Lynn Parramore

 

Recent Posts by Lynn Parramore

  • Doctors Without Borders? Bradley Manning and Medical Ethics

    Mar 16, 2011Lynn Parramore

    How will psychiatrists at Quantico cope with a dilemma that threatens the good name of their profession?

    How will psychiatrists at Quantico cope with a dilemma that threatens the good name of their profession?

    My colleague Mike Konczal and others have discussed how the abuse of Bradley Manning delegitimizes our institutions, making a mockery of the justice system and casting a shadow over the state. The press has also been compromised in the failure of reporters to adequately cover the story and speak plainly about the seriousness of Manning's conditions and the responsibility of those in power to stop it. But at least one other institution is also compromised: the medical profession.

    Military psychiatrists involved in the treatment of Manning -- which amounts to torture -- face a dilemma that threatens to tarnish the good name of their profession. To dismiss health care professionals involved in such situations as sadistic instruments of evil does not help us understand their painful position. The questions are not easy. Are military doctors really doctors first, obeying the oath their profession? Or are they soldiers obeying a chain of command? What line must be crossed before one role overtakes the other?

    To recap: Manning has been placed under a prevention of injury order (POI) that requires him to be isolated in a small cell for 23 hours a day with little exercise and to be checked every five minutes. Recently, the regime included enforced nudity for long periods, an order that seems to have originated with a sarcastic remark made by Manning about the absurdity of his treatment (following a public outcry, he has been give a "smock"). The Guardian has examined official records at Quantico which reveal that military psychiatrists have made at least 16 separate recommendations to military commanders that Manning be taken off the POI restrictions because he was not a danger to himself. But brig officials ignored the recommendations and have taken it upon themselves to continue, and increase, the harsh restrictions. Susan McNamara, a member of the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, concluded that Manning's treatment looked like an extension of the notorious interrogation practices used against terror suspects in Guantanamo.

    As the Guardian's Ed Pilkington points out, the Quantico psychiatrists deserve credit for continuing to insist that the treatment regime should be changed. But is that enough?

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    Doctors in the US have been voicing their concern for some months, pointing out that even if military psychiatrists don't officially sign off on the treatment, they may still be complicit and in violation their duty to protect the health of the patient. Psychologists for Social Responsibility wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January, 2010, demonstrating that conditions like those Manning has been subjected to have been known to be traumatic and debilitating to prisoners since 1890.

    It is understandable that scenarios like war can blur the boundaries for doctors. Medics in foreign war zones are asked to care for people who have maimed and killed their fellow soldiers. Health care professionals in the prison system give life-saving treatment to convicted murderers. One could hardly blame a doctor for experiencing turmoil under such circumstances.

    But what happens when doctors are asked by the highest authorities to do harm or facilitate abuse? We now know that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called for military interrogations that required military doctors to be involved in monitoring and even administering torture. Andrew Sullivan noted in 2006 that at  Guantanomo, doctors were made to agree to torture in advance and to live by the motto: "No blood, no foul." They practiced the art of sleep deprivation, hypothermia, withholding food and treatment of injuries, among other abuses.

    As Sullivan reminds us, the abuses at Guantanomo were supposed to teach us something: "Once you allow the torture of prisoners for any reason, as this President did, the cancer spreads" writes Sullivan. "In the end it spreads to healers as well, and turns them into accomplices to harm."

    We have a different president now. And the cancer is spreading. Under Obama's watch,  you don't have to be a "foreign combatant" to be tortured in a U.S. facility. You can be an American citizen awaiting trial. The doctors involved in Manning's treatment are not in a war zone. Nor are they dealing with a convicted criminal.

    The world is watching.  A significant 2009 resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council outlines the role and responsibility of medical and other health professionals in “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” It urges states to act to prevent health workers from becoming involved in torture and degradation and to protect those who voice their objections. The resolution incorporates standards set by the medical profession into international human rights law. For the first time in a United Nations document, the Hippocratic oath is presented as the global ethical norm.

    The recent resignation of P.J. Crowley, the state department official who voiced disapproval of Manning's treatment, has sent a message to people who speak freely from their conscience: Do so and you will lose your job. That is quite chilling, and it will require not only extraordinary courage, but committed support from the public, to enable the psychiatrists at Quantico to speak freely about what they are witnessing and what they are asked to facilitate.

    President Obama, along with members of Congress, are currently failing these doctors by condoning the torture of Manning. If the doctors speak out and are censured, the offense will be compounded.

    Do doctors save lives? Or do they participate in acts which they know to be a violation of the standards of their profession? Where are the boundaries for doctors serving the state? We are waiting for the psychiatrists at Quantico to tell us.

    Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute fellow, and the author of Reading the Sphinx.

     

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  • Top Lies from TEPCO. Sound like BP?

    Mar 15, 2011Lynn Parramore

    When industry lying is the norm, concern about nuclear energy is not hysteria. It's a fight for our lives.

    Like British Petroleum, the Tokyo Electric Power Company has a history of playing fast and loose with the truth and endangering lives. So let's drop the "What, Me Worry?" routine about nuclear energy. When cover-ups and preparing falsified records are part of the corporate culture, we're not just getting hysterical, as some blindly pro-nuclear power folks would have it.

    We're getting real.

    When industry lying is the norm, concern about nuclear energy is not hysteria. It's a fight for our lives.

    Like British Petroleum, the Tokyo Electric Power Company has a history of playing fast and loose with the truth and endangering lives. So let's drop the "What, Me Worry?" routine about nuclear energy. When cover-ups and preparing falsified records are part of the corporate culture, we're not just getting hysterical, as some blindly pro-nuclear power folks would have it.

    We're getting real.

    The horrible disaster we saw in the Gulf showed us plenty about what happens when industry and regulatory entities get too cozy and companies like BP are left to self-report on safety and are then actually trusted -- by people as high up as the president of the United States -- when they do. People die. Our natural world is polluted.

    Admittedly there are no means of producing energy that are entirely without risk. Birds do get caught in windmills. But when something goes wrong at a nuclear facility, ENTIRE CITIES CAN BE WIPED OUT. So while nuclear hawks blithely tell us that smart companies and their engineers will take care of making nuclear energy safe and sound, let's remind them of the actual record.

    For example, here's a little line-up of TEPCO lies:

    • In 2002, Michael Zilenzieger reported that top officals TEPCO were forced to resign "after admitting that the company had covered up safety violations and falsified records at three of its largest nuclear power plants".
    • In 2006, the government demanded that TEPCO "check past data after it reported that it had found falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988, and that the tweaked data was used in mandatory inspections at the plant, which were completed in October 2005."
    • And in 2007, TEPCO reported that it "had found more past data falsifications, though this time it did not have to close any of its plants."

    Then there were some minor matters of building on fault lines that they claim not to have known about and releasing radiation into the atmosphere. And so on.

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    Am I saying that we need to abandon nuclear energy? No, I am not. I am sympathetic to the powerful need for clean energy in the face of alarming climate change. But there are very compelling reasons to proceed with a hefty dose of caution and skepticism. The nuclear power industry is designed to produce private profit, which gives corporate executives irresistible incentives to lie and distort. They have a big temptation to pay off politicians and capture regulatory agencies. As I wrote last year in the wake of the Gulf disaster,

    [We face] the detachment, rapaciousness, and short-term vision associated with the modern global Corporation, whose latest poster child is BP (more of a bank, incidentally, than a traditional oil company). No matter what the spokespeople say (very little of which makes any sense), the Corporation is not interested in self-reflection, morality, or the health of our shining seas. It wants profits, period. And it will take us as close to the brink of disaster as it possibly can to get them. Inevitably, it will push us over the edge."

    Even in a world where human greed and error do not compromise the safety of nuclear plants (and you'll let me know when that world exists), Mother Nature can throw a catastrophic curveball, or a whole series of them, that makes all the bells and whistles of new technology suddenly -- and woefully -- inadequate. There's also the terrifying problem that nuclear energy tends to beget the production of nuclear weapons in the countries that pursue it. And once that genie's out of the bottle, there's no putting it back in.

    America's nuclear program will now be subject to renewed scrutiny. Too bad it took a disaster like this to bring us to common sense.

    Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute fellow, and the author of Reading the Sphinx.

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  • Torture: The Movie

    Mar 11, 2011Lynn Parramore

    Understanding the U.S. stance on torture requires the suspension of disbelief.**Updated 4pm, Friday.

    Imagine that you've arrived at the local multiplex for a weekend flick. Popcorn in hand, you settle in to watch Matt Damon star in a new thriller as a young American soldier imprisoned by the government for blowing the whistle on crimes witnessed while serving in a foreign country.

