Conservative America is always decrying the constant stream of sex and violence which is part and parcel of American media. And they are on to something. The major media corporations in this country control and manufacture American culture. Now, this isn’t new and has been critiqued since the founding of the Frankfurt school, but as the scale and power of the American Culture Machine is currently unprecedented in our history it deserves continued attention.

What the recent Don Imus affair illustrated was how integral major media corporations are to the dissemination and propagation of American culture. Most black-Americans didn’t know who Don Imus was before his scandal and indeed many still don’t. This is because bigots like Imus, Hannity and O’Reilly are never speaking to or heard by most of black America. That population, especially black youth, are targeted by an entirely different sector of the corporate media-entertainment complex: hip-hop.

In this country life imitates art. Corporate manufactured popular culture is the single strongest influence in this society and hip-hop is one of its mainstays. Every child I know can sing the lyrics to a whole host of songs which promote misogyny, racial pigeonholing and violent machismo. But where are these songs coming from? Leaders in the industry like Russell Simmons continue to claim that this trend is a reaction to real conditions on the street and in the American ghetto. If so, then where is the legitimate social commentary, the outrage? If this music is a product of the black American ghetto – an environment created by 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow – why is this never explicitly dealt with in mainstream rap? It is on the tip of everyone’s tong in black communities across America, but receives no attention from those who are supposedly reflecting the black-American condition.

Last year, on the eve of Louis Farrakhan’s “Million More March,” South East Washington, DC – a highly segregated, all black area – was littered with signs calling for the payment of reparations to black-Americans. Why isn’t this reflected in the popular hip-hop which dominates our airwaves? Before we answer this question, it is important to note that this is not the fault of the artistic community. There are voices which reflect a wide variety of sentiments, but only a sliver of the spectrum is picked up by major American media. For obvious reasons, corporations are interested in signing and promoting artists who appeal to suburban white teenagers, something which authentic voices addressing conditions in the American ghetto would be unable to offer.

What are we to do then? Should the government regulate misogynistic, racist or violent material? US regulation of music and culture is the last thing we need. But we do need more diverse voices. The only way we will see more female, revolutionary or angry voices, however, is if we vote with our dollars. The music industry is in the midst of a radical transformation, but will there be space in the new, internet era of music for voices which champion justice and peace? Yes, but only if we stop worshiping and buying the albums of those who – while claiming to address what is “real” – only pollute our culture with homophobia, chauvinism and violence.

“Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an “enemy combatant” and taken to a Navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a 9-by-7-foot cell with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a “truth serum,” a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defense. He is convinced that his lawyers are “part of a continuing interrogation program” and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that “the extended torture visited upon Mr. Padilla has left him damaged,” his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the Navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that “Padilla is competent,” that his treatment is irrelevant.

US District Judge Marcia Cooke disagrees. “It’s not like Mr. Padilla was living in a box. He was at a place. Things happened to him at that place.” The judge has ordered several prison employees to testify at the hearings on Padilla’s mental state, which begin February 22. They will be asked how a man alleged to have engaged in elaborate antigovernment plots now acts, in the words of brig staff, “like a piece of furniture.”

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of these hearings. The techniques used to break Padilla have been standard operating procedure atGuantánamo Bay since the first prisoners arrived five years ago. They wore blackout goggles and sound-blocking headphones and were placed in extended isolation, interrupted by strobe lights and heavy metal music. These same practices have been documented in dozens of cases of CIA “extraordinary rendition” as well as in prisons in Iraq and
Afghanistan.

Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. According to James Yee, former Army Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, there is an entire section of the prison called Delta Block for detainees who have been reduced to a delusional state. “They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over.” All of Delta Block was on twenty-four-hour suicide watch. “

This type of torture has been standard practice for theUS military since the start of the ‘War on Terror.’  There is only one reason Padilla’s case stands out: he is an American citizen and will now receive a public trial.  But now that Padilla’s mental state is at issue, the prosecution faces a serious problem.

“The CIA and the military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration–that’s the whole point.”The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject’s mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure.” That comes from Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a 1963 declassified CIA manual for interrogating “resistant sources.”

But it isn’t necessary to look at counterintelligence manuals from the 1960’s to prove that the military knew what it was doing to inmates.  The US military field manual, which was reissued last year states: “Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and anti-social behavior,” as well as “significant psychological distress.” 

If the US military really did drive Padilla insane, this means that thousands of ‘illegal combatants’ are suffering the same fate from all over the world.  As Naomi Klein notes in this article, “What is on trial in Florida is not one man’s mental state.  It is the whole system of US psychological torture.” 

