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"Stand Your Ground" and Threats Against Your Neighbors (Families & Countries)

By Dennis Loo (6/8/12)

Raul Rodriquez, a Houston ex-fire fighter, is now on trial for shooting and killing a neighbor, Kelly Danaher, an elementary school teacher, and wounding two other people with multiple gunshot wounds in May 2010.

Rodriquez, disturbed by the noise of Danaher’s party, picked up a flashlight and his gun and went over to complain. Packing a gun and brandishing it, naturally, is going to make people who have been drinking and partying in your neighborhood take you more seriously and make them turn down the music. Pulling out a gun also makes for good neighbors.

Before opening fire, Rodriquez, who was videotaping this and speaking to the 911 operator as he was confronting his neighbors at their house and therefore on their ground: "It's about to get out of hand sir, please help me. Please help me, my life is in danger now…," Rodriguez told police over the phone. "Now, I'm standing my ground here. Now, these people are going to try and kill me." (Emphasis added.)

But I don’t actually want to talk about this vigilante-cum-neighbor.

Nor do I want to talk about the good folks at the NRA who created these “Stand Your (sic) Ground” laws in two dozen states beginning around the mid 2000s.

I want to talk about how the logic by which Rodriquez, George Zimmerman, and others who have escaped prosecution for chasing after people who offend them and killing them1 - claiming that they were the ones who were in fear for their lives when they actually turned the incident into a fatal encounter by chasing after their alleged adversaries – matches our government’s rhetoric and behavior. These murderers and our government are all invoking a variant of the infamous “Batterer’s Defense”: “She made me do it.”

This is what the US government has been doing to Iran, building a case to justify their cyber-attacks (personally authorized by Obama), assassinations (by Israel and/or by US secret agents) of Iranian nuclear scientists, crippling economic sanctions, and open military attacks on Iran, including the possible use of nukes to destroy the nuclear energy program in Iran. You might, after all, have to use nukes to destroy the nuclear energy program because that nuclear program could turn into a nuclear weapons program. And who better to teach this lesson then the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons on anyone – the USA – and Israel, which has hundreds of nukes themselves?

Remember the woman at Walmart’s Black Friday sale who used pepper spray on other shoppers so that she could get an edge on the super deals? This happened exactly a week after Sgt. John Pike infamously pepper sprayed UC Davis students. When officials use unwarranted, brutal or deadly force against innocents, what lesson do citizens draw from their leaders' example?

As Gareth Porter revealed on June 5, 2012 (“U.S. Rejected 2005 Iranian Offer Ensuring No Nuclear Weapons”), Iran offered to guarantee that their nuclear enrichment could not be converted into weapons, a promise backed up by snap inspections, an offer that would have averted the sword rattling and worse against Iran by the US that have occurred since. That, the US, did not want. The British negotiator told Iran that the French and German governments were willing, but the offer had been nixed by the US.

Iranian negotiators submitted a proposal that included a "policy declaration to convert all enriched uranium to fuel rods" and "committed to getting the Additional Protocol", which would allow the IAEA to make snap inspections on undeclared facilities, ratified by its parliament.

Conversion of low enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel rods only usable for power plants could have provided a guarantee against using the enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Iran did not have the capability to fabricate fuel rods, so the implication was that the LEU would have to be shipped to another country for conversion or would have to be done under international auspices within Iran.

Once the fuel rods were fabricated, it would be practically impossible for Iran to reconvert them for military purposes.

Peter Jenkins, then the British permanent representative to the IAEA and a member of the British delegation to the Paris meeting with Iran, recalled in an interview with IPS, "All of us were impressed by the proposal."

