Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Hidden State Steps Forward


Department of Peace Hits Mainstream Media


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dennis Kucinich, Dec. 19, 2005 - Change


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Oil Crash

Since the first “No Blood For Oil” signs bobbed above protesting crowds across America, I’ve thought that the problem with invading other countries and building bases there to gain control of the world’s few remaining oil fields was bad because it kills people, it’s greedy, and because fossil fuel use is unsustainable. The insane lifestyle in wealthy nations – driving around buying unnecessary stuff – is poisoning the rivers, forests, farmlands and oceans we humans rely on for survival.

But now, reading The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies by Richard Heinberg, the policy of takeover just looks stupid. There isn’t enough oil left in the world to make continuing this lifestyle worthwhile, or even feasible. More important, knowing that our cheap energy supply is finite means that it would make most sense to use what we have left for an all out dedicated sprint toward converting to renewables and scaling back levels of energy use by improving efficiency. We should be building an economy based on “steady state” principles, as described by geologist M. King Hubbert: regional economies, organic agriculture, smaller populations, and a phase-out of non-productive or destructive industries like advertising, financial services and petrochemical manufacturing. Instead, we’re scrambling to maintain our perpetual growth capitalist economy and burning up our transition fuel by making wars abroad and driving around buying stuff at home. The longer we wait to confront this topsy-turvy set of priorities, the harder the inevitable crash is going to be.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Becoming Our Enemies

Reading about the torture being committed by Iraqis with U.S. complicity, and by Americans all over the world in the secret prisons, and how people are saying it's just like under Saddam Hussein, I've been reminded of the truism that so often, crusaders of one sort or another become the monster they are trying to kill. Another example in the news lately is Stanley Williams, co-founder of the Crips gang in L.A., which he founded to try to stop gang violence, only to see himself become the leader of one of the most brutal gangs there.

It makes me wonder: will peace activists, so enraged at the lies and murder being committed in the name of American "security," someday become the same type monster as the Bush Administration we struggle against? Or is there some qualitative difference when the struggle is explicitly non-violent? The indigenous people of South America, patrolling their communities armed only with sticks, when their enemies have submachine guns, helicopters and bombs, may be leading the way into the future. I hope they can maintain their high ground. I hope they can lead us all up on to it.

short story

I joined the Army three days after high school graduation. My friend Becky and I had gone swimming together at the reservoir the day after graduation. Late May in Tennessee is a little raw, where I live, anyway. Mornings are still very cool and crisp, but the smell of roses is hinted at.

We walked to the reservoir, past the end of the cul-de-sac, to where the weeds start in among the aspens. Becky met me early, her long brown hair pulled back into a wispy braid, like she’d slept on it.

She told me she was pregnant. She’d been going out with this guy who worked at the motorcycle shop – Rob. Tattoo of a dragon on one arm, frayed black t-shirts, oil-stained jeans. They’d met at the gym, where she worked at the front desk. After he worked out, they’d walk back across the alley to his apartment. Sometimes I’d go too, sit and drink a beer with them. The spring was too tight on the screen door, and it slammed shut with a bang whenever someone walked into the kitchen. His bedroom was in the back, full of dirty t-shirts and Miller cans. After the high life for a couple of hours, Becky would shuffle back into the kitchen and fix some eggs and toast for the both of them. Soon, for the three of them. If Rob stayed in town or with Becky, anyway.

Thing is, her prospect wasn’t so bad. A lot of girls in my town get married young and have babies young. Their mamas support them – it’s not like a girl around here gets kicked out of the house for getting knocked up. Churches aren’t real preachy about it either. Everybody likes kids, pretty much, and looks out for the ones whose parents hit too much or get into cigarette stubbing and the other rough stuff. We know each other well enough to not leave well enough alone, and from what I understand, not all towns are like that.

