are scary. Even more scary are people in authority who don’t know what they’re talking about but who have spent a lifetime perfecting how to appear like they do. Complete conviction and total certainty are sources of great power, especially over vulnerable and uncertain people. And so the pretense of conviction and certainty can be quite damaging.

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” and former hedge-fund manager, received his BA from Harvard and his JD from Harvard Law School. In 2007, Market Watch quoted Cramer: “What's important when you are in that hedge-fund mode is to not do anything remotely truthful because the truth is so against your view, that it’s important to create a new truth, to develop a fiction.”
Some Harvard graduates have famously rebelled against bullshit training, as Harvard alumni also include Henry David Thoreau and David Halberstam.

Halberstam’s 1972 book The Best and the Brightest, with its ironic and mocking title, takes down pseudo-certain Harvard (and other Ivy League-educated) presidential advisers who convinced American leaders and the American public that the Vietnam War was a great idea. To be fair to Harvard alumni, some of America’s most famous pseudo-certain government officials did not attend Harvard, including Donald Rumsfeld (Princeton) and Alan Greenspan (New York University).

Our society once routinely called people “bullshit artists” if they spoke with total certainty without any basis for such certainty so as to persuade others and get attention for themselves. Nowadays, bullshit training is called “leadership training” and unashamedly taught at “elite institutions” and at expensive leadership seminars.

Bullshit Artistry: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Expensive

In Tony Robbins’ talk "The Power of Certainty and State of Mind," he tells us “The person who is most certain will always influence the other person.” If you missed out on Harvard but have $895, you can attend a Tony Robbins seminar, and you too become a successful persuader. Robbins’ multi-day seminars cost up to $10,000, and his Platinum Partnership membership, which gives you the opportunity to go on exotic vacations with Robbins, costs $45,000 (Robbins’ net worth has been estimated to be $480 million).

The Harvard Business School Press ranks Robbins among the “Top 200 Business Gurus,” according to Robbins’ website, which also lists many testimonials for Robbins from celebrities, including Bill Clinton and Pitbull. Described as a “world-renowned music sensation and international businessman,” Pitbull tells us that he grew up listening to his mother’s Tony Robbins tapes, which “was like my university. ... It was my Harvard.”

Sounding completely confident when one lacks any real certainty can be disastrous in government, business, medicine, and many other areas. However, depending on the context, it may not be such a bad thing.

Tony Robbins also reports glowing testimonials for himself from tennis greats Serena Williams and Andre Agassi. Greatness in sports is about talent, practice and confidence, and so learning to completely believe in oneself is vital to achieving greatness in athletics. Teaching athletes to believe in themselves is part of what great coaching is about, and Pat Riley, Basketball Hall of Fame coach, gives Robbins a glowing testimony. Helping your children believe in themselves is also a part of what parenting is about, and so it can sometimes be helpful to appear like you completely believe in your child’s talent even if you believe in it only 55 percent.

However, tragedy in life routinely comes from applying what’s helpful in one area of life to all areas of life. It is the tragedy of fundamentalism. So when the HBS/Robbins theology of pretending to be certain when one is not becomes a fundamentalist religion to be used throughout government, business and medicine to persuade people, then tragedy can ensue.

I was a teenager when I discovered the hell that can be created by people in authority who don’t know what they’re talking about but who have spent a lifetime pretending that they do. I discovered how powerful Harvard-educated bullshit artists can create terror for myself and ruin American society.
When I was 14 years old, the Vietnam War continued to rage and the military draft began, and I worried about what my lottery number would be when I became eligible. I remember wishing Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson), and Henry Kissinger (Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State) would one day rot in hell. McNamara was an HBS alumni, class of 1939; and Kissinger received A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard and became a Harvard faculty member and director of the Harvard Defense Studies Program. McNamara and Kissinger’s capacity to convey confidence about the rightness of America’s Vietnam policies are major reasons for the tragic deaths of nearly 60,000 Americans and approximately 2 to 3 million Vietnamese.

