Saturday, February 23, 2013

They don't hate us for our freedom. Meddling, slaughtering, lies, and hubris...well, yeah.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, whom I generally admire--and who, to her endless credit, has pushed a lot of social issue envelopes on her show--recently occasioned and narrated a documentary called Hubris (you can watch all six parts here). Hubris was advanced as reporting on "how the Bush administration viewed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein from power", and promoted as a thorough analysis of:  the utterly false casus belli (the metal tubes, the mushroom cloud threat, etc.) for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003; the evidence presented to Congress (that would eventually be completely discredited); the use and abuse of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell by pushing him to make an under-informed and flawed case for war; and finally, the horrifically poor management of Iraq subsequent to the removal from power and execution of Saddam Hussein.

The same Saddam Hussein who, it must be noted (if not discussed too often, if ever, on MSNBC), was on the C.I.A. payroll since 1957 and to whose Ba`ath party the U.S. provided monetary and intelligence assistance--first in the coup of 1963, and again in that of 1968, about which David Morgan of Reuters wrote:
In 1968, Morris says, the CIA encouraged a palace revolt among Baath party elements led by long-time Saddam mentor Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, who would turn over the reins of power to his ambitious protégé in 1979. “It’s a regime that was unquestionably midwived by the United States, and the (CIA’s) involvement there was really primary,” Morris says.
Thus would Hussein, in 1979 and with the blessing and backing of the United States, occupy Iraq's highest office. Come the 1990's, however, he was regarded as less and less useful for "America's national interests" (read: those of Big Oil).

All that said, you might conclude--correctly--that my opinion of Hubris is not a uniformly positive one. I felt a few extremely important concerns--the most important ones, in fact--were either skipped over during the writing process itself or, more likely, edited out of the narrative on the orders of higher-ups (but who can say?).

Anyway, in order to better express--and to augment--my own complaints, I'm going to share with you, dear readers, some luminous observations and criticisms of Hubris by two writers I deeply respect.

First: the following is a letter to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC by my friend Geoff Wheeler, a fellow Briton by birth as well as a retired merchant seaman. Geoff lives in Florida. (Published here with his permission.)
Subject: Letter to Rachel Maddow, MSNBC
Ms. Maddow: I was looking forward to your program ‘Hubris,’ which aired on MSNBC on Monday night, based on the book of the same name written by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, which I bought soon after it was published in 2006. I could ask why you waited so long, but I prefer to ask why you blew your chance to nail the Bush Gang in the very first minute by saying that Saddam kicked the U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq, which he never did. Your program was intended to indict Bush, yet right at the beginning you falsely indicted Saddam. In 1998 Richard Butler, head of the U.N. weapons inspectors, accused the Iraqis of obstructing their work, so Clinton said he would use air strikes, and out of concern for their safety Butler withdrew his team. I repeat: they withdrew voluntarily - Saddam did not kick them out. 
So you blew that, and then compounded your error by not mentioning that it was Bush who ordered Hans Blix and his team out of Iraq just before he invaded in 2003. As the reporter you think you are, how could you miss that? I saw and heard the bum on TV say that the reason he invaded was because Saddam would not let Blix and his team in, when they had been in the country for more than two months and had found nothing! Which of course was not what Bush and Cheney wanted, which was a reason to invade Iraq, so it was they who kicked the inspectors out, killed 60-80,000 Iraqi civilians a few days later with ‘Shock & Awe,’ which grew to untold thousands of Iraqi dead in the ensuing eight years, not to mention a trillion American dollars down the drain and our reputation mud around the world. Bush stated exactly the opposite of what actually happened, and you let him get away with it! 
You had a chance, Ms. Maddow, to educate the millions of viewers on Monday night who tuned in to your show, particularly those who lost loved ones in Iraq and continue to delude themselves that they died for this country and not for Iraq’s oil and the lying bastard (make that plural to include Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice and the rest of the gang) who sent them there. You will probably never get the chance again, leaving Bush-lovers to wallow in their selective ignorance of the facts, and for that you should be ashamed. 
R. G. Wheeler

