Monday, December 31, 2012

Noam Chomsky, via M. Kasenbacher: Work, Learning and Freedom


Work, Learning and Freedom

By Noam Chomsky and Michael Kasenbacher, New Left Project

27 December 12:

n this often personal interview, renowned linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky outlines a libertarian perspective on work and education, arguing that freedom is the root of creativity and fulfilment.

Michael Kasenbacher: The question I would like to ask is what is really wanted work? Maybe we could start with your personal life and your double career in linguistics and political activism? Do you like that kind of work?

If I had the time I would spend far more time doing work on language, philosophy, cognitive science, topics that are intellectually very interesting. But a large part of my life is given to one or another form of political activity: reading, writing, organising, activism and so on. Which is worth doing, it's necessary but it's not really intellectually challenging. Regarding human affairs we either understand nothing, or it's pretty superficial. It's hard work to get the data and put it all together but it's not terribly challenging intellectually. But I do it because it's necessary. The kind of work that should be the main part of life is the kind of work you would want to do if you weren't being paid for it. It's work that comes out of your own internal needs, interests and concerns.

The philosopher Frithjof Bergmann says that most people don't know what kind of activities they really want to do. He calls that 'the poverty of desire.' I find this to be true when I talk to a lot of my friends. Did you always know what you wanted to do?

That's a problem I never had - for me there was always too much that I wanted to do. I'm not sure how widespread this is - take, say, a craftsman, I happen to be no good with tools, but take someone who can build things, fix things, they really want to do it. They love doing it: 'if there's a problem I can solve it'. Or just plain physical labour - that's also gratifying. If you work on command then of course it's just drudgery but if you do the very same thing out of your own will or interest it's exciting and interesting and appealing. I mean that's why people look for work - gardening for example. So you've had a hard week, you have the weekend off, the kids are running around, you could just lie down to sleep but it's much more fun to be gardening or building something or doing something else.

It's an old insight, not mine. Wilhelm von Humboldt, who did some of the most interesting work on this, once pointed out that if an artisan produces a beautiful object on command we may admire what he did but we despise what he is - he's a tool in the hands of others. If on the other hand he creates that same beautiful object out of his own will we admire it and him and he's fulfilling himself. It's kind of like study at school - I think we all know from our experience that if you study on command because you have to pass a test you can do fine on the test but two weeks later you've forgotten everything. On the other hand if you do it because you want to find out, and you explore and you make mistakes and you look in the wrong place and so on, then ultimately you remember.

So you think that basically a person knows what it is that he or she wants to do?

Under the right circumstances that would be true. Children for example are naturally curious - they want to know about everything, they want to explore everything but that generally gets knocked out of their heads. They're put into disciplined structures, things are organised for them to act in certain ways so it tends to get beaten out of you. That's why school's boring. School can be exciting. It happens that I went to a Deweyite school until I was about 12. It was an exciting experience, you wanted to be there, you wanted to go. There was no ranking, there were no grades. Things were guided so it wasn't just do anything you feel like. There was a structure but you were basically encouraged to pursue your own interests and concerns and to work together with others. I basically didn't know I was a good student until I got to high school. I went to an academic high school in which everybody was ranked and you had to get to college so you had to pass tests. In elementary school I had actually skipped a year but nobody paid much attention to it. The only thing I saw was that I was the smallest kid in the class. But it wasn't a big thing that anybody paid attention to. High school was totally different - you've gotta be first in the class, not second. And that's a very destructive environment - it drives people into the situation where you really don't know what you want to do. It happened to me in fact - in high school I kinda lost all interest. When I looked at the college catalogue it was really exciting - lots of courses, great things. But it turned out that the college was like an overgrown high school. After about a year I was going to just drop out and it was just by accident that I stayed in. I happened to meet up with a faculty member who suggested to me I start taking his graduate courses and then I started taking other graduate courses. But I have no professional training. That's why I'm teaching at MIT - I don't have the credentials to teach at an academic university.

But that's what education ought to be like. Otherwise it can be extremely alienating - I see it with my grandchildren or the circles in which they live. There are kids who just don't know what they want to do so they smoke pot, or they drink, they skip school, or they get into all kinds of other anti-social behaviour. Because they have energy and excitement and nothing to do with it. That's true here, I don't know how it is in Austria[1], but here even the concept of play has changed. I can see it even in the place where I live. My wife and I moved out to this area because it was very good for children - there wasn't a lot of traffic, there were woods out the back and the kids could play in the street. The kids were out playing all the time, riding their bikes whatever. Now there are children around but they're not outside, they're either inside looking at video games or something or else they're involved in organised activities: adult organised sports activities or something. But just the concept of spontaneous play seems to have diminished considerably. There are some studies about this, I've seen them for the United States and England, I don't know if it's true elsewhere but spontaneous play has just declined under social changes. And I think it's a very bad thing because that's where your creative instincts flourish. If you have to make up a game in the streets, if you play baseball with a broom handle you found somewhere that's different from going to an organised league where you have to wear a uniform.

Sometimes it's just surreal - I remember when my grandson was about ten and he was very interested in sports, he was always playing for teams for the town. Once we were over at his mother's house and he came back pretty disconsolate because there was supposed to be a baseball game but the other team that they were playing only had eight players. I don't know if you know how baseball works but everybody's sitting all the time, there's about three people actually doing anything, everybody else is just sitting around. But his team simply couldn't give the other team an extra player so that the kids could have fun because you have to keep by the league rules. I mean that's carrying it to real absurdity but that's the kind of thing that's happening. It's true in school too - the great educational innovation of Bush and Obama was 'no child left behind'. I can see the effects in schools from talking to teachers, parents and students. It's training to pass tests and the teachers are evaluated on how well the students do in the test - I've talked to teachers who've told me that a kid will be interested in something that comes up in class and want to pursue it and the teacher has to tell them - ' you can't do that because you have to pass this test next week'. That's the opposite of education.

How do you think it is possible in our society, not just in education, for people to counteract all this structuring, this tendency for us to be driven into situations where people don't know what it is they want to do?