Said the Presidential Skeleton
I won’t sign the bill
Said the Speaker skeleton
Yes you will

Said the Representative Skeleton
I object
Said the Supreme Court skeleton
Whaddya expect

Said the Miltary skeleton
Buy Star Bombs
Said the Upperclass Skeleton
Starve unmarried moms

Said the Yahoo Skeleton
Stop dirty art
Said the Right Wing skeleton
Forget about yr heart

Said the Gnostic Skeleton
The Human Form’s divine
Said the Moral Majority skeleton
No it’s not it’s mine

Said the Buddha Skeleton
Compassion is wealth
Said the Corporate skeleton
It’s bad for your health

Said the Old Christ skeleton
Care for the Poor
Said the Son of God skeleton
AIDS needs cure

Said the Homophobe skeleton
Gay folk suck
Said the Heritage Policy skeleton
Blacks’re outa luck

Said the Macho skeleton
Women in their place
Said the Fundamentalist skeleton
Increase human race

Said the Right-to-Life skeleton
Foetus has a soul
Said Pro Choice skeleton
Shove it up your hole

Said the Downsized skeleton
Robots got my job
Said the Tough-on-Crime skeleton
Tear gas the mob

Said the Governor skeleton
Cut school lunch
Said the Mayor skeleton
Eat the budget crunch

Said the Neo Conservative skeleton
Homeless off the street!
Said the Free Market skeleton
Use ’em up for meat

Said the Think Tank skeleton
Free Market’s the way
Said the Saving & Loan skeleton
Make the State pay

Said the Chrysler skeleton
Pay for you & me
Said the Nuke Power skeleton
& me & me & me

Said the Ecologic skeleton
Keep Skies blue
Said the Multinational skeleton
What’s it worth to you?

Said the NAFTA skeleton
Get rich, Free Trade,
Said the Maquiladora skeleton
Sweat shops, low paid

Said the rich GATT skeleton
One world, high tech
Said the Underclass skeleton
Get it in the neck

Said the World Bank skeleton
Cut down your trees
Said the I.M.F. skeleton
Buy American cheese

Said the Underdeveloped skeleton
We want rice
Said Developed Nations’ skeleton
Sell your bones for dice

Said the Ayatollah skeleton
Die writer die
Said Joe Stalin’s skeleton
That’s no lie

Said the Middle Kingdom skeleton
We swallowed Tibet
Said the Dalai Lama skeleton
Indigestion’s whatcha get

Said the World Chorus skeleton
That’s their fate
Said the U.S.A. skeleton
Gotta save Kuwait

Said the Petrochemical skeleton
Roar Bombers roar!
Said the Psychedelic skeleton
Smoke a dinosaur

Said Nancy’s skeleton
Just say No
Said the Rasta skeleton
Blow Nancy Blow

Said Demagogue skeleton
Don’t smoke Pot
Said Alcoholic skeleton
Let your liver rot

Said the Junkie skeleton
Can’t we get a fix?
Said the Big Brother skeleton
Jail the dirty pricks

Said the Mirror skeleton
Hey good looking
Said the Electric Chair skeleton
Hey what’s cooking?

Said the Talkshow skeleton
Fuck you in the face
Said the Family Values skeleton
My family values mace

Said the NY Times skeleton
That’s not fit to print
Said the CIA skeleton
Cantcha take a hint?

Said the Network skeleton
Believe my lies
Said the Advertising skeleton
Don’t get wise!

Said the Media skeleton
Believe you me
Said the Couch-potato skeleton
What me worry?

Said the TV skeleton
Eat sound bites
Said the Newscast skeleton
That’s all Goodnight

– Allen Ginsberg

Justice as Ideology

April 26, 2007

A concept such as justice should never be accepted as a concrete reality, for, as a singularity, it can only exist in the consciousness; as an imagined ideal. Because to accept justice as a concrete reality is to accept it as it is defined by power. When justice becomes reality, it becomes ideology; once it is institutionalized it is in someone’s hands. Once a society has accepted a supposed universal notion of a concept so powerful as justice, it gives the right to those in power to define justice – even when power is classless. To treat justice as an absolute, or ever existing in reality in any way, is in fact to give up any notion of justice.

This should not be seen as a form of nihilism. To say that a concept such as justice is an ideal which should continually be deconstructed and never accepted as concrete is not to say it should not be continually strived for. On the contrary, to accept an absolute notion of justice is equally as dangerous as giving up on it. Justice must exist as an ideal in our consciousness, constantly re-informed, deconstructed, yet forever strived for. For it is only possible to build a “more just” society rather than an indefinitely and absolutely just one.

Jed Rouhana

“And we also know one of the reasons why vast numbers of our fellow citizens today in the United States, one of the reasons why they’re not leftists, is precisely because they have not been awakened from their sleepwalking. They have not been convinced that they ought to choose to live a life the way we have chosen, in part because we’ve been cast with the mark of the anti-religious or the naively secular, or what have you.

