Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Demanding justice is not an attack on all police officers

I find the actions of the NYPD toward Mayor De Blasio, turning their backs on him and booing him, very unnerving. After a number of cops from departments across the country have literally gotten away with murder in recent months, instead of responding with humility and a promise to better train their officers, police have acted with outrage that anybody would call them to account for their actions. Their attitude seems to be that they are above the law, and no one has the right to even try and tell them what to do.

Conservative politicians have responded in typical knee-jerk reaction, vowing their undying love and loyalty to any person who wears a gun and a uniform. Criticism of our soldiers or cops is tantamount to treason or aiding and comforting the bad guys, as if the uniform magically imbues people with divine powers of justice and fairness. I served in the United States Army, and while I met some fine individuals, I also met violent, unstable people who I wouldn’t entrust to watch my pet let alone my life in a combat situation.

And, of course, conservatives can’t see the distinction between justifiable criticism of certain police practices and attitudes and an out and out attack on every peace officer in the country. They do black and white and that’s about the extent of their color spectrum. We need the police, but we need police who are well–trained and psychologically fit to do their job. And we need police who understand the necessity of oversight and that breaking the law, whether you’re wearing gang colors or a blue uniform, is still breaking the law, and cannot be tolerated in a civilized, democratic society.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The mainstream media gets one right

It’s a rare moment in time when a member of the mainstream media goes off the corporate-approved script and speaks the truth to power. The New York Times did just that yesterday in an editorial calling on Obama to order a criminal investigation of top Bush administration officials who authorized torture after 9/11. And to its credit, the Times’ editorial was unequivocal. There was no hemming and hawing, no “equivalency” nonsense, no slippery rhetorical escape hatch for the accused. The editorial was short and sweet: Investigate the bastards.

On a similar note, Dick Cheney has been on a media campaign for the last few weeks trying desperately to put the lid back on the box of torture charges. For all his sneering and cranky expletives, many of Cheney’s statements on the subject have been labeled mostly or completely false by fact-checking organizations. Saddam Hussein did not have a 10-year relationship with al-Qaeda. And yes, detainees captured under the war on terror are covered by the Geneva Convention.

I applaud the New York Times editorial board having the courage to call for an investigation into our government’s use of torture. I wish that Obama had the same level of courage to actually carry out what justice demands, but I wouldn’t put any money on that bet. Who knows? Maybe he’ll surprise me too.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Short Scary Stories: They Live!

Two new scary short stories over at They're Only Shadows. Read them if you dare, bwahahahah.

Americans live in a bubble of blissful ignorance

American Exceptionalism has more in common with religion than traditional nationalism. It is a grand fantasy based on historical myths and delusions used to brainwash generations of citizens. Since the Plymouth Colony was established in 1620, our history has been one of genocide, slavery, torture, assassinations, invasions, violence, racism, sexism, and environmental degradation. The real history of the U.S. has been scrubbed from our textbooks as adeptly as any fascist government real or imagined.

We Americans live in a bubble of blissful ignorance that shields us from seeing our true selves in the mirror. We are quick to point out the flaws of other countries while we secretly overthrow an elected government or fly illegal drugs into the country to pay for violence and mayhem in other parts of the globe. Not content to be an example of democracy to the rest of the world, we have a long history of trying to impose our form of government on others through the barrel of a gun.

Instead of acknowledging our mistakes and trying to learn from them, we treat each one as an aberration that is unrepresentative of our true holy nature. Problem is, recent history clearly demonstrates that we’re lying to ourselves. Our dark nature continues to drive our actions with the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the horrific torture of prisoners and unrestrained spying on U.S. citizens. Instead of scratching out an existence at the edges of society, the anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-democratic forces in this country are being voted into office by a deaf, dumb and blind citizenry.

The future looks dim for this country. No one in the CIA will be prosecuted for spying on members of Congress. No one who approved of torture will be prosecuted. The rich keep getting wealthier at our expense. We continue to try and solve world issues with bombs and bullets. True change will only come about if we stop worshiping the false America and start being honest with ourselves about our faults.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Don't forget to vote!

There are three days left to vote for your favorite short story (which is The Silver Key) at Chilling Tales for Dark Nights. Santa says, "Ho, ho, ho. I'm not saying you'll definitely get a lump of coal if you don't vote for The Silver Key, but it's never a good idea to disappoint Santa."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The U.S. gives the international community a big middle finger

This is a very interesting and disturbing tidbit of information that I’m sure few Americans know about. In 2002, the American Service-Member’s Protection Act (ASPA) was passed by Congress and became federal law. Sponsored by notorious racist Jesse Helms (R-NC) and the slimy Tom DeLay (R-TX), the law aims “to protect United States military personnel and other elected and appointed officials of the United States government against criminal prosecution by an international criminal court to which the United States is not party.”

