Photo credit: Reuters

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Response to Obama Letter

Dear Mr. President,
Got a 2-page computer-generated letter yesterday. The financial one about your tough new regulations that guarantee we’ll never again have to bail out Wall Street. All the articles I read however, tell a different story; that Wall Street lobbyists gutted the Dodd-Frank bill, that Dodd sold out and the Banksters continue on their merry way. Dodd-Frank doesn’t do much except for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and you trumpet that in your letter as though your administration was responsible for it. Ironically, I just read “The Professor,” in the September 17 New Yorker which details how Elizabeth Warren, an outsider, was the driving force behind the CFPB, not you, not Dodd and certainly not Wall Street’s lap dog, Timothy Geithner, your Treasury Secretary. She fought and publicly embarrassed Geithner and the Republicrats in her relentless defense of taxpayers and that doomed her chances of heading the bureau she created; they wanted no one in charge who might actually police their Bankster friends. However, it made her a hero outside Washington and now she’s running for the Senate in Massachusetts against Scott Brown. I hope she wins but if she does I also hope she doesn’t get corrupted by what Jeff Connaughton calls the “slow immersion in moral compromise” (“Washington Man,” this week’s New Yorker). But as I read your letter, it suddenly struck me that most of my 116 letters over the last 5 months are about Afghanistan, kill lists, drones and your disregard of law, the Constitution and human rights, and I have yet to receive one letter on those issues. Maybe you think silence will make them go away, but it won’t. Maybe you think it’s a matter of national security but it isn’t, it’s a matter of morality and moral injury to the nation’s psyche. Your undeclared wars of aggression, your institutionalization of permanent war, of Kill Lists (renamed Disposition Matrix), and the power you have amassed in the name of national security should terrify every American but it doesn’t. As a joke. a friend, an Obama campaign volunteer, sent me an image of your 2008 Hope poster with “Hope You Don’t Get Indefinitely Detained” super-imposed across the bottom. Indefinite detention is not a joke however, for it signals both the elimination of Constitutional protections and a deep denial of reality. Maybe people will come out of denial only when they or their friends and family are indefinitely detained. But then it’s too late.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kevin Powers' Moral Injury

Dear Mr. President,
Kevin Powers, like Lu Lobello, was a machine gunner in Iraq in 2003, and like Lobello, Powers suffered moral injury. His novel, The Yellow Birds, is both a beautifully written and horrifying story of war and what it does to people, not just the physical violence but the emotional and psychological violence as well, the way it destroys the soul and the psyche of those who go to war. Here’s a few lines from the book that captures the effects of war on a soldier who comes home after fighting in Iraq: “…should I have said that I wanted to… be asleep forever because there isn’t any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to actually kill them and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone and knowing from being taught your whole life that there is no making up for what you are doing…” Powers’ protagonist comes home to false sentiment and meaningless patriotism; he now sees everything is and always has been lies and illusion. He has lost his identity, his soul and his ability to believe in anything. Mr. President, you are the commander of armies that dominate and terrorize the world but you are neither brave nor respected. You are a fraud, a soulless technocrat who hides behind the mask of thoughtful leader and dispenser of justice but your justice is arbitrary and no justice at all. You summarily condemn others to die and call it justice. You bureaucratize murder and call it justice. You institutionalize perpetual war in the illusion of national security and call it justice. You fooled the world into believing you were a man of peace. You had a mandate to end wars, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the war on drugs, the war on the environment, the war on the middle class, the war on women, and all the other wars on…, and you didn’t. The American people expected no less when they elected you. You could have been the man of peace we thought you were, a hero of humanity, but you were not and never have been. You were a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a Trojan horse for the establishment and you have continued the violence begun by your predecessors. You have continued and made worse the moral injury we suffer as a nation and you will be judged by history and by your god for your betrayals and the violence you do.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lu Lobello's Moral Injury

Dear Mr. President,
Jonathan Shay defines moral injury this way: “It occurs when you’ve done something in the moment… that you were told by your superiors that you had to do…but which nonetheless violated your own ethical commitment.” Politicians do not suffer moral injury but those they send to war do. On April 8, 2003, on Baladiyat Street in Baghdad, U.S. Marines from Fox Company came under intense fire and in the chaos and confusion of the moment, they did not know who the enemy was and fired into vehicles filled with fleeing civilians. “Atonement” by Dexter Filkins in this week’s New Yorker describes the carnage and its consequences. Marines took a terrible toll on civilians that day—and on themselves as well. The marines’ wounds were both physical and mental: PTSD, alcohol, drugs, violence, prison, moral injury. Lance corporal Toone: “they gave us this power to shoot anyone we wanted and face no consequences. Well, you have to live with yourself. It destroyed me.” The Bush gang of necon terrorists never faced consequences for the tens of thousands of deaths they caused either; you eliminated that possibility when you said you wanted to “look forward, not backward” and as a result, our moral injury as a nation is still an open wound. Here’s 1st sergeant Lopez: “She’s shot up so bad, the whole side of her body peeled away, still alive….You are not the same person when you come back.” Lance corporal Lu Lobello, a machine gunner, is haunted by an image of a “blood-soaked Iraqi infant, his mother holding him aloft by one foot, ‘Why did you shoot us?’ the woman demanded over and over.” Politicians disguise the slaughter of innocents with the innocuous-sounding “collateral damage.” Filkins’ article centers on Lobello’s 10 year search for the survivors of the Kachadoorian family who were on Baladiyat Street that day, rushing home to safety; Lobello sought forgiveness for the harm he caused them. You, Mr. President, are not responsible for his moral injury or for Bush’s wars but you are responsible for others. There is no justification for war, it is ugly, it is evil, it is immoral. No politician will ever investigate the true causes for 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan, for the truth is what politicians fear most. The lies, deceptions and futility of war without end has resulted in more than 6,000 U.S. dead, more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths and who knows how many Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenis and Somalis. The U.S. toll on 9/11 was less than 3,000. When is enough enough?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mr. Connaughton Goes to Washington