    INT. MILITARY PRISON CELL - DAY

    (Calendar pages flip by indicating the passage of months. July. August. September. October. Etc.)

    Understanding the U.S. stance on torture requires the suspension of disbelief.**Updated 4pm, Friday.

    Imagine that you've arrived at the local multiplex for a weekend flick. Popcorn in hand, you settle in to watch Matt Damon star in a new thriller as a young American soldier imprisoned by the government for blowing the whistle on crimes witnessed while serving in a foreign country.

    INT. MILITARY PRISON CELL - DAY

    (Calendar pages flip by indicating the passage of months. July. August. September. October. Etc.)

    The Damon character stands naked in front of his cell. His head is bent over, and he stares blankly at the floor.

    GUARD (roughly): "Are you all right? I need a verbal response."

    DAMON CHARACTER (voice shaking): "Yes, I am all right."

    The Damon character is handed his neatly folded underwear.

    GUARD: "You give it back at night. Every night. Got it?"

    DAMON CHARACTER: "Yes."

    GUARD (turning the lock on the cell door). "Are you all right?"

    DAMON CHARACTER (weakly): "Yes, I am all right."

    CUT TO: INT. SMALL EMPTY ROOM IN MILITARY BRIG - DAY

    The Damon character shuffles slowly in a figure eight pattern. He stops to scratch his foot. The guard interrupts.

    GUARD: "Exercise is over! You know the rules. No stopping. Are you all right?"

    DAMON CHARACTER (robotically): "Yes, I am all right."

    As our movie unfolds, we see the Damon character growing more detached from reality. Every five minutes, he is interrupted with the same question, "Are you all right?" Day in, day out. Each night, he must surrender his clothing, left naked in his cell without a pillow or blanket. Should he roll to a side of the bed where the guards can't see him, he is immediately awakened. He is kept alone in his cell for 23 hours a day, and his only exercise is an hour of walking in a bare room. If he pauses, he forfeits the rest of his time. The Damon character grows pale; his speech becomes broken, almost indecipherable.

    Gradually he becomes catatonic, awaiting a trial that has never been set.

    In this Kafkaesque film, the military personnel overseeing the treatment insist to the press that they can't explain why they strip the soldier because to do so would violate his privacy. They claim that they are isolating him and imposing bizarre restrictions out of concern for his safety. Members of the press corps don't believe the lies. But they nod in tacit agreement. "Traitor!" they whisper. They deadpan the story, as if it were just another routine case.

    If we were watching all this transpire on the screen, we would know how to interpret the story. We would intuit that the soldier is up against some version of Big Brother, the Authoritarian State. We would squirm in our seats, waiting for justice to intervene. If this were a high-quality, complex film, we might not completely sympathize with the motives of Damon's character or totally agree with his interpretation of the crimes he witnessed. But we would root for him anyway, because as Americans we instinctively reject authoritarian control. We know that the Constitution protects citizens from the trampling of basic rights. And we sense that the violation of one is the violation of all.

    Except when it happens in reality. Then we stick our heads in the sand. We make excuses. We say, "but this case is different."

    Even when we do talk, we are careful. Cautious not to sound too soft. Many journalists have covered the detention of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the suspect accused of leaking cables to Wikileaks (Manning, as yet, has been convicted of nothing). But though he has been subjected to exactly the treatment as our fictional example, most -- with some brave exceptions -- have been reluctant to challenge the military or the U.S. government.

    But as the treatment grows more obscene, reality becomes harder to ignore. Some have suggested that the abuse violates Manning's 8th Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.  A blogger recently called it "borderline torture." Today, we learn that a spokesman from the State Department called it "ridiculous and stupid."

    Why is it so hard time to call this treatment what it actually is? Torture.

    Plain and simple.

    Maybe it's because if we did, we would have to acknowledge truths too painful to bear. We would know that what had once happened to "foreign combatants" is now happening to Americans soldiers, and maybe it will soon happen to civilians, too. So we continue the doublespeak.

    "Political language," wrote George Orwell, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." ("Politics and the English Language", 1946.)

