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Profile Information

Name: William Rivers Pitt
Gender: Male
Hometown: Boston
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 58,179

Journal Archives

What did DU used to be about, once upon a time?

Back in the summer of 2002, me and several DUers from the Boston area - Matcom was the copilot - put together a flyer about the Bush administration using 9/11 against us, and about the onrushing war in Iraq. We reprinted a thousand copies or so, stood out on the street, and handed them out all day long to whoever would take them, and talked/debated/argued with anyone who wanted to talk.

It's hard to remember 12 years later, but we were cat-nervous, and the simple act of handing out flyers and speaking political heresies out loud felt brave, because WE ALL HAD TO GET IN LINE AND YOU ARE BEING WATCHED AND PATRIOTISM AND SHIT. It was an astonishingly paranoid and fearful time if you weren't "on board" with the program, and actually had the gumption to say so in public. The swelling from 9/11 had not gone down very much, and people were still very sensitive and definitely locked into OBEY...and I don't know if we changed any minds on the spot with those flyers that day, but we made more than a few people think, which was the point of the exercise...and, also, we felt definitely emboldened, and took it from there.

When we were done, I posted both the story of our day and the flyer we handed out here at DU...and over the course of the next days, weeks and months, DUers posted their own stories about handing out our flier in their own towns and cities, the reactions they got, and the small bit of good it did...town after town, city after city, from sea to shining sea...and everyone who participated in the exercise felt emboldened, and took it from there.

The summer of 2002.

THAT is what DU used to be about.

No reason it can't be that way again.

The Iraq War Was a Smashing Success

Smoke rises from American airstrikes in the village of Resala in Iraq as Kurdish peshmerga fighters
watch at an overwatch position near the Mosul Dam in Northern Iraq, Aug. 18, 2014.
(Photo: Lynsey Addario / The New York Times)

The Iraq War Was a Smashing Success
By William Rivers Pitt
Truthout | Op-Ed

Thursday 28 August 2014

Make no mistake about it: by any vaguely human measure, the situation in Iraq is a US-made disaster of historic proportions. Millions dead or wounded, millions more displaced, and all overseen by a kleptocratic government more interested in grinding old enemies into the dust than governing...and of course, yes, a seemingly endless cycle of violence that claims new victims every day.

The beginning of this week saw bombs ring out all over Iraq, leaving 212 dead and 184 wounded. Three bombs exploded in a commercial district in Kirkuk, killing 31. A suicide bomber charged the gate of a security building in Baghdad, killing eleven. A Sunni mosque in Diyala was attacked, leaving 60 dead. A car bombing in Karbala killed 12. Another car bomb killed 11 people in Hilla. The butcher's bill goes on, and on, and on.

US military operations in Iraq, directed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are escalating by the day. Since the second week in August, the US has carried out some 100 air strikes in Iraq, has deployed about 1,000 troops back into the country, and is tickling the outside edges of bombing targets in Syria.

The question of whether to expand this ongoing war, however, is not likely to be put to a vote in congress any time soon; a roomful of Democratic congressional aides made it abundantly clear that the last thing their bosses want is to be forced to make a public vote on further military action in Iraq. Such a vote, they claim, is far too sticky a wicket to wrangle in an election year.

Same as it ever was.

Yet consider this: the news site Vox ran a story at the beginning of August under the headline, "The US Bombing Its Own Guns Perfectly Sums Up America's Total Failure in Iraq". The article refers to the US air campaign against ISIS, which is flush with US weapons of war obtained from the collapsed Iraqi military.


The United States' involvement in Iraq, dating back to 1990 but wildly exacerbated since March of 2003, has been a pluperfect Charlie Foxtrot from the jump, and gets worse with every passing year.


Well, it depends on who you ask.

Ask the "defense" industry, the makers and sellers of all these weapons, and they'll tell you this Iraq debacle is the greatest thing to happen since Vietnam. Twenty-four years of war since 1990, all those missiles and bombs dropped, all those bullets fired, all those armored vehicles blown up that needed to be replaced, all of which come with a price tag to be paid out of the taxpayers' pockets. Not everyone gets a payday that lasts a quarter of a century. The "defense" industry got one, again, and it is ongoing, and expanding.