Second: Some notes on the documentary Hubris by Driftglass (he of the acuminous political lens that is his eponymously-titled blog), wittily live-tweeted for our edification (where witty = tear-evoking gallows humor):

  • Republicans watching "Hubris" 2night out of nostalgia 4 watching a dry-drunk war criminal trying to wrestle the word "nuclear" to the ground.
  • Except of course history did not begin until 01/20/09. All "events" before that are rumors created by Evil Liberals
  • Remember David Brooks' column calling people who opposed Wolfowitz antisemitic? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember David Brooks' columns mocking Liberals who opposed Iraq war as deluded Bush-deranged posers? No? That's the fucking problem
  • Remember David Brooks calling people cynical assholes who objected to Dubya's flightsuit tango? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when the collaborators at the NYT gave a fucking weekly column to Bloody Bill Kristol? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when David Brooks leveraged his Liberal bashing tripe into a column-for-life at the NYT? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember [* the late & brilliant blogger] Steve Gilliard? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when the wingnutosphere went nuts trying to discredit every alarming report out of Iraq? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when palette-trucks of shrink-wrapped taxpayer cash just fucking vanished into Iraq? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when everything that is now settled history was America-hating surrender-monkey treason? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when a gay hooker Conservative "reporter" w/ a fake name sat 100 ft away from Dubya for 2 yrs? No? That's the fucking problem
  • Remember when Halliburton made $$ selling American soldiers in Iraq toilet water? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when the GOP make "Fuck Reality" into American national policy? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when Phil Donahue got fired for telling the truth and Conservatives got promoted for lying? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember how the Cheney clans got really, really rich sending kids off to die for their lies? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when 60 million Americans re-elected these deficit-creating war criminals? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember the incompetent children of GOP campaign contributors were put in charge of governing Iraq? No? That's the fucking problem.
  • Remember when Fox News told soldiers rolling into battle to look into the camera and say "Fox Rocks!" No? That's the fucking problem.
Remember writing, thinking, speaking, marching, screaming against the coordinated, deafening roar of the Conservative hate machine and Beltway press?
Well, for what it's worth, Driftglass, I do.

I remember landing and disembarking in Vancouver that winter evening in early 2003, only to see a number of customs personnel thereabouts openly weeping; concerned--horrified, actually--I asked them what was going on, and they replied that that the U.S. had just started bombing Iraq, something they had hoped against hope would not happen. (Oh, those idealistic peace-loving Canadians!) I remember coming home later that week and writing what would be the first of innumerable letters to Florida's representatives in Congress, as well as the White House itself, exhorting them to put a stop to this war built on obvious lies. I remember screaming and crying, too.

I remember aging a lot in the years thereafter. I remember the hiding of flag-draped coffins at Dover; the smearing of bereaved mothers who dared to speak out against Bush and Cheney; the disgusting and widespread incidences of torture that came to light, like Abu Ghraib; and the horror stories about innocent young men of middle-Eastern descent being swept up from the streets and, along with actual terrorism suspects, being shipped to the shameful prison in Guantánamo, Cuba, where they would all languish, uncharged and untried, choking on the putrid fumes of some evil, gray-area incarnation of the law, for years to come (indeed, a great many are still there, as yet uncharged and untried.)

Hubris? More like Malefaction, the magnitude of which, in terms of treasure squandered and American and Iraqi blood spilled, is unprecedented in modern history.

[* Like Driftglass, I highly recommend reading the incredibly prescient writing of the late, great Steve Gilliard; here's an especially good post from August 2003.]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

TSA's non-apology

My colleague at TSA News, Lisa Simeone, reports that the TSA has "apologized" to Lucy Forcke and her parents. Lucy is the little girl in the wheelchair about whom I wrote here.

The TSA screeners on duty admitted they had specifically targeted the little girl in a wheelchair. Yet despite this admission, TSA management not only kept mum for three days, but the statement they have now offered goes like this: 
“TSA regrets inaccurate guidance was provided to this family during screening and offers its apology.” 
I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as pretty thin gruel.