I think it's the opposite: the social system is taking on a form in which finding out what you want to do is less and less of an option because your life is too structured, organised, controlled and disciplined. The US had the first real mass education (much ahead of Europe in that respect) but if you look back at the system in the late 19th century it was largely designed to turn independent farmers into disciplined factory workers, and a good deal of education maintains that form. And sometimes it's quite explicit - so if you've never read it you might want to have a look at a book called The Crisis of Democracy - a publication of the trilateral commission, who were essentially liberal internationalists from Europe, Japan and the United States, the liberal wing of the intellectual elite. That's where Jimmy Carter's whole government came from. The book was expressing the concern of liberal intellectuals over what happened in the 60s. Well what happened in the 60s is that it was too democratic, there was a lot of popular activism, young people trying things out, experimentation - it's called 'the time of troubles'. The 'troubles' are that it civilised the country: that's where you get civil rights, the women's movement, environmental concerns, opposition to aggression. And it's a much more civilised country as a result but that caused a lot of concern because people were getting out of control. People are supposed to be passive and apathetic and doing what they're told by the responsible people who are in control. That's elite ideology across the political spectrum - from liberals to Leninists, it's essentially the same ideology: people are too stupid and ignorant to do things by themselves so for their own benefit we have to control them. And that very dominant ideology was breaking down in the 60s. And this commission that put together this book was concerned with trying to induce what they called 'more moderation in democracy' - turn people back to passivity and obedience so they don't put so many constraints on state power and so on. In particular they were worried about young people. They were concerned about the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young (that's their phrase), meaning schools, universities, church and so on - they're not doing their job, [the young are] not being sufficiently indoctrinated. They're too free to pursue their own initiatives and concerns and you've got to control them better.

If you look back at what happens since that time there have been a lot of measures introduced to impose discipline. Take something as simple as raising tuition fees - it's much more true in the US than elsewhere, but in the US tuition is now sky high - in part it selects things on a class basis but more than that, it imposes a debt burden. So if you come out of college with a big debt you're not going to be free to do what you want to do. You may have wanted to be a public interest lawyer but you're going to have to go to a corporate law firm. That's quite a serious fact and there are many other things like it. In fact the drug war was started mainly for that reason, the drug war is a disciplinary system, it's a way of ensuring that people are kept under control and it was almost consciously designed that way... The idea of freedom is very frightening for those who have some degree of privilege and power and I think that shows up in the education system too. And in the workplace... for example, there's a very good study by a faculty member here, who was denied tenure unfortunately, who studied very carefully the development of computer controlled machine tools - first developed in the 1950s under the military where almost everything is done...

What is his name?

David Noble. He has a couple of very good books - one of them is called Forces of Production. What he discovered was that as these methods were devised there was a choice - whether to design the methods so that control would be in the hands of skilled machinists or whether it would be controlled by management. They picked the second, although it was not more profitable - when they did studies they found there was no profit advantage to it but it's just so important to keep workers under control than to have skilled machinists run the industrial process. One reason is that if that mentality spreads sooner or later workers are going to demand what seems obvious to them anyway - that they should just take over the factories and get rid of the bosses who don't do anything but get in their way. That's frightening. That's pretty much what led to the New Deal. The New Deal measures were to some extent sparked by the fact that strikes were reaching the level of sit down strikes, and a sit down strike is just one millimetre away from saying, 'Well why are we sitting here? Let's run the place'.

If you go back to the 19th century working class literature, by now there's quite a lot of working class literature, there's quite a lot of material on [these ideas]. This is mostly right around here where the industrial revolution first started in the United States. Working people were bitterly opposed to the industrial system, they said it was taking away their freedom, their independence, their rights as members of a free republic, that it was destroying their culture. They thought that workers should simply own the mills and run them themselves. In the 19th century here, without any influence of Marxism or any European thinking, it was pretty much assumed that wage labour is about the same as slavery - it's different only in that it's temporary. That was such a cliché that it was a slogan of the Republican Party. And for northern workers in the civil war that was the banner under which they fought - that wage slavery is as bad as slavery. That had to be beaten out of people's heads.

I don't think it's far under the surface, I think it could come back at any time. I think it could come back right now - Obama pretty much owns the auto industry and is closing down auto plants, meanwhile his government is making contracts with Spain and France to build high tech rail facilities which the US is very backward in - and using federal stimulus money to pay for it. Sooner or later it's going to occur to working people in Detroit that 'we can do those things - let's take over the factory and do it'. It could lead to industrial revival here and that would be very frightening to the banks and the managerial class.

What is your personal work routine? How do manage to work so much?

Well my wife died a couple of years ago and since then I've done nothing but work. I see my children once in a while but almost nothing else. Before that I worked pretty hard but had a personal life outside. But that's unique.

How many hours of sleep do you get?

I try to get about six or seven hours of sleep if I can. It's a pretty crazy life - tremendous number of talks and meetings so I don't have anywhere near as much time as I'd like to just plain work because other things crowd in. But I nearly never have any free time - I never go to the movies or out to dinner. But that's not a model of any sane kind of existence.

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

FW: Dennis Kucinich: On the Violent Society, and the Culture of Peace

Here is part two of Friday's interview with Dennis Kucinich.
Dennis Kucinich: On the Violent Society, and the Culture of Peace
Democracy Now: 12/28/2012
Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is serving his last week in Congress after eight terms in office. Since 1997, Kucinich has been a leading progressive voice on Capitol Hill, known for actions including the bringing of articles of impeachment against George W. Bush for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, voting against the USA PATRIOT Act, advocating for ending the war on drugs, challenging U.S. warfare from Afghanistan to Libya, and pushing for single-payer healthcare to replace the patchwork, privatized U.S. system. Kucinich ran for president in 2004 and 2008 with a vow to create a Department of Peace. "The two-party system itself is failing the American people," Kucinich says. "We have to look at the culture of violence that we have in America and ... build a culture of peace.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: While the so-called fiscal cliff has dominated the news headlines, the Senate is also preparing to vote today to continue a controversial domestic surveillance program. In a blow to civil liberties advocates, the Senate rejected three attempts Thursday to add oversight and privacy safeguards to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich is still with us, outgoing Democratic congressmember. This will be his last week in Congress—at least for this term of his political life. Congressmember Kucinich, the issue of FISA—what is this bill? What does it mean?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, what it reflects is a breakdown in trust in this country. The attempt is to give the government even more powers to spy, and that is really being translated into domestic, quote-unquote, "intelligence," even though it's called the foreign intelligence bill.

