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It is December 19, 2014. It is as terrible a year as I have ever known. I wish only for the year to end as soon as possible. Right now, I’m sitting at the coffee shop of the town of Konstantinovka, Donetsk region. Outside the window, there are people in camouflage uniform with guns. I do not know for whom they fight, but they are so young that I would like to give them cocoa with milk and cookies. Maybe I will do that.
There are Christmas trees on sale in local markets. ATMs are still working, so people have come from the nearby villages early in the morning to get cash. And beautiful women lead their children by hand on the way to school. Time has sped up; shops are open from 6 am and I have a feeling that people are running fast to slip past the war…
After years of excoriating Congress for not legislating, Americans got a crash course Tuesday night about the mischief that can transpire when Congress actually fulfills its duties.
With both parties (for a change) committed to passing a spending bill by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown, the comprehensive legislation became a lobbyist's delight. These omnibus last-minute bills traditionally pass Congress with virtually no debate. And since Barack Obama would never veto legislation to fund the government over minor provisions, anything small snuck into the bill is as good as inscribed into law.
The culture of torture is The Voice, Dancing With The Stars, The PBS News Hour, Charlie Rose, Guggenheim, The NFL, NBA, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Fox, Hannity and Rick Steves. The culture of torture is the soundtrack of our lives, Spotify, YouTube, the apps that make us feel so free. We are not redeemed by the freedom of our expression. Turns out, the First Amendment is just a gateway drug to the high grade corporate dope.
The hallmark of our age is that we don't exist in the here and now. Everything we engage in - i.e. the media - is designed to distract us from it. Better put: to relieve us of its demands. The standard analysis of contemporary culture is centered on distraction. They, whoever "they" are, are always trying to distract us. They stick enough crap in front of us and we'll forget about everything. This doesn't fly. (Just because a girl walks by in a bikini doesn't mean that I'm going to wreck my car into the telephone pole.) The better analysis is that we have constructed a culture for the sole purpose of getting us off the hook. All the art, books, films, technology, grand expressions of our complicated souls are constructed to vindicate our passivity, make us feel like doing nothing is doing something. In a contemporary capitalist society, it's not religion that's the opium of the people, it's culture.
The government is rarely, if ever, transparent or honest about its true intentions. From the reasons stated for going to war ("to defend freedom" or to "fight terror") to the reasons given for why domestic surveillance is needed ("to make sure the American people are safe"), the public is given an official narrative; but the true - and often far less benevolent - aims of those in power tend to make themselves known in some form or fashion eventually. Take Ferguson, Missouri on August 12, 2014; the US government agreed to a police request to institute a 37 square mile no-fly zone for 12 days. The official reason given for having the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrict airspace was due to a police helicopter being fired upon. Some weeks later, on November 2, 2014; the Associated Press published a story revealing that, after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, it was able to obtain recordings of conversations between FAA personnel which confirmed that the no-fly zone was requested for the sole purpose of keeping the media out. It was also revealed that there was no incident report of shots fired at a police helicopter at all. This is just one of the latest attempts of federal and/or local government officials to mislead the public with an official narrative while concealing their true motives. It is also a blatant attack on press freedoms, which are protected by the very first amendment of the constitution. There are also several videos that went viral showing police directly targeting journalists with arrests, force and tear gas canisters. This wouldn't be the first time the government actively sought to shut down press freedom and probably won't be the last. There are numerous examples of this happening in the past and it doesn't matter who is in the White House – it is institutional.
Vienna, Austria – December 2014 –– In a remarkable show of strength and unity, the Youth Division of Soka Gakkai in Japan presented to Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, more than 5,000,000 signatures in support of the Nuclear Zero campaign. The presentation took place in Vienna at the Civil Society Forum sponsored by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
The Nuclear Zero petition is part of a global campaign calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. The petition states, “To protect humanity’s future, we support the Marshall Islands, a small island nation that is courageously seeking to enforce the Nuclear Zero promise – a world free of nuclear weapons.” The petition goes on to call upon the nuclear-armed nations to fulfill their moral and legal obligations to begin negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament. To sign the petition, visit nuclearzero.org.
US military academies are neither Spartan in being dedicated to war, nor are they Athenian in recognizing humanism (even the humanism of war). They are Archimedean. They focus on engineering and the machinery of war. But two millennia ago even Archimedes with his clever war machinery could not save Syracuse from defeat at the hands of Rome.
There is a lesson here for America’s military academies – if only they spent more time studying history and the humanities and less time solving equations. But they do not. I taught history at the Air Force Academy (AFA) for six years. My experience? The AFA was far too focused on STEM subjects (science/tech/engineering/math) to the neglect of history, political science, and the humanities. Today, America’s military cadets still concentrate on STEM, and they still receive Bachelor of Science degrees, even when they choose to major in subjects like history.
The Globe and Mail is the only newspaper in Canada spending time and resources to report from the war zone of eastern Ukraine. Seasoned Globe reporter Mark MacKinnon has been in and out of there for many months. The newspaper published a substantial article by him in its Saturday edition of Dec. 6. The article is a useful reference point for examining how mainstream media is presenting the story of the war in Ukraine to Canadians, for good and for bad.
Canada has been an enthusiastic partner with the United States and European Union in supporting the right wing government that came into power in Ukraine in February of this year, following the overthrow of the elected president. The new government went to war against its population in the east of the country (the region called "Donbas") in April. That was its response to popular demands for more political autonomy and democracy for the region. Kyiv calls its war an "Anti-Terrorist Operation."
Berlin – The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin has today lodged criminal complaints against former CIA head George Tenet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the administration of former US President George W. Bush. The ECCHR is accusing Tenet, Rumsfeld and a series of other persons of the war crime of torture under paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the German Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch). The constituent elements of the crime of torture were most recently established in the case by the US Senate in its report on CIA interrogation methods. “The architects of the torture system - politicians, officials, secret service agents, lawyers and senior army officials – should be brought before the courts,” says ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck, who is appearing today in connection with the issue in front of the German Parliamentary Committee on legal affairs. “By investigating members of the Bush administration, Germany can help to ensure that those responsible for abduction, abuse and illegal detention do not go unpunished.”
The US Senate report devotes one section explicitly to the case of German citizen Khaled El Masri, who was abducted by CIA agents in 2004 due to a case of mistaken identity and was tortured in a secret detention center in Afghanistan. The criminal complaint details the US Senate report’s finding that once the unlawful error was discovered, the former CIA director refused to take further steps against those responsible.
With the revelations of its connections to torture and hints in its history of connections to eugenics and social control, the APA may be an appropriate target for university boycott.
To think about the future, it is best to work backwards, tracing trajectories to the present moment, carefully working out the lineages that brought current conditions into being. Only then can thoughts of ‘what is to be done’ be meaningful.
(Smith, 2006, p. 83) Smith, D. (2006). Trying to teach in a season of great untruth: Globalization, empire, and the crises of pedagogy. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers