This Thing Called Courage

Friday, May 19, 2006

Welcome ot the New Amerika


Remember the Republican National Convention two years ago (almost) in August 2000? Yeah, the one where all those chubby white folks got up and intoned '911' and 'Terrorists' several hundred times. Thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against the inhuman, inhumane, war-mongering, anti-environment, economically-bankrupting policies these people have promulgated in our once-beloved country since 2001. This is the story of one of them:

So what was it like to be one of the nearly 2,000 protesters, observers, journalists, or unlucky bystanders who were arrested by the NYPD during the 2004 Republican National Convention? How did it feel to be scooped up by one of those suddenly appearing orange plastic barricade nets before being carted off to the filthy detention-holding pens at Pier 57, also known as Gitmo on the Hudson?
Again and again, the NYPD used those nets throughout the convention week, like fishermen hauling in a catch.
Belatedly, the FBI wants to know what happened in New York. It's investigating whether police violated the rights of protesters, according to a letter recent sent by the bureau to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Ninety percent of all convention-week arrest cases have resulted in acquittals or dismissal of charges. "In an effort to maintain tight control over protest activity, the NYPD too often lost sight of the distinction between lawful and unlawful conduct," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). "Despite dire predictions that the convention would be the target of violence or even terrorism, the demonstrations were peaceful."
Will other cities begin imitating New York City's zero-tolerance strategy? If they do, this bodes poorly for peaceful political demonstrations. As 5,000 Republican Party delegates trickled out of town, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told reporters how proud he was of the NYPD's performance: "I think the police officers were just absolutely amazing."
For my new book, Patriots Act:Voices of Dissent and the Risk of Speaking Out, I interviewed one of the protesters who had been arrested during Sunday's demonstration of 500,000 anti-Bush and anti-war protesters marching through Manhattan. His name is Max Mecklenburg, a University of Chicago sophomore who grew up on New York's Upper West Side. In high school, he organized youth protest rallies and was a veteran of Critical Mass bike rides, which promote alternative transportation.
In his own words, he relives that Sunday in Hell:
There was a call for a Bike Bloc ride to accompany Sunday's main protest against the Republican National Convention. But because of the police violence that had occurred on Friday during the Critical Mass ride, people were scared. I witnessed police hitting people with batons. Cops were knocking people off their bikes and taking them and putting them into paddy wagons. People got "doored," that is, hit by doors of police cars. The idea was to divide and conquer.
Only about 150 riders showed up that Sunday. We all agreed beforehand that we didn't want to get arrested; that we would prefer to ride around, support the demonstration. We were going to obey traffic laws and go by the book. Do it all legit.
About fifteen minutes into the ride, a bunch of meaty white guys on motorized Vespa scooters showed up. Some were dressed in blue jeans and Mets jackets and had short haircuts. They started buzzing through our group at full speed, knocking people over, deliberately running into riders and causing havoc. They didn't identify themselves as cops. There were also undercover cops on bicycles, and along with the cops on scooters, they formed a wall at one street which forced us to go onto a side street—which I guess was 36th. The moment the last person biked onto the side street, about a hundred riot cops converged from both sides of the street. Cop cars pulled in behind us, and then those guys got off their Vespas and started pulling people off their bikes, including me, and yelling, "Sit the fuck down!" "Shut the fuck up!"
I didn't say anything, although I tried to lock up my bicycle, which was apparently a big no-no. They wanted to confiscate it. I ride a Bianchi Pista. It's a track bike. It's a fixed gear, one speed. It's a steel frame. It weighs fifteen pounds, and it's really easy to maintain because there are very few parts and no wires. It retails for about $600 and is definitely the most valuable item I own.
They had us sit down on the ground behind these orange mesh nets. We sat there for about three or four hours, with plastic handcuffs on our wrists, our hands behind our backs. A big crowd had formed. People were yelling for legal aid. I was pretty furious. Then we got shoved onto a bus where we spent several hours. No bathroom, no food, no water, no air conditioning.
We were brought to this old bus depot on 13th Street, our infamous little Guantanamo on the Hudson, which the Republican National Convention had rented out for the NYPD to hold demonstrators during the convention. It was a gross place where they set up these pens. There was diesel fuel on the ground.
I was standing in line with my cuffs still on, when some guy was wasting his time arguing with a cop, saying, "This is illegal, what you are doing. This is 1984! This is sick!" And the cop says to him, "TheConstitution gets abused and defended every day. What are you complaining about?"
There are lawsuits going on about what happened. A lot of it apparently turned out to be illegal, but I think one of the crowd-control techniques that the NYPD learned is that the police can break the law as much as they want, and of course, there is no one to stop them at the time. And then what happens is a couple of months later, the courts say, "Oops, that was illegal," and the police say, "Oh, we're sorry. We won't do it again." And then, of course, it's all done again, and there are no sanctions.
We had our cuffs on for about seven or eight hours until we actually got into these pens. But I'm not sure about the time since they took away my watch. They like to keep you disoriented. It's the same reason that they moved us around. I would say that I was confined in about fifteen different places overthe next thirty hours. They do it to keep you from sleeping, they do it to keep you from social- izing with the people in your cell, and they do it to keep you feeling helpless.
There was a lot of solidarity going on in the pens. I'd say twenty-four was the average age. Everyone was pretty pissed off. There had also been a queer kiss-in at Times Square, and every single one of those protesters had been arrested. The joke going on in the pens was that we were the "queers and the gears." We started a Simon-says competition with the next pen over that was filled with mostly lesbians. They'd start, "Simon says, 'Say women are superior.'" Then the Simon-says game turned into a dance off. That's how we managed to amuse ourselves. We sang a few rounds of the Clash's "I fought the law and the law won."
We later received the only food you will see in New York City jails. Little cartons of milk and bologna sandwiches. The bologna was absolutely sickening, so I made a Go game out of the bologna and bread. I scratched the board in the dirt. Go is a very simple game. A minute to learn, a lifetime to master. We were processed in the pens and then moved over to the Tombs, which is on Center Street. It's the Manhattan processing center. Depending on what you are arrested for and where in Manhattan, that is where you end up. The Tombs are multiple levels of cells. They would move us around periodically while doing all the fingerprinting and paperwork.
We were probably treated better than your average criminal in the Tombs, so there was really nothing to complain about. One guy kept demanding, "Why don't we get blankets? We want blankets." So I told him, "They're not gonna give you a blanket." Then he actually managed to get a guard to come over. He asked, "Why can't we get blankets?" The guard said, "This isn't the Plaza Hotel." A typical cop answer.
We then found out that we could make collect calls. We called WBAI radio and did a jail cell interview. For some reason, I was one of the last people processed, and by the end, I was one of four people in the cell. At the beginning, there were probably twenty or thirty others with me.
The police really do try their best to humiliate and degrade you. The whole system is created to give one the impression that you're totally powerless and to make you feel like you can't depend on anyone and you're not going to get any help; they want to keep you scared and submissive. Your average detainee has a lot more trouble than someone who is arrested at a demonstration because he usually doesn't havethe outside support network that we had.
We were then moved to another set of cells right next to the courtroom. There you actually mixed with the general population. It was always around twenty-five of us in the cell—about half Republican National Convention–related and the rest of the other prisoners were there on weapons charges and drug possession, the usual crap. These prisoners were alright, they really were. I met a very nice young murderer who had the same birthday as me. I didn't know he was a murderer until he got into the courtroom and they said that he had been found running from the scene of the crime with a knife that had the victim's guts on the blade. Hey, maybe he didn't do it.
We got lawyers to come in and talk to us and tell us about our rights. Again, the activists had a support network that the other prisoners didn't have. My lawyer was a guy named Bill Goodman from the National Lawyers Guild. He was great. I was fortunate because my mother was involved in all this activism back in the '60s and has all these friends. Once she heard I got arrested—when I was first getting cuffed, I yelled out to somebody, "Call my mother and tell her Max has been arrested!"—she made the trip downtown to the Tombs with my father. At some point, she must have run into Bill Goodman.
Bill had formerly been one of the heads of the National Lawyers Guild. He's part of a law firm that represented Fidel Castro and the Cuban government in America in the Elian Gonzales case. He is a very good lawyer, and it just so happens that he was one of these conscientious people who, upon hear- ing that all these people had gotten arrested, got off his butt and went downtown and offered his services. He laid out the possibilities for me. And the possibility that I chose, which I'm not particularly proud of, was that I should plead guilty.
Once I was in the courtroom before a female judge, it took twenty minutes. I was charged with five things: disorderly conduct, obstruction of pedestrian traffic, obstruction of governmental administration, parading without a permit, and reckless endangerment. They were going to let me plead to disorderly conduct, which was some sort of a misdemeanor; it was just a $95 fine. It meant that I didn't have to go to court, which was my main concern because I live in Chicago. So that's what I did, although if I had remained in New York, I would have sought to have all the charges dismissed, as many people later did.
After I got out of the Tombs, the first thing I did was get some Chinese food because it's right by Chinatown. I was absolutely filthy because I was covered in diesel fuel and I hadn't slept in thirty hours. I then went home and took a shower. The next day, I went to get my bicycle from a warehouse which was way out in Greenpoint, on the border between Brooklyn and Queens. When I arrived there, they told me that I didn't have the necessary forms. So I went back to Manhattan, trying to get the forms together. The next day I got my bike back.
I did not participate in Tuesday's big day of direct action where over a thousand people were arrested. A lot of people got close to the convention. People were doing sit-ins and civil disobedience and variousother forms of direct action. The police deliberately slowed down the booking process in order to make sure that the last people were released from jail just as the convention ended. The whole thing was just preventative, to keep people off the streets and reduce the number of demonstrators.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Something to Think About

