Creating a better world through words and images

Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/us/looking-after-the-soldier-back-home-and-damaged.html?hp

This article offers precious few facts or useful statistics.

It might be helpful for Times readers to know how many soldiers have been seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan: Per the DoD in early 2009, Traumatic Brain Injury alone affected as many as 360,000 soldiers, with 45,000 to 90,000 who “warrant specialized care” (USA Today, 3/4/09).

Times readers might also want to know that the Army broke its record for soldier suicides a few years ago and has continued to break that record in the years since (American Forces Press Service, 11/17/09).

In post-9/11 America, it’s become fashionable to sing the praises of “our heroes” while ignoring their actual plight. The effect is that we support the WARS but not the WARRIORS.

Meanwhile, our young men and women continue to kill and die, maim and be maimed, in wars that make no sense whatsoever from a strategic perspective (bin Laden’s strategy was to goad the U.S. into war, turning mainstream Muslims against us and creating the circumstances in which the U.S. would bankrupt itself — he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams thanks to the unthinking savagery of our leaders and the fecklessness of our institutions, including the MSM).

TEN YEARS after 9/11, private contractors continue to waste BILLIONS in fraud and abuse — between $30-60 billion wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan, per the Wartime Contracting Commission (PBS 8/31/11). I’ve watched this commission over the years, starting with SIGIR, and the number of reforms that have been implemented to stop this egregious waste is ZERO.

The situation is obscene. I would never have imagined that we were capable, as a nation, of ignoring such massive waste in lives and treasure as we have since 9/11. We’ve sacrificed our children, butchered hundreds of thousands of innocents, shredded the Bill of Rights, and nearly bankrupted America — just so a handful of war profiteers can get filthy rich.

And we’re not the least bit safer.

Sage Words from Chris Hedges... And My Hope for 2012

Sage Words from Chris Hedges... And My Hope for 2012Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, and the 2002 recipient of Amnesty International’s Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.  A foreign correspondent for nearly two decades, reporting on many wars over his career, he has been employed by The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News, and The New York Times, in addition to writing for several other publications. (Source: Wikipedia)

In the last decade Mr. Hedges has emerged as one of the most uncompromising, consistent, and cogent anti-war voices in America.

Unquestionably, his writings have edified and even inspired me.  However, I must confess that I have avoided reading Mr. Hedges for some time.  Beyond the desire to adhere to a self-imposed modus operandi that says “read more articles and fewer opinion pieces (in order that I may form my own opinions, rather than merely regurgitate those of others),” I was concerned that Hedges’ voice was too strident, and that the more I read him, the more difficulty I would have communicating with mainstream Americans (which would be a personal disaster, as it has long been my aim to shape myself into an effective conduit of vital facts to my fellow citizens — who have been relentlessly propagandized from all sides, resulting in much confusion and despair, in my observation).

Having recently reacquainted myself with Mr. Hedges’ sage words, including his latest (excerpted above), I can now see the error of that craven decision.  Under my own auspices, relying almost exclusively on mainstream sources of news and information (where I have learned to harvest the wheatier facts amid the chaff of ubiquitous spin), it seems that I have come to share Mr. Hedges’ viewpoint… making my political views identical to those of a “political pariah,” to borrow Hedges’ phrase.

I have trod this path in good faith, and it has led me to this lonely place:  I believe that the words of the Constitution should mean something.  I believe that laws need to be enforced and applied evenhandedly (not just exploited to turn poor people, disproportionately brown people, into virtual slaves in America’s overcrowded, cruel, and dehumanizing prisons).

I believe that systemic fraud, wars of aggression, torture, assassination, and genocide are not just morally wrong but historically discredited (grotesquely short-sighted and ineffective), and that Benito Mussolini’s vision of a perfect synthesis between corporations and the state (his definition of “fascism”) is as destructive in the 21st century as it was in the 20th century… no matter what Chief Justice John Roberts and Antonin Scalia think.

Bizarrely (to me, at least), such views have fallen out of favor, making me somewhat unintelligible, I fear, to most of my fellow citizens.

