Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bush Gets Suuuuurrrved! ... In Europe

BOULTON: I mean, you've talked a lot about freedom. I've heard you talk about freedom -- I think every time I've seen you.


BOULTON: And yet there are those who would say, look, let's take Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and rendition and all those things, and to them that is the, you know, the complete opposite of freedom.

Ooh snap!

Our bought and paid for corporate media is finally standing up to President Bush and asking him tough questions, even when he’s just giving a softball interview with his wife! Wow! Can you believe it? Well it's about time that—-

Oh, wait a minute, my bad…this interview happened in *London* and the journalist is British.

So basically, the foreign press does a better job holding US politicians responsible than our own.


Read more from excerpt and peep the link provided for full interview. Those of you in the mainstream media--take notes.


BOULTON: I mean, you've talked a lot about freedom. I've heard you talk about freedom -- I think every time I've seen you.


BOULTON: And yet there are those who would say, look, let's take Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and rendition and all those things, and to them that is the, you know, the complete opposite of freedom.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course if you want to slander America, you can look at it one way. But you go down -- what you need to do -- I think I suggested you do this at a press conference -- if you go down to Guantanamo and take a look at how these prisoners are treated -- and they're working it through our court systems. We are a land of law.

BOULTON: But the Supreme Court have just said that -- you know, ruled against what you've been doing down there.

THE PRESIDENT: But the district court didn't. And the appellate court didn't.

BOULTON: The Supreme Court is supreme, isn't it?

THE PRESIDENT: It is, and I accept their verdict. I don't agree with their verdict. And it's not what I was doing down there. This was a law passed by our United States Congress that I worked with the Congress to get passed and sign into law.

BOULTON: But it looked like an attempt to bypass the Constitution, to a certain extent.

THE PRESIDENT: This was a law passed, Adam. We passed a law. Bypassing the Constitution means that we did something outside the bounds of the Constitution. We went to the Congress and got a piece of legislation passed.

BOULTON: Which is now being struck down, I think.

THE PRESIDENT: It is, and I accept what the Supreme Court did, and I necessarily don't have to agree with it.

Full interview:,,91211-1319126,00.html


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

O.I.L.- Operation Iraqi LIberation

Anyone still in doubt over what this Iraqi colonial misadventure has been about? While there are many factors to consider, from neoconservative ideologues at PNAC to billions to be made by war profiteers, nothing ties all of these things neatly together like oil. That Iraq sits on one of the largest pool of oil in the region (some estimates put it at only second to Saudi Arabia) is why it was chosen for "liberty" and "freedom" say over...the Democratic Republic of Congo. However for some reason, within the political and corporate media culture, this has become a quiet truism that is best not spoken aloud. For years when this obvious fact was brought up by critics of the Iraq War, they were quickly chided as engaging in "fanciful conspiracies." That the US had gone to war primarily over oil was something only the "loony left" could dream up. So when GOP presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain back in early May inadvertently stated as much in a townhall meeting, saying that dependence on "oil from the Middle East" had sent American "young men and women into conflict,"--a policy he fervently endorses--there was an audible gasp from the media punditocracy, that their venerated "maverick" had let the cat out of the bag.

Last week a new development has turned the bag inside out, leaving it naked for all to see, as four major US oil giants--the Texas-based Exxon Mobile, British BP, Total of France and Royal Dutch Shell, all original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company that was ousted almost 40 years ago from Iraq after a near monopoly since the 1920s--are set to make a dramatic return in a new set of no-bid contracts with the installed and propped up Iraqi regime.

Surprise. Surprise. Finally, after 4,000 American lives, tens of thousands of wounded soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, 4 million refugees, and a country wracked by military occupation, bombings, a shredding of infrastructure and organized chaos, Iraq is safe for the European oil conglomerates to colonize all over again.

Though I want to just go on and on about how "I told you so," some good articles on it have already been done it for me, which I share below.

Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back

BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat. The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

full article:

Big Oil and the war in Iraq

IT TOOK five years, the deaths of 4,100 US soldiers, and the wounding of 30,000 more to make Iraq safe for Exxon. It is the inescapable open question since the reasons given by President Bush for the invasion and occupation did not exist, neither the weapons of mass destruction nor Saddam Hussein's ties to Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

full article:

No Blood for... er... um...: The Oil Majors Take a Little Sip of the Ol' Patrimony

More than five years after the invasion of Iraq - just in case you were still waiting - the oil giants finally hit the front page.

