Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Emperor's New Clothes: Cheney Finally Tells the Truth

In the beginning, Cheney draped himself in lies. For example, on August 26, 2002, he said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

More lies came later. In September 2003, Cheney said the Iraqis were "providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the Al Qaeda organization." In October 2003, He said, "Saddam had an established relationship with Al Qaeda, providing training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional weapons."

Later still, more lies. On June 14, 2004, he said Saddam "had long established ties with Al Qaeda."

To many of us, these were transparent lies. We could see the emperor had no clothes. We could also see the purpose of those lies—to manufacture consent, as Noam Chompsky has described the manipulation of populations via propaganda. Cheney, back then, still had to consider We the People; he was still operating within a democratic frame, where he needed public opinion to be favorable to his aims, where the public could be as driven by fear as he was by greed, power-lust, folly and self-delusion.

Then came the election of 2006, Nancy Pelosi and her declaration that impeachment was “off the table,” and the gradual realization, ending in today’s sickening reality that the thugs were going to get away with it—nothing would ever be done to stop them.

Cheney hasn’t missed the message either. He sees he is immune from impeachment, immune from prosecution; immune from censure of any kind. He is safe from the normal checks and balances built into the Constitution of our once lively democratic republic. Thus, he now can tell the truth. He can unveil himself in all his sloppy, corrupt nakedness. He is now free to ignore We the People and expose his utter disdain for democratic rule. Thus we see his smirk, as he smugly responds to the reporter’s question— “So?”

The American people want an end to the war? So? The Iraqi people want us to leave? So? We torture human beings? So? “Listen up,” he is saying, “the people are irrelevant. The people are powerless. Only We the Rich, We the Elite, We the Corporations, We the Criminals have the power.” He might as well have said, “Eat S_ _ _ _ and die!”

Instead, we have Dick Cheney’s truth, as clear and concise as it could possibly be. So?

Speech by Robert Byrd on The Emperor's New Clothes.
Cheney to Martha Raddatz of ABC News.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter Soldier, Spring Suburbanite: The Fragility of Peace of Mind

Odd juxtapositions interest me: a stream of sewage in Iraq, a medic holding an Iraqi child, the face of an Iraqi schoolgirl; a cool, suburban pond in America—clean water, electricity, pampered koi, space for peace, quiet.

It is early morning. A Marine helicopter flies overhead on its way to Camp Pendleton, its propeller-driving, no-heart thudding, a sound like canon shots in steady succession, while I tend to the small pond in my back yard in the North County of San Diego. I go back inside, turn on the television to watch Democracy Now!, as is my habit each weekday. All this week, beginning last Friday, the independent news program has covered “Winter Soldier - Iraq and Afganistan,” a sobering, heart-breaking repeat of the hearings held in 1971— same name, different war.

Each day, with each soldier or Marine telling his story, exposing his heart, his conscience, his sorrow over the atrocities he saw, or was forced to commit, or committed with mindless adherence to orders from above, I begin to absorb, viscerally, and to comprehend —as well as a civilian can— the profound wound that is the Iraq war and occupation. Not that I didn’t see the crime of the Iraq war and occupation before this. But now I am closer to feeling it in my bones, though I won’t claim to know what those who have actually been there know down to the marrow.

Furthermore, I have part of the answer to my doubts about Joey (previous post, March 9, 2008). Now I know he was telling the truth: he committed murder; he not only had permission from above, he had orders. But whether he has since recovered his lost soul and being, his conscience, the integrity he lost somewhere along the way at home or in Iraq, is still in doubt. I remember showing him some literature from Iraq Veterans Against the War, the IVAW. He insisted there wouldn’t be any Marines on the list of names. When I showed him the names of Marines on the list, he shrugged his shoulders, continued polishing his car, and said, “...traitors to the corps.”

Jon Michael Turner, during his testimony at the current Winter Soldier hearings, said this: “There’s a term, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.’ But there’s also the term, ‘Eat the apple, F the corps, I don’t work for you no more.” Then he stripped off his medals and ribbons and threw them toward the audience.

Last Thursday I had a little drama of my own—sold all my beloved koi, witnessed what was for them a violent capture, and fretted all day and night over their transport and introduction to their more humane (larger) and heavenly, new pond and home. That night I couldn’t get to sleep, still worrying about them, imagining their koi sufferings, remembering how scared they were, the scraped scales, the repeating image in my mind of one koi who had flipped herself into a prickly potted plant while being caught.

