Tag Archives: max yawney

Bradley Manning

27 Dec

“How come most people don’t vote in this country in elections?  In Australia voting is compulsory.  You have to vote or you get fined.  So when people vote they find out why they vote and they generally vote for their best interests such as free medical care, free education, decent old-age pensions, care for the mentally ill and the indigent.  Therefore the people vote for their taxes to be used to their benefit.  When people don’t vote here, they leave a huge vacuum.  Into the vacuum pour the multinationals.  So your tax dollars are used for corporate benefit.  The best way to make a buck in this country if you’re a corporation is to build weapons, because they make 75% profit.  There’s no competition.  It’s a cost-plus industry, whereas if you make cars you only make 15% profit.  So you can’t afford not to be making nuclear weapons and delivery systems if you are a corporation in this country.  Therefore, every company, directly or indirectly, is involved in making weapons of mass destruction, even General Foods, who make cereals, etc.  How come?  They sell their products to the military.

“So the corporations have you by a stranglehold.  It’s a corporate White House.  Who does Bush represent?  He represents corporations.  Who did Reagan represent?  I don’t know if he knew who he represented.  I think he still doesn’t, but he did represent the corporations.  He was like Chauncey Gardner in Being There…I can say that now.  If I’d said that a few years ago some of you would have had my throat.  I met him in the White House in 1983 and spent 1 1/4 hours with him, and it was a very devastating experience, about the most devastating of my life.  We spent an hour and a quarter in intense dialogue, mostly coming from me.  He said some things but they were all wrong.  I had to hold his hand so that he could be a bit relaxed because he got quite uptight and he quoted me from the Reader’s Digest…He was a nice old man.  He’s not senile.  He’s always been like this.  His I.Q. clinically was about 100, and that’s the truth.  You have to wonder how come a man of that caliber got to be running your country and could press the button if he so desired.  It’s a very serious situation.

Drone, Gold Bars, Uzi, Poppy, Oil Drum, Diamond. Set of six color pencil and pen-and-ink drawings on Bristol paper, 3 x 3 in. ea., from 96 drawings used for performance, Dress for Success, at Jonathan Shorr Gallery, New York, on July 8, 2006; involved built costume and movement, in collaboration with sculptor John Landino.

“So here is a corporate President, and so is Bush.  The Congress is a corporate Congress.  It costs $60 million to run for the Presidency, $30 million to get to the Senate, and $2-$3 million to get to the House of Representatives.  So, you can’t get there unless you’re a millionaire or unless you’re bought out by corporate money before you get there.  That’s not right.  That’s not democracy.  So something has to change.

“”The Pentagon is run by the corporations.  The Department of Energy, which runs the nuclear power plants and builds all the nuclear weapons is run by the corporations.  This last week, as I’ve been traveling the country, reading the New York Times in the airplanes as I fly, articles about the fact that the DOE is run by corporations and the people who are employed by government virtually don’t know what’s going on.  James Watkins, the Secretary of Energy, was embarrassed recently to find a report he gave to Congress about building nuclear weapons was written by one of the corporations who makes the nuclear weapons.  He was really embarrassed.  So the DOE is run by the corporations.  It’s a pretense to think that the American government is run of the people, by the people and for the people.  Now theretofore you need another revolution…And that doesn’t mean sitting on your bottoms writing letters.  It’s [sic] doesn’t mean lobbying Senator Hatfield and whoever else.  It means actually getting out there and putting your bodies on the line like Gandhi did. It means the equivalent of the salt marches.  It means taking over the Department of Energy in Washington and staying there, like the students did in the 1960s, taking over the administrations.  It means taking over the Pentagon, getting in there.  It’s your Pentagon.  Take it over.  It means getting into military facilities and taking them over.  It means dismantling equipment that kills people and other species…” — Dr. Helen Caldicott, excerpted paragraphs from “Helen Caldicott: Lecture given on November 12, 1989, National Radio Broadcast, Portland, Oregon USA,” Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, Pamphlet No. 4 (1991), pages 1-2.

I first listened to Dr. Caldicott lecture on nuclear disarmament watching a film directed by Terre Nash called If You Love This Planet (1982).  Caldicott is an Australian pediatrician and a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The excerpted text above displays a wonderful randomness and the entire speech at times approaches an incoherence that most listeners would probably find difficult to follow.  Yet, her language is direct and simple and meant to reach those not within the halls of power she speaks of above.  This is how I want to remember Ronald Reagan, the same president who did not publicly speak about AIDS until May 31, 1987 with 36,058 Americans diagnosed with the disease, 20,849 dead, and the spread of the disease to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases (see Allen White, “Reagan’s AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death,” sfgate [June 8, 2004]; http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-06-08/opinion/17428849_1_aids-in-san-francisco-aids-research-education-cases; accessed 12/26/2011).  (Dale Carpenter argues that Reagan was prompted by a question from a reporter regarding inadequate funding to speak about the pandemic during a press conference in September 1985.  Carpenter’s article first appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on June 24, 2004 and is available at: http://igfculturewatch.com/2004/06/24/reagan-and-aids-a-reassessment/.  As a man who has lived through the pandemic since its beginning, Reagan’s silence as thousands of people died was palpable.)