The law states that the president must us “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any U.S. or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court.” It prohibits extradition of any U.S. citizen to the Court. In other words, the United States has declared itself above international law and should the International Criminal Court even attempt to convict an American, the law gives the President the power to invade the Netherlands to free the accused.

The law becomes relevant as more and more evidence of American’s using torture comes to light. Despite breaking international laws and treaties, the perpetrators can be assured that they will never be held accountable by the rest of the world. In fact, the law was created specifically because the government knew that there were illegal tactics being used by the CIA and the military in the early years of the war on terror. The ASPA was a “cover our ass” law to protect Americans from justice.

Is it as discouraging to you as it is to me that I live in a country that feels the need to pass such a law?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Obey, Good Citizen

A cop with the City of Mishawaka Police in Indiana is producing a T-shirt with the slogan, “Breath Easy: Don’t Break the Law.” Although he denies it, it is a clear reference to the last words of Eric Garner as a NYPD policeman was chocking him to death, “I can’t breath.” The shirts producer, John Barthel, claims that it is merely telling citizens that they can breath easy because the police are there to protect you. Right.

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was Shephard Fairley’s ubiquitous “Obey” stickers and posters closely linked to Orwell’s 1984. All you must do, good citizen, is obey and everything will be fine. Clearly, the scary part of this is the mentality behind this thinking, which equates obedience with subjugation and law breaking with terrorism.

If only the issue was as simple as Barthel wants us to believe. In Barthel’s make-believe world, there is no such thing as racism or racial profiling or different rules for different populations and everyone is treated equal under the law. The fantasy is that if you are a good little citizen, you will never have any trouble from the police. Justice is blind. As we have seen from headline after headline over the past few months of police murdering people of color and getting away with it, Barthal’s hallucinogenic image of America and actual life on the streets are totally at odds.

“Breath Easy. Don’t Break the Law” is not “To Protect and Serve.” Police no longer see themselves as public servants but as the thin blue line between civility and anarchy, which has them constantly on a war footing and feeling above the laws they were hired to uphold. If Barthal’s sentiments are representative of the average cop, America’s law enforcement community is in serious need of an attitude adjustment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vote for me!

No I haven't decided to throw my hat into the ring for the upcoming Presidential election despite the overwhelming chorus of voters urging me to run (as far away as possible). I was notified last night that I am one of 12 finalists in a short story contest at Chilling Tales for Dark Nights. The winner is determined by votes, so if you are so inclined, you can go there to vote for The Silver Key. Thanks in advance.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cheney the Heartless

What words can you use to describe a man who swears that torture works, when there is not a shred of evidence to corroborate that claim, says that given the opportunity he’d torture people again, and who blithely dismisses the fact that innocent people were tortured and murdered in America’s name? Could it be…Satan?

Dick Cheney isn’t Satan, but he is one of the most despicable humans on the planet. On top of his disgusting, full-throated defense of torture, the man was absolutely eager to throw his former boss (in title only) George Bush under the bus by letting the world know that he was fully aware of every dark and dirty deed committed by the CIA.

Obviously, Cheney the Heartless is playing the only card he has in his deck. He has no choice but to aggressively defend his actions despite the insanity of that position. He committed international crimes against humanity, but he also knows that there is little to no chance that the current administration will do anything about it. For all his failings as a human being, and maybe because of them, Cheney is unmatched at political maneuvering and manipulation. Because torture was allowed to continue by Obama, the current president has no appetite to seek a path to justice that could eventually find its way back to him.

With the appointment of George Bush as President in 2000, Cheney and his merry band of neocons took advantage of their long desired opportunity to mold the executive branch into their warped image. The attack on the Twin Towers conveniently provided them with the opportunity to give the President new and unprecedented powers and at the same time send troops into the Middle East to settle old scores and take control of oil-rich lands. All of it has proven an utter disaster for this country and the rest of the world.

No, Dick Cheney isn’t Satan, but he has done more than any other single person to destroy all that was once seen as good about America, and turn this country into lawless, war-loving international pariah.

Friday, December 12, 2014

It’s the values, stupid

One of life’s great mysteries for me is trying to imagine what was going through the minds of voters in last November’s election when they pulled the lever or checked the box or poked the chad giving Republican’s control over both houses of Congress. They continuously rate Congress lower than anal cysts, but then turn around and vote for the very people who are responsible for government gridlock.