Last Thursday, the New York Times led with this headline: "Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back." And who were these four giants? ExxonMobil, Shell, the French company Total and BP (formerly British Petroleum). What these firms got were mere "service contracts" - as in servicing Iraq's oil fields - not the sort of "production sharing agreements" that President Bush's representatives in Baghdad once dreamed of, and that would have left them in charge of those fields. Still, it was clearly a start. The Times reporter, Andrew E. Kramer, added this little detail: "[The contracts] include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today's prices: the [Iraqi oil] ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash." And here's the curious thing, exactly these four giants "lost their concessions in Iraq" back in 1972 when that country's oil was nationalized. Hmmm. You'd think the Times might have slapped some kind of "we wuz wrong" label on the piece.

full article:


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Republicans for Voldemort...

Okay, so it has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. But this campaign ad makes up for it in pure humor. So, Why are YOU voting Republican?

I'm voting Republican because...


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Obama's Pandering Problem & Foreign Policy

In the past few weeks, as the never-ending Democratic primary has finally run its course, and a nominee has emerged, there has been alot of jubilation. As a person of color, a man of mixed-race heritage who proudly calls himself African-American, the son of a partially immigrant past, and with a connection to the global world seemingly built into his gene pool, Senator Barack Obama stands poised to make history on several fronts. And the world is certainly taking notice.

From Europe to Asia to Africa, Obama-mania and fascination is high. Street vendors in Cairo follow his speeches while newspapers in Germany are abuzz with his name. Both here and abroad, Obama is being hailed as the best great hope for peace and global stability. Yet, one has to wonder if perhaps many of the world's citizens are setting expectations too high. Would a President Barack Obama be the figure who would single-handedly push back against American Empire, making the US a nation among equals? Would he stand with many of the powerless of the world who expect that his background and past make him a natural ally to their cause? Is the "change" he is promising to bring going to be so monumental that it will harken a new age?

Or are we all kidding ourselves?

Two recent speeches by the presumptive Democratic nominee may signal that for many initially caught up in the Obama euphoria, it may be time to "get real."

"Obama's AIPAC speech shocks Arabs"- so read the headline of the Middle East Times on June 5th. It was one day after Sen. Obama, following the formal end of the Democratic primaries, addressed the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Standing in front of a banner reading, "Built to Last," in reference to the long-standing relationship between the United States and Israel, Obama sought to shore up his image with the one lobby he couldn't reject. In what followed, the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee engaged in a speech in which he assured Israel of its continued strategic importance to the US, promised to continue its military aid to the tune of $billions, scolded the Palestinians as if they were errant school children, warned against what he deemed the "threat" of Iran and--most glaringly--promised that Jerusalem would remain the "undivided capital" of the Jewish state. In the packed auditorium the Illinois Senator received repeated standing ovations and applause. Outside of that small hall however, much of the world cringed.

As the Mideast Times put it, the speech served as a "rude awakening" that any new leadership in Washington would continue the status quo--that is, favoring Israel over the rest of the Middle East, labeling Muslim countries in the region as the sole threats to peace, holding the Israeli state accountable for nothing and ignoring the rights of the Palestinian people. Arab newspapers and journalists in the region and elsewhere, seeming equally stunned, blasted the speech as blatant pandering:

"This cheap way of throwing himself at the feet of this lobby [AIPAC] harms American interests … and encourages violence and terrorism by giving justification to extremist groups, such as al-Qaida," -- Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

"Obama is gambling with his image and the widespread hopes that many had placed on him to change the face of America, its relations with the world, and getting out of its economic crises stemming from its failed and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." --Palestinian Daily.

"It was so sad. To see a grown tower of a man come to his knees. Just like everyone before him, the presumptive democratic followed the suit of all US political leaders before him and bowed down at the footsteps of the pro Israel lobby. What happened to the anti lobby nominee? ...America's black nominee who would have supported divestment on racist south Africa blasted international divestment calls on Israel, and libeled Arab oil producing countries by saying that "petrodollars are responsible for the killing of American soldiers and Israeli citizens. How pathetic." --Palestinian journalist and visiting Princeton professor Daoud Kuttab.

Even those in the mainstream US media scratched their heads in wonder:

"A mere 12 hours after claiming the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday -- and changed himself into an Israel hard-liner...As a pandering performance, it was the full Monty by a candidate who, during the primary, had positioned himself to Hillary Clinton's left on matters such as Iran. Yesterday, Obama, who has generally declined to wear an American-flag lapel pin, wore a joint U.S.-Israeli pin, and even tried a Hebrew phrase on the crowd." -- Dana Milbank, Washington Post.

