In 2011, when Occupy encampments exploded across the United States putting the issue of the unfair economy and corruption of Wall Street on the political agenda, there was also an explosion of activist art. Beginning with the iconic image of the ballerina on top of the Wall Street bull, art has been central to Occupy and was an important reason for its powerful impact.
The explosion of arts activism involves a wide variety of artistic forms: puppets, balloons, music, memes, posters, banners, plays, street theater, poetry, animation and light displays among others. Art has added vitality and energy to advocacy, and it reaches people at deeper emotional levels, conveying what cannot be said with mere facts.
We had been covering art as part of our reporting on the movement at Popular Resistance, but it wasn’t enough. There has been so much artistic activism we decided it needed to be highlighted with its own website, Creative Resistance.org. It is a place where community members, activists and activist artists can connect and inspire each other. We encourage everyone to find ways to incorporate art into your actions and the work in your community.
Art Builds Commitment, Community and Movement
Charles Tilly, who some describe as the founding father of 21st-century sociology, wrote that social movements are driven by "contentious politics," ideological conflicts that result in social change. He described social movements as a series of “repeated public displays” that bring greater visibility to the issue in contention.
We have written in other articles that the goal of public protest is to pull people to the movement in order to grow into a mass movement that cannot be ignored. Activist art turns a protest into a spectacle, from a turn-off to a turn-on, from an event ignored to one that is widely reported. The protest itself becomes art. If done well and with intention, it will draw people to the movement.
For example, before a protest or other event, a community art build can be organized where people involved in advocacy create art together, and where families, community members, professional colleagues and others are invited to co-create. This process builds stronger connections within the community, deepens the understanding of the issue and provides a way for individuals to express their personal relationship to the issue.
One of the goals of building a mass movement is to pull people from the pillars that maintain the power structure such as workers, students, business owners and the media to the movement. Art is a tool for outreach. Inviting people from these pillars to participate in art builds on issues that they care about provides an opportunity to build relationships. Inviting the local media to cover the art build is a great good-will story about the community coming together.
In the process of creating art there is a tremendous opportunity to build deep support for the issues the movement is working on. During the occupation of Washington DC on Human Rights Day we had a banner creating event organized by Baltimore artist, Diane Wittner. It was a tremendous opportunity to get people thinking about what human rights they had and what human rights were being denied them. It was powerful to look at all of the images that were created together in one place.
As Tatiana Makovkin, an organizer with Creative Resistance, wrote recently: “Art is good for our communities, and artistic collaboration is a bonding experience. We make art together, not just because of the changes it can bring to the world around us, but because of the way it changes us internally.”
Another group that uses the creation of art as a catalyst for change is the Beehive Collective. This Maine-based group does incredible graphics that tell a story in a sophisticated cartoon-like style, making them accessible and engaging. The stories are based on concerns communities have about their lives and the environment. They have gone to the coal fields of Appalachia, refugee camps in Latin America and partnered with other communities whose voices need to be amplified, whose stories need to be heard and whose struggle for social and environmental justice needs to be told. The graphics are made collaboratively—the mastermind is not one person but the group: the Collective and community. The result is an in-depth narrative that pulls many stories of the community together. The Collective then tours with the artwork and makes prints to be shared so that the narrative can be heard more widely.
In this respect, art becomes a catalyst on multiple levels for change. The individuals involved deepen their commitment and understanding. They discover how an issue affects their friends and neighbors to develop mutual understanding. The relationships they build create community and solidarity that is essential in a successful social movement. The art that is created reaches out to people who see the protest, installation or other event. All of this adds up to empowerment of the individual, community and movement.
Sometimes art lifts a protest to what Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign calls a “spectacle action.” We’ve been involved in protests against the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Moyer and each was a spectacle action. In a recent TPP protest we draped four massive banners on the building of the US Trade Representative, across from the White House complex. The activists became actors, wearing construction uniforms, climbing scaffolding and attaching massive banners to the building in the middle of the day when people were out of their offices for lunch. The action, which the Washington Post called the greatest guerrilla theater in DC history, created images used by media all over the world and showed people who are opposed to the TPP in other countries that there is opposition in the US too.
In a protest in Salt Lake City as TPP negotiators were inside a hotel conducting secret negotiations that affect our futures, the Backbone Campaign and other groups flew massive weather balloons holding a banner outside their conference window saying “Psst TPP. What are you hiding?” The banner used humor to mock their secret negotiations and raise the issue of why they were hiding from all of us who will be impacted by the deals they make behind closed doors. The image created was a great one for all types of media from the people’s social media to television news.
These spectacle protests at the secret meetings of trade negotiators and at the national headquarters of the US Trade Representative also sent a message to our adversaries. It showed that we are a force to be reckoned with because we were unpredictable, willing to take risks and clear in our denunciation of their unpopular, anti-democratic actions. They were put on notice—proceed and you should expect resistance.
That same type of message has been sent all up and down the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring toxic tar sands sludge from Canada through the farm belt of America, over our precious freshwater sources and to the Gulf of Mexico to be processed for transport overseas. Tar Sands Blockaders began in the southern portion of the pipeline where President Obama had approved construction. They put up massive banners in the trees where activists would do treesits. The message on the banner, You Shall Not Pass, was a clear threat of resistance.
Now in the northern part of the pipeline where Obama has not yet approved construction, indigenous peoples, landowners, ranchers and farmers have joined people concerned about climate change and ecological destruction to protest in creative ways like putting up a solar energy producing barn where the pipeline is scheduled to go. TransCanada is so afraid of this resistance they are urging police to treat protesters as terrorists, including an absurd glitter terror case in Oklahoma. The message—expect resistance and resistance is growing.
The use of art in resistance can make protests less frightening and something people want to attend and join. Protest signs used to advertise an event or at the event draw attention and get out our message, as do the massive puppets seen at many protests produced by groups like People’s Puppets, Bread and Puppet Theater, the Backbone Campaign and others. As these puppets march through neighborhoods accompanied by singing and chanting, people are drawn to them with some ending up participating.
Street theater is another way to attract people. Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is one example of many. Rev. Billy is an evangelical character who uses evangelical imaging, language and garb to advocate for climate justice, an end to consumerism, stopping the abuses of big banks and other issues. The humor and theatrics of Rev. Billy and his team of singers and performers allow artistic advocacy to make points that might not otherwise be heard.
A book which shows the breadth of creativity in activism is Beautiful Trouble. It compiles hundreds of examples of creative resistance. As the Arab Spring, Indignado Movement and Occupy Movement developed the authors saw the increasing power of art: “The realization is rippling through the ranks that, if deployed thoughtfully, our pranks, stunts, flash mobs and encampments can bring about real shifts in the balance of power. In short, large numbers of people have seen that creative action gets the goods — and have begun to act accordingly. Art, it turns out, really does enrich activism, making it more compelling and sustainable.”
Reaching People Beyond Their Heads
To be effective in our advocacy it is not enough to provide facts, figures and graphs and reach people in their heads. Studies have shown that facts that disagree with someone’s belief are often ignored and even have the opposite effect of strengthening people’s preconceived notions. In order to change people, we have to reach them at a deeper, more emotional level.
The Center for Artistic Activism describes their rationale for the use of creative resistance:
Throughout history, the most effective political actors have married the arts with campaigns for social change. While Martin Luther King Jr is now largely remembered for his example of moral courage, social movement historian Doug McAdam’s estimation of King’s “genius for strategic dramaturgy,” likely better explains the success of his campaigns.
Dramaturgy means the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation. One of the co-founders of the Center for Artistic Activism, Stephen Duncombe, describes the story of how King used drama when the civil rights movement selected Birmingham, AL as the place for protest by creating a confrontation with Police Chief Bull Connor. Connor had been an abusive police chief in Birmingham for 23 years and in 1961 had abused the Freedom Riders. Connor tried running for mayor, but lost the election. The day Connor lost the election, King’s group announced Project C (for confrontation) challenging the abusive and racist police practices of Connor. The goal was mass arrests and confrontation that would overwhelm the police and penal system. King’s arrest led to his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
On May 2, 1963, King’s group used a new tactic in Birmingham by having children march through the streets, resulting in 959 children aged 6 to 18 being arrested. The next day large numbers of protesters came out and Connor turned the dogs and fire hoses on them. This went on for several days and produced images that created anger at Connor and support for the civil rights activists. Three thousand protesters were arrested over a five-day period. The impact on the reputation and economy was extremely negative causing a majority of businesses to reach agreement with King to desegregate lunch counters, rest rooms and drinking fountains on May 10. The businesses also helped to get the protesters released and created systems for black-white communication. On May 11, Connor was ordered to leave his office.
King had picked the stage, the antagonist and protagonists. The narrative was predictable because they knew how Connor would react and the civil rights activists had been trained to respond appropriately. Through dramaturgy, King had created a dramatic composition that was vivid, emotional and engaged the American people—based on the truth—to tell the story of racism in Birmingham and advance the cause of civil rights by reaching people beyond their minds, deep into their emotions.
Think of the iconic photos of African Americans being attacked by dogs and having the fire hoses turned on them; and of children being arrested. These iconic images are still carried with many Americans because they reached deep down into people. Sometimes when the stage is set and the narrative is being told, the iconic image, unimagined before it happens is created and advances a movement.
Humor is another path into the emotions. The Yes Men have used humor to make their point. The Yes Men describe their work as “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them, and otherwise giving journalists excuses to cover important issues.” They have mocked some of the biggest corporate criminals on the planet: Dow Chemical, Peabody Coal, TPP negotiators, General Electric, Enbridge Energy, Apple, and Chevron. Their method is to put these corporations in an uncomfortable position, forcing them to respond to hoax news that "reports" the corporation is going to do something good. The corporation then responds, "No, we’re not going to do something good."