While the US complains bitterly that Iran might use - or are using - their nuclear program to create nuclear weapons and might subsequently use them against Israel and others, including the US, the US has been in fact creating the conditions that necessitate their engaging in attacks on Iran by refusing to allow this issue to be settled diplomatically and dismissing out of hand Iran's offer to guarantee that their nuclear energy program would and could never be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The temper of the times is set by the actions of those who establish the norms from which others take their cues. When greed, material riches, and selfishness are the norm and when the law becomes whatever the leaders say it is, then the whole society suffers. When a society’s system endangers the lives of its people and the viability of the planet, and when that system’s leaders refuse to take the steps that must be taken to avoid disaster, then new leaders, representative of a different system, must step forward and create a new norm. They must set the standard and call on other people to adopt and adhere to that new standard. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 345)

_________

1See this story about nearly 200 documented incidents in Florida alone, in which the charges or lack thereof have been affected by the 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law. In almost 70% of these cases, the defendant went free. From the ProPublica story is this very telling example from Texas: "In November 2007, a Houston-area man pulled out a shotgun and killed two men whom he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor's home. Joe Horn, a 61-year-old retiree, called 911 and urged the operator to ‘Catch these guys, will you? Cause, I ain't going to let them go.' Despite being warned to remain inside his home, Horn stated he would shoot, telling the operator, ‘I have a right to protect myself too, sir. The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it.' "

Fukushima: A Possible Global Catastrophe is Unfolding

By Dennis Loo (6/3/12)

I am reposting an urgent appeal that I just received from Avaaz about the Fukushima nuclear disaster. After their letter I have added a commentary.

Dear friends,


Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor is not safe, and without urgent attention the crumbling site could spark an unprecedented global disaster. With no action from local government, nuclear experts are now saying international intervention is critical, but only a massive global call can push the UN to help. Sign the urgent petition and forward to everyone:


I’m writing with a personal plea for help from Japan. A nuclear inspector just said that the fate of my country and much of the world depends on Fukushima's Nuclear Reactor Number 4. If this damaged structure collapses, the spread of radiation would go way beyond Japan's borders and be truly catastrophic.

Since last year's tragic earthquake and tsunami, a pool of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel is being held in reactor 4’s crumbling structure. Experts say another strong tremor would cause the pool to collapse and emit such high radiation that my family and the 35 million people in Tokyo would be forced to evacuate. It would also contaminate the skies across the Pacific and into Asia. The area around the toxic pool is vulnerable to regular seismic shocks, but, amazingly, my government is denying the risks, likely desperate not to cause panic. 

The best way to curb this lethal threat is a global wave of public pressure on my government to agree to an emergency plan with UN experts. A US Senator and tens of thousands of people across Japan are raising the alarm. But it's going to take a global citizen chain reaction to prevent a nuclear meltdown, with each of us asking ten friends to ask their friends to join the call for action. Click below to call on the UN and Japanese PM Noda, then forward to everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_japans_nuclear_meltdown_global_c/?vl

The reactor 4 pool has no walls or roof and there are thousands of spent fuel rods inside containing ten times the amount of radioactive material than was released in the Chernobyl nuclear accident. This material, Cesium 137, is one of the most hazardous materials on the planet -- it gives off radiation that can remain dangerous for hundreds of years. To avoid spontaneous fire due to radioactivity alone, the dilapidated pool must be constantly cooled. If it collapsed and a fire ensued, reactor 4 is just 50 meters from the other reactors that contain thousands more spent fuel rods. The scope of disaster is nearly unfathomable!

Nuclear scientists say the spent fuel must be removed from the storage pool as fast as possible to a dry and safe facility. But so far the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan's embattled nuclear energy giant responsible for the clean up, insists they have reinforced the structure and is relying on the vulnerable pool storage system. People across Japan distrust TEPCO and do not understand why my government is leaving it up to this agency when they were already caught lying about the safety of Fukushima reactors before last year's disaster.

The Japanese people should not have to live on the brink of nuclear disaster. And fears that an accident would have global impact led one Japanese politician to call the risk, ‘the ultimate catastrophe for the world’. Global experts are now raising their voices and US Senator Wyden, who just visited the site, has publicly called for action and offered US help. I appeal to you to help get the UN's attention now to force my government to welcome an international team of nuclear experts to clean up Reactor 4 and remove this risk forever. Sign the urgent petition then forward this to everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_japans_nuclear_meltdown_global_c/?vl

The people across my country are still reeling from last year's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe, but together, Avaaz members here have helped make Japan the first developed nation on earth to go nuclear free. Now let's together remove this last remaining lethal threat before it is too late.