We have to ask questions. You know, why, for example, was—did you have the Occupy Wall Street movement being spied upon? What is this? What's going on in our country, where we don't have oversight of the activities of the government when it comes to domestic spying? And what are we doing in America, where the privacy concerns of Americans are swept aside?

We're entering into a brave new world, which involves not only the government apparatus being able to look in massive databases and extract information to try to profile people who might be considered threats to the prevailing—to the status quo. But we also are looking at drones, which are increasingly miniaturized, that will give the governments, at every level, more of an ability to look into people's private conduct. This is a nightmare. And the FISA bill is just one example of how America is going in a direction that undermines the expectations of not just the right to privacy, but the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, the demand that any action that's taken to get information about people should be subject to a warrant, that it not be subject to just any FBI agent determining that this is information they want on that person. This is bad news.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, not just what do you say to your natural opponents, the Republicans in Congress, but to your allies, Democratic congressmembers, who you almost, in many of these cases, from drones to FISA, oppose as much as the Republicans? What message do you have for them as you leave Congress?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, actually, you know, we've seen a bridge here created between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of liberty and being free from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. Congressman Paul and I worked together on many of these issues relating to the government seeking increased powers to surveil the American people. You know, it's really no longer a Democrat or Republican issue. It goes much deeper than that. And in a way, Amy, these debates that we're having right now in Washington show the limitations of our two-party system, that the two-party system itself is failing the American people, that there really aren't enough choices, of not just individuals, but of policies reflecting the direction America should go in.

When we find in a post-9/11 America that we are mired in a condition of fear; when we see the massive amounts of spending that's gone for war and increased military buildups and for expansion of spy agencies like the Domestic Intelligence Agency, which is just adding another 1,600 spies so that the Pentagon can have their own spy agency to compete with, what, the CIA abroad; when you see the interventions that have fallen flat and have been disastrous, such as Libya and Benghazi; when you see al-Qaeda growing in strength because of our own misapplication of force, you have to ask, if this is about Democrat and Republican, this system is failing. And we're seeing an evidence of it on fiscally, but we're seeing another evidence of it in foreign policy, and we're seeing an evidence of it domestically, when you can see a surveillance state arising under the noses of both political parties.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your alliance with Ron Paul. Both of you are leaving. This is your last days in Congress, at least this time. So who are your successors, who you see in Congress right now, who will carry on these struggles for privacy, against drones?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, I would hope that people who I've worked with in the past, like Barbara Lee, Alan Grayson and others, would continue the efforts. You know, there are people on both sides of the aisle who have expressed concerns. You have to remember that we put together a very powerful coalition in challenging the war in Libya that was a coalition between Democrats and Republicans, that reflects a new concern about where is America going. Why are we letting the president or the White House determine that we should expand war? We don't even involve Congress anymore.

I think that you're going to see, you know, a continued effort. The question is the strength of it. And the question is, as a function of the work of political parties, why political parties have essentially been outside of this debate over civil liberties. Why have the parties watched as there's skirmishes that go inside Congress that really are not emboldened by the support of either side of the aisle in some official party structure? That's what I'm saying.

You know, as we look towards a new year, we may be looking at two things. Number one, within each party, you may see more primaries. So, you know, we may see people decide that instead of being independents, they want to be party animals and bring the challenge right inside the Republican and Democratic parties. Or, on the alternative, you may see a third political wave movement that arises from disgust with the inability of parties to address the economic aspirations of the American people. So, we'll see.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congressman, I'm wondering now, as this is 16 years now in the House, prior to that as the mayor of Cleveland, any misgivings about things that you were not able to accomplish, or, in the same way, pride in things that you were able to accomplish, especially in the House, all these years that you've been seen as the conscience of the House?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I will say that it's really unfortunate that the—that the Democratic leadership in the House did not support an impeachment effort to challenge the Bush administration, and Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, on the lies that took us into war in Iraq. That was a pivotal moment for this country. And instead of choosing the Constitution, our leaders chose politics. Bad choice. The fact is that today, after a decade of war, we are looking at an eventual bill for that Iraq war of $5 trillion. We're looking at perhaps as many as a million innocent civilians perishing—for war that was based on lies. People have to remember this. This isn't just because it's, you know, forget about the past. No, you cannot forget about the past. We went to war based on lies.

And so, you know, I did my part, which was to alert the Congress back in October 2002: Look, we're headed into a war, and there's no proof that Iraq has anything to do with 9/11 or had weapons of mass destruction; what are we doing here? But we were pulled into that by the Bush administration, driven by neocons and the Project for the New American Century. All of us who were following it know exactly what happened. And, you know, that set the stage for where we are today. We're at the—you know, if there is such a thing as a fiscal cliff, we're at the edge of it because of trillions of dollars that will be spent for wars based on lies. And there was never any accountability.

If there's one thing we have to do, we have—America needs a period of truth and reconciliation, if we're ever going to get—put the country back together again and achieve a level of national unity that we're capable of. But right now we're living on a lie. And the lie is that—that this whole national security infrastructure is necessary and that it's necessary for us to keep expanding war around the world, it's necessary for us to have these big spy agencies, which also interact domestically. All of this stuff shouldn't have happened. And we made the wrong choices. And this is a problem for both political parties to resolve. You can always try to fix things, but you have to look at the severe impact that our inability to act, to challenge the lies that took us into war—you have to look at where it's left us.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, why is it that it seems like so few tea party Republicans can control the Republican Party in Congress, and yet the largest caucus of the Democratic Party in Congress, the Progressive Caucus, has so little effect or say?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think, first of all, for those who are doing the daily work inside the Progressive Caucus, they should be appreciated. Raúl Grijalva and Congressman Ellison, you know, they've done a decent job of keeping a progressive agenda out front. However, you know, some members will choose affiliation with the Progressive Caucus as kind of a social function more than a political function. So the membership of the caucus belies the fact that once Democrats are voting on the floor of the House, you know, it doesn't matter what caucuses they're involved in. It's like a social thing. What matters is they're responding to the aspirations of their—of their constituents.