Ah yes, The Book Of TSA Apologies.

Thinner, even, than The Directory of Honest Politicians, Simple Do-It-Yourself Computer Repairs, or Humble Business-School Graduates: A Field Guide.

With contents that are just as risibly disingenuous.

Monday, February 18, 2013

TSA assaults & traumatizes three-year-old girl in wheelchair

I wish I could say that this is a new low for the contemptible thugs in blue for whose equipment and "services" taxpayers pay billions of dollars every year.

Sadly, it isn't. It's just par for the course; another Day in Despotism here in the Land of the Meek, Home of the Afraid.

In case you couldn't bring yourself to watch this indisputable display of abuse -- this disgusting mistreatment of a little girl and her family about which her mother and father comment "look at her all dressing like a potential terrorist/drug trafficker; people who roll in on hot pink wheelchairs, wearing a gingerbread coat and clutching a stuffed baby lamb, are just begging to be harassed" -- let me itemize the violations and absurdities at hand (perhaps you can identify more; as a mother myself, I'm too upset by what I just watched to further research the laws, statutory and logical).

First, there is the obvious Fourth Amendment violation against unwarranted search and seizure. I don't care what kind of pretzel logic the TSA twists itself into parroting in order to justify groping a three-year-old in a wheelchair who's on her way to Disney World: it's a violation of her Constitutional rights. Period. Full stop.

And this should not stand. Not in the country that calls itself the United States of America. Citizens and residents who accept otherwise should not only be ashamed of themselves, but should, in my opinion, be constantly, and in strenuous terms, be made aware that they're engaging in a kind of treason against the very freedoms the nation's founders established (and countless fought for and died to protect), and thus, by extension, debasing the idea of America itself.

Second, travelers are indeed permitted to photograph and/or videotape the so-called "screening procedure" (more accurately, security theatre), including aggressive pat-downs that would be defined as sexual assault in any other context and nude photography of their bodies. The only subject matter exempt from passengers' freedom-to-document are the screening machines themselves. As shown in the above video, these TSA screeners try to claim otherwise and keep harping on their imagined rule that the passengers can't record the incident, even as the parents ask them to cite the actual law pertaining thereto.

Third, the tactics here are insensitive and unkind on their face, as well as pointless. Not only is this little girl so obviously terrified to the point of crying out loud, and desperately upset that her comfort toy -- her stuffed animal -- is being taken away, she is distraught that her parents' attempts to protect her are being summarily ignored. Imagine how frightening that must be. If indeed the child "alarmed," the screeners could have resolved the matter by allowing one of the cleared parents to carry her through the metal detector in their arms while they checked her wheelchair for hidden bombs, machetes, or fusilage-piercing grenade launchers.

What will it take for the American public to recognize how wrong this is, all of it, and demand that our so-called leaders put an end to it? Why are citizens not carrying out a full-on economic boycott of the airlines for all non-essential travel? What will it take, if not the unconstitutional persecution of a little child in a wheelchair?

Also at TSA News.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Christopher Dorner's amazing self-teleporting wallet

We know that both the LAPD and the San Bernardino PD have lied, egregiously, about certain facts pertaining to the manhunt and extrajudicial execution-by-fire of the fugitive ex-cop and murder suspect Christopher Dorner.

We witnessed "law enforcement officers", in this and other press conferences and interviews, flatly denying they started the extravagant, floor-melting fire in the San Bernardino cabin Tuesday night--the fire that either burned Dorner alive or occasioned his suicide by gunshot. 

Yet actual evidence strongly suggests the opposite is true: officers with one or more departments on the scene did indeed deliberately start the fire that completely destroyed the 80-year-old structure and everything inside it. And I can confirm, as journalist Max Blumenthal also confirms, in detail, that the PD scanner conversations were exactly as recorded in this YouTube video compiling them--and as heard in this raw footage shot inside one of the news helicopters hovering above the scene ("Burn that fucking house down" and then, repeatedly, "Burn that motherfucker out, burn that motherfucker out")--because along with numerous other bloggers and independent journalists that night who communicated with one another on Twitter, I was listening to the police/fire scanner feed, live and in real-time.