The Yes Men are now working to share their experience and broaden the talent of hoax humor activism with the Yes Lab. Their goal is to help activists carry out media-getting creative actions through a series of brainstorms and trainings. They call their tactic that creates a public spectacle to spark public debate "laughtivism" as they recognize that humor opens people’s minds.
Another powerful artistic tool is music. It draws people in and can open the door to a movement message. From hip-hop to folk music to rock and roll, there is musical activism. It is also a tool for creating solidarity and confidence as activists face difficult situations. When climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher was found guilty of fraudulently bidding on leasing gas lands, his supporters filed out of the courthouse singing “We will stand with you, will you stand with me, we will be the change that we want to see” and when DeChristopher came out, then facing up to 10 years in prison, he was hugged while his supporters continued to sing.
DeChristopher than gave an inspiring speech about the power of the joy and resolve of their solidarity. They all went on to sing “We Shall Overcome,” a song which has given activists the strength to continue on in movement after movement all over the world.
Creativity Sustains Movements
The struggle for social justice is a long-term endeavor that goes through periods of ups and downs. Artful activism in resistance movements can provide new energy and make the goals feel more tangible. Art allows us to imagine the future and sense the world differently.
Art does not have to be expensive. It can be as simple as a can of spray paint for graffiti. The artist Bansky has brought street art to a new level, but at its root it is simple and accessible. Another group that takes graffiti to a new direction is the California Department of Corrections, which "corrects" billboards to put forward a social and economic justice message by adding their comments or changing a few words on the billboard.
Bread and Puppet Theater describes the birth of the “Cheap Art Philosophy … born in 1979 when [they] filled their old school bus with hundreds of small pictures painted on scraps of masonite, cardboard and newspaper, painted slogans and statements about art and Cheap Art, and hung them on the outside of the bus. Then they drove it to neighboring towns and sold the stuff for 10 cents to 10 dollars.” They report the idea has spread:
“Today Cheap Art is practiced by all kinds of artists and puppeteers all over, and continues to cry out: Art is Not Business! Art Is Food! Art Soothes Pain! Art Wakes Up Sleepers! Art Is Cheap! Hurrah!”
Isn’t this the sharing world want we need to see? Imagine art builds in every town bringing communities together and deepening commitment, massive puppets and balloons carrying the message of justice in parades and protests across the country, entertaining and educating theatrics in the streets, music reaching the uninvolved and strengthening the resolve of the already active. People sharing and participating together in building a movement of creative resistance whose foundations are joy and resolve spurs us to re-imagine and create the world we want to see.
Sign up for the daily news digest of Creative Resistance.This article is produced by PopularResistance.org in conjunction with AlterNet. It is based on PopularResistance.org’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.Related Stories
I remember the day I heard about Ashley Alexandra Dupré—the mysterious woman in sunglasses standing at the epicenter of the storm surrounding Eliot Spitzer. I remember hoping, so thoroughly and however unjustly, that she would turn out to be brilliant in a way that no one could deny: a Harvard coed, a virtuoso pianist, the next Joan Baez or Maya Angelou…anything at all that might make her the kind of hero who would be able to force America to take a good look in the mirror and understand the hard choices it puts before its greatest minds and sharpest talents when they lack financial means.
Ashley wasn’t that sort of hero. Nor should she have been: she was her own self, living her life as she saw fit. But surely there was some young woman—or man—up to the challenge of taking this rather prevalent archetype—the exceptionally talented youth with no money and plenty of hard choices—into the public eye.
As it turns out, the hero I was waiting for was Belle Knox, the Duke University pornstar, who has arrived on the scene in the past few weeks like Veronica Franco in the midst of the Counter Reformation, blade in hand and ready for a duel of ideas.
Why Veronica Franco, you might ask? Because in 16th century Venice, education was afforded to women of upper class nobility, and rarely to female citizens. Courtesans were the exception to the rule, and were paid to be equally sharp in jousts of the intellect and jousts of bedroom swordplay, giving them the rather exclusive opportunity to be educated well beyond the class they were born into. Veronica Franco was one such courtesan: a sex worker and an esteemed published poet. The two occupations were not mutually exclusive, and it is the former that afforded the education and social opportunities required for the latter.
When we think that sex workers of Veronica Franco’s day were among the very few women of modest beginnings who could acquire an education to rival that of the male and female nobility with which they mingled, it seems that we’ve come full-circle in seeing Belle Knox rise as a shining modern example of the scholarly sex-worker. Perhaps the cost of an education hasn’t changed at all.
Considering that annual tuition is around $60,000 a year, and that the median household income in the United States is only about $51,000, Duke is a high-quality school — often referred to as the Princeton of the South — and is out of reach for most Americans. According to an interview clip of Belle on the Duke Chronicle Soundcloud page, even Knox’s father is still paying for his own medical school education over twenty years after the fact, which really says it all: that we’ve entered an era of multi-generational student debt, an era in which parents and children are both simultaneously paying for the education that their keen minds entitled them to, but that their empty wallets knew was out of the question. This is what we do to our best and brightest, who make the cut at top universities by virtue of their merits (and not by their wealth): we saddle them with the burden of overwhelming debt. Even with the help of financial aid packages that include both government aid and aid from the university itself, middle class students still need to cover tens of thousands of dollars in tuition costs on their own.
So what to do about it? Belle Knox, being a sex enthusiast, intellectual and…wait for it…libertarian! (talk about sticking it where it hurts), took personal responsibility for her educational future, and rather than make appeals for charity, came up with a rather pragmatic solution: become a porn star. She sums up the situation in her recent interview with Playboy SFW saying this:
“My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is. The fact that the only viable options to pay for college are to take out gigantic student loans, to not go to college at all or to join the sex industry really says something. We need to recognize that there's a gap between what middle-class and upper-middle-class families can pay and what they're asked to pay. We also need to stop looking at loans as a solution to fix our education system, because they're crippling our economy.”
Moreover, Knox asserts that, “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn't have done porn.” Naturally, a statement like this has everybody who isn’t Belle claiming that surely she could have done something else, found some more “respectable” job if she’d wanted to. And sure enough, during high school, Knox had a “real job” in which she attempted the delicate balance of waiting tables while completing her schoolwork. She recounts the experience to the Duke Chronicle saying this:
“I worked as a waitress as a job for a year in high school and not only did it interfere with my school, where I was barely sleeping and wasn’t doing my work, but also I was making $400 a month after taxes. I felt like I was being degraded and treated like shit. My boss was horrible to me…For people to tell me that doing porn and having sex, which I love, is more degrading than being a waitress and being somebody’s servant and picking up after somebody and being treated like a lesser, second-class citizen, that literally makes no sense. To be perfectly honest, I felt more degraded in a minimum wage, blue-collar, low paying, service job than I do doing porn.”
Degradation is in the eye of the beholder, and if you think that Belle’s accounts of being treated like a second-class servant are an exaggeration, then you probably don’t know many waitresses, nannies, maids, or personal assistants. Regardless, the waitress scenario recounted above clearly provides neither the free time nor the funds necessary to get this woman successfully through school at Duke.
Still, many condemn Belle Knox for choosing to “sell her body” to pay her tuition costs. But let’s get clear about this term “sell your body” because in the act of having sex for money in a fully legal porn film, a woman leaves with pretty much the same body she had before. The product isn’t the body. The product is the movie. And in the case of other forms of sex work, the product is generally a service or experience. Better examples of selling one’s body might be paying for college through the black market sale of a kidney. You go in with two kidneys, and ten grand or so later, you leave with one kidney.
I can’t deny that ideas like these have been thrown around during student loan conversations I’ve been privy to, and I can promise that any ideas that were entertained in jest were also entertained in austere seriousness. A kidney that was posted for auction on eBay in 1999 reached $5.75 million before the website stepped in and took down the listing. And while the Silk Road didn’t exist when I was in school, I have a feeling that somewhere in cyberspace at this very moment, there’s an auction going on that no one’s trying to take down. So maybe you don’t have a student job that makes it rain Benjamins. If the eBay kidney listing is any indication, there may still be an opportunity to make it rain Bitcoins.
But to get back to selling the body, when I think of my own college days at Barnard, I recall bulletin boards covered in offers of eight and ten thousand dollars for egg donation—after all, Barnard is a prestigious and expensive women’s college with a predominantly Jewish student body (it’s important to some that the mother, or…umm…egg, be Jewish). You can understand the thinking in targeting the campus crowd: what a place to find elite women with tremendous financial burdens! Who more likely to agree to a process that provides immediate money at the sort-of-unknown-but-possible risk of future infertility and cancer? Personally, I have always thought that in return for such badass genetic material—and in return for the possibility of rendering me infertile or victim of a terminal illness—the least these people could offer for my eggs is to pay all four years of college tuition in full. That wouldn’t even be enough, but at least it’s not cheap to the point of being embarrassingly exploitative and downright gauche.
And dare we discuss the clinical trials of pharmaceuticals that university students also participate in for money? At least when you put a cock inside you, you know what it is and what it does. In the case of porn, you’re putting something inside you that’s already been tested many times…unlike these drugs.
Nobody knows the long-term effects, and yet top students at our best universities are putting themselves at risk in phase 1 drug trials just to pay for an education that we’re all hoping will raise them to be America’s future leaders and innovators. Did I mention that doing clinical trials on prisoners was banned in the United States in 1980? Luckily for pharmaceutical companies, financially needy volunteers are eager to respond to flyers posted around college campuses. Like sex work, drug trials are also the subject of the financial coercion verses “consenting adult” debate—i.e. are we taking advantage of financially needy people who would never do these clinical trials if it weren’t for the pay, or can we all just shrug it off as the act of consenting adults who agreed to the gig in the first place and thankfully aren’t us? Hopefully nobody dies, but it happens sometimes.
