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Iraq: An Education in Occupation and Institutional Destruction

Bush-Mission Accomplished
© Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images
As the last American soldiers left Iraq in December, so, too, did many of the journalists who had covered the war, leaving little in the way of media coverage of post-war Iraq. While there were some notable exceptions -- including two fine articles by MIT's John Tirman that asked how many Iraqis had been killed as a result of the US invasion -- overall the American press published few articles on the effects of the occupation, especially the consequences for Iraqis.

As a college professor, I have a special interest in what happened to Iraqi universities under US occupation. The story is not pretty.

Until the 1990s, Iraq had perhaps the best university system in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein's regime used oil revenues to underwrite free tuition for Iraqi university students -- churning out doctors, scientists, and engineers who joined the country's burgeoning middle class and anchored development. Although political dissent was strictly off-limits, Iraqi universities were professional, secular institutions that were open to the West, and spaces where male and female, Sunni and Shia mingled. Also the schools pushed hard to educate women who constituted 30 percent of Iraqi university faculties by 1991. (This is, incidentally, better than Princeton was doing as late as 2009.) With a reputation for excellence, Iraqi universities attracted many students from surrounding countries -- the same countries that are now sheltering the thousands of Iraqi professors who have fled US-occupied Iraq.

Iraqi universities began their decline in the 12 years after the 1991 Gulf War. As the international sanctions regime cut off journal subscriptions and equipment purchases, academic salaries fell precipitously, and 10,000 Iraqi professors left the country. Those faculty who remained were increasingly closed off from new developments in their fields.

V

US: 'Occupy Austin' Evicted; Seven Arrested, One Hospitalized

occupy protestor detained @ Austin
© Ann Harkness via Flickr Commons
Occupy Austin protesters were evicted from the steps of Austin's City Hall last night on orders from the office of City Manager Mark Ott. Seven arrests were made and one 58-year-old protester was hospitalized, says a report posted this afternoon on the Austin Chronicle web site.

Rumors of an eviction have swirled for days, the article says, but protesters were finally ordered to leave at 9:30 Friday night. At 10:45 p.m. a group of 50 police arrived by bus and began to clear the area.

Protesters reconvened at Republic Square Park and began to march up Sixth Street, webcasting the event until it became clear that police were using the webcast to track and surround the group.

Seven arrests were made in total, including videographer Corey Williams, 'Occupy Austin' organizers, and 58-year-old Claire Hirschkind who fell to the ground and was taken to Brackenridge Hospital. City officials say that Hirschkind has a history of seizures but witnesses say she was pushed down by police.

New regulations put in place by the City Manager prohibit any non-city usage of the area between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. and bar the use of "sleeping, camping and the use or storage of sleeping equipment." A reservation is now required by any group wishing to use the area's mezzanine and amphitheater.

Protesters who were arrested face charges of criminal trespass.

Whistle

Bradley Manning Nobel Peace Prize Nomination 2012

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© Free Bradley Manning
February 1st 2012 the entire parliamentary group of The Movement of the Icelandic Parliament nominated Private Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize. Following is the reasoning we sent to the committee explaining why we felt compelled to nominate Private Bradley Manning for this important recognition of an individual effort to have an impact for peace in our world.

Our letter to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee:

We have the great honor of nominating Private First Class Bradley Manning for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Manning is a soldier in the United States army who stands accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The leaked documents pointed to a long history of corruption, war crimes, and imperialism by the United States government in international dealings. These revelations have fueled democratic uprising around the world, including a democratic revolution in Tunisia. According to journalists, his alleged actions helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements, shed light on secret corporate influence on our foreign policies, and most recently contributed to the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all U.S.troops from the occupation in Iraq.

Megaphone

Victims of Toxic FEMA Trailers Cannot Sue Government, Rules Big Brother Federal Judge

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not be held responsible for providing toxic, formaldehyde-laden trailers to thousands of displaced individuals following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Courthouse News Service (CNS) reports that Judge Carl Stewart from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has struck down an appeal from 10,000 residents who were harmed by the trailers, claiming that these individuals have no jurisdiction to sue the government.

Even though taxpayers like those injured by the toxic trailers are responsible for funding FEMA, which means they technically helped fund the trailers as well, Judge Stewart does not believe the plaintiffs in the case have subject-matter jurisdiction to go after the agency. In his view, the trailers were provided at "no cost," and "under no obligation."

But the whole premise of the case alleges that FEMA knew about the trailers' formaldehyde problems early on and continued to distribute them to displaced hurricane victims. By failing to admit the problem and take action to remedy it, FEMA inflicted undue injury and even death on victims just to avoid having to deal with future lawsuits, they say.

X

US: On Becoming One of Arizona's Banned Authors

AZ book ban
© n/a
This past week, I had the distinction of becoming one of a select list of authors banned by the Tucson United School District. Now this is no small feat. It turns out that the Tucson United School District (a city adjoining both the U.S./Mexico border and that of the Tohono O'odham, Yaqui and several other tribal nations) does not want to discuss Native American or Mexican American history - at least, as told by Native American and Chicano or Mexican American authors.

Hence, the decision to ban books in a 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday, January 10 by the school-district board. This is part of a larger state mandate banning Mexican American Studies. An estimated 50 books are being banned.

