Amnesty International statement on Edward Snowden

Here is a link to the Amnesty International statement on Snowden:

Listening to the interview with Edward Snowden by Glenn Greenwald aired on the Democracy Now I hear an honest intelligent person who is coming clean and revealing activity of the US government which should not be kept secret.

Since this interview was made public in June, many in the US government, the US press, and even some liberal friends of mine have referred to Snowden as a “traitor” and as someone guilty of espionage. As many have asked, if he is a spy, who is he spying for? The American people? In that case we need more spies like Snowden to inform us about the back room deals and activities done by those who purport to represent us. Where is the transparency Obama promised? Transparency shmerecy.

Some people state that Snowden has information that might harm American operatives. Says who? An unamed representative who says Snowden has other secrets in his possession but the nature of those and any proof that he has such secrets will remain secret and he will be prosecuted by a secret court in a secret place in secret? At some point you have to say fuck secrecy.

The use of “spy” and “espionage” is Orwellian scare tactic speech. As best as I can tell so far, reading between the lines of the New York Times and other US press much as Russians used to read Pravda to distill the truth, Snowden is no spy, he is a whistleblower and should therefore have his rights respected.

No, what’s going on is that the NSA is pissed that their secret massive bugging campaign has been revealed. They knew that the public would not like having their phone calls monitored (and if you don’t mind the government monitoring your phone calls, fine, but that is a separate subject than the fact that they have been doing it without telling you they’re doing it, which is basically all that Snowden has revealed). So now the US power structure wants to make an example of Snowden by bringing down the hammer on him. He doesn’t have any information that will harm anyone. If I’m wrong I’ll eat my words. I’ll just say this, remember Vietnam and remember the Pentagon papers. Our government has done horrible wrong and illegal acts. When a whistleblower helps reveal those acts, this one being minor compared to what happened in Vietnam, he or she is a hero in my book, especially given the hatred that he or she will endure from a fawning obsequious public and the risk of solitary confinement by our new order so-called security state. These same words apply all the more to Bradley Manning, another hero who did hero work.

Dennis Allard
Santa Monica
July 4, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty, a review

Here is my review of Zero Dark Thirty. For me, it’s a story, about the movie, about going to see the movie, and about this life I find myself passing through. It’s always that way.

I previously shared my thoughts about the politics of the making Zero Dark Thirty in
a prequel to this review. I didn’t have a lot of good things to say then, and I have mixed things to say now. Let’s put it this way, I’m glad this did not win Best Picture, not that Argo deserved it.

My friend Juan and I decided on the spur of the moment to go see Zero Dark Thirty, which we had been planning to go see for some time. The only show left that night was over in Century City at a fancy massive mall I had not been to in ages. So we got into my 1991 Audi Coupe Quattro and hit the road from Santa Monica toward the lights of Century City.

Mall Entrance Century City Mall Map

We are both interested in politics and were looking forward to see an entertaining movie that, at the same time, dealt with issues about use of US force in far away places. I had enjoyed the evening so far, since I don’t drive often but when I do, LA at night is a wonderful experience, with distant views of the Hollywood hills and the ballet of cars moving at high speed on the freeway. We navigated our way to the mall and entereed an enormous parking structure, itself an architectural wonder. We were careful to remember where we parked.

We were early so walked around the impressive wide outdoor walkways of the mall lined by store fronts offering luxury goods to the upscale community around Century City and Beverly Hills. It was past closing time for most stores, which gave a bleak feel to the large corridors normally filled with passing shoppers. There were a few straglers still walking around as if this were a park.

Mall Corridor Centry City Mall Glamor Centry City Mall Shopper IMAX theater

We had almost an hour to fill before the movie so we found our way to an Italien pub-like restaurant on the second level near the escalator. It was layed out like a sushi bar but served Italian specialties. We sat at the bar. We were the last customers of the evening so we engaged in banter with the crew, most of whom seemed to be from different parts of the world. Our main server seemed to have a Russian accent. I wondered how much she was paid and how many hours of her salary would be needed to cover the price of a movie at the IMAX theatre where I had pre-booked seats at $18 each. Here she was, still working at this late hour after the mall rush, still serving food to a couple of wanderers from Santa Monica would could easily afford the high priced seats and who needed a last minute bite to eat before exiting back to the mall corridor and into the megalithic theater complex located nearby.