One sarcastic blog headline summed up the odd timing of the speech, which coincided with the clinching of the Democratic nomination: "Obama brushes off change confetti and reveals empty suit in AIPAC conference speech."

For much of the Muslim world, and among the more progressive blogosphere, those who had become enamored with the prospects of "change" in an Obama presidency, were left to shake their heads in dismay.

It wasn't long before the criticism reached diplomatic levels, creating a minor international firestorm. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas latched onto Obama's Jerusalem statement as something to be "totally rejected." In angry condemnation, he went on to proclaim: "The whole world knows that East Jerusalem, holy Jerusalem, was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having [East] Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state."

In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini condemned the speech as propaganda that sought to destabilize and defame the Islamic Republic. "Such illusory and biased remarks are unacceptable. It is most evident that they are not a particle of truth and are very much divorced from the reality about Iran's nuclear activities," he said.

In less than 72 hours, as criticism mounted, Obama was forced to backtrack on his most incendiary statements regarding Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a CNN interview, seeking to clarify his points, the Democratic nominee stated: "Well, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations."

Though the AIPAC speech and its controversies reached the mainstream media, this was not however the first time Sen. Obama's foreign policy directives seemed to fall short of substantial "change." Back in late May, Sen. Obama gave a speech in Miami to the Cuban American National Foundation on his approach to Latin America. While reaffirming his long voiced openess to meeting with Cuban leaders, a progressive break with traditional US foreign policy dating back to the Eisenhower administration, Sen. Obama stated that he would nevertheless maintain the crushing 46 year-old embargo on the island nation as a form of "leverage." In his own words, "Throughout my entire life, there has been injustice and repression in Cuba. Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy ... I won't stand for this injustice ... I will maintain the embargo." Fidel Castro himself penned a rebuttal at his sense of disappointment at the seemingly simplistic portrayal of the communist country.

"This man who is doubtless, from the social and human points of view, the most progressive candidate for the US presidency, portrays the Cuban revolution as anti-democratic and lacking in respect for freedom and human rights," Castro stated. "It is the same argument US administrations have used again and again to justify crimes against our country. The blockade is an act of genocide. I don't want to see US children inculcated with those shameful values."

Indeed, in Sen. Obama's "New Partnership for Latin America," a policy guideline put out by his campaign, the foreign affairs approach to South and Central America and the Caribbean remains muddled with questions. On the one hand his stance on the IMF and the need for environmental cooperation seems promising, or at least a move in the right direction. On other matters however, there are continued plans for the funding of the right wing Colombian government war against FARC, with military aid in the form of the Andean Counter-drug program. The Colombian regime has long been accused of aiding right wing paramilitary death squads, and many have called the Andean Counter-drug program the new-age infamous "School of the Americas." Yet there seems to be no review by Sen. Obama of these long held US policies that masquerade under the heading of a supposed "War on Drugs."

"Many of us had great “hope” for the much-vaunted “change” in U.S. policy towards Latin America," Roberto Lavato wrote in a peice for Of America. "But listening to Barack Obama’s “substantive” speech on U.S. Latin America policy last week and reading his “New Partnership with the Americas” policy proposal, it’s pretty clear that Obama will do nothing to alter the basic structure of George W. Bush’s Latin America policy: trade backed by militarism."

On a key test of American diplomacy, the strained US relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Sen. Obama strayed little from his predecessors, parroting some of the worst rhetoric of the Bush administration and right-wing foreign policy hawks. In his speech the Venezuelan leader was depicted as undemocratic--even though Chavez was democratically elected president, repeatedly, by large swaths of his country's people. In the footsteps of the Bush administration, Sen. Obama utilized some of the same caricatures of Chavez as a "demagogue" with a "perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy." No where in his address did Sen. Obama point out that the attempted 2002 coup against Chavez, both supported and perhaps even directed by the Bush administration, may play a key role in any discordance in relations between the two countries. And any attempts at national programs that favor the poor rather than the country's wealthy oligarchs, were derided in Sen. Obama's words as nothing more than "the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past."