Government is not the only place where we can be conned by authorities who don’t know what they’re talking about but who have spent a lifetime perfecting how to appear like they do.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was training to be a clinical psychologist, one of the most influential psychiatrists in America was longtime Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer. In an effort to convince the general public of the scientific validity of its psychiatric diagnostic bible, the DSM, the American Psychiatric Association chose Spitzer to chair the DSM-3 task force. DSM-3 was published in 1980, but by 1989, Spitzer was bragging, “I could just get my way by sweet talking and whatnot.” By 2013, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, citing the lack of DSM scientific validity, stated that the “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.”

As a clinical psychologist for nearly three decades, I’ve seen how emotionally suffering people and their families are extremely vulnerable to medical authorities who have complete conviction and total certainty. When the advertising business, which shamelessly prides itself on effective bullshit, was coupled with pseudo-certain authorities, it made sales resistance difficult for a vulnerable audience.

In the 1990s, Americans began to be exposed to highly effective TV advertisements for antidepressants that utilized a pseudoscientific notion that depression was caused by a “chemical imbalance” of low levels of serotonin that could be treated with “chemically balancing” antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Given the vulnerability of depressed people and their loved ones, it was easy to sell the chemical-imbalance theory, which made it easy to sell these drugs.

This chemical-imbalance campaign was so effective that it comes as a surprise to many Americans to discover that mainstream psychiatry now claims it has always known that this theory was bullshit or “urban legend,” the term used by Ronald Pies, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times.

Pies stated in 2011, “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend — never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” However, in Psychiatry’s Grand Confession (2012), Jonathan Leo and Jeffrey Lacasse respond to Pies: “But if the psychiatry community knew all along that the theory was not true, then why did they not clarify this issue for the general public? Shouldn’t they have pointed out to the general public and patients that what the pharmaceutical companies were saying about psychological stress was not true?”

For the last two decades, Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biederman has been one of the most influential psychiatrists in America. In 2007, the Boston Globe reported in “Backlash on Bipolar Diagnoses in Children” that “psychiatrists used to regard bipolar disorder as a disease that begins in young adulthood, but now some diagnose it in children scarcely out of diapers, treating them with powerful antipsychotic medications based on Biederman’s work.” In a deposition given by Biederman to several states attorneys (reported by the New York Times in 2009), Biederman was asked what rank he held at Harvard.
“Full professor,” Biederman answered.
“What’s after that?” asked one state attorney, Fletch Trammell.
“God,” Biederman responded.
Arrogant self-certainty and a Harvard affiliation have given Biederman great influence, as he has remained a major “thought leader” in psychiatry even after he was nailed by Congress in 2008 for taking $1.6 million from drug companies, and even after he was caught pitching Johnson & Johnson that his proposed research studies on its antipsychotic drug Risperdal would turn out favorably for Johnson & Johnson.

Is there any justice? While arrogance and time at Harvard can give one great power and influence, it doesn’t assure a positive legacy. The New York Times obituary2009 obituary of HBS graduate Robert McNamara states:
As early as April 1964, Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat of Oregon, called Vietnam “McNamara’s War.” Mr. McNamara did not object. “I am pleased to be identified with it,” he said. ... [McNamara later] concluded well before leaving the Pentagon that the war was futile, but he did not share that insight with the public until late in life. In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was “wrong, terribly wrong.” In return, he faced a firestorm of scorn.
We don't want to hear any “mea culpas" or “my bads” from former powerful authorities who have caused great damage by appearing like they knew what they were talking about when they didn’t. We just want them to have the decency to finally shut up.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Human Rights Manifesto

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

A Human Rights Manifesto

Julie Wark has written a manifesto for justice. Simply titled The Human Rights Manifesto, her book examines the UN Declaration of Human Rights and compares it to the current situation. In doing so, it is clear that we as a species have failed. While there is certainly plenty of blame to go around, from those activists who have resigned from the battle to those who have convinced themselves that the current political and economic systems are capable of remedying the daily violations of human rights, the bulk of the blame remains with the greatest violators of those rights. That means governments, their militaries and police officials, and their courts. The ultimate violator however, in every measurement Ms. Wark relates, is the current manifestation of the capitalist economy: neoliberalism.