The United States is bombing weapons the "defense" industry already got paid for with ordnance they will get paid for.

Think about it this way: In the same fashion that most people think the Iraq war was a disaster, the same majority now see George W. Bush as the worst president in modern American history. By the metrics of those who delivered him to the Oval Office, however, George W. Bush was the most successful president in the history of the country. Everything he was sent to do by those who paid his freight - gut the Treasury, break the government, establish permanent war, and make his friends rich - he accomplished to perfection.

So it is with Iraq. You think it's a disaster, I think it's a disaster, and by any vaguely human measure, it is a disaster...but for a few people, the ones who pay that political freight and count coins according to how many bombs and bullets get used, the specter of ongoing war and fear and death and weaponized mayhem makes what is happening in Iraq the equivalent of Christmas in August, a smashing success, and a fantastic return on their investment.

The rest: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/25858-the-iraq-war-was-a-smashing-success

Everytown USA: Is the Policeman Your Friend?

Protestors clash with police on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, the night of
Aug. 19, 2014. (Photo: Eric Thayer / The New York Times)

Everytown USA: Is the Policeman Your Friend?
By William Rivers Pitt
Truthout | Op-Ed

Friday 22 August 2014

As the unrest in Ferguson, MO, grinds on, with everyone from the Revolutionary Communist Party to the Klan, to common racist fools like Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher weighing in (permanent has-been/never-was Mr. "Plumber" wants to hold a jobs fair in Ferguson to make the protester "cockroaches" scatter; dog-whistles can be found in a bowl by the door), now is an opportune moment to step back and take stock.

Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot six times by local police officer Darren Wilson. Eyewitness reports say Brown was running away and attempting to surrender after an altercation with Wilson, who ordered Brown and his friend to stop walking in the street. The police say Wilson was attacked by Brown and shot to defend himself. No one has heard from Darren Wilson himself, because he packed up his family and fled Ferguson immediately after the shooting. He is currently nowhere to be found.

The Ferguson police said Brown was the suspect in the robbery of some cigars at a store, and released a grainy security video to prove it. Then they said Officer Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect. Then they said he did know. Then they said, for reasons passing understanding, that Brown had marijuana in his system. Then it came to light that Brown, in fact, paid for his cigars. Meanwhile, with every story switch by the police, the protesters in the street got hotter and angrier and louder. The arrests began, sweeping up journalists along with protesters, along with local citizens just trying to go about their business...

...and that's when this country, and the world, finally got a long, hard look at what a hyper-weaponized military-style United States police force looks like in action. The process of selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of surplus military hardware from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to local police forces has been ongoing for some time now, and with it has come a dramatic spike in police violence against citizens. Ferguson, however, was the first time this country has really seen it in all its armored and intimidating glory since the Occupy protests...but that was in New York City, and those protesters were dangerous radicals, or something.

Ferguson, on the other hand, is Everytown USA, maybe your town, maybe mine. People started wondering if their cops had MRAPs parked somewhere out of sight, sniper rifles and tear gas cannons and sonic rifles stacked and waiting for use. The Ferguson police became national poster children for police excess, and questions finally began to be asked about the wisdom of turning police officers into solders. If you have this stuff, went the thinking, you're going to want to use it. And they did. And they do.


Now that Ferguson has finally brought national attention, along with national reconsideration, of this phenomenon, it is time to ask why we arrived here in the first place.

National and institutional paranoia after 9/11? Certainly. Arms dealers looking to profit from the sale of leftover weapons from Iraq and Afghanistan? Sadly. Racism in the hearts of some officers? Undoubtedly. Poor training? Clearly. The preponderance of a terrifying authoritarian attitude toward citizens? You tell me.

