Monthly Archives: May 2013
Have you ever wondered how the government’s misinformation gains traction?
What I have noticed is that whenever a stunning episode occurs, such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing, most everyone whether on the right or left goes along with the government’s explanation, because they can hook their agenda to the government’s account.
The leftwing likes the official stories of Muslims creating terrorist mayhem in America, because it proves their blowback theory and satisfies them that the dispossessed and oppressed can fight back against imperialism.
The patriotic rightwing likes the official story, because it proves America is attacked for its goodness or because terrorists were allowed in by immigration authorities and nurtured by welfare, or because the government, which can’t do anything right, ignored plentiful warnings.
Whatever the government says, no matter how problematical, the official story gets its traction from its compatibility with existing predispositions and agendas.
In such a country, truth has no relevance. Only agendas are important.
A person can see this everywhere. I could write volumes illustrating how agenda-driven writers across the spectrum will support the most improbable government stories despite the absence of any evidence simply because the government’s line can be used to support their agendas.
For example, a conservative writer in the June issue of Chronicles uses the government’s story about the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to argue against immigration, amnesty for illegals, and political asylum for Muslims. He writes: “Even the most high-tech security systems imaginable will inevitably fail as they are overwhelmed by a flood of often hostile and dangerous immigrants.”
The writer accepts all of the improbable government statements as proof that the brothers were guilty. The wounded brother who was unable to respond to the boat owner who discovered him and had to be put on life support somehow managed to write a confession on the inside of the boat.
As soon as the authorities have the brother locked up in a hospital on life support, “unnamed officials” and “authorities who remain anonymous” are planting the story in the media that the suspect is signing written confessions of his guilt while on life support. No one has seen any of these written confessions. But we know that they exist, because the government and media say so.
The conservative writer knows that Dzhokhar is guilty because he is Muslim and a Chechen. Therefore, it does not occur to the writer to wonder about the agenda of the unnamed sources who are busy at work creating belief in the brothers’ guilt. This insures that no juror would dare vote for acquittal and have to explain it to family and friends. Innocent until proven guilty in a court has been thrown out the window. This should disturb the conservative writer, but doesn’t.
The conservative writer sees Chechen ethnicity as an indication of guilt even though the brothers grew up in the US as normal Americans, because Chechens are “engaged in anti-Russian jihad.” But Chechens have no reason for hostility against the US. As evidence indicates, Washington supports the Chechens in their conflict with Russia. By supporting Chechen terrorism, Washington violates all of the laws that it ruthlessly applies to compassionate Americans who give donations to Palestinian charities that Washington alleges are run by Hamas, a Washington-declared terrorist organization.
It doesn’t occur to the conservative writer that something is amiss when martial law is established over one of America’s main cities and its metropolitan area, 10,000 heavily armed troops are put on the streets with tanks, and citizens are ordered out of their homes with their hands over their heads, all of this just to search for one wounded 19-year old suspect. Instead the writer blames the “surveillance state” on “the inevitable consequences of suicidal liberalism” which has embraced “the oldest sin in the world: rebellion against authority.” The writer is so pleased to use the government’s story line as a way of indulging the conservative’s romance with authority and striking a blow at liberalism that he does not notice that he has lined up against the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence and rebelled against authority.
I could just as easily have used a left-wing writer to illustrate the point that improbable explanations are acceptable if they fit with predispositions and can be employed in behalf of an agenda.
Think about it. Do you not think that it is extraordinary that the only investigations we have of such events as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing are private investigations, such as this investigation of the backpacks.
There was no investigation of 9/11. Indeed, the White House resisted any inquiry at all for one year despite the insistent demands from the 9/11 families. NIST did not investigate anything. NIST simply constructed a computer model that was consistent with the government’s story. The 9/11 Commission simply sat and listened to the government’s explanation and wrote it down. These are not investigations.
The only investigations have come from a physicist who proved that WTC 7 came down at free fall and was thus the result of controlled demolition, from a team of scientists who examined dust from the WTC towers and found nano-thermite, from high-rise architects and structural engineers with decades of experience, and from first responders and firefighters who were in the towers and experienced explosions throughout the towers, even in the sub-basements.
We have reached the point where evidence is no longer required. The government’s statements suffice. Only conspiracy kooks produce real evidence.
In America, government statements have a unique authority. This authority comes from the white hat that the US wore in World War II and in the subsequent Cold War. It was easy to demonize Nazi Germany, Soviet Communism and Maoist China. Even today when Russian publications interview me about the perilous state of civil liberty in the US and Washington’s endless illegal military attacks abroad, I sometimes receive reports that some Russians believe that it was an impostor who was interviewed, not the real Paul Craig Roberts. There are Russians who believe that it was President Reagan who brought freedom to Russia, and as I served in the Reagan administration these Russians associate me with their vision of America as a light unto the world. Some Russians actually believe that Washington’s wars are truly wars of liberation.
The same illusions reign among Chinese dissidents. Chen Guangcheng is the Chinese dissident who sought refuge in the US Embassy in China. Recently he was interviewed by the BBC World Service. Chen Guangcheng believes that the US protects human rights while China suppresses human rights. He complained to the BBC that in China police can arrest citizens and detain them for as long as six months without accounting for their detainment. He thought that the US and UK should publicly protest this violation of due process, a human right. Apparently, Chen Guangcheng is unaware that US citizens are subject to indefinite detention without due process and even to assassination without due process.
The Chinese government allowed Chen Guangcheng safe passage to leave China and live in the US. Chen Guangcheng is so dazzled by his illusions of America as a human rights beacon that it has never occurred to him that the oppressive, human rights-violating Chinese government gave him safe passage, but that Julian Assange, after being given political asylum by Ecuador is still confined to the Ecuadoran embassy in London, because Washington will not allow its UK puppet state to permit his safe passage to Ecuador.