But I didn’t know if I could go that route. I had a boyfriend alright. Bill was in our class at high school. Not the brightest or strongest, but not dumb, and strong enough to control the sheep on his daddy’s sheep farm, which takes some doing. Sinewy, Bill was. Not flash, just tough, like a Slim Jim wearing boots. Bill could talk, too. That was rare for my friends. I guess it was because he read a lot, like me. While Becky and Rob were practicing baby-making, a lot of those afternoons Bill and me were digging through the old magazine pile at the library, pulling out tattered National Geographics and Time and U.S. News and World Report and Fly-Fishing. We’d stuff a dozen or so in our backpacks and then switch piles in a week, and talk about what we read in between times. Sitting on his back porch while his sister practiced her flute just inside the screen windows, I’d pick yellow paint chips off the steps and just listen to him talk.

I wanted to go someplace. It’s not that I didn’t want to marry Bill and have babies and live a half-mile from my folks so as to have handy baby-sitting grandparents. It’s just, I wanted to do something else first. My mother had done. She was a nurse at the hospital when I was born, and even after my two little brothers showed up. But before that, she went over to Washington, D.C. for her training, whereas most of the nurses here got trained up in Nashville after doing a couple years at community college here first.

My mother worked in the E.R. at Georgetown University Hospital, cleaning up after folks, and then she had another job at the library, repairing damaged books, so she could put herself through four years of nursing school at the University of Maryland. And then she stayed in Washington a few more years, making good money and buying nice clothes and seeing stuff – museums where the things in the glass cases are carved from wood and painted; she saw the stuff that I saw pictures of in National Geographic.

But then, after a bit, she did come home and get married to Dad and make some babies. She never talked about us like we were a mistake, but she also never talked about her life before us like she regretted it. Her voice would get smoother and her sentences got longer, somehow. Like having something to describe gave her a reason to talk more.

My dad was proud, in a way. Proud of her. But even more proud of himself, I think. He was the man she came back for, and if he could draw someone like that back from a life like that, he figured then he must be okay. He was. Tall and skinny, like my Bill. Kind. But above everything else, interested, and so, interesting. He would get onto a topic at a time, usually just one at a time, and then hunt down books and magazines and brochures about whatever it was: World War II planes, coral reef fish, 18th century spindle-leg chair-making. In the daytime, he worked at the lumberyard, loading and unloading wood, moving it around for customers, cutting it on the huge table saws if need be. But at night he was a research scholar, self-taught. His knowledge wasn’t broad, but on those random things, it went real deep.

So like I said, it’s not like I looked at my parents and looked at Becky and Rob and said: “No way. Not for me.” But I did look at them and say: “Not yet.” At the same time, I didn’t think I had a lot of time to play with. I couldn’t see working my way through school like my mom, in a big city. Not with the rents so high and tuition and what not. Twenty years ago, she could do it, just barely. But not anymore.

So when I passed the Army recruiter one day, I stopped at his table and picked up the pamphlets. He was real nice. Talked about serving my country, seeing the world, getting an education. And he wasn’t really intense, didn’t act desperate or pressured like they do nowadays. He talked about going to war, too. Didn’t pretend like no one in the Army ever sees combat. He just said there was lots to do overseas besides shoot, like running computers and radios, or translating things, or repairing machinery, or taking care of wounded or sick troops.
I wasn’t the only kid in my year to join up. There was Dave Chapel. He and I went to boot camp together, and then he went on for more training in some of that secretive, special operations stuff. And Jerry Cooper signed up and wound up doing real basic support work – mess hall cooking, janitor stuff, that kind of thing. When we were all still in basic training, I thought a lot about those guys, wanting to be the kind of person they could depend on to back them up in a tight spot. Buddies and stuff. Loyalty, being brave enough to help save your friends.

When I took the aptitude tests, it turned out I had good personality traits for military police work. I guess that made some sense. I like order. I like things to be put away right so you can find them when you need them. I like people to behave nice to each other too, and had pretty good luck as a babysitter, getting the kids to mind.

In other ways, though, it seemed strange. I’m not real loud, generally, I don’t see myself as better than other people. But to be an MP, you have to be willing to get in people’s faces and kind of scare them into doing what you say. That’s what the Army taught me how to do. I learned it real good.