There are, however, two more pieces to the puzzle. If you take an ordinary police officer, slap him in armor and camouflage gear, place highly lethal weapons in his hands, and then tell him his life is in mortal peril from the citizenry he is sworn to protect, even as he is practically invincible in his gear, his adrenaline will explode, and you wind up with guys like Ray Albers. Should police officers be protected? Undeniably. Does turning them into super-soldiers go too far? The evidence speaks for itself. As BuzzFlash columnist Akira Watts sagely noted in a recent commentary, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Finally, the elephant in the room: there are some 330 million guns loose in the United States, more guns than citizens, and every police officer knows this. They are trained to know this, trained to worry about it, and fear it. The hyper-militarization of police forces in the United States is directly proportional to the vast number of guns in the hands of citizens.

In a significant way - thanks to those who advocate for it, those who tolerate it, and those who have given up trying to fix it - the creation and expansion of our gun culture has made this happen. If I were a cop in a squad room, and was told that every person I see might have at least one gun on them, and the math bore that out, which it does, I'd want to go out on patrol dressed like an Abrams tank, as well.

So much to fix, and meanwhile, Michael Brown is dead. There must be answers, there must be justice, and there must be change.

The rest: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/25742-everytown-usa-is-the-policeman-your-friend

Police in the US: Preserving and Protecting Disorder

My trake-away quote from this excellent article: "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Police in the US: Preserving and Protecting Disorder
By Akira Watts
BuzzFlash | Op-Ed

Tuesday 19 August 2014

"The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder."

- Richard J. Daley

It's not terribly controversial to note that, in recent years, increased funding to police, across the country has led to what can only be termed a militarization of police activities. And this militarization just doesn't seem to go all that well. The recent debacle in Ferguson, Missouri is just the latest example. There was tear gas, there were arbitrary detentions of journalists, there was a freaking no fly zone. Things finally ended when the governor of Missouri stepped in to order the local police to stand down.

You could call this an isolated incident where things spiraled, very quickly, out of control. You would be wrong. While response to the (mostly) peaceful protests following the shooting of an unarmed, African American, 18 year old was noteworthy for its almost cartoonish excess, similar police actions are not uncommon. A similar, if less excessive, police response occurred in Albuquerque, NM, as protesters marched against APD's killing of an unarmed, mentally ill, homeless man who was in the process of surrendering. These protests, while again, not 100% peaceful, were met with disproportionate force. (And, as a cherry atop the whole thing, the APD wrapped up the night by killing yet another person who may or may not have had a weapon. The APD has an impulse control issue.)

But beyond the excessive reactions to public protest, let's take a quick look at the actions that people are actually protesting. It seems as though every few days, there is yet another incident in which a police officer kills a civilian. Often they're minorities. Often they're mentally ill. Rarely does the police action result in much more than a suspension with, of course, pay. And that tends to get people a little worked up, worked up enough to take to the streets, where they are met with police departments exercising their usual restraint.

But why is this happening? In the name of combating terror, massive amounts of funding have been launched at local police departments upwards of $30 billion. Departments used this funding to modernize, expand and, in many cases, start purchasing shiny new military grade equipment. Even before the universe was threatened by the abstract noun of terrorism, military equipment has been flowing to police departments. The 1033 program, begun in 1997, operating under the motto "From Warfighter to Crimefighter," distributes surplus military equipment to police forces. Last year alone, they passed out over $400 million worth. Funny thing about getting lots of money and shiny weaponry: you want to use it as much as you can. And once you're on the money and guns teat, you never want to let go.

The rest: http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/police-in-the-us-preserving-and-protecting-disorder

To Know the Darkness and the Light (on depression and the death of Robin Williams)

Robin Williams, during a tour of 30 cities, backstage before his performance at the Ted Constant
Convocation Center in Norfolk, Va., Oct. 26, 2009. (Photo: Jay Paul / The New York Times)

To Know the Darkness and the Light
By William Rivers Pitt
Truthout | Op-Ed

Friday 15 August 2014

Ye must welcome the phantoms that scream through the night
Take heed to the visions and presences bright
Lest ye waste up your life with the weight of street
In fear of the banshees ye'd happen to meet...

- "Jo'rneyman's Song," Barleyjuice

I know about the darkness. I have seen it, smelled it, tasted it. I have felt it invade me through my pores, had it envelop and encompass every river and sea and valley of me. I have been staggered as it conquers and pillages me, I have choked on the soot of its burning, and I have wept tears of ash as the hoofbeats of its raiders tear my soil and thunder up the road to batter down my gates.