In his speech, Sen. Obama did place significant blame on the Bush administration. But it was not for their repeated attempts to destabilize Venezuela; rather it was for allowing its democratically elected leader, Hugo Chavez, to take what was termed his "stale vision" which had made"inroads from Bolivia to Nicaragua." In repeating this bellicose language, Sen. Obama at once dismissed any legitimate attempts for Latin American economic independence, the empowerment of the popular will to choose political leaders of their liking--either in Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua it would seem--and maintains the long held consensus that the hemisphere must be subservient to American will, both militarily and economic, rather than forge their own path.

To Latin American reporter Al Giordana, "change" was hardly the word for this address. "For those looking to see a continuation of destructive US policies in, and presumptions toward, Latin America from an Obama administration, his speech parroted some of the same bullheaded and divisive language that we’ve heard too much of already from Bush, Clinton and others before him." Giordana said.

Despite such dismal beginnings, there is however a bit of a silver lining to be found . For now, most of the world believes that these highly rhetorical speeches amount to little more than pandering--shameless yes, but *perhaps* not truly revealing of what a President Obama would do. If anything, as everyone from Palestinian reporters to Fidel Castro acknowledged, his speeches expose the sad state of American politics, where certain entrenched powerful lobbies and interest groups--be they AIPAC, Christian Zionists or hard-line Cuban nationalists--must be pandered to by anyone seeking the oval office. So in the case of Sen. Obama, a man who once spoke up for Palestinian rights and had dinner with the late scholar Dr. Edward Said, must sadly convert himself into a common right wing Likud-nik in order to assure skeptical conservative potential voters about where he stands.

But for those hoping for real substantial and progressive change in American foreign policy, the question that remains however is, where does the "pandering Obama" and the "real Obama" begin and end?

Certainly an Obama presidency would be light years more advanced than the current administration. And he shares vast differences on global affairs with the GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, whose own pandering has taken him to the fringes of the far-right and beyond. Even those critical of Sen. Obama's recent foreign policy speeches have been quick to point out as much. Yet this doesn't dull disappointment with his hawkish "more of the same" type rhetoric. To catch a glimpse of how a President Obama might act, one might need to look at his foreign policy advisors, who come from diverse backgrounds. They are former aides to previous Democratic leaders, human-rights advocates, retired generals and others. They aren't neo-cons by any means--all opposed the Iraq War early on. But sadly, neither can they be labeled progressives. Some, like his top adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, have pasts that are downright troubling. Most will likely offer the same foreign policy advice that so many previous American presidents have received, urging ways to further retain American power at the expense of others. They'll urge diplomacy yes, but not much else when it comes to meaningful change.

Yet, as in the case of the AIPAC speech recant, Sen. Obama has shown that if pushed he is willing to backtrack and step away from disastrous statements and choices. Given what we've seen in the past 8 years, that's a definitive change. And in a campaign that has sought to get the American voter "engaged," an Obama presidency would--and should--be held accountable to the people like no other. The hard truth is that those who want a more progressive approach to American foreign policy will have to push for and demand it. Voting and hoping a President Obama will just "do the right thing" is not enough; it's far, far, far from enough. His more progressive supporters will have to be willing to be watchful of anyone elected into office, and be just as willing to voice criticism as they were of the current administration . Otherwise that mantra of "change," might just end up being a hollow slogan we later look upon with disillusionment and regret.

Full text of Sen. Obama's AIPAC speech:

Latin American Speech:


Saturday, June 7, 2008

White Women's Barack Bitterness

So the Democratic presidential primaries are finally over. Sen. Barack Obama is now the presumptive Democratic nominee and will face the GOP presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain this Fall in a battle for the White House. Given the tragedy of the Bush years--from illegal wars to a faltering economy to the erosion of civil liberties--there's alot at stake in this election, perhaps more so than in any previous time in US history. To this end the Democratic primaries saw record turn-outs, with many first-time voters becoming engaged in the political process. Whoever wins in November may well determine what course the country will take. So with so much in the balance, how can there be groups of Democrats claiming they will either sit out the presidential election, or--worse still--vote for the Republican candidate? And how are many of these people women (mostly white women)--claimed feminists at that? Other than on certain aspects of foreign policy after all, Sens. Clinton and Obama are quite similar. With regards to issues of gender--from reproductive rights to wage equality--they are identical. This is a far cry from Sen. McCain, who has taken a recent pro-life stance, and would most certainly stack the Supreme Court with justices hostile to womens' issues. So what gives?

