Zeitgeist of the plague year

So here we are, coming to nearly two years into the COVID-45 plague (and around 22 months after it has more or less hijacked all other business here in the US of A, other than, of course, Der Ex-Fuhrer Donald J. Trump’s extra-legal efforts to hold on to the presidency despite losing an actual election). We have now reached “the omicron point;” we have no idea how to handle it (insanely virulent while– apparently– being just as nasty in generating illness). And so… we have “test to stay” policies for school children (meaning that while once an exposure meant everyone exposed had to quarantine, now those testing negative won’t have to– meaning that the precious economy will go on as Mom won’t have to stay home from her job to watch the kids), while at the same time, we have “a coming viral blizzard” made even more ominous because omicron variant is showing signs of being seriously vaccine resistant, while back in South Africa, where this variant was first identified, hospitalizations from COVID are rapidly declining. Good luck if you can figure it out. I can only tell you that, politically, Democrats’ endless malpractice in coddling the right-wing and its bullshit means that they are stuck. If this omicron variant proves to be really bad, not only are government imposed lockdown measures off the table, but we won’t even be able to get tens of millions of people to wear face-masks, let alone take vaccines. Imagine for just one second if Dick Cheney were in charge, and decided that something that had killed over 800,000 Americans and counting (as opposed to just 3,000) were the ultimate national security crisis. Picture Joe Biden unleashing federal officials (maybe even military) on American streets to beat bloody senseless any fool who dared refuse to publicly wear a mask properly, let alone dared protest against this reasonable, simple and effective public health measure. Ridiculous, right? But Dubya (pushed by Cheney) would have done it in a heartbeat. “I will not apologize for keeping your family safe.” Such is the world; the military industrial complex cares about money– not the safety let alone health of Americans– and that’s that.

Which allows my pivot to what I really want to talk about as we approach the (literally) darkest days of the year. And that, of course, is Julian Assange; this piece rightly observes that the recent decision of an English appellate court to overrule a lower court and say that Assange can be extradited to the United States is “a blow to press freedom.” Well yeah– that is what it is supposed to be. It is a high inside fastball at the press that if it [ever again] dares to publish anything derived from the bowels of the depths of the American national security state that [GASP!] embarrasses the national security state by revealing its crimes, there will be holy hell to be paid. This is why Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner faced stiff prison sentences, Edward Snowden remains exiled in Russia and of course, Mr. Assange remains incarcerated at maximum security Bellmarsh prison near London, awaiting either a reversal by some means (maybe by the European Court of Human Rights or a last second political intervention), or his extradition to the United States for a trial that we [the U.S. government, anyway] clearly don’t actually want to have. And yet, even though the Obama Administration concluded that prosecuting Assange would open up the possibility (indeed, maybe even require) prosecuting every other news outlet that published the same materials that Assange did… the NY Times, WaPo, the Guardian, etc…. the Trump Administration seems to have thought that this was why they should prosecute Assange. Sadly, the Biden Administration has gone right along with them.

What does this mean? Well, it ties in nicely with the overall theme of this blog, to wit, trying to fill some of the space left open by the mainstream media on some of the bigger issues of the day, one of which is the national security state and its war on terror, especially “Guantanamo Bay.” Obviously, one of the biggest sources of mainstream media information ever to come out about GTMO was the Wikileaks treasure trove of GTMO data. Among the curators of this data was our good friend Andy, (who testified at Assange’s hearing in London). Andy has been at the forefront of journalists throughout the world on matters GTMO, despite being an independent, not permanently attached to any major news organization. Although I am nowhere even near Andy’s league in terms of my own journalism, I have still compiled over 70 interviews on the subject (referenced here). While there are “mainstream journos” on the beat (Carol Rosenberg, now at the N.Y. Times being the first that comes to mind), for the most part, I have to say that not just GTMO, but treatment of our military’s prisoners everywhere (CIA black sites, Bagram/Kandahar, GTMO, etc.), or the drone wars, or frankly, just how wide the bloody war on terror actually is, has received a strangely limited amount of coverage from the main stream media, which as I note, has created some openings for “independents.”

I will briefly divert to mention an interview I once did (but did not publish) with a notable documentary film maker, who made films critical of the military industrial complex, among other things. He suggested something very important to keep in mind: if he were running the ideal corporatized state (such as our own), he would actually encourage people like himself to make as many hard-hitting documentaries as they liked– and then assure that such films never got any kind of distribution. This way, the corporate state could have it both ways– it could sport “freedom of expression” (and a free press) in form, while making sure that the bulk of the population only actually received the appropriately vetted corporate/state message intended for them in substance.

Obviously, I have long suspected that some of this is because what was once a working class dominated media has now become full of elite college graduates who like nothing more than to hobnob socially with the people they went to school with who have now risen to positions of political and corporate power and influence, and hence, always have to temper reporting against the possibility of being shut out of all-important cocktail parties, a/k/a “access.” (Donald Trump would famously try to deny press credentials in order to lock certain news organizations out of the White House press room when they pissed him off- a “policy” of limited utility– albeit a certain amount of perverse “honesty.”) And of course, there is the intrinsic and inherent conflict of interest in having to rely on corporate advertising dollars (or in the case of American “public broadcasting,” corporate donations) and then report on that same corporate power, especially when it is intertwined with governmental power which may “blowback” on the media reporting on it. And while I will be the first to say that any myth of “good old days” is probably a myth, and that the Pentagon has probably always been contracting with Hollywood to justify the excesses of the national security state, there had always been a certain subtlety about it.