This morning, I am looking at one of the banned books, Rethinking Columbus: the Next 500 Years. The book, originally published in 1991 by Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools, is intended to provide educators with tools to re-evaluate "the social and ecological consequences of the Europeans' arrival in 1492" and was written in time for the quincentenary. That was the event the Chicago Tribune had promised would be the "most stupendous international celebration in the history of notable celebrations."

Perhaps a bit optimistic in retrospect. In the book, the question was asked, What were the consequences- both positive and negative of this "discovery," or, in actuality, the blind luck of some poor navigation skills. Apparently this book is the pinnacle of what should not be read.

Gear

Why Do People Defend Unjust, Inept, and Corrupt Systems?

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© unk
Why do we stick up for a system or institution we live in -- a government, company, or marriage -- even when anyone else can see it is failing miserably? Why do we resist change even when the system is corrupt or unjust? A new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, illuminates the conditions under which we're motivated to defend the status quo -- a process called "system justification."

System justification isn't the same as acquiescence, explains Aaron C. Kay, a psychologist at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, who co-authored the paper with University of Waterloo graduate student Justin Friesen. "It's pro-active. When someone comes to justify the status quo, they also come to see it as what should be."

Reviewing laboratory and cross-national studies, the paper illuminates four situations that foster system justification: system threat, system dependence, system inescapability, and low personal control.

When we're threatened we defend ourselves -- and our systems. Before 9/11, for instance, President George W. Bush was sinking in the polls. But as soon as the planes hit the World Trade Center, the president's approval ratings soared. So did support for Congress and the police. During Hurricane Katrina, America witnessed FEMA's spectacular failure to rescue the hurricane's victims. Yet many people blamed those victims for their fate rather than admitting the agency flunked and supporting ideas for fixing it. In times of crisis, say the authors, we want to believe the system works.

Display

Taiwan: Man Lies Dead in Internet Cafe for 9 Hours Before Anyone Notices

game screen
© n/a
30 people sat around Chen Rong-yu did not realise anything was wrong

A young gamer lay dead in an internet cafe in Taiwan for nine hours before anyone noticed.

Chen Rong-yu, 23, is thought to have suffered a heart attack after playing League of Legends for 23 hours.

He was apparently still sat on the chair with his hands stretched out in front of the keyboard as if he was still playing in the cafe in New Taipei City.

A waitress only realised he was dead after rigor mortis had set in.

None of the other 30 gamers around him had realised anything was wrong.

Mr. Potato

US, Wisconsin: Menominee Seventh Grader Suspended for Saying "I Love You" in her Native Language

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© unk
Miranda Washinawatok - Menominee
What's love got to do with it? Not much, especially if you say the words "I love you" in the Menominee language in front of a certain Wisconsin teacher.

Seventh grader Miranda Washinawatok, Menominee, found this out.

Miranda speaks two languages: Menominee and English. She also plays on her basketball team. However, two Thursdays ago she was suspended for one basketball game because she spoke Menominee to a fellow classmate during class.

Miranda attends Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin. The school body is over 60 percent American Indian. The school is approximately six miles from the south border of the Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation.

War Whore

US: Why Do We Ignore the Civilians Killed in American Wars?

US soldiers @ Iraq changing flag
© Mario Tama / Getty Images
As the United States officially ended the war in Iraq last month, President Obama spoke eloquently at Fort Bragg, N.C., lauding troops for "your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another," and offering words of grief for the nearly 4,500 members of the U.S. armed forces who died in Iraq. He did not, however, mention the sacrifices of the Iraqi people.

This inattention to civilian deaths in America's wars isn't unique to Iraq. There's little evidence that the American public gives much thought to the people who live in the nations where our military interventions take place. Think about the memorials on the Mall honoring American sacrifices in Korea and Vietnam. These are powerful, sacred spots, but neither mentions the people of those countries who perished in the conflicts.

The major wars the United States has fought since the surrender of Japan in 1945 - in Korea, Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan - have produced colossal carnage. For most of them, we do not have an accurate sense of how many people died, but a conservative estimate is at least 6 million civilians and soldiers.

Our lack of acknowledgment is less oversight than habit, a self-reflective reaction to the horrors of war and an American tradition that goes back decades. We consider ourselves a generous and compassionate nation, and often we are. From the Asian tsunami in 2004 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Americans have been quick to open their pocketbooks and their hearts.

2 + 2 = 4

US: How the Government Manufactures Low Unemployment Numbers

'I need a job' man
© Reuters / Jason Reed
Figures released Friday by the US Labor Department declare that the unemployment rate has dropped to 8.3 percent. While economists applaud the latest news, the reality is improvement comes only after 3 million jobless Americans are unaccounted for.

While job creation exceeded expectations for January, those experiencing long-term unemployment - those jobless for longer than six months, that is - remains at a record high.

In a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, it's revealed that those suffering the longest from the unemployment epidemic exceed any monthly statistic dating back to the Second World War. The Labor Department figures that 5.5 million would-be workers have been without employment for 27 weeks or longer, accounting for around 42.9 percent of the total tally of unemployed Americans.

The consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies based out of Washington estimates that as many as 3 million additional unemployed workers have been without jobs for just as long but are not taken into consideration by the US government. For those unfortunate many, the Department of Labor simply stops including them in statistics once they are determined to have simply "given up" on the job hunt. They add in their study, however, that even if bettering economic conditions prompt those considered to have given up to reevaluate the job hunt, the government's "official" unemployment rate may once again surge to unfavorable numbers as the country's still staggering economy would not be able to create work for them.