Thanks to Congressional Republicans, with some help from gutless Democrats, the latest spending bill that funds the government through the end of the fiscal year is packed with goodies for Wall Street and wealthy political donors, and of course, contains very little in the way of relief for the average citizen.

THIS IS WHAT YOU VOTED FOR! [Screams of frustration, the sounds of garments being rendered, head banging against wall] And there will be plenty more of these shenanigans over the next two years.

The only analysis that makes any sense to me is that values trump everything when it comes to elections. Red staters perceive that Republicans share their values, and that seems to be enough to earn a vote. Actions don’t play into the equation…or logic or common sense or even self-preservation. Add to this a corporate controlled media and I guess you have the recipe for conservative success. The reality that Republicans consistently side with the wealthy elites over the average voter doesn’t seem to be important.

In my opinion, the antidote is for Democrats to stop trying to be Republican light and start standing up for progressive values, which are values that can truly help struggling Americans. If progressives get their wish and Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders decide to run for President in the 2016 election, it will be a very interesting and telling race regarding the future direction of the Democratic Party.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The screaming of the weasels

It’s completely understandable if you’re confused about what year it is. Are we living in 2014 or 1214? If you are reading today’s headlines, you might think it’s the middle of the Dark Ages as the weasels who approved torture squeal out in their own defense. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Directors Michael Hayden, George Tenet and Porter Goss and former Justice Department Attorney John Woo and others are flinging justifications for their illegal behavior as fast as the media will relay them.

Cheney, who treats any criticism with a disdainful “Fuck-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on” sneer, called the Senate’s report a bunch of crap, and, true to form, brought up 9/11 as his magical justification for anything. Hayden said force feeding prisoners through rectal rehydration (shoving food up a person’s anus) was a benign medical procedure. Yoo tried to claim that the American people supported Bush’s post-9/11 actions, including torture.

The screaming of the weasels is a concerted effort on the part of a cadre of international criminals to justify the unjustifiable, and it all basically boils down to this: “If America does it, it’s not illegal.” It’s 2014 and we are still arguing the validity of torture.

I wish I had more faith that international justice would prevail, but like banks that are too big to fail, the individuals who authorized torture are probably too big to jail. They’ll continue making millions off of memoirs and speaking fees despite their horrendous crimes, while the families of those tortured and murdered at their hands will have only the memories of their loved ones to comfort them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture doesn't work, but that's not why it should be outlawed

One of the things I find most troubling about the conversation sparked by the release of the Senate’s report on CIA interrogation excesses is whether torture worked or not. Contrary to the evidence, the director of the CIA, Cheney, Bush and Congressional Republicans continue to argue that it worked and saved lives. They’re wrong, but is that point even relevant?

Let’s step back for a moment. When we go to our history books and look at the horrendous torture devices and techniques used during the Inquisition or by Nazis during WWII or even in less developed countries today, do we ever ask, “Did it work?” What abhors us about torture is the cruelty of it, and that was the basis for numerous international treaties after WWII banning the practice. From the United States’ perspective, the simple argument was that if we as a country allow torture, we have no moral authority to criticize other countries that use it, and it could be (and was) used against our soldiers.

That all got thrown out the window after 9/11. Fear trumped rationale thinking, and the Bush Administration was quick to condone anything that it thought might protect us from another terrorist attack, even torture, without thinking through the ramifications. Worse yet, the practice continued for years, even though the results were consistently unhelpful and experts in the field told the Administration it was a futile tactic.

Torture doesn’t work, and we knew that before the attacks on the Twin Towers, but that should not be the core argument against it. It is an inhuman, morally repugnant practice that debases everyone involved in it. Why fundamentalist Christians in this country seem to support it and validate its use is a topic for another posting. We as a country must strongly denounce it in word and deed if we are ever to be looked at with respect in the world community again.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

We tortured some folks

“We tortured some folks.” This was Obama’s glib, tone-deaf response at a news conference held this past summer related to the Senate’s report on the CIA treatment of detainees. He did follow that up by saying, “We did some things contrary to our values,” but the general tone of his remarks was to excuse some overzealous behavior in the aftermath of 9/11 because we weren’t in their shoes.

As we await the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the Bush-era interrogation tactics, which could come today, it’s time to reflect on just how “contrary to our values” torture is. It’s one of the benchmarks we have historically used when characterizing the worst regimes on the planet. It’s universally condemned in the developed world. The United States signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture treaty in 1988. And finally, experts in the area of interrogation methods have been telling us for years that torture simply doesn’t work. Victims will tell interrogators anything to make it stop.

