Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt | TomDispatch

Laura Poitras in conversation with Tom Engelhardt.

I was put on a watchlist in 2006. I was detained and questioned at the border returning to the U.S. probably around 40 times. If I counted domestic stops and every time I was stopped at European transit points, you’re probably getting closer to 80 to 100 times. It became a regular thing, being asked where I’d been and who I’d met with. I found myself caught up in a system you can’t ever seem to get out of, this Kafkaesque watchlist that the U.S. doesn’t even acknowledge.

TE: Were you stopped this time coming in?

LP: I was not. The detentions stopped in 2012 after a pretty extraordinary incident.

I was coming back in through Newark Airport and I was stopped. I took out my notebook because I always take notes on what time I’m stopped and who the agents are and stuff like that. This time, they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes. They said, “Put the pen down!” They claimed my pen could be a weapon and hurt someone.

“Put the pen down! The pen is dangerous!” And I’m like, you’re not… you’ve got to be crazy. Several people yelled at me every time I moved my pen down to take notes as if it were a knife. After that, I decided this has gotten crazy, I’d better do something and I called Glenn [Greenwald]. He wrote a piece about my experiences. In response to his article, they actually backed off.

via Tomgram: Laura Poitras and Tom Engelhardt, The Snowden Reboot | TomDispatch

Doctors Tell All—and It’s Bad | The Atlantic

Fascinating piece about how badly the practice of medicine in the US has lost its way.

In the course of our lives, most of us will urgently need care, sometimes when we least expect it. Currently, we must seek it in a system that excels at stripping our medical shepherds of their humanity, leaving them shells of the doctors and people they want to be, and us alone in the sterile rooms they manage. What makes our predicament so puzzling, and what may offer hope, is that nearly all of us want a different outcome. I used to think that change was necessary for the patient’s sake. Now I see that it’s necessary for the doctor’s sake, too.

The US spends almost twice as much of GDP on health care as most comparable nations and yet “the US ranks last among 11 major industrialised nations in efficiency, equity and “healthy lives”, meaning health outcomes attributable to medical care”. It’s an astonishing record, one that suggests preternaturally perverse systemic incentives.

Still, none of that’s news. What was is just how disastrous the system has also been for the well-being of most of its practitioners.

Today’s physicians, he tells us, see themselves not as the “pillars of any community” but as “technicians on an assembly line,” or “pawn[s] in a money-making game for hospital administrators.” According to a 2012 survey, nearly eight out of 10 physicians are “somewhat pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession.” In 1973, 85 percent of physicians said they had no doubts about their career choice. In 2008, only 6 percent “described their morale as positive,” Jauhar reports. Doctors today are more likely to kill themselves than are members of any other professional group.

‘Parliament’s vote underlines Israel’s deepening isolation’ | The Telegraph

The corner into which Israel is painting itself has shrunk again.

On October 3rd, Sweden announced that it intended to recognise Palestine. On the 13th, Britain’s lower house voted 274-12 to do the same thing. Although only about half of British MPs turned up, and the motion itself is non-binding, the symbolism is stark.

If you need proof of just how friendless Israel’s hard-Right government has become, consider the statements last night from MPs who would normally count themselves the country’s natural allies. Arch-Tories such as Nicholas Soames (whose grandfather Winston Churchill is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political hero) spoke eloquently in favour of Palestinian statehood. And Richard Ottoway, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said that despite having been “a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory”, its recent policies had “outraged me more than anything else in my political life”, concluding: “If Israel is losing the support of people like me, it is losing a lot of people.”

No one stood up to express support for Israel’s more controversial policies such as the recent war on Gaza or its settlements. And taboos crumbled. Continue reading

ISIS: A Cognitive, Systemic Failure | Alastair Crooke

The essence of the successes enjoyed by the Islamic State to date centres not on any wide-spread embrace of their radical vision, but rather the fact that their movement gives voice to a dream that has long been dampened by the forces of the West and their autocratic regional allies. The Obama administration has stated that the recent strikes against Syria are but the beginning of a more comprehensive campaign to defeat the Islamic State. But bombs and missiles, while adept at blowing up concrete and creating martyrs, have never been successful when it comes to eradicating ideas…

Void of any competing ideology, it is hard to see how this new war on the Islamic State will ever succeed in supplanting the visionary dream of a Sunni Arab Caliphate that resides in the hearts and minds of so many Sunni Arabs living in Syria and Iraq today. On the contrary, it is likely that this campaign will succeed only in fanning the flames of the radical Sunni fringe, empowering them in a way nothing else could.”