It was time to see the movie. It was what I expected. Entertaining, well acted, good cinematography. It had more torture scenes than I had been lead to believe from the reviews making me wonder if there is that much difference in how much we hate other cultures compared to how much they hate our culture. The physical IMAX screen was incredible. I only then realized this was IMAX. I had never been to see IMAX and this was, by far, the largest most beautiful screen I had ever seen. Lousy sound though, as if recorded in an empty gymnasium with very hard walls to bounce the sound off of. Not the sound system, that was great. I mean the recording of voice in the movie. I wondered if maybe they just had the sound turned up too high in the theater. But no, I think it was lousy sound engineering in the film itself.

The script was written in a frenetic sytle we have to get used to these days. It has this cutsey way to throw so many Arabic names at you in rapid succession and allusion to a juxtoposition of supposedly correlated events that you would need to pay another $36 each to see the movie two more times in order to really figure out what the hell was going on in the CIA agent’s stream of consciousness.

Anyway, the movie has two parts, the lead up, most of the movie, with frentic evidence gathering and somewhat over-acted CIA interactions. Probably somewhat exaggerated and maybe a bit over acted in a couple spots.

zerodarkthirty01 zerodarkthirty02

Then, the last part, about the last half hour or more, where Seal Team Six did its thing. THAT was well done. Very realistic. No Rambo here. Just extremely well trained, well armed, and high tech soldiers going into a feudal state at night to kill someone. Which they do expeditiously. Not legal by any international standards, but this is the American Empire speaking. You blow up 3000 people, you are going to be toast one day or another. Of course, there being no time for character development of the soldiers, you are watching a skit, basically, dropped into the movie to show what the rest of the movie was supposed to be about. Kind of two movies in one really, both ultimately superficial, with us in the theater playing our part and being entertained. Did we learn anything? I don’t think so. Were we entertained? Yes, I was. Does this movie give pause for thought and lead to a discussion of the issues involved? I don’t know. Did it in your circle of friends?

After the movie ended, Juan and I discussed it as we walked back to the enormous parking structure. On the way out we showed our parking validation to the attendant, which let us out free. The attendant was standing there, in the cold night, next to the stark cold mechanical exit gate, owned by whatever mega-corporation rakes in the millions of dollars per year in parking fees levied on visitors to that particular Century City parking complex. I pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to the guy. He deserved much more than that, but his boss, the corporation who owns that parking structure does not care. That is how it is.

There are other young men being better paid to become Seal Team warriors. And others being trained to sit in a bunker and command drones to do our robotic killing for us. That is also how it is. The movie made me think about all of that, being part of an immersive experience I had that evening.

Zero Dark Thirty (before I saw the movie)

This is my a prequel to my review of Zero Dark Thirty. My review of Zero Dark Thirty was written later.

The radio advertisements for Zero Dark Thirty are insulting. “We all remember where we were when Bin Laden was killed”. No we don’t. I didn’t and that event doesn’t merit that much mental real estate. That being said, I plan to see this film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow who also directed Hurt Locker, a well made and entertaining but apolitical and overrated film. On IMDB Hurt Locker received many bad reviews by US Military veterans and by people who know movies, so I was not alone in my opinion and was grateful for the company. From the bad reviews for Zero Dark Thirty so far (and I actually don’t usually read reviews or base my movie going choices on them), I will walk into the theater with lowered expectations. So hopefully I will be entertained and possibly even informed. Yes, I am for the Seals and glad they got Bin Laden. What I’m not for is elite movie makers having access to privileged interviews with CIA officials on company time then going on to tell a tale of torture that is not true.

Kathryn Bigelow and company had access to the CIA to obtain background about the Navy Seal raid on Osama bin Laden. See: Los Angeles Times post about Kathryn Bigelow and Bin Laden.

The Navy Seal raid was an inevitable action taken by the US military in the quasi-feudal state of Pakistan although it arguably violated international law. Bin Laden should have been arrested and tried.

The access by Kathryn Bigelow to CIA data about that raid is an insult to normal people and a testimony to the absurd amount of power and influence held by oligarchs and those who kowtow to the oligarchs.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Republicans. But here’s a case where just plain normal people would surely come together in accord. The statements by Senator John McCain about Bigelow’s misportrayal of the use of water boarding are a case, one of few, where I can applaud McCain.

One last thing. “We” (I must quote here) don’t need to torture people to get to the Bin Ladens of the world. They are not worth it and lowering ourselves to their level of activity is a travestry of our so-called values. Instead, we need to change our system to not be sponsoring the future Bin Laden’s (as our system has done and continues to do). That change to the system will not be easy. Kowtowing to the logic of torture is not a start down that path. (To be continued).