After basic training and six months of MP training, both at Fort Hood, I got sent out to Iraq. It wasn’t a big surprise. Everybody knew things weren’t going all that fast over there. I signed up a month after the “Mission Accomplished” thing, but I knew enough people – brothers and uncles and fathers of my girlfriends – to know that it was going to be a longer slog over there
than the politicians were saying here.

I was scared, a bit. My mom came out for a visit the weekend before I shipped out. She helped me pack a little bit and we went out for breakfast at her hotel, in the Perkins across the parking lot from the EconoLodge. I drizzled syrup on every pancake in my stack like I always did, sticking them back together with it. She just watched me with a stiff nose. Hard to picture, maybe, but that’s what she did. She never was a weepy mom. She gave me up-to-date pictures of my little brothers and her and my dad, and when her weekend was up, she hugged me, said “Be careful,” and got in the bus to go home.

My dad sent me a letter. I’m going to copy it down in here:

Dear Laura. I know your mother’s come to see you off, and I probably should’ve come too. I don’t like to think about that you might not come back, but I do and then I just don’t want to embarrass everybody by saying the wrong things. I am proud of you, even if I’m also scared for you. I’m praying for you, getting a big package of paper and envelopes to write letters to you. I even went and looked at computers today, to see about buying one so we can send you e-mail too.

Even if it’s not what you expect, or what you do expect, I do have some advice for you. I don’t know what kinds of situations you’re going to find yourself in over there, what kind of people you’ll meet and so on. Never traveled much. And I don’t know what you’ll decide to do when you get back. Here’s the advice, though. Whatever you see and do there is going to make you a different person than you are now, and you won’t be able to change back if you don’t like the new you. But you will be able to keep changing. Remember that. It’s the one bit of wisdom I’ve figured out with all my tracking down of information about this and that. When I get all up in the dissatisfaction of “same shit, different day,” that’s when I make myself find some different shit, so it really will be a different day. I love you. Be careful and come on home when you’ve done what you need to do. Love, Dad.

My mom brought that letter with her. It wasn’t sealed, so I know she read it and I know my dad wanted her to. She gave it to me after we got back from the Laundromat on the second night of her visit. I took it back to base with me and read it by flashlight under my blankets that night, and then folded it up and stuck it in my Arabic for Beginners book. I put it on the page with the words that mean love.

When I landed at the Baghdad Airport, I was confused. I fell asleep on the flight from Germany because I was still on Texas time. When I woke up, it was about 3 a.m. Baghdad time and we piled out onto the runway with our duffels making little clean patches in the sand when we kicked them around. It was warm, but not crazy hot – January 2004. For some reason, nobody knew exactly what to do with us or who we should report to, and that was the first time that had happened in my military time. In training, everybody always knew exactly where to be when, and what would happen if you messed up.

Finally a sergeant showed up and led us to the barracks. I threw my duffle bag under my bunk, climbed in and went to sleep. About an hour later that first night, my friend Sarah woke me up. Sarah was a Guard medic attached to the MP unit. She was so tall, her feet hung out over the end of her bunk. We met after basic training. Sarah had left a baby girl at home with her parents. Five months old – Rebecca. I saw pictures of Rebecca, pink cheeks, brown hair, giant blue eyes, every week the whole time we were in Iraq.

For the longest time, I couldn’t let myself believe that the Army would’ve tossed Sarah in jail if she’d refused her call-up to go overseas because she wanted to stay with her daughter. After awhile, though, I understood the rationale for unquestioning obedience. You need your troops on autopilot, to get done what has to get done.

Sarah woke me up to talk about her parents. Rebecca was almost six months old by the time we left Fort Hood, and Sarah’s father was getting sicker. I never knew what to say. Probably the lung cancer would keep getting worse and Sarah’s mom would be in a tough spot, caring for a sick man and a baby. They had a little disability and Social Security money, plus Sarah’s medic pay and rare contributions from the baby’s dad, who had gone off to college and was now working as a teacher somewhere in Nebraska. But it wasn’t much, and Sarah knew it, and chewed over it like her baby gnawing on a teething rag.