The majority of my “conservative” friends and loved ones — and the majority of my “liberal” friends and loved ones — most likely find my views on this subject somewhat eccentric and quaint, or they think my interpretation of these “platitudes” overly literal.

(If I were not so well loved by these individuals, I would be very lonely indeed.)

As it is, with the nation’s nominal “conservatives” contemplating the likes of Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Michelle Bachmann in 2012 — and the nation’s alleged “liberals” rallying around Barack Obama (who has cemented the most radical and, frankly, totalitarian policies of his predecessor, while greatly enhancing the interests of an oppressive American oligarchy) — I fear I am finally running out of hope… not for myself (though, as an artist in an increasingly restrictive society, I doubt I’ll find many official patrons or sanctioned outlets for my work), but for OUR future, the future of ALL of the world’s citizens:  Americans, Chinese, Africans, Europeans, Australians, South Americans, Russians, Indonesians…

The vision of last century’s fascists, thanks to a meticulously shrewd refining of their methods, has been very nearly fulfilled.  The ethos is the same.  The results are the same (per the World Health Organization, nearly nine million children under the age of five die every year of wholly preventable causes; and 90% of the victims of our wars are civilians — 40% higher than in World War II).

It is only our willing acceptance of the fascists’ vision that has changed.  (Nietzsche, Orwell, and Huxley did their best to warn us — and, more recently, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, John Perkins, and Naomi Klein tried to inform us — but, in the end, we failed to listen.)

Bigotry, soma, and surveillance turn out to be a pretty potent combination, especially when buttressed by nearly universal despair.  (Very few people, in my experience, hold out hope for a better world… and who can blame them, with our freedoms evaporating as swiftly as the planet’s life-sustaining systems?)

BUT I WILL NEVER GIVE UP.

The beauty and innocence of the human spirit — the fundamental decency of all of us (Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jew; black, white, yellow, red; conservative, liberal, etc.) — will ALWAYS give me some sliver of hope for the future.  Even in the face of massive ecological collapse, with the prospect of human suffering on a scale never before witnessed, I believe it is possible that humanity may yet see a better day.

I continue to hope that one day humanity will learn that the most revolutionary mind of the 20th Century was not that of Adolf Hitler (fuck you, TIME Magazine), who did something age-old and common as rain (albeit in particularly glaring and despicable fashion), but that of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who did something rare and glorious, providing a beacon to oppressed peoples everywhere, in demonstrating the practical application of Christ’s “turn the other cheek” philosophy.

Sure, Osama bin Laden didn’t see it.  But Martin Luther King, Jr. did.  And many others also understand the wisdom of refusing to answer violence with more violence (“an eye for an eye, leaving everyone blind”).

If President George W. Bush were an actual Christian, he would have seen it, too.  But both he and his successor are far more in the vein of Mussolini… which is why fascism is winning today.

Just as Osama bin Laden was a very poor exemplar of Islam, America’s leaders (political and institutional) have done very little to make America, in practice, a “Christian nation.”  Instead, we are the leading butchers of humanity in the modern world.

But we can change.  Whatever creed you follow, good values are good values.  We just need to remind ourselves of their practical implications… and stop following charlatans.

HERE’S A RECIPE FOR REAL CHANGE:

In 2012, if you fancy yourself a conservative, why not risk a vote for Ron Paul?  He’s that rarest of politicians in today’s America:  a non-fascist, unwilling to slaughter hundreds of thousands of people in the name of “Freedom.”

In 2012, if you fancy yourself a liberal, why not risk a primary challenge to Barack Obama, whose Nobel Peace Prize, as a matter of pure political calculation, has been carelessly saturated in blood?  Let’s see if Ralph Nader is willing to hold his nose and run as a Democrat; let’s try to draft him… before it’s too late.  (As matters stand, with Obama’s poll numbers cratering — with the entitlement-slashing waters he’s muddied and disastrous foreign policy, lauded by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — the Democratic Party is already showing signs it’s terrified that 2012 is going to be a banner year for conservatives…  Do we really want all three branches of government controlled by Republicans again?  That’s the outcome we’re really courting, with the status quo!)