Okay, we've all heard (or most of us have heard) the theroies that 9/11 was an inside job, planned by radical right wing neo-cons within our own government. But more and more people are coming forward claiming this is actually the case: including former members of the Bush administration. The following appeared this week in an edition of the Capitol Times, the daily out of Madison, Wisconsin:

Kevin Barrett: Media hide truth: 9/11 was inside job

By Kevin Barrett
May 12, 2006

Last Saturday, former Bush administration official Morgan Reynolds drew an enthusiastic capacity crowd to the Wisconsin Historical Society auditorium. It is probably the first time in Historical Society history that a political talk has drawn a full house on a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of final exams.
Reynolds, the former director of the Criminal Justice Center at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and the ex-top economist for George W. Bush's Labor Department, charged the Bush administration with gross malfeasance, and proposed the prosecution of top administration officials.
Normally, if a prestigious UW alumnus and ex-Bush administration official were to come to the Wisconsin Historical Society to spill the beans about a Bush administration scandal, it would make the news. The local TV stations would cover it, and it would merit front page headlines in The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal.
Reynolds' indictment of the administration he worked for was a stunning, life-changing event for many of those who witnessed it. As the event's organizer, I have received dozens of e-mails about it from people who were deeply affected.
Despite the prestigious speaker and venue, and the gravity of the charges aired, for most Americans indeed most Madisonians the event never happened. Why? Because it was censored, subjected to a total media blackout. Not a word in the State Journal. Not a word in The Capital Times. Not a word on the local TV news. Not a word on local radio news. And, of course, not a word in the national media.
Why the blackout? Because Reynolds violated the ultimate U.S. media taboo. He charges the Bush administration with orchestrating the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for launching a preplanned "long war" in the Middle East, rolling back our civil liberties, and massively increasing military spending.
When a former Bush administration insider makes such charges, how can the media ignore them? Is Reynolds a lone crank? Hardly. A long list of prominent Americans have spoken out for 9/11 truth: Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Sen. Barbara Boxer, former head of the Star Wars program Col. Robert Bowman, ex-Reagan administration economics guru Paul Craig Roberts, progressive Jewish author-activist Rabbi Michael Lerner, former CIA official Ray McGovern, author-essayist Gore Vidal, and many other respected names from across the political spectrum have gone on the record for 9/11 truth.
Are the media ignoring all these people, and dozens more like them, because there is no evidence to support their charges? Hardly. Overwhelming evidence, from the obvious air defense stand-down, to the nonprotection of the president in Florida, to the blatant controlled demolition of World Trade Center building 7, proves that 9/11 was an inside job. As noted philosopher-theologian and 9/11 revisionist historian David Griffin writes: "It is already possible to know, beyond a reasonable doubt, one very important thing: the destruction of the World Trade Center was an inside job, orchestrated by terrorists within our own government."
A growing list of scientists has lined up behind BYU physicist Steven Jones and MIT engineer Jeff King in support of Griffin's position, as evidenced by the growth of Scholars for 9/11 Truth (st911.org) and Scientific Professionals Investigating 9/11 (physics911.net).
As a Watergate-era graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism, I was taught that exposing government lies and corruption is the supreme duty of the Fourth Estate. I simply cannot fathom the current situation. I do not understand the 9/11 truth blackout. I wish someone would explain it to me.
It is time to break the 9/11 truth blackout. Please put pressure on your local media through letters to the editor, call-ins to talk radio, and phone calls to local and national journalists.
And come see Peter Phillips, director of the media watchdog group Project Censored, who will lead a strategy session on breaking the blackout at the upcoming international 9/11 truth conference in Chicago: 9/11: Revealing the Truth, Reclaiming Our Future, to be held June 2-4 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, Chicago-O'Hare Rosemont. Go to http://911revealingthetruth.org for more information.
The event will feature presentations from dozens of 9/11 truth luminaries, from scientists like Steven Jones to intelligence agency whistle-blowers like David Shayler, and promises to be a historic, watershed event. Be there, or resign yourself to a future of endless war, lost liberty, and a craven media that cannot bring itself to breathe a single word of truth.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A A U.S. Soldier Dies