This book destroys the myth that neoliberal capitalism is a positive force for humankind. It does so by merely stating the facts. Example after example of the cruelties and deprivations unleashed in the name of corporate and financial freedom leap from these pages. Thousands of children starving every day; forests, rivers and mountains ravaged, raped and destroyed by the machines ploughing under our planet’s future; wars undertaken and resistance destroyed to ensure the continued expansion until death of the capitalist system emanating from the world’s financial capitals. The perversion of local and national food economies via corporate manipulation of production through the commodification of food and artificial GMOs to the withholding of fertilizers and food via sanctions, humanity’s fundamental right to not starve is denied. Despite the ravages described in The Human Rights Manifesto, the author holds out an optimistic hope flickering in this litany of despair. That flicker emanates from that long-forgotten and ignored declaration.

It’s been clear to many for a while that humanitarian interventions are usually something else entirely. How else could one explain the increase in death that often occurs after the supposedly humanitarian troops arrive with their automatic weapons, their fighter planes and attack helicopters? How else can one explain the fact that when the original military phase of such interventions are over, the foreign troops remain, imposing the will of their political and corporate commanders back home? How else does one explain that in so many of these interventions, the majority of the civilians residing in said countries still find their lives at risk? The nature of these interventions and their non-humanitarian results have led many to scoff whenever the words “human rights” appear as a motivation. This skepticism feeds into the invaders’ dynamic quite helpfully, leaving their military power plays unchallenged in any meaningful way.


Ms. Wark’s book reclaims human rights for those whom they were originally intended. That is, for all humanity, especially those whose existence is considered unnecessary by the Goldman Sachs of the world. Instead of defining these rights in a manner that considers the right to buy and sell to be more important than the right to eat, Wark’s text is inspired by an understanding that human rights can only be human rights when they are applied to all of humanity, not just those of a certain nation, political or religious philosophy, and certainly not only to those with property and wealth.

Essentially anarchist in its analysis, The Human Rights Manifesto gives no government or economic system a free pass. Yet it is primarily a searing indictment of neoliberal capitalism.

Don Winslow is the author of several works of crime fiction. His novels are about people that travel in the smuggling of contraband, drugs and human. The laws of society rarely apply in Winslow’s world. Instead, it is usually the individual who is most brutal and amoral that succeeds. When the force of justice does appear, usually in the form of a renegade cop or private investigator, that justice is without mercy. I mention Winslow because Wark quotes his novels in her book. The quotes she chooses are not laudatory. Instead, they compare the morality of those who run and profit from the neoliberal capitalist economy to those that operate in the murderous economy Mr. Winslow writes of so graphically in his novels. The difference, the use of these quotes seems to claim, is just a matter of scale.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion in this book is the one presented by Wark concerning language and its (mis)use and manipulation. She lambastes the misuse of words like justice and the phrase human rights. Not only has their meaning been manipulated, it has been rendered meaningless. If the words describing a phenomenon no longer have any absolute meaning, then the phenomena become whatever those in power decide. In this world, justice becomes revenge and war becomes humanitarian intervention.

When the original UN Declaration was signed in 1948, it combined economic and political rights. After the major capitalist nations balked at the two elements being linked, the declaration was split and those nations objecting did not sign the part dealing with economic rights, which included statements detailing the right of all humanity to form labor unions, earn a fair wage, have shelter, health care, food and education. Washington and its cohorts knew that including these in any declaration of human rights would make the world they hoped to help build–the world we live in today–pretty much impossible. After all, without the commodification of food, education, shelter and health care, how would the financial-corporate nexus control the world like they do now?

Julie Wark’s book is a revolutionary tract. All it does is demands that the human rights claimed by the wealthiest and most powerful in our world be applied to everyone. It is a shame that such a demand has become a call to revolution. But, if that’s what is demanded, then we would do well to begin.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Exposed: American Doctors and Psychologists Engaged in Frightening Torture Programs Since 9/11


Turning the idea of health professional upside down. 


If you thought the U.S.’s involvement in the torture of prisoners detained in the “war on terror” was limited only to U.S. military personnel, intelligence officers, wrongheaded prison guards, or, through “extraordinary rendition,” handled by foreign proxies, think again. A new report from The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers has found that since 9/11, “Military and intelligence-agency physicians and other health professionals, particularly psychologists, became involved in the design and administration of that harsh treatment and torture — in clear conflict with established international and national professional principles and laws.”

