Monday, April 29, 2013

My City Was Gone

Small-town living has its benefits.

The so-called "traffic" is manageable. It's easier to "get away from it all." The cost of living is generally better. Those are just a few advantages.

But living in a large city offers tremendous opportunities, especially culturally. Boston has a number of great historic attractions, museums, artistic performances. The list is lengthy.

Saturday provided one of these opportunities when journalist Amy Goodman moderated a discussion including journalist Jeremy Scahill and free-think icon Noam Chomsky. Scahill, author of the best-selling expose of the evil mercenaries once known as Blackwater, has a new book out called Dirty Wars. It delves into the disgusting, ongoing secret warfare being conducted by the United States.

Chomsky, 84 and still going strong, is a legendary questioner of the so-called American Way. Amusingly, at one point Saturday he was asked about the assemblage of the standing and former presidents at W's library opening Thursday. Chomsky said the quintet "were all criminals."

Harvard to some extent, and Massachusetts in particular, are considered centers of liberal thought. I walked through the campus to get to the auditorium packed beyond its capacity of 500 people (many of whom sat in the aisles). An arts festival at the university featured live ethnic music. People lounged on the greenspaces. Cyclists took advantage of the gloriously sunny day. Bostonians and visitors alike thronged Harvard Square. Outside Hall B at Harvard's Science Center, a band of singers could at times be heard over Scahill's speech. Not heard but no less indicative of the inclusiveness of the space was a group of half a dozen dancers just outside the hall, working on a routine.

It's a beautiful thing to see this much diversity of human existence on display simultaneously.

But this beauty was darkened by the revelations from Scahill and the thoughts of Chomsky.


Scripture first mentions the concept of the "city on a hill"-- Matthew cites the phrase as a component of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The idea is a foundation point of the concept of American exceptionalism, and linked to Boston itself; John Winthrop spoke of setting an example of the city on a hill on the ship bound for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Winthrop's former home overlooks Harvard Square, in fact. Confluence!)

U.S. politicians of all stripes (most notably Ronald Reagan) have since attached themselves to the concept of the shining city, promoting the idea that America was, is and shall forever be the example of freedom, integrity and fair play that the world's lesser lights would aspire to. The United States would perfect democracy, provide opportunity and equality to all, and demonstrate through its actions that the pinnacle of human thought and decency would be found here.

Like many if not most Americans, I've wanted this to be true. Sometimes I've even thought it was true.

It's not.

Scahill spoke of the horrors American forces are inflicting in wars that our so-called "liberal media" don't tell us about.

(ASIDE: If you really think that the "media" is liberal and in the pocket of the left or progressives, then you do not know much. You're parroting something someone else told you, or you're so far to the right that anything representing the ugly truths of our existence you consider "liberal." The vast majority of the "media" has done a huge disservice to me and you, and has made me ashamed to have ever been a part of it. If you say "liberal media" I hear you say "I'm stupid.")

I can't wait to read his book and see the documentary based on it, which is due to hit theaters in June. But probably only theaters in big cities.

Dirty Wars talks about the covert murder and mayhem our cabal of armed forces, spooks and allies around the world are currently engaged in. Concentrated in Middle East hot zones, the nasty business of rendition, secret prisons and torture is being conducted in the name of American "national security" in the "War on Terror." (How spot-on was Borat in calling this a war OF terror?)

These criminal endeavors are being perpetrated on behalf of the American people, yet since they're being done in the shadows, only a muckraking few (like Scahill) are able to air out their stench. The government is doing its best to silence information and dissent. These inhuman practices don't fit very well with the "city on a hill" narrative. They're more like "slum near a sewer."

As I listened to Scahill, Goodman and Chomsky tell me these horrible truths, I thought about so many shameful things. Some I already knew about -- the American-led efforts to squash truth evidenced in the persecution and in some cases prosecution of whistleblowers like WikiLeaks' Julian Assange or Bradley Manning; the conspiracy of cooperation from corporate media (even once-reliable giants like the New York Times and CNN have been complicit); the "rah-rah" boosterism of flag-waving fascists like Fox and propagandists like Drudge and Rush; the list is embarrassingly long.

What makes things worse is the consumer-culture endorsements from corporations who represent themselves as dyed-in-the-wool examples of the value of American enterprise, but in fact are shills for the same 'ol same 'ol. Maintaining the illusion of "us or them" is good for business. So Walmart, Coca-Cola, the networks, McDonalds... all these products are fired at us repeatedly, encouraging us to swallow the myth, fly your colors, stand your ground, be Boston Strong... it's all just a huge pile of manure, served with fries and a 44-ounce soft drink. Have a nice day.