Private First Class Matthew Scarano, all of 21-years-old, was killed sometime between 9 PM Saturday and 4:45 AM Sunday, March 19, 2006. But he wasn't killed by any insurgent force. He wasn't in Iraq or Afghanistan or even, despite his rank and year-plus of service, active in the United States Army. Matthew Scarano died in his bunk, in the barracks of Bravo Battery 95th, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Army officially lists his cause of death as "still under investigation" but he was as surely a casualty of the War on Iraq as any of the 2,400 US soldiers killed in action. In 2005 he had injured his shoulder during basic training, and on March 1 of that year entered the netherworld of Fort Sill's Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program, or PTRP. It is estimated that 15 percent to 37 percent of men and 38 percent to 67 percent of women sustain at least one injury due to the rigors of basic training. Although Fort Sill's is believed to be the worst, the Army has PTRP units also at Fort Knox, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Benning.
More than a year after he entered PTRP, Scarano was still there, no closer to being healed but still subject to the restrictive rules and routine humiliations associated with basic training, still plagued by what he described in an email of March 7, 2006, as "chronic, piercing and sometimes debilitating pain." The Army considered PFC Scarano a trainee; he and the 39 other soldiers in PTRP at Fort Sill considered themselves prisoners.
PTRP is where the Army, desperate for bodies in a time of war, puts broken enlistees. There they are warehoused, in anticipation of the time they manage to recuperate, pass the grueling PT (physical training) test and can be sent to battle; or fail the test, try again, fail again, stumble through the bureaucratic labyrinth until the point they are chaptered out or medically discharged. All were injured in basic training or advanced individual training and so have yet to be granted "permanent party" status in the Army.
Shortly before Scarano's death, the inspector general at Fort Sill had been forced to undertake an internal investigation of the program for assault and abuse of soldiers, inadequate medical attention, command irresponsibility and overall incompetence. To that list (which I should note is unofficial) they may now add negligence and wrongful death. As of the end of March, the Army wouldn't comment on its investigation or on what killed Scarano, although I did receive a pro forma response saying the matter was "still under investigation." But in the week prior to his death, his comrades in the PTRP barracks say, Army doctors had doubled the dose of his pain medication, Fentanyl, an analgesic patch 80 times more potent than morphine, whose advertised possible side effects include difficulty breathing, severe weakness and unconsciousness.
On the night of March 18, according to Pvt. Richard Thurman, Scarano appeared quite pale and weak. However, Scarano had been in the program for so long, longer than anyone else in terms of continuous service, and was often so visibly suffering or so drugged up as to drool and gaze vacantly, that his infirmity on this particular night did not cause special alarm. Shortly after lights out, at 9, Pvt. Clayton Howell noticed that Scarano was lying on his bad shoulder and turned him so he would not be in greater pain when he awoke. At that time Scarano was breathing. When lights came on the next morning and everyone else had risen from their bunks, Howell again went to Scarano; by then he was dead.
What happened next typifies the trapped situation of injured soldiers at Fort Sill's PTRP.
Someone handed Pvt. Thurman a cell phone, saying, "Call your mom." No one encouraged him to call the medic, or the chaplain, or the sergeant, or anyone on post. Phoning at all meant breaking the rules, as did having a cell phone, contraband for soldiers in PTRP. Thurman crouched in a corner and, amid the near-panic of the barracks, hurriedly dialed his mom, Pat deVarennes.
DeVarennes, an apprentice dog groomer who lives near Sarasota, Florida, is about the only person the PTRP soldiers can confidently regard as their advocate. In January, concerned for the well-being of her son Richard and the other men, she began posting reports on a web log she set up called Only Volunteers. As a result of those reports and her relentless appeals to Fort Sill's Public Affairs Office, the Army began an investigation into PTRP conditions in February. By March 5, 2006, some changes, notably the removal of a sadistic drill sergeant, the introduction of a Medical Center liaison to monitor the troops' medical needs, the suspension of punishing physical tasks and the restoration of weekend on-post passes, had been instituted.
Before reviewing the most egregious abuses recently visited upon injured recruits at Fort Sill, it is necessary to understand the benchmark for normal at PTRP. As deVarennes neatly puts it, "Imagine basic training that never ends." By the old Army standard, the nine weeks of basic training will "break you down to build you up." Lately there have been some changes in that approach, driven by Army psychologists who reckoned that breaking the spirit accomplishes little beyond creating emotional wrecks or sadists. No longer are new recruits regularly addressed as "ladies" or "shitsacks" or subjected to the "shark attack" of drill sergeants screaming top volume into their ears on the bus the moment they arrive. But the regimen of absolute control and arbitrary rules is unchanged, which is why it is time-limited and why even the most hardened soldier will tell you, "Hell, no, I wouldn't want to do it again".
In PTRP, where soldiers have been stuck for months, time seems to have been stopped. The men live in long, narrow barracks that can sleep 42 in bunk beds. They must stand in formation, on crutches, in pain, four times a day in all kinds of weather, sometimes for 20 minutes to an hour, at the drill sergeant's pleasure. They may not smoke, drink, look at porn, go off post, have sex, have soda from a machine or have any food except during set mealtimes. They may not have cell phones or laptops, may use approved electronic devices only at certain hours, and must compete to use the outdoor pay phones in the 35 minutes to an hour that is allowed after dinner. On weekdays, they may not go anywhere on post except with permission and an escort. At times they have been impressed to enjoy "mandatory entertainment" -- a Southern rock concert, the Superbowl, Christian concerts.
When first processed into PTRP, they are not given individualized therapy plans, and doctors at the Medical Center are too stretched to have much time for them, so they use a gym and may sit in a windowless closet-like room to apply ice, but until recently had no sustained medical guidance. They must carry canteens for no other reason -- because these are disgusting and no one drinks from them -- than to advertise their low status. Their dining hall is festooned with nutrition posters that would suit an elementary school. The bathroom in the auditorium they sometimes use is filthy and looks as if it's been decorated by a deranged Martha Stewart, with an Americana wall strip of Teddy bears, apple pies and the flag. Elsewhere, walls are dominated by rugged propaganda posters, battle scenes, life-size blow-ups of soldiers and invocations to "Live the Army Values".
Periodically the PTRP barracks is subject to what its drill sergeants call a health and welfare check, "better known as a shakedown," says Pvt. Thurman. Drill sergeants enter the bay, ordering the men to empty their drawers and lockers. Bedding is stripped, mattresses upended, vent covers unscrewed. During one of these routines, Thurman, who's been in PTRP since November of 2005, was discovered to have a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and was given an Article 15, or nonjudicial punishment, and a fine of $270. Almost everyone who's been in PTRP for any length of time has received an Article 15 for something.
Although the cadre says only "motivated" soldiers are accepted into PTRP, soldiers injured in training cannot un-volunteer. After Private Thurman was in the Army for seven months, doctors discovered he had flat feet, once an automatic disqualifier. But Pvt. Thurman cannot leave. He actually completed basic training and advanced individual training in November. At the time he had stress fractures in his ankle, and because he couldn't run as required for the final PT test, a post doctor prescribed an alternate walking event. He graduated with ceremony, but that same day the Army changed its mind. An officer pulled him and two other soldiers aside and told them walking wasn't good enough and they were being sent to PTRP; there, to satisfy formal requirements, the three were "ungraduated."
In pro forma questioning Thurman had been asked if he wanted to go to PTRP.
"No," he said.
The inquiring officer wrote on his file, "Soldier is unmotivated", and "Soldier is cleared for administrative action," meaning nonjudicial punishment or court martial.
"Lack of motivation is a punishable offense in the US Army," Thurman says. The Army threatened Thurman with being recycled back to day one of basic training. After eight months in PTRP another soldier, who had completed eight weeks of the nine-week basic course before he was injured, opted to return to basic training rather than have to stay in the "rest and rehab" program.
"You have an area you can be in. If you leave that area without permission you can go to jail", Thurman explains. "You have people over you with unquestioned power, and your daily life is at their will. Everything's a privilege." Using the phone is a privilege. Going to the PX on the weekend is a privilege. And as in prison, privileges can be taken away. The culture breeds tormentors and tattle-tales among the inmates -- soldiers who haze their comrades, who report on others for piddling infractions like drinking a Coke from the soda machine for the imagined benefit that might bring the snitch.
"I liken being here to being incarcerated," Scarano wrote to deVarennes less than two weeks before his death. "And it often helped during the bleaker points in PTRP history to think of it as such: I'm far from being any kind of expert on the subject, but perhaps it was a psychological self-defense mechanism to try to perceive what was going on as being punitive in nature."
The soldiers have been ordered not to speak of events that are part of the ongoing investigation, so as not to jeopardize it, but enough was put on the public record earlier via deVarennes' blog to indicate that punishment and not therapy or rehab was in fact the program. What follows is drawn from her reports.
In January, a Drill Seargent named Langford was put in charge of the soldiers at PTRP, and he arrived spitting vinegar, telling the men, as deVarennes recaps, "You're worthless, you're malingerers, you're scared, you're useless, you're not soldiers." He cancelled their weekend on-post passes, confining them to the small area around their barracks, and ordered that on weekdays they could not sit on their beds except during the three hours of free time from 6 PM to 9 PM.
Right before the first Family Weekend at the end of January, the drill sergeant ordered the men to clean and wax the floor of their barracks. After they did it once, moving the heavy bunks and wall lockers in and out of the room, he declared the job inadequate and ordered that they get down on their knees with small scrapers and remove every speck of old wax. Out and in went the furniture again. A soldier with a herniated groin dared not slack off in the moving operation lest he and everyone else incur extra abuse for his offense.
One night another drill sergeant, by the name of Bullock, decided to have some fun with the soldiers and give them a taste of sleep deprivation, ordering them to line up in formation outside every hour from 10 PM to 2 AM. After each line-up they could not simply fall on their bunks fully dressed for the next time because he ordered that they present themselves in different apparel. Soldiers on sleep medication were pulled from their beds by their comrades and hustled into line, since if everyone did not appear at formation, everyone would be punished. Drill Sgt. Bullock is apparently still good standing.
As she was receiving word of these abuses, deVarennes was trying to get someone to care. Rep. Connie Mack's office told her Richard would have to fill out a form before it could act, and since that was impossible, the door slammed. John McCain's office sent her a form letter saying he'd need something in writing from Richard. John Kerry's office never replied at all, which was the most common response she got from members of Congress.
As she was receiving word of these abuses, deVarennes was trying to get someone to care. Rep. Connie Mack's office told her Richard would have to fill out a form before it could act, and since that was impossible, the door slammed. John McCain's office sent her a form letter saying he'd need something in writing from Richard. John Kerry's office never replied at all, which was the most common response she got from members of Congress.
Then an injured soldier simply lost it. He'd been in PTRP for several months, was declared healed and sent upstairs to the Fitness Training Unit, or FTU, where uninjured soldiers who couldn't pass the PT test go through exercise drills to pass it. But his injury prevented him from doing the required exercises, and in the hopelessness of the situation he cut himself up, smeared himself with excrement and marched out of the barracks naked except for his socks and boots. He was packed off to a mental ward for a few days and put on suicide watch.
The soldier's breakdown shook the others in PTRP, and that night Pvt. Thurman called his mother and said, "You've got to find a way to help us." Soon after, a soldier who'd been sitting on watch at the mental ward, whom deVarennes nicknamed Pvt. Gopher, committed his own small act of defiance in front of Drill Sgt. Langford and was ordered to "take a knee," meaning to genuflect. As he'd recently had knee surgery, he told Langford that he wasn't able to do that, whereupon the drill sergeant kicked his legs out from under him, sending him to the floor screaming. A first sergeant on the scene ordered the others to turn away, and told them they didn't see anything. Earlier some of them had tried to report abuses to the medical center, to mental health counselors, to highers-up. Now they'd been ordered to shut up, meaning any action they might contemplate would be in violation of a direct order. Almost identical language--"You didn't see shit"--was used at Abu Ghraib, whose abuses the easy cruelty and indifference to suffering at Fort Sill help put into perspective.
It is illegal for a drill sergeant to strike a soldier, but Langford was not arrested. It is illegal to cover up a crime, but the first sergeant remains in his position. Langford was removed as a drill sergeant; whether he suffers any further indignity or punishment depends on the outcome of the current investigation.
Yet for all this sudden intervention, PFC Scarano still perished. The inspector general did not know about the death until deVarennes e-mailed him. The base commander didn't know until the following Monday. On that day, a spokeswoman at Fort Sill's Public Affairs Office said she couldn't tell me anything about the soldier's death "because I've never heard of that person." In death as in life, this soldier didn't count for much in the Army.
In his March 7 email to deVarennes, thanking her for "becoming our champion when no one else would," Scarano wrote:
My injury is degenerative and getting worse. ...I was lied to about surgery, as were many others, and it was brought to the attention of the Inspector-General that the medical community had been telling us that we face courts-martial or severe forms of non-judicial punishment if we declined the surgery suggested to us by the doctors here at Fort Sill. This has since been demonstrated as a bald-faced lie.
I was told that I'd receive arthroscopic shoulder surgery initially, which had little chance of success, and when that failed I would receive a full shoulder replacement, after which my left shoulder would be essentially disabled for the rest of my life.
Just a little rudimentary research into the subject revealed that there are countless other, infinitely more promising options available to me in the civilian world, which I choose to explore, instead of being a guinea pig to a medical system I have no faith in, whatsoever. This is the same medical system which has botched surgeries and performed procedures without the patient's knowledge. I guess their rationale is that up until recently, the patients, in our case, were under the impression that we had virtually no input in the matter, anyway.
I've recently been told, by our case worker, that I'm getting an MEB [Medical Evaluation Board hearing] but as of now my consultation is pending. I've heard no further word yet but am hopeful that as a result of the controversy caused by the attention garnered by your blog, I'll be out of here soon. I am a casualty of a broken system; I fell through the cracks of the bureaucracy that is the system which all of us must go through.
I am a living symbol of the failure of the system and after having been ignored for so long, despite trying to raise as much attention as I could, I might finally be able to get on which my adult life after spending over a third of it in PTRP, deprived of everything from being able to be with my family, to fundamental physical needs such as sleep and recuperation from my injury, to the basic human freedoms and creature comforts which I will never again take for granted.
Scarano was working on a more formal document right before he died, trying to understand cognitive dissonance, the psychological process of accommodating when what one knows or believes to be true collides with a contradictory reality.
Private Howell, who has been in and out of PTRP for fifteen months, also sent deVarennes a paper in which he was compiling the complaints of Bravo Battery and reflecting on his own predicament. Toward the end of it, he wrote:
At one point I know I had a purpose. At one point I know I cared. I do not know when I lost it and if I will be capable of ever possessing it again. I do not think I have shown any of the army values for a very long time. I believe I projected the image that I cared for many months and it was just an act; but it was all that I could do. I am being set up for failure and have been for weeks. The fact that this unit will not follow regulations does not inspire hope or willingness to comply with any orders or any of their bogus policies. In my opinion none of the cadre show any of the army values to any of the soldiers here.
...The army values did mean something to me at one point even though it is just propaganda on paper. I have always known it was just propaganda, but they are a good base for morals if people would lead by example. In conclusion I hope this paper reaches somebody and they read it in whole and are not too judgmental. I also hope I can improve myself and the situation that I am in. Perhaps I can be what they want me to be. Perhaps I can fulfill my enlistment and be productive, but that is not realistic. And it is not what I really want; all I want in this world is to be anywhere but here. I believe that I have permanent physical and psychological damage from this place. If I could describe this place in 2 words it would be 'Malevolentia Imperium'.
Malevolent Power. After Scarano's death most of the soldiers who'd been present at the scene were disbursed. In April, Pvt. Thurman passed exactly the same modified PT test he'd passed the previous November, before he was "ungraduated" and sent to PTRP. He is now at Fort Bliss. On April 21, the parent of a soldier at Fort Sill's PTRP wrote deVarennes:
The inadequate health care continues. My son during physical therapy had a 50 lbs weight dropped on his head, ended up luckily with only 8 staples in his scalp. No further tests were done on this and since has been suffering with crippling headaches which drop him to his knees. ...The depression has gotten out of hand as has the verbal and psychological abuse causing it. I have written to all the representatives, congress and the president and not one has responded either verbally or in writing. Obviously the Government has no desire to take care of thier own.
JoAnn Wypijewski is a columnist for Mother Jones. This piece originally appeared in CounterPunch, and has been adapted here.
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A A U.S. Soldier Dies