According to the recently issued Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, medical practitioners were involved in such activities as “designing, … and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of detainees. And while the DoD has claimed that it has taken steps to remediate the problems, “including instituting a committee to review medical ethics concerns at Guantanamo Bay Prison,” the report’s authors say that these efforts fall far short of being meaningful.

The report pointed out that in 2010, the institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations convened the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers “to examine what is known about the involvement of health professionals in infliction of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and how such deviation from professional standards and ethically proper conduct occurred, including actions that were taken by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the CIA to direct this conduct.”

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Task Force member Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University. “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”

A broad array of “health professionals” and/or “medical personnel,” including physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, corpsmen (U.S. Navy or Marine-trained enlisted medical personnel), medics (U.S. Army-enlisted medical personnel), and technicians, participated in, or enabled, torture of detainees.

The Task Force found that post-9/11, U.S. government actions included “three key elements affecting the role of health professionals in detention centers”:

1.“The declaration that as part of a ‘war on terror,’ individuals captured and detained in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere were ‘unlawful combatants’ who did not qualify as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice approved of interrogation methods recognized domestically and internationally as constituting torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”

2. “The DoD and CIA’s development of internal mechanisms to direct the participation of military and intelligence-agency physicians and psychologists in abusive interrogation and breaking of hunger strikes. Although … the military and the CIA, … facilitated that involvement in similar ways, including undermining health professionals’ allegiances to established principles of professional ethics and conduct through reinterpretation of those principles.”

3. In 2004-2005, “leaked documents began to reveal those policies” that had previously been secret. “Secrecy allowed the unlawful and unethical interrogation and mistreatment of detainees to proceed unfettered by established ethical principles and standards of conduct as well as societal, professional, and nongovernmental commentary and legal review.”

To set the U.S. government’s torture policy into motion, it disregarded previous established interrogation guidelines, and violated the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, treaties that the U.S. was “bound to follow.”

According to Ethics Abandoned, “officials at the highest levels of the government rejected these guidelines, however, stating that they believed traditional methods of interrogation were too time-consuming to prevent feared imminent attacks. As a result, almost immediately after 9/11, the U.S. government adopted abusive methods of interrogation.”

Torture of prisoners began in earnest in late 2001, when those detained “at detention facilities at Bagram Air Base and in Kandahar, [were subject] to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, physical suspensions by chains, slamming into walls, sleep deprivation, constant light, and forced nakedness and others forms of humiliating and degrading treatment.”

What started as trial by torture – a little of this and a little of that – soon developed into “a theory of interrogation … that was based on inducing fear, anxiety, depression, cognitive dislocation, and personality disintegration in detainees to break their resistance against yielding information.”

While torture methods were being experimented with and developed, Bush Administration officials began laying “the legal groundwork for a policy that would abandon restrictions on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment imposed by treaty obligations and U.S. criminal law.” By early 2002, in a monumental decision, ”the White House counsel declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees at Guantánamo.”

A secret memorandum from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issued in response to a CIA request, “claimed that an initial core set of 10 ‘enhanced’ methods could be used legally as part of the interrogation program designed for Abu Zubaydah, a designated high-value detainee. The memorandum restricted the definition of severe mental or physical pain or suffering in a manner that permitted draconian interrogation methods, including attention-grasping (grasping a detainee with both hands and drawing him toward the interrogator), throwing a detainee repeatedly against a wall, facial holds (forcibly holding the head immobile), facial slaps, cramped confinement, wall-standing (forcing a detainee to support his weight on his fingers against a wall), stress positions, sleep deprivation, use of insects, and waterboarding.”

The limited role for health professionals during CIA-run torture sessions grew. By 2005, the initial set of 10 “enhanced” methods grew to 14. Time for sleep deprivation increased from no more than 48 hours to 180 hours: “Detainees were kept awake by being shackled in a standing position, hands to the ceiling and feet to the floor, fed by detention personnel and diapered so that nothing interfered with the standing position.”

The detainees were nude; cold water-dousing of nude prisoners, not included in the 2002 memo, was now allowed; and waterboarding “described only briefly in 2002, [as aiming] … to induce the feeling and threat of imminent death,” was described in 2005 “as causing the sensation of drowning and carrying risks of aspiration, airway blockage, and death from asphyxiation.”