All that said, I’ll be viewing Zero Dark Thirty this week and will most likely enjoy it, while conscious of my own duplicity.

The Privatization of Education

This morning, Uprising Radio addressed the issue of how education is being privatized and how test scores are being given more importance than education.

The story is heart wrenching, explaining for example how little kids from the ghetto are asked to start taking tests in kindergarten, the kind where you have to mark the right answer with a lead pencil.

The MP3 file of the program contains an interview with Jonathan Kozol, author of “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.”.

There is a short final commentary by Glen Ford, “Black Agenda Report on the Privatization of Education” (at the 49 minute 20 second mark of the MP3 audio playback). Glenn Ford provides an alternative point of view to the seemingly generous donation made my Mark Zuckerberg to the Newark New Jersey public school system.

Why does KPFK give air time to Gary Null?

I have tired of turning on KFPK radio (90.7 FM, Los Angeles) at night only to hear the self-aggrandizing voice of Gary Null being emitted into the vacuum of the Los Angeles radio air.

At first one tends to like what Null is saying, since he is critical of the pharmaceutical industry and promotes exercise and a good diet. Those are easy targets. But then, very soon, his rants become intolerable.

Null represents the cult of the individual self-promotion of self. The self-referring radio “star”. I think that Null is a disgrace to the left, rivaled by the 911 falsers. When Null is asked a question he seems to not care about the person who asked it or have any interest in dialog. He goes on and on and on ad nauseum listening to his vitriol that often drifts to topics having nothing to do with the question asked telling people what important unique work he claims to have done. Worse, much of what he says has the feel of a snake oil salesman. (See the references at the end of this post.)

That KPFK puts Null on the air so often is testimony to the fact that the left has as many sheep amongst its ranks as the right. So Null is not going to go away. There are myriad people who want to hear his claims.

All I can do is change the channel.

In the mornings, on KPFK, there is world class reporting and news and commentary from Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Sonali Kohatkar, Margaret Prescod, Lila Garrett, and Richard Wolff. But late at night, I turn off KPFK and search, mostly in vane, for good radio. What ever happened to good radio? I end up listening to KFI so that, at least, be entertained by Phil Hendri or George Noori, where lunacy is expected and funny.

This is, of course, just my opinion. But after once again turing on my radio to KPFK last night and hearing Null’s boring voice yet again, I had to vent. And I’m not the only one who has so vented…

Gary Null’s Goons Threaten to Sue Me: My Response

Quackwatch — A Critical Look at Gary Null’s Activities and Credentials

Doug Henwood’s article on Gary Null

Tar Sands Pipeline

Tar sand and oil shale are both boondoggles. Both extract very little usable oil. Both take huge amounts of energy to get to it. And both tar sands and oil shale tear up the landscape and damage the water supply. Most important of all, both tar sands and oil shale offer the bogus hope of avoiding political entanglement with foreign oil.  The elusive pot of black gold at the end of a make believe rainbow.

Michael Moore meets Chomsky

Earlier this week, on Democracy Now, host Amy Goodman reported that Michael Moore met Noam Chomsky for the first time at the 25th Anniversary Benefit for FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

I have a problem with that.

That Moore is meeting Chomsky for the first time is symptamtic of a problem of the US left. It tells us that the prime movers of the left in the United States are not part of an organized movement, not part of a new party, not part of a left that is working to form a movement for change.

Moore has made dramatic, humorous, and effective films critiquing the US capitalist system. Chomsky is one of the best, most scholarly and precise diagnosticians of the contradictions of US and European imperialism over the past century.

Yet, the logic of organization used by these powerful voices is weak, even non-existant. Along with others, such as Ariana Huffington, who named a newspaper site after herself that recently was valued at over $300 million, Greg Palast, who sells his books laden with brilliant acerbic investigative journalism, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West whose new alliance tells it like it is, and many others, the American Left is a balkanized sea of individuals and activists. The people who should be the leaders or working with the leaders of an organized left are, instead, each preaching from their own pulpits, earning a living, sometimes a lucrative one, yet not working in any unified way to form a movement.

Is it unrealistic to expect these pundits and analysts to somehow self-organize and be part of forming a movement? Perhaps. But, at least, they could each be pointing out that, effectively, we have no organized left in the United States. As de facto leaders, to whom audiences and fans flock, these speakers could do more than appear on CNN (in the case of Ariana) or go on yet another book tour at Universities or be heard on Pacific Radio preaching to the already-convinced. They could put each other into their address books and get together with other political organizers, including Latino and Black organizers, and could be part of an organized movement.