Perhaps Chen Guangcheng and the Chinese and Russian dissidents who are so enamored of the US could gain some needed perspective if they were to read US soldier Terry Holdbrooks’ book about the treatment given to the Guantanamo prisoners. Holdbrooks was there on the scene, part of the process, and this is what he told RT: “The torture and information extraction methods that we used certainly created a great deal of doubt and questions in my mind to whether or not this was my America. But when I thought about what we were doing there and how we go about doing it, it did not seem like the America I signed up to defend. It did not seem like the America I grew up in. And that in itself was a very disillusioning experience.”
In a May 17 Wall Street Journal.com article, Peggy Noonan wrote that President Obama has lost his patina of high-mindedness. What did Obama do that brought this loss upon himself? Is it because he sits in the Oval Office approving lists of US citizens to be assassinated without due process of law? Is it because he detains US citizens indefinitely in violation of habeas corpus? Is it because he has kept open the torture prison at Guantanamo? Is it because he continued the war that the neoconservatives started, despite his promise to end it, and started new wars?
Is it because he attacks with drones people in their homes, medical centers, and work places in countries with which the US is not at war? Is it because his corrupt administration spies on American citizens without warrants and without cause?
No. It is none of these reasons. In Noonan’s view these are not offenses for which presidents, even Democratic ones, lose their high-minded patina. Obama can no longer be trusted, because the IRS hassled some conservative political activists.
Noonan is a Republican, and what Obama did wrong was to use the IRS against some Republicans. Apparently, it has not occurred to Noonan that if Obama–or any president–can use the IRS against opponents, he can use Homeland Security and the police state against them. He can use indefinite detention against them. He can use drones against them.
All of these are much more drastic measures. Why isn’t Peggy Noonan concerned? Because she thinks these measures will only be used against terrorists, just as the IRS is only supposed to be used against tax evaders.
When a public and the commentators who inform it accept the collapse of the Constitution’s authority and the demise of their civil liberties, to complain about the IRS is pointless.
Photographer Lalage Snow, who is currently based in Kabul, Afghanistan, embarked on an 8-month-long project titled We Are The Not Dead featuring portraits of British soldiers before, during, and after their deployment in Afghanistan. Similar to Claire Felicie’s series of monochromatic triptychs, Snow captures the innocent expressions of these men transformed into gaunt, sullen faces in less than a year.The three-panel juxtaposition allows the viewer to observe the physical changes a stationed soldier in a war zone goes through. Time is sped up for these men under the beating sun, amidst combat. Regardless of age, the boys that went in came back as men with experiences beyond their years. As weathered and worn as their skin or sunken in faces may appear, it’s their dilated eyes that are the most telling.Additionally, Snow’s series accompanies each triptych with quotes from each of the servicemen that gives a great deal of insight into their mental and emotional state at each given time. Sergeant Alexander McBroom’s first portrait, before deployment, features him bravely saying, “I am not worried about going out – it is my job after all.” Three months later, he is quoted as saying, “It has been an eye opener.” And, finally, another four months after, he says, “It is always that fear, that apprehension, what is going to happen if I get blown up?” Having gone through life-altering trials and warfare, it is no surprise that fear is no longer a foreign feeling to these courageous men.
Snow’s intention with the series is to not only honor their bravery by featuring them, but to also draw attention to every soldiers’ psychological transformation. She says, “It was a very personal project and stemmed from having embedded with the military on and off for 4 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and bearing witness to how many young men return as shadows of their former selves and, in many cases, with deep, psychological scars. As the body count of British servicemen killed or wounded rose and the political ramifications of the British army’s presence in Afghanistan became increasingly convoluted, more and more soldiers felt like they didn’t have a voice, or at least, weren’t being listened to. We Are The Not Dead is an attempt at giving the brave young men and women the chance to explain how it really is.”
Update: See more triptychs and read our exclusive, one-on-one interview with Lalage Snow, here.
Lance Corporal Sean Tennant, 29
Private Ben Frater, 21
Corporal Steven Gibson, 29
Second Lieutenant Struan Cunningham, 24
Private Fraiser Pairman, 21
Lance Corporal Martyn Rankin, 23
Second Lieutenant Adam Petzsch, 25
Private Jo Yavala, 28
Lance Corporal David McLean, 27
Private Sean Patterson, 19
Private Steven Anderson, 31
Sergeant Alexander McBroom, 24
Private Matthew Hodgson, 18
Dr Reilly said he lost his brother, a doctor and smoker, to lung cancer and his father, another smoker, suffered a stroke and was prematurely blind for the last 14 years of his life.
Ireland will become the second country in the world, after Australia, to remove branding from tobacco product packaging.
The cabinet signed off on Dr Reilly’s proposal today and it is expected legislation will be in place by early next year.
All forms of branding, including trademarks, logos, colours and graphics, will be removed from cigarette packets, while brand name will be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands and the packs would all be in one plain neutral colour. Health warnings will be given more prominence.
The Department of Health said there is strong evidence that standardised packaging will increase the effectiveness of health warnings; reduce false health beliefs about cigarettes and reduce brand appeal particularly among youth and young adults.
Dr Reilly was critical of the recent meeting involving the Taoiseach, Minister for Finance and Minister for Justice with the tobacco industry, but he expressed satisfaction with the substance of the meeting.
“The minutes of the meeting will show very clearly that all that was discussed was smuggling and nothing else,” he said.
“The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have duties broader than mine in relation to health. I can tell you this much – the fact that the cabinet has passed a motion to pursue a law to bring this bill in is sign enough for me that I have got huge support from the Taoiseach and the Government.
“For me as a professional, this (smoking) is something that is intolerable. We have to protect our children from it. As adults we make our own decisions, but when you are an adult and you are addicted it is very hard to give them up.”
Dr Reilly said the measure has been so successful in Australia that tobacco companies have had to release statements saying that their cigarettes had not changed in taste as many of its customers were complaining about the taste.
A fierce critic of the tobacco industry, Dr Reilly said the industry needed to replace those who have died from tobacco-related illnesses, one-in-two who smoke, with young people who start smoking.
Dr Reilly said he was certain that the tobacco industry would seek to challenge the plain packaging in the courts.
