Torture and Learned Helplessness

image from Seligman's research

My senior psychology research project was about “learned helplessness”, based on the work by Martin E. P. Seligman. He saw it as the underlying basis for depression, while I was interested in its effect on workers.

I have written about learned helplessness in the past. Oddly enough, one of the writings is titled, Learned Terrorism, posted in 2002. Others are The Value of Anger, and What’s the Use?

I would never have dreamed that this theory would become the foundation for a system of torture used by the CIA against US prisoners. All I can say is the practitioners most likely discovered what I did, years ago: you can’t artificially engineer “learned helplessness” directly. Not to the extent these interrogators wanted. You can in dogs, but you can’t in humans. If anything, attempting to do so can have an opposite effect than the one intended. Rather than generate the helplessness that would, somehow, make the prisoners compliant, it could make them even more determined not to cooperate.

For learned helplessness to occur, circumstances have to meet a specific set of criteria. They would have to get the prisoners to internalize the current events; to see themselves as the cause for the negative circumstances. Yet individuals differ in how they internalize negative events–there is no one size fits all technique you can use to create the same effect with everyone. The person would also have to feel nothing they can do will change their circumstances. This runs counter to the seeming desired effect of the interrogators. After all, if you want a person to respond with information in order to prevent negative events, you don’t engineer in them a feeling that no matter what they do, or say, nothing will ever change.

So if they did, somehow, engineer “learned helplessness” in the prisoners, in the hope of showing that the effects can be mitigated by providing data, the prisoners would not have been able to make this association. The whole basis of the theory is that the sufferer would have been unable to see the solution offered. Either the engineering would fail, and the prisoner would dig in, even harder, against cooperating, or the engineering would succeed, and the prisoner would become completely apathetic. In both cases, the prisoner would either say nothing (because of anger or apathy), or they’d say everything—they’d blather along until their captors seemed satisfied with their blather, completely indifferent to any possible negative consequences for giving incorrect information, because no matter what they did, nothing would change.

Unbelievable. Not only was the psychology abused and twisted, it wasn’t even accurately applied.

Healthcare Sign Up: New and Improved

I signed up for healthcare coverage for 2015 at Healthcare.gov. Unlike last year, absolutely no problems with the system. The only hiccup occurred with United Healthcare when I tried to review its provider network—that system seems to be unable to stand the load. The government site, though, was a piece of cake.

I was able to get a plan that was about a third of what I paid this year. It’s more of a managed plan where I have to use a set of providers, but I’m OK with the providers. I stayed with Coventry because they provided good coverage this year, and they seem to be the only provider who has its online act together.

Only one problem with this year’s sign up, and it’s bureaucratic not system specific: proving income.

To be eligible, I have to mail (hard copy), or upload proof of income for 2015. I have to send in one of the following:

   Wages and tax statement (W-2)
 · Pay stub
 · Letter from employer
 · Self-employment ledger
 · Cost of living adjustment letter and other benefit verification notices
 · Lease agreement
 · Copy of a check paid to the household member
 · Bank or investment fund statement
 · Document or letter from Social Security Administration (SSA)
 · Form SSA 1099 Social Security benefits statement
 · Letter from government agency for unemployment benefits

I’m a self-employed writer, which means my income is erratic. According to the notice, the self-employment ledger can be pre-filled in with estimates. I keep a spreadsheet, which I guess will have to become my self-employment ledger. Or I can send a copy of my lease or bank statement, but that doesn’t really prove my income. It’s bizarre, and more than a little irritating.

There’s a thing called the 1040—why this isn’t acceptable, I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m all finished. Now what the hell will the GOP have to bitch about if they can’t bitch about Healthcare.gov?

The Affordable Care Act: Field tested in battle conditions

How can you tell if armor is any good? You field test it. You shoot stuff at it. You shoot a lot of stuff at it.

Think Progress created a one-page timeline of GOP attacks on the Affordable Care Act. After looking at the extraordinary degree the GOP went to undermine and/or kill the ACA, I came away with a feeling that this thing must be pretty good—look at how it survived all these attacks.

What’s a bit sad about the timeline is knowing that the GOP has spent most of its time the last several years either trying to prevent people like me from having access to affordable health care or ensuring that women have little or no control over their bodies—or both. Seriously, GOP, my god, don’t you have anything else to do?!

Regardless of all the attempts, the ACA survived. It not only survived, but I’m now a proud possessor of a genuine healthcare policy, provided via the Healthcare Marketplace, that allows me to see the doctors I want to see. I had originally decided to go with an Anthem Blue Shield plan, but the company is having problems with its own systems and the provider network wasn’t that great. Instead, I went with Coventry and I can see the doctors I want to see and it covers all the nearby hospitals and urgent care centers. The deductible and co-pays aren’t too bad, either.