And that's why—you know, I go back to what I said a moment ago. You know, it may be that instead of people going outside the party and saying, you know, "A curse on both your houses," that you come—that we get people coming back inside the party and start to bring primary challenges forward on both sides of the aisle to shake up the political equation so that parties really do reflect a little bit more of the involvement and the aspirations of people at a local level. I mean, the tea party knew what they were out to do. But the Democratic Party hasn't shown the same kind of discipline or willingness to take a stand on some of these basic issues that ought to describe who we are, like Social Security, like single-payer healthcare, like keeping people in their homes, like a full-employment economy, like ending the military buildups and the war machine. I mean, you know, there's still plenty of room for us within the party to negotiate that, if people feel there's still a chance to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, very quickly, news just in of another shooting, this in Camden County, New Jersey, three police officers shot. It looks like there are no deaths at this point. The shooting happened around 5:45 this morning, Eastern time. The power of the NRA? And also, do you see yourself getting involved with third-party politics; as you leave, what your plans are?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: You know, I'd love to be involved in two-party politics, but we don't really have that right now.

I think that this ubiquity, ubiquitousness of violence in our society isn't just about guns. We have to look at the culture of violence that we have in America and deal with it in a way that isn't about beating ourselves up, but we have to look at the spectrum of violence—domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, violence in the school, gang violence, gun violence, racial violence, violence against gays, and the police community challenges that come up. And in doing that, that's why I called for, years ago, a Department of Peace, not to simply create another federal department, but to have an organized approach nationally to deal with the violence in a society, to help families deal with the tensions that they have at home, to deal with some of the fundamental attitudes people have, boys might have about girls, and, you know, through education. We need to take a new approach.

And frankly, you know, we can get rid of all guns; we're still going to have violence. Now, I have never supported the NRA. I probably have, you know, a zero rating with them. But the fact of the matter is that we have to take a much broader view. Again, the debate is too narrow here. It's—we need to look at the cultural issues, that are real. And when you talk about gun control here in America, and at the same time you're talking about gun expansion across the world, about not only the United States exporting arms to the world and engendering wars everywhere, but our own efforts proliferating wars, that's kind of a mixed message that inevitably is not easily reconciled.

So we need to build a culture of peace in America. Is it possible? Of course it is. You know, violence is a learned response. So is nonviolence. And so, through education and through creating a social health safety net, I think that we can meet the challenge. And that's one of the things I'm certainly going to be involved in as I leave the Congress, to try to broaden the debate, to look at this in a way that's compassionate and at the same time not blaming ourselves, but recognizing that we have a culture that is very violent and that affects Americans at every level. And if we address that in a systematic way through an organized approach, using the resources and assets of government at all levels, I think that we could find a way to change from where we are today with this dismal record of one shooting after another and all the, you know, innocent people and public servants constantly being under attack.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, we want thank you very much for being with us. Dennis Kucinich, eight-term congressmember from Ohio, serving his last week as a member of Congress. We will look forward to talking to you in your new capacity, whatever that will be.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we look at the Wilmington 10. Why are so many calling on the North Carolina governor to pardon them. We urge you to listen. Stay with us.


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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dennis Kucinich sums up America and the world, as his congressional career ends

Hi. I have to say this is the best interview or speech of Dennis Kucinich I've ever heard.  The most comprehensive, as well.
It's great to hear compassionate and insightful musings, absent the often angry tone and demands.  An outstanding read.
Below is part 1 of the interview.  Tomorrow, I'll send you part two: On the Violent Society, and the Culture of Peace 
Dennis Kucinich on the "Fiscal Cliff": Why Are We Sacrificing American Jobs for Corporate Profits?
and Much More.
Democracy Now: 12/28/2012

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Obama is set to meet today with congressional leaders at the White House just three day before a year-end deadline to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama and congressional Republicans remain at an impasse over the Republicans' refusal to allow tax hikes, even for the wealthiest Americans. If an agreement is not reached in time, $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases will go into effect on January 1. But the tax increases would not necessarily be permanent. The new Congress could pass legislation to cancel them retroactively after it begins its work next year.

AMY GOODMAN: While the so-called fiscal cliff has dominated the news headlines, the Senate is also preparing to vote today to continue a controversial domestic surveillance program. In a blow to civil liberties advocates, the Senate rejected three attempts Thursday to add oversight and privacy safeguards to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Joining us from Washington is Democratic Congress member Dennis Kucinich. This is his last week in Congress after serving eight terms. Since 1997, Kucinich has been a leading progressive voice on Capitol Hill, introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He voted against the PATRIOT Act and advocated for ending the war on drugs. Dennis Kucinich ran for president in 2004 and 2008, vowing to create a Department of Peace. He's also former mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.