As for Belle Knox, she won’t need to sacrifice some part of her physical body that she can’t get back…or like all of it, in terms of…umm…death, as mentioned above. And as Knox points out in the first article she wrote for xoJane, sex—like love or hugs, wit or advice—is not something that a woman gives and then has less of. (And hell, no one seems to think that men run out of sex when they give it).
It’s not like squeezing the last bits of natural gas out of a hunk of shale: we’d heat our homes with sex if we could because it’s renewable. Sure, we all have an amount of physical energy that we can expend before needing to refuel with food or sleep. Certainly, all activities affect the psyche and the emotions in some fashion that the mind needs to find a way to categorize and understand. But in an age of constantly Instagramed selfies, nobody believes that the camera steals the soul, or at least we all think we have enough soul to go around. Belle Knox is acting from a place of abundance, not scarcity, and very clearly doesn’t feel that the substance of her has been in any way dissipated by having plenty of sex or by sharing her more graphic images of it publicly. After a shoot in LA, Belle walks onto a plane with two arms, two legs, a face, a brain, a heart and a vag, and goes back to class in North Carolina, probably less at risk of contracting an STD in an industry that tests for them so frequently than she would be at a frat party. She’s entered into her on-camera sex in sober clarity, which is more than can be said for most revelers at college parties. When she gets on the plane home, she’s still her, minus nothing. Harassers, stalkers, death threats, invitations to be silent, and slut-shaming from police—all of these wear down the spirit, but none of these acts are a deserved or understandable result of pursuing opportunities in the porn industry. These acts have very little to do with porn and a whole lot to do with how our society views women and their sexuality.
Up here in the northeast, I can’t say that I know any Ivy porn stars, but I certainly know Ivy gals—and guys, both hetero and gay—who have paid tuition bills by participating in sex work that was more private and sometimes less legal than porn. It’s a trend that I believe we can only expect to increase as the cost of tuition spirals further and further out of the realm of possibility for the middle and upper-middle class. Many who criticize Belle’s college job for not being enough of a “real job” seem to want to hold her to what they deem to be a gold standard of low-wage, “character-building” part time jobs that worked for them when they were in school. But the cost of college tuition has increased dramatically in just the past ten years, making such comparisons completely irrelevant (not that holding other people to one’s own standards has any sort of relevance to begin with). What many of Belle’s critics want to overlook is that lubing-up the old college fund is not new and is increasingly considered a viable option by students swimming in the panic of scholarly debt. Even websites like SeekingArrangement.com have been known to offer free premium profiles to “Sugar Babies” (male or female) who sign up for the site using a dot-edu email address. While such websites are fully legal and aren’t exactly what you can call sex work, they do deal in the exchange of sex and…sugar.
We should be concerned as a society at how common it is for college students to entertain increasingly inventive choices as a means to pay for school. And whether or not such paths are chosen, I guarantee that on campuses all over the country they are being considered. In my eyes, Belle Knox is already a hero simply for fearlessly bringing these types of issues into the spotlight for public discussion. Here she stands, with great strength and intelligence, owning her life and her story, saying all the things that no one wants to talk about in the face of such threatening adversity. Through all that she will undoubtedly learn as she triumphs over these epically character-building challenges on the public stage, who knows what sort of hero she may yet become? For now, I expect that she will continue to do as Veronica Franco did, and “bring with daring hand a piercing blade.” If the blade is keen and polished, it will reflect us as we truly are. But whether she wields a sword or a pen, there is no doubt in my mind that Belle Knox knows how to stick it all the way in, and sometimes, that’s exactly what we all need.Related Stories
If you have a youth in your family who love to be centre stage and are looking for something to do over March Break, Kaha:wi Dance Theatre is holding two March Break Performance Camps in Toronto. The best news is, it’s only $10 to register!
The post Kaha:wi Dance holding two March Break dance camps next week. appeared first on Two Row Times.
You do not mess with blind faith.
Just a humble reminder. You do not question the dully codified stories of Christianity, or challenge them, or offer even remotely refreshing, alternative storylines with anything resembling intelligence, or humor, or deep intellectual curiosity.
What are you, a masochist? To do so would imply there is something to be gained, some sort of cultural progress to be made in the realms of the exhausted – but still deeply paranoid and very simpleminded – Christian faith, when there most certainly is not. Besides, you want to make lots of money, right? Of course you do.
Do you know who understands this overarching rule perfectly? Mark Burnett, the goliath TV producer who single-handedly destroyed the modern world by popularizing reality TV. Burnett and his wife, “Touched by an Angel” actress Roma Downey, know exactly how sucker-able are the vast majority of the world’s Christians. Because they’re evil that way. Smart. I mean smart.
So smart are the Burnetts that they recently hacked together a terrifically lousy movie about the life and times of Jesus, called Son of God. They made it by cobbling new footage with bits of last year’s 10-hour History Channel miniseries on the Bible that was already quite perfectly lousy but still really popular because, you know, Jesus.
But of course, they didn’t stop there. The Burnetts recently travelled the country, shilling this new hunk of spiritual Valium to pastors, churches and shopping malls in hopes of pre-selling millions of tickets, safe in the the knowledge that devout Christians will see just about anything that reassures (but never, ever challenges or advances) their faith, no matter how poorly made, intellectually insulting or terminally boring it might be.
Sexy. Hunky. European. Heavily sedated. Nice hair. Bland as dishwater. Praise!
Are they right? Of course they’re right. There is tremendous money to be made endlessly reinforcing what the masses have already been told to believe, in keeping millions addicted to the very same drug they’ve been taking for millennia (hi, Fox News). Conversely, there is less money to be made – though much more fun to be had – sparking religious controversy, or at least trying to create something, you know, incisive, spiritually messy, or artistically interesting.
Here’s a fun factoid: Back in 1988, I worked as a lowly intern for a small record label that had its offices in the Universal Pictures building in Burbank, the very same year the “The Last Temptation of Christ” came out. Oh, what a time it was.
Controversy! Melodrama! I remember looking out the smoked-glass windows of the label’s office one fine morning and seeing a very long, poorly dressed line of angry-looking Christians marching uniformly toward the building, holding signs and yelling slogans, protesting the film’s “radical,” “blasphemous” portrayal of Jesus. It was all sort of adorable.
Do you remember what Jesus’ “last temptation” actually was? To be a normal guy. Wife, kids, a glass of wine before bed, mortality. This was the great, “sacrilegious” controversy: that Jesus might have been a little bit troubled, a little bit scared, a little bit human about accepting his divine fate. Being the messiah, after all, is a bitch.
But here’s the best part: The movie hadn’t even been released yet. Not a single protester had actually seen the film (much less read the original Nikos Kazantzakis novel). None of them had any real idea what the film actually depicted, or that it ended on a perhaps even more genuinely spiritual note than the same childish, Sunday school narrative they already knew.
Did it matter? Of course not. They’d been told – by a callow priest, an angry radio host, a terrified grandma – that the movie was heresy, that a tiny aspect of their faith was being lightly prodded by a popular entertainment. They were told to be outraged. Because if there’s one thing that threatens God’s all-encompassing love, compassion and eternal omnipotence, it’s an ’80s Scorsese flick.
The church, of course, has been doing this same dance for millennia – rallying their sheep to protect their own version of religious history, the very history they themselves made up/swiped from pagan sources, rewrote, rewrote again (and again and again) and then forced down the world’s throat for 2,000 years. Great scam.
Fast forward to 2004. It was exactly 10 years ago that the nation endured “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s sadomasochistic splatter-fest, a film so grotesque, so ultra-violent and cruel, it was like a master class in how to shred human flesh with a whip.
But oh, how the believers flocked! By the millions, over and over again, all at the behest/command of their pastors, fundamentalist radio hosts and their Rick Warrens. Entire Christian families packed the country’s theaters for weeks and even months, stone-faced and miserable – many bringing along their young children – as Romans beat poor James Caviezel’s Jesus into bloody veal for two hours straight. The more devout believed they were seeing actual history, when all they were seeing was one man’s violently distorted horror fantasia. It was ugly.
The good news is, Son of God offers no such melodrama, on either end of the spectrum. It takes the exact opposite tack, going straight for saccharine blandness, depicted Jesus as a hunky, cream-filled, Euro-looking white boy completely lacking in mystical intrigue, Hallmark-ready and devoid of anything resembling true spirit. Or brain. Or heart. Or spark. Bring the kids!
Whoops, how did this spiritual icon representing all of consciousness, a figure that precedes Christianity by many thousands of years, get in here? Sorry.
Whoops, how did this ancient spiritual figure that precedes Christianity by many thousands of years and which represents no dogma or churchly power-grab get in here? Sorry.
As irreverent Episcopal deacon David Henson pointed out in his hilarious live-tweeting of the movie: there’s no heresy here. But there is some weird racism. White supremacy. White people everywhere, in fact. Also, Jesus not really giving a damn about the poor or the oppressed. Is Jesus perpetually on Xanax? Sure looks like it. Is everyone speaking in a British accent? Apparently.
Son of God offers, in short, every bit of clunky spiritual pabulum the church has endorsed out for centuries (full disclosure: I watched exactly 58 minutes of the History Channel miniseries, more than enough to glean the suffocating blandness. I’m quit sure the movie offers little else).
Is there any other way? Sure. You may, if you are so inclined, create something thatsubverts religious dogma, by either exploding it with wild, Monty Python-grade satire or smartly undermining it with fantastical literary genius (ref: Kazantzakis, or even something like Philip Pullman’s brilliant His Dark Materials). Of course, doing so will only please those who already get it, who are educated and therefore capable of complex, nuanced, abstract critical thinking. In other words, exactly not the millions of literalist faithful one might hope to entice to begin to think for themselves.
So here we are, 2014, and to the church’s delight, the song remains ever the same. We have another big-budget, terminally weak Jesus rehashing, featuring the same stultifying ideas, the same staleSunday school mythologies originally (re)written by some very old, very repressed men who lived so long ago they might as well be aliens, men whose job it was to destroy/refashion ancient pagan belief systems to suit the church and fortify its power for centuries.