    Orwellian language has justified things in our country's history that many good citizens knew to be wrong. Slavery. The subjugation of women. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Each time, many people failed to call for justice because they didn't see the victims as full citizens. Or even fully human. Some suggest that Bradley Manning gave up his protection under the U.S. Constitution when he joined the armed forces, an affront to the sacrifice of service if there ever was one. Others have declared him guilty without a trial, an attack on our precious tradition of presumed innocence. The niceties of civilization are jettisoned. The Bill of Rights becomes just a piece of paper.

    We wait and we watch as the U.S. government defends itself from whistle blowers by torturing them in plain view. What stronger evidence that there is much to blow the whistle on?

    Obama the Commander in Chief, the man who said that "the U.S. does not torture," does nothing (Update: Friday afternoon, the President personally asked the Pentagon about Manning's treatment, but says that he was assured that the treatment is "appropriate"). Eric Holder, the country's chief law enforcement officer, fails to intervene.

    How does this story end in reality? Not well, I fear.

    Lynn Parramore is Editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and Co-founder of Recessionwire.

    **You can follow Lynn on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/lynnparramore

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  • Amity Shlaes’s Forgotten History: When Unions Go Bust, We All Do

    Feb 23, 2011Lynn Parramore

    Busting unions gave Calvin Coolidge the White House, but it gave America the Great Depression.

    Busting unions gave Calvin Coolidge the White House, but it gave America the Great Depression.

    For years, American workers' wages have stagnated even as they produced more. Since 2008, they have been socked with staggering new bills for bank bailouts and hammered by a Great Recession brought on by the very same banks. Now public sector workers are confronted by a new crop of Republican governors who want to put an end to unions. Union workers in Wisconsin have already conceded all of Governor Walker’s draconian demands. But they want to hold on to their right to bargain so that they won’t be at the mercy of the whims of political appointees or rogue school boards. Tens of thousands have swarmed Madison to show their support for the working people of Wisconsin.

    Conservatives are tasked with coming up with a narrative that makes villains out of these working folks and heroes out of the powerful people who aim to squeeze them for what’s left of their economic security.

    This is not easy. And you have to admire their ingenuity. Amity Shlaes, ever the eager revisionist, has whipped up a widely parroted narrative that contains just enough truth to give it the ring of plausibility. It goes like this: Governor Scott Walker is a paragon of virtue who will soon be embraced by the American public, just like his union-crushing predecessors Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. According to Shlaes’s account, Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts, stood boldly against badly abused Boston policemen who walked off the job in 1919 and left the city unprotected against looters. After firing the policemen, Coolidge became a national hero and was promptly swept into the Vice President’s office on a wave of popular admiration. When President Warren Harding died, Coolidge took office and it was suddenly Morning in America. As Shlaes tells it:

    “’Boston Police’ remained American code for the principle that union causes do not trump others. The concern that the U.S. might succumb to European-style revolutions lifted. Strikes abated. Wages rose without unions in Motor City. Private-sector union membership declined. Joblessness dropped. Companies poured cash, which they otherwise would have spent on union relations, into innovation.”

    Let us fill in some finer detail, shall we?

    As Shlaes admits, the Boston police force had been grossly abused with long hours and horrific conditions. And it was true that there was some disorder when they walked off the job, though she somewhat overstates the case. It is also true that Coolidge’s response made his reputation as a Republican politician.

    But it was not exactly popular enthusiasm that wafted Coolidge into the White House. Actually, there was a huge orchestrated effort to push Coolidge by powerful financial interests. He ended up on the ticket with Warren Harding not so much because of his overwhelming appeal to the American public - he was known for being taciturn, unsociable, and downright weird (Alice Roosevelt Longworth wondered if he had been “weaned on a pickle”). Rather, it was his overwhelming appeal to American bankers.

    They knew a good thing when they saw it.

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    Young Coolidge, you see, had gone to Amherst College, where he had hardly any friends except Dwight Morrow, who became his bosom buddy. Coolidge went on to become a small town Massachusetts attorney representing banks, while Morrow became a senior partner in House of Morgan. When Morrow saw his pal Coolidge attracting attention in the Boston Police Strike, he wrote to everyone he knew and launched a national campaign to make a legend out of the uncharismatic Coolidge. Morrow and fellow Morgan partner Thomas Cochran lobbied tirelessly for Coolidge at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1920, and their lobbying paid off. Coolidge, first as vice president and then as president in 1923 when Harding died, became a valuable partner for the House of Morgan. Famously declaring that “the business of America is business," Coolidge stocked his administration with enough Morgan men to fill a banking convention. Historian Murray N. Rothbard notes that

    “the year 1924 indeed saw the House of Morgan at the pinnacle of political power in the United States. President Calvin Coolidge, friend and protégé of Morgan partner Dwight Morrow, was deeply admired by J.P. “Jack” Morgan, Jr. Jack Morgan saw the president, perhaps uniquely, as a rare blend of deep thinker and moralist. Morgan wrote a friend: ‘I have never seen any president who gives me just the feeling of confidence in the country and its institutions, and the working out of our problems, that Mr. Coolidge does.’”

