Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flirting With The Abyss No More: Good Riddance & Good Night...

"Let’s be honest—this new millennium, so far it’s been a huge disappointment. It was preceded by a false alarm (the Y2K rollover), was cursed by hanging chads (the Florida recount), and has been held hostage ever since by the ministry of fear, with Americans meekly removing their shoes for the privilege of flying in airplanes charging fees for pillows and blankets. It’s been seven years since 9/11, no follow-up attack has stabbed our shores, and yet the front pages of so many papers resemble the end is near signs toted by bearded prophets that were once a staple of New Yorker cartoons. The decade has traveled from bin Laden’s cave to the Dark Knight’s Batcave in a jagged thrust of clenched force and unleashed chaos. Even an unforeseen blossom of good news, such as the declining death toll in Iraq, seems almost incidental in the log stream of general lousiness.

Journalism used to perform a higher civic function than it does today, so spanked up is it with gaffes, gotchas, spin-doctoring, celebrity pimping,crisis-mongering, minnow-brained punditry, drama criticism practiced from under the troll bridge (usually at the expense of Democrats—Al Gore’s sighings during the debate with George Bush, Hillary Clinton’s “cackle”), and instant amnesia.

To watch archive footage of TV reporters from the black-and-white era with their measured intonations and ashen visages—before everybody burst into Michael Kors orange—is to crack open the crypt on a more responsible, somber, and, yes, duller era, when journalists still conducted themselves as a priestly caste serving the needs of an informed citizenry, as opposed to catering to cud-chewing dolts. Those days are gone and there’s no point in mourning them, the Walter Lippmanns and similar wise men (and women) having proved worse than useless when the Vietnam War sawed the country into two with its lies and delusions. But the intelligent drone of old-school journalism served to extend a support bridge through national trauma, the term “anchorman” symbolic of the media’s role in securing coverage of the news with weight and authority, a fixed point in a sea of raging foam. Now it’s all raging foam, a steady, indiscriminate diet of excitation to keep us permanently on edge.

To pick up The New York Times each morning and brave the headlines—at conference on the risks to earth, few are optimistic, August 24, 2008—is to understand why generalized anxiety disorder is the world’s No. 1 psychological condition. Even more anxiety-inducing are the paper’s science pages, which make you want to roll out of bed in a fetal ball, especially the medical coverage, the happy hunting grounds for hypochondriacs, with Jane E. Brody digging up the latest rare disease about to hit it big, and bummer case studies such as that of the elderly patient with spontaneous gas gangrene left to deal with her own mortal fright: “She never made it to the operating room, and as far as I know, none of her doctors discussed her imminent death, then simply sat with her.”

I blame Bush. I blame Bush for everything and will continue to blame him (and Vice President Dick Cheney) for everything long after we’re all dead...The two terms of George W. Bush’s presidency have been not simply a psychological bringdown but a steady beatdown. The malaise that President Jimmy Carter supposedly diagnosed as our national condition in 1979—though Carter never used the actual word—is nothing compared with the slough of despond Cheney seems to have dug with his shovel jaw in service of the National Security State and to the detriment of everything else. Even as the Decider eyes the exits, his administration pulls stunts such as attempting to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act and to lift the ban on offshore drilling, as if to get in one last twist of the knife before Bush waves buh-bye as he boards the helicopter into the azure, unless it’s raining. It will be one of the un-nicer ironies of modern American history that a president who prided himself on his crispy optimism should depart office having dyed the electorate a pervasive shade of blue. Not Democratic blue (though maybe that too), but the blue of futility, frustration, and worry, as reflected in the right-track/wrong-track numbers. (In a USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted between August 21 and 23, 81 percent of those participating described themselves as “dissatisfied” with the direction in which the country was lurching. Not only is Bush the Decider—he’s also the Dissatisfier.)

“The centre cannot hold,” to quote the oft quoted line from W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” and when the center cannot hold, the chickens run around in circles. everything seemingly is spinning out of control, bemoaned the headline of a June 21 Associated Press article by Alan Fram and Eileen Putman, which proposed that the American can-do spirit was being flattened by chunks of falling sky. “Horatio Alger, twist in your grave,” Fram and Putman wrote. “The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country’s sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance.”

Our true grit has succumbed to dry rot and tofu. Once a virile nation capable of building the Panama Canal and landing on the moon, now look at us: pathetic.