The Arab Awakening has shown that, initially, a spontaneous leaderless (or so it may seem) movement for change can indeed self-organize. That is a wonderful new phenomenon aided by modern communication tools. Does that apply to the US? In fact, will a leaderless movement even work in the Arab world, ultimately? Of course not. A next phase is necessary both in the Arab world and among the US left.

The Arab Arrival Exposes Contradictions of US and Europe

The US and Europe protect the revolt in Libya but do not protect the revolt in Bahrain as Saudi troops invade.

The US, France, Great Britain, and the UN Security Council vote to enforce a no fly zone and to protect the Libyan people by whatever means are necessary.

What about the Bahrain? President Obama and the UN do not protest the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. So what’s going on here?

The Arab zeitgeist imbued with the ideal of democracy is a leaderless unstoppable force that is willing change in the Middle East. The road to change will be long, not short. It will contradict the forces of capitalism that have kept down the Arab people and caters to the rule of ownership of resources by the few.

The US invaded the Philippines almost 100 years ago and has since supported almost every dictator on the planet who helps protect US resources from Marcos to Suharto to Somoza to the Saudi Kings. As in Guatemala in the 1950s where half of the farm land was owned by Chiquita Banana (then United Fruit Company) and 100,000 Mayans were slaughtered by the US-supported dictatorship. The cases are many. They have nothing to do with the so-called cold war or iron curtain or fight against communism. They have to do with the preservation of power, US power in these cases. Anyway, the old excuses are all gone now. The new excuse is to battle terrorism, but the new Arab movements are neither terrorist nor fundamentalist.

The US and Europe are caught in a contradiction. On the one hand, they say they
support democracy. Yet they support dictators and kings and the plutocracy at home and abroad that consists of a small percentage of the population that owns most of the wealth and has most of the power.

Will that change? A better question is, can that change?

Capitalism does not equal democracy, a lesson the idealists in the Arab world will come to learn after the dust settles.

Still, the ideal of democracy is a good one, in spite of capitalist forces that oppose it. So that movement towards democracy will continue. It is what is happening in the Arab world, helped by the internet and mass communication that dictators can no longer censor.

I cannot agree with Hugo Chavez this time. I don’t believe Gaddafi is a good guy or would honor a cease fire. So another contradiction here is for those on the left in the US who are pacifists. No intervention means de facto support for Gaddafi. That does not make the situation in Libya any less of a mess. It is a mess and no one knows what the outcome will be.

The emerging forces among the rebels in Libya will follow the logic of capital. Power will accrue to those who own and not so much to those who work. Immigrant labor, Tunisian and Egyptian, will continue to be the norm. Will that new arrangement permit Libya to have a democracy? If it permits more democracy than before, it’s a start. It is change that will continue to be rebuffed by autocratic capitalism. But it is change for the better.

What about the United States? Can the left in the US learn from the Arab movement for change?

The movement in Wisconsin was also a spontaneous uprising with no clearly defined leadership. No amount of opinion by Ariana Huffington, who named a newspaper after herself, or speeches by Michael Moore, who has a wonderful Web site, however well intentioned, will provide leadership for the left in the US.

The Arab World will find leaders and a platform and form new parties with the goal of creating socialist democracies where the interests of working people becomes the goal for society. May the US left follow that lead.

The Battle of Zawiya

Very brave people in Libya are fighting in Zawiya to free themselves from the corrupt dictator Ghadahfi and his cronies. The battle is raging as I write.

The people fighting for democracy may not win. They may lose. But things have changed. The zeitgeist is now imbued with the ideal of democracy. It’s just an ideal, without an organized leadership or ideology. Partly that’s good because, among other things, it is not a fundamentalist religious movement. It is an uprising by millions of people who have reached a tipping point. They see the world on the Internet, they see the conditions in their own country. They want change now. It’s not perfect and never will be but it is good change.

If this battle is lost, the war will continue. This change is inevitable, however long it takes.

Saudi Arabia, you’re in line.

Does the power structure in the United States want this? After having supported so many dictatorships in the world for so many decades? Well, it’s time for some change here too.

The working people of the United States, including “illegal” people, are also witnessing the events. Labor, what should be a revered and cherished aspect of our society, can savor this change being lead by the Arab world and other places like Bolivia, whose president is a Llama herder.