Well, we all have these little worries, and some in our cities and suburbs suffer real tragedies and grieve throughout life over profound losses, such as the loss of a beloved in Iraq. But civilian life does not require that we act in opposition to conscience; we are never forced to commit atrocities, acts which condemn us either to a numb psychopathology or to a life of PTSD and its many manifestations— alcoholism, homelessness, despair, nightmares, flashbacks to horror, guilt, suicide, and more. For me and my suburban koi experience, it’s one night of tossing and turning an hour or two before finally falling into a peaceful sleep; for the winter soldier, it’s a lifetime of memories eating away at his peace of mind, whether awake or asleep. A soldier may find treatment, or honor through bearing witness, or solace through activism on behalf of truth and an end to war, but in fact, the wound will remain throughout his or her life.

I disagree with the mind-set that defines toughness in our culture as an ultimate value. Sure, it’s great to be strong, great to be able to do what needs to be done. But we are so much more than that—we ache; we bleed; we love, laugh, cry, and all the rest of the human things we do, and are. Peace of mind is fragile. I lost a moment’s peace over fish. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose peace of mind over some horrific act I have committed, or have seen. However, the loss of peace of mind described by those at Winter Soldier must also be seen as evidence of conscience, soul, of a moral sensibility, of goodness, courage, strength, integrity and liberation from denial. The winter soldier must take heart. He is a fine man; more, he is a human being, worthy of our profound respect and thanks.

When I say, “thank you for your service” to the winter soldier, an Iraq veteran against the war, the service I am referring to is service to truth, to the conscience and soul of America. I am sorry for the wound they have had to bear for the rest of us; I love them and wish them well. Whatever they have done, it was done by us all.

Jon Michael Turner also said, “I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people, and I’m sorry for the hate and destruction that others have inflicted on innocent people. At one point, it was OK. But reality has shown that it’s not, and that this is happening, and that until people hear about what is going on with this war, it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was.” This, to my mind, is how a Marine supports and defends the Constitution of the United States, how he honors his duty and his own humanity.

These Winter Soldier testimonials are the most important stories in the news this week. Has the mainstream media covered it? Nope. Not even Countdown. C-Span covered one panel, the one with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!. Good, but that was it. And, they identified the event without mentioning its true title, “Winter Soldier.” Plus, they failed to list it in their schedule or provide video for re-play, which they often do with their broadcasts.

True to mainstream media’s support for the Bush Administration at the expense of the First Amendment, and in keeping with their lack of coverage of anti-war protests, the media fails us again. They disappear the conscience of our culture. They’re big on sex scandals, sports scandals, and the back-and-forth insults of Presidential campaigns, but the true life stories about the human cost of war? Forget it. Those stories don’t exist for most Americans, thanks to the media. On Wednesday morning, for example, a woman who was in favor of the war called in to C-Span and said, in effect, that “these left-leaning people” who think we are over there murdering Iraqis are wrong—”it isn’t happening.” Well, if the media were doing its job and broadcasting Winter Soldier testimonials, she wouldn’t be able to say that. And even though most Americans are against the war and would probably appreciate hearing the stories coming back from Iraq, many others also go about their cozy lives in ignorance, tuning in to watch World’s Wildest Police Chases, or 24, or American Idol, without a moment’s loss of peace of mind. If challenged, some may even defend their apathy, having bought the silly notion that we’re “fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here,” which can only be believed by a person who knows nothing of the corporate-driven reasons for this war, of history, of reality.

Thomas Paine wrote, “THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth.” Cheney would no doubt twist those words to suit his propaganda, which works on some in our population — “Freedom is not free” — who either forgot or never knew what the American revolution was all about— the who, and what, was the tyrant and the tyranny, that is to say, a king and government in league with corporate power. Today, everything Cheney stands for is the very same tyranny this democratic republic was founded to thwart; but here it is, the same tyrannical, corporate-powered spirit, back again, infecting our world. In response to a reporter’s comment that two-thirds of the American people think the war isn’t worth it, Cheney smirked, with undisguised pleasure and self-satisfaction, “So?” Hello? The man doesn’t give a rat’s ass what the American people want. He wants his power, his profit, the delusion of benign intent. It’s what he wants, and that’s all that counts—besides, we haven’t put a stop to him yet, despite his crimes. Why should he worry?

In the meantime, the Bush Administration has cut funding for the VA, where the prevailing attitude has poor character as the defining factor in PTSD.

These too are times that try men’s souls, but, if you are a media mogul, or George W. Bush, or Dick Cheney, or Condi Rice, your soul will not be tried— in your folly, your lust for power and your greed, you have denied your soul, and now it is beyond reach. Let there be no doubt—you are the monsters.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Gangrene on the Body Politic

After Joey returned from Iraq he bragged about how the war allowed him to commit murder and get away with it, how he had permission all the way from the top, from the President himself. He told me this with a smile, but I couldn’t tell whether this was his dark sense of humor, and bait —he knew I was against the war— if it was bravado, or the absolute truth, a revelation of his utter lack of military ethics, conscience, heart and soul. I couldn’t know the truth about Joey, since I didn’t know him well, and I wasn’t with him in Iraq to witness his behavior.