At least, I was until the feed abruptly stopped--either because the site crashed due to the number of people accessing it, or because everything was simply cut off. Reporters on the scene and in the sky happily allowed themselves to be cut off, too; that is, they meekly complied--without question or pause--when asked to back off with their helicopters and cameras.  To take their scrutiny, such as it was, far from the blazing cabin, and to cease tweeting about the siege, even though authorities already knew Dorner couldn't possibly have been following any media coverage because the cabin was unoccupied and had no cable or Internet services (indeed, it may not even have had its electricity turned on).

Even so, what we had already heard was sufficiently damning. (You can read Max's comprehensive Twitter timeline on Storify.)

And now we have another curious item to ponder: Christopher Dorner's Amazing Self-Teleporting Wallet.

The wallet, containing Dorner's identification, that authorities claimed showed up near the US/Mexican border last Thursday, February 7, as reported on Monday, February 11, in the L.A. Times:

After authorities interviewed the boat captain early Thursday, they found Dorner's wallet and identification cards "at the San Ysidro Point of Entry" near the U.S.-Mexico border. That same day, a guard at the Point Loma Naval Base told authorities he had spotted a man matching Dorner's description trying sneak onto the base, according to the court records.

Which is also the wallet, likewise containing Dorner's identification, that authorities claim was found in the burned-out cabin some five+ days later and 100 miles away, as reported on Wednesday, February 13, in USA Today:

Report: Dorner's wallet found in burned-out cabin

[...] The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office said charred human remains were found in the rubble where Christopher Dorner is said to have been cornered Tuesday. "We have reason to believe that it is him," sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said. 
A wallet with a California driver's license bearing the name Christopher Dorner also was found, the Associated Press reported, citing a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but declined to be named because of the ongoing probe.

Is there a cobwebby ghost of a chance that anyone working within what Charlie Pierce calls The Courtier Press is paying attention and doing his or her job?


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The human face on which they stomped

We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. -- George Orwell

I read Christopher Jordan Dorner's entire, unedited manifesto (as it is called), which to my mind would be more accurately described as a vivid narrative--albeit one that's deterring in its length--or else an ethical and legal brief; an apology; an outreach; and, for the reader who will put the media chatter on pause and think for himself, an invitation to consider (if not completely understand, ever), the impetuses driving a broken man's embrace of violence and anarchy. Viewed thus--as both exposition and treatise, as opposed to mere expression of vengeance--Dorner's writing belies a rage driven by the constant thwarting of the basic human inclination toward equilibrium and logic, toward having the world around us make sense. It is also a rage fueled by the relentless frustration of his desire to see justice served, which desire, after all, might understandably be that much more powerfully felt by someone who served in law enforcement, and, before that, in the defense of his country.

Dorner's writings are therefore not so easily dismissed as the ramblings of a madman. And they paint--in harsh strokes, with raw pigment--a searing picture of the kind of rage that, let's face it, surely lies frighteningly close to the collective surface of an unknown number of aggrieved and oppressed souls among us.  It is even more terrifying to consider that said number surely climbs every year, as dignity, agency, autonomy, and even survival beyond the narrowest definition of the word elude the despondent many; as vaunted notions like freedom, hope, happiness, and political power are increasingly, exclusively, owned and controlled by the unaccountable few.

If I'm honest, I'll admit that Dorner's rage is in many ways understandable, even as the murders it engendered cannot be condoned, and it should go without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I don't condone them, or indeed any violence, in any shape or form.

The treatise is driven by Dorner's apposite disgust with the asymmetry of both the respect conferred and the dignity afforded a black man within the culture of his profession, as opposed to a white one--even today, even as a black man occupies the nation's highest office.  And it is laced throughout with righteous fury and unimaginable torment.