    Coolidge got to the White House for crushing unions, where he slept ten hours a day and hopped on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants and a cowboy hat.

    Here’s what America got: the Great Depression.

    Coolidge’s real legacy was a huge upward shift of income during the “roaring twenties” away from ordinary people to the rich and powerful, who got even richer and more powerful thanks to his regulatory and policy inactivity. The best Average Joe could hope for under Coolidge was for his income to hold steady. The profits from that wondrous innovation and growth that send Shlaes into rhapsodies went to fatcats who turned the country into a casino and smashed the economy.

    Reagan’s history is better known – or so you would think. His firing of 13,000 striking workers was, as Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson put it, “an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers.” After Reagan, employers were emboldened to illegally ditch workers who sought to unionize, replace permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps, and ship factories and jobs abroad. Ever-smiling with his friendly cowboy image, Reagan tried to lower the minimum wage for younger workers, weaken child labor, job safety and anti-sweatshop laws, and do away with training programs for the jobless. He also did his best to replace thousands of federal employees with temps without civil service or union protections. Under his watch, the share of the nation’s wealth held by the richest 1 percent of Americans went up 5 percent richer. Guess whose declined?

    At the time, Americans were supportive, by slim margins, of Reagan’s stance against the air traffic controllers, who went on strike to win benefit concessions from the federal government. However, the comparison with Wisconsin workers is not exactly apples to apples. These workers have agreed to concessions, and only fight to maintain their right to collective bargaining. Intuiting correctly that the public may not be on their side in this battle, conservatives have relentlessly pushed the deceptive idea that public employees enjoy higher salaries and better benefits than their private-sector counterparts. But this has been widely debunked. Careful research has shown that when you adjust for skill levels, public sector workers are not overpaid relative to private sector pay scales.

    After the Great Crash, Coolidge's bank-friendly, union-bashing policies didn't seem like such a great gift to America. And just like in the twenties, Reagan's signal that it was open season on unions energized a much bolder effort to hold down wages by corporate America: Over the next few years, workers by the thousands were let go, found their pay slashed, and turned into poorly paid part time employees. US income inequality reached Himalayan levels as people's share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sharp nosedive. Today, after the Great Recession, Reagan's anti-union attitude and enthusiasm for deregulation has also proven to be a dubious legacy.

    Governor Walker says he’s fighting for ordinary Americans. So why does he want to require unions to re-certify every year, but we don’t hear a peep about corporations being required to renew their charters every year? Why does he want to control the salaries of public employees, but doesn’t have any interest in controlling the salaries of grossly overcompensated corporate CEOs? Why does he call for sacrifices from hard-working people who have been screwed by the economy through no fault of their own, and none from the financiers who caused the crisis?

    Maybe it’s because he has quite a bit in common with Coolidge and Reagan after all. In Reagan’s case, as in Coolidge's, union-busting led to some of the biggest peacetime income re-distributions in modern history. Democracy got weaker, oligopolies got stronger, the rich got richer, and the rest of us got left behind.

    The real lesson from Coolidge and Reagan is this: If Governor Walker and his Republican friends are allowed to crush the public unions, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    Lynn Parramore is Editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and Co-founder of Recessionwire.

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  • Song for the Wisconsin Protesters: A Change is Gonna Come

    Feb 22, 2011Lynn Parramore

    Chatting with my colleague Jeff Madrick this morning about the Wisconsin protests, Sam Cooke's immortal words kept running through my mind. Working people of Wisconsin, who have given us so much hope, this one's for you.

    Chatting with my colleague Jeff Madrick  this morning about the Wisconsin protests, Sam Cooke's immortal words kept running through my mind. Working people of Wisconsin, who have given us so much hope, this one's for you.

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