The world’s flirting with the abyss isn’t going to produce a picnic for anybody, should such a consummation occur, but I reckon mankind is responsible for its own ruination. Al Gore tried to warn us about the polar ice caps, but the Rush Limbaughs of this world chose to maintain a carbon footprint bigger than King Kong’s. If humanity remains hell-bent on despoiling its mother planet and rendering it unlivable through our insatiable demand for more of everything (israel’s demand for water is draining the sea of galilee —Financial Times, August 23–24, 2008), bringing down the curtain on a civilization that gave us Socrates, Shakespeare, and Shakira’s vibrating hips, so be it. It’s been a good run—shame it had to end so shabbily. Maybe our Martian colony will survive. We must stay stoic in the stark face of our collective demise, even as we’re blubbering.

I find insupportable the prospect that the animal kingdom will precede us into extinction, the innocent victims of our selfish stupidity and vicious folly—an endless parade of drowning polar bears, slaughtered wolves, slain gorillas, vanishing tigers, and diminishing songbirds joining the fate of the last great auk. It is particularly unforgivable given the research showing that monkeys, for example, are capable of charity and empathy, which is more than can be said of Bill O’Reilly between feedings. We will pamper our pets, spending billions on their comfort and welfare, while witnessing a slow, irrevocable die-off of wild animals as their remaining habitat is destroyed through deforestation, poaching, global warming, and one last mad shotgun spree by Dick Cheney in deer-hunter camo before his bionic heart gives (with vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin ready to step into his boots and fell any caribou suspected of treason).

More and more, telecast news reminds me of the constant cycle of pharmaceutical ads on cable TV for prescription drugs to address bladder control, herpes outbreaks, depression, erectile dysfunction, anxiety disorder, allergies, high cholesterol, fibroneuralgia, and Alzheimer’s, planting nervous seeds in your head until you start patting yourself down for symptoms, unable to pee with the usual carefree abandon. Part of the genius of Barack Obama’s campaign logo is that it englobes the sun, blue sky, the flag, and the O of his name (a circle within a circle) into what resembles a happy pill. Pop it in your mouth and feel the radiance expand within, the windows of your mind opening onto a wonderland. Anyone can preach hope, but to pictorialize it in capsule form—that was the coup. His campaign understood what its political rivals didn’t: the antidote to bad news isn’t good news, but a good feeling that turns bad news into background noise.

Forget the 2004 election, a protracted hangover from 2000. This is the first real millennial ballot, the first real chance to put this bad dream behind us, or keep the bad dream going, under new management."

-James Wolcott,("The News Blues," Vanity Fair Magazine, 12.2008. Image: -BrokenStairway, "Enjoying Life",, 3. 3.07).

VIOLETPLANET SAYS: "Here's to a better future beginning in 2009... Earth. Thanks for putting up with all the abuse. Those who perpetrated these crimes await your punishment. No mercy required."

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Salesmen: Smash The Mirror & Face The Truth...

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.' -Harold Pinter (1958).

"I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavor. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realizing that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favored method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man."

-Harold Pinter (Excerpt: Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics," Swedish Academy, Stockholm, 12. 7. 2005. Image: -Henry Wolf, Poster for the documentary, "Salesman" directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1968 ).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Art Of The Highest Form: What It Is To Be Human, I Learned From A Wolf...

"The idea that when humans are at their worst they behave like wolves has been around a long time. Hobbes used the Latin tag homo homini lupus - man is a wolf to man - to illustrate his belief that unless they are restrained by government, people prey upon one another ruthlessly, while descriptions of rapacious or amoral behavior as wolfish can be found throughout literature.

The notion that evil is the expression of bestial instincts is deeply ingrained, and for the average philosopher as for the average person there is nothing more bestial than the wolf. More generally, a belief in the innate superiority of humans over other animals is part of the Western tradition. Christians tell us that only humans have souls, and though they speak in a different language secular thinkers mostly believe much the same. There are innumerable secular rationalists who, while congratulating themselves on their skepticism, never doubt that the universe is improved by the presence in it of humans like themselves.

The Philosopher and the Wolf is a powerfully subversive critique of the unexamined assumptions that shape the way most philosophers - along with most people - think about animals and themselves. When Rowlands bought a wolf cub for $500, and lived with it for eleven years, he ended up writing: 'Much of what I learned, about how to live and how to conduct myself, I learned during those eleven years. Much of what I know about life and its meaning I learned from him. What it is to be human: I learned this from a wolf.'