Congress member Kucinich, welcome back to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Your term would be over, except you've been called back on Sunday, is that right, the House, to deal with the so-called fiscal cliff?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I've been in Washington waiting to see if Congress would be called back into session, as it should be. And there really is no reason, no legitimate reason, why the country should be facing serious tax increases for middle class and also spending cuts that will further slow down the economy. You know, Amy, we've made all the wrong choices. We should be talking about jobs, having more people involved in paying taxes. We should be talking about rebuilding America's infrastructure. China has gone ahead with high-speed trains and massive investment in their infrastructure. Instead, we're back to the same old arguments about taxes and spending without really looking at what we're spending. We just passed the National Defense Authorization Act the other day, another $560 billion just for one year for the war machine. And so, we're focused on whether or not we're going to cut domestic programs now? Are you kidding me?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman, the recent election was seen by many as a mandate from the electorate to finally begin to tax the wealthiest Americans to deal with some of the deficit. Your sense of whether President Obama and your fellow Democrats in the Senate and the House will stay the course on this or will eventually compromise in a way that many progressives would regret?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, we have a divided government. President Obama's election sends one message; the election of a Republican House of Representatives sends another. They're actually working at odds here. You have Republicans who will not raise taxes for anyone who's making more than a quarter million a year, and they're looking at entitlement cuts. You have Democrats who say, let's have any tax cuts that come up for those who make under $250,000 and no cuts to entitlements. You have a force here that isn't movable right now.

Again, I want to say that we've been going in the wrong direction. Why haven't we been talking about stimulating the economy through the creation of jobs? We've seemed to accept a certain amount of unemployment as being necessary for the proper functioning of the economy, so that for corporations it will keep wages low. That is baloney. We're creating our own economic vice  that is entrapping tens of millions of Americans, and I just find it unacceptable. It's like this whole fiscal cliff thing is a creation of people who are unimaginative and locked in by special interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, the issue of Medicare and Social Security, what it means for President Obama to so-called compromise on these issues, can you talk about this?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, there's no reason whatsoever to bring Social Security into this discussion. And the fact that the White House has done it on numerous occasions should give everyone pause for concern. If Social Security has a problem down the road—you raise the caps on the income that's accessible to Social Security. But you don't talk about cutting benefits. You don't talk about cutting cost-of-living increases through this chained CPI, which is just a way to force seniors into a lower standard of living over the long haul. We need the White House to stand up for Social Security and Medicare. And, you know, unfortunately, we're looking at a situation where, because Republicans want entitlements, you know, as they like to call it, in the mix on any budget discussions, the White House has yielded. Now, that may not happen in these negotiations in the next couple days, but you have to watch what's happening in the 113th Congress.

So, we really have to decide who we are as a nation. We're spending more and more money for wars. We're spending more and more money for interventions abroad. We're spending more and more money for military buildups. And we seem to be prepared to spend less and less on domestic programs and on job creation. This whole idea of a debt-based economic system is linked to a war machine. And it's linked to Wall Street's concerns rather than Main Street's concerns. We need to shift that. We need to get government—give government back the ability to create jobs. Private sector is not doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Dean Baker, the economist's comments, we had on a few weeks ago. He said this whole fiscal cliff issue is way overblown, that come January 1st, yes, we'll be subject to higher tax withholding rates, but not a lot of people are paid on January 1st. "If there's a deal worked out somewhere in the first, second week of January," he said, "we'll probably never [see anything] extra deducted from our paycheck, and even if we do, [we'll] get it back in the second paycheck." What's your response to that, Congress member Kucinich?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, Dean Baker is right, as he often is about these things, but let's be clear about one thing.  If the White House understands one thing, it's behavioral economics. They've basically cut their teeth on behavioral economics in coming in and trying to induce people to believe that things are better than they are, when they're not.  This whole fiscal cliff discussion, while it might have its imaginary dimensions, does have a real effect. You're already seeing a decline in consumer confidence, in investor confidence, that there is going to be a slowdown in the economy. Now, it is true that the country can cobble together a deal in the new year, but in the meantime, there will be a lag in which you'll see an economy that's already weak further weaken.

But I just want to go back to something, Amy. We have to start creating jobs. This debt-based economic system, where we're having the—the next discussion is, we're at $16.4 trillion, and so are we going to go not only over the cliff, but are we going to go into default? Wrong discussion. Why aren't we creating jobs using the government's inherent power under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, so that we spend money to rebuild the infrastructure, put millions of people back to work. You create new taxpayers. You don't have to worry so much then about unemployment benefits, which are due to expire, that we have to worry about if you're not creating jobs. It's the wrong discussion we're having.

And so, I think that as we look into the new year, we've got a couple things going here. There's a decreasing confidence in government. This isn't about Democrats or Republicans anymore. It's about the failure of the government to respond to the practical aspirations of people for jobs, for housing, for healthcare, for retirement security, and for the education of their children. And we're still there. Yet we still are pursuing wars abroad. We still are doing military buildups. And this is the direction America is going in, and it's the wrong direction.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman, I want to ask you, your colleagues, your Republican colleagues in the House, obviously have a different perspective. Speaking on Fox News, Republican Congressmember Mike Mulvaney of South Carolina blamed the Democratic-led Senate for the impasse in the negotiations on the so-called fiscal cliff. This is what he had to say.

REP. MICHAEL MULVANEY: The House has actually extended these tax rates for everybody in the entire country, which is exactly the correct policy, as we see it. We sent it to the Senate; the Senate has simply refused to take it up. The Senate could fix this today, if they wanted to. I understand that while Harry Reid is in the well today in the Senate complaining about Mr. Boehner, he has not scheduled a debate today on the fiscal cliff, which is just absurd. So, if there's one message to go out there, it's that the House has actually done its job, and the Senate could fix this today if they wanted to.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mike Mulvaney of South Carolina. Your response, Congressman Kucinich?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it has to be translated. You know, what the Republicans want to advocate is a continuation of the Bush tax cuts, which, as everyone knows, added a trillion dollars to the deficit by helping to accelerate—and helped to accelerate the wealth of America upwards. We can't do that anymore, although we're seeing that some elements of the Bush tax cuts are remaining, you know, depending on the income distribution, for those who are in the middle class. But, you know, how is it we can be talking about tax cuts at the same time we have this massive deficit? You know, we're getting the American people to believe that we can cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget. That's kind of what they talked about during the Reagan administration and ended up with a huge hidden deficits, beginning to balloon once new administrations came in.