“And that’s 98% of fellow citizens. So no matter what kind of political organization Brother Stanley is talking about, he’s going to get Gramscian about it. He’s got to dip into the popular culture of the everyday people, and 98% them are talking about God. That’s 97.5% of fellow Americans believe in God. 75% believe Jesus Christ is the son of God. 62% believe they speak on intimate terms with God at least twice a day. That’s who we’re dealing with in terms of our fellow citizens. You can’t talk about organization that’s sustained over time, unless you’re talking in Gramscian terms of how do you tease out leftist sentiment, vision, analysis, in light of the legacy of these dominant ideologies — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth and so on.”

How important is religion to the 21st century American Left?

For the rest of his speech see: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/03/13/1336210

In essence, Kucinich argues Cheney should be impeached because he knowingly:

– Manipulated intelligence to fabricate the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

– Manipulated intelligence to fabricate a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda

– Openly threatened aggression against Iran without the existence of any real threat to the United States

Without doubt, Cheney is guilty of all counts levied against him, but moving forward with impeachment would be futile.  The Vice President does not represent a new or unique doctrine of the American executive branch.  All of his predecessors fabricated threats, manipulated intelligence and used jingoistic propaganda to justify war.  Impeachment proceedings against Cheney would only reinforce the misconception that the problems we face are the result of poor leadership.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Whether or not Dick Cheney holds office, the American-capitalist hegemon functions in essentially the same fashion. 

Iraq in Fragments

April 25, 2007

“By April 2003 I arrived back in Baghdad, this time without need of a visa or filming permissions of any kind. The Iraqi border hung open like a door off its hinges. The apparatus of state lay shattered, ministries on fire. All, that is, but the ministries of Oil and Interior. Baghdad had descended into a regime of looting, kidnappings, shootings, bombings, and a deep uncertainty about the future of the country.

Suddenly the flood gates had opened. There was no government in Iraq and I could film whatever I wanted as long as I could stay alive.

My guess was that I would have about a year before either a new authoritarian government would be put in power or Iraq would descend into civil war and become too dangerous to work in. I needed to make my film while it was still possible.”

This Film is one that all Americans and Westerners should see. It is quite literally a man walking around occupied Iraq between 2003-2005, alone, with a camera. He spends equal time in three neighborhoods: Baghdad, the Shiite South, and Kurdish North. The result is incredibly moving, revealing, and the images are beautiful. The most important thing it does however is expose the orientalist/racist inability for the american media and government to humanize the people in iraq, and how this simple monopoly of perception can easily lead to American popular support for such a war, or enough apathy on the part of the American people to not push hard enough for the war’s end. You realize how very few truly revealing pictures you see coming out of the country, how little you know about how the people think, what they want, their daily lives, etc. What we percieve to be the reality of the history of Iraq, the economic and social conditions, and the desires of the Iraqi people has been dictated by American government and media, and blindly accepted by the American people in a post 9/11 environment of fear.

Illiterate in Washington

April 25, 2007

More than one of every three D.C. residents is functionally illiterate, according to a report released last month by the University of the District of Columbia.

The study, which was conducted by UDC’s State Education Agency for Adult Education and Family Literacy, analyzes data from a national literacy survey in 1992 and the 2000 Census. The agency is tasked with managing D.C.’s citywide literacy initiative, which receives funds from the city government. The report pinpoints specific areas of the District that had severe literacy problems.

Wards 5, 7 and 8 had the highest functional illiteracy rates, which stand at approximately 50 percent. The national average for functional illiteracy is 25 percent. GW is in Ward 2.

Functional illiteracy is defined as having “below basic” literary skills, which means the person “can perform no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills,” according to the report. Examples of simple literacy skill are finding an intersection on a map, completing a job application, or reading bus schedules.

– The George Washington University Hatchet

The District of Columbia suffers from de facto segregation. Traditionally black neighborhoods in DC have been poor and ignored for generations. Such dismal statistics reminds us that at the heart of the American Empire joblessness and illiteracy are the norm.

Faith

April 25, 2007

Zizek claims we all have faith, that we all believe in much more than we appear to.

“In my last book I quote a wonderful anecdote, which renders this point perfectly again about Niels Bohr, you know, the Copenhagen guy. Who, when he was visited by a friend in his country house and the friend, also a scientist, found above the entrance to the house a horseshoe, kind of superstitious item, you know,  to prevent evil spirits entering, evil spirits entering the house, and so on. So the friend, surprised, asked Niels Bohr, “Wait a minute! I thought you were a scientist. Are you superstitious? Do you really believe in it?” You know what Niels Bohr answered? He answered, “I’m not an idiot. Of course I don’t believe in it. But I have it there because I was told that it functions even if you don’t believe in it.”

 

This, in essence, is how ideology functions in the world today.  First, you accept that there can be faith.  That is, you believe that transcendent things can be True.  For example, we believe that God can exist, man might have a soul or even inalienable human rights. It is secondary that we believe these things to be True or False.  This is what Zizek exposes his example.  Bohr accepts the possibility of belief, but rejects the specific superstition.  So, even when we don’t believe in the truth of some reified concept, by entertaining the possibility of its existence we still believe, we still have faith.  This – as I said – is how ideology functions.