Private First Class Matthew Scarano, all of 21-years-old, was killed sometime between 9 PM Saturday and 4:45 AM Sunday, March 19, 2006. But he wasn't killed by any insurgent force. He wasn't in Iraq or Afghanistan or even, despite his rank and year-plus of service, active in the United States Army. Matthew Scarano died in his bunk, in the barracks of Bravo Battery 95th, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Army officially lists his cause of death as "still under investigation" but he was as surely a casualty of the War on Iraq as any of the 2,400 US soldiers killed in action. In 2005 he had injured his shoulder during basic training, and on March 1 of that year entered the netherworld of Fort Sill's Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program, or PTRP. It is estimated that 15 percent to 37 percent of men and 38 percent to 67 percent of women sustain at least one injury due to the rigors of basic training. Although Fort Sill's is believed to be the worst, the Army has PTRP units also at Fort Knox, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Benning.
More than a year after he entered PTRP, Scarano was still there, no closer to being healed but still subject to the restrictive rules and routine humiliations associated with basic training, still plagued by what he described in an email of March 7, 2006, as "chronic, piercing and sometimes debilitating pain." The Army considered PFC Scarano a trainee; he and the 39 other soldiers in PTRP at Fort Sill considered themselves prisoners.
PTRP is where the Army, desperate for bodies in a time of war, puts broken enlistees. There they are warehoused, in anticipation of the time they manage to recuperate, pass the grueling PT (physical training) test and can be sent to battle; or fail the test, try again, fail again, stumble through the bureaucratic labyrinth until the point they are chaptered out or medically discharged. All were injured in basic training or advanced individual training and so have yet to be granted "permanent party" status in the Army.
Shortly before Scarano's death, the inspector general at Fort Sill had been forced to undertake an internal investigation of the program for assault and abuse of soldiers, inadequate medical attention, command irresponsibility and overall incompetence. To that list (which I should note is unofficial) they may now add negligence and wrongful death. As of the end of March, the Army wouldn't comment on its investigation or on what killed Scarano, although I did receive a pro forma response saying the matter was "still under investigation." But in the week prior to his death, his comrades in the PTRP barracks say, Army doctors had doubled the dose of his pain medication, Fentanyl, an analgesic patch 80 times more potent than morphine, whose advertised possible side effects include difficulty breathing, severe weakness and unconsciousness.
On the night of March 18, according to Pvt. Richard Thurman, Scarano appeared quite pale and weak. However, Scarano had been in the program for so long, longer than anyone else in terms of continuous service, and was often so visibly suffering or so drugged up as to drool and gaze vacantly, that his infirmity on this particular night did not cause special alarm. Shortly after lights out, at 9, Pvt. Clayton Howell noticed that Scarano was lying on his bad shoulder and turned him so he would not be in greater pain when he awoke. At that time Scarano was breathing. When lights came on the next morning and everyone else had risen from their bunks, Howell again went to Scarano; by then he was dead.
What happened next typifies the trapped situation of injured soldiers at Fort Sill's PTRP.
Someone handed Pvt. Thurman a cell phone, saying, "Call your mom." No one encouraged him to call the medic, or the chaplain, or the sergeant, or anyone on post. Phoning at all meant breaking the rules, as did having a cell phone, contraband for soldiers in PTRP. Thurman crouched in a corner and, amid the near-panic of the barracks, hurriedly dialed his mom, Pat deVarennes.
DeVarennes, an apprentice dog groomer who lives near Sarasota, Florida, is about the only person the PTRP soldiers can confidently regard as their advocate. In January, concerned for the well-being of her son Richard and the other men, she began posting reports on a web log she set up called Only Volunteers. As a result of those reports and her relentless appeals to Fort Sill's Public Affairs Office, the Army began an investigation into PTRP conditions in February. By March 5, 2006, some changes, notably the removal of a sadistic drill sergeant, the introduction of a Medical Center liaison to monitor the troops' medical needs, the suspension of punishing physical tasks and the restoration of weekend on-post passes, had been instituted.
Before reviewing the most egregious abuses recently visited upon injured recruits at Fort Sill, it is necessary to understand the benchmark for normal at PTRP. As deVarennes neatly puts it, "Imagine basic training that never ends." By the old Army standard, the nine weeks of basic training will "break you down to build you up." Lately there have been some changes in that approach, driven by Army psychologists who reckoned that breaking the spirit accomplishes little beyond creating emotional wrecks or sadists. No longer are new recruits regularly addressed as "ladies" or "shitsacks" or subjected to the "shark attack" of drill sergeants screaming top volume into their ears on the bus the moment they arrive. But the regimen of absolute control and arbitrary rules is unchanged, which is why it is time-limited and why even the most hardened soldier will tell you, "Hell, no, I wouldn't want to do it again".
In PTRP, where soldiers have been stuck for months, time seems to have been stopped. The men live in long, narrow barracks that can sleep 42 in bunk beds. They must stand in formation, on crutches, in pain, four times a day in all kinds of weather, sometimes for 20 minutes to an hour, at the drill sergeant's pleasure. They may not smoke, drink, look at porn, go off post, have sex, have soda from a machine or have any food except during set mealtimes. They may not have cell phones or laptops, may use approved electronic devices only at certain hours, and must compete to use the outdoor pay phones in the 35 minutes to an hour that is allowed after dinner. On weekdays, they may not go anywhere on post except with permission and an escort. At times they have been impressed to enjoy "mandatory entertainment" -- a Southern rock concert, the Superbowl, Christian concerts.
When first processed into PTRP, they are not given individualized therapy plans, and doctors at the Medical Center are too stretched to have much time for them, so they use a gym and may sit in a windowless closet-like room to apply ice, but until recently had no sustained medical guidance. They must carry canteens for no other reason -- because these are disgusting and no one drinks from them -- than to advertise their low status. Their dining hall is festooned with nutrition posters that would suit an elementary school. The bathroom in the auditorium they sometimes use is filthy and looks as if it's been decorated by a deranged Martha Stewart, with an Americana wall strip of Teddy bears, apple pies and the flag. Elsewhere, walls are dominated by rugged propaganda posters, battle scenes, life-size blow-ups of soldiers and invocations to "Live the Army Values".
Periodically the PTRP barracks is subject to what its drill sergeants call a health and welfare check, "better known as a shakedown," says Pvt. Thurman. Drill sergeants enter the bay, ordering the men to empty their drawers and lockers. Bedding is stripped, mattresses upended, vent covers unscrewed. During one of these routines, Thurman, who's been in PTRP since November of 2005, was discovered to have a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and was given an Article 15, or nonjudicial punishment, and a fine of $270. Almost everyone who's been in PTRP for any length of time has received an Article 15 for something.
Although the cadre says only "motivated" soldiers are accepted into PTRP, soldiers injured in training cannot un-volunteer. After Private Thurman was in the Army for seven months, doctors discovered he had flat feet, once an automatic disqualifier. But Pvt. Thurman cannot leave. He actually completed basic training and advanced individual training in November. At the time he had stress fractures in his ankle, and because he couldn't run as required for the final PT test, a post doctor prescribed an alternate walking event. He graduated with ceremony, but that same day the Army changed its mind. An officer pulled him and two other soldiers aside and told them walking wasn't good enough and they were being sent to PTRP; there, to satisfy formal requirements, the three were "ungraduated."
In pro forma questioning Thurman had been asked if he wanted to go to PTRP.
"No," he said.
The inquiring officer wrote on his file, "Soldier is unmotivated", and "Soldier is cleared for administrative action," meaning nonjudicial punishment or court martial.
"Lack of motivation is a punishable offense in the US Army," Thurman says. The Army threatened Thurman with being recycled back to day one of basic training. After eight months in PTRP another soldier, who had completed eight weeks of the nine-week basic course before he was injured, opted to return to basic training rather than have to stay in the "rest and rehab" program.
"You have an area you can be in. If you leave that area without permission you can go to jail", Thurman explains. "You have people over you with unquestioned power, and your daily life is at their will. Everything's a privilege." Using the phone is a privilege. Going to the PX on the weekend is a privilege. And as in prison, privileges can be taken away. The culture breeds tormentors and tattle-tales among the inmates -- soldiers who haze their comrades, who report on others for piddling infractions like drinking a Coke from the soda machine for the imagined benefit that might bring the snitch.
"I liken being here to being incarcerated," Scarano wrote to deVarennes less than two weeks before his death. "And it often helped during the bleaker points in PTRP history to think of it as such: I'm far from being any kind of expert on the subject, but perhaps it was a psychological self-defense mechanism to try to perceive what was going on as being punitive in nature."