However, he said such a move would be a measure of their desperation and also of the effectiveness of the measure.
The Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee said the initiative was a huge boost to the illegal tobacco industry, claiming the proposed legislation would make all packs look the same allowing counterfeiters to produce all brands of illegal cigarettes with greater ease.
Dr Reilly countered by stating there was “no research, none” to back up assertions by the tobacco industry that plain packaging would lead to increases in smuggling.
“Let’s call a spade a spade. What would you call a product that kills one in two users? Purveyors of death – I really do feel very strongly about this. I don’t know any smoker who wants their child to smoke. How can we support this industry?”
Mari Steed was two years old when she was adopted from Ireland by a Flourtown family. Years later, her search for her birth mother turned up the Magdalene Laundries’ horrifying legacy, and Steed wants justice—along with an apology from the Catholic church.
Mari Steed’s fingers trembled as she tapped commands on her laptop.
The unprecedented apology was about to be streamed online, projected onto a big screen in the conference room of the Philadelphia World Affairs Council. As the group’s director of technology and new media, Steed had set up numerous live feeds before. But her hands had never shaken.
Today was personal. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was going to use a session of Parliament to issue an apology, acknowledging what Mari Steed had known for years: that for nearly a century, the Irish government had participated in the imprisonment and abuse of thousands of women whose only crime was that they’d been orphaned, or abandoned by their families, or gotten pregnant outside of marriage. They were known as the Magdalenes. And Mari’s birth mother had been one of them.
The government had long touted a party line about the Magdalenes: They had voluntarily entered the institutions where they’d been treated like slaves, had willingly relinquished their children. But now, the Irish government could no longer deny the disgrace it had abetted.
And so today, Ireland’s prime minister would officially apologize to the surviving women—all of them elderly. And Mari would begin to make peace with the country that had betrayed the child she had been and the mother who had borne her. The conference-room screen flickered to life. Mari leaned in to watch, her co-workers gripping her hands in support.
“What we discuss today is your story,” Kenny said in the televised session that practically all of Ireland was watching. “What we address today is how you took this country’s terrible ‘secret’ and made it your own. Burying it, carrying it in your hearts here at home, or with you to England and to Canada, America and Australia, on behalf of Ireland and the Irish people. But from this moment on, you need carry it no more. Because today, we take it back.”
A month after the announcement, Mari Steed, 53, is curled on the living room sofa in the cozy Levittown home she shares with her grown son and daughter. A short, pretty woman with a husky laugh, thick black hair and dark eyes, she’s a dead ringer for her biological mother, Josephine Fitzpatrick, now 80, whose face is included among the framed family photos on display. Freezing rain batters the picture window that looks onto the backyard; two huge dogs snooze contentedly on the carpet. The aromas of fresh-brewed coffee and just-baked soda bread fill the air. A few Irish musical instruments hang on the wall, a nod to the country Mari left behind when she was adopted by a suburban Philadelphia couple at the age of 18 months.
“You wait all this time for an apology, and you think, ‘I wonder what they’ll say? How much will the government actually admit to? What if they still lie?’” she says. “But it was better than we had hoped for.”
Adoptees never know what they’ll find if they manage to locate their birth parents. It’s an understatement to say that Mari never expected that her reunion with Josephine—whom she calls Josie—would help correct the narrative of Ireland’s past. Like so many others before her, 20 yearsago, she’d gone looking for her birth mother simply to discover who she was.
Her adoptive parents raised her in Flourtown, and “told me the usual thing that parents tell their adopted children: that I was special, I was chosen. They even kept my first name, because they said I walked off the plane answering to it.” Two years later, they adopted a son as well. Mari had what she calls a “wonderful” childhood, attended Bishop McDevitt in Wyncote, marched with the drill team, starred in school musicals: “I wasn’t conscious, growing up, of some hole I had to fill.”
She might never have gone looking for the woman who relinquished her if fate hadn’t intervened in a cruel and ironic way. In her senior year, Steed became pregnant by her boyfriend, a junior. Her parents shipped her to St. Vincent’s, a home in Upper Darby for unwed mothers; the days were long and dull, peppered with withering comments from the nuns about her stupidity. On her rare visits home to Flourtown, young Mari was kept indoors, lest her swelling belly attract neighborhood gossip.
Mari fantasized about setting up house with her boyfriend, of raising the baby with him. But the decision had been made for her: Her daughter, to be named Erin, would be given up for adoption.
“I was in a daze,” Mari recalls. “There was a hospital photographer who asked if I wanted a picture. I said yes, but then she came back and said, ‘I’ve been told I’m not allowed.” I got ballsy and said to my social worker, ‘If I don’t get a picture before I leave, you don’t get the baby.’ Giving up Erin was the most wrenching experience of my life. I cried for weeks.”
She lasted a year at West Chester University, devolving into a party girl. She got a job in banking and moved to Florida. There she married an abusive, addicted man and had two children with him before he committed suicide right in front of her. “My husband was a deeply disturbed man, but I couldn’t see that when we first met,” she says. “I felt so bad about myself. I didn’t think I deserved better.”
Mari knew it was time to deal with the shame and pain of losing Erin—and began to wonder if being taken from her own birth mother was something she needed to come to grips with, too. She felt it was too soon to search for her own daughter (“I didn’t want to do anything until she turned 18”); instead, she began to look for the woman who’d packed her off to America clad in a sweet hand-smocked dress, clutching a stuffed handmade doll. Mari’s parents only knew that she had been born at Bessborough, a home for unwed mothers in Cork.
With that scant information, Mari leapt into the adoption-rights river, whose current was growing stronger through the 1990s as adoptees in the U.S. began clamoring for the right to know their origins.
“I don’t remember leaving Ireland,” she says. “But at 18 months, I certainly must have known who my mother was. What was it like for me to lose her? What was my birth mother’s story? I only had Erin for two days. It was devastating to give her up. How do you give up a toddler?”