Kudos, then, to Mark Burnett for buttressing their musty cause, for inspiring not a single new possibility or tantalizing spiritual idea, for merely pouring another bucket of lukewarm water into what’s already a very tepid ocean. The church should be pleased.
Jesus, not so much.
The owner of Oheka Castle -- America's second-largest private home and an inspiration for "The Great Gatsby" -- cheats his workers on wages and tips, a class action claims in Federal Court. The lawsuit comes a week after the castle's owner was shot in the head on the castle's grounds by a masked gunman who remains at large.
Named plaintiff Michael Ernano, who worked as a server and bartender at the popular wedding destination, sued Gary Melius, his sons-in-law John Anthony Dipetra and Fabian Santibanez, and the castle's catering company, Oheka Management Corp.
The castle, which according to the lawsuit is valued at more than $43 million, was one of the inspirations for F. Scott Fitgerald's novel and was used as the setting for Orson Welles' 1941 film "Citizen Kane" as the palatial estate, Xanadu.
With 32 guestrooms, the castle hosts catered events for as many as 400 diners, and can accommodate up to 1,000 guests, according to the lawsuit.
"Along with the incredible opulence of Oheka Castle comes a hefty price tag reaping substantial revenues for defendants Gary Melius and the Oheka Entities," the complaint states.
"On an episode of the reality television program, Bridezillas, one bride-to-be mortgaged her house in order to finance her fairy tale wedding at the enchanting Oheka Castle."
According to the complaint, Melius has boasted that revenue came to $3.6 million in 2011 and hoped to increase that to more than $3.8 million in 2012.
"Despite earning millions from the labor of their servants, behind the castle walls," the lawsuit states, Melius and his team "keep more of those revenues for themselves and cheat workers of wages and tips."
Ernano claims that he and other workers were not paid for overtime worked, nor for all the hours they worked, that they were not paid in a timely manner, and that their tips were stolen.
Ernano claims castle managers required workers to carry over their overtime hours into subsequent weeks to avoid paying overtime, and that workers whose hours approached 40 hours in a work week were required to clock out of their "biometric timekeeping system and continue working."
Ernano says he was forced to work at least four shifts without pay during his probationary period.
He claims that not only did Melius keep cash tips left for him by patrons, but also pocketed a 22 percent "service charge" that was tacked onto customers' bills who use the castle's catering services.
"Defendants have led patrons to believe that the service charges would be paid to the service staff," the lawsuit states. "However, defendants did not remit any of those charges to the service staff."
Melius, 69, was in the parking lot of the Long Island castle in Huntington, N.Y., when he was shot in the head on Feb. 24. Melius survived.
Ernano seeks class certification and damages for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state labor laws.
Also named as defendants are castle manager Kathy Thompson; Oheka Management Corp.; Oheka Catering Inc.; Oheka Management LLC; and Oheka Catering LLC.
Ernano is represented by Christopher Marlborough.Related Stories
This week is the right wing’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which is organized by the 50-year old American Conservative Union. CPAC is where conservative stars are born, and where hopeful Republican Party presidential candidates undergo the mandatory rite of passage.
"After the Super Bowl and the two parties' national conventions, CPAC is the most covered event in the country," says Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "It's the only venue where thousands of activists get to see, back to back during our three-day conference, the likely 2016 leading GOP presidential candidates and begin to create perceptions which last through Election Day."
With the national mainstream media tuning in, it’s an opportunity for the Republican Party to let America know exactly where it stands on the issues du jour.
Last month, the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released the results of a major new survey that reveals the American people's list of issues they believe should be the focus of government attention in 2014.
Healthcare reform tops the public's list of priorities, mentioned by 52 percent of respondents as one of the top 10 problems, followed by unemployment (42 percent), the economy in general (39 percent), and the federal deficit (31 percent). On healthcare, it’s significant to note that a majority of Americans favor improving the Affordable Care Act, despite the GOP’s never-ending story of voting to repeal it.
Day 1 of CPAC addressed absolutely nothing when it comes to what concerns Americans the most. Instead it became the usual conservative conference where middle-class Republicans go to have rich Republicans teach them how to beat up on middle-class Americans. The first day of the event had no shortage of offensive sound bites.
Donald Trump said, "Immigrants are taking your jobs," while also mistakenly contending that President Carter was deceased. The NRA's Wayne LaPierre said Americans need more guns because there are "knockout gamers and rapers" around every corner. Center for Neighborhood Enterprise president Robert L. Woodson, Sr. said black liberals made Detroit look like Hiroshima after it was nuked. “Poor people are suffering from their friends in Detroit, where they have been led by liberal black Democrats for 40 years, and it looks like Hiroshima did when it was bombed. Hiroshima looked like Detroit did 60 years ago.”
Woodson left out the part where since the mid 1960s, the majority of Michigan state legislators and governors have been Republicans. He also left out how cheap, non-unionized labor in the South has drained Detroit of its auto industry jobs. But that’s another story.
Leading into the event, CPAC made headlines for all the wrong reasons when it shut out gay and atheist groups, while welcoming an anti-immigrant organization run by a white nationalist. If there was ever a textbook example of political tone-deafness, surely this must be it, especially given the national outrage Arizona Republicans whipped up in voting for a bill that would have enacted Jim Crow-era laws against gay Americans.
A recent Public Religion Research Institute study reveals that nearly 7 in 10 (69%) Millennials (ages 18 to 33) favor same-sex marriage, yet the Republican Party is waging a war to discriminate against LGBTs in a dozen states. The GOP is alienating itself from average Americans in so many ways, but the party’s undemocratic and un-American efforts to suppress the voting rights of minorities surely ranks at the top of the list.
After they got hammered in the 2012 election, and with early polls indicating the GOP might be facing an even bigger wipeout in 2016, a moment of introspection might have revealed valuable insights to the party. Instead, party leaders seem hell-bent on continuing the trend of demonizing the poor, gays, atheists, liberals, Muslims, and women in an effort to appeal to its rabid Christian evangelical base.
A new Pew Research Poll shows how dramatically the Republican Party is losing touch with young people, with 50% of millennials identifying as independent, 27% Democrat, while Republicans only draw 17% support. This is a big deal. Eventually, the party will run out of old, angry, white, heterosexual, religious people. Middle-class Republicans may soon realize that conservative headwinds are blowing against them, too.
On almost every issue, the GOP is on the wrong side of history and popular opinion. A majority of Americans now favor liberal policies, whether it's same-sex marriage, women's reproductive rights, immigration reform, sensible gun control laws, tax code reform, the minimum wage, the role of government, and healthcare.
Bizarrely, and against all the points raised above, the GOP will dominate in the 2014 midterms, due in part to the Republican Party's gerrymandering efforts post-2010 midterms. They may even take the Senate. This short-term win will only serve to push the party further to the right and, in doing so, further away from where most Americans stand.
This week, the Israeli company Elbit Systems Ltd. announced that its subsidiary won a contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection to produce and install surveillance systems along the U.S.-Mexico border. The company is famous for providing "intrusion detection systems” and other infastructure support for the Israeli West Bank barrier.
The subsidiary was awarded a $145 million contract for a project called the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT), which is to be built on the Mexico-Arizona border over the next year. The contract also guarantees eight years of infrastructure support from Elbit Systems.
The project outlines the construction of an undisclosed number of observation towers at the border by Nogales, Arizona, a town about an hour south of Tuscon. Additional towers could be built at five other areas along the state’s border.
Elbit Systems, founded in 1967, is the largest supplier of military technology, unmanned combat air vehicles (aka drones), and surveillance infrastructure to the Israeli military. Its attack drones, which the company’s website boasts are “the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces UAS [unmanned aerial system] force,” have been used in lethal attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
If the House passes the immigration bill currently sitting in Congress, the terms of the Elbit-CBP contract could expand to a $1 billion deal.
According to Homeland Security News Wire, Elbit also recommended that the Department of Homeland Security "adopt a more complete border security system, which combines radar and electro-optical sensors, unattended ground sensors, unmanned air systems, and manned or unmanned ground vehicles to enhance agents’ flexibility and responsiveness.”Related Stories
When Holland’s tulip-buying mania and market bubble crashed in the 1630s, at least buyers whose finances were ruined could watch pretty flowers grow from the ashes.
“At least then you got a tulip, now you get nothing,” said Nout Wellink, former president of the Dutch Central Bank, speaking last December before the price of the cyber-currency known as bitcoin began plummeting and $480 million in electronic-only wealth vanished late last week due to hackers on Tokyo’s biggest bitcoin exchange.
Should anyone who isn’t drunk with images of fast and easy money be surprised? After all, investments that are too good to be true usually turn out not to be true at all.
The bitcoin craze is no exception, even though it has generated a global following among wealthy high-tech devotees and libertarian entrepreneurs who love the idea of an Internet-only currency that’s not tied to any government and is supposed protected by encryption. Except, in the collapse of the Japanese exchange last week, it was not safe and secure—as hackers apparently stole the digital keys to $480 million in other people’s money.
“The news that Mt. Gox, the Japanese virtual currency exchange, had lost 850,000 bitcoins, worth $480 million, through hacking, is extremely troubling,” the Sacramento Bee editorialized, saying real people were hurt. “This led Mt. Gox’s chief executive officer, Mark Karpeles, to seek a very non-libertarian solution: filing for bankruptcy. He did bow right before his news conference. Nice touch.”
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Autumn Radtke, a 28-year-old American who was the CEO of a Singapore-based Bitcoin exchange was found dead of what looks like a suicide. Her firm, First Meta, allowed people to trade real cash for the cyber-currency. It issued as statement saying that it was "shocked and saddened.”