There is that. There is also this:

The wind in the trees. The sun on my skin. The taste of rain. The morning light dappling the ripples on the pond. The swell and crescendo of music. The caress of a lover. The coo of a child. A long embrace. A turn of phrase, a rhyme of verse, a finely-told joke. The taste of chocolate, or whiskey, or wine. The way wildflowers look in Spring, and the leaves in Autumn, the low susurration of snow in Winter, and the cobalt blue aftermath of sunset on Summer nights.

All of these, and so much more, and everything, are electric to me. For as long as I have had memory, the world around me and within me has left me gasping in a way that beggars the word "overwhelmed." I am in a state of perpetual astonishment, because I am wired that way. I came into this world a human tuning fork, humming with the tones surrounding me entirely against my will. I cannot stop it, and would not if given the chance. Mine is wonder, and awe, and I am overtaken by it, as if the air itself is transformed into high waves breaking on the beach. I drown daily, hourly, in minutes and in seconds, I drown in moments, and smile as I sink, because it is beautiful beyond words and space and time.

There is, however, a price. That price is the darkness, bleak and cold and forbidding, and I must make room for it as I also make room for the astonishment, because it comes relentless, remorseless, and it will have its way. When it comes to hold court - and it always comes, and always will - I cling to what is simple and good in this incredibly strange life I have been gifted to live. I hold tight the basics - my wife, my daughter, my family, my friends - and furiously remember that this, too, shall pass. It always does, I tell myself.

It always has, so far.

Such is the bewilderment of bi-polar depression. It is both reaper and reaver, a joyful destroyer, a Technicolor wrecking ball. With one supple hand it gives you the whole wide world that thrums against every nerve and fiber of your being, the world like diamonds dropped on a gilded plate. The other hand is a taloned fist, crusted with old blisters and older blood, and that hand takes. And takes. And takes.

Balance is all. You come to see your life as a long sine wave, all valleys and peaks, which are to be ridden out. Chronic depression has a dreadful way of transforming you into a demented walking contradiction, a deeply empathetic narcissist, at once all-embracing and self-absorbed. You are a thunderstorm, beautiful and terrible, bringing rain to cleanse and restore along with wind and lightning to destroy and scorch. You ride it out. You tame yourself. You learn. You endure.

Most of the time.


Depression is a thief that steals your ability to see the ground under your feet for what it is. You find yourself, instead, lost in a contradictory autobiography, a self-created narrative drafted by demons in a hall of mirrors where all the glass is cracked. It is all too easy to get lost in there, and Robin Williams, like so very many others before him, could not find his way out.

I see the ground under my feet. I know it for what it is. I lose it sometimes, but after many hard years, I know full well how to find it. I have put my malady in the traces, and it plows my fields with a durable reliability I will never not find surprising. When I hear the raiders coming, I brace the gates, and bring the provisions inside the walls, and prevail.

But I know the darkness, and I damn it with curses unspeakable, because it steals people like Robin Williams every day. Even in my wroth, however, I am forced to bless it as well, because it is Janus of two faces, and the other face of the darkness is that great, good, glorious light. It shined so brightly out of Mr. Williams, and out of so many others who bear this burden. It is the price, implacable, utterly immutable. It is what it is.

If you share this with me, you are my brother, my sister, the wind on my skin. You are not alone. Reach for the light, always. It is there. I know. I've seen.

The rest: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/25564-william-rivers-pitt-to-know-the-darkness-and-the-light

My new book with Dahr Jamail, "The Mass Destruction of Iraq," is now available on Amazon


It's an e-book for now, not a traditional book. If you have a Kindle, a tablet or a computer, you can get it if you wish to.

Book description:

As the violence and mayhem in the shattered nation of Iraq once again makes headlines, the George W. Bush-era authors of that nation's ongoing war have taken to the airwaves and the editorial pages in an effort to distance themselves from the carnage and misery their actions have wrought. While they desperately attempt to shove their culpability away from themselves and into the lap of the administration which inherited their folly, The Mass Destruction of Iraq sets the record straight.