From the early round up of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq to the establishment of Guantanamo, medical care, particularly mental health care was woefully inadequate: In Iraq and Afghanistan, evidence shows that clinical medical personnel were not isolated from interrogations as at Guantánamo; they engaged in various aspects of interrogation as well as other security functions. Physicians reportedly monitored interrogations and psychiatrists signed off on interrogation plans involving sleep deprivation.”

Prisoner abuse went routinely unreported by medical personnel. The report points out that “Even as the use of torture by the military began to decline in 2005 and 2006 when a new DoD interrogation field manual was issued that prohibited the use of many (but not all) highly coercive methods, physicians and nurses became involved in unethical force-feeding and use of restraint chairs in breaking hunger strikes.”
The Department of Defense instituted three “changes in ethical standards and policies to rationalize and facilitate medical and psychological professionals’ participation in interrogation.” Do no harm descended into avoid or minimize harm. Another DoD change “involved conflating ethical standards for health professionals involved in interrogation with general legal standards.”

As hunger strikes -- defined as total fasting with only water ingested for more than 72 hours by a mentally competent, non-suicidal person for the purpose of obtaining an administrative or political goal rather than self-harm – became a weapon of the detainees, more health professional became involved in force-feeding sessions.

Ethics Abandoned points out that “International ethical standards and guidelines for treatment established by the World Medical Association and U.S. national medical practice standards guide both physicians and detention facilities responses to hunger strikes. Physicians have the ethical responsibility to determine if a prisoner’s action is indeed a hunger strike; ensure the hunger striking individual’s well-being; determine the individual’s competence to make informed decisions; counsel the individual regarding the consequences and risks of extended food refusal and the options he or she has; determine whether the individual’s decisions are made freely and without coercion; and see to the medical care of the individual during the hunger strike.”

Instead of advocating for the hunger strikers, many of the health providers became involved with force-feeding in restraint chairs, an often violent and painful method. According to the report’s authors, “the force-feeding policies undercut necessary, ongoing physician-patient relationships and independent medical judgment,” and as of the writing of the report, they had not been able to ascertain current policy of hunger strikes, which are continuing.

"We now know that medical personnel were co-opted in ways that undermined their professionalism," said Open Society Foundations President Emeritus Aryeh Neier. "By shining a light on misconduct, we hope to remind physicians of their ethical responsibilities."

Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements and politics.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Shamelessness of Bankers

