Wednesday, February 27, 2008

We Have Ways

(With apologies for not offering something new, I present a piece that I wrote a few years ago for Buzzflash. Unfortunately, with only a few name changes, the article is still relevant today.)

I watched a lot of old movies on TV when I was growing up, and a lot of regular TV shows too. And one thing I remember was that torture was the exclusive province of bad guys. "We have ways of making you talk!" I don't know when this was first said in a movie, or why it became a cliche, but it was a villain who said it. No American hero would ever be seen inflicting pain on someone who was tied down. Can you imagine John Wayne doing that, or Humphrey Bogart? That was what those Nazis did, or the Japanese, or maybe some mad scientist played by Bela Lugosi, or the evil priest in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

That's the trouble with growing up on a diet of Hollywood movies. It left me unprepared for the real world.

Now I've discovered that in order to defeat the enemies of freedom, we need to declare the Geneva Conventions' strict prohibition against torture "obsolete." In fact, we should no longer define beatings, humiliations, the use of dogs, having naked people sit handcuffed for days without food or water, holding their heads under water for long periods, urinating on them, sticking objects up their rectums, forcing them to lick their own feces, putting bags on their heads and making them stand still, etc. as torture. (I refer you to The Logic of Torture by Mark Danner, and its accompanying documentation for these instances.)

Also, despite claims by our leaders that they disapprove of torture, we should recognize that these statements are for public consumption (the public still lives in the obsolete past, as typified by these old Hollywood movies, and thus must be placated) and do not reflect the reality of official approval of these methods at the highest level. The techniques have been consistent not only at Abu Ghraib, but elsewhere in Iraq, military intelligence was fully aware of it, and senior military officials continually discounted reports by the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

It is clear also that Mr. Rumsfeld knew what was going on, and in fact authorized it. Reports indicate that the torture still continues. The estimable Mr. Gonzales has been rewarded by being nominated to the post of our highest law enforcement officer, so it's evident that this is the direction we need to go in.

So I think it's necessary to realize that we live in a brave new world and that the old ideas of good and evil presented in our movies are dangerously outmoded. In order to bring the American people into the more enlightened realm to which our fine leader and his staff are taking us, I propose that our films start showing what is really necessary in order to defeat tyranny. We should see Bruce Willis performing "waterboarding" on a suspect, and we should have films featuring Jennifer Garner setting dogs on frightened, naked men. Nicolas Cage should be depicted savagely beating a helpless prisoner with a club while other soldiers watch, laughing. Instead of his silly kung fu moves, Steven Seagal should use hooding, sleep deprivation, and the trussing of bound prisoners in painful positions.

This may not be as glamorous as the old "action" film formulas, but it will better prepare our people for the challenges we will face in the fight against tyranny. I hope our films will soon come to more accurately reflect what we really need to do in these dangerous times.

Our police films are also out of date, I'm afraid. Although we've made some progress in terms of showing cops using brutality and other extra-legal means to get convictions, there's still the old-fashioned idea of the maverick police officer working within the system as an underdog. This is really kind of insulting.

In fact, as the militarization of our police forces advances in this century, we see hordes of cops dressed in very cool SWAT-style black, with visors hiding their eyes, using pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse those demonstrators who are trying to stop our leaders' push for greater world freedom by using disruptions and anti-American slogans.

Good guys should be wearing all black now, with helmets and visors. They should appear scary and impersonal, like the Gestapo or Darth Vader. Villains should be scruffy looking people wearing sneakers & t-shirts, or little old ladies, academic types, that sort of thing. Only by being dark and scary ourselves will we defeat evil.

This is for real, folks. As the saying goes, United We Stand -- so we need to start looking and behaving alike. And our movies need to reflect that. No more of this "lone hero helping the underdog" thing. Hopalong Cassidy won't cut it any more. We're not underdogs. We're the United States, the greatest country in the world. We need to start acting like it, and our movies need to start reflecting that.