With hope and determination,

Michiharu, for the whole Avaaz team

***

In Globalization and the Demolition of Society, particularly in Chapter Three (“Courting Catastrophe and Sabotaging Everyday Security: Neoliberalism’s Dangerous Dance”), I argue that neoliberal policies that dictate that market forces should rule all things personal and public are a sure fire recipe for unprecedented disasters for the planet and its denizens. Fukushima is one example of this:

Using market forces and individualism as the organizers for economic and political affairs is a recipe for ever-expanding inequities and the shredding of the social fabric, leading inevitably to myriad disasters on the individual, regional, and global level. (p. xi)

Those who are in charge of our collective fates combine a specific constellation of attributes and attitudes that together add up to making them the most dangerous movement in human history.

First, they exercise an extraordinary and unprecedented level of economic, political and military power. The major parties in nearly every single country are united around a neoliberal program (the Republican and Democratic Parties in the U.S., for example, are both neoliberal) and these parties and the transnational and multinational corporations that outsize most of the countries in the world (with more than half of the largest economic entities in the world being corporations, not nations) concentrate in their hands unparalleled levels of technical and economic might.

Second, they adhere to an extremist philosophy that regards objective reality as not something that they need to take into account. Instead, they believe that through their sheer might they can create their own preferred realities.

When BP executives decided that failure was impossible and proceeded (like the geniuses behind the Titanic) to drive a giant stake to unprecedented depths and pressures into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst human-caused environmental disaster in at least American history, is their incredible hubris evidence of their fitness? As Naomi Klein explained in June 2010:

A year ago, [BP CEO] Hayward told a group of graduate students at Stanford University that he has a plaque on his desk that reads: “If you knew you could not fail, what would you try?” Far from being a benign inspirational slogan, this was actually an accurate description of how BP and its competitors behaved in the real world. In recent hearings on Capitol Hill, congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts grilled representatives from the top oil and gas companies on the revealing ways in which they had allocated resources. Over three years, they had spent “$39bn to explore for new oil and gas. Yet, the average investment in research and development for safety, accident prevention and spill response was a paltry $20m a year.”

These priorities go a long way towards explaining why the initial exploration plan that BP submitted to the federal government for the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon well reads like a Greek tragedy about human hubris. The phrase “little risk” appears five times. Even if there is a spill, BP confidently predicts that, thanks to “proven equipment and technology”, adverse affects will be minimal. (p. 338)

Third, neoliberals worship at the alter of profits and regard it as the sole criterion by which value is determined, overriding the needs of human beings and that of the environment.

The subordination of public safety and the public welfare to the dictates of profit guarantee two outcomes: huge profits for big capital and periodic disasters for the people. It is in the very nature of neoliberal policies that these two consequences will continue. (p. 165)

Fourth, they sit at the top of a bureaucracy that runs the modern world. As such, it is subject to both the advantages and the dramatic disadvantages of those bureaucracies and the bureaucratic attitude:

[As DoD analyst Nathan Freier points out:] “The likeliest and most dangerous future shocks will be unconventional. They will not emerge from thunderbolt advances in an opponent’s military capabilities. Rather, they will manifest themselves in ways far outside established defense convention. Most will be nonmilitary in origin and character, and not, by definition, defense-specific events conducive to the conventional employment of the DoD enterprise.

“They will rise from an analytical no man’s land separating well-considered, stock and trade defense contingencies and pure defense speculation. . . .”

9/11 was a strategic shock. Freier warns of future such “hostile design” shocks. But what is even more dangerous, as he puts it, is the prospect of “threats of context” that arise from the very workings of the existing systems. In other words, disasters await without anyone even trying to bring them about.

Threats of context arise, according to Freier, out of “the unguided forces of globalization, toxic populism, identity politics, underdevelopment, human/natural disaster, and disease. In the end, shocks emerging from contextual threats might challenge core U.S. interests more fundamentally than any number of prospective purposeful shocks.” He goes on to say that these forces “are in- or undervulnerable to traditional instruments of U.S. power applied in predictable combinations.”

