Hollywood and the war machine

 

War is hell, but for Hollywood it has been a Godsend, providing the perfect dramatic setting against which courageous heroes win the hearts and minds of the movie going public.

The Pentagon recognises the power of these celluloid dreams and encourages Hollywood to create heroic myths; to rewrite history to suit its own strategy and as a recruiting tool to provide a steady flow of willing young patriots for its wars.

Hollywood  Video Icon
The Pentagon calls the shots
Producer: Diana Ferraro
Hollywood: Chronicler of the war
Producer: Tim Tate

What does Hollywood get out of this ‘deal with the devil’? Access to billions of dollars worth of military kit, from helicopters to aircraft carriers, enabling filmmakers to make bigger and more spectacular battle scenes, which in turn generate more box office revenue. Providing they accept the Pentagon’s advice, even toe the party line and show the US military in a positive light.

So is it a case of art imitating life, or a sinister force using art to influence life and death – and the public perception of both?

Empire will examine Hollywood, the Pentagon, and war.

Joining us as guests: Oliver Stone, the eight times Academy Award-winning filmmaker; Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker; and Christopher Hedges, an author and the former Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times.

Our interviewees this week are: Phil Strub, US Department of Defense Film Liaison Unit; Julian Barnes, Pentagon correspondent, LA Times; David Robb, the author of  Operation Hollywood; Prof Klaus Dodds, the author of Screening Terror; Matthew Alford, the author of Reel Power; Prof Melani McAlister, the author of Culture, Media, and US Interests in the Middle East.

The US Criticized for Human Rights Abuses

Given the sensationalism in mainstream US news media coverage of alleged sexual impropriety charges filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden, it’s no surprise that other significant news about America involving that Scandinavian nation is being left uncovered.

In early November, Sweden called on the US to end the death penalty and to improve conditions in maximum security prisons, as the United States went through its first-ever Universal Periodic Review by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

Sweden joined nearly two dozen countries in calling upon the US to end its pariah-like status as the only western industrialized nation to engage in executions. The US has over 3,200 people facing death sentences, a sharp rise from 1968, when America’s death row population numbered just 517, according to statistics compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Other countries critical of the US posture on the death penalty – practiced by the federal government and 35 states – included Australia (the birthplace of Assange), France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Vatican.

The caustic onslaught in the U.S. against Assange for leaking sensitive documents, where attackers include members of Congress – some even calling for Assange’s death, either extrajudicially or after a trial–is ironic, coming so close to December 10th, the annual international observance of Human Rights Day.

That observance commemorates the UN’s 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One clause in that Declaration provides people worldwide with the right to receive and impart information “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The American assaults on Assange extend beyond the White House and Capitol Hill. Amazon, under pressure from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), removed WikiLeaks from its computer servers, while MasterCard, PayPal and Visa have halted payments to WikiLeaks from donors supportive of work of that entity, almost certainly after receiving pressure from the US government.

While US officials attending that human rights review held in Switzerland proudly pointed to such continuing rights progress in America as the election of a black President and his selection of a Hispanic female US Supreme Court Justice, fifty-six countries including staunch US allies offered 228 recommendations for improving human rights in the nation that touts itself as the world’s leader in protecting the rights of all.

Those recommendations involved a wide range of issues, ranging from attacking poverty among Native Americans to addressing abuses impacting immigrants and closing the infamous Guantanamo prison. However, most of the recommendations presented at that human rights review centered on concerns about deprivations and disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Belgium and Switzerland, for example, called on America to stop sentencing teens to life in prison. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of life-sentenced teens, with over 300 currently languishing in the state’s prisons.

Haiti called for ending the discriminatory impact of mandatory minimum sentences and Thailand called for addressing sexual violence inside U.S. prisons, where homosexual rapes far exceed heterosexual rapes outside prison walls.

France urged the U.S. to study the racial disparities evident in the application of the death penalty. African-Americans comprise 41.43 percent of the people on death rows across America – a figure more than twice the percentage of America’s black population.