Well, I know if I told these self-described feminists "their whiteness is showing," I'd get in trouble. So I'm glad Tim Wise said it for me: An Open Letter to Certain White Women Who Are Threatening to Withhold Support from Obama in November--Your Whiteness is Showing

First things first, I have nothing against feminism. I actually support the radical notion that women are equal human beings who should be treated as such. And I think gender, like race and class, is a useful tool of analysis with regards to history, social culture, politics, etc.

However, the sad truth is that feminism, like any other social movement, has its fault lines. One of these has been about race. Feminism from its inception to present day is hardly the sole domain of white women. Yet feminism has had a hard time dodging its perception as a "white woman's movement," by both supporters and detractors alike. For many women of color, it has been the perception--and some would argue the movement's self-perception--of itself as "white-led" that is most problematic. The feminist coalition has thus long had its issues with women of color--hence leading Alice Walker to coin the term "womanism," hoping to move beyond what was seen as feminism's inability to detatch itself from whiteness. This historic Democratic primary has exposed that rift rawly, as we saw early on in the battles between Gloria Steinem, a white feminist icon and Clinton supporter, and Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a black college professor of race and gender and an Obama supporter. After Steinem in a New York Times op-ed challenged the legitimacy of the Obama campaign in terms of gender-bias, Lacewell responded with a stinging rebuke that played out on a January episode of Democracy Now!. As Lacewell saw it, white feminists expected black women to rally around Clinton based on gender-solidarity, but paid scant attention to issues directly facing black women in terms of both race and gender. By Super Tuesday Lacewell was continuing to challenge the idea that Hillary Clinton represented "all" women in her blog piece Mammy Goes to Washington. The issue would rear its head again when Clinton campaign aide and former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro made repeated assertions that Sen. Obama's success was due to his being black and male. Now that the primaries have ended, some die-hard supporters of Sen. Clinton are claiming much the same, asserting that Sen. Obama's victory was the product of sexism, going as far as to accuse the Democratic Party itself of being unfair to their candidate.

Yet, though there is some truth to these assertions, much of it bears scrutiny.

For one thing, when it comes to fairness, Sen. Obama won the primaries by following the given rules. Had he been "given" the nomination, the bitterness of his detractors might be warranted. If this were reversed, and Obama had somehow won by a sleight of hand or the like, they'd have a point. Had he run a campaign in which he played to issues of sexism and fanned the flames of gender bias, their anger could be justified. And might I add if he had run such a campaign, Sen. Obama would have had alot less supporters--including most likely myself. The truth was that Obama was never afforded the luxury of the option to play on gender bias. While Clinton's campaign threw the kitchen sink at Obama, he had to play defense, because had he ever gone on offense, he would have ruined his own campaign theme of "change."

Was there sexism towards Clinton? Certainly. I saw it by the boatloads from media pundits and from some Obama supporters on numerous blogs, where dislike of Clinton's campaign tactics would unfortunately turn into sexist vitrol. Yet none of this came out of the Obama campaign or from Sen. Obama himself. In fact, Obama endured heavy amounts of racism from those same media pundits and Clinton supporters. Though downplayed by his campaign, there have been death threats, verbal assault on his supporters and vandalism filled with racial epithets on some of his headquarters. A recent Project for Excellence in Journalism report in fact shows that contrary to Clinton supporters claims, Barack Obama actually received more negative press overall (much of it charged with race) throughout the campaign than did Hillary Clinton.

But what was worse, the Clintons and their campaign also engaged in petty acts of race-baiting, both blatant and subtle--a key reason they so dramatically lost the black vote, which they were leading in right up until mid January. These Rovian tactis were also a key reason so many long-time Clinton supporters of varied races crossed over to Obama. (In full disclosure, I crossed over from Edwards) Sure there were black people who were saying they would equally not vote for Sen. Clinton if she got the nomination, but that was only if the rules were suddenly changed to favor Clinton. It is ironic that her supporters are now claiming this same charge--but with absolutely no evidence. In fact, they ironically seem spiteful that the rules were *not* changed to favor Clinton!