Sarah finally went back to sleep for a couple of hours, and I did too, after a bit. I was awake, thinking about the folks who had tried to stop the war, some of them way back before Sarah even got pregnant with Rebecca. I’d met some people in the Army who thought “peaceniks” were stupid cowards too ignorant to respect those fighting for their freedom. But I’d met a lot who were just a little grateful – “Those marchers are the only ones out there fighting for us, trying to keep us home safe,” was how one guy put it. Between those two ends was everything in between, and I got more than a little confused trying to decide which was right.

Our first day on base we found out we were going to be assigned to a prison called Abu Ghraib. We’d have two days of orientation and then go out by convoy.

My first view of the prison was from the backseat of a Humvee. It stood about a mile away, and the road was hard to see because of the sand blowing across it all the time. I got used to the sand after awhile – the grit scrape on my teeth eating, the crust in the corner of my eyes, and the grains scratching the smooth insides of my ears. I got used to other things too.

So, like I said, I saw it first from a distance, and even though I basically lived there for seven months, and learned the layout and the yards pretty well, I never stopped thinking of the place as though I was still outside, about a mile across the flat empty. And even though it was clear as many days as the sandstorms kicked up, for me, the haze of dust specks in the air never seemed to lift.

My job was pretty much as I’d expected from training. I worked 12-hour shifts. At sunrise, I watched the prisoners wake up and kneel on the concrete facing the Mecca-ward corner for their first round of prayers. I delivered meals to about 30 of them, sliding the trays of meat and rice through the bars and then collecting up the empty trays when I got done passing through the last one.

The ‘good’ detainees got to go outside once a day, and I shepherded maybe five or six guys every day to a little dirt yard where they stood around, breathing deep for 10 minutes or so. Then I locked them down again and settled in to wait for lunchtime. The list of ‘good’ prisoners changed every day, and at the beginning, I never knew what it was based on. Later on, I found out it had to do with the interrogations.

After awhile, I got to know each man a little better, thanks to my little Arabic – more than most of the other MPs anyway. But it was weird. The more I learned about how they were all different, the more they started to all seem the same, like one guy split into 30 identical copies of himself. I don’t know if it was me or them. I got used to being there, and so did they. The more used to it they got, the less they talked, or smiled, or made any expressions at all.
I knew that didn’t make sense. One guy had a wife and three kids back in Baghdad and at the beginning, he talked about them constantly, begging me to get a message to them, and to bring messages back from them. He talked about the nightmares his youngest daughter, who was four, had been having before he was rounded up, and his wife’s nosebleeds.

At the beginning, I started to care a little bit. I took a scrap of paper with his address and his wife’s name, and went to that neighborhood when I had a free afternoon. The cinderblock building was still standing, but pockmarked with bullets, and the windows were boarded up. I asked people about the family, and neighbors pieced together that the oldest child, a boy, had been blinded by a cluster bomb, and the mother’s nosebleeds had turned out to be part of a cancer, maybe from depleted uranium fallout from the first Gulf War. The whole family had moved to Tikrit to stay with relatives while the mother died. And the youngest child, the prisoner’s daughter, no longer spoke to anyone.

It was a lot to absorb, so I didn’t. I heard the words but I also heard a muffled whoosh while my brain put up a wall between what I heard and what I felt, so I felt nothing. I never told the man any of what I’d found out.

After I’d been doing my meal and exercise work for a couple of months, I got sick. Really sick. Fever of 103 degrees, chills, sweats, delusions. I spent a couple of weeks in the Army clinic in the Green Zone. But I didn’t know until later that it had been a couple of weeks. I lost track of night and day until I woke up one morning in a damp bed with a catheter taped to my leg.

When I went back to Abu Ghraib, toward the end of March 2004, I had a new assignment and a new supervisor. Sergeant Riley was in charge of interrogations. Until then, I didn’t even know they did interrogations in the prison. I just never thought about why all those men were in there, or when they’d get out. Since I’ve been home, I’ve learned a lot about that stuff – fleshed out my high school civics lessons about ‘due process’ and ‘habeus corpus.’ But at the time, I was just taking things as they came, learning how to do what I’d been trained to do at Fort Hood, which was just manage the daily routines of the prisoners, because prisoners aren’t allowed to manage their own days.