There will be no shortage of articles about bitcoin’s risks—and possible upside if it ever grows up and become a real currency backed by real assets. But for now, several things are worth noting about the cultural vanities that have led many otherwise smart people to create a 21st century computerized currency and believe that it was trustworthy.
The idea that government cannot be trusted is nothing new in libertarian and tech circles. Right-wingers, including many AM radio hosts selling another overpriced investment, namely gold, are always looking for a safe harbor as they predict the dollar’s collapse. That political and financial paranoia runs headlong into Silicon Valley’s central vanity, which is that computer technology holds the answers to everything—and that today’s leaders don’t wait for the future but invent it instead.
The biggest and most profitable inventions in Silicon Valley are tech platforms that other people use—such as microchips, computers and devices, software and other tools. So it was inevitable that Silicon Valley would want to create the most ubiquitous tool of all—its version of money. And especially cyber-money not tied to any government.
Bitcoin was introduced first in papers and then as a virtual currency in 2009, according to Wikipedia, which notes how many supposedly super-hip and super smart techies and groups quickly embraced it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which fights for online civil liberties in court, started taking donations in bitcoin. So did Wikipedia. Meanwhile, large-scale drug dealers found it useful, according to the FBI and DEA. In late 2013, the first bitcoin ATMs were introduced. In 2014, the Sacramento Kings basketball team was planning to accept payment for concesssions in bitcoin.
On November 29, 2013, bitcoin hit its all-time high of trading at $1,242 per coin, which was $2 more than an ounce of gold in that day’s spot markets, Forbes said. But late last month, Tokyo’s leading bitcoin exchange was badly hacked. In a flash, many of the same people who had grow used to staring at their computer screens and feeling that they were super-saavy investors gettng rich, could not access their cyber-currency.
Of course, they were warned. But people who get greedy don’t want to hear that.
“The exchange rate is volatile and there is no central issuer which may be held liable,” Holland’s Dutch Central Bank said last December, foreseeing a bitcoin bubble popping. It also cautioned that its bank deposit guarantees do “not apply.” The same in the U.S., where the Federal Reserve has stayed away from the gimmicky cyber-currency.
Last Friday, Feb. 28, when Tokyo’s bitcoin exchange abruptly shut down and it managers filed for bankruptcy, it wasn’t just Silicon Valley venture capitalists who were stung.
“Devon Weller, a 40-year-old freelance Web developer in Nashville who said he had a ‘small amount’ of bitcoins stashed at Mt. Gox, tossed aside his regular work Friday morning to start looking for missing bitcoins,” the Wall Street Journal said. “He tapped into the public ledger from his home office and started following the trail of large transactions. ‘I haven't gotten very far, but it’s one of those things that is going to eat away at me,’ said Mr. Weller.”
On Thusday at 2.40 PM Pacific Standard Time, a bitcoin was trading for $661, according to BitCoinExchangeRate.org.
That’s quite a bit more than the cost of purple tulip bulbs. But anyone spending that kind of money on a costume currency that’s lost half its value in a matter of weeks, might as well be digging a hole and throwing it into the ground. They might end up discovering that they’re bailing out early investors, instead of watching investments grow the old-fashioned way: like a tulip, slowly and with the seasons.Related Stories
As an attorney with over three decades of experience advocating for women and children whose lives have been blighted, some by domestic violence and some by childhood sexual abuse, and as the widow of Elliott Wilk, the judge in the Allen v. Farrow custody case, my interest in Dylan Farrow’s recent disclosures of sexual abuse by Woody Allen is both professional and personal.
Because of Allen’s celebrity, I fear that his deceptive words of denial will reverberate in a way that further silences mothers of child abuse victims, as well as adult survivors, who would otherwise seek justice in our courts. This is one of the reasons his reliance on a flawed forensic report and the testimony of other mental health practitioners, lacking expertise about sexual abuse, is so troubling.
The role of mental health evidence in cases of domestic violence and child sexual abuse has evolved over the last 35 years. Back then, medical and social science research about these atrocities was still in a state of relative infancy. “Domestic violence” was still called “wife beating,” and like cancer, was rarely spoken about in public. Many psychiatrists, trained in the orthodoxies of that profession in those times, viewed its victims as mentally ill masochists. Discussion of child sexual abuse was even more taboo, particularly incest.
Representing a mother whose child was sexually abused by an intimate partner has always been difficult. Allen’s attack on the credibility of Mia Farrow, which was specifically determined to be without basis at trial, is now renewed, again echoing the misogynistic voices in American law that trivialize violence against women and children. This places the mothers of abused children in the untenable position of being savaged as vengeful women, lashing out against the men who have “spurned” them, or being charged with being neglectful parents who have failed to protect their children.
Many attorneys who represented men accused of child sexual abuse and domestic violence resorted to the primitive view that women are unworthy of belief. In one case counsel argued that because my client, her witnesses, and her attorney were all women, her charge of sexual abuse was the result of deceitful female networking. In another, a lawyer concluded that his client, the subject of a claim of domestic violence, was the victim of a female plot — breastfeeding — designed to keep fathers away from their children.
Some jurists were no better. In one of my early cases, the judge began a trial by sternly admonishing me that he would not limit the father’s access to his daughter unless penetration and injury were proved. To him, sexual abuse could mean nothing short of rape, ignoring the fact that sexual abuse often produces no physical injury.
As physicians, psychotherapists and scholars deepened their study of domestic violence and child sexual abuse, our understanding of these social ills increased. Attorneys for victims began drawing upon experts’ knowledge, which became the basis of testimony presented in legal proceedings, criminal and civil.
In child custody cases, the use of mental health testimony had traditionally been a hired-gun “my check is bigger than yours” duel between experts. Over time, judges began appointing impartial forensic experts in an effort to discourage contests between paid partisans and to enhance the quality of the testimony being offered. These mental health professionals did not treat the parents or children. They interviewed family members, other witnesses, and presented their opinions in court, subject to cross-examination.
Unfortunately, some forensic experts, and treating therapists as well, failed to provide ethical and competent testimony. In one disheartening case, also before my husband, a treating therapist, under oath, concealed knowledge of the father’s acts of domestic violence. In another matter, a forensic expert shockingly admitted on my cross-examination that he had no training in domestic violence, a central issue in the case, and that he had not read the clinical notes of the child’s therapist. These contained the boy’s report of seeing his father push his mother down a flight of stairs.
The participation of inadequately trained mental health experts exacerbates already difficult cases. Some have limited knowledge about the clinical issues they are addressing, harbor sexist or other prejudices, or favor a parent whose profession or reputation they admire. Some, in academic and hospital settings, and some in lucrative private practices, give testimony that is deceptive or naïve. Some demonstrate ignorance or avoidance of the rules of evidence which govern court proceedings.
It is on the basis of the forensic report in his custody case that Allen attempts to hijack my husband’s trial decision. Minimizing the rejection of the report as “very irresponsible,” he claims that the contents of the report “disappointed” my husband. Elliott was disappointed, but not for the reasons Allen imagines. He was disappointed, even disgusted, because the forensic experts had destroyed their interview notes and because they were unwilling to personally appear as witnesses, to be cross-examined in court. As he stated, those factors “compromised [the court’s] ability to scrutinize their findings and resulted in a report which was sanitized and, therefore, less credible.”
In the 20-plus years since Allen v. Farrow, progress has been made in achieving a better understanding about how childhood sexual abuse can be more clearly and credibly presented to judges and to the many others in our communities whose lives it so destructively affects.
From those professionals who study and treat victims of sexual abuse, we know that patients who were molested as children, especially by a trusted person, often spend years, sometimes decades, trying to avoid thinking about it, shoving it into a drawer and locking it shut. But the connections of traumatic association — the sounds, smells and images, the sensations of physical invasion — insist on returning, fresh and painful, overwhelming those abused with shame and guilt.
As someone who has worked extensively in this field, I find Dylan Farrow’s disclosures to be compelling. The contents of her open letter are consistent with what knowledgeable mental health experts have taught us about the modus operandi of perpetrators of child sexual abuse. She convincingly describes the details of what occurred, its impact on her, including the symptoms that lead to her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who survive childhood sexual abuse have the right to decide how they can best heal. Some will do it privately, others publicly. Both are legitimate choices. Given the inhospitable environment in which such cases are too often addressed, most recently reflected by Allen’s manipulative and cruel response to his daughter, it is no wonder more victims do not speak out.
It is hard to say which among Dylan Farrow’s experiences are the most heart-wrenching. One is the betrayal by the forensic experts who botched the report in this case. Second is the willingness of treating therapists to express opinions on a subject about which they had no expertise. And third is the pain of having had to endure the public adulation of her abuser.
Dylan Farrow, once a child victim, is now an adult survivor. She is fortunate to have a mother who trusted her, protected her and supported her decision to disclose what occurred. She deserves our belief and empathy. She has mine.Related Stories
When President Obama released his budget for 2015 on Tuesday, which included $495.6 billion for the Pentagon, the likely suspects screamed that the sky is going to fall. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said the funding level is so low that it’s “immoral,” while the notorious climate denier Sen. James Inhofe — who is a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — declared that: “Today our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us.” Strong words. Also, completely disconnected from reality.
Not only does this budget allocate a mere $420 million less than the Defense Department received from Congress this year, it represents just a fraction of the actual amount that will go towards maintaining the massive U.S. security apparatus. To get a more accurate picture of the true cost of the American empire, various programs and line items that do not fall under the Pentagon’s base budget must be included in this tally.
1) War spending: Despite the fact that Obama still officially plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year, the budget includes $79.4 billion for the war in 2015. Granted, that is only a placeholder. The actual figure will be decided on later, but it does give a sense of what is to be expected, which is essentially a continuation of the tragic status quo.