We have to change our economy. We have to emphasize job creation, and then investors can come back in, and then you can start to see consumer confidence building. But right now we're limping as a nation. And our politics are being translated into some kind of Punch and Judy show between Democrats and Republicans. We don't need that; it's irrelevant. We've got to solve the real problems of people. We've got to help keep people in their homes. We have to do everything we can to get not only the unemployment benefits passed, but get the people back to work. Why aren't we emphasizing that? And this is why this whole debate about a fiscal cliff, as Dean Baker said, has elements of it that are chimerical.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congressman, in your prior response, you linked the whole issue of the continuation of the war machine to the battles at home over domestic spending.  Could you talk about your efforts, together with Congressman Ron Paul, to demand an inquiry into the justification for drone attacks?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, absolutely. You know, this whole idea of drone wars being proliferated across the world, without Congress having anything to say about it, without any accountability whatsoever, is against the Constitution of the United States, and it's against international law. If any other nation sent a drone over the United States, they would have hell to pay, because we'd see it as an act of war. Yet we're increasingly committing acts of war against other nations—Yemen most recently—and we are—we're not seeing any accountability at all. And Congress does have a role to play here, both on the budget side and constitutionally. So we're just trying to get the administration involved in giving information to Congress so we can see the extent of the exposure that the American people have to this proliferation of war.

And as news articles have written, and Glenn Greenwald wrote about this yesterday, we're actually strengthening al-Qaeda's hand with these attacks. We're making it more difficult to meet the challenge of terrorism by creating more terrorists. I mean, what is this about? We're increasingly dysfunctional as a nation because of our unwillingness to challenge the military-industrial complex, which Dwight Eisenhower warned about generations ago. And so, we really have to look at America's role in the world. We have a right to defend ourselves, but we have no right to aggress. And we're continuing to aggress. And that's coming at a cost to our domestic priorities here, this idea of guns and butter. We are now thoroughly mired in an economy that's based on guns. We are not providing for the practical needs of the American people. And this budget and this fiscal cliff does in no way get into that debate.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to ask you about another bill, the FISA bill, but we're going to go to break and then come back to Democratic Congressmember Dennis Kucinich, who served eight terms in Congress. This is his last week as a member of Congress. This is Democracy Now! Back in a moment.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Los Angeles Wants to "Reconstitute" Pioneering High School Despite Major Gains By Joseph Zeccola

Hi. Still waiting for the Earthlink folks in the sky to return to work and me, to send out my regular emailings.
In lieu of that, please do pass this on to teachers, parents and lots of other concerned folks, especiall in L.A.
 From: []
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2012 4:20 AM
Subject: ZNet Daily Commentary: Los Angeles Wants to “Reconstitute” Pioneering High School Despite Major Gains By Joseph Zeccola


Los Angeles Wants to “Reconstitute” Pioneering High School Despite Major Gains

December 28, 2012 By Joseph Zeccola

Joseph Zeccola's ZSpace Page / ZSpace

How should management respond when a group of union teachers pilots a nationally recognized reform model at a historically troubled school, working side by side with parents, students, community organizations, and academics, and makes big gains in the first year?

If you’re the Los Angeles school district, you fire all the teachers and start over.

The district has announced plans to “transform” Crenshaw High, one of only four majority-African-American schools in the district, into three new magnet schools for the 2013-14 school year. Magnet schools traditionally serve specialized student interests (such as medical magnet, arts magnet) and enrollment is usually based on application, though the district claims all students who would ordinarily be eligible to Crenshaw will be admitted.

More importantly, a magnet conversion allows the district to dismiss all the teachers and force them to reapply for their jobs. The conversion would disrupt the reforms that have been implemented at Crenshaw through its Small Learning Community structure.

When others schools in the district have undergone such conversions, more than half the teachers were not rehired. Dubious hiring decisions often exclude veteran teachers and outspoken union activists.

But students and community members, who helped create the school’s popular and successful new teaching model, are rallying with teachers to defend Crenshaw.

Grassroots Education Reform

Union teachers (members of United Teachers Los Angeles, UTLA), parents, community members, and academics collaborated to create Crenshaw’s Extended Learning Cultural Model and began to implement it last year under the leadership of the school’s then-interim principal, University of Southern California Professor Sylvia Rousseau.

A prestigious foundation grant allowed Crenshaw to pilot the model at two of the school’s small learning communities, which allow for magnet-type focus and personalization without requiring students to apply for admission.

The program linked classroom teaching relevant to the students’ experiences to work and internships in the community. For instance, students worked on food surveys at area stores to gauge the availability of healthy food, relative to the rest of Los Angeles. They also did community interviews to create a portrait of the America they live in, based on a book called Our America.

Teachers designed collaborative lessons across subjects. All students used the same set of school-wide data, looking at those data in different ways in each of their content classes.

The model was explicitly political, asking teachers to learn from and embrace their students’ cultures. One of Crenshaw’s goals is to create learners who are able to contribute to their neighborhoods.

Both parents and teachers did specialized work to support the model. The parents received “intentional civility” training as part of the plan, while the teachers received training and did research on how to teach students who are not academically fluent in English, are socioeconomically disadvantaged, or are students of color.

The program required teachers to spend hours of extra time each month learning, collaborating, and reflecting on their craft—but the results were impressive.

Wanting to Be in School

“There was an enormous jump in kids wanting to be in the classroom,” said Lewis King, a UCLA professor of clinical psychiatry, who helped lead the project.

The program’s success showed up on California’s statewide standardized tests, where Crenshaw met all but one of its goals in 2012.

Special education students made huge gains. African-American students scored higher than at six of the other seven high schools in South Los Angeles. On the high school exit exams, Crenshaw saw increased scores for all students in English and a 300 percent increase in math scores for students not fluent in English.

The turnaround is remarkable for a school that briefly lost its accreditation in 2005 and had struggled to make consistent progress on test scores ever since.

Punished for Success

But instead of praising Crenshaw’s teachers for these strides, the district informed them they would all be dismissed and invited to re-apply for their jobs.

In a letter to faculty, Superintendent John Deasy blamed four years of “less than adequate progress in the achievement of Crenshaw’s students.”