People are free to vote for who they will, and for whatever reasons. But if there are groups of white feminists who will vote for Sen. McCain or sit this out over spite, knowing what is at stake, they don't deserve the title "feminist." And they should state plainly the real reasons behind their objection to Obama, rather than hiding behind easily dismantled claims. I think history will show in the end that whatever role gender played, the Clinton campaign mostly did itself in. And whatever legitimate issues of sexism her supporters have, these charges should be directed at the white male dominated media establishment not Barack Obama. Black people--men and women--have pulled levers for the white male presidential candidate for decades, even if he was not at all our ideal pick. White women have no monopoly on that harsh reality.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Militaristic Iron Man- The Pentagon & Hollywood

So during my month-long hiatus I did make it to the movies to see one of the first blockbusters of the summer- Iron Man. This was after a one-week boycott upon learning that Ghostface's cameo would be cut. Anyone familiar with the Wu phenom knows that he has long ago taken on the persona of the Marvel comic icon, and it would have been a treat to see him (not just a video) in the flick. Anyways, I walked out of the movie like many fans, giving it an overall "job well done." Robert Downey Jr. played an excellent Tony Starks, adding a bit of flamboyant hedonism to the heartless arms-dealer turned crusader. The storyline was well-paced out, allowing for the development of the character/hero rather than rushing into repetitive action scenes. The dialogue was even memorable--a far cry from that god-awful Ghostrider. And the special effects were cutting edge--couldn't have asked for better. But as usual, I found myself disturbed by more than a few things. As seems to have become the norm for summer blockbusters, Iron Man was an ode to American militarism. Much like I highlighed in my blog post about last summer's Transformers, this blockbuster looked as if the Pentagon was waging another propaganda war--like they did on the mainstream news media. The US military is prominently featured, with shiny machines of war and noble good guys. In fact, they're so good-hearted that they refrain from stopping an ongoing masscre by some "Islamo-fascist boogey men" in Afghanistan because civilians might get hurt in any air strikes--a policy the real life US military has hardly ever followed in any recent war. Though the story does offer a twist by which Starks shuns the weapons industry for its role in perpetuating war, rest assured its not the US Defense Department who's doing this, but a rogue corporate bad-guy--naturally. And how does Starks set about fighting this Military Industrial Complex? Why by building an even better war machine! And who does he use it on first? Why the Mid Eastern bad guys of course. As is often the case, I was immediately chided by fellow Marvel fans for "reading too much" into the movie. That's why I'm often glad when someone else does the "reading" for me.

Nick Turse, author of How the Military Invades Our Every Day Lives has written an excellent piece on this topic called Torturing Iron Man: The Strange Reversals of a Pentagon Blockbuste I post it fully below in agreement and vindication.

Torturing Iron Man

By Nick Turse

May 21, 2008

This article originally was published on TomDispatch.

Nick Turse: The Pentagon does a star turn in Iron Man, and the summer blockbuster turns the realities of the war in Afganistan upside down. Will anyone notice?

Nicholas Turse

"Liberal Hollywood" is a favorite whipping-boy of right-wingers who suppose the town and its signature industry are ever at work undermining the US military. In reality, the military has been deeply involved with the film industry since the silent era. Today, however, the ad hoc arrangements of the past have been replaced by a full-scale one-stop shop, occupying a floor of a Los Angeles office building. There, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and the Department of Defense itself have established entertainment liaison offices to help ensure that Hollywood makes movies the military way.

What they have to trade, especially when it comes to blockbuster films, is access to high-tech, taxpayer funded, otherwise unavailable gear. What they get in return is usually the right to alter or shape scripts to suit their needs. If you want to see the fruits of this relationship in action, all you need to do is head down to your local multiplex. Chances are that Iron Man--the latest military-entertainment masterpiece--is playing on a couple of screens.

For the past three weeks, Iron Man--a film produced by its comic-book parent Marvel and distributed by Paramount Pictures--has cleaned up at the box office, taking in a staggering $222.5 million in the US and $428.5 million worldwide. The movie, which opened with "the tenth-biggest weekend box office performance of all time" and the second biggest for a non-sequel, has the added distinction of being the "best-reviewed movie of 2008 so far." For instance, in the New York Times, A.O. Scott called Iron Man "an unusually good superhero picture," while Roger Ebert wrote: "The world needs another comic book movie like it needs another Bush administration...[but] if we must have one more... Iron Man is a swell one to have." There has even been nascent Oscar buzz.

Robert Downey Jr. has been nearly universally praised for a winning performance as playboy-billionaire-merchant-of-death- genius-inventor Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, a fictional version of Lockheed or Boeing. In the film, Stark travels to Afghanistan to showcase a new weapon of massive destruction to American military commanders occupying that country. On a Humvee journey through the Afghan backlands, his military convoy is caught up in a deadly ambush by al-Qaeda stand-ins, who capture him and promptly subject him to what Vice President Dick Cheney once dubbed "a dunk in the water," but used to be known as "the Water Torture." The object is to force him to build his Jericho weapons system, one of his "masterpieces of death," in their Tora Bora-like mountain cave complex.