I did notice one thing about him, however, derived from his body language—the way he responded to noise, to a door slamming, a clap, or even someone saying, “Sh-h-h-h-h” behind his back. It’s not that he would jump and run for cover, nothing so obvious. It was more a flinching, an involuntary startle-response, a quick turn of the head toward the sound, all with a seriousness and tension, though fleeting, one couldn’t miss.

Some say war makes victims of us all. So, perhaps Joey was a victim in the sense that he probably had PTSD; however, he may not have been a victim of the power of war to destroy the conscience and humanity of soldiers. He may have been a murderer at heart to begin with, by choice, and he simply found an excuse in the war to satisfy his murderous bent.

A certain percentage of soldiers and Marines are of dubious character. The standards for acceptance to the military have been lowered significantly, so that individuals with criminal records are signing up. Perhaps such individuals are more vulnerable to the stresses of war and may tend to be pushed more easily toward the dark side. I don’t know if it is a fair thing to say; I am a liberal, so I want to have compassion for bad behavior to a certain degree. So, perhaps we can consider these troops as victims of war too, along side the soldiers of conscience who have mental breakdowns and suffer PTSD as a result of what they see or are forced to do.

But were the Marines in Iraq who threw a puppy off the cliff into a ravine victims of war? Were they fine young men originally, then rendered stupid and insensible by war? Or, were they the same nasty little bullies we’ve all encountered in our childhoods, all grown big now, the ones who enjoyed torturing frogs, or cats, or other children? I think it is the latter. I suspect these “men” are still boys, still cowardly bullies, who have managed to achieve adulthood without ever being taught by their fathers, or uncles, or brothers, or the Marines, or teachers, what it is to be a man, to say nothing of what it is to be a human being. Based on their body language, I must conclude they conduct their lives according to a definition of manhood that includes sadism, heartlessness, and bullying. Perhaps they were victims of something, sometime during their lives —violent parents, or the influence of a culture of cruelty, where a TV program like 24 thrives— but it was not war. And do I care? At some point we must hold them responsible, while hoping to dismiss them as unusual, as aberrant, as merely the gangrenous baby toes on the body politic.

George W. Bush used to torture frogs as a kid. Now he orders up torture of human beings, then lies about it. Attorney General Michael Mukasey cannot bring himself to say water-boarding is torture. That is, he is willing to go along with and enable torture and rendition, to sacrifice ethical and moral principles, so that the Bush Administration can be protected from prosecution. How is this possible? This is 21st century America, not 15th century Spain! And what is happening to us that our institutions tolerate such criminality, allow such vile individuals to remain in power?

The DCCC —Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee— called me again yesterday. The unfortunate volunteer gave her pitch, and I waited patiently for the close, something to the effect of, “Would you be willing to give a donation...?” My answer? “No. Not until they put impeachment back on the table.” Reading from her script, she responded that the Democrats in Congress do not have enough votes for impeachment, to which I said, “I didn’t say I’m demanding conviction—impeachment is a process; the nation needs to hear the evidence presented and the issue debated!”

Do we not have a gangrene on the body politic, progressing not from the toes up, but from the head down? This idea — “from the head down” — where Bush himself becomes the central metaphor, is useful in describing a sickness in the culture and society itself, where the extremes of a masculinist, cold-hearted ethic have infected our world. Shall I count the ways? But no, you know what I mean, the examples of profit-before-people-driven industries and government policies— the coal industry (strip-mining, pollution), the health care industry (Can’t afford health insurance? Then die!), “free” trade (environmental, labor, economic abuses and injustice), news-as-entertainment media (exclusion of voices), wars of aggression, and on and on. Gangrene is the proper metaphor too: the only way to stop it is to surgically remove it—cut it off!

Perhaps the Democrats in Congress think it’s smart to just muddle along, make “peace,” and hope for the best. But such indecisiveness and inaction only leaves the condition to fester and grow.

Boy soldiers who murder and torture puppies should be prosecuted and sent to prison. By the same token, the big boys and politicians who torture and enable torture of human beings should first be impeached, then convicted, then prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as well, and then sent to prison.

Bush likes to say 9-11 changed everything. How thrilling it must have been for him to think everything had changed, with everything gone that might have impinged upon his own murderous bent, everything vanished that might have kept his sadistic impulses under check. Of course he was wrong. The truth didn’t change, and he is a war criminal, a traitor to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and a threat to the rule of law and justice. He does not have truth on his side; he does not have the soul of America on his side. He will fail, ultimately.