A part of Rowlands's life with Brenin was sheer delight: 'The wolf is art of the highest form and you cannot be in its presence without this lifting your spirits.' Beyond its beauty, though, the wolf taught the philosopher something about the meaning of happiness. Humans tend to think of their lives as progressing towards some kind of eventual fulfillment; when this is not forthcoming they seek satisfaction or distraction in anything that is new or different. This human search for happiness is 'regressive and futile', for each valuable moment slips away in the pursuit of others and they are all swallowed up by death. In contrast, living without the sense of time as a line pointing to an end-point, wolves find happiness in the repetition of fulfilling moments, each complete and self-contained. As a result, as Rowlands shows in a moving account of his last year with Brenin, they can flourish in the face of painful illness and encroaching death.

The bond that Rowlands formed with Brenin was based on the fact that the wolf had emotions in common with the philosopher, such as courage, affection and delight in play. At the same time, Rowlands seems clearly to have been drawn to the wolf because of its profound differences from humans. In evolutionary terms humans belong in the ape family, and if apes are intellectually superior to other animals it is because of their highly developed social intelligence. Some of the most valuable features of human life - science and the arts, for example - are only possible because of this intelligence. But it is also this type of intelligence that enables apes - some kinds of ape, at any rate - to engage in forms of behavior that, when more fully developed, embody types of malignancy that are pre-eminently human. As Rowlands puts it:

"When we talk about the superior intelligence of apes, we should bear in mind the terms of this comparison: apes are more intelligent than wolves because, ultimately, they are better schemers and deceivers than wolves.' The ability to scheme and deceive requires a capacity to enter the minds of others, which other animals seem not to possess in anything like the same degree. But the human capacity for empathy brings something new into the world - a kind of malice aforethought, a delight in the pain of others that aims to reduce them to the condition of powerless victims. If the philosopher loved the wolf, it was because while it could kill without emotion it lacked this distinctively human trait.

Among other things The Philosopher and the Wolf is a series of unsentimental reflections on human evil. Rowlands does not think of evil in simple terms, as mere Schadenfreude - it is far more complicated than that. But neither does he share the rationalist delusion that evil is a kind of error, which can be removed from human life by better knowledge and improved understanding. On the contrary, unfashionably but to my mind rightly, Rowlands accepts that evil is part of human nature, which can be moderated but never eradicated.

Mark Rowlands tells us he has long pondered the claim, often advanced as an objection to his life with Brenin, that wolves have no place in civilized society, and has finally concluded that it's true. The reason is not that Brenin was too dangerous to be allowed in civilised company. Rather, it is that 'he was nowhere near dangerous, and nowhere near unpleasant, enough. Civilization, I think, is possible only for deeply unpleasant animals.' I would put the point rather differently. Civilization is a way of coping with what that supremely great twentieth-century poet Wallace Stevens called 'the unalterable necessity of being this unalterable animal'. The dark side of the human animal is not wolf-like; it is ape-like, and at its worst peculiarly human. In other words, civilization is a defense erected by humanity not against bestiality, but against itself."

-John Gray (Excerpt: "The Nature Of The Beast," Book Review: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands", Literary Review, 12.2008. Image: -Gage,"The Founders Of Rome, Romulus and Remus, Nursed By The Wolf-Goddess Lupa," Picasa Web, 1.31.2008).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muntader al-Zaider: Mightier Than The Bomb...If The Shoe Fits, Throw It...


In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don't.....On the question of so-called torture, we don't do torture. We never have. It's not something that this administration subscribes to. Again, we proceeded very cautiously. We checked. We had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.

...The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful -- wouldn't do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong. Did it produce the desired results? I think it did. And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don't know what they're talking about.

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics (dogs, stress positions, sleep deprivation, humiliation) that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?... And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?

CHENEY: I do...

...I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: You probably saw Karl Rove last week said that if the intelligence had been correct we probably would not have gone to war.

CHENEY: I disagree with that. I think – as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What we found in the after action reports, after the intelligence report was done and then various special groups went and looked at the intelligence and what its validity was. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stocks. - Jonathan Karl (Excerpt: Transcript: "Cheney Defends Hard Line Tactics In Exclusive Interview With ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney Opens Up About His Hard Line Tactics," 12.16.2008).


"The U.S. should assert its military dominance over the world to shape “the international security order in line with American principles and interests,” push for “regime change” in Iraq and China, among other countries, and “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars….While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” - (“Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” The Project for the New American Century [members include Cheney and Rumsfeld], 9.2000).

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
- Vice President Dick Cheney, ( Selling The Iraq Invasion, Speech to VFW National Convention, 8.26.2002).