The soldiers have been ordered not to speak of events that are part of the ongoing investigation, so as not to jeopardize it, but enough was put on the public record earlier via deVarennes' blog to indicate that punishment and not therapy or rehab was in fact the program. What follows is drawn from her reports.
In January, a Drill Seargent named Langford was put in charge of the soldiers at PTRP, and he arrived spitting vinegar, telling the men, as deVarennes recaps, "You're worthless, you're malingerers, you're scared, you're useless, you're not soldiers." He cancelled their weekend on-post passes, confining them to the small area around their barracks, and ordered that on weekdays they could not sit on their beds except during the three hours of free time from 6 PM to 9 PM.
Right before the first Family Weekend at the end of January, the drill sergeant ordered the men to clean and wax the floor of their barracks. After they did it once, moving the heavy bunks and wall lockers in and out of the room, he declared the job inadequate and ordered that they get down on their knees with small scrapers and remove every speck of old wax. Out and in went the furniture again. A soldier with a herniated groin dared not slack off in the moving operation lest he and everyone else incur extra abuse for his offense.
One night another drill sergeant, by the name of Bullock, decided to have some fun with the soldiers and give them a taste of sleep deprivation, ordering them to line up in formation outside every hour from 10 PM to 2 AM. After each line-up they could not simply fall on their bunks fully dressed for the next time because he ordered that they present themselves in different apparel. Soldiers on sleep medication were pulled from their beds by their comrades and hustled into line, since if everyone did not appear at formation, everyone would be punished. Drill Sgt. Bullock is apparently still good standing.
As she was receiving word of these abuses, deVarennes was trying to get someone to care. Rep. Connie Mack's office told her Richard would have to fill out a form before it could act, and since that was impossible, the door slammed. John McCain's office sent her a form letter saying he'd need something in writing from Richard. John Kerry's office never replied at all, which was the most common response she got from members of Congress.
As she was receiving word of these abuses, deVarennes was trying to get someone to care. Rep. Connie Mack's office told her Richard would have to fill out a form before it could act, and since that was impossible, the door slammed. John McCain's office sent her a form letter saying he'd need something in writing from Richard. John Kerry's office never replied at all, which was the most common response she got from members of Congress.
Then an injured soldier simply lost it. He'd been in PTRP for several months, was declared healed and sent upstairs to the Fitness Training Unit, or FTU, where uninjured soldiers who couldn't pass the PT test go through exercise drills to pass it. But his injury prevented him from doing the required exercises, and in the hopelessness of the situation he cut himself up, smeared himself with excrement and marched out of the barracks naked except for his socks and boots. He was packed off to a mental ward for a few days and put on suicide watch.
The soldier's breakdown shook the others in PTRP, and that night Pvt. Thurman called his mother and said, "You've got to find a way to help us." Soon after, a soldier who'd been sitting on watch at the mental ward, whom deVarennes nicknamed Pvt. Gopher, committed his own small act of defiance in front of Drill Sgt. Langford and was ordered to "take a knee," meaning to genuflect. As he'd recently had knee surgery, he told Langford that he wasn't able to do that, whereupon the drill sergeant kicked his legs out from under him, sending him to the floor screaming. A first sergeant on the scene ordered the others to turn away, and told them they didn't see anything. Earlier some of them had tried to report abuses to the medical center, to mental health counselors, to highers-up. Now they'd been ordered to shut up, meaning any action they might contemplate would be in violation of a direct order. Almost identical language--"You didn't see shit"--was used at Abu Ghraib, whose abuses the easy cruelty and indifference to suffering at Fort Sill help put into perspective.
It is illegal for a drill sergeant to strike a soldier, but Langford was not arrested. It is illegal to cover up a crime, but the first sergeant remains in his position. Langford was removed as a drill sergeant; whether he suffers any further indignity or punishment depends on the outcome of the current investigation.
Yet for all this sudden intervention, PFC Scarano still perished. The inspector general did not know about the death until deVarennes e-mailed him. The base commander didn't know until the following Monday. On that day, a spokeswoman at Fort Sill's Public Affairs Office said she couldn't tell me anything about the soldier's death "because I've never heard of that person." In death as in life, this soldier didn't count for much in the Army.
In his March 7 email to deVarennes, thanking her for "becoming our champion when no one else would," Scarano wrote:
My injury is degenerative and getting worse. ...I was lied to about surgery, as were many others, and it was brought to the attention of the Inspector-General that the medical community had been telling us that we face courts-martial or severe forms of non-judicial punishment if we declined the surgery suggested to us by the doctors here at Fort Sill. This has since been demonstrated as a bald-faced lie.
I was told that I'd receive arthroscopic shoulder surgery initially, which had little chance of success, and when that failed I would receive a full shoulder replacement, after which my left shoulder would be essentially disabled for the rest of my life.
Just a little rudimentary research into the subject revealed that there are countless other, infinitely more promising options available to me in the civilian world, which I choose to explore, instead of being a guinea pig to a medical system I have no faith in, whatsoever. This is the same medical system which has botched surgeries and performed procedures without the patient's knowledge. I guess their rationale is that up until recently, the patients, in our case, were under the impression that we had virtually no input in the matter, anyway.
I've recently been told, by our case worker, that I'm getting an MEB [Medical Evaluation Board hearing] but as of now my consultation is pending. I've heard no further word yet but am hopeful that as a result of the controversy caused by the attention garnered by your blog, I'll be out of here soon. I am a casualty of a broken system; I fell through the cracks of the bureaucracy that is the system which all of us must go through.
I am a living symbol of the failure of the system and after having been ignored for so long, despite trying to raise as much attention as I could, I might finally be able to get on which my adult life after spending over a third of it in PTRP, deprived of everything from being able to be with my family, to fundamental physical needs such as sleep and recuperation from my injury, to the basic human freedoms and creature comforts which I will never again take for granted.
Scarano was working on a more formal document right before he died, trying to understand cognitive dissonance, the psychological process of accommodating when what one knows or believes to be true collides with a contradictory reality.
Private Howell, who has been in and out of PTRP for fifteen months, also sent deVarennes a paper in which he was compiling the complaints of Bravo Battery and reflecting on his own predicament. Toward the end of it, he wrote:
At one point I know I had a purpose. At one point I know I cared. I do not know when I lost it and if I will be capable of ever possessing it again. I do not think I have shown any of the army values for a very long time. I believe I projected the image that I cared for many months and it was just an act; but it was all that I could do. I am being set up for failure and have been for weeks. The fact that this unit will not follow regulations does not inspire hope or willingness to comply with any orders or any of their bogus policies. In my opinion none of the cadre show any of the army values to any of the soldiers here.
...The army values did mean something to me at one point even though it is just propaganda on paper. I have always known it was just propaganda, but they are a good base for morals if people would lead by example. In conclusion I hope this paper reaches somebody and they read it in whole and are not too judgmental. I also hope I can improve myself and the situation that I am in. Perhaps I can be what they want me to be. Perhaps I can fulfill my enlistment and be productive, but that is not realistic. And it is not what I really want; all I want in this world is to be anywhere but here. I believe that I have permanent physical and psychological damage from this place. If I could describe this place in 2 words it would be 'Malevolentia Imperium'.
Malevolent Power. After Scarano's death most of the soldiers who'd been present at the scene were disbursed. In April, Pvt. Thurman passed exactly the same modified PT test he'd passed the previous November, before he was "ungraduated" and sent to PTRP. He is now at Fort Bliss. On April 21, the parent of a soldier at Fort Sill's PTRP wrote deVarennes:
The inadequate health care continues. My son during physical therapy had a 50 lbs weight dropped on his head, ended up luckily with only 8 staples in his scalp. No further tests were done on this and since has been suffering with crippling headaches which drop him to his knees. ...The depression has gotten out of hand as has the verbal and psychological abuse causing it. I have written to all the representatives, congress and the president and not one has responded either verbally or in writing. Obviously the Government has no desire to take care of thier own.
JoAnn Wypijewski is a columnist for Mother Jones. This piece originally appeared in CounterPunch, and has been adapted here.
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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Don't Look If The Truth Bothers You