What Caldicott teaches us is that nothing is random in the world of politics.  Everything is connected.  Consumer Americans should take into account speech like this because nothing that is presented on their behalf otherwise makes these important connections.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex before he left office.  Since then the term has been expanded by some to the military-industrial-media complex.  The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a perfect example of the non-complex terms with which this cyclopean is rendered for American public consumption.  Americans thrilled to scripted visual narratives of a military that bombed its way to the center of Baghdad.  Yet, this public had not been informed by the same media end of the military-industrial complex of prior military incursions into Iraq to destroy vital energy grids and other infrastructure for the purposes of setting up business post-invasion.  This was, after all, a corporate war, including Dick Cheney’s profiteering by sending his company Halliburton to “reconstruct” the damage that the United States had inflicted to Iraq over time.

This particular war was scripted from the very beginning.  President George W. Bush, Jr. depended upon scripted narratives based on false assertions leading up to his decision to engage our country in the invasion of another.  “Weapons of mass destruction” was the war cry, one which Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated to the United Nations to justify our action to the world.  As Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistle blower of the Vietnam War era, explains in his memoir of that period, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking, 2002), any truism that secrets cannot be kept within government is false (page 43).  As a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, John T. McNaughton, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ellsberg had an insider’s view to the Gulf of Tonkin “attacks” on U.S. warships in August 1964.  These incidents as they were portrayed by the military were important because they allowed the President to press Congress to agree to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.  This gave the President vague, but wide, discretionary power to choose aggressive action against North Vietnam, including direct combat involvement.  Heretofore, the United States was limited to providing military personnel as advisors in the field to South Vietnam according to the 1954 Geneva Accords.  The Accords were based on agreement made during conference in Geneva, Switzerland between the Soviet Union, the United States, France, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and other countries, addressing not only the First Indochina War between France and the Viet Minh, but also the reunification of Korea.  Ellsberg’s account is enlightening.  Although the reports of attacks against U.S. ships were contradictory and dubious, official word up the line to the President, and thence to the American public, portrayed North Vietnam in terms of “naked aggression.”  It was not until years later that these reports were totally debunked.  And, in fact, Ellsberg details what were deliberate actions by our government to provoke North Vietnam (see pages 7-20), actions being withheld from public knowledge.

In 1964, as a liberal Cold War warrior, Ellsberg supported this kind of governmental secrecy and manipulation of truth: “self-discipline in sharing information…and a capability for dissimulation in the interests of discretion were fundamental requirements for a great many jobs…The result was an apparatus of secrecy…that permitted the president to arrive at and execute a secret foreign policy, to a degree that went far beyond what even relatively informed outsiders, including journalists and members of Congress, could imagine” (page 43).  By 1969, Ellsberg was willing to tell the truth to Congress and the press, “to give up clearances and political access, the chance of serving future presidents, [his] whole career, and to accept the prospect of a life behind bars” (page IX).

In 2004, I was outraged when revelations about the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to public attention, through a 60 Minutes II news report (April 28) and an article by Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker magazine (posted online on April 30 and published days later in the May 10 issue).  Although at the time of this media release of information an initial criminal investigation was underway by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, resulting in the Taguba Report, it is easy to imagine a different trajectory if whistleblower, Army Reservist Sgt. Joseph Darby, had not taken a CD containing images of torture to higher command in January of that year.  Darby was given a CD as a memento by one of the torturers, Army Spc. Charles Graner, who would receive a sentence of ten years in prison (see “Introduction: The Abu Ghraib files,” Salon [March 14, 2006], http://www.salon.com/2006/03/14/introduction_2/, and,  Michele Norris, “Abu Ghraib Whistleblower Speaks Out,” NPR [April 15, 2006], http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5651609; both accessed December 20, 2011).  What was especially troubling was the fact that sexual humiliation was within the arsenal of torture techniques under employ by the Army and CIA.  As a gay man, I knew too much of the history of discrimination against gay men and lesbian women in the armed forces.