So with the release of the Senate’s report, our hypocrisy and lawlessness will be laid bare for the world to see. The question is, will those responsible for acts violating international law be held accountable? Will Bush and Cheney and others who authorized the use of torture pay any price for their actions? Unfortunately, I highly doubt it. As much as I would like to see Dick Cheney led out of a courtroom in shackles, all indications are that they will be spared any punishment. “Mistakes were made,” Obama will say, “but let’s not dwell on the past."

We used to hold ourselves up as an example of a country that lived by the rule of law, but since 9/11, we have descended into a rogue state that feels it can write its own rules as it goes, both here at home and abroad.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Media authority bias on display in protest coverage

The mainstream media’s biases are on full display in an article about this weekend’s national protests against the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. This morning’s front page of CNN reports on the protests in Oakland and Berkeley California that became violent. Here’s the headline:

“Protesters flood California highway, throw explosives at officers, police say”

Right off the bat the players in this drama are typecast, protesters bad, police just doing their jobs. Then we get into the article, and for the first ten paragraphs, we are treated to reports from the police on what happened – explosives where thrown, officers suffered minor injuries, vandalizing police cars, and on and on. If you make it as far as the eleventh paragraph, you’ll find this:

“The acts of violence were apparent anomalies in a sea of protests nationwide…”

So CNN spent two-thirds of the first section of a front-page article describing a rare situation among the hundreds of protests around the country. How come? Oh, and then there is the fact that not one demonstrator was interviewed to counter the allegations made by the police. I read somewhere else (can’t remember where) that Berkeley protestors are claiming the police instigated the violence.

Aside from simply being sensationalist, the article is clearly from the perspective of the police or state, with little credence or regard for the people. To me it’s journalistic malfeasance bordering on propaganda to publish a story like this without presenting both sides of the issue.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The indefensible persistence of racism in America

If you hear anyone trying to argue that we live in post-racial America, please tell that person to sit down and shut the fuck up. The failures of two grand juries to indict cops for murdering Michael Brown and Eric Garner should lay the post-racial myth in its grave. Racism is alive and well in the United States. Just turn on your TV and listen to conservatives like ex-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani or FOX News’ Gretchen Carlson or Congressman Peter King spew ridiculous justifications for the actions of the police. King thinks Garner died because he was too fat.

Modern racism is comfortably couched in code words and phrases that allow the speaker a back door to escape being labeled an outright bigot. The welfare state, the takers, the lazy poor, the criminal class; prejudice and racial hatred are covered with layers of euphemisms that have allowed them to be slyly interjected into our national political discourse.

Yes, we elected an African American president, and at the same time opened a Pandora’s Box of racial hatred that has seen conservatives accuse Obama of everything from hating America to being the Anti-Christ. When they couldn’t come up with an actual impeachable offense, they tried to manufacture one with Benghazi. This colossal effort, this extensive expenditure of time and energy to try and bring down the President isn’t coming from any patriotic quest to wrest America from an evil leader, but from the poisoned stream of racism that runs just beneath the surface of far too many of our politicians.

The year is 2014, but we are still haunted as a country by divisive attitudes and racial prejudices that have plagued us since our founding. Think about the message that’s being sent to black communities in America through the results of the Brown and Garner grand jury decisions. Justice has two faces in the U.S. One is white and one is black, and they are not equal.  

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

American Exceptionalism is a dangerous myth

For some reason, I’ve been dwelling recently on the idea of American Exceptionalism (AE) and how ridiculous and repugnant a concept it really is. At some point during one of Obama’s presidential campaigns, a questioner asked if he believed in American Exceptionalism and he said he did. I’m sure no presidential candidate would be foolish enough to criticize our status as a super duper world power, but I’m guessing that Obama the man is smart enough to understand how wrong it is.

AE is one of those things that a lot of Americans instinctively agree with, but that few have actually thought about. It’s like the words to the Pledge of Allegiance or the Star Spangled Banner, we hear them all the time, but not many people look at them closely.

Is America special? Are we inherently superior to other countries? Has God chosen us over other peoples of the world? It sounds crass and incredibly self-centered when stated this way, but that’s what AE is all about. If you accept AE, you accept the idea that we are better than the people of other countries. Let’s bring this down to a personal level. Do you think that any one individual is superior to another? How do we feel about people who think they are better than everyone else? We generally don’t like them.

And let’s not forget that countries with a serious superiority complex, like, oh, I don’t know, Nazi Germany, have not fared well historically.

As long as we believe in AE, it makes things like destroying an indigenous population, dropping bombs all over the Middle East or starting wars with countries that have not threatened us seem acceptable, even patriotic. If we do something in the name of America, it must be okay.

AE means never having to say you’re sorry.