As practically everyone in the world already knows, Stark instead builds a prototype metal super-suit and busts out of his cave of confinement, slaughtering his terrorist captors as he goes. Back in the US, a born-again Stark announces that his company needs to get out of the weapons game, claiming he has "more to offer the world than making things blow up." Yet what he proceeds to build is, of course, a souped-up model of the suit he designed in the Afghan cave. Back inside it, as Iron Man, he then uses it to "blow up" bad guys in Afghanistan, taking on the role of a kind of superhuman-rights vigilante. He even tangles with US forces in the skies over that occupied land, but when the Air Force's sleek, ultra-high-tech F-22A Raptors try to shoot him down, he refrains from using his awesome powers of invention to blow them away. This isn't the only free pass doled out to the US military in the film.

Just as America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to bring various Vietnam analogies to mind, Iron Man has its own Vietnam pedigree. Before Tony Stark landed in Afghanistan in 2008, he first lumbered forth in Vietnam in the 1960s. That was, of course, when he was still just the clunky hero of the comic book series on which the film is based. Marvel's metal man then battled that era's American enemies of choice: not Al Qaeda-style terrorists but communists in Southeast Asia.

Versions of the stereotypical evil Asians of Iron Man's comic book world would appear almost unaltered on the big screen in 1978 in another movie punctuated by gunfire and explosions that also garnered great reviews. The Deer Hunter, an epic of loss and horror in Vietnam, eventually took home four Academy Awards, including Best Picture honors. Then and since, however, the movie has been excoriated by antiwar critics for the way it turned history on its head in its use of reversed iconic images that seemingly placed all guilt for death and destruction in Vietnam on America's enemies.

Most famously, it appropriated a then-unforgettable Pulitzer prize-winning photo of Lt. Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam's national police chief, executing an unarmed, bound prisoner during the Tet Offensive with a point-blank pistol shot to the head. In the film, however, it was the evil enemy which made American prisoners do the same to themselves as they were forced to play Russian Roulette for the amusement of their sadistic Vietnamese captors (something that had no basis in reality).

Iron Man is replete with such reversals, starting with the obvious fact that in Afghanistan it is Americans who have imprisoned captured members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban (as well as untold innocents) in exceedingly grim conditions, not vice-versa. It is they who, like Tony Stark, have been subjected to the Bush Administration's signature "harsh interrogation technique." While a few reviewers have offhandedly alluded to the eeriness of this screen choice, Iron Man has suffered no serious criticism for taking the imprisonment practices, and most infamous torture, of the Bush years and superimposing it onto America's favorite evildoers. Nor have critics generally thought to point out that while in the film the nefarious Obadiah Stane, Stark's right-hand man, is a double-dealing arms dealer who is selling high-tech weapons systems to the terrorists in Afghanistan (and trying to kill Stark as well), two decades ago the US government played just that role. For years, it sent advanced weapons systems--including Stinger missiles, one of the most high-tech weapons of that moment--to jihadis in Afghanistan so they could make war on one infidel superpower (the Soviet Union), before setting their sights on another (the United States). And while this took place way back in the 1980s, it shouldn't be too hard for film critics to recall--since it was lionized in last year's celebrated Tom Hanks's film, Charlie Wilson's War.

In the cinematic Marvel Universe, however, the US military, which runs the notorious prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where so many have been imprisoned, abused and, in some cases, have even died, receives a veritable get out of jail free card. And you don't need to look very closely to understand why--or why the sleek US aircraft in the film get a similar free pass from Iron Man, even when they attack him, or why terrorists and arms dealers take the fall for what the US has done in the real world.

If they didn't, you can be sure that Iron Man wouldn't be involved in a blue-skies ballet with F-22A Raptors in the movie's signature scene and that the filmmakers would never have been able to shoot at Edwards Air Force base--a prospect which could have all but grounded Iron Man, since, as director Jon Favreau put it, Edwards was "the best back lot you could ever have." Favreau, in fact, minced no words in his ardent praise for the way working with the Air Force gave him access to the "best stuff" and how filming on the base brought "a certain prestige to the film." Perhaps in exchange for the US Air Force's collaboration, there was an additional small return favor: Iron Man's confidant, sidekick, and military liaison, Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes--another hero of the film--is now an Air Force man, not the Marine he was in the comic.

