“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


Casualty count today:

"U.S. Soldier Killed in Central Iraq


Filed at 7:38 a.m. ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A U.S. soldier was shot and killed while on patrol in central Iraq early Tuesday, the military said.

The shooting took place near the town of Balad, about 55 miles north of the capital, said Maj. William Thurmond, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's V Corps."

It is, of course, almost impossible to find this story in today's papers. Just as it seems almost impossible to come up with a casualty count for the last week, with U.S.A. today putting the number at ten killed, and other outlets ranging from 4 to 6. What is interesting is that the same people who, during the war, were adamant about 'supporting the troops" seem quite intent on forgetting them now. Which is just as we suspected. Support the troops until the Commander in Chief grandly ends the war, then ignore their deaths in the non-war that follows. Cute, eh?

Mark Bowden, however, is our subject today.

We were quite pleased that Canada is beginning to loosen up the law on owning pot. We were quite displeased that Canada is strengthening the penalties on selling pot. The drug problem is not just about individual consumption -- it is about the market. As long as the market is officially illegal, drug use can't be regulated, except with the most draconian of all instruments -- the local cops. If one wants to talk about the decay of democratic institutions, you have to start with the drug wars.

There was a little story in the NYTimes magazine by James Traub that made fun of that analogy, so common among academics and artists, between Bush and Hitler. There are obvious reasons to think that analogy is far fetched, and ridiculous. However, Traub's point gets dented when he comes to the "specialness" of 9/11:

"Much of the left seems to feel that the greatest threat to emerge from 9/11 is an untrammeled Bush administration -- as if the destruction of the twin towers was the functional equivalent of the Reichstag fire, as I have heard one of my friends say. And yet even the most devout civil libertarians recognize that the terrorist threat compels rethinking. Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union and a famous First Amendment purist, says, ''The security interests are real, they're legitimate and you have to balance freedom and security in a different way post-9/11.'' Siegel says that he has been hard put to explain to skeptical audiences that the Patriot Act, for all its problems, does not preclude traditional forms of peaceful protest."

Balancing freedom and security pre-9/11 and post 9/11 are the same acts. In fact, that whole sentence is such a radical misunderstanding of what freedom is that we can only recommend Traub for a position in Ashcroft's Justice Department. If we have rights only in a world free from arbitrary acts of violence -- then we will never have our rights. This language was first tried out in the eighties, about drugs. Traub's middle class complacency relies on the fact that he will never be picked up by the FBI as a terrorist suspect, just as the previous complacency about getting rid of 'narco-terrorists' allowed the good bourgeois to snort his cocaine in peace, confident in the assurance that the nearly 2 million and counting persons overflowing the jails would not soon include him or his kids in their number. His kids, if they were picked up, would enjoy the sympathy of the court. If they were white and middle class, they would have an excellent chance of getting rehab. If they were black, they would have an excellent chance of being flushed down the sewer of the juvenile detention system. Freedom, and equality before the law, are intertwined. You can't have one without the other. There is no balancing act.

Which gets me to Mark Bowden. Picking up his book, Killing Pablo, on Pablo Escobar, I expected a good real crime story. Alas, whispers of fascism are rife within the book. The description of the Contras as a pro-democracy group, early on, set the stage. But it is Bowden's gung-ho attitude towards America's 'special forces" in Colombia that is especially frightening. He describes, for instance, a unit hunting Escobar that is composed of a veteran of the Phoenix program, a veteran of American intelligence efforts to overthrow Allende, and then produces these sentences, which really would be appropriate in Weimar: "Counterinsurgency had always flirted with extralegality, whether in the Congo, El Salvador, or Nicaragua. The death squads were horrible, but nothing equaled them for striking fear into the hearts and minds of would-be Marxists."

This is the writer who is reporting in the New Yorker on Iraq.
Traub is right -- we are not in a situation analogous to Germany's. We are in a situation analogous to the dirtiest periods of the Cold War. The repeated lies, the spurious justifications for arbitrary detention, the bigotry, the controls on speech which erode our civil rights, the crony capitalism that shuffles money between the Pentagon and selected defense contractors, and finally, an atmosphere in which a major reporter can float the idea that death squads are efficient instruments of US policy and become a star for the premier liberal weekly -- it is this atmosphere that should wake up the artist, the academic, and the Rotarian. The hour is late, and in D.C., they are always doing something else.

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