The United Kingdom expressed concerns about damning evidence that the death penalty could sometimes be administered in a discriminatory manner.

Respected Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz recently wrote a commentary expressing his concerns about Kevin Cooper, a black California death row inmate facing execution for slaughtering four members of a white family in 1983, despite the troubling reality that the lone survivor told police the murders were white.

Facts now establish that police destroyed blood-stained clothing evidence supplied by the girlfriend of one (white) man police never investigated, and that the prosecution’s forensic witnesses falsified evidence against Cooper.

Dershowitz stated that the facts “do not add up” in the murder conviction of Cooper. He has asked outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant Cooper clemency. America’s largest death row is in California, which has 697 persons facing execution.

U.S. representatives responding to their international critics stated that despite legitimate debate on the propriety of the death penalty, as a matter of law at the federal level and in 35 states, “that punishment is permitted,” according to the draft report issued by the UN Human Rights Council.

While the America’s governmental scheme makes it structurally difficult for the federal government to outright ban states from conducting executions, the federal government could end its own use of the death penalty for federal crimes. The U.S. government death row holds nearly 70 persons.

One U.S. death-row inmate – Pennsylvania’s ‘Death Row Journalist’ Mumia Abu-Jamal – received mention by name in one recommendation. Abu-Jamal, perhaps the most well-known of 25,000-plus under death sentence worldwide, observes the macabre anniversary of spending 29-years inside a death-row prison cell on December 9th.

Cuba called on the U.S. to “end the unjust incarceration of political prisoners including Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Ample evidence supports international claims that Native American leader Peltier, repeatedly denied parole, and ex-Black Panther Abu-Jamal, are unjustly incarcerated for deaths involving law enforcement officers.

The issue of political prisoners in the US is a subject generating interest internationally, yet it is an issue largely ignored by Americans, said Efia Nwangaza, a lawyer who attended that UN human rights review session held in Geneva, Switzerland.

“There are over 75 political prisoners in the US, most of them former Black Panther or Black Liberation Army people,” said Nwangaza, a Philadelphia native now living in South Carolina, who helped prepare documentation on US political prisoners for that UN review.

“We’ve made progress through an admission by omission, with the US not denying it has political prisoners.”

In addition to criticisms about death penalty policies in the U.S., nations around the world raised concerns about racial profiling practices in America against blacks, Latinos and persons perceived as Muslim, inclusive of U.S. citizens, immigrants and visitors.

U.S. representatives, responding to criticisms about racial profiling, “assured delegations” that America condemns racial and ethnic profiling in all forms,” according to the Human Rights Council’s report.

Ironically, even as U.S. representatives offered their assurances, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class-action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department for racial profiling in that city where the U.S. Constitution was drafted and approved.

That lawsuit involves the police practice called ‘stop-&-frisk’ – where police detain and search persons. This practice in Philadelphia impacted 253,333 persons in 2009 – a 148-percent increase over 2005 – with 72.2 percent of those subjected being blacks, who comprise 44 percent of that city’s population, according to the lawsuit.

This dragnet-style policing only produced arrests in 8.4 percent of the ‘stops,’ with the majority of those arrests being for “interactions following the initial stop” like disorderly conduct and resisting arrest – i.e. alleged crimes that most likely resulted from legitimate objections to being stopped without cause.

One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit is State Representative Jewell Williams, a veteran of 20-years in law enforcement work, who was roughed up by Philadelphia police in March 2009 while inquiring about a police stop of two 65-year-old black men during an encounter around the corner from Williams’ house.

Exposing a paradox in America’s race-based policing, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and the city’s Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (named in the ACLU lawsuit) are both black, but they back their Stop-&-Frisk policy, downplaying its demonstrable racially-disproportionate impact.

“Mayor Nutter repeatedly promised that this policy [Stop-&-Frisk] would be carried out in a way that respected the Constitution,” said Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU-Pa staff attorney. “But instead of stopping people suspected of criminal activity, the police appear to be stopping people because of race.”

Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street told ThisCantBeHappening! recently that the excessive Stop-&-Frisk practices are actually counter-productive to effective crime fighting because the practices alienate citizens that police need to assist them in crime fighting.

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for This Can’t Be Happening!.

Ref: Counterpunch

VIDEO: Obamba´s war

What is the US trying to achieve in Afghanistan, and will it really make the US safer?

Israel and the anti-Muslim blow-up

I don’t know why I am at all surprised that the American Right – including the Republican Party – has decided that scapegoating Muslims is the ticket to success. After all, it’s nothing new.

I remember right after 9/11 when the columnist Charles Krauthammer, now one of the most vocal anti-Muslim demagogues, almost literally flipped out in my Chevy Chase, Maryland synagogue when the rabbi said something about the importance of not associating the terrorist attacks with Muslims in general.

It was on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, but that did not stop Krauthammer from bellowing out his disagreement with the rabbi.  Krauthammer’s point: Israel and America are at war with Muslims and that war must be won.

It was shocking, not only because Krauthammer’s outburst was so utterly out of place but also because the man was actually chastising the rabbi for not spouting hate against all Muslims – on the Day of Atonement.

The following year, the visiting rabbi from Israel gave a sermon about the intifada that was then raging in Israel and the West Bank.

A sermon with a twist

The sermon was a nutty affair that tearfully made the transition from intifada to Holocaust and back again.

I remember thinking, “this guy is actually blaming the Palestinians for the suffering of his parents during the Holocaust.” I thought I had missed something because it was so ridiculous.

Then came the sermon’s ending which was unforgettable. The rabbi concluded with the words from Ecclesiastes.

“To everything there is a season. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

He then looked up and said: “Now is the time to hate.”

At first, I thought I had not heard him correctly.  He could not be calling on the congregation to hate. There were dozens of children in the room. It wasn’t possible.

But it was. To their credit, many of the congregants I spoke with as we left the sanctuary were appalled. Even the right-wingers were uncomfortable with endorsing hate as a virtue.

Yet, the rabbi was unrepentant. I emailed him to complain and he told me that he said what he believed. Nice.

One could ask what the Middle East has to do with the vicious outbreak of Islamophobia (actually Islamo-hatred) that has seemingly seized segments of this country.

US Islamophobia’s origins

The answer is everything. Although the hate is directed at Arab-Americans (which makes it worse) it is justified by invoking 9/11, an attack by Muslims from the Middle East.

This hate is buttressed by the hatred of Muslims and Arabs that has been routinely uttered (or shouted from the rooftops) in the name of defending Israel for decades

Just watch what goes on in congress, where liberals from New York, Florida, California and elsewhere never miss an opportunityto explain that no matter what Israel does, it is right, and no matter what Muslims do, they are wrong.

Can anyone possibly argue that such insidious rhetoric has no impact on public opinion?

At the very least, it gives anti-Arab and/or anti-Muslim bias a legitimacy that other forms of hate no longer have. Bigots who hate African-Americans or Jews, for instance, feel that they must claim that they don’t. That is not the case with Muslims who can be despised with impunity.

And here the liberals are worse than the conservatives because liberals exempt Muslims and Arabs (and now Turks) from the humanitarian instincts that inform their views of all other groups.

Conservatives combine their Arab-bashing with a general xenophobia, as is evidenced by their views on immigration.

Illiberal Liberalism?

Liberals, on the other hand, single out Muslims for contempt.

They do it actively – i.e., by defending every single Israeli action against Arabs with vehement enthusiasm. And they do it passively, by refusing to evince an iota of sympathy for Muslims who suffer and die at the hands of Israelis – like the 432 Palestinian children killed in the 2008 Gaza war.

Liberals join conservatives in rushing to the floor of the House of Representatives and Senate to defend the Israelis against any accusation (remember how they robotically attacked the Goldstone report on Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, not caring at about the horrors Goldstone described).