Dear Mr. President,
George Packer’s “Washington Man,” in this week’s New Yorker paints a grim picture of politics in America today, how we’ve gone from the myth of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to a state of corporate fascism where lobbyists write the laws, where corporate money controls every facet of government and there are no Mr. Smiths to fight for the public good—and win. In the 1980s, Jeffrey Connaughton was inspired by Joe Biden and went to Washington. Packer traces his career from campaign worker, fund-raiser, organizer, speech writer and staffer to eventually become special assistant to the White House Counsel and then chief of staff for Ted Kaufman who inherited Biden’s senate seat when he became your VP. He also chronicles Connaughton’s disillusion, his years as a lobbyist, his realization that Biden was using him as he was using Biden, what’s called a “Washington relationship.” Washington seduces and corrupts everyone, he says, in a “slow immersion in moral compromise” and Connaughton realized he too had been corrupted. He quit lobbying and joined Senator Kaufman who dedicated himself to fight for financial reform, but with 3,000 lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill, they didn’t stand a chance. They had no allies; Senator Chris Dodd had sold out to the banking industry and the committee chairmen were on his side along with your advisors and officials like Geithner and Summers; they all made sure Kaufman’s amendments, speeches and prodding of the SEC and Justice Department to prosecute Banksters went nowhere. Connaughton saw from inside, the corrupting influence of corporate money and realized that “our government has been taken over by a financial elite.” In the end nothing changed: the Dodd-Frank bill was gutted, the banks are still too big to fail, still deal in exotic investments, still defraud consumers. At the end of Kaufman’s term, Connaughton decided to leave Washington but a few days before leaving he made sure he could never return. He spoke to 300 Wall Street executives, lobbyists and lawyers at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York about fraud in the banking industry and the failure of regulators. The audience sat silent. He flew to Costa Rica and went on an 8-hour hike, returned to the hotel and took a long long shower until he finally felt clean. The conclusion one comes to is that democracy in America is defunct, that power and money are great seducers and no matter who wins, you or Mitt, nothing will change and the rest of us will lose.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Gestapo, KGB, Stasi, SAVAK and NCTC

Dear Mr. President,
“As the Founders all recognized, nothing vests elites with power—and profit—more than a state of war.” (“Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent,” Greg Miller, The Washington Post, October 24, 2012). The Founding Fathers spent a lot of time putting up barriers to starting and continuing wars but you dismantled them in 4 short years. You have lulled Congress into accepting your drone wars, targeted assassinations and massive surveillance activities as legal even though they can’t know those legal justifications because of national security. And now we learn in Miller’s article that the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) headed by none other than your personal Rasputin, John O. Brennan, has spent the past 2 years codifying and institutionalizing the Kill List process to prepare for the next administration’s continuation of the process and unending war. Targeted assassinations have been, until relatively recently, rejected as barbaric and illegal when used by our enemies, but once again, working behind closed doors you have bureaucratized and made permanent the process for summary executions. Also in typical bureaucratic fashion, to obfuscate reality, Kill Lists are now the Orwellian “disposition matrix” and Kill List Tuesdays are “terror Tuesdays.” The lists and terrorist suspects never end, the terrorist organizations have become “franchises” like McDonald’s or Wendy’s and one is easily substituted for another. The assassination of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, is dismissed with, “he should have a far more responsible father.” We have passed a major psychological watershed in America when extrajudicial killings and permanent war is accepted as policy. But “continuous war does not end violence,… rather, it guarantees its permanent expansion,” Miller writes. “[W]ar is when power is least constrained and profit most abundant.” Foreboding too, is that the NCTC not only keeps the secret criteria and chooses who will die, but is also the keeper of all data collected not just on suspected targets but on every U.S. citizen. The NCTC is accountable to no one but you and the safeguard on data collection (a time limit of 180 days) was quietly abolished by you in July. Welcome to Obamaworld, a frightening universe of summary executions, indefinite detentions and constant all-encompassing surveillance. This is the wet dream of the Gestapo, the KGB, the Stasi, the SAVAK and every other brutal secret police state in history.
The National Counterterrorism Center, site of a new bureaucracy to institutionalize the 'kill list'. Photograph: FBI