Think about it:  Can you imagine how much real hope America might inspire if 2012’s presidential race involved a contest between Ron Paul and Ralph Nader?  My god, we might even have a real conversation in this country again, featuring two principled individuals dedicated to the Constitution and the Rule of Law, who actually mean it when they say “OUT OF IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN!”

If we Americans — Tea Partiers, Republicans, Democrats, and Liberals — really hold the values we profess, we will not hesitate to abandon the “safe” totalitarians currently “leading” the 2012 pack.  Because, once in office (as Barack Obama has demonstrated beyond all doubt), they will surely abandon us.

(And, for my friends on the left, worried about Nader’s chances against one of the “leading” Republicans, do you really think that the brilliant, articulate man of conviction, Ralph Nader, would have any problem whatsoever in defeating an establishment candidate:  Rick “Good Hair” Perry or Mitt “Flip-Flop” Romney?  Really, we have NOTHING to lose… unless we stick with Obama, which means we lose regardless.)

My friends, it’s time to ditch the corporatists (whatever their brand) and work to elect the folks the establishment keeps telling us are “unelectable.”  (That would be the very same establishment that’s been wrong about virtually everything over the last 30 years… from “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush to “socialist-leaning liberal” Barack Obama!)

RON PAUL vs. RALPH NADER in 2012!

It’s about the only chance we have for restoring real HOPE anytime soon, so my advice is to start agitating for real CHANGE — as soon as you finish reading these words.

Organize, lobby, register to vote (and enlist a friend on the other side of the ideological aisle to register with you) TODAY…

“They hate us because we’re free,” said the American President in the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 human beings on September 11, 2001.

The “haters” despised us specifically for our open society, tolerance, and enlightened ways — at least that’s what our political leaders told us… and then they proceeded to dismantle our civil liberties, replacing due process, the Bill of Rights, and habeas corpus with black sites, torture, indefinite detention, and military tribunals for mere suspects (including American citizens), the vast majority of whom have turned out to be innocent… not that we’ve allowed them a shred of legal recourse.

(And it was actually seven months prior to 9/11 that the Bush administration began violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, illegally collecting 100% of Americans’ electronic communications, local and otherwise — despite the government’s claims, years later, once the program was revealed, that they were only spying on outside communications, an assertion that was revealed to be 100% false.)

So much for the “open society…”

The politicians also ended tolerance in America, conflating one faith, Islam, with terrorism, despite the fact that, per the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok, the primary domestic threat emanates from groups on the radical right filled with “anti-government” ideology (whatever that means) and plain old racism.

The Bush administration singled out Muslims in America, immediately detaining over 5,000 without justification, while dismissing home-grown terrorism and shielding Latin American terrorists (the CIA’s partners for decades) from the law.  Research the name “Luis Posada-Carriles” for Exhibit A; he is the CIA asset who committed the first act of terrorism in the Western hemisphere involving a commercial airliner.

The Bush administration also began committing acts of terrorism and genocide in the world, with renewed fervor and unprecedented brazenness.  Somewhere between 150,000 and over a million Iraqis have died as a result of Bush’s war.

The result of all this warmongering and opportunistic demagoguery:  Today, many American communities, like dozens of fascist populations in history, have come to see ALL members of one demographic group as evil and particularly prone to terrorism.  In the 21st Century, many Americans object to the presence of a mosque in their midst, not to mention an Islamic community center, advocating interfaith outreach, just a few blocks distant from Ground Zero.

So much for “tolerance…”

Incidentally, after the Bush administration finally dropped its opposition to its creation, the 9/11 Commission told us that the politicians had it all wrong:  al-Qaeda had attacked us because of our support for Middle Eastern dictators and our backing for state terrorism, especially that perpetrated by Israel against its far weaker neighbors (the most militant factions of which have consistently sought peace).

Ten years later, with George W. Bush retired and Barack Obama in the White House, America has only achieved CONTINUITY and DESPAIR (so much for “Hope” and “Change”).