By now most people have heard about Neil Young's new cd Living With War. It's popping up in stores this week, and also you can stream the entire cd at many different sites, inlcuding here: Neil Young -- Living With War -- Listen --

The cd sounds like the old Neil, in his rockin' Crazy Horse days-- although he's also got a trumpeteer and a 100-member gospel choir backing him up on some tracks. The sounds is raw, garage-y, and angry-- just what one would expect-- but he could be playing the mouth harp and still I would salute him. For years I have been asking the musical question Where Have All the Protests Gone? I grew up with all that great socially aware, anti-war music in the late sixties and early seventies-- and have marvelled at its disappearence in these troubled, censorial times-- right off the top of my head, I'm thinking of:
John Lennon: Give Peace a Chance
Imagine
Give Ireland Back to the Irish
Marvin Gaye: Inner City Blues
What's Going On
Mercy Mercy Me
CSNY: Four Dead in Ohio
Country Joe and the Fish: One Two Three, What Are We Fighting For?
Credence Clearwater: It Ain't Me
Pete Seegar: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Bob Dylan: The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
etc etc-- now, these were all POP songs-- not obscure tunes by unknown artists played way down on the funky (left, of course) part of the dial-- one heard them in the barbershop; one heard them at the supermarket; one heard them on the major radio stations. This threw the topics of the day into the public plaza, and gave the average citizen the message (not that they need it in a democracy!) that it was okay to not only talk about these issues, but to disagree with our government. How ironic that we are fighting to 'spread democracy' (that's the latest reason given-- now that the first ten reasons have been proven to be lies) when our 'democracy' wages illegal war, spies on its citizens, ignores the Constitution, is awash in corruption, is totally unable/unwilling to respond to its neediest citizens in time of crisis (Katrina), is bankrupting us and the next several generations, is engaged in torture, is assaulting the environment, is poisoning the air we breathe and the water we drunk and the lands we live on-- and yet, more people in this country are more familiar with the cast of Survivor than they are with the lies surrounding the Iraq War.