Her 10-year search twisted and turned like the roads through Donegal. The dead ends were devastating; the obfuscation from church and state officials was infuriating. But after each setback, a “search angel” from the world of international adoption-rights would serendipitously appear to steer Mari to a critical document or an obscure public record. “I felt led—it’s the only way to explain it,” Steed says. “Just when I’d want to give up, I’d get an email out of the blue.”
“Mari is charismatic and dogged,” says Barbie Bowman, a longtime friend. “Where other people see impossible obstacles, she says, ‘How do we get around this?’ If anyone was going to find her birth mother, it was going to be Mari.”
Years passed. Eventually, Mari had a name. She found Josephine Fitzpatrick’s phone number in England and called her. But suddenly overcome with anxiety—would Josephine be frightened by an unexpected call? Angry? Dismissive?—she hung up the moment she heard the voice on the other end say “Hello.” Still, that one word convinced Mari she had the right woman. “Her voice was exactly like mine,” she says.
She asked for advice from Judy Campbell, an adoption researcher in London. Campbell offered to approach Josephine’s former landlord, a friend who regularly saw Josephine and her husband, Les, at Sunday Mass. Campbell asked the landlord to relay that an American woman was searching for Josephine. The landlord reported back that Les’s excited response was, “That must be the baby she gave up!”
Mari’s phone rang one day at 5 a.m.
“Josephine’s husband is a doll!” Campbell told her. “He says Josephine is getting her hair done, but she’ll be back in an hour and a half. He says to call her then!”
“Oh my God,” Mari replied. “Is this happening?”
For 90 minutes she paced, wondering what she would say to the mother she hadn’t seen in 50 years and did not remember. She dialed the phone.
“Hello?” said Josephine tentatively.
“Hello, Mom,” said Mari, holding the phone so tight that it would be hard to uncurl her fingers later.
“Oh, Mari, my Mari!” came the voice that sounded so much like her own. “Is it really you? Oh, my dear, dear Mari!”
The two wept and laughed for 45 minutes, introducing themselves to each other, marveling at similarities, hungry for details of lives that had played out 3,000 miles apart. “The feeling, oh my God,” recalls Mari, hand on her chest. “It was so close, like we’d been speaking every day of our lives.”
By then, she had become a bit of an expert on Irish adoption issues. Scheduled to speak at an upcoming conference in Dublin, she told Josephine that she and her children would make a stop in London first, so everyone could meet.
“So we’re walking out of Heathrow Airport, and this van pulls up,” says Mari. “Les is driving. And there was Josie. I can’t even describe what it was like to see her. She gets out of the van and she’s tiny. She’s not even four-foot-10. I’m like a giantess next to her. And we fall into each other’s arms. She’s crying, Les is crying, the kids are crying. People are honking their horns, because they know something great is happening.”
Holding Josie close, Mari felt a shock of familiarity that let her know, in case there was any doubt, that this was indeed her birth mother.
“It was her smell,” she says. “I recognized her smell.”
Before beginning her search, Mari Steed had never heard the term “Magdalene.” She soon learned that her mother had been one. From the mid-19th through the late 20th century, Ireland dealt with its most desperate citizens—abandoned and orphaned children, the mentally ill, unwed mothers—by locking them out of sight in industrial and reform schools, mental asylums, mother-and-baby homes and, perhaps most infamously, what came to be known as the Magdalene Laundries.
These last were industrial laundries, run first by Protestant lay organizations, then by Catholic nuns. An estimated 10,000 women lived and toiled inside them. Some were “wayward girls” sent by family; others were orphans, or abandoned, or crime victims sent to the laundries by the courts, church or police. The girls ate paupers’ meals, suffered unspeakable neglect and abuse, and worked backbreaking hours doing laundry and sewing for no pay for hospitals, government agencies and the like. The laundries were named for Mary Magdalene, the biblical prostitute reformed by Christ. The wretched who suffered behind their walls were referred to, simply, as Magdalenes.
They were treated as slaves, beaten with straps, denied food, forced to lie prone in prayer for hours, sometimes sexually abused by groundskeepers or visiting priests. They lived lives fit for a Dickens novel. “Life was brutal for them,” Boston College associate professor James Smith wrote in his 2007 history of the Magdalenes. “Ireland was a new state and very concerned with forging a national identity of moral purity. So they hid away anyone who might be seen as shameful or lacking in respectability.”
Josephine was the fourth-born child of a single woman from County Wexford whose fed-up family finally told her to move to England, marry a good man, tell him nothing about the children she’d left behind, and settle down already. The first three of the woman’s children were raised by extended family. But Josephine was sent to a children’s home and, when she hit her teens, transferred to a Magdalene laundry in Cork run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. Identified as a talented seamstress, she was put to work sewing and embroidering.
After 10 years, Josephine was sent to work in a Catholic hospital. Unprepared for the larger world and naïve around men, she became pregnant. Sent by her employers to Bessborough, a mother-and-baby home in Cork run by the nuns, she gave birth to Mari, who was cared for in a nursery while Josephine again sewed and embroidered, visiting at night to rock and sing her daughter to sleep.
“It was understood that she wouldn’t keep me,” says Mari. “Josie never felt she had a say in the matter. You have to understand—she’d been treated like property. She was a broken person.”
When little Mari was 18 months old, she was deemed ready for adoption. Josie wept as she sewed clothes for her little girl to wear to meet her new parents in the United States. On the day Mari was taken, Josie stood outside the home as the sedan carrying her daughter drove away. “She told me she wept and wept for days,” says Mari. “I knew exactly how she felt.”
Josephine moved to England. When her first husband died, she married Les. She had no other children. “Josie told me that she was terrified to ever lose another child,” says Mari. “She wouldn’t be able to stand the pain.”
Hearing her birth mother’s story did more than incite empathy in Mari Steed. It served as a call to action. She would get justice—for her mother, for every one of the forgotten Magdalenes.
In 1993, a mass grave in Dublin holding the bodies of 155 Magdalenes was discovered. There was not a single headstone to detail who they were or when they had died. Ireland was horrified to learn how little regard the nuns seemed to have had for the pitiable women in their care.