What does it tell us about the nature of the contemporary and near term future world that disasters that arise out of the very context of our collective lives are a) certain, b) unlikely to be properly foreseen, c) extremely unlikely to be adequately prepared for, and d) more dangerous than any planned hostile actions?

It tells us at least two things.

First, the system we live in – global capitalism – is inherently unstable and dangerous whether you look at it from a local, national or international perspective. The spheres of the local, national and international are so intertwined that they cannot sensibly be separated as though events in one sphere do not impact the others.

Second, stability and security are more things of the past than of the present and, especially, the future. Massive dislocations and dramatic, startling changes to the status quo are not the stuff of science fiction but that which the DOD itself now finds it must take seriously. Granted, Frier’s document is not a policy document but a think tank document. But his evaluation of the situation compels serious reflection.

Several factors stand in the way of properly grasping the reality that we face. These factors include – not necessarily in order of importance:

• Bureaucratic practice and thinking, which by definition involves the routinization of ways of doing and seeing things based on what has previously happened and not what hasn’t yet happened, thus, narrowing down and aggressively anti-imaginative approaches trump their opposite. Bureaucracies, we should note, run things in the modern world. They are, in core respects, the modern world;

• Neoliberal policies – politics in service to globalization – dominate (both the GOP and the Democrats are Friedmanites) and therefore aggressive globalization which continues creating and deepening the bases for disasters and hamstringing human responses to disasters are not going to be modified or stemmed;

• Preparing for the future and hedging against unanticipated disasters are diametrically opposed to neoliberal policies of allocating resources most sparingly and cheaply for profit-making – e.g., allowing more hospital bedspace for a disaster is considered inefficient and unprofitable, devoting resources to developing flu vaccines is less profitable than drugs that require daily doses and are therefore neglected leaving us extraordinarily vulnerable to a flu epidemic.

To paraphrase (and modify) FDR, what we have to fear is the system itself proceeding along as it is. The economic crisis and the implacable wars are the most obvious conditions we confront today. But the matters which are being ruled off the table by public officials are the most perilous of all: a) re-establishing the rule of law through prosecution of its violators and b) the very logic and operations of globalization and its exacerbating of the existing economic and political inequalities and manifest threats to the planet.[i]

The different dimensions to this – they are multiple and include, for example, their handling of the “War on Terror,” “natural” disasters such as Katrina and their despoiling and threats to our very food supply – I analyze at length in the book. Fukushima is the latest instance of the grave catastrophe that neoliberal philosophy and policies pose for humanity and planet Earth. The stakes here are as immense as one can imagine.


[i] Dennis Loo, “The Water Line: Morality, the Rule of Law, and Leadership,” StateofNature.org, Winter 2009, http://www.stateofnature.org/theWaterLine.html, accessed January 2, 2010.

Losing Facebook / Losing My Religion

By Dennis Loo (6/1/12)

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, in a May 23, 2012 article about the collapse of Facebook’s stock within days of their IPO (Initial Public Offering), shedding $25 billion in value, more than the capitalization of Morgan Stanley, one of the banks that protected the initial IPO price on the first day by buying up shares if the price fell below the initial offer amount, recounts:

Henry Blodget, who unfortunately should know about these things, gave a good summary of it all on CBS This Morning:

“I was on the phone last night with a former hedge fund CEO who was talking about this. ‘Facebook,’ he said, ‘is a colossal example of a complete clusterfuck where everybody wins except the ordinary investor.’”

His point was that virtually every week now we see stories like this that hint at a kind of two-tiered market system – in which most of the real action takes place inside an unregulated black-box network of connected insiders who don’t disclose their relationships or their interests, while everyone else, i.e. the regular suckers, live in the more tightly-policed world of prospectuses and quarterly reporting and so on.

As the R.E.M. song “Losing My Religion” puts it:

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

“Losing My Religion” is subject to many possible interpretations, but for our purposes, I want to talk here about disillusionment, about coming to realize that something was a dream and waking up to the reality.