So the next time we hear "We have ways of making you talk" in a film, it should be said by a true-blooded American like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the audience should stand up and cheer.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Immigration is an "issue"

Immigration is an “issue.” I know this because politicians and pundits have continually repeated it. It’s always listed as one of the primary issues of the Presidential campaign. What are the candidates’ positions on immigration, inquiring minds want to know?

Excuse me, I mean illegal immigration. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the issue.

I can’t remember exactly when this became an issue. At some point, a bunch of people got together and decided to make it one. When the Republicans tried to pass a “tough” bill in 2006, there were huge demonstrations across the country against them. Against the Republicans, I mean. Oops, that’s not the response we expected.

All this can be kind of puzzling, because when I talk to people about politics, they never mention immigration as one of their concerns. They talk about the war, the destruction of the environment, the scary financial situation, the corruption. (Did I mention the war?) But nobody I know seems worried about illegal immigration.

It must be the crowd of people I hang out with. They’re probably too educated.

If you study the politics of Europe for any length of time (say, for an hour) you’ll notice that neo-fascist groups always start out by attacking immigrants. It stands to reason that a hate movement will target “outsider” groups in order to attract frustrated, ignorant people, expressing their powerlessness by raging against someone even more powerless than they are. It’s an extension of the old antisemitic template. There’s an insidious minority threatening your job and your family. Attack!

The immigration “issue” operates the same way in America, except that it’s not confined to fringe rightist groups—it’s the mainstream. Whenever things start to go sour for the elites—a war not turning out as planned, large-scale theft sending the economy into a spiral, etc.—immigration suddenly pops up again as an issue. While Mr. and Mrs. Average White American are getting royally screwed, the people who own the country start gesticulating towards Mexico. Those brown people are causing this! And then Mr. and Mrs. A.W.M., who are patriots and wouldn’t be caught dead protesting the war or questioning the wisdom of corporations, get all hot and bothered over illegal immigration and end up voting for the yelling, pointing, bloviating, anti-immigrant candidate.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. I’m not sure it’s working that well this time. People are still more worried about the war and the economy for some reason. And the Latino voters are getting pissed off. If you were wondering why Bush’s immigration proposals were moderate compared to the frothing of the rightists (“moderate” meaning in the current political lexicon “slightly less insane”), I can tell you it was not because Bush could give a tiny fraction of a damn about immigrants (or anything but his pathetic self and his rich handlers' checkbooks), but simply because Karl Rove wanted to claim a chunk of the Latino vote. The nativists, however, are ruled more by their hate than their desire to win elections. They would have none of Rove’s Machiavellian strategy, and the result is that the Republicans are facing the probable loss of the Latino vote, a devastating blow which, if there’s any hope in this world, will flush them down the electoral toilet.

In the meantime, contemplate the wholly artificial nature of immigration as an “issue.” The media talks about it, therefore it’s an issue. If people hear about it often enough, they start to believe that it must be an issue. The losers who listen to AM radio are told (ordered) to consider it an issue by the usual gang of insane demagogues, so of course they believe it. Lou Dobbs yammers about it every night, and I guess that’s good enough for me. Let’s build a fucking wall around our country!

The war, however, is not an issue. The war is a PR problem. People need to be convinced that the “surge” is working, and that everything’s ok. That’s the only “issue.” You see how this works? It’s really quite simple. Whatever actually affects the mass of ordinary working people in this country, whatever political, social, and economic conditions have a real impact on our lives—that is not the “issue.” The “issue” is whatever stream of empty, pretentious, distracting bullshit happens to emerge from the political-media cesspool, drowning all of our actual concerns in its putrid, miasmic, mind-deadening slop.

Happy President's Day!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Land of the Dead

There’s been quite a bit of controversy within the zombie movement lately. We, the living, have become accustomed to seeing the zombies loping along in unison, or what appears to be unison, attacking their victims, stopping to eat their flesh, and then moving on. So it’s some relief to observe the undead arguing among themselves. Nevertheless, it is difficult for anyone who is not a zombie to fully comprehend the issues involved.