It looks like we are going to have to wait for justice, however. Given that fact, it would be easy to give up hope. As for me, I am going to try to be patient. As long as fine soldiers and Marines exist who have chosen not to be victims of the war, not to allow the war to render them monstrous; as long as young men and women choose to resist going to war —the ones who refuse to sign up for military service during a time of illegal war and occupation; the ones who go AWOL, move to Canada, or decide jail is a better place than any place where the abandonment of the soul is required— as long as veterans speak out against the war, and women soldiers who have been raped in the Military tell their stories, and whistle-blowers leak the documents, the DVD’s, the photos of torture and abuse; as long as there are good people of conscience —the healthy elements of society— I believe we will recover.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Terror Over Terrorism: Meeting the Enemy

Awhile back, I called my California State representative’s office. A staffer answered the phone, of course. At one point in our conversation, I told him I was far more fearful of having a bridge collapse during my trip home on the freeway than of being killed in a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda. He responded with alarm: “You’re kidding!” he said.

Obviously, he was a Republican. But I wonder if his reaction had more to do with the shock of encountering a citizen who had not sufficiently ingested —to the point of being stuffed to the gills with fear about terrorist attacks— the daily diet of terror served up by the Bush Administration, than with his own fears about Al Qaeda. But maybe not.

Lots of us are worried about terrorism. It’s somehow incredibly easy for Bush and his criminal gang of thugs to inspire the fear of strange, unknown and exotic threats —easier and far more useful— than it is to get people to pay attention to ordinary reality and put things in perspective. My Republican staffer, for example, probably never thinks about the more common deadly threats in the U.S., such as death by auto accident —38,588 in 2006— or heart disease —652,486— or cancer —553,888— or accidents in general —112,012— or diabetes —73,138— and all the other ways of dying in this world, including pollution, which causes 40 percent of deaths worldwide. Instead, he probably drives to work in the fast lane at 80 m.p.h., slurping a super-sized Pepsi, then he stops at his local junk food provider for a cheeseburger and fries, then goes home after work and sprays Round-up on his driveway, never once considering how his own BRAIN threatens his existence far more seriously than Al Qaeda ever could. He should be saying, “I have met the enemy, and it is ME” (and the corporations that enable his bad habits, pollute his environment, and profit from his disease), but he won’t. It’s gotta be Al Qaeda.

Then we have the fear itself. Franklin Roosevelt was smarter than we thought, when he said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” It turns out that fear and all its locales and manifestations —negative projections, hopelessness, humiliation, the ills of poverty and job loss, lack of health care, low-status, feelings of rejection, etc.— correlates to all sorts of deadly encounters, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, infections, high blood pressure, and on and on. The culprit is apparently the physiological response to stress, something having to do with the “cortisol response,” which wreaks havoc with the immune system in ways I am unable to explain myself. (read Margaret Kemeny, UCSF, or Rbt. Sapolsky for the scientific explanation.)

Beyond what Bush Administration policies do to increase stress among citizens to the point of killing them by degrees, perhaps we can also conclude that Bush is killing an awful lot of us with terror over terrorism! (to say nothing of the horror of seeing and hearing him on T.V.)

...and then there’s Bush’s removal of tens of thousands of children from SCHIP; disinterest in poverty, denial of science, denial of global warming, deteriorating infrastructure, slashing of staff and budget for the EPA, etc., the Iraq war and occupation, torture-lust, hundreds of concentration camps inside the USA built to include potential U.S. “terrorists”... camps and I’m supposed to be more fearful of Arab nationals than I am of what my own nation —I refuse to call it Homeland, Hitler’s word— has done and is capable of doing?

And now it turns out our water is laced with pharmaceuticals of all kinds. Whew! What next? After awhile you tire of all the things in this world to worry about. I've been so outraged, it's gotta be affecting my health. I'd say it's time to step back, take time out from outrage, time out from terror and worry of every other kind. It's time to do some "guided imagery," time to take time out for meditation— close the eyes and take a little trip across a world at peace, a clean, healthy, happy world, where there's room for coexistence in peace, justice, and all good things and opportunities available to all. It's a beautiful place, a healing place. You might try it yourself.

“It’s Been Lovely, But I Have to Scream Now”

Lovely, indeed: Congress is busy holding athletes accountable for using steroids. Meanwhile, Dennis Kucinich’s impeachment resolution sits waiting like an abandoned child in the Judiciary Committee.

Let me see if I can make sense of this......of course! Breaking the law to give one’s supposedly inadequate masculinity an edge over that of other hyper-masculine, freak-jocks is bad; but breaking the law —need I count the ways?— to invade a sovereign country for no valid reason and based on lies, to violate the U.S. Constitution, to disappear people, torture them, illegally wiretap American citizens, etc., etc., well, that’s just peachy?