RUSSERT: What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?

CHENEY: Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

CHENEY: I disagree, yes...

We believe [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. - Vice President Dick Cheney (Excerpts: Selling The Invasion on "NBC's Meet the Press," 3.16.2003)


"Muntader al-Zaidi who remained in custody Monday, provided a rare moment of unity in a region often at odds with itself. Glee, even if thinly veiled, could be discerned in much of the reporting, especially in places where anti-American sentiment runs deepest.

In Syria, Mr. Zaidi’s picture was shown all day on state television, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery. In central Damascus, a huge banner hung over a street, reading, “Oh, heroic journalist, thank you so much for what you have done.”

Mr. Zaidi’s hero status continued to grow on Monday. In Damascus, a 34-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Muhammad, said he was on his way to celebrate the shoe-throwing incident with friends."

“This is like a holiday. This is just what we needed for revenge.”

-Timothy Williams & Abeer Mohammed (Part III, Excerpt: "In Iraqi’s Shoe-Hurling Protest, Arabs Find a Hero - It’s Not Bush," NY Times, 12.15.2008. Image: - Ivan Anic, Muntader al-Zaider - "Mightier Than The Bomb," IvansArmy.Com , 12.16.2008 ).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Donald Rumsfeld: The Executioner...With Near-Perfect Clarity...

"Clarity! I think what you'll find,
I think what you'll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.
And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known."

-Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld (Comments at a Department of Defense Briefing, 3.28.03).

"Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry Into The Treatment Of Detainees In U.S.Custody"


"(U) Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” cited “pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims” as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadist movement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”

(U) The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the Committee’s inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about

A. Conclusions on GTMO’s Request for Aggressive Techniques:

Conclusion 13: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, water boarding in Afghanistan and Iraq.

B. Conclusions on Interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Conclusion 15: Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force (TF) interrogation policies were influenced by the Secretary of Defense’s December 2, 2002 approval of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at GTMO. SMU TF interrogation policies in Iraq included the use of aggressive interrogation techniques such as military working dogs and stress positions. SMU TF policies were a direct cause of detainee abuse and influenced interrogation policies at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely."

-Report Released by Senators. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) & John McCain (R-Ariz.) 12.12.2008. Image: Illustration - "Prison Life in America Showing the "Trapeze", Torture Of Hanging By The Thumbs". Life Magazine, 1871).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The PSY OPS Evening News With Your Host...

The U.S. general commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan has ordered a merger of the office that releases NEWS with PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS (PSY OPS) which deals with propaganda, a move that goes against the alliance's policy, three officials said. The move has worried Washington's European NATO allies -- Germany has already threatened to pull out of media operations in Afghanistan--and the officials said it could undermine the credibility of information released to the public.

Seven years into the war against the Taliban, insurgent influence is spreading closer to the capital and Afghans are becoming increasingly disenchanted at the presence of some 65,000 foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Taliban militants, through their website, telephone text messages and frequent calls to reporters, are also gaining ground in the information war, analysts say.

U.S. General David McKiernan, the commander of 50,000 troops from more than 40 nations in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ordered the combination of the Public Affairs Office (PAO), Information Operations and Psy Ops from December 1, said a NATO official with detailed knowledge of the move.

"This will totally undermine the credibility of the information released to the press and the public,"
said the official, who declined to be named.

ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Richard Blanchette said McKiernan had issued a staff order to implement a command restructure from December 1st which was being reviewed by NATO headquarters in Brussels, but he declined to go into details of the reorganization. "This is very much an internal matter," he said. "This is up with higher headquarters right now and we're waiting to get the basic approval. Once we have the approval we will be going into implementation."

But another ISAF official confirmed that the amalgamation of public affairs with Information Operations and Psy Ops was part of the planned command restructure. This official, who also declined to be named, said the merger had caused considerable concern at higher levels within NATO which had challenged the order by the U.S. general.


NATO policy recognizes there is an inherent clash of interests between its public affairs offices, whose job it is to issue press releases and answer media questions, and that of Information Operations and Psychological Operations. Information Operations advises on information designed to affect the will of the enemy, while Psy Ops includes so-called "black operations," or outright deception.

The new combined ISAF department will come under the command of an American one-star general reporting directly to McKiernan, an arrangement that is also against NATO policy. "While coordination is essential, the lines of authority will remain separate, the PA reporting directly to the commander. This is to maintain credibility of PA and to avoid creating a media or public perception that PA activities are coordinated by, or are directed by, Info Ops," the NATO policy document says. "Public Affairs will have no role in planning or executing Info Ops, Psy Ops, or deception activities.”