John McCain appears to be headed for victory in the Republican nomination. Many zombies are visibly upset over this prospect, claiming that McCain is in fact not a zombie at all. Now, if you’ve been watching McCain over the years, and you are one of the living, it’s difficult to see what these objections are based on. McCain has the same shambling gait, the same awkward swinging of the limbs, as any other zombie. His eyes and mouth are distorted, and blood is visibly dripping from his mouth. To me, he looks more zombie-like than many of the more outspoken undead people who are attacking him. Moreover, he has made a point of publicly devouring human flesh. He’s even gone to the lengths of eating a dead baby on TV.

His critics, however, claim that this is mere pandering. They point out that he’s never been seen ripping the organs out of a human being, at least not in front of a camera. He’s only been seen eating the flesh of people who are already dead. They could have been killed by someone else. He has expressed views in the past that have sounded suspiciously like those of the living. There’s also this matter of his popularity with the press. Admittedly, there are plenty of zombie journalists and pundits now, but the press is still regarded with extreme suspicion by the undead community.

There were similar problems, you may recall, when Harriet Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court. Even though she had prepared many bodies to be eaten by others, there were doubts as to her own flesh-eating proclivities. We saw in this case that the standards for bona fide zombie leadership had become much stricter since the ghouls had taken the White House in 2000. It wasn’t enough that a person had died and then risen from the grave to stalk the living. Their capacity for mayhem, and their appetite for flesh, had to be impeccable.

Our political discourse is incredibly confusing these days because both the living and the undead use the same terminology, but with widely different meanings. Within the living community there are differing attitudes towards the zombie movement. Polling indicates that most of us are tired of these rampaging reanimated corpses, and that it doesn’t make any difference to us whether a zombie actually eats flesh, or just helps other zombies secure their meat. We want a government, and a policy, that promotes the interests of the living. On the other hand, there are still quite a few among the more prominent and privileged classes who seek to cooperate with the zombies in a “non-partisan” manner. Sometimes you can’t tell whether these people have become zombies themselves or are just deluded. It’s more difficult to tell the difference than it used to be, judging just from appearances. I suspect that many of those calling for cooperation are afraid that they will be devoured unless they go along. On the other hand, if they placate the zombies, they may be allowed to become one of them after they’re dead. The zombie leaders have proven adept at employing this strategy to divide us.

If you watch the Zombie Channel for an extended time, you will be astonished at how familiar words and phrases have changed in meaning in order to fit the zombie agenda. For instance, “freedom” means having a choice between different kinds of human flesh, without government interference. But there’s no concept of freedom as the choice not to be eaten in the first place. It also constantly warns of a threat from the zombies overseas who worship a different blood-sucking monster than the American zombies do. I suppose this makes some kind of sense, but then there is the constant implication that living people are somehow in league with these foreign zombies, which although completely false has gained a lot of traction as a dividing tactic.

I’ve always argued that the entire zombie enterprise is a failure, and that we need to turn our backs on this whole undead business if we are to move forward as a nation. The important thing in this election year will be for living voters to not be fooled by all the talk about McCain not being a zombie. There’s blood coming out of his mouth, so don’t vote for him. Hopefully the controversy over McCain within the zombie movement will keep many zombies from voting, and give the White House back to a living human. Now, I know that the Democrats have been scandalously weak when it comes to resisting the flesh-eaters. Over and over again, they’ve betrayed our interests in order to gain zombie support and funding. Many zombies have infiltrated the party while pretending to be still alive. But we have to start somewhere. The election of a human being, however weak or compromised, may at least help start a process of zombie regulation and oversight, and curb the movement’s worst excesses. There’s so much blood and organs and rotting flesh lying around, that I don’t think we can stand the stench for another four years. Enough is enough.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Pen pals