With the box office numbers holding steady and the announcement of sequels to come, the arrangement has obviously worked out well for Favreau, Marvel, Paramount--and the US Air Force. Before the movie was released, Master Sergeant Larry Belen, the superintendent of technical support for the Air Force Test Pilot School and one of many airmen who auditioned for a spot in the movie, outlined his motivation to aid the film: "I want people to walk away from this movie with a really good impression of the Air Force, like they got about the Navy seeing Top Gun."

Air Force Captain Christian Hodge, the Defense Department's project officer for Iron Man, may have put it best, however, when he predicted that the "Air Force is going to come off looking like rock stars." Maybe the Air Force hasn't hit the Top Gun-style jackpot with Iron Man, but there can be no question that, in an American world in which war-fighting doesn't exactly have the glitz of yesteryear, Iron Man is certainly a military triumph. As Chuck Vinch noted in a review published in the Air Force Times, "The script... will surely have the flyboy brass back at the Pentagon trading high fives--especially the scene in which Iron Man dogfights in the high clouds with two F-22 Raptors."

Coming on the heels of last year's military-aided mega-spectacular Transformers, the Pentagon is managing to keep a steady stream of pro-military blockbusters in front of young eyes during two dismally unsuccessful foreign occupations that grind on without end. In his Iron Man review, Roger Ebert called the pre-transformation Tony Stark "the embodiment of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against in 1961--a financial superhero for whom war is good business, and whose business interests guarantee there will always be a market for war."

Here's the irony that Ebert missed: what Iron Man actually catches is the spirit of the successor "complex," which has leapt not only into the cinematic world of superheroes but also into the civilian sphere of our world. Today, almost everywhere you look, whether at the latest blockbuster on the big screen or what's on much smaller screens in your own home--likely made by a defense contractor like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic or Toshiba--you'll find the Pentagon or its corporate partners. In fact, from the companies that make your computer to those that produce your favorite soft drink, many of the products in your home are made by Defense Department contractors--and, if you look carefully, you don't even need the glowing eyes of an advanced "cybernetic helmet," like Iron Man's, to see them.

About Nick Turse

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Adbusters, The Nation and His first book, The Complex, an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, was recently published in the American Empire Project series by Metropolitan Books.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Right-Wing Shill Gets Surrrved!

While I missed alot of posts in May, this one I most regret...

Someone call Hell and check the temp. Because today I have to give Chris Matthews--he of MSNBC Hardball who usually annoys me to no end with his ceaseless prattling about *nothing*--his just deserved props. As one of my least favorite media pundits, Matthews admittedly became my hero for about *a few minutes* as he completely eviscerates right wing radio talking head Kevin James who in his screaming about Obama, appeasement and Hitler, doesn't even know who Neville Chamberlain is. Keep in mind, this headcase used to be a federal prosecutor!

There's nothing down here! What you looking for? Go back up there and watch that ass-whoopin' again!


Morpheus Returns! May Roundup

So I'm back. Time off from the blog scene does the mind and body good. Sometimes, you have to unplug from the Matrix, or you'll get consumed in it. The downside is, you miss a whole lot. To that end, let me recap what I missed before I catch up:

* "Mission Accomplished"-5 Years Later * Food Crisis Worsens * US Airstrikes in Somalia * Sami al-Haj Freed * Immigration Rights Marches * Myanmar Cyclone * Gas-Tax Follies * Suicide Among US Troops * North Carolina & Indiana * Hiroshima Aftermath Photos * Sean Bell Protests * Sadr City Offensive Kills 1,000 * Lebanon Clashes * 60th Anniversary of Israel * High Oil Prices * Chinese Earthquake * West Virginia & Kentucky * "Hard Working" White Voters* Palestinians "Nakba" 60 Years Later * John Edwards Endorsement * President Bush & Nazi Appeasement * California Legalizes Gay Marriage * McCain Lobbyist Advisors * Cluster Bomb Ban * Sen. Ted Kennedy Brain Tumor * Israel, Syria Peace Talks * Farm Bill * Pastor Hagee & Hitler * Obama Embargo Pledge on Cuba * Sydney Pollack Dies * Nepal Republic * Scott McClennan * Clinton RFK Comment * DNC, Michigan & Florida * South Africa Xenophobia *

And now... for June.