2) Veterans: To take account of the total price tag of the many wars that the United States has fought — and continues to fight — the long-term cost of providing for veterans should be included. To meet these needs, $68.4 billion has been requested for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
3) Intelligence: With the CIA responsible for hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and the NSA secretly assisting the military with its assassination program around the world — as was recently exposed — it seems only right to include the proposed budget of $45.6 billion for the National Intelligence Program in this calculation.
4) Homeland Security: In any honest account of our actual “defense” spending, the $38.2 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security should naturally be factored in, since it includes funding for cybersecurity, the TSA and border patrol.
5) Nuclear weapons: The proposed $8.3 billion associated with maintaining a “safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent,” as well as the ensuing $5.6 billion required for disposing of nuclear waste fall under the Department of Energy’s budget.
This is by no means a complete accounting of security-related costs that are hidden in other parts of the budget — such as military aid to foreign countries — but when these most obvious expenses are added up, the price tag jumps to $741 billion. To get a better sense of how staggering that figure is, it breaks down to more than $23,000 per second, every second of the year.
It also represents 73 percent of the trillion dollar discretionary budget, which includes spending for education, transportation, housing, food and the environment. That means that — if this budget is approved — at least 73 cents of every dollar that Congress will decide how to spend next year, will go to propping up the most expensive military machine on the planet, instead of taking care of the millions of Americans who struggle every day to meet their basic necessities. Now that is what I call immoral.Related Stories
Starting this week, conservative activists converge in Maryland – along with a healthy complement of journalists (this one included) – to hear from top Republicans and leading voices of the modern right. Controversy is basically inevitable.
But CPAC’s top stars will have a high bar to clear if they want to outdo themselves in the provocation department. Here are some head-turning past comments from headlinershighlighted on CPAC’s site — on black people, gay people, “takers” and much more:
“Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink. And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.” – Rick Perry, 2008
“After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia.” – Wayne LaPierre, 2013
“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country … It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” – Rick Santorum, 2011
“More background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. Shoulda started with yours.” –Sarah Palin, 2013
“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what the recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s [the age of the Earth] a dispute amongst theologians, and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” – Marco Rubio, 2012
“Probably the most heartwarming experiences I’ve had over the last several days is when naturalized American citizens, who have immigrated here from Germany, Iran, and other countries, they come up to me and they say: Why are we doing what so many have fled from? … [T]hese people who’ve lived under socialist type economies, and totalitarianism, they know where we’re headed if we don’t turn things around.” – Jim DeMint, 2009
“You know, something may go down tonight, but ain’t gonna be jobs, sweetheart.” – Chris Christie, 2012
“[I]f we can redefine marriage … based on social pressures as opposed to between a man and a woman, we will continue to redefine it in any way that we wish, which is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire.” –Ben Carson, 2012
“A president who is not bound by the law is no longer a president. And if you love liberty that should concern you greatly.” – Ted Cruz, 2014
“Having a dozen people murdered in a [Aurora] movie theater gets our attention … Ultimately, we don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military, and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.” – Mike Huckabee, 2012
“The Constitution doesn’t give Congress the power to redistribute our wealth.” – Mike Lee, 2010
“The trend in deregulation, beginning in the early 1980s, is one of the biggest reasons for the sustained economic expansion. I would like to see us continue to deregulate on many fronts, including the financial services industry.” – Pat Toomey, 1999
“It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.” – Bobby Jindal, 2013
“Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that. They’ll be dependent on government [rather] than themselves.” – Paul Ryan, 2010
“Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.” – Carly Fiorina, 2010
“A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market …If I was starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black because I really do believe they have the actual advantage.” – Donald Trump, 1989
“We need to know, for example, whether [Sonia Sotomayor]’s going to be a justice for all of us, or just a justice for a few of us.” – John Cornyn, 2009
“Well what it [banning racial discrimination at lunch counters] gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says ‘well no’ … Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? – Rand Paul, 2010
Ministry of Environment officials say the air quality over Six Nations and New Credit has been monitored following the fire at Rosa Flora Greenhouses in Dunnville this morning.
The post Air quality over Six Nations/New Credit safe after greenhouse fire appeared first on Two Row Times.
Here's the U.S.'s exceptionalist promotion of "democracy" in action; Washington has recognized a coup d'etat in Ukraine that regime-changed a — for all its glaring faults — democratically elected government.
And here is Russian President Vladimir Putin, already last year, talking about how Russia and China decided to trade in roubles and yuan, and stressing how Russia needs to quit the "excessive monopoly" of the U.S. dollar. He had to be aware the Empire would strike back.
Now there's more; Russian presidential adviser Sergey Glazyev told RIA Novosti, "Russia will abandon the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency if the United States initiates sanctions against the Russian Federation."
So the Empire struck back by giving "a little help" to regime change in the Ukraine. And Moscow counter-punched by taking control of Crimea in less than a day without firing a shot — with or without crack Spetsnaz brigades (U.K.-based think tanks say they are; Putin says they are not).
Putin's assessment of what happened in Ukraine is factually correct; "an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power". It's open to endless, mostly nasty debate whether the Kremlin overreacted or not. Considering the record of outright demonization of both Russia and Putin going on for years — and now reaching fever pitch — the Kremlin's swift reaction was quite measured.
Putin applied Sun Tzu to the letter, and now plays the U.S. against the E.U. He has made it clear Moscow does not need to "invade" Ukraine. The 1997 Ukraine-Russia partition treaty specifically allows Russian troops in Crimea. And Russia after all is an active proponent of state sovereignty; it's under this principle that Moscow refuses a Western "intervention" in Syria.
What he left the door open for is — oh cosmic irony of ironies — an American invention/intervention (and that, predictably, was undetectable by Western corporate media); the UN's R2P — "responsibility to protect" — in case the Western-aligned fascists and neo-nazis in Ukraine threaten Russians or Russian-speaking civilians with armed conflict. Samantha Power should be proud of herself.
Don't mess with Russian intelligence
The "West" once again has learned you don't mess with Russian intelligence, which in a nutshell preempted in Crimea a replica of the coup in Kiev, largely precipitated by UNA-UNSO — a shady, ultra-rightwing, crack paramilitary NATO-linked force using Ukraine as base, as exposed by William Engdahl.
And Crimea was an even murkier operation, because those neo-nazis from Western Ukraine were in tandem with Tatar jihadis (the House of Saud will be heavily tempted to finance them from now on).
The Kremlin is factually correct when pointing out that the coup was essentially conducted by fascists and ultra-right "nationalists" — Western code for neo-nazis. Svoboda ("Freedom") party political council member Yury Noyevy even admitted openly that using E.U. integration as a pretext "is a means to break our ties with Russia."
Western corporate media always conveniently forgets that Svoboda — as well as the Right Sector fascists — follow in the steps of Galician fascist/terrorist Stepan Bandera, a notorious asset of a basket of "Western" intel agencies. Now Svoboda has managed to insert no less than six bigwigs as part of the new regime in Kiev.
Then there are the new regional governors appointed to the mostly Russophone east and south of Ukraine. They are — who else — oligarchs, such as billionaires Sergei Taruta posted to Donetsk and Ihor Kolomoysky posted in Dnipropetrovsk. People in Maidan in Kiev were protesting mostly against — who else — kleptocrat oligarchs. Once again, Western corporate media — which tirelessly plugged a "popular" uprising against kleptocracy — hasn't noticed it.
Once again, follow the money
Ukraine's foreign currency reserves, only in the past four weeks, plunged from U.S. $17.8 billion to $15 billion. Wanna buy some hryvnia? Well, not really; the national currency, is on a cosmic dive against the U.S. dollar. This is jolly good news only for disaster capitalism vultures.
And right on cue, the International Monetary Fund is sending a "fact-finding mission" to Ukraine this week. Ukrainians of all persuasions may run but they won't hide from "structural adjustment". They could always try to scrape enough for a ticket with their worthless hryvnia (being eligible for visa on arrival in Thailand certainly helps).
European banks — who according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) hold more than $23 billion in outstanding loans — could lose big in Ukraine. Italian banks, for instance, have loaned nearly $6 billion.
On the Pipelineistan front, Ukraine heavily depends on Russia; 58 percent of its gas supply. It cannot exactly diversify and start buying from Qatar tomorrow — with delivery via what, Qatar Airways?
And even as 66 percent of Russian gas exported to the E.U. transits through Ukraine, the country is fast losing its importance as a transit hub. Both the Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines — Russia not on-the-ground but under-seas — bypass Ukraine. The Nord Stream, finished in 2011, links Russia with Germany beneath the Baltic Sea. South Stream, beneath the Black Sea, will be ready before the end of 2015.
Geoeconomically, the Empire needs Ukraine to be out of the Eurasian economic union promoted by the Kremlin — which also includes Kazakhstan and Belarus. And geopolitically, when NATO Secretary General, the vain puppet Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that an IMF-E.U. package for the Ukraine would be "a major boost for Euro-Atlantic security," this is what clinched it; the only thing that matters in this whole game is NATO "annexing" Ukraine, as I examined earlier.
It has always been about the Empire of Bases — just like the encirclement of Iran; just like the "pivot" to Asia translating into encirclement of China; just like encircling Russia with bases and "missile defense". Over the Kremlin's collective dead body, of course.
Let's plunder that wasteland
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accusing Russia of "invading Ukraine," in "violation of international law" and "back to the 19th century," is so spectacularly pathetic in its hypocrisy — once again, look at the U.S.'s record — it does not warrant comment from any informed observer. Incidentally, this is as pathetic as his offer of a paltry $1 billion in "loan guarantees" — which would barely pay Ukraine's bills for two weeks.
The Obama administration — especially the neo-cons of the "F**k the E.U." kind — has lost is power play. And for Moscow, it has no interlocutor in Kiev because it considers the regime-changers illegal. Moscow also regards "Europe" as a bunch of pampered whining losers — with no common foreign policy to boot.