It is, at its core, the plea of a man who wants his identity and dignity back. Who accepts that if this does take place, ever, he won't be around to appreciate it. Who is simultaneously devoted to satisfying the former, and unconcerned with the inevitability of the latter.

Christopher Dorner is a man who, like the rest of us, lives in a world wherein war criminals, along with well-dressed, well-born sociopathic thieves, are held irreproachable and uncensured.  Meanwhile, ordinary human beings--their lives' trajectories generally preordained by culture; their quest for temporary escape more often than not compelled by abject circumstance (specifically, and especially, citizens who, like him, happen to be black or Latino)--languish, incarcerated, for years on end despite the trivial moral weight of their (usually drugs-related) transgressions; the invariably self-abusing and/or internecine nature of their crimes; and the comparatively hair's-breadth scope of the harm done thereby to the world at large.

This, in stark contrast to the far-reaching devastation wrought by the atrocities their powerful and well-placed betters commit, and commit unashamedly, unrelentingly, and without receiving as much as the smallest measure of punishment.  This, what a moral individual can only view as the desecration of justice itself and the incremental extinguishment thereby of the human spirit. This, yet another foul eruption of the gangrenous institutionalized contempt with which impervious authority regards our better angels and our natural hunger for fairness and dignity.

So, his conscience thus tortured, and his attempts to effect justice via officially sanctioned means thus thwarted and retaliated against, Dorner was at last bereft of options and defeated of spirit. That is, he could no longer reconcile the menaces of hypocrisy, noxious racism, and corrosive, unpunished evildoing swirling around him daily with the unblemished and marble-smooth contours of Justice, which paramount ideal he'd sworn to protect and uphold. Christopher Dorner then turned--tragically and to most, I'm sure, incomprehensibly--toward what must have seemed to him the only logical road ahead.  He decided that the cause of protecting and upholding justice--no matter how warped and ruinous others would regard his interpretation thereof--was more deserving of his energies and devotion than the very preservation of his own life.

As I said when I posted the link to his unedited writing on FaceBook, I strenuously disagree with those commenters asserting that Christopher Dorner's writings were edited, were somehow modified or augmented, by an outside party. These individuals apparently don't believe that a man who snaps this way--who kills, who terrorizes, who is mortally wounded and clearly, heartbreakingly mentally ill--can also be intelligent, reflective, erudite, empathetic, or just. I am angered--well, more like profoundly dismayed--by their reflexive avoidance of unsettling truths; their predictable retreat into the false comforts of boilerplate pop-culture narratives; and their apocryphal, self-satisfied pronouncements about mental illness in general, and nihilist desperation in particular, about which I have written before.

I loathe all kinds of violence, and by that I necessarily include the violence Christopher Dorner has unloosed against the community of the L.A.P.D. and, by extension, his city and country (even as those entities all too often visit their own kind of violence, metaphorical and real, on noble but moribund ideals, and on innocent lives).  I am shocked, but not surprised, at the staggering, ongoing malfeasance of a police force who, like far too many of their counterparts around the nation, oppress and abuse the members of the communities they are supposed to serve, violating their civil liberties and making a mockery of the jurisprudence underpinning the very idea of America.  Who pervert the most basic of moral ideas enshrined in the Constitution--who viciously, and without remorse, tear its blueprints for a just and civilized society into limp ribbons--when they take it upon themselves to shoot first, identify the target later.

I mourn all this loss of life. I also mourn the now-permanent annihilation of the dignity and name of this man, Christopher Dorner, who says quite plainly that it came down to that: to witnessing the destruction of his name, his identity. For this is a man who might well be any of us, were our own identities so forcefully, gleefully shaped--so glossily and appealingly built out--by the brute hands of corporatism, gender expectations, ever-fewer career options, and ever more plentiful and nefarious government needs--only to be dispassionately ablated (and sometimes demolished completely) by those same contemptible architects whenever morality raised its inconvenient head.

I'm able to do that--to hold those two ideas in tension. I ask of others: are you?