Deasy didn’t mention how the district played a role in creating those problems—subjecting Crenshaw to years of unstable leadership before Principal Rousseau arrived.

The school had endured 33 administrative changes since 2005, including five principals, when Crenshaw was stripped of its accreditation. When the Western Association of Schools and Colleges visited again in 2012, its report said that its Visiting Committee (VC) was “shocked and frustrated” at Crenshaw’s turnover.

The committee was impressed with Rousseau’s leadership, however, reporting that she had “captured the loyalty, support and respect of every student, teacher, staff member and parent that the VC met during the visit. The entire school is now working together as a team.”

Special education teacher Christine Lewis agreed. “She was tireless,” Lewis said of Rousseau. “She met with us more than any other principal has met with teachers.”

Lewis looked forward to Rousseau’s continued guidance in the 2012-13 school year, as a coach or consultant to the school. This did not happen.

“It was as if she never existed,” Lewis said. “The extended learning model has disappeared.”


At a Crenshaw community meeting December 11, parents and students vented their anger at the district for abruptly halting the promising program after just one year and imposing “transformation” on the school—all without consulting teachers, parents, students, or community members.

“Magnets are not going to solve the whole problem,” said Crenshaw tenth-grader Tanness Walker. “The teachers here connect with their students. If they don’t get their jobs back, we’ll have to start all over with new teachers.”

Lewis agreed. “I have put a lot of my own time and money into making myself a better teacher,” she said. “I took out student loans so that I could get better content knowledge in math.

“My fear is that the teachers who will come in will only give the kids the minimum and not really expect much of these kids.”

Crenshaw graduate Irvin Alvarado said he was the product of his teachers’ belief.

“If it wasn’t for those teachers, I wouldn’t be in college today,” Alvarado said. “All that the teachers did, they did by the skin of their teeth. They did it with the barest of resources.”

Superintendent Deasy did not attend the meeting. District leaders stood impassively behind bookshelves as the new principal tried to explain to frustrated parents why their school was going to be radically altered.

King warned the magnet conversion would create “enormous distrust.”

“You cannot build on a sand bed,” he said. “You have to build on a rock. You have to build on the strength of the community, on what the community already knows.”

Resisting Top-Down Restructuring

The hopeful news is that the Crenshaw community is fighting back. Parent leaders are systematically organizing more parents into the movement. They’re holding house meetings, gathering petition signatures, and sending representatives to larger meetings with teachers, students, community members, black clergy, and more.

Students are organizing independently, through student government and the groups Taking Action and the Coalition for Educational Justice. Recent alumni are assisting the organizing efforts via social media.

A coalition of community organizations has held a series of town halls and helped parents and students focus their plan of action. And Crenshaw’s teachers and staff are backing them up by bringing union leaders and rank-and-file members into the battle—turning out supporters for meetings, writing articles on teacher email lists, and developing a plan to support Crenshaw in the coming year.

“All of our union brothers and sisters should stand behind us, because if they can do that at Crenshaw, they can do that anywhere,” Lewis said. “You cannot transform a school without the teachers.”

UTLA is pushing the district school board to formally support Crenshaw’s Extended Learning Cultural Model and to stop the restructuring.

The activists are also questioning the legality of Deasy’s restructuring by meeting with regulators.

Crenshaw has a strong ally in nearby Dorsey High, another majority-African- American school, which has been facing the threat of reconstitution itself for over a year. While the Dorsey community won’t know the district’s plans for their school until early in 2013, they’re standing side by side with Crenshaw and will fight together for true reform in public education—whether that fight is just for Crenshaw or for both schools.

When Deasy visited the school in November, Lewis said, he called the teacher organizing “very divisive.” That may have been wishful thinking on Deasy’s part. The truth is, the organizing is bringing people together—and that bodes well for Crenshaw’s future.

Joseph Zeccola is an English and drama teacher in the Los Angeles school district. He is also a member of UTLA’s board of directors and of PEAC: Progressive Educators for Action, a rank-and-file caucus within UTLA.

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Glenn Greenwald: Why Do They Hate Us?

Hi.  Still on hold, in this longest holiday ever, so this one goes to list-serves
and special friends.  Patiently (in both meanings,)

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK

26 December 12

Numerous individual events from this week alone signify important trends in US government policy.

his week will likely entail light posting, but here are several items worthy of note:

(1) I can't recall any one news article that so effectively conveys both the gross immorality and the strategic stupidity of Obama's drone attacks as this one from Monday's Washington Post by Sudarsan Raghavan. It details how the US-supported Yemeni dictatorship lies to its public each time the US kills Yemeni civilians with a drone attack, and how these civilian-killing attacks are relentlessly (and predictably) driving Yemenis to support al-Qaida and devote themselves to anti-American militancy:

"Since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. The two survivors and relatives of six victims, interviewed separately and speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP, as the al-Qaeda group is known.

"'Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans,' Mohammed said. 'If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.'

"Public outrage is also growing as calls for accountability, transparency and compensation go unanswered amid allegations by human rights activists and lawmakers that the government is trying to cover up the attack to protect its relationship with Washington. Even senior Yemeni officials said they fear that the backlash could undermine their authority.

"'If we are ignored and neglected, I would try to take my revenge. I would even hijack an army pickup, drive it back to my village and hold the soldiers in it hostages,' said Nasser Mabkhoot Mohammed al-Sabooly, the truck's driver, 45, who suffered burns and bruises. 'I would fight along al-Qaeda's side against whoever was behind this attack.'"

Similarly, the LA Times has a long article on drone attacks in Yemen and quotes Ahmed al Zurqua, an expert on Islamic militants, explaining the obvious: "The drones have not killed the real Al Qaeda leaders, but they have increased the hatred toward America and are causing young men to join Al Qaeda to retaliate."

History will surely record that one of the most moronic collective questions ever posed is "Why do they hate us?" - where the "they" are: "those we continuously bomb and kill and whose dictators we prop up." Noting the two US drone attacks on December 24 in his country, the 23-year-old Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana asked: "Two US drone strikes in Yemen today. Should we consider them a Christmas gift?!" That's exactly what al-Qaida undoubtedly considers them to be.

