Monday, June 20, 2005


I was at my father in law's yesterday, the wife and I, and we had taken him out to eat for a pre-Father's Day treat and were sitting around looking at TV and ended up watching the Conyers Hearings on the Downing Street Memo. For those who aren't familiar--and who would be, given the scant coverage of "Memogate" and of Conyers' efforts to shine some light on the current Administration--Democratic Congressman Conyers had assembled a kind of rump hearing in a basement room of the Capitol to lay out the meaning of the memo. His witnesses were Joe Wilson, Cindy Sheehan, Ray McGovern, and an author who has started a website called or something ( The Congressmen involved were, I supposed you could say, the "usual suspects," mostly black, mostly women, plus Barney Frank and a few other liberals. No Republicans of course. It was pointed out in the hearing that this was a far cry from the '60s, when Senator Fulbright held major hearings investigating Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policies--Democrats were once willing to investigate one of their own, but these days the party closes ranks.

These hearings--and yes, in a sense they were theatre, because since no Republicans were involved, they weren't really a House Committee but were rather just a handful of House Congressmen--carried nontheless the gravitas of their participants. That is, Conyers and the rest were duly elected House Members, and Joe Wilson was a real former Ambassador, and Cindy Sheehan was a real mother of a real dead soldier, and Ray McGovern was a real ex-CIA analyst. These were not just, oh, Princeton grad students, or something. I found the argument presented pretty convincing too. As I had thought at the time, the American public and the Congress as its representative were sold a bill of goods--lied to--by the Bush administration, in order to go to war in Iraq. The Downing Street Memo is but more confirmation of this, with the further fact that this memo is a real British Government Secret Document, and carries some weight because of that.

The best part of the show was at the end. Anne Wright, a very convincing former State Department career diplomat who resigned because of the Iraq War, stood up and saluted the hearing and suggested that Bush, Rumsfeld and others be impeached.

Now obviously, as far as power goes, the only power in this spectacle is in the truth of the words spoken. It's quite true that this Conyers' "committee" isn't possessed of any official Congressional power beyond whatever is conferred by the truth that it's members are indeed Members of Congress. But since when did this fact, the differential between truth and power, become the grounding of complete media dismissal? Apparently the answer to that is, "Why sometime around November 2000, when Al Gore was elected President."

Certainly power has been power forever. Mussolini was able to deal with a difficult reporter by having him arrested and shot. As we go back in history, we see Voltaire fleeing France for a time because of his unwanted remarks, and no doubt there are more cases of this sort of thing than we can possibly list. The smiling Mao can indeed say that Power flows from the barrel of a gun. But here in America we imagine that things are not really played out on this basis, that when it comes to important truths, there's at least a hope that it's not just about power. As someone said at the Conyers hearing, it's taken 40 years, but down in Mississippi this week they are holding a trial for an old Klan geezer who probably organized the murders of Cheney, Goodmon, and Schwerner back in '63. At the same time it must be said, as well, that no one is organizing a trial for the people who assassinated John F. Kennedy that same year. The implications of this negative fact must also be accepted, or at least understood. Here in America, power still exists without mitigation. One of the smaller comments at the Conyers hearing was a quote from retired General Tommy Franks, that if there were another terrorist attack in the US, the Military might well take over governing the country. No one really talked about what Franks might have meant by this, but it's worth thinking about. Did he mean that the military establishment has thought about this and come to such a conclusion? Are there plans "on the shelf"? Was this a warning to the civilians running the country? And if so, wasn't the military already truly in charge?

This current administration is in the process of merging corporate, military and governmental functions, this we already understand, if only dimly. As one Congressman pointed out, there are over 25 thousand private contractors working in Iraq at the moment, and mostly we do not know what they are doing. Presumably Rumsfeld does know. As these formerly separate aspects of our society merge, we have a kind of structural fascism. Accountability is weakened. The seemingly democratic mechanism of elections is slowly transformed into theatre and manipulation. Candidates who are not "on board" are shunted to the side--Howard Dean, for example, was destroyed as a possible Democratic candidate for President by one week of derision in the main stream media over a so-called "scream" that was in fact an illusion produced by a particular microphone. This process, of course, was begun by the unelecting of Gore in 2000, when a candidate with a majority of the popular vote was unseated by a party line vote on the Supreme Court without further complaint from the people or the press. Or from Gore himself, who took the "statesman" route or perhaps, in his deepest heart, was simply brought down to the position of a prisoner at Gitmo, chained to the floor, tearing out his hair while he is told over and over by Gangsta Rappers that clearly there is no torture involved.