All these things are supposed to console us while we wage a war of terror that includes drone strikes that often kill innocent civilians -- dehumanizing them with the label "collateral damage." Or some drone strikes have killed American citizens. Scahill mentioned White House meetings dubbed "Terror Tuesdays" that involve "national security" representatives who create, maintain and expand kill lists, at least three of which Scahill cites evidence of.

The Joint Special Operations Command, or JSoc, is the tip of the spear implementing whatever dark objectives the government is keeping quiet about. These are the guys who got Osama Bin Laden. And when that happened, it was easy to slip into the nationalism and base sense of payback that comes from the shared painful memory of 9/11.

And that's how the terrorists win.

Remember on 9/11 when networks aired some footage that appeared to show Middle Eastern people (read: Arabs read: Muslims read: terrorists read: you don't read) dancing in the streets, celebrating the agony of nearly 3,000 (mostly) Americans murdered in horrible fashion in broad daylight live on global television?

In pain, we collectively hated "them" that day. We wanted revenge. We wanted to shed their blood.

And we have. In spades. And we still do.

So they won. When our networks banded together to demonize a few people at the margin of the Muslim world celebrating 9/11, the terrorists won. Why didn't they show the millions of Muslims who were sad over the attacks, praying for peace and solace?

Think about a role reversal. Let's say 19 members of the Westboro Baptist Church, feeling that the 9/11 attacks created an atmosphere of prejudice against Christianity, hijacked planes bound from Jiddah to Tehran, and crashed them into Mecca during Hajj. As the Muslims sort through the wreckage and carnage still smoldering, Al-Jazeera shows footage of crowds at a NASCAR race chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Think they'd be pissed off?


This is happening on a smaller yet no-less destructive scale throughout the Middle East. People are being disappeared, sometimes forever, and interrogated or killed or who knows what. Drone strikes are wiping out people on the basis of dubious intelligence reports. Shoot first, ask questions later. Scahill spoke of one incident where an errant attack in a remote village resulted in the deaths of two pregnant women. Insulting attempts at appeasement from Western forces were unsuccessful. In the aftermath, Scahill reports, the people of the village who had always rejected Taliban recruitment efforts were finally won over not by the actions of the Taliban, but by the actions of the west.

In other words, potential terrorists, and now-confirmed haters of the U.S., were ultimately swayed by our own hands.

We created them.


Eisenhower famously warned of the growing strength of the "military industrial complex." More than half a century later, sowing resentment of America around the globe is excellent for business, if your business is war and weaponry. It's an NRA wet dream wrought on a planetary scale: create fear, create enemies, and there will be a lot of money to be made. One-fifth of the U.S. budget is spent on defense. In 2011, the amount was $711 BILLION... more than the combined defense budgets of the next 13 nations on the list, which include our old friends Russia and China.

Of course, JSoc's budget is secret, so we have no idea what those numbers are.

This is the city on a hill?

What could we accomplish with that wealth were it spent on something other than death?


Perhaps the most disillusioning thing about the Scahill talk was the realization that the terrible things being done by this War of Terror to inspire hatred of our country were being perpetrated as we speak.

When Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were using the freedom-depriving tools granted them by the Patriot Act, I railed, and so did millions of other concerned people. Calling them war criminals is merited.

But Bush and Cheney have been gone more than four years, and Cheney even longer. Now, as Scahill pointed out, we have a popular Democratic president who has won two terms and was a Constitutional scholar.

And the same things that made us loathe Bush and Cheney are being implemented, condoned and strengthened by Obama.

Which would make him... a war criminal.

This realization deflates and depresses me. I believed in him. I've tolerated his numerous cave-ins and concessions to the right, imploring him to strap on the pair of balls needed to defeat the domestic terrorists of the Republican Party, who place ideological loyalty above the needs of the nation.

And my reward for this belief is a president and an administration which carries on the reviled policies of BushCo, only this time with more Drone Strikes!

I should have voted for Jill Stein.


We've done some amazing things in the United States, and continue to do so. Despite Obama's deceptions, he has proven that the electorate is willing to consider a leader of color. Obama has created jobs, controlled spending, gotten a weak but needed first-step health program passed, taken on the gun lobby... he's done many remarkable things, despite the lies and obstruction from the right. Under his watch, we've seen important social issues grow stronger and many domestic policy issues take root.

But his embrace of the more brutish and fascist components of our foreign policy are a disgrace. And in fact, his ongoing approval of these hateful, hurtful paramilitary operations has the net effect of making our country less safe.

My opinion of you, Mr. President, is substantially less than it was a few days ago. You have blood on your hands.

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