The United States has 35,000 of the 65,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, operating both under ISAF and a separate U.S.-led coalition operation, but both come under McKiernan's command. Washington is already scheduled to send another 3,000 troops to arrive in the country in January and is now considering sending 20,000 more troops in the next 12 to 18 months, further tipping the numerical balance among ISAF forces.

"What we are seeing is a gradual increase of American influence in all areas of the war. Seeking to gain total control of the information flow from the campaign is just part of that."

- Jon Hemming (“Press And Psy Ops To Merge At NATO Afghan HQ, Reuters, 11.29.2008. Image: Leonard Mccombe, TV Newscaster Walter Cronkite, Watching 3 Different News Broadcasts, Life Magazine, 1971).

Friday, December 5, 2008

On Consumerism: Trample To Death, Save Money, Live Better...

“...Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary employee at the Wal-Mart store, was crushed (to death) underfoot as thousands of shoppers, chanting "push in the doors," did just that -- ripping the doors right off their hinges, these desperate-for-a-deal maniacs stampeded into the store, massacring Damour under their heavy, relentless feet, which I guess were so caught up in marching to the capitalistic tune of consumerism that they just couldn't register the life they were squeezing out of the man beneath them.

There are no reports of any shopper attempting to help Damour. On the contrary, Damour's co-workers, as well as paramedics and police officers at the scene, all tell of hostile shoppers who impeded assistance to Damour and who became angry when the announcement came over the PA that the store would be closing because of Damour's death.

Since hearing about this horrific murder I have made myself nauseous imagining Damour terrified, gasping for air, the weight of all those shoppers grinding him into the floor. But, the truth is, I have also found myself unable to stop thinking about the connections between his murder, and capitalism, and consumerism. I cannot help but think that this horde's behavior really isn't all that far off from how consumers in a capitalistic society are programmed to behave.

Think of this: if a corporation's purpose is to maximize profit, isn't a consumer's purpose to minimize price-paid? That is, in order to be the very best consumer , don't you need to seek out the lowest-priced goods? Further, capitalism teaches us to celebrate those who achieve success and material wealth, even as we acknowledge that "getting to the top" often involves scrambling up over the backs of fellow human beings. Sure, driving your heel into the flesh of a man trapped beneath you is a bit more visceral than the sort of bloodless exploitation that corporate climbers employ, but the impulse -- the drive for personal success or satisfaction; the ambition to meet one's own needs at any cost -- springs from the same notions of individualism that lay at the heart of a capitalistic system.

In the movie Dirty Pretty Things, a character, Okwe, makes a statement about the sorts of people with whom we share our world yet often do not acknowledge-he says:

"... we are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your hotel rooms. And suck your cocks."

I think about this whenever I think about one of this country's most enduring mythologies: the American Dream. As the story goes, everyone is born equal in America, into a country with a level playing field, where, with hard work and perseverance, anyone can achieve economic stability and financial success. Integral to the idea of this American Dream is the notion that those who do not "make it" fail because they choose to fail. This is an important part of our mythology, and it is convenient for explaining the existence of the people Okwe mentions. How do we reconcile the poverty and desperation we see all around us? Or the knowledge that we share our world with people whose lives are miserable, hopeless and grim? By believing that they are responsible for their own wretched existences. Otherwise, we have to admit that the system is flawed. And if we admit that the system is flawed, then we will have to change it. For many people, this is not only a terrifying notion, but it also seems impossible. Further tempering any impulse to demolish the capitalistic system is the fact that we are so seduced by the elusive promise of wealth and privilege that the false-hearted dogma of the American Dream is a stronger motivating force than is the reality that we see all around us.

We are complacent.
And gluttonous.
And divided.

I believe that within a capitalistic society, especially one that is teetering, seething, and grasping as desperately as ours is, this sort of brutal, every-man-for-himself mentality is likely to manifest in more and more everyday occurrences. Capitalism can behave in no other way -- it exists for only as long as there is a class of people to exploit. As Ezra, the prophet of Elle Flanders's brilliant documentary Zero Degrees of Separation, says:

"Without the cogs, there would be no machine." We are all cogs in this plutocracy we call "America." And we chew each other up to bloody bits..."

-Tani Bellestri (Excerpt: "Blood In the Machine,", 12.5.2008. Image: Title Card, "Born To Kill,"directed by Robert Wise, 1947).