Regarding government secrecy, torture, official immunity, and the assault on civil liberties, President Obama has been the champion of war criminals like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, and Yoo, cementing their policies and expanding on them (it is now considered “legal” for the president to assassinate an American citizen, without a whisper of due process, far from any battlefield, for purely political reasons).

The worst of it all is that none of these policies has made America the least bit safer.  Even with Osama bin Laden out of the picture, his strategy has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.  America has responded to terrorism with terrorism… and genocide (see Iraq).  America has answered 9/11 with a dramatic departure from our legal, cultural, and moral traditions.  America now routinely applies the methods we once associated chiefly with dictators and fascists… and their methods DO NOT WORK.

– Torturing innocents and hiding detainees from the Red Cross (under Bush and Obama) has not made us any safer.

– Monitoring the communications of all Americans and targeting law-abiding activists and Muslims (under Bush and Obama) has not made us any safer.

– Removing the judicial system and Congress from the global policing activities of the Executive Branch (under Bush and Obama) has not made us any safer.

– Using claims of Executive privilege and secrecy to hide government crimes and blunders from the citizenry while vilifying and persecuting journalists and whistleblowers (under Bush and Obama) has not made us any safer.

George W. Bush told us that America had to trade liberty for security, and tragically (and completely unnecessarily) Barack Obama has taken that message to heart.

What once seemed like dreadful and appalling aberrations from our core identity as a nation — torture, 100% surveillance of the populace, criminalization of unpopular speech/faith/association, and global, boundless war — have now become the new normal.

Pre-9/11 America is no more.  We now apply brutal and previously unthinkable methods, historically associated with Nazis and despots, as routinely and ubiquitously as any such regime before us — despite the fact that none of them are truly efficacious; the frequency of terrorist acts and the fortunes of terrorist actors (theirs and ours) have ballooned all out of proportion.

We’ve stepped right into bin Laden’s trap and delivered a greater victory to al-Qaeda than he and Mr. Zawahiri had ever dreamed possible.

So much for “enlightenment…”

I just want the President to know that any so-called “deal” he strikes to raise the debt ceiling that involves cutting and/or restructuring Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is a non-starter with the vast majority of the American people, including myself (center-left) and my father (center-right, and kindly disposed to his local Tea Party).

Personally, I donated many hours and dollars to candidate Obama in 2008 (primary through general) and I want you to know that after the last 2.5 years, I wish fervently that I could take it all back.

About the only thing President Obama could do at this point to win back SOME of my respect would be to assert his authority under the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling in a clean way — WITHOUT damaging the economy and subverting the New Deal. I know the President doesn’t want to abuse his authority as the Chief Executive in this way (that he’s far more comfortable waging war without the imprimatur of Congress or assassinating American citizens sans due process) — but for once he’d be on solid ground.

James C. O’Donnell III

*          *          *

WHO IS BARACK OBAMA? (The following links should help pull off the blinders for any remaining Obama fans who thought themselves principled critics of his predecessor rather than mere partisans.)

1. Drew Westin’s “The Three Wings of the Republican Party” — www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-westen/democrats-identity-_b_880135.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

2. Glenn Greenwald’s “Barack Obama is Gutting the Core Principles of the Democratic Party” — www.commondreams.org/view/2011/07/21-6?print

3. Frank Rich’s “Obama’s Original Sin” — www.nymag.com/print/?/news/frank-rich/obama-economy/presidents-failure/index5.html

4. Jane Hamsher’s “Breaking Point: Obama and the Death of the Democratic Party” — www.commondreams.org/view/2011/07/08-3?print

5. Jeremy Scahill’s “The CIA’s Secret Sites in Somalia” — www.thenation.com/article/161936/cias-secret-sites-somalia

“Using a trumped up crisis to raid the public purse and attack the basic rights and benefits is a very old trick — but rarely is the shock doctrine tactic wielded as brazenly as in the pseudo debate about the debt ceiling. This is naked class war, waged by the ultra rich against everyone else, and it’s well past time for Americans to draw the line.”

— Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”