Occupy Wall Street arose because people got fed up and woke up about the capitalist clusterfuck: the privateers who preach the panacea of the market and anti-regulation/anti-big bad government while sidling up with these big bad bureaucrats to make sure that they will shield their CEO buddies from any real market competition. In other words, we’re talking about world-class hypocrites and plunderers.

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it

But it’s more than hypocrisy. It’s a system.

As I put it in Globalization and the Demolition of Society:

Ameriprise has a TV ad in which actors portraying Joe and Jane Q. Public declare that once they signed up with Ameriprise and could effect their stock market trades without an intermediary sales agent, they were in charge, as if this conferred upon individual traders control of the stock market—a world notorious for its volatility, insider advantages, and uncertainties. This is similar to a toddler in the woods declaring (assuming he could talk) that he was in charge because his wandering about was entirely up to himself. Capital One’s “Freedom Card” advertising declares that its credit cardholders are “Free! Free! Free!” because they get reward points redeemable for commodities from their credit charges. The idea that greater spending and more indebtedness render you freer exists only in Madison Avenue’s Alice in Wonderland world.

Corporations, mass media, and public officials tell us that the fact that we get to choose what cell phone, what kind of sweetened cola, which pain reliever, what cut of denim jeans, what type of car, and which major party nominee for office we will vote for, means that we are in charge. As Todd Gitlin points out,

Capitalism would work to present consumer sovereignty as the equivalent of freedom. . . . (“If you don’t like TV, turn it off.” “If you don’t like cars, don’t drive them.” “If you don’t like it here, go back to Russia.” “If you don’t like Crest, buy Gleem.” “If you don’t like Republican, vote Democratic.) The assumption that choice among the givens amounts to freedom then becomes the root of the worldwide rationale of the global corporation.

We may as well say that if a Nevada brothel prostitute gets to choose which John she will have sex with next, this means that she is in control.

When Henry Ford introduced the Model T Ford in 1908, he famously declared that consumers could have any color Model T they wanted, as long as it was black. Ford is also famous for introducing what was subsequently dubbed “Fordism”—an assembly-line process that involved speeding up production tremendously (cutting the average time to finished car from twelve hours down to one-and-a-half hours); standardization of product (everyone got the same car); and at its heart a compact between capitalist owners and workers in which workers would be paid better than they had been in the past in return for which they would become the major prop holding up the capitalist economy by buying more heavily. Domestic spending as a result of Fordism grew to make up what is today more than two-thirds of the Gross National Product (GNP) of the US.

Fordism operated in the US from the last decade of the 1800s to the middle of the nineteen seventies. Its eventual supersession by neoliberalism and the proliferation of consumer choices has meant that you no longer only have access to a black car. You can get a lot of different colors and features—as long as it is an internal combustion machine. But the fundamental relationship between capital and the populace delineated by Ford’s statement “you can have any color as long as it’s black” remains: more color choices has not made the consumer into the producer, still less has it made us into the ones who are “in charge.” The process by which corporations decide what they will produce and the shaping of state public policies remain at least once removed from the realm that the consumer and the public occupy.

Moreover, the vast expansion of consumer options—you can find what seem like dozens of kinds of pain relievers in a drug store—masks an ever-deepening decline in the degree of influence and power that consumers, workers, and the citizenry actually exercise in the economy and polity. Consumers—to put this most cogently—are not the equivalent of citizens. Exercising choices about what to consume is a far cry from the duties and potentialities of being a citizen. More to the point, still less is a citizen—in the best and most elevated sense of the term within democratic theory—the source of political sovereignty. (Pp. 221-222)

To those who still cling to hoping that they can forestall or avoid the flood by once again voting for the “lesser evil” – who is not the lesser evil at all but, as Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report aptly puts it, the more “effective evil” – of Barack Obama, take proper note.

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream



Todd Gitlin, “Media Sociology: The Dominant Paradigm,” Theory and Society 6, no.2, (September, 1978), 245.

Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12