All the GOP warnings about the many and myriad failures of the Affordable Care Act—of Obamacare—have proven to be false. False. The hysteria has been proven to be nonsensical, the assertions are unfounded, even the court challenges have, for the most part, been unsuccessful. The only court case of importance that still exists (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores) should give even the GOP cause for concern because if the Supreme Court determines corporations can have religious freedom as well as freedom of speech, we’re all in a world of hurt. And that includes the corporations because a religious ruling undermines the economic separation between corporate owners and corporate actions (which is why the Chamber of Commerce is rooting for the government’s side in this one).

The real problem, though, isn’t with the GOP. No, the real problem is with the Democrats. And people like me.

See, once I stopped having problems with the Marketplace and was able to get a healthcare policy, I never said another word about the ACA. I bitched about the system, but when it came through in the end, not a peep.

That’s a heck of a way to thank a system that ensures I have healthcare coverage for the first time in five years.

And Democrats, oh my. When did aliens come from another planet and rip the backbone out of every Democratic candidate for office in the land? Instead of holding up the ACA with pride—because they, more or less, single-handedly solved one of this country’s biggest problems—they either pretend the ACA doesn’t exist, or they actually repudiate it.

Seriously, Democrats create a system that, over time, will ensure the majority of people have adequate healthcare coverage in the only industrialized nation that didn’t ensure this previously, and they run for rocks when it’s mentioned.

Well here’s a clue, gutless ones: I won’t vote for a Democrat that doesn’t go, “Damn straight, I’m proud of the ACA!”

We need to stop letting the GOP control the discussion about the Affordable Care Act. We need to stop pandering to the ignorant and the paranoid and the libertarians who, frankly, can only be libertarian because our government is so damn strong.

The Affordable Care Act is a good thing. End of Story.

Fox falls all over itself to condemn the EPA…again

I wrote a more recent story on this particular battle, after Johnson filed a lawsuit against the EPA via, who else? Pacific Legal Foundation.

update March 22

A story in a local news station provides both video and photos of the “little pond”.

That’s no pond, it’s a bloody lake. It has a dock. A dock.

This is a contrived controversy.

Earlier coverage

Fox just published a story about a poor blue collar in Wyoming, threatened with horrific fines for building an environmentally friendly little pond on his land.

Wyoming welder faces $75,000 a day in EPA fines for building pond on his property goes the headline, and I’m sure the folks at Pacific Legal Foundation are on a plane, right now, racing to the location in order to represent the family in a lawsuit against the EPA.

According to Fox:

All Andy Johnson wanted to do was build a stock pond on his sprawling eight-acre Wyoming farm. He and his wife Katie spent hours constructing it, filling it with crystal-clear water, and bringing in brook and brown trout, ducks and geese. It was a place where his horses could drink and graze, and a private playground for his three children.

But instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor, the Wyoming welder says he was harangued by the federal government, stuck in what he calls a petty power play by the Environmental Protection Agency. He claims the agency is now threatening him with civil and criminal penalties – including the threat of a $75,000-a-day fine.

That EPA…what a bully. Poor man was only building a little pond, providing water for local wildlife and a place for the kiddies to play.

The only problem is the story is as much fiction as fact. Two minutes is all it took to locate the EPA letter of violation. And the letter tells a different story.

According to the letter, the Army Corps of Engineers knew about this “little pond” in 2012 and contacted the Johnsons. From the violation:

On October 11,2012, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) conducted an inspection of the Site and confirmed that Respondent or persons acting on his behalf had discharged or allowed the discharge of approximately 12 cubic yards of dredged and fill material below the ordinary high water mark of Six Mile Creek during construction of a darn. The work resulted in filling an approximately 40-foot reach of the creek and inundation of an approximately 745-foot reach.

Dumping 12 cubic yards of fill material into a creek is what we call a “dam” back where I come from. Perhaps they call it something else in Wyoming.

The Corps contacted Johnson several times but received no response back. It turned the case over to the EPA for enforcement.

On May 30,2013, the EPA performed an inspection of the Site and verified that an approximately 40-foot reach of Six Mile Creek had been filled during the construction of a dam, impacting approximately 785 feet of the Six Mile Creek channel. The dam was observed to be composed of sand, gravel, clay, and concrete blocks.

I suspect that the Johnsons effort to fill the pond with “crystal clear waters” consisted primarily of running a backhoe in and dumping cement blocks on the creek.