I was pretty scared though, the first time I saw an interrogation. To train me, they put me on the looking side of a look-through mirror. Whoever installed it wasn’t real skilled, because there was an eighth-inch gap on both sides and all the sounds came clear through.

At first I was scared for the prisoner. Another MP I knew walked him in the door pretty calmly and I thought he was going to sit him down and ask some questions, maybe offer the man a cigarette. But as soon as the door swung shut on its spring-load behind them, the MP pushed the man from behind, onto the floor. He fell on his face because his hands were tied behind him.
I jumped a little bit, and at the same time Sergeant Riley slapped my behind, hard. That made me jump even harder, but only on the inside. Something in me got real quiet and watchful then, the way a mother deer does if you walk by her in the woods when her baby’s near. If you stand real still and watch, she’ll stand real still and watch you too, flipping one ear at a time forward and back and snuffing a little through her nostrils. And then, whether you move or not, she’ll decide to bolt, and mama and baby go bouncing away through the brush in that strange rocking way that they do.

I wish I’d run away then too, but there was nowhere to go. So I watched with my still insides, and listened, and waited.

Dick, the MP, grabbed the man’s arms and pulled up from behind and the man started screaming in Arabic “Oh my God stop stop stop!” But Dick didn’t speak Arabic, and neither did Riley, and I don’t think they’d have stopped even if they’d understood what the guy was saying.
It got much worse after that. Sergeant Riley stopped hitting me, but Dick started kicking the man on the floor. A trickle of blood started seeping out near the man’s left leg. A chip off of one of his teeth skated across the concrete floor as Dick shuffled around in his boots. And no one asked any questions, that time. When the guy went limp – unconscious, I guess – it all stopped. Dick left the man on the floor and walked out of the room and Sergeant Riley turned to me.
“At first, you’ll just be doing the paperwork for these,” he said. “What you just saw was a ‘fight between two prisoners.’ So the medics know what they’re dealing with.”

I just nodded, still watching and listening with that deep down part. At first, that’s all I did. I watched four or five ‘interrogations’ every day. Sometimes the MP would ask questions: “Who is your cell leader, terrorist scum?” or “Why do you want to fuck your mother, you sick fuck?” But more and more, as time went on, they seemed to do things just to do them, with no hope of learning anything to keep Americans safe or predict suicide attacks. For one thing, most of the guys had been in the jail longer than six months, and the situation outside had changed a lot in that time. Iraqi fighters moved quickly from city to city, always one step ahead of the next American strike. New recruits were slipping over the borders every day; coordination was done by cell phones, e-mails and handwritten message carried through neighborhoods by women in black robes.

Sometimes the man beyond the window was one of mine. A few were released from time to time, but most were kept. There were new things in that room from time to time too. One day, an MP came in and set up a small electric generator. The interrogators that day clamped tiny metal alligator clips to the scrotal skin of the men. Just when I thought they couldn’t scream louder, the MP would turn on the electricity and again, everything inside me shut down.
Another day there was a stretcher, like the kind ambulances have for moving people with back injuries. They’d strap a man in there and I’d listen to him babbling, praying, begging, his eyes rolling back in his head, drool coming out of his mouth. Then they’d lie the thing on the floor with the foot end propped up on a cinder block, duct tape the guy’s mouth closed, and start dripping water up his nose.

I don’t remember anything I did on my off hours during the three months I was on paperwork duty. All I remember is that room, the fingerprints on the mirror in front of me, the smell of pee, the strange paper texture of the duplicate forms I filled – pink, goldenrod, white, blue. “Attempted suicide by drowning.” “Accidental electrocution.” I knew my entries didn’t matter, because I knew the medics knew what was really happening to these guys. But we all wanted to stick to routines and protocols. The MPs who did the interrogations were the most interested in seeing their copies of the reports. One guy kept a binder and looked through it beforehand, reminding himself of what he was really doing before putting himself into a trance to do what he actually did. Then one day, I was on the other side of the glass.