Chris Clary, 52-Card Pick-Up, installation for Body Commodities / Queer Packaging, Works/San José (2006). Printed photographs on card deck, dimensions variable.

We have today what we had during the Vietnam War: a government and military that lies and covers up.  State secrets are the excuse for preventing an American public from knowing what torture techniques were used, by whom and under whose authority, at what facilities, and for how long.  Soldiers on the lowest rung of military hierarchy were the only individuals convicted of wrongdoing in a few, of a vast number, of incidents, that were actually tried in military court; their superiors were never convicted of crimes.  Classifying information that effectively shuts it away from public scrutiny is good business for corporations as well.  The public is not allowed to know what chemicals are used for the dangerous process known as “fracking” that extracts natural gas from the ground.  So there are corporate secrets that are as powerful as state secrets.

It was troubling, then, for me to know that Pfc. Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, imprisoned since July 2010, and not formally charged with crimes until March 2011, was to be tried for “aiding the enemy” by purportedly sharing classified government documents with WikiLeaks.  The military pretrial hearing began on Friday, December 16, 2011.  The presiding officer, Paul Almanza, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, actually works as a Department of Justice prosecutor in civilian life, for the same government agency that is  conducting a criminal investigation against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder.   No wonder that Bradley’s defense team argued on day one that Almanza should recuse himself because he was biased.  Also questionable is Almanza’s decision to accept unsworn statements from the “original classification authorities,” denying the defense team a request to question these individuals as to why the documents published by WikiLeaks had been classified as secret material (see David Dishneau and Pauline Jelinek, “Manning Hearing Bogs Down Over Dispute,” Associated Press; http://www.salon.com/2011/12/16/manning_hearing_bogs_down_over_dispute/; accessed 12/16/2011).

What is most troubling to me about the hearing is the defense argument that Bradley suffered from gender identity confusion during the time he was sharing documents.  I accept as business as usual that the government would put in place a presiding officer that is working on its behalf to move closer to their real target, a man who was not on trial here (the hearing ended with closing statements on Thursday, December 22nd; for fuller information, visit the website http://www.bradleymanning.org/).  And, of course, the American public should never know about “Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver” (Dishneau and Jelinek).  Oh, no.  But the world knows better now than the American people would ever really want to know about how this government and other governments have acted in collusion.  We can thank this leaked information, in part, for the sudden and unexpected Arab Spring.  And, thus, the current unrest exhibited by the Occupy movement.  I want to think that any individual so brave or foolish to release this kind of information has the integrity of a Daniel Ellsberg.  For what Ellsberg knew, and others have known, is that we are not living in a democracy when secrecy at the highest level of government propels us into wars we have not chosen.  The button pushers Caldicott refers to indeed have the power to initiate or expand nuclear war, but instead exercise a more insidious form of directive by sending us into endless war for the sole purpose of rewarding corporations with obscene profit.  I stand by Bradley Manning, confused or not.

The above photographs without captions are from the performance Detainee, organized and performed by the author at The Roger Smith Hotel, New York, from January 29 to February 3, 2007, in collaboration with Beverly Richey (image projection), Max Yawney (wall painting and performance), Patrick Todd (sound composition) and a host of artists and non-artists who participated as interrogators.  The photographs are unattributed.  The performance was filmed by a bystander and posted at YouTube.  It can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFlQv7XeMys

Homeless in San Francisco: Day Twenty-Three

23 Sep

About 6:20 yesterday morning a man was stabbed by his girlfriend.  I noticed the Fire Department rescue vehicle pull up in front of the building next door.  Then a police car arrived.  Policemen were asking him questions and relaying information on walkie-talkies.  I never saw him nor heard him speak.  I only knew better about his circumstances when I went downstairs and greeted the front desk clerk before leaving for the day.  The clerk gave me the details as he walked down the steps with me to the front gate.  He motioned with his right hand to one end of the block and the other, telling me this happened about once a week; either it was a stabbing or a shooting.  As I looked over my shoulder from the intersection, I watched the clerk buzz and then open the gate to the hotel entrance at the scene of the crime.

Untitled photograph taken from somewhere along Highway 1 on a road trip with Max Yawney to Santa Cruz, 2011.