A group of advocates calling themselves the Magdalene Memorial Committee sought to commemorate the dead women, installing a memorial park bench on St. Stephen’s Green and gravestones at Glasnevin cemetary in Dublin for the 133 bodies they were able to identify through records. Mari, along with several other adoption advocates, didn’t think it was enough. All of the Magdalenes, not just the deceased ones, deserved closure.
So in 2003, they formed Justice for Magdalenes, or JFM, a nonprofit with a two-fold goal: to obtain an official apology from the Irish government for its part in violating the rights of the women who lived in the laundries, and to get compensation for those women for their unpaid labor.
For years, the Irish government met JFM’s demands with a yawn. Mari worried that the public believed the wrongs heaped on the Magdalenes were confined to a single laundry, and had been righted by a single memorial bench. So JFM took its allegations to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
In a stunning proclamation, the committee found probable cause and ordered the Irish government to get to the bottom of what had happened in the laundries. “That was the turning point,” says Conall O’Fatharta, a senior reporter for the Irish Examiner. “For 10 years, no one in the government would listen to JFM. But when the UN said, ‘You have to look into this,’ the state was finally backed into a corner.”
On February 5, 2013, the Irish government released its report. Its conclusion was unequivocal: The state did, indeed, have direct involvement in the laundries; it owed the Magdalenes an apology, and the women were entitled to redress.
“What JFM accomplished was extraordinary,” says O’Fatharta. “I think I speak for many people when I say that I can only stand back and watch them with awe.”
Boston College professor Smith—who was so moved by JFM’s work that he eventually joined the group’s advisory committee—calls their work “staggering.” He’s admiring of Steed in particular. “What’s interesting to me is that Mari was one of Ireland’s 2,000 ‘banished babies,’ who were relinquished to the United States and whom no one expected ever to see again,” he says. “The state thought it could literally export its problem children and never be held accountable for it. No one ever expected those babies to grow up, find the Internet, do their research, and return to fight for themselves and their birth mothers. But Mari did. She and JFM have corrected the narrative of Irish history because of it.”
As for Mari, she feels as though her life has come full circle. She’s in constant contact with Josie; she’s also reunited with her own birth daughter. “There is so much love,” she says gratefully. “And for Josie, who thought she’d lost the only child she ever had, well, she has me back—plus grandchildren. She is so happy.”
Mari and JFM are monitoring Ireland’s proposed plans to offer compensation to the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 surviving Magdalenes. She worries, though, that the government isn’t doing enough to publicize the redress plan, and that survivors will learn of it only after it’s too late.
“We still have a lot to do,” she says. “This isn’t over yet.”
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor — Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 1984
On June 3, court martial is scheduled to begin for PFC Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of being the primary Wikileaks source, responsible for the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history. While the main timeline of the events has received international media coverage, and while the inhuman conditions of Manning’s pre-trial detainment have garnered high-profile condemnations, worldwide protests and fiery debates, the true farce lays in the U.S. government putting a man on trial for acting in accordance with the very same democratic principles, on which the United States of America were founded:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The famous words of the Declaration of Independence resounded in later democratic revolutions all over the world. Abraham Lincoln considered the Declaration the prism through which the Constitution should be viewed. The principles of the Declaration became the foundation of the U.S. political philosophy and American democracy.
This democracy had become so influential that it decided to share its “model of success” with other countries. The U.S. got engaged in “democracy-building” to help “failing states” in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, resorting to military intervention whenever it deemed necessary.
A young soldier ends up getting involved in the Iraq War and, as the prosecution rightly points out, voluntarily agrees to serve the interests of the U.S. He discovers, however, ample documentary evidence of systemic abuse of human rights by the U.S. armed forces, including killings of civilians, torture and false accusations and imprisonment of individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he has a moral dilemma: to expose the crimes against humanity or to remain loyal to his country. After an apparently emotionally heavy inner struggle, he chooses the former, fully understanding the consequences he is likely to face.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the U.S. was a co-author and co-signatory, states in Article 3, “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It is presumed by all modern democracies that this right is inalienable and the U.S. itself insists that the universal legitimacy of human rights prevails over individual national sovereignty in case of conflict of laws. Indeed, abuse of human rights has been persistently used in U.S.’s rhetoric as justification of military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining the states’ sovereignty for what the U.S. views as fundamental universal rights. And yet, when U.S. soldiers were clearly implicated in murders, instead of investigating the crimes exposed and prosecuting the perpetrators amongst its own ranks, the government decided to punish the soldier who uncovered the crimes.
Not only does the U.S. give a chilling warning signal to any would-be whistle-blowers to remain silent, not only does the U.S. seem to believe that “all men are created equal” only as long as they are not Afghans, Iraqis or whatever other nation “potentially harboring terrorists,” not only has the U.S. violated national pre-trial procedures and international detainment conventions by keeping Bradley Manning in what the UN torture chief described as “cruel, inhumane and degrading” conditions — it has clearly shown its belief that the international law only matters for the U.S. so long as it is convenient and beneficial for its foreign policy. On other instances, such as the case of Bradley Manning, the USA, the self-appointed leader of the democratic world clearly tells the world:
There is a democracy the U.S. advertises, and there is a democracy the U.S. practices.
As Noam Chomsky put it, “perhaps the most dramatic revelation [of Manning’s case] is the profound hatred of democracy by the U.S. government.” Transparency, accountability and legitimacy – along with the well-informed citizenry – is what constitutes a strong, healthy democracy. By choosing to expose the ugly meaning of the USA’s beloved euphemism “collateral damage,” by letting the public know what is being done “in the interests of their security,” by risking his freedom in doing so, Bradley Manning acted as a dutiful citizen and an empathic human being.
Let justice prevail at this trial. Although following President Obama’s remark that “he [Manning] broke the law,” there is no reason to be overly optimistic. The U.S. government does not have to recognize Bradley Manning as a hero. The world can do so without its partaking. However, the U.S. government has to end this farce immediately, if it indeed still believes in the principles on which the United States of America were founded.