The EPA also invited Johnson to contact its representatives, multiple times, but he ignored all communications. Eventually, the EPA issued the letter with the violation notice. Now Johnson is crying to his Republican Congressional leaders and Fox news about the sudden appearance of the big bad EPA, dumping down on this poor little land owner.

There’s a reason for laws preventing people from damming water sources such as creeks and rivers on their property—their actions impact on others. I suspect the Army Corps of Engineers found out about the “little pond” when impacted neighbors complained.

And once again, Fox has failed to do its job in its haste to cast the EPA in the worst possible light.

Google Map of the farm:

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Arbitration Fairness Act of 2007

The Consumerist has more on the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2007.

People Over Profits has an email campaign but it also helps to contact your Congressional rep directly. A letter of phone call also works wonders.

How important is this bill? There is no bill pending in Congress that scares Corporate America more than this one. There is no bill pending in Congress that could more help the American people than this one.

Due to rulings in the Supreme Court, mandatory arbitration agreements now trump the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when it comes to employment discrimination lawsuits. This means that an arbitrator can make decisions based on civil rights, can do so without following the law, can do so without following the arbitration rules themselves, and can do so without any transparency into the decision process.

…after Sherri Warner lost her discrimination and wrongful firing suit in mandatory arbitration, a San Francisco arbitrator not only charged her nearly $16,000 for his time, he ordered her to pay her opponent’s legal fees of more than $207,000.

The fee award would probably not have been allowed in court, and it forced Warner into bankruptcy. But after her lawyer, Stephen Gorski, asked the arbitrator to explain his decision, the arbitrator refused when reminded no rules required him to do so.

Arbitrators rarely issue written opinions, making requests for review virtually impossible.

What’s scarier is that this case was ten years ago, and since then, the Supreme Court has given even more power to arbitration, including giving it power overruling on employment discrimination that now supersedes that of the EEOC. The Supremes have even given it power over the law, itself. I a recent case, one of my favorites, Buckeye Check Cashing vs. Cardenga, a man sued a check cashing company claiming that the conditions of the loan were illegal. The company, which had a mandatory arbitration clause, demanded that the claim be taken to arbitration. The state of Florida disagreed, saying that an arbitration clause that was in a contract deemed to be illegal is not enforceable.

However, our Scalia controlled Supreme Court doesn’t allow a little thing like an illegal contract deter it. It decided that it wasn’t up to the courts to determine the validity of an arbitration clause just because it happened to be in an illegal contract — the only item the courts could determine is whether the arbitration clause is, in and of itself, legal. The rest of the contract was then up to the arbitrator.

Question

Under the Federal Arbitration Act, may a party avoid arbitration by arguing that the contract in which the arbitration clause is contained is illegal?

Conclusion

No. The 7-1 majority (Justice Samuel Alito not participating) ruled that challenges to the legality of a contract as a whole must be argued before the arbitrator rather than a court. The opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia explained that “unless the challenge is to the arbitration clause itself, the issue of the contract’s validity is considered by the arbitrator in the first instance.” The Court held that the Florida Supreme Court had been wrong to rely on a distinction between void and merely voidable contracts, because the word “contract” in the Federal Arbitration Act includes contracts later found to be void. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented due to his long-held view that the FAA does not apply in state courts.

This is a frustrating topic for me, because I’ve watched over the years now as arbitration has eroded all of our judicial rights, as granted by the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution. It’s frustrating because I can’t seem to convey, in this weblog, how serious this can get.

A legal expert in Texas once said that he felt in ten years, there would no longer be a civil court system because of how much it is being eroded by an act that was basically put into law in 1925, as a way for businesses to come to ‘gentlemanly agreements’ in regards to a dispute. It was never intended to be used by corporations against the common citizen.

This is also a case of the breakdown of the system of checks and balances built into our government. The Supreme Court has empowered arbitration and supported mandatory arbitration to the point that it now is undermining the very nature of civil rights in our country, and was allowed to do so, unchecked, in the Republican controlled Congress.

Now we have a Democratic controlled congress. More than that, we have a congress where even many Republicans are beginning to look askance at the miscarriage of justice that occurs under the auspices of ‘arbitration’.

American Corporations do not want this Bill. American Corporations, who have delivered shoddy equipment, surly service, and bad faith consumerism.

Who supports this bill?

The Feingold-Johnson bill is supported by a host of consumer advocate organizations including Consumers Union, Public Citizen, American Association for Justice, Center for Responsible Lending, Consumer Federation of America, Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, Home Owners for Better Building, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients), National Consumer Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, the National Employment Lawyers Association and Public Justice.

The list is only growing, as word of this Bill slowly trickles out.

Support the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2007. Please.