Homeless in San Francisco: Day Nineteen

19 Sep

There is not a free grain of sand in America.  I will return to the point.  In 2004, I presented a paper at the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture/American Culture Association Annual Conference in Buffalo, New York.  I enjoy the people at these conferences for their open enthusiasm.  I respect the organizations because they are open to all, a far cry from elitist groups like College Art Association or Modern Library Association.  Weekends in downtown Buffalo, where our events were taking place, is extremely quiet.  Buffalo is one of those American cities whose industrial prestige vanished long ago.  During our visit, downtown was host to artists’ lofts and professors from nearby State University of New York.  While returning home, I rode a municipal bus to the airport through a residential district that was predominantly African American.  I did not see much outdoor activity; it was November and somewhat cold.  But I took in the city as it was.  The bus route is long.  Along the way, we passed many boarded up storefronts.  The only sign of life I saw that afternoon was a McDonald’s restaurant.  Immaculately clean and operational, this was the only business I noticed that had its own perimeter, a square area of parking lot completely surrounding the building.

A perfect metaphor, this vision of America takes into account a post-industrial malaise that includes the disappearance of manufacturing prowess, except in matters of war, the evacuation of jobs from the country, the rise of a service sector that keeps the luckier ones employed without the security or benefits the country could once boast about.  People cope with this state of affairs in many ways, significantly, a portion of the population by moving from joblessness to state dependency.  San Francisco has a huge social safety net.  There are city and state offices and services that take many forms.  There are non-profit organizations and religious organizations feeding, housing, and assisting with job orientation, training and seeking.  True, the non-profit sector is hurting badly during the current economic collapse.

I recently read an online article about disability claims spiking each year during the current economic crisis.  And apparently, disability claims have historically climbed whenever the jobless rate has risen.  I know that if I were to apply for disability status as an AIDS-afflicted person a case could eventually be made and won, even through one or more denials and counter petitions and one to several years of patient determination.  I continue to choose not to apply because I want to work.  A disabled person receiving benefits can work, but their access to working hours is limited by law.  I have had many friends over time who chose to apply and receive disability benefits living with HIV/AIDS.  In the early years of the pandemic, individuals were overwhelmed by the nightmare of the disease.  One way to keep their sanity was to move away from stress-producing work environments.  Disability status helped people successfully navigate away from these situations.  Stress kills people with life-threatening illnesses.

Marijuana can be a friend to those suffering from AIDS and certain side effects that attend.  Medical marijuana dispensaries are appearing everywhere in the city now.  They are becoming ubiquitous, as Starbucks once was with a store appearing seemingly on every block within major cities like New York.  In 2009, I listened to two young Introduction to Horticulture classmates discussing strategies for obtaining a medical prescription for marijuana.  We were in the greenhouse at City College of San Francisco.  The one student talked about an injury to his lower back and how he managed to eventually obtain a permit to use medical marijuana for the problem.  He spoke about the matter to his classmate without signs of mobility impairment as we all squatted and reached beneath tables to remove weeds.  They made it sound so simple.  It was as simple a matter for me to obtain marijuana when I began smoking at age 15.  Law enforcement did not catch up with me until 33 years later.  I have somewhat lost my appetite for the stuff, but still believe it should be legal whether or not it is used for medicinal purposes.

There are a class of people entirely outside of the jobless social safety net.  They occupy space wherever they can find it.  I see them receiving tickets for violating the new sit/lie law in the city that forbids them to tarry on sidewalks.  A law like this, though, does not change the number of homeless in the city.  They sleep in alleyways and in front of empty storefronts, in Golden Gate Park, anywhere possible.

I once tried to find an open space to sleep with my friends Patrick and Tina.  Tina was moving to Hong Kong.  It was the last day Patrick and I would see her in New York.  We decided to drive to Long Island and find a quiet seaside location to pitch a tent.  We were equipped with food for a meal and wine to toast to our friend’s success in her new role as a curator overseas.  Our first stop was at Robert J. Moses State Park.  We arrived sometime after 11:00 PM.  How elated we were to have lapping waves welcome us.  Our pleasure was destroyed minutes later as a State trooper drove up in his Jeep, headlights blinding us.  He barked the command to pack and leave, but not before we insisted on a recommendation for completing our plans.  We drove to Heckscher State Park that had campgrounds bay side.  By this time it was past midnight.  Because our energy was flagging we ignored the ranger’s station and drove to a deserted camp site.  Again our happiness was premature as we were chased out for having assumed squatter’s rights.

Defeated, it was time to head back to Manhattan.  We looked for a motel on our return.  Our next stop was again disappointing, but not without some comic relief.  Having parked the car in view of the office, Patrick and Tina walked ahead of me toward the front desk where a middle-aged woman stared at us with God’s conviction behind her eyeglasses.  Their encounter was brief; before any questions were asked, all she would say was “we don’t have those kind of rooms here.”  A few more miles down the road we reached a motel where the proprietor took us in without question.  We entered our room tracking in sand and weary relief.

Max Yawney, untitled photograph (McDonald’s near Astor Place, New York), circa 2007.