Picture Credit: United States Army
What I am concerned with, is what hard working bankers really didn’t know, when with hindsight, we can see it was astounding that they didn’t know. Because that points the finger at the whole system. To gaol a few of the more flagrantly repulsive bankers, while invigorating, leaves the system untouched. It allows the guilty-but-uncaught to heave a sigh of relief and be able to talk of ‘a few bad apples’ and ‘lessons learned’ and ‘by the way, where’s my bonus?’
I want to look at the truely breath-taking extent of what bankers really didn’t know and show that the banking system itself ,was and still is so genetically malformed that not only is it a breeding ground for the cancerously corrupt, the vicious, the venal and the morally stunted, but that the system itself, in its entirity, would have collapsed even without them. The problem is not the corruption of a good system but the flourishing of a thoroughly bad one.
The Stupidity that was.
Let’s start with some of the most astonishingly stupid things that were done in the early days of the bank crisis:
2007 (October) Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) bought a very large part of Dutch banking giant, ABN Ambro for an eye-watering £49 billion.
2007 (October) German bank HypoReal Estate bought another German Bank Depfa for €2 billion ABOVE what even Depfa itself thought it was worth (personal communication from a former Depfa director).
2008 (Sept) Bank of America (BoA) bought Merrill Lynch
2009 (May) Commerzbank bought Dresdner Bank.
There are many others of course, but these are the recent ones, which were clearly commercial decisions and not, like the 2009 Lloyds Bank purchse of HBOS (Halifax/Bank of Scotland) or the ‘rescue’ of Bear Sterns, a government backed TBTF operation.
Each and everyone of these deals ended in bankruptcy and a vast public bail-out. How could they have been so stupid? Let’s ask them.
Here is an email (taken from p. 197 of the Consolidated Class Action filed in NY District Court against Citi) sent on 3rd March 2007 from a senior Bear Stearns Fund Manager Ralph Cioffi to his fellow Fund Manager Matt Tannin.
“…the worry for me is that subprime losses will be far worse than anything people have modeled”
Yet four days later on the 7th March Mr Cioffi wrote to another colleague,
Matt [Tannin – Cioffi’s fellow Fund Manager at Bear Stearns] said it’s either a meltdown or the greatest buying opportunity ever.
And there you have it. In 2007 Matt Tannin, senior Hedge Fund Manager at one of Wall Street’s oldest banks, Bear Stearns, didn’t know if it was going to be a meltdown or the greatest buying opportunity ever. And this is despite the fact that Tannin and Cioffi and everyone on Wall Street, had already had a couple of years worth of clear evidence that asset values were collapsing and the securities based on those valuations were becoming unsellable. Don’t take my word for it, you can read page after page of first hand testimony from the dealers and senior executives themselves, in every section of the financial industry, in the Class Action linked above.
Thus this isn’t the corruption of a good system by a few crooks. This is clever, though probably morally stunted people, hard at work in an utterly dysfunctional and destructive system. The same system we still have. No matter what evidence was piling up the priests of global finance just could not believe it was all a disaster or that there was anything fundamentally wrong with what they were doing or the system in which they were doing it. They just could not see that it could be anything more serious than a massive market ‘correction’ in which case there would be equally massive rewards for those greedy enough to take the gamble. As late as 2009 RBS, BoA, Commerzbank and Hypo Real Estate all still thought it was the perfect moment to borrow tens of billions in order to buy hundreds of billions worth of another banks’ loans, assets and libilities.
But back to Mr Cioffi who has more to teach us. By 23rd March 2007 Mr Cioffi had come to a personal conclusion and started to move his own money ($2 million) OUT of the funds he was managing. By 19th April, Bear Stearns had commissioned and received a report on its CDO Sub-Prime holdings. Matt Tannin emailed Ralph Cioffi and said,
…the subprime market looks pretty damn ugly… If we believe the [CDOs report is] ANYWHERE CLOSE to accurate I think we should close the funds now. (My emphasis)
But he and Mr Tannin did not close those funds nor advise investors to get their money out. To the contrary, in a conference call to the fund’s clients Mr Cioffi said,
”there’s no basis for thinking this is one big disaster,”
Sadly it was for the investors who listened to him. Those people stayed in until the funds imploded as did the entire bank shortly after. Matt and Ralph were charged with fraud by the SEC and taken to Federal Court. Where they were aquitted.
Why were they aquitted? Were the jurers knobbled? I don’t think so. One of the jurors Serphaine Stimpson, said afterwards,
“They were scapegoats for Wall Street.”
I think Ms Stimpson was correct. Cioffi and Tannin were revolting creatures who protected themselves from a looming disaster but ‘honestly’ (On Wall Street it’s a relative term) couldn’t bring themselves to believe that the entire Wall Street, global financial edifice was a suppurating pustule. They also knew full well that if they advised clients to get out and closed their funds it would reveal the truth and that in turn would unleash panic. So they didn’t.
They no doubt felt that while there would be a disaster for some, there would still be money to be made for a few of the, luckier or ‘smarter’, ones. I suspect they would still count themselves as among the ‘smarter’ and acted accordingly.
What’s more, no matter how massive the losses that would be inflicted, I suspect our loathsome twosome also thought there had to be someone who had to take the risks and suffer the losses, in order that the system itself be preserved to profit another day. Only they wanted to make sure that that ‘someone’ was not them personally. On this, the rest of the Global Financial class agreed with them. Today, five years in to the cataclysm, it is clear that that ‘someone’ was only ever going to be you and me. Someone had to be frogmarched up to ‘save’ the system but it was never going to be the wealthy. Those senior bond holders are oh so sacrosanct. Whereas depositors, well they can be bailed in can’t they.
I have dredged Mr Cioffi and Mr Tannin back into the light not simply to pour more scorn on them but to make it clear they were not unusual. They were not guilty of anything that the whole of the global financial system was not guilty of. The larger point about them is not their personal repulsiveness but their averageness. They were two Mr Normals in the workings of the financial and banking system. They did nothing ‘wrong’, nor even unusual. They were not rogue traders. What was wrong is the normal working of the system.
The wider picture.