My first one was a very thin man. His cheeks were sunk in, and his eyes looked like raccoon eyes, big dark circles around small brown irises. His eyes looked dead to me, like he knew he had already died but his skinny body hadn’t caught up yet. My job was to humiliate him, but I think now he was so far gone inside himself that what I said and did didn’t reach him at all.
We didn’t know very much about him. His name was Ali Mustapha, and he’d been rounded up with 24 other men in the first few weeks after ‘Mission Accomplished.’ So when I met him, must have been mid-June of ’04, he’d already been in for four seasons of Tennessee weather – two hot summers and the cool in between. He’d been in prison just a little longer than I’d been an MP. While I circled him, moaning and touching him, straddling his naked hips where the nylon straps held him to the chair, I saw where his skin was rubbed raw from the straps, and I could have counted the fresh scars from the beatings he’d had from other MPs.

He talked to me. None of the other 12 men I worked on ever talked to me. They screamed curses at America and prayed and just plain yelled. But Ali was very quiet, and whispered in soft Arabic, gentle even on the harshest words.

I do not know your name, American whore. You know my name. It is written there in your folders and papers. But I know you, American whore. You have lost yourself, just as I have. But you jumped. I was pushed.

You think perhaps that by beating and humiliating us you will show us who is master and who is mastered. Or you think you will find out who wants to hurt America, and how, and when. Or you think you can suck out our will to live or our will to live freely, or our will to live holy lives.
But some of us are not religious, not in the way that you stupid Americans think we are, not in the shallow way you are. You are so young, American bitch. And so is your country. Young upstart puppies with the whole world at the other end of your leash.

What will you do when our tolerance for your puppy pissing and puppy chewing runs out and we yank on that leash? What you do not understand is that your tethering binds you as much as it binds us, and more, because you do not understand.

You think there is a right and wrong, American slut. You may know you are confused about which is which right now, but you still cling to the belief that someone knows, and that someday you could know. You believe that, because if you didn’t, you couldn’t do what you are doing or watch what you have been watching through that glass wall over there.

But you are wrong, filthy whore. And you are right. Just like me. At any second, the universe could pull the switch, reverse the flow, change the poles, and I would be raping you while you screamed for mercy. The current flows both ways – toward and away. That is what your stupid religious puppy leaders do not understand, and they do not understand how to control the flow in themselves, or in you.

So even while you hide your shame deep inside, covering it with hardness so you can shame me, you are making magnets of us both. Because I am hiding my dignity inside and wearing my shame like a robe. I can take the robe off anytime. For you to escape from your rock will be much harder. And for you to find your dignity again, after what you have seen and done, will be the hardest work of all, the painful labor of years.

Who did this to you, American woman? Do you know? Were you lured, or pushed? Or are they the same thing?

He was so quiet that no one in the booth could hear him, and I listened the whole time, circling him and knowing that what I did with my body and his body didn’t bother him at all, nor me. That made it harder to remember why I was doing those things, but I wasn’t writing reports anymore, so it didn’t matter anyway.

Like I said, the other twelve were louder, maybe not angrier, but definitely more frightened. But Ali Mustapha’s words dripped like battery acid into my brain, and after the 13th time, I shut down and couldn’t speak or eat. They finally hooked me to an IV and shipped me out to Germany and then to Walter Reed. The planes were cold, like the saline dripping into my veins: chilled outside and inside.

Murtha's Right

At the risk of offending Vice President Cheney's delicate emotional state by criticizing the Bush administration and expressing opinions contrary to propaganda, I agree with Rep. John Murtha. The United States should pull American troops out of Iraq within six months, beginning immediately.

The war was wrong to begin with - promoted with deliberate lies, sought by corrupt leaders for immoral, oil-fueled reasons. It can't get righter by prolonging it. American troops are occupiers; they are targets. Our government has to get them out of there. Our citizenry has to demand it.