In this 'Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free,' it is a pretty safe bet you won't be hearing Neil's angry, relevent music on any major radio stations-- all of whom hold licenses in the public's name, for the good of the public. (I would really love to be wrong on that score!) ClearChannel Communications, a far right corporation that owns close to 2500 radio stations, sent out a memo in the run-up to the Iraq war, telling its stations what it could and could not play to 'avoid controversy.' First on the list? John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance. Things long disued become atrophied, and so it is with open discourse apparently-- the lifeblood, incidentally, to democracy. So between television and radio, we are awash in a tsunami of useless, frequently vulgar, infotainment, where once we had public watchdogs , investigative journalists, and fearless crusaders.

I just can't understand why the fact that this administration lied about the war, and thus is responsible for thousands and thousands of deaths, is not blared across the front pages of every newspaper in the country, day after day. A new survey released just yesterday asserts that the Iraq War is less popular (or more unpopular) than the Vietnam War. You would never know it by looking/listening to the MSM (mainstream media.) What finally ended the Vietnam War was the fact that it spilled into the livingrooms of America every night, and the American people finally understood the useless carnage and waste of precious, precious life. But today, alkthough we are at war, we cannot see the coffins; we cannot see the wounded and maimed; and apparently the media has accepted that-- but since most newspapers and television/radio stations are more concerned now with the bottom line than seeking, digging, and reporting Truth-- it seems Bush's censoring the 'icky' parts of war is fine by them. Thus we get-- for example-- the front page of Boston.com this evening-- Houses of the Week (let's go real estate shopping!); how the Red Sox did; "relax in the Berkshires;" and a story on whether French designer Phillippe Starck is "too hip for Boston." In the meantime, 17 more died today in Iraq-- but you would never know it from perusing the Globe's site. It's so much more fun (and profitable) to think about the Berkshires, and pose those burning questions about Phillippe Starck.