Let’s go back to that roll call of takeovers. What we need to keep firmly in mind is that these takeovers were done by people who were earning millions and who insisted they were so clever, so ‘smart’ they were worth every penny and cent. They did what they did at their own pace with no constraints or outside pressures.
What this means in practice is that all the buyers, RBS, Hypo. BoA and Commerzbank had full and unfettered access to all the information they needed to understand fully what they were going to buy. For example when Hypo bought Depfa I know from a someone who was at board level at the time, that a special room was created which contained all the information DEPFA had. The books were open for scrutiny. Hypo executives had full and unfettered access. There were experts on hand to answer any question. I wrote about it in the second part of ‘Ireland was Germany’s Off-shore Tart.’
And yet, they paid €2 billion over the odds and it led very quickly to the absolutely titanic collapse of both and a bail out of Hypo to the tune of something in the region of €180B.
I have talked of Depfa because I have been told what happened by someone who was involved. But the same, or something very similar, would have happened in all the takeovers. It is required by law. It is Due Diligence. You cannot spend share holders money without being able to tell them you know what it is you are buying. Thus we know that Commerzbank executives looked at the opened books of Dresdner. That RBS experts looked closely at ABM Ambro’s assets and loans and came to the highly paid view that this was worth spending £49 billion on, and that BoA top brass pored over the inner most secrets of Merrrill Lynch and CountryWide. To suggest anything less would be to accuse them of dereliction of their duty, of something very near to fraud, and that would be libelous would it not? And yet each and every one of these deals ended in disaster on a global scale.
So where does this leave us? To my mind there are only two possible scenarios. Either DEPFA, ABN Ambro, Merrill, Dresdner and Countrwide executives all lied and concealed and thus all the information Hypo and the other buyers were seeing was a pack of lies, in which case the Hypo et al bankers did their jobs but were misled by crooks. Or, Depfa and the other sellers did faithfully lay bare the truth but the buyer bankers were either too stupid to see or did not care. You tell me is there a third, happier scenario I am missing? I know many banks log on and read this blog so one of you write in and tell us what the third, missing scenario is. Write to me confidentially. I really would like to know if I am missing the obvious.
But before anyone suggests that everything was honestly revealed by the sellers and all competently understood by the buyers, but that both were foxed by unforseen events which so changed cirumstances that a few deals did go bad – before you try to tell us anything like that – please refer back to the Tannin and Cioffi emails above and in fact to the rest of the evidence in the Citi indictment. Events were certainly NOT unforeseen. And please also remember that it wasn’t just a few deals that went bad, it was in many cases 100% of whole groups of securities and thousands of deals which went bad and turned out not to be anything at all like they were supposed to be -as the paperwork claimed they were. Citi lied. It’s there in the indictment. So did Merrill. So did all of them.
So am I saying it was all the sellers fault? No I am not. We cannot know that for sure in every case. We only know it for sure in some cases. In the rest we don’t know who was more to blame buyers or sellers. But it doesn’t matter does it? That is the point. Stand back and what do we have? Either we have banks full of bankers who are corrupt liars or we have banks full of the slow witted and guillible who do not understand the financial deals it is their job to understand…or both. Either way we are left with an industry that did not and – unless everything has magically improved – cannot and will not do its job. We have a financial system which in very important ways, critical ways, is staffed and run by people who, whether by criminal and moral degeneracy or simple stupidity, are not fit for their jobs.
It seems a terribly sweeping statement I know. But run back over how we got here and tell me where we, I, went wrong. Unless you can find the place we lost the thread, then what else can we conclude other than that we have a banking system which is not fit for purpose? Or perhaps I should say, is not fit for the purpose we were expecting. It does leave the possible conclusion that our bankers and regulators are all very fit for purpose it ‘s just a rather different purpose from the one we expected.
What one banker didn’t know.
Before I conclude, I want to return from the general to the specific. Let us hear from another insider, this time the Chief Risk Officer of Bank of America during the time it was buying Merrill and CountryWide. Please welcome Amy Woods Brinkley. She was once considered one of the 25 most powerful women in banking (according to US Banker magazine).
BoA bought CountryWide in July 2008 and Merrill Lynch in Spetember 2008. In Late September 2008 just as the ink of both deals was about dry, Amy Woods Brinkly gave an extensive interview to Forbes Magazine. In it she was asked why BoA bought Countrywide. She replied,
Our company did very extensive due diligence. I’ve been involved in a lot of our acquisitions and I don’t recall one that was more thorough. During that process I became increasingly comfortable; the problems at Countrywide were real, but they were also manageable.
Forbes pressed the point asking surely she was worried about the estimates of the write downs on Countrywide assets which were already being talked about as being between $8 -$30 billion. I should also mention that in March 2008, five months before BoA bought it, The FBI announced it was investigating CountryWide for fraud on mortgages and home loans. It didn’t stop BoA going ahead and buying, but presumably it did make them even more diligent. Ms Brinkley’s reply –
As we said a number of times, we did very extensive due diligence on the transaction, not only before signing but going back in before closing the transaction, and we believe the economics made sense and the market-share opportunity is worth the risk…So again, just before closing the transaction we revisited the economics and we are comfortable with what they tell us.
Brinkley was rated by her peers as one of the best. Was she lied to? Were the lies so clever, so convoluted that she just missed them – all the many thousands of them? Or was she actually quite a stupid person seen as a genius by other fairly thick people? Or were they all, collectively, so cock-sure of themselves and the system which had made them rich and powerful, that none of them could see clearly any more? I think it is this last explanation which rings true. I am sure lies were told. We know from court documents and extensive anaysis of thousands of deals which were done and sold in the bubble years, that there was systemic fraud. What we don’t know is if everyone could see it was fraud or if they all had become captured by an ideology which said fraud is just ‘good’ business.
It’s worth bearing in mind that however senior and clever Ms Brinkley was, she was not the only one who was responsible for vetting the deal and doing the due diligence. Every deal has ranks of lawyers and experts who are handsomely paid to pour over the details and make sure the deal is sound. In the case of BoA and CountryWide the Washington DC law firm K&L Gates advised. Just as in the Depfa/Hypo case Goldmand advised.