From the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Dear Mr. Dashiell,
Thank you for contacting me regarding your opinions about impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. As you know,
Congressman Dennis Kucinich recently introduced House Resolution 333 to impeach Vice President Cheney. Impeachment is one of the most powerful actions possible by the House of Representatives, punishing "high crimes and misdemeanors." I do not take this matter lightly.
I respect my colleague's legislation and will give it serious consideration if I have an opportunity to vote on its passage. Preserving the
U.S. Constitution and maintaining the important checks and balances in our democratic system demand strong congressional oversight of the executive branch.
In fact, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, of which I am not a member, has been conducting hearings on many questionable policies and actions of the Bush Administration-the decision to go into Iraq, the use of domestic wiretaps without the benefit of warrants, and the use of no-bid contracts in Iraq and
Hurricane Katrina reconstruction in the gulf coast. Investigating and possibly litigating these issues will most likely continue during the second year of the 110th Congress. However, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee does not have the authority to initiate the impeachment process.
In all past impeachment proceedings (President Jackson [sic], President Nixon and
President Clinton for example) the House has examined impeachment charges prior to entertaining any vote. The process has included an initial exploration by the Judiciary Committee to which investigating and reporting duties are delegated. Based on its findings, the Committee has then drafted an impeachment resolution that reflects the charges being presented. Afterwards the Judiciary committee has then voted the resolution out of committee and sent it to the full House.
Congressman Kucinich's impeachment resolution, H.R. 333, has not gone through this process. Therefore, when it came directly to the floor on a procedural motion, I voted to send it to the Judiciary Committee for proper consideration.
There are serious allegations about the Vice President's actions over the past seven years and Congress is trying to repair some of the damage. I am working hard to change the direction of the country and correct mistakes of the Bush Administration, particularly in
If an impeachment measure passes the Judiciary committee and is referred to the floor for final passage, I will review the charges carefully, examine transcripts from Judiciary committee hearings and debate, and consult with my colleagues and constituents on how to vote.
Thank you for your active engagement in our democracy. Participation and vigilance in monitoring the actions of elected officials is the responsibility of all citizens. Without accountability, our system of government would be in great peril. I am honored to represent you and look forward to working with you to continue bringing the voice of
Southern Arizona to Washington. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if you require assistance, and feel free to sign-up for e-news updates on my website at
Gabrielle Giffords
Member of Congress