So any mediation now hinges on Germany. Berlin has no time for "sanctions" — the sacrosanct American exceptionalist mantra; Russia is a plush market for German industry. And for all the vociferations at the Economist and the Financial Times, the City of London also does not want sanctions; the financial center feeds on lavish Russian politico/oligarch funds. As for the West's "punishment" for Russia by threatening to expel it from the Group of Eight, that is a joke. The G-8, which excludes China, does not decide anything relevant anymore; the G-20 does.
If a wide-ranging poll were to be conducted today, it would reveal that the majority of Ukrainians don't want to be part of the E.U. — as much as the majority of Europeans don't want the Ukraine in the E.U. What's left for millions of Ukrainians is the bloodsucking IMF, to be duly welcomed by "Yats" (as Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is treated by Vic "F**k the E.U." Nuland).
Ukraine is slouching towards federalization. The Kiev regime-changers will have no say on autonomous Crimea — which most certainly will remain part of Ukraine (and Russia by the way will save $90 million in annual rent for the Sevastopol base, which until now was payable to Kiev.)
The endgame is all but written; Moscow controls an autonomous Crimea for free, and the U.S./E.U. "control," or try to plunder, disaster capitalism-style, a back of beyond western Ukraine wasteland "managed" by a bunch of Western puppets and oligarchs, with a smatter of neo-nazis.
So what is the Obama/Kerry strategic master duo to do? Start a nuclear war?
Despite all the talk by Washington insiders about how whistleblowers like Edward Snowden should work through the system rather than bring their concerns directly into the public sphere, MacLean is living proof of the hell of trying to do so. Through the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to use MacLean’s case to further limit what kinds of information can qualify for statutory whistleblowing protections. If the DOJ gets its way, only information that the government thinks is appropriate — a contradiction in terms when it comes to whistleblowing — could be revealed. Such a restriction would gut the legal protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act and have a chilling effect on future acts of conscience.
Having lost its case against MacLean in the lower courts, the DOJ is seeking to win in front of the Supreme Court. If heard by the Supremes — and there’s no guarantee of that — this would represent that body’s first federal whistleblower case of the post-9/11 era. And if it were to rule for the government, even more information about an out-of-control executive branch will disappear under the dark umbrella of “national security.”
On the other hand, should the court rule against the government, or simply turn down the case, whistleblowers like MacLean will secure a little more protection than they’ve had so far in the Obama years. Either way, an important message will be sent at a moment when revelations of government wrongdoing have moved from the status of obscure issue to front-page news.
The issues in the MacLean case — who is entitled to whistleblower protection, what use can be made of retroactive classification to hide previously unclassified information, how many informal classification categories the government can create bureaucratically, and what role the Constitution and the Supreme Court have in all this — are arcane and complex. But stay with me. Understanding the depths to which the government is willing to sink to punish one man who blew the whistle tells us the world about Washington these days and, as they say, the devil is in the details.
Robert MacLean, Whistleblower
MacLean’s case is simple — and complicated.
Here’s the simple part: MacLean was an air marshal, flying armed aboard American aircraft as the last defense against a terror attack. In July 2003, all air marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the TSA, which oversees the marshals, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to their cell phones cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. Fearing that such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public, MacLean worked his way through the system. He first brought his concerns to his supervisor and then to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Each responded that nothing could be done.
After hitting a dead end, and hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to change its policy, MacLean talked anonymously to a reporter who broadcast a critical story. After 11 members of Congress pitched in, the TSA reversed itself. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency dress and boarding policies that he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize marshals who work undercover. (On your next flight keep an eye out for the young man in khakis with a fanny pack and a large watch, often wearing a baseball cap and eyeing boarders from a first class seat.) This time the TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered that he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.
When MacLean contested his dismissal through internal government channels, he discovered that, months after firing him, the TSA had retroactively classified the text message he had leaked. Leaking classified documents is more than cause enough to fire a federal worker, and that might have been the end of it. MacLean, however, was no typical cubicle-dwelling federal employee. An Air Force veteran, he asserted his status as a protected whistleblower and has spent the last seven years marching through the system trying to get his job back.
How Everything in Government Became Classified
The text message MacLean leaked was retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI), a designation that had been around for years but whose usage the TSA only codified via memo in November 2003. When it comes to made-up classifications, that agency’s set of them proved to be only one of 28 known versions that now exist within the government bureaucracy. In truth, no one is sure how many varieties of pseudo-classifications even exist under those multiple policies, or how many documents they cover as there are no established reporting requirements.
By law there are officially only three levels of governmental classification: confidential, secret, and top secret. Other indicators, such asNOFORN and ORCON, seen for instance on some of the NSA documents Edward Snowden released, are called “handling instructions,” although they, too, function as unofficial categories of classification. Each of the three levels of official classification has its own formal definition and criteria for use. It is theoretically possible to question the level of classification of a document. However much they may be ignored, there are standards for theirdeclassification and various supervisors can also shift levels of classification as a final report, memo, or briefing takes shape. The system is designed, at least in theory and occasionally in practice, to have some modicum of accountability and reviewability.
The government’s post-9/11 desire to classify more and more information ran head on into the limits of classification as enacted by Congress. The response by various agencies was to invent a proliferation of designations like SSI that would sweep unclassified information under the umbrella of classification and confer on ever more unclassified information a (sort of) classified status. In the case of the TSA, the agency even admits on its own website that a document with an SSI stamp is unclassified, but prohibits its disclosure anyway.
Imagine the equivalent at home: you arbitrarily establish a classification called Spouse Sensitive Information that prohibits your partner from seeing the family bank statements. And if all this is starting to make no sense, then you can better understand the topsy-turvy world Robert MacLean found himself in.
MacLean Wins a Battle in Court
In 2013, after a long series of civil service and legal wrangles, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit handed down a decision confirming the government’s right to retroactively classify information. This may make some sense — if you squint hard enough from a Washington perspective. Imagine a piece of innocuous information already released that later takes on national security significance. A retroactive classification can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, but bureaucratically speaking it would at least prevent more toothpaste from being squeezed out. The same ruling, of course, could also be misused to ensnare someone like MacLean who shared unclassified information.
The court also decided that, retrospective classification or not, MacLean was indeed entitled to protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. That act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law,” typically held to mean unclassified material. This, the court insisted, was the category MacLean fit into and so could not be fired. The court avoided the question of whether or not someone could be fired for disclosing retroactively classified information and focused on whether a made-up category like SSI was “classified” at all.
The court affirmed that laws passed by Congress creating formal classifications like “top secret” trump regulations made up by executive branch bureaucrats. In other words, as the Constitution intended, the legislative branch makes the laws and serves as a check and balance on the executive branch. Congress says what is classified and that say-so cannot be modified via an executive branch memo. One of MacLean’s lawyers hailed the court’s decision as restoring “enforceability for the Whistleblower Protection Act’s public free speech rights. It ruled that only Congress has the authority to remove whistleblower rights. Agency-imposed restraints are not relevant for whistleblower protection rights.”
The ruling made it clear that the TSA had fired MacLean in retaliation for a legally protected act of whistleblowing. He should have been offered his job back the next day.
Not a Happy Ending But a Sad New Beginning
No such luck. Instead, on January 27, 2014, the Department of Justice petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision. If it has its way, the next time a troublesome whistleblower emerges, the executive need only retroactively slap a non-reviewable pseudo-classification on whatever information has been revealed and fire the employee. The department is, then, asking the Supreme Court to grant the executive branch the practical power to decide whether or not a whistleblower is entitled to legal protection. The chilling effect is obvious.
In addition, the mere fact that the DOJ is seeking to bring the case via a petition is significant. Such petitions, called writs of certiorari, or certs, ask that the Supreme Court overturn a lower court’s decision. Through the cert process, the court sets its own agenda. Some 10,000 certs are submitted in a typical year. Most lack merit and are quickly set aside without comment. Typically, fewer than 100 of those 10,000 are chosen to move forward for a possibly precedent-setting decision. However, only a tiny number of all the certs filed are initiated by the government; on average, just 15 in a Supreme Court term.
It’s undoubtedly a measure of the importance the Obama administration gives to preserving secrecy above all else that it has chosen to take such an aggressive stance against MacLean — especially given the desperately low odds of success. It will be several months before we know whether the court will hear the case.
This Is War
MacLean is simply trying to get his old air marshal job back by proving he was wrongly fired for an act of whistleblowing. For the rest of us, however, this is about much more than where MacLean goes to work.
The Obama administration’s attacks on whistleblowers are well documented. It has charged more of them – seven – under the Espionage Act than all past presidencies combined. In addition, it recently pressured State Department whistleblower Stephen Kim into a guilty plea (in return for a lighter sentence) by threatening him with the full force of that act. His case was even more controversial because the FBI named Fox News’s James Rosen as a co-conspirator for receiving information from Kim as part of his job as a journalist. None of this is accidental, coincidental, or haphazard. It’s a pattern. And it’s meant to be. This is war.
MacLean’s case is one more battle in that war. By taking the extraordinary step of going to the Supreme Court, the executive branch wants, by fiat, to be able to turn an unclassified but embarrassing disclosure today into a prohibited act tomorrow, and then use that to get rid of an employee. They are, in essence, putting whistleblowers in the untenable position of having to predict the future. The intent is clearly to silence them before they speak on the theory that the easiest leak to stop is the one that never happens. A frightened, cowed workforce is likely to be one result; another — falling into the category of unintended consequences — might be to force more potential whistleblowers to take the Manning/Snowden path.
The case against MacLean also represents an attempt to broaden executive power in another way. At the moment, only Congress can “prohibit actions under the law,” something unique to it under the Constitution. In its case against MacLean, the Justice Department seeks to establish the right of the executive and its agencies to create their own pseudo-categories of classification that can be used to prohibit actions not otherwise prohibited by law. In other words, it wants to trump Congress. Regulation made by memo would then stand above the law in prosecuting — or effectively persecuting — whistleblowers. A person of conscience like MacLean could be run out of his job by a memo.