However, it was Ms Brinkley who was thrown under the bus. She lost her job. She was replaced by Mr Greg Curl who had been the senior deal maker for the Merrill deal. The Merrill deal has cost BoA $30B and counting. He too has now left the bank though he’s still in finance.
Is this all history? No it’s not. Most of the people who lied and/or “didn’t know” back then are still in the financial system, still lying to us, the regulators or themselves. Just this week one of the only really ethical banks in the UK the Co-operative Bank has had to come clean about the scale of losses it inherited when it bought the Britiannia Building society (at the time the second largest in the UK) …in April 2009.
I may be biased, I bank with the Co-operative, but I don’t think they are a fraudulent organization. I think they really do operate more ethically than most. Possibly running second, among UK banks, only to Triodos bank. But the fact is the Cooperative bought Britannia at the height of the crisis after doing its due diligence. And yet the losses the Cooperative bankers didn’t see are so large the Coop bank has found its debt downgraded to junk.
I suggest, if you are willing to consider that the Co-operative bank and its bankers are a little more honest than most, that this indicates that it is the system itself, the origination of loans, how they are structured, how securitization works, how bankers are trained, how complex the financial products and deals are, that is the problem. Beyond even corruption, of which there is no shortage, the system itself is crap. It is not fit for any positive social purpose. It enriches the few while systematically endangering and then impoverishing the many. It concentrates power in a few hands who then insist that democratic power should be taken out of the hands of the many and given instead to technocrats drawn from the ranks of the few.
Our financial system would have collapsed simply because IT DOESN’T WORK, not as an open and equitable system. Sure it makes profits… for some. But so does riding around in a Mongol Hoard sacking cities. The present financial system is NOT a fair and open system where by dint of hard work, insight, research and expertese anyone can have a reasonable chance of prospering. It has not and will not NOT work as a repository for hard earned savings and pensions. Both are being systemaitcally pillaged for the ‘good’ of the major banks.
Whether one believes the capitalist system is a good thing or not, or even a potentially good thing, what we can perhaps all agree on is that it – our financial system – is NOT at the moment good for the many, and will not be in the future, if left in the hands of the repulsive elite who presently run it, defend it, facilitate it and profit by it.
My father was a lost cause, Granny informed us shortly after arriving to spend her final year of wisdom and illness with us, and by the time she was almost ready to be judged herself, confined to her armchair in the living room from morning until evening when he – The Great Sinner – would carry her to bed, she had given up speaking to him entirely, judging him solely with her eyes.
Despite her assurances that even a venial sin could get you barred from heaven, there were occasions when my mother’s mother was so taken with the idea of damnation that a definite hint of affection could be detected in her voice when she spoke of it. She would turn bright red as her sermonising became more vitriolic, and her eyes would seem to shine. My father called it the ‘venial glint’, and said that if she didn’t feck off to heaven soon he would have her removed from the house – or remove himself – to escape it.
Venial sins were like pennies, she told us, adding up to make a pound, and if you didn’t repent your pennies you would be left with a pound of mortal sin. I was sure that if she didn’t stop talking about venial sins my father would commit a mortal one.
My mother was a sinner by virtue of marrying my father, who was soon forced to enjoy his evening whisky in the shed. I was a sinner for not finishing my vegetables and a heathen for watching cartoons. The newsreader was a sinner for wearing make-up, the weatherman for predicting God’s wind, and the dog for being a dog. We were all doomed.
On the evening she finally departed for heaven, there was an air of quiet celebration in the house. I was allowed to watch television instead of doing my homework, my father was allowed his whisky in the living room for the first time in almost a year, and my mother sat peacefully while the colour that had drained from her face within days of Granny moving in began to return.
I wondered whether Granny was as happy as the rest of us that she was finally up in heaven, and whether her exacting standards would be too much even for the angels. My father, after a whisky too many, wondered aloud how long – if she had managed to get there – it would take for God to have her removed, now that she was living in his house, or whether the big man would simply remove himself and return to us mortals for an early second coming, just to escape that venial glint…
It was a sin to say such a thing, I was sure, but my mother said that God would understand, now that he’d finally met her in person.
Written by Chris Connolly Illustration by Thomas McCar
Back to Light is a creatively scientific series by photographer Caleb Charland that explores the naturally electrifying power of ordinary objects like fruits and loose change. The images in the series features a number of materials, including consumables readily found in one’s pantry, generating enough power to light lamps and LED lights. We had previously seen Charland light a lamp with 300 apples, but now the grocery list has expanded to include oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, pomelos, and vinegar.The ongoing photo project, which began in 2010, was initially inspired by the powerful simplicity of the potato battery. The science enthusiast explains, “By inserting a galvanized nail into one side of a potato and a copper wire in the other side a small electrical current is generated. The zinc coating on the nail gives off electrons due to the electrolyte environment within the potato. These electrons then travel along the copper wire providing the electrical voltage to illuminate a small light emitting diode. The utter simplicity of this electrical phenomenon is endlessly fascinating for me.”Additionally, Charland reflects on his own project by saying: “This work speaks to a common curiosity we all have for how the world works as well as a global concern for the future of earth’s energy sources. My hope is that these photographs function as micro utopias by suggesting and illustrating the endless possibilities of alternative and sustainable energy production.”
Charland tells us that he hopes to expand his project this summer by making “little hydro electric generators and installing them in the landscape.” Until then, the photographer is showing a selection of his works at Schneider Gallery in Chicago and has a solo show coming up at Gallery Kayafas in Boston from May 17th through June 7th.
Battery From a Single Potato
Grapefruit and Pomelo Battery
Fruit Battery Still Life (Citrus)
Electricity From a Ring of Apples
Fruit Battery with Hanging Apples
Limes and Lemons
Vinegar Batteries with Glassware and Shelf
Garage of Organic Batteries
Potato Power, LaJoie Growers LLC, Van Buren, Maine