And then they read their AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee lobby)talking points, enumerating all the terrible things Arabs have done while Israel has, Gandhi-like, consistently offered the hand of friendship. It would be laughable if the effect of all this was not so ugly.

Why wouldn’t all this hatred affect the perception of Arab-Americans too? Hate invariably overflows its containers, just like hatred of Israel sometimes crosses over into pure old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

Bottom line: it’s a witches’ brew that is being stirred up, and it is one that will no doubt produce violence. But the witches are not all on the right. Just as many liberals are stirring the pot to please some of their donors.

I’m not saying you should not blame Fox News’ Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh for all this hate. But don’t forget to blame your favorite liberal and progressive politicians. With a few (very few) exceptions, they are just as bad.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

VIDEO: THE KINGDOM OF SURVIVAL + What collapsing (american) empire looks like

What collapsing (american) empire looks like

As we enter our ninth year of the War in Afghanistan with an escalated force, and continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely, and feed an endlessly growing Surveillance State, reports are emerging of the Deficit Commission hard at work planning how to cut Social Security, Medicare, and now even to freeze military pay.  But a new New York Times article today illustrates as vividly as anything else what a collapsing empire looks like, as it profiles just a few of the budget cuts which cities around the country are being forced to make.  This is a sampling of what one finds:

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters.

There are some lovely photos accompanying the article, including one showing what a darkened street in Colorado looks like as a result of not being able to afford street lights.  Read the article to revel in the details of this widespread misery.  Meanwhile, the tiniest sliver of the wealthiest — the ones who caused these problems in the first place — continues to thrive.  Let’s recall what former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson said last year in The Atlantic about what happens in under-developed and developing countries when an elite-caused financial crisis ensues:

Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or — here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique — the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk — at least until the riots grow too large.

The real question is whether the American public is too apathetic and trained into submission for that to ever happen.

UPDATE:  It’s probably also worth noting this Wall St. Journal article from last month — with a subheadline warning:  “Back to Stone Age” — which describes how “paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue.”  Utah is seriously considering eliminating the 12th grade, or making it optional.  And it was announced this week that “Camden [New Jersey] is preparing to permanently shut its library system by the end of the year, potentially leaving residents of the impoverished city among the few in the United States unable to borrow a library book free.”

Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights — or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State — that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?  Anyway, I just wanted to leave everyone with some light and cheerful thoughts as we head into the weekend.

Ref: Salon

American Stupidity – (Building the New York Mosque and the hatred surrounding it)


“Stubbornness and stupidity are twins.”

Sophocles’


What is it about Americans that they have so much going for them, yet they can be so very stupid?

Two stories in the Sunday New York Times jumped out as a sad backdrop to our misguided War On Terror.

The first is about the bigoted anti-Muslim xenophobia in New York over a proposed mosque some blocks from the site of the former World Trade Towers. The emotional volatility is being fueled by the usual Fox News agitators, and Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich stirred up the pot for their demagogic needs.

Even the Jewish Anti-Defamation League took off after the mosque and condemned it. Here’s the Anti Defamation League’s mission statement at the top of their web page:

“The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 ‘to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.”

Don’t you just love bullshit PR?

The Times quoted the president of something called Former Muslims United, Nonie Darwish, who said this: “A mosque is not just a place of worship. It’s a place where war is started.”

Ms Darwish is also the founder of Arabs For Israel, and she has spoken before Rev. John Hagee’s group Christians United For Israel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where Republican office seekers have stirred up the pot over a proposed Muslim religious center there.

Factor this kind of stupidity in with a recent report from The College Board that the United States is Number 12 and dropping out of 36 developed nations on the percentage of citizens with a college education.

Sure, not everybody needs to know about basic human psychology, Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative or William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. What’s scary about this American rush to stupidity, however, is it is usually linked up with the worst sorts of xenophobic fears and racism and our incredibly narcissistic feelings of American exceptionalism.

We are the best! Number One! The champions! We don’t have to worry about education. We got Apache helicopters and Predator Drones, and we got people who know how to use ‘em. Hear that, you ragheads! Hoo-ah!