(2) Speaking of the "why-do-they-hate-us?" question, the Bahraini democracy activist Zainab al-Khawaja has a powerful Op-Ed in the New York Times detailing the extreme brutality and repression of the regime against its own citizens, and explaining the self-destructive though steadfast support for that regime by the US and its close Saudi allies:

"But despite all these sacrifices, the struggle for freedom and democracy in Bahrain seems hopeless because Bahrain's rulers have powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States.

"For Bahrainis, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the Saudis and the Americans. Both are supporting the Khalifa regime to preserve their own interests, even if the cost is the lives and rights of the people of Bahrain.

"The United States speaks about supporting human rights and democracy, but while the Saudis send troops to aid the Khalifa government, America is sending arms. The United States is doing itself a huge disservice by displaying such an obvious double standard toward human rights violations in the Middle East. Washington condemns the violence of the Syrian government but turns a blind eye to blatant human rights abuses committed by its ally Bahrain.

"This double standard is costing America its credibility across the region; and the message being understood is that if you are an ally of America, then you can get away with abusing human rights."

With rare exceptions, the only people delusional and naive enough to believe the US is serious about its "commitment-to-human-rights" rhetoric - as opposed to exploiting human rights concerns as a tool to undermine regimes it dislikes - are found in the west. In the regions where the US enthusiastically supports even the most repressive regimes provided those regimes show fealty to US dictates, the stench of this hypocrisy, of this radical dishonesty, is so potent that it cannot be evaded.

But it is an extraordinary testament to the power of propaganda that one constantly finds westerners claiming with a straight face that the same country that hugs and props up the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis and so many others is committed to undermining tyranny and spreading freedom and democracy. Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in 2009: "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family."

(3) The long-time Berlin correspondent for Al Jazeera, Aktham Suliman, recently resigned, and he explains in this rather amazing interview that he did so because the regime in Qatar, which owns the network, has been increasingly shaping and dictating the news network's coverage of events to advance the regime's interests. In particular, he cites Al Jazeera's coverage of the conflicts in Libya and Syria which, he says, has been systematically distorted in order to justify the wars which the Qataris seek against the dictators in those countries which they dislike:

"Of course Muammar Gadhafi was a dictator, and of course he'd ruled for far too long. Of course there was a desire among the Libyans to get rid of him. All that is clear. But it's also clear that killing a dictator, as happened with Gadhafi, is absolutely unacceptable on human rights grounds, revolution or no. And that's not emphasized. That is: We stressed the necessity of a revolution in Libya and the humanity of the revolutionaries, but said nothing about the murder of a dictator.

"What should also give us pause for thought is that it wasn't just Gadhafi who was killed. Many others were killed after him - including, incidentally, the man who shot Gadhafi. He was killed by another group of revolutionaries. That's the actual environment in Libya. And that's exactly what you don't see on today's Al Jazeera. That's not professional.

"In Syria, too, society is divided. You have the pro-Assad people, and those who are against him. However, when you make one side out to be mass murderers and turn the others into saints you're fueling the conflict, not presenting the situation in an appropriate and balanced way. There are murders, injustices and good things on both sides. But you don't see that on Al Jazeera. My problem is and was: When I see Al Jazeera's Syrian coverage, I don't really understand what's going on there. And that's the first thing I expect from journalism."

As was true of Saddam, there is no question that Gadhafi and Assad have committed atrocities. But just as was true in Iraq, that does not justify the grossly simplistic propaganda that distorts rather than clarifies what the realities in those countries are.

(4) Documents just obtained from the FBI by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reveal, as the New York Times put it, that "the [FBI] used counterterrorism agents to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement, including its communications and planning" and in general show "how deeply involved federal law-enforcement authorities were in monitoring the activities of the movement." The heavily redacted documents, which can be read here, reveal numerous instances of the FBI collaborating with local police forces and private corporations to monitor and anticipate the acts of the protest movement.

As obviously disturbing as it is, none of this should be surprising. Virtually every seized power justified over the last decade in the name of "terrorism" has been applied to a wide range of domestic dissent. The most significant civil liberties trend of the last decade, in my view, is the importation of War on Terror tactics onto US soil, applied to US citizens - from the sprawling Surveillance State and powers of indefinite detention to the para-militarization of domestic police forces and the rapidly emerging fleet of drones now being deployed in countless ways. As I've argued previously, the true purpose of this endless expansion of state power in the name of "terrorism" is control over anticipated domestic protest and unrest.

It should be anything but surprising that the FBI - drowning in counter-terrorism money, power and other resources - will apply the term "terrorism" to any group it dislikes and wants to control and suppress (thus ushering in all of the powers institutionalized against "terrorists"). Those who supported (or acquiesced to) this expansion of unaccountable government power because they assumed it would only be used against Those Muslims not only embraced a morally warped premise (I care about injustices only if they directly affect me), but also a factually false one, since abuses of power always - always - expand beyond their original application.

(5) At the excellent online journal Jadaliyya, Max Ajl has a very interesting essay that presents a much different view on the debate over the Chuck Hagel nomination specifically, and on US policy toward Iran and Israel more broadly. I don't necessarily endorse his argument, but it's well-argued, provocative and highly worth reading.

(6) After film critics almost unanimously gushed over Zero Dark Thirty and showered it with every accolade they could get their hands on, the list of writers, commentators, officials and others who have denounced the film for its favorable (and false) depiction of torture has grown quite rapidly. Here is the most updated list of just some of those critics; if you read just one of these essays, I'd recommend this by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney.

In an LA Times Op-Ed strongly condemning the film, Terry McDermott reports that, at one point, FBI agents were chasing around geese in Central Park because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, under torture, had told his CIA interrogators that al-Qaida "had explosives stuffed up their ass". Had Zero Dark Thirty included a depiction of that scene, it at least would have been mildly more entertaining, offering some redeeming value for this film. As is, there is basically none.

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