Today's Ideas and Actions | OurFuture.org

The Shamelessness of Bankers

The Shamelessness of Bankers
It’s not easy to maintain a civil tone while describing the magnitude of the misbehavior among executives at Wall Street’s largest institutions. To criticize bankers is to describe large-scale wrongdoing, mass-produced outrages that lead to widespread misery. It can’t be done without routinely deploying words like “perjury,” “forgery,” “fraud,” “deceit,” “corruption” and “rapaciousness.”
Unfortunately, the forms of speech that adequately convey big-banker behavior also make it easy for insiders in politics, government and the media to dismiss that same speech as excessive.
William Dudley , chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
William Dudley , chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
That’s one reason why some recent remarks by William Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, are so important. He’s no outsider and he’s no extremist. And yet, after exploring potential solutions to the “too big to fail” problem in a speech to Global Economic Policy Forum last week, Dudley went on to discuss what he called “the apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust.”
Added Dudley: “There is evidence of deep-seated cultural and ethical failures at many large financial institutions.”
Two phrases in particular bear repeating: “the apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust,” and “deep-seated cultural and ethical failures.”
Mr. Dudley is using the language of courtesy and civility, but his language is blunt and even cutting. He’s speaking of individuals he knows well and with whom he interacts daily. That doesn’t prevent him from saying that bank executives have displayed disrespect for both law and regulation, that they are not worthy of the public’s trust, and that they are culturally and ethnically impaired at a profound level.
And yet, remarkably enough, House members from both parties are nevertheless supporting a Republican-backed initiative which would unwind some of the already-inadequate provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. There’s very little chance that President Obama will sign their bills, since he considers Dodd-Frank a signature achievement. But his administration retains its cozy relationship with major banks – a relationship that includes revolving-door appointees and a reluctant attitude toward the criminal prosecution of bankers.
That’s no surprise. How can legal safeguards be maintained when the money these institutions spend taints the political process from beginning to end? How can bank executives learn “respect for law, regulation and the public trust” when they are subject to the flattery of journalists, rather than the scrutiny of journalists? (See Roger Lowenstein’s puff piece about bank CEO Jamie Dimon in the New York Times Magazine for a classic example of that genre.)
And how can the society of big bank executives heal from its “deep-seated cultural and ethical failures” when those executives are treated as founts of economic wisdom, worthy of demanding sacrifices from others through political lobbying groups like Fix the Debt, and still believe that their names lend credibility to their efforts rather than casting shame on all of them.
“When pride cometh,” says the Bible in Proverbs, “then cometh shame.” Maybe that word should form the collective noun for members of that profession. Like “a pride of lions”: a “shame of bankers.”
But where is that shame, already? Big-bank executives have been insulated from it by sycophants in the media and politics.
In quoting Proverbs, I’m not suggesting that a religious renewal could clean up Wall Street. Too many crooks have done their stealing in the name of God. But something has to restrain these runaway bankers. Social “shaming” might help. But instead of ostracizing them for their contemptuous attitude toward legality and fair play, too much of society lionizes them instead.
Our society worships wealth and consumption, and that slavish devotion has reached massive proportions. Along with that worship, our society seems to have rejected the idea that there is any dignity in the life of ordinary, law-abiding working people. In a survey conducted last year by a whistleblowers’ defense law firm, nearly half of the senior bankers polled acknowledged a willingness to break the law to make money. (Presumably there were a number of others who also would, but weren’t willing to admit it to a stranger.)
Proverbs goes on to say that “riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.” But who believes that anymore? Absent some resurgence of prophetic outrage, our banker problem will continue.
However tragic the consequences, it’s easy to understand the subservient behavior that politicians and senior government officials display toward big-bank executives. The politicians want campaign contributions. The senior government officials want to follow the revolving-door route followed by the likes of Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Peter Orszag, also have become wealthy as employees, consultants or speech-givers to the largest Wall Street institutions.
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, seemed incapable of shame even after the London Whale fiasco provided evidence that he was incapable of curbing criminality in his chronically lawbreaking organization. (See “JPMorgan Chase: Incredibly Guilty.”) It was not until multiple government investigations focused on his institution that Dimon stopped trying to block government regulation of his industry.
Nam ego illum periisse duco, cui quidem periit pudor, wrote the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. It means, “I count him lost who is lost to shame.” By that standard, Jamie Dimon and his ilk may sadly be counted as lost among civilized human beings.
But the rest of us still need to be protected from them. Some of that protection will come with better law enforcement, so that they are discouraged from acting out their worst impulses. And part of it will come through shaming them publicly, since most of them are human beings with enormous egos.
“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind,” said the same passage in Proverbs. We can’t depend on a higher power to make those words reality. We need to use the tools we have been given – tools that include the law, our social norms, and moral clarity – to protect ourselves from the shamelessness of bankers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Is Altruism? Why Practice Altruism?

Greater Good

The Science of a Meaningful Life


What Is Altruism?

Altruism is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves. Though some believe that humans are fundamentally self-interested, recent research suggests Greater Goodotherwise: Studies have found that people’s first impulse is to cooperate rather than compete; that toddlers spontaneously help people in need out of a genuine concern for their welfare; and that even non-human primates display altruism.

Evolutionary scientists speculate that altruism has such deep roots in human nature because helping and cooperation promote the survival of our species. Indeed, Darwin himself argued that altruism, which he called “sympathy” or “benevolence,” is “an essential part of the social instincts.” Darwin’s claim is supported by recent neuroscience studies, which have shown that when people behave altruistically, their brains activate in regions that signal pleasure and reward, similar to when they eat chocolate (or have sex).

This does not mean that humans are more altruistic than selfish; instead, evidence suggests we have deeply ingrained tendencies to act in either direction. Our challenge lies in finding ways to evoke the better angels of our nature.
For More: Why do some people risk their lives to help others? Read about Kristen Renwick Monroe’s research to understand heroic altruists.