This strain is then further exacerbated by forces out there in the world that, for their own interests, fuel our US home-grown stupidity. Take the Anti Defamation League’s decision to exacerbate anti-Muslim hatred in the New York case. What possible motive could “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency” have for doing this?

We hear more and more that elements in the current Israeli militarist right wing think it can somehow bamboozle the United States of America into doing something really stupid like mount an aerial bombardment against Shiite Muslim Iran. Whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States is perfectly in line with this strain of international stupidity.

The reasonable people of America who still believe in things called Education and open-mindedness, and all those wonderful Enlightenment stirrings are being caught in a religious vice with willfully ignorant nutcases on either side.

Muslims can be stupid too

I believe in fairness, so let’s consider Muslim stupidity, certainly a very fertile area. The New York Times reports that in the industrial city of Faisalabad in the Punjab region of Pakistan, the minority Christian community is now under siege by angry Muslims. Several Christians have been murdered.

“There is a lot of anger among Muslims, and there is a revival of militant Islam,” said a local Catholic bishop. “Local Christians are seen as linked to the West and the United States.” Of course, these Christian Pakistanis may actually hate the US as much as most other Pakistanis do.

Pakistan is stirring these days with hatred of the United States for a host of reasons, the main one being we are actively killing, and encouraging the Pakistani government to kill, Pakistani people in the area just north of the Punjab along the Afghan border. While stupid Americans may see all Pakistanis killed by US death squads and drones as “terrorists,” to Pakistanis they tend to be seen as people just like you and me, albeit angry people.

No doubt stories from the United States of bigotry against Muslims adds to this craziness and hatred of Christians by Muslims. Then, in turn, stupid and demagogic Americans who hear about the stupid angry Muslims in Faisalabad killing Christians will have to intensify their vendettas against Muslim mosques in New York, Tennessee, California and other states.

Stupidity marches on, trampling the saner voices who timidly say maybe the best thing would be to defuse the cycle and welcome Muslim mosques.

Some stupid Americans will certainly point out that these stupid Pakistani Muslims are actually killing Christians, while they are only keeping Muslims from building mosques in which to pray. OK, but the American right wing from Reagan to Sarah Palin has enjoyed for years likening America to a “beacon” for the world, and religious bigotry is not the behavior of a great beacon. It’s the reaction of a stupid people.

Great beacons don’t do stupid things like confuse unfamiliar spiritual beliefs and practices with threats to their homeland. Think for just a minute: If these terrible Muslims are so bent on making war against us they certainly don’t need to build a mosque to do it from. They can do it just as well or better from their living rooms and their basements.

Falling back on Self Reliance

Sometimes we on the left get so disgusted with our own fellow Americans and the stupid delusions they can be so invested in that we forget there is the potential for greatness in America, that there are strains of great brilliance in our history that we might tap to get us out of the cycle of madness we are caught in. We could be a real beacon.

Lately, when the stupidity gets really thick and oppressive I pick up an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It somehow connects me to the Earth and Spirit of an earlier time in America. Here’s some thoughts from the classic essay “Self Reliance.”

“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscles. … His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.”

It’s amazing that Emerson understood this without ever having lived with air conditioning or a garbage disposal unit or used a cell phone or tried to keep up with his e-mail and Facebook. Or never conceived of a lethal drone.

“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.”

“I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.”

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

And where does one learn such principles? By engaging one’s proto-American, Emersonian, self-reliant mind with Nature and a good liberal Education — not by capitulating to “badges” or listening to the ravings of “dead institutions.

Ref: Counterpunch

JOHN GRANT is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper. His work can be found, along with that of colleagues Dave Lindorff, Linn Washington and Charles Young, at www.thiscantbehappening.net

VIDEO: Hollywoodization of WWII (west is the best nevermind the rest)

http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/25/Wqz4KRoExok

On this edition of Peter Lavelles CrossTalk, he asks his guests about memory and the damage Hollywood does to the historical record.