That’s Scott Ritter, quoted by Alisdair Crooke in this sobering piece.

Crooke believes the west’s perceptions of the Middle East have been skewed for generations.

No, it [this latess crisis] is not an “intelligence failure.” It is far worse. It is a cognitive and intellectual failure of the system itself. In fact, the signs of this impending “madness” have been out there — “hiding” in the open, as it were — for the last 25 years. You did not need “secret intelligence” to tell us where we were heading; you just needed cognitive openness: the ability to “read” the direction that events were taking.

The current dystopian nightmare is, as he sees it, the logical endpoint of a catastrophic series of events and decisions over the last century. Every Arab attempt to work out a modus vivendi with modernity has failed, Continue reading

‘The Ill-Defined Plot’ | The New Yorker

Essays can be such a delight.

In The Ill-Defined Plot, John Jeremiah Sullivan happily rummages around in the origins of the term.

In the words of Hugh Walker—whose English Essay and Essayists remains the most lucid single-volume work on the genre a century after its publication—the genre becomes the “common” of English literature, “for just as, in the days before enclosures, stray cattle found their way to the unfenced common, so the strays of literature have tended towards the ill-defined plot of the essay.”

He finishes, if we (unjustly) exclude four entertaining, meaty footnotes, by setting the scene for the very first recorded use of “essayist”. Continue reading

Anthony Albanese: Labor has gone too far in supporting national security laws | The Guardian

At a time like this the security agencies will take the opportunity to impose things that have been in their bottom drawer for a long period of time. I believe our agencies, including Asio, do a great job for this nation … but it’s also the case in a democratic country like ours – we’re talking about fighting for freedom, it’s important to ensure freedom is protected and not given up.

That’s Anthony Albanese on Sky News’ Australian Agenda on Sunday morning. The Guardian’s report continued.

Albanese argued the impact of theNew law should be closely examined by everyone. “There are legitimate criticisms and they need to be responded to by the government.

He signalled the laws might need to be wound back. “I’m concerned about the rights of journalists. I’m someone who has consistently supported the rights of media to report.”

Asked whether his critique was supported by other senior figures, Albanese said: “I’m speaking for myself.”

Continue reading

Europe, NATO reengage Russia | Indian Punchline

The rift between Russia and Europe may be closing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned up President Vladimir Putin on Thursday [Oct 2nd] to discuss Ukraine. Significantly, Merkel ‘engaged” Putin in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on the Islamic State and Ebola — and, hold your breath, the ASEM 10 Summit scheduled to be held in Milan, Italy, on October 16-17. [ . . . ]

To be sure, Putin is attending this important meeting in MIlan that promises to bring him face to face with the European leaders. In sum, the ice will break in the standoff between Russia and the European Union. Simply put, European leaders are directly engaging Putin. Now, the countdown may be beginning for the rollback of the EU’s sanctions against Russia.

As Mr Bhadrakumar sees it, this possible rapprochement is mostly due to the longstanding relationship between Germany and Russia. There’s been a change of the guard at NATO too, however, which may bring its own positive impetus.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has got a new secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, former Norwegian prime minister, replacing Fogh Anders Rasmussen, whom Moscow distrusted. Putin has warmed up to the appointment of Stoltenberg with whom he apparently enjoys good personal equations [relations?].

At any ratee, in his very first press conference in the NATO Hqs in Brussels on Tuesday, Stoltenberg called for “a constructive and cooperative relationship” with Russia and for reconvening the Russia-NATO Council. Now, that wouldn’t have been possible without Obama’s consent.

It’s much too early to be confident but a somewhat more rational phase perhaps lies ahead.