In seeking to claim more power over whistleblowers, the executive also seeks to overturn another principle of law that goes by the term ex post facto. Laws are implemented on a certain day and at a certain time. Long-held practice says that one cannot be punished later for an act that was legal when it happened. Indeed, ex post facto criminal laws are expressly forbidden by the Constitution. This prohibition was written in direct response to the injustices of British rule at a time when Parliamentary laws could indeed criminalize actions retrospectively. While some leeway exists today in the U.S. for ex post factoactions in civil cases and when it comes to sex crimes against children, the issue as it affects whistleblowers brushes heavily against the Constitution and, in a broader sense, against what is right and necessary in a democracy.
When a government is of, by, and for the people, when an educated citizenry (in Thomas Jefferson’s words) is essential to a democracy, it is imperative that we all know what the government does in our name. How else can we determine how to vote, who to support, or what to oppose? Whistleblowers play a crucial role in this process. When the government willfully seeks to conceal its actions, someone is required to step up and act with courage and selflessness.
That our current government has been willing to fight for more than seven years — maybe all the way to the Supreme Court — to weaken legal whistleblowing protections tells a tale of our times. That it seeks to silence whistleblowers at a moment when their disclosures are just beginning to reveal the scope of our unconstitutional national security state is cause for great concern. That the government demands whistleblowers work within the system and then seeks to modify that same system to thwart them goes beyond hypocrisy.
This is the very definition of post-Constitutional America where legality and illegality blur — and always in the government’s favor; where the founding principles of our nation only apply when, as, and if the executive sees fit. The devil is indeed in the details.Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Now in Washington and a TomDispatch regular, he writes about Iraq, the Middle East, and U.S. diplomacy at his blog, We Meant Well. Following the publication of his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books) in 2011, the Department of State began termination proceedings, reassigning him to a make-work position and stripping him of his security clearance and diplomatic credentials. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, Van Buren will instead retire from the State Department with his full benefits of service in late September. We Meant Well has recently been published in paperback. Van Buren is currently working on a second book, about the decline of the blue-collar middle class in America and the roots of the “99 percent.”
Stephen Colbert hilariously lampooned Bill O'Reilly's absurd recent segment on how "there must be a downside" to having a woman as president on Wednesday night. In other words, Hillary Clinton.
In the now famous segment, O'Reilly invited two conservative women on his show and practically begged them to give him a reason why a woman should not be the leader of the free world. They just refused to humor him. "There's gotta be a downside," he pleaded. "No, Bill," they chorused.
Colbert's commentary was priceless and included well-thought out points like the fact that everything in the oval office is "penis activated . . . been that way since the Kennedy Administration," and the obscure scientific fact that "women sit down when they pee."
When O'Reilly pointed out that the "mullahs in Iran" would not approve of our having a woman president, Colbert quipped, "We are the leader of the free world so we have to elect someone Iran wants."
So befuddled was O'Reilly in his desperate attempts to argue his point that he descended into nonsense syllables, which Colbert hilariously mocked. "Bing bing bing bing bing bing bing bing." (That's a quote from O'Reilly, not Colbert.)
“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext.” Thus spoke Secretary of State John Kerry on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, just as Russia took control of Crimea in the latest escalation of the Ukraine crisis.
This extraordinary remark appears to have gone briefly viral. And surely I am not alone in requiring time to recover from the sheer ignorance and presumption of it. Ignorant because even by the standards at State, where the past must evaporate on an almost daily basis, it is hypocrisy unlimited on the very face of it. Presumptuous because it implies a degree of stupidity among us that not even P.T. Barnum would dare take for granted.
We have before us a full-dress campaign to persuade the world that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military advances into Ukraine this week come to an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of a nation struggling to find its way to a remade polity on the model of the liberal Western democracies. This is the explicit part. Implicit are the clean hands of American and European policy cliques and the broad approval enjoyed by the provisional government that appointed itself after President Viktor Yanukovych was hounded across the border with Russia two weeks ago.
This is the Good Housekeeping perspective on Ukraine. Kerry’s silly remark last weekend is one among countless in the service of this wholesale rewrite of events.
The unapproved perspective is far more interesting and should be recognized for what it is. For the second time in less than a year we witness an American intervention that, in the age of social media and all the rest, is transparent such that we can actually study it in real time. This is new. In the old days—when Washington undermined Mossadegh in Iran, say, or Arbenz in Guatemala, or even Allende much later in Chile—we had to wait years before the truth was unearthed beneath the macadam road of propaganda and lies laid quickly atop it at the time of events.
I should clarify. The first such occasion was last July, when the New York Times, in what was apparently deemed a one-off slip, provided a record of the telephone call Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, made to Cairo advising that the generals could go forward with the plan to depose President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi toppled within hours of the exchange.
And to clarify further, a third such occasion may shortly be upon us. This one, if it comes, will be in Venezuela, now ablaze with violent protests. Watch this space and know what you are watching: If the Maduro government in Caracas falls, it will mark the culmination of yet another American intervention.
This makes two, and maybe three, “19th century things” Americans insist upon doing in the 21st century. Not counting Iraq, Afghanistan, and threats of violence elsewhere, of course. Please speak into the microphone, Mr. Secretary.
Here is the strange part—or one of many oddities, I ought to say. In all three cases we are offered what evidence of the truth cannot be avoided, and then it is quickly dispatched to oblivion by those laying down the macadam.
In the Egypt case, the Times recounted the Rice telephone call and seemingly never again mentioned it. All it has since written amounts to a game of pretend.
In the Venezuela case, William Neuman, the Times’ man in Caracas (and an intellectually dishonest ideologue) recounted the press conference when the Venezuelan foreign minister read aloud the e-mail traffic revealing the covert American campaign to recruit students to the anti–Maduro cause. And then: Never again did he note it in his accounts of a supposedly spontaneous movement for the neoliberal democracy desired by everyone in the world, Ukrainians, too.
In Ukraine, we have the Victoria Nuland, “F the E.U.” tape, of course. This is the strangest of all. Amid all the tumult of the past couple of weeks, as the very people Nuland and her ambassador in Kiev were cultivating rose to the top, not a single mention of the tape and the red-handed evidence of American malfeasance. The coverage is all about the unjust intimidations of the Russian Bear, the silent, beady-eyed Putin being the perfect personification of the beast.
The media performance gives so astonishing an appearance of conspiracy at this point that you start to wonder if these people, correspondents and editors alike, are somehow getting dressed in the same locker room every morning. Please use the comment box if you can otherwise explain why not one correspondent finds it useful to cite prima facie evidence of American provocation on Putin’s doorstep.
(It is possible some are filing well from Ukraine and getting politically motivated edits in the newsroom. I know it happens because it happened to me, more than once, when I filed for the International Herald Tribune, a Times property.)
I continue to view ours as a significant moment in post–Cold War history. One way hegemony is sustained is via the maintenance of a powerfully orthodox perspective on events. This has been among the West’s core strengths for half a millennium, and it is crumbling.
The bitter truth, especially difficult for many Cold War survivors, is that Putin’s account of events in Ukraine is more accurate than Kerry’s and Obama’s and the New York Times’. The Russian leader finally shared his thinking during a press conference in Moscow Tuesday. The Times reported it well enough, even as it included in its language all the signals necessary to persuade readers without apparent persuasion that they did not have to take Putin seriously.
Look past those signals and put aside all pre-judgment. I light no candle for Putin, and Moscow’s perspective on Ukraine is flawed. But it has the virtue of leaving less out than what emanates from Washington. It is more complete, accounting for his advance into Crimea as response to a covert program hidden from the people whose taxes paid for it.
Another thing to consider: The government that gave Americans the Monroe Doctrine and makes them live by it after two centuries may condemn Putin’s intrusion into Ukraine, and it is one. Compare it, however, to Obama’s. Hundreds dead in Kiev, to Russia’s no-shot-fired operation. Or think of Egypt: A bloodbath after the generals got their go-ahead. Or Iraq, and one hardly need explain.
We have emergent perspectives that start to counter the West’s hegemony over human consciousness, then. This is big stuff, the stuff of historical turns.
We also witness an example of the American narrative’s near-exhaustion. When the American story comes over as hollowly as Obama’s and Kerry’s—read the quotation atop this column again—you have to figure that these guys are tired. Remember how dumb and uninspired the later, post–Khrushchev Soviets sounded as they rote-repeated the nation’s worn-out pieties? Hold the thought and rotate it 180 degrees.
As things now stand, we can also observe the limits of American power as these limits gradually close in on Washington. Enough has been said across the spectrum about how little the U.S. can do to get Putin to back off in Ukraine. Now, as Putin makes known he is prepared to accept a constitutional referendum in Ukraine with elections to follow, it is obvious he is about to take charge of a situation that, supposedly, had left him in defeat just days ago. He may not be the nicest man you have met, but he is magnitudes more the statesman than Obama, Kerry, and indeed any of their West European counterparts.
Having written for many years and then taught in journalism schools here and abroad, I have my priorities, my way of seeing things. In the Ukraine case, it is this: We have been saddled with special responsibilities over the last 18 months of interventions, out-of-control surveillance, and an epidemic of mis– and disinformation. Among our responsibilities is to deliver the future with sound accountings of what happened in places such as Ukraine so that when good history finally gets written those writing it can pull up the macadam knowing what they will find underneath it.
Footnote: Can a reader assist in identifying the sayer of the following remark? “Wherever in the world you find a mess, you can be certain the Americans have been there.” Its pertinence is evident. I initially thought Le Carré, then a character in a Le Carré novel. No evidence of either so far. Now I consider Claud Cockburn, the noted Irish journalist of left persuasion during the middle decades of the last century. But again, no citation as yet. And the State Department should know who talks of it in so piercing a fashion.