Why Practice Altruism?

Nice guys finish last? Hardly. More and more, research suggests that practicing altruism enhances our personal well-being—emotionally, physically, romantically, and perhaps even financially. It’s also crucial to stable and healthy communities, and to the well-being of our species as a whole. Still need to be convinced to be kind? Read on.
  • Altruism makes us happy: Researchers have consistently found that people report a significant happiness boost after doing kind deeds for others. Some studies suggest giving to others makes people feel happier than spending money on themselves; this has even been found among kids. These good feelings are reflected in our biology: Giving to charity activates brain regions associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. Scientists also believe that altruism may trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, giving us a “helper’s high.”
  • Altruism is good for our health: People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains, better overall physical health, and less depression; older people who volunteer or regularly help friends or relatives have a significantly lower chance of dying. Researcher Stephen Post reports that altruism even improves the health of people with chronic illnesses such as HIV and multiple sclerosis.
  • Altruism is good for our bottom line: Studies suggest that altruists may reap unexpected financial benefits from their kindness because others will feel compelled to reward their kindness; other research has found that donating money to charity might make corporations more valuable. Across the animal kingdom, animals that cooperate with each other are more productive and survive longer.
  • Altruism is good for our love lives: When researcher David Buss surveyed more than 10,000 people across 37 cultures, he found that kindness was their most important criterion for a mate and the single universal requirement for a mate across all cultures.
  • Altruism fights addiction: Studies have shown that addicts who help others, even in small ways, can significantly improve their chances of staying sober and avoiding relapse; this is true among adults and adolescents alike.
  • Altruism promotes social connections: When we give to others, they feel closer to us, and we also feel closer to them. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” writes positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, and this “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”
  • Altruism is good for education: High-quality service learning programs, where students complement their classroom learning with real-world community service, improve academic performance and make students feel more connected to their school. And when students engage in “cooperative learning,” where they must work together to complete a project, they are more likely to have positive relationships, better psychological health, and are less likely to bully.
  • Altruism is contagious: When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community. Research by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis has shown that altruism can spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. “As a result,” they write, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
For more: Read our article on “Five Ways Giving Is Good for You” and Christine Carter’s explanation of “What We Get When We Give.”

How to Cultivate Altruism?