The media has been woefully complicit in the degradation of our democracy. Thank God for the Internet. But just because we are not seeing the photos, it doesn't mean that the death of innocent men, women and children-- both American and Iraqi-- is any less tragic, any less horrific, or any less damning to all of us.

Thank you Neil for speaking Truth to Power, in an age when few others will. As Neil sings on Track Five, 'Let's Impeach the President for Lying.' Right on.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Crazy Horse


THERE IS A LOT I SHOULD WRITE ABOUT, and I will-- John's funeral service, Will's christening, the weather, my garden, my current novel-- but what I want to write about right now is this amazing monument pictured left--bigger than the pyramids-- that is taking shape and has been taking shape in the Black Hills of South Dakaota. It is, literally, a monumental work-- in fact, all four faces carved into Mount Rushmore would fit across the face of the Sioux chieftain Crazy Horse that this depicts. Amazing. I had heard of this vaguely before, but had no idea the work was so large. Below is an article from this Sunday's Globe, written by columnist Beverly Beckham.

BLACK HILLS, S.D. -- You'd think that we'd know his name. You'd think if a man from Boston, born on Harrison Avenue, orphaned at the age of 1, beaten and abused his whole childhood, grew up and did something great -- something no one else has ever done -- we'd have at least heard of him.
You'd think that conceiving and working for 35 years on the biggest sculpture in the world, bigger than the pyramids in Egypt, would be a shoo-in to fame.
We know the bad guys -- the Albert DeSalvos, the Whitey Bulgers, the Father John Geoghans. Our culture makes celebrities of them. But the good guys? They're ignored. The reason we don't have heroes anymore is not because they don't exist. It's because no one is telling us about them.
Boston-born Korczak (core-chalk) Ziolkowski (jewel-cuff-ski) is one of these heroes. His account of his early life is chilling: Beaten in the orphanage where he lived until he was 4, beaten by the prizefighter who took him in and used him for slave labor until he was 16, tortured by his foster mother who beat him if she caught him reading, who threw knives at him for fun, and who made him sleep in an attic without heat or blankets on crates he found on the streets, he didn't break.
''It would have been child abuse today," his widow, Ruth, says. But back in the early 1900s this was the way things were.
Boston Juvenile Judge Frederick Pickering Cabot showed the boy the only kindness he knew. He brought him to museums and symphonies and to his sister's and Korczak learned that there existed a different and better life.
It was this life of culture and civility that he held in his hands in 1939. Though he never took a lesson, though he learned how to carve wood and stone while working in the shipyards in East Boston, though his only diploma was from Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge -- Korczak won first prize by popular vote at the 1939 New York World's Fair for his marble sculpture ''Paderewski: Study of an Immortal."
Suddenly the world was his.
He was living in Connecticut then and had a little bit of fame and fortune. But with the prize came the opportunity for more.
And then he got a letter from a Sioux Indian chief. Mount Rushmore was being built in the hills of South Dakota -- a tribute to American presidents. And the chief wrote, ''My fellow Chiefs and I would like the White Man to know the Red Man had great heroes, too," and asked Korczak to come to the Black Hills and build a monument to Crazy Horse.
Korczak met with the chiefs and learned that Crazy Horse was a great hero. So he made a clay model. Then World War II came along. Korczak enlisted. And fought. And survived Omaha Beach.
After the war, the government offered him a job sculpting war memorials in Europe. But he returned to South Dakota and from 1947 to his death in 1982 worked nonstop on a monument that when it is finished will be the biggest in the world.
He was 40 when he finally began work on the mountain. He'd spent two years building a cabin and a 741-foot staircase to the top before he could start. Then, until the mid 1950s, he worked alone with just a small jackhammer. Over the years he broke bones, hurt his back, had four spinal operations to remove shattered discs, had two heart attacks, and heart surgery.
He died in 1982 at age 74, having removed 7 billion tons of rock from the mountain but never seeing the face of Crazy Horse he saw in his mind.
But he left three books of blueprints and a wife and 10 children who'd worked with him. His wife and seven of the children continue the work where he left off.
Now the face is there for all to see -- it was completed in 1998. But the entire project -- three-dimensional, 563 feet high and 641 feet long, with Crazy Horse seated on his horse -- will take decades to finish.
Korczak raised and spent more than $5 million on the carving. He never took a salary or an expense account. Twice he turned down $10 million from the government because he didn't trust the government to finish the job or to honor its humanitarian goals. Crazy Horse Memorial is more than a sculpture. It is a living center, which exists to honor all American Indians and to tell their story.
Ruth, now 80, still lives on the mountain in the log cabin her husband built. He's buried in a tomb near the base of the mountain. More than a million people a year visit Crazy Horse Memorial. Ruth greets many of them. She greeted me last week.
''It will take many, many lifetimes" to complete Crazy Horse, Korczak told author Robb DeWall. This didn't bother him. ''If I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create the means to keep alive his culture and heritage, my life will have been worthwhile."
Worthwhile and worth remembering.
Beverly Beckham can be reached at bbeckham@globe.com.

Isn't that amazing? Lughead (in my story of the same name) thought that Mount Rushmore was a natural phenomenon-- how much more so he would think this. I often think about how the Native Americans had this continent for 10,000 years, and left it nearly pristine at the end of that period, when they were superceded by Europeans. We've had it for 400 years and...well, the results are obvious. "Man did not weave the web of life, but is only a strand in it," said one of the great chiefs. "He cannot damage one of the strands without damaging the entire web." We will come back to that non-scientific but nevertheless deeply accurate credo as a species-- or we will perish. Next on the to-read list is 1491, which tells the story of the Americas before the vast majority of the native populace was wiped out--before whites even settled here-- by disease. The author apparently asserts that history would have been quite different had the natives not died in such numbers-- and that colonization wouldn't have really taken hold, certainly wouldn't have supplanted the native culture and its ultimate predominance (as colonization did not in the east) and that Western society would have learned as much from the Americas as it did from the Orient. For those interested, a good as place as any to start a study of Native America, after 1491, would be Dee Brown's seminal Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which is still as powerfully shocking as it was thirty six years ago when it rocked the world and changed the perceptions instilled by history books and Hollywood of pesky Injuns making savage raids on innocent white settlers. Alas, the opposite was the case.
After that one should read Peter Matthiessen's In the Spirit of Crazy Horse-- this will answer the question of who is Leonard Peltier (and many other questions as well) in case you don't understand the Free Leonard Peltier bumper sticker one sees from time to time; though not as much as one used to, and, alas, certainly not as often as one sees a yellow ribbon on a vast SUV. You could (and should-- everyone should) also read Prison Writings: My Life is a Sun Dance by the man himself, Leonard Peltier, and understand how the shocking treatment of Native peoples in this country goes on today.