Perhaps my own take on this derives from the perverse timing of my own career. I got my law degree in 1986, and went to work as a functionary deep in the federal government in Washington, with the title “trial attorney” in the U.S. Department of Justice, where I lasted just over a year. I then returned to New York and the picaresque that is my career has been based in the New York area ever since. One of the adventures, of course, was September 11th itself, when I found myself a block away from the WTC on that fateful morning, facing the burning towers and falling bodies, and by the end of the day (though I wouldn’t know it for a few days), out of a job. As long-time readers know, this here blog’s first post is dated a week after that. One can imagine that this event would be some sort of “life changing” experience, and maybe it would, though I personally observe that people closer to the events of that day seem better adjusted to them than people further from them, an entirely anecdotal observation on my part that, I’m sure can be easily refuted.

Anyway, while I have always had a cynical bent, even I would have expected that it was impossible to just pull a U.S. citizen off the street and “disappear” them, at least officially. And yet, in 2002, the U.S. government under President George W. Bush did exactly that with respect to one Jose Padilla, and the courts of the United States ultimately held that this was just fine with them (albeit using a procedural dodge at one point to do it). Because (if you’ve been paying attention) this didn’t seem that much of a concern to our main stream media, there was space for me to interview two of Padilla’s attorneys, Donna Newman and Andy Patel. Eventually, I also interviewed attorneys directly involved with GTMO itself. And, whether related or unrelated to the media seemingly soft-pedaling the story of our government’s treatment of its unwanted houseguests (although at times, things like the Abu Ghraib scandal became too big to ignore), the soft-pedaling has largely gone on unabated. Even when the U.S. government under President Barack Obama decided to up the ante and kill American citizens without due process, the media seemed barely interested, all things told.

And all of this has continued to fascinate me, in this here space. I am, after all, just some random schmuck with a law degree sitting at his computer terminal in Brooklyn wondering “WTF?” I’ve been saying WTF for nearly 20 years now, given the consistent failure of the American courts to deal with Guantanamo, with Padilla’s case (other than to ignore his arbitrary detention and torture by the government and sentence him to decades in prison for rather dubious claims of “material support of terrorism”), with the case of citizens killed or targeted by U.S. drone strikes, or for that matter, with never-ending claims of state secrets surrounding every aspect of “the war on terror” (again, other than to impose draconian sentences on anyone who dares disclose anything at all embarrassing to the military industrial complex). Given all this, the Assange case almost forces one to snap to attention with a sudden realization.

And that realization is that I will probably be continuing to, ahem, piss in the wind with anything I want to say about anything I want, and to talk to whomever I want, because the powerful have decided that I am a harmless crank who no one actually reads, and they are probably right. If, on the other hand, I would somehow get something genuinely embarrassing to the military industrial complex into my hands, and dare to do anything except spike it (or perhaps carefully return it to the government, even if I, like one news outlet I can think of, breached a trust which resulted in a prison sentence to a courageous whistleblower), I would be staring at, well… what Assange is staring at. Which is a very nebulous GTMO kind of up-to-life-sentence (in his case, for publishing the truth about our government’s crimes).

Fortunately, someone like me isn’t likely to get their hands on the kind of hard-hitting leaked information that, say, the New York Times or WaPo might. But ominously, their reticence on the Assange thing tells me that maybe they have gotten the message, and if not actually complicit with the program (and they might well be), it is certainly looking like “they got the message.” And that’s kind of a miserable thought, in a world where we have, just this year, hundreds of journalists imprisoned and dozens killed. The Assange case certainly demonstrates that the U.S. and the U.K., two countries thought of as beacons of press freedom, now have exactly zero moral authority to complain about actions taken by “dictators” against journalists.

I don’t know where this is going, but it isn’t anywhere good. At a moment when our military and corporate overreach are both standing in the way of providing the resources necessary to combat the existential threat we face from climate change (while they pretend to address the non-existential threat from over-hyped terrorism, as if we could prevail militarily over anyone anyway), the inability to report on it in any meaningful way (that is, anyway that the powerful find embarrassing to themselves) is, to put it politely, “troubling.” I might even suggest, “devastating.”

So let us take a moment to note that we have set up “festivals of lights” to coincide with the darkest time of our calendar (many Christmas traditions, for example, derive from pagan winter solstice rituals, or at least I think they do– and the lights are an obvious reference to the Jewish Chanukkah holiday). So I’ll break off from my barrage of darkness to wish you seasons greetings and a meaningful holiday season (if you notice how I phrased that, I am delighted to be a soldier in the War against Christmas, a holiday that some people just don’t like), as well as my best wishes for fulfillment in the coming new year, which, I pray, will be the last year of the plague year.