Studies show that kids behave altruistically even before they’ve learned to talk. But too often, we don’t act on our propensities for kindness as we get older. Here are ways research suggests we can nurture our own altruistic instincts—and help motivate altruism in others.
  • Get connected: Feeling connected to other people—even by just reading words like “community” and “relationship”—makes us more altruistic. Reminders of connection can be very subtle: In one study, when toddlers simply saw two dolls facing each other in the background of a photo, they were three times more likely to be helpful than when they saw the dolls in other poses.
  • Get personal: We’re more altruistic when we see people as individuals, not abstract statistics. So if you want to encourage aid to people in need, give their problem a human face. By the same token, people respond more altruistically when they feel personally responsible for a problem: Bystanders to a crisis are much more likely to respond if singled out individually—“Hey, you in the striped shirt, can you help me?”—than if they hear a general appeal for help.
  • See yourself in others: In general, people are much more likely to help members of their own group—but research has shown that who we think belongs to our “in-group” can be very malleable. Finding a thread of similarity with someone else—even something as simple as liking the same sport or sports team—can motivate altruistic action toward that person, in some cases overcoming group rivalries in the midst of war.
  • Give thanks: Grateful people are more generous, perhaps because they’re paying forward the gifts they appreciate receiving from others. Receiving gratitude can also encourage altruism—for instance, when a server writes “thank you” on a restaurant bill his or her tip goes up by as much as 11 percent.
  • Lead by example: People who consistently display altruism encourage others to follow suit. Simply reading about extraordinary acts of kindness makes people more generous, perhaps because they experience the warm, uplifting feeling psychologists call “elevation,” which we get when we see unexpected acts of goodness. This is an especially important tip if you’re caring for kids: Research suggests altruistic children have parents or other caregivers who deliberately model helpful behavior or stress altruistic values.
  • Put people in a good mood: Feeling happy makes people more generous. And because being generous seems to make people happy, researcher Lara Aknin sees a “positive feedback loop” to altruism that might benefit charitable organizations: “Reminding donors of earlier donations could make them happy, and experiencing happiness might lead to making a generous gift.”
  • Encourage collaboration and emphasize shared goals: When kids have to work together on a task, they’re much more likely to share the fruits of their efforts evenly. When students participate in “cooperative learning” exercises in small groups, they’re more likely to show kindness toward their classmates in general.
  • Acknowledge giving—but not with rewards: People are more likely to be altruistic when others will know of their good deeds, perhaps because they assume their kindness will be reciprocated down the line. But too much acknowledgment can backfire: Young kids who receive material rewards for kindness become less likely to help in the future.
  • Get time on your side: In seminal studies by Daniel Batson and John Darley, when people saw someone slumped on a sidewalk, their decision to help depended on a single factor: whether they were late to an appointment They were altruistic only when they felt like they had the time to be—which offers important lessons for our increasingly busy culture: slow down, don’t overschedule, and make time to be mindfully aware of your surroundings.
  • Help build a supportive community: One study found that neighborhoods with more support structures for kids, like extracurricular activities and religious institutions, had teens who were more altruistic. The amount of wealth in their neighborhood wasn’t a factor. This suggests volunteering doesn’t just make you feel good—it also helps build a more altruistic community.
  • Fight inequality: Studies suggest that when people feel an inflated sense of status, they become less generous. Perhaps that’s why wealthier people in the United States give a lower percentage of their income to charity, especially when they live in neighborhoods with a high proportion of other wealthy people. But when high-status people are made to feel a compassionate connection to others, or feel their status dip, they become more generous.
For more: Read our “Seven Tips for Fostering Generosity,” Stephen Post’s “Six Ways to Boost Your Habits of Helping,” and Christine Carter’s “Five Ways to Raise Kind Children.”

How Altruistic Are You?

Find out by taking some of these research-tested scales and quizzes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

21 Charts That Explain American Values Today

The Atlantic

21 Charts That Explain American Values Today

Americans say they are more tolerant and open-minded than their parents. Among the issues that rate more morally acceptable today than a decade ago: homosexuality, human cloning, pre-marital sex, and having a child out of wedlock.  At the same time, half believe the economic system is unfair to middle- and working-class Americans, and only 17 percent believe Wall Street executives share fundamental American values. In all, two-thirds think the country is heading in the wrong direction, 69 percent believe the country's values have deteriorated since the 1970s, and nearly half say values will further weaken over the next 10 years.

Such are the highlights of The Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey. Elsewhere on the site, pollster Mark Penn provides a full analysis of the survey, which was conducted by his firm, Penn Schoen Berland. Below, a brief summary in charts:

Two-thirds of those surveyed say the country is heading in the wrong direction ...


  ... 7 in 10 say people's values have been getting worse in America ...


... and nearly half expect American values to weaken over the next decade.

Americans are split over whether their values are stronger or weaker than the rest of the world's ...


... while freedom of speech and freedom of religion are cited as the top examples of America's superior values compared to other places in the world.

The influence of religion on American life is decreasing.

11 percent of Americans don't believe in God ...

... half seldom or never attend church ...

... but religion is still important to half of all Americans.

Most Americans say they are more open and tolerant than their parents.

Two-thirds of Americans think the U.S. economy is on the wrong track ...

... and half think the economic system is unfair to middle- and working-class people.

6 in 10 Americans believe budget deficits undermine American values ...

... and more than half would raise taxes on the wealthy and businesses.

Only 17 percent think Wall Street executives share America's fundamental values ...

... and of those who say Wall Street values are different, 9 in 10 say they are worse.

7 in 10 believe elected officials reflect mainly the values of the wealthy ...

... and Americans are broadly united in their belief that money and lobbyists have too much influence in politics.

More than half do not expect their personal information to be private when they use social media ...

... though Americans are more worried about government knowing their personal lives than about about private companies.

Finally, more than three-quarters of Americans believe people are typically motivated by self-interest -- and just 20 percent believe them to be generally altruistic.