The manipulation of public opinion is now the primary job of the mainstream press. It may be that many of the workers in the press, the simple reporters on the beat, the simple faces behind the microphones, do not even realize their deeper function. Does the guy covering the Michael Jackson verdict understand that this is completely a diversion, that it is national news only in the sense that the press has itself created the interest, that it takes up huge chunks of expensive air time that otherwise might be filled with information of real consequence to the American people? Does he or she get that the story simply blocks out other deeper, "real" stories? Who knows? The guy behind the microphone has a nice job, people recognize him, he gets his bills paid, drives a nice car, has a nice wife and kids, a beach house, a boat.

The only part of the mainstream press (aside from a few syndicated columnists) that is not functioning in this new, fascistic role, is PBS and NPR. Public TV and Public Radio are under attack by the Republican Congress as I write, and partisan Republican figures have also been appointed to high roles in these organizations. The goal of the administration is clearly to either transform these formerly independent institutions into propaganda outlets (of which there are already "private" ones aplenty), or to destroy them. Once this is accomplished, there will be almost nothing left above the level of pamphleteers that doesn't serve the interests of the State. The State, keep in mind, now means the same thing as the Military-Industrial Complex. "Private" is a term transformed, from the inside out. There has been a paradigm shift.

Now I offer you an example, a behind the curtain look at this process. Usually it's harder to see, so hard, in fact, that people who do see this process tend to be written off as "conspiracy theorists" or "kooks" or whatever. But consider Dana Milbank's "coverage" of the Conyers' Hearing. Milbank, a columnist who is supposedly a centrist, simply and completely closes the door on truth and covers only the power. And for most people, power and truth are thereby merged. This is the fascist fantasy world. This is the world in which Mussolini's remark to the reporter: "My first policy will be to kill you," actually makes sense. The only difference is stylistic. Mussolini, ever the dramatic Italian with the shiny black boots, the cape, the Gesture, actually undercuts the deepest most terrible truth of power with his flamboyance. He allows the shift to be noticed. We can recoil in shock, and with the hindsight of history, of Il Duce hanging upside down under the bridge 20 years later, we can nod knowingly. Those Italians, they never could get governing, we can say (just like the Germans said, I guess).

The impulse to fascification has made unfortunate progress over the years. Now the reporter smiles and puts the gun in his own mouth, and even that drama is reduced, and the gun is only his pencil, and after the suicide he goes home, and his paycheck arrives electronically to his bank account, where his various services are electronically deducted each month so that he has plenty of time to watch TV and live the good American life. Milbank can even say that actually he told the truth about this hearing--that what he offers here is only irony. That's the problem with irony I guess. Dig and dig and in the end you find Robert Creeley, out in the old black caddy on old Route 66: "Drive," he said, "fr christsakes watch where yr going." This is not my beautiful house!

--Bill Hicks

Friday, June 17, 2005

What Senator Dick Durbin said

What Senator Dick Durbin said about "Git'mo" in the Senate:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor."

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

It's pretty hard for this ole boy to find anything to object to in Senator Durbin's remarks. Seems to me that he's warning all of us that we've gotten off the track down there in Guantanamo, that we're not behaving like we want to behave. Same with the earlier photos and reports from Abu Ghraib, in Iraq. Who, really, is going to defend that appalling "Christmas Tree" photo? Certainly not Donald Rumsfeld. He was appalled and said so. We may wonder why Mr. Rumsfeld was so inattentive to activities that are essentially under his ultimate command, but he did, finally, reject them.

So we all ought to wonder just what it is that drives the right-wing pundits to attack Sen. Durbin, to suggest that he's a traitor for making the above remarks. The basic idea that all dissent is treasonous, which gets a lot of play whenever things are going wrong, needs to be studied, observed, and rejected for what it is--a smokescreen, a projection. It is the policies that are wrong, not the objections. Torturing people is wrong, and we already know that. It's wrong for any number of reasons, some of which are essentially selfish. But we know it's wrong just in itself, just as we know that some of the people held in "Git'mo" are probably innocent of anything other than being in the "wrong place at the wrong time."

As a democracy, we are all responsible for the actions taken in our name. America runs the prison in Guantanamo. It's our Army who staffs the place. Senator Durbin does all of us a service when he points out something our own FBI has reported--that prisoners are being tortured there. To argue about the exact definition of "torture" is quibbling. No one would seriously deny that the descriptions in his remarks above are descriptions of torture. That even worse things can be done to humans by other humans is not the question. Torture is not just the very worst thing we humans can think up to do. We already know that all too well. (Mr. Limbaugh once compared the pictures at Abu Ghraib to fraternity pranks--if so, that should explain why universities around the US frequently ban specific fraternities from campus, and why all universities have rules against "hazing.")

America, at it's most basic level, at least aims to build a world where people are not tortured. At least that. Surely we can all still agree on this much. Surely this agreement actually "supports our troops" and supports some grounding from which civilized dialog can eventually grow again amongst all of us. We share the lifeboat, after all.

--Bill Hicks, Silk Hope, June 17, '05