Dear Ms. Giffords,

Thank you for your letter of January 23 regarding my opinions about impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. I agree with you that without accountability, our system of government would be in great peril. However, I maintain that in fact there has been practically no accountability for this administration’s lawless behavior during the last seven years, and that therefore our system of government is already in great peril. It was a dire sense of urgency, not a casual whim or opinion, that prompted me to contact you regarding impeachment. Your reply, which treated this issue as largely a procedural matter, lacked the sense of urgency that I think would accurately reflect our true situation.
If the Democratic leadership really took Rep. Kucinich’s resolution seriously, I don’t think it would still be sitting in committee. It was first submitted in April of last year, and then resubmitted in November. No hearings have been scheduled on this resolution. I think that if House Democrats were sincere about accountability, the resolution would at least be in the hearings stage by now. The fact that it isn’t is a source of grave disquiet to me and to many other citizens who care about the integrity of our political process.
As one of your district’s constituents, and as someone who voted for you in 2006, I urge you to co-sponsor Rep. Kucinich’s resolution, as your Tucson colleague Raul Grijalva has done.
It has been common knowledge for some time that the Bush administration had fixed the intelligence around the policy of invading
Iraq, and repeatedly misled the American people concerning Iraq and its supposed link to Al Qaida. Mr. Bush also authorized illegal wiretapping of American citizens. His administration has pursued a policy of torturing prisoners, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and standards of human decency. He has authorized secret prisons where people are held indefinitely without charges. He sought to undermine the integrity of the Justice Dept. by using it to suppress the votes of citizens in largely Democratic regions, firing U.S. attorneys that refused to go along with this corrupt policy. He allowed a CIA agent’s identity to be revealed as political retaliation against the agent’s husband for revealing one of the deceptions used to attack Iraq. These are only a few prominent aspects of the rampant corruption that has characterized this administration. The conduct of the Iraq war alone reveals numerous instances of fraud and theft from the U.S. treasury by contractors with political ties to the administration that, instead of being accountable to oversight, have been continually shielded from investigation by the administration. War profiteering is an extremely grave, I would even say potentially fatal, threat to our country. It has been going on since the beginning of this war on an unprecedented scale, and all of us are paying for it, while high-level criminal activity goes unpunished and in fact rewarded. Moreover, Mr. Bush continues to explicitly claim powers that put the Executive Branch above the law. He has instructed his aides not to answer Congressional subpoenas. He has used signing statements to contradict and disregard laws that have passed the Congress. He has sought to eliminate the principle of habeas corpus, one of the rights for which our forefathers pledged their lives and honors, and he has partly succeeded in this aim. He has continually exploited the atrocities of 9/11/01 for political advantage, to the shame of all people of conscience.
In your letter you say that you are working to correct the administration’s “mistakes,” especially in
Iraq. I really think it is too charitable to refer to the policies regarding Iraq as mistakes. This administration deliberately misled us to prosecute this war, and have since showed criminal disregard for the safety and well-being of American troops and returning veterans. A recent poll conducted by a non-partisan British group concluded that more than one million Iraqis have died as the result of this conflict. Add to that the thousands of American soldiers killed and wounded. I don’t think “oops” is a mature response to this devastating event.
If impeachment proceedings are not brought against this President and Vice-President, then we are essentially saying that it is ok for this level of corruption to exist in our government. If we let this slide, in the hope that somehow another election will solve everything, we lose a vital opportunity for the
United States to stand up as a country for the rule of law and the value of human decency. There is no guarantee that a new President, even if he or she is a Democrat (which is by no means certain), will not continue to promote untrammeled executive power above all law or oversight. There is no guarantee that our future will not continue to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by unscrupulous profiteers.
I voted for you in 2006 because I wanted accountability and true change in our country. I did not vote for you so that we could simply sit on our hands and wait until a new President takes office in 2009. I consider the situation in our country so perilous that I am not sure we can survive another year of criminal behavior in the White House without permanent damage to our institutions and our very freedom. Mr. Bush has already shown his eagerness to involve us in yet another war, the disastrous consequences of which I can barely contemplate without being overwhelmed with despair and horror. Ms. Giffords, polls indicate that over half of the citizens of this country favor impeachment. The people are far ahead of the politicians in their rejection of Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their policies. With the Republicans' dismal record of failure on every level, and a list of lies and scandals so long that it is difficult to even keep track of all the deceptions and crimes, why aren’t the Democrats using this as an issue for all its worth? But even if public support was lower, impeachment is simply the right thing to do. To let this behavior go by without anyone taking responsibility sends a clear message to the country, and to our kids, that we don’t really care about honesty at all, and that power and money are our real priorities, not the values of responsibility, citizenship, or providing for our future.
I am sorry to have to say that unless you take a stand against this corrupt White House, I won’t be able to vote for you when you come up for re-election. I say “won’t be able” rather than “won’t be willing” because I think you’re a good person with good intentions. I want to vote for you. But I am literally unable to cast my vote for anyone, no matter how well intentioned, who will not actively oppose this criminal administration. For me to do so would be to countenance torture, mass murder, the undermining of our precious Constitution, and ultimately treason. This is not business as usual, Ms. Giffords. This is not normal politics. This is the future of our country, and silence at this point equals complicity. My conscience can no longer allow me to be complicit.
Thank you again for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Chris Dashiell