In this book, Truthout writers William Rivers Pitt and Dahr Jamail provide the definitive history of what happened to Iraq, why it happened and who is responsible. From Pitt's early reporting on the ultimate motivations behind the Iraq invasion, to Jamail's unembedded reporting from Iraq as the occupation ground on, to the detailed breakdown of every lie we were told to justify this war, and the serial naming of those who had a hand in it, this book is the period at the end of a long, bleeding sentence.

This is why it happened, and this is who is responsible.

(permission to make this post was requested and granted)

The Dumpster Fire of Obama's Moral Authority

President Obama briefs the press on the economy and foreign
policy issues at the White House, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.
(Screengrab via Whitehouse.gov)

The Dumpster Fire of Obama's Moral Authority
By William Rivers Pitt
Truthout | Op-Ed

Thursday 07 August 2014

Whatever lingering moral authority remaining in the administration of President Barack Obama fell to dust last Friday in a news dump that no one, apparently, was expected to pay any attention to.

That's what Friday news dumps are for; you drop the smelliest stories in the late afternoon, when the citizenry is staring out the window at work and waiting for the weekend to begin. Very few people pay attention to the news on the weekends, and by Monday morning, the damning or damaging stories that were dropped on Friday have flowed far down the river to pollute the bay, out of sight and out of mind.

The news dump last Friday, however, was a doozy, and didn't sink from sight in the manner the Obama administration hoped it would. Over the intervening days, a great many people have taken a long, slow burn on remarks made by the president regarding America's use of torture during the so-called "War on Terror."


One is immediately struck by the staggering glibness of using the line "We tortured some folks" to encapsulate a years-long comprehensive international program that tore a great many people to pieces, among them many innocents, to no appreciable gain. The program was used, in no small degree, to extract niblets of highly questionable "intelligence" the previous administration used to justify a war of aggression against Iraq that won them elections and made their friends rich. Along the way, public international knowledge of America's actions destroyed this nation's reputation utterly. They all got away with it.


As bad as the "some folks" gambit was, this, this right here, is where the moral authority of this president and his administration became a dumpster fire. No one has any business blaming President Obama and his administration for the deplorable actions of his predecessor. However, the simple fact of the matter is that all of them swore a public oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. They are required to swear that oath not for the times when defending the Constitution is easy, but for the times when it is hard. Otherwise, the oath itself is pointless.

By citing the fear that came after the attacks of 9/11 - a moment when defending the Constitution and holding to that oath was very, very hard - as a free pass for those who instituted and practiced this program of torture, the president betrayed his oath, just as those who practiced torture betrayed theirs. No one was prosecuted for these crimes, and the "investigations" conducted by this administration into that torture were so piddly and toothless as to be utterly meaningless.


"Not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect," he said. Note this well: that specific remark was not directed at the Republicans, the Tea Party or the "mainstream" news media, all of whom happily went along for the ride back when torture was the hip thing to do. Mr. Obama isn't going to get any static from them on the issue of torture; their hands are grimy with the blood they helped to spill.

No, that line was directed at people like me, and maybe you, and everyone who stood up and shouted from the rafters that torture is wrong, that torture is evil, and the people who did it need to be punished if the United States has even a whiff of a prayer of recovering its morality after so long and cruel and despicable a practice. The torturers are the "real patriots" here, you see, and those of us who stood against them - and will ever do so - are only being "sanctimonious" in our outrage.


Why is the president bending over backwards for what is demonstrably a CIA that has gone dangerously rogue? It might have something to do with the fact that the current CIA Director, John Brennan, was up to his neck in the torture program while a member of the Bush administration, and is now the CIA director because Mr. Obama nominated him. Yes, it just might.

The whole thing reeks of a cover-up, but don't get too sanctimonious about it. They were "patriots," and we were "afraid," and besides, it was just "some folks" who were tortured.

What took place during the long, gruesome practice of torture is a stain on the soul of this nation. President Obama has done nothing to bring those responsible to justice, and has in fact tapped several of the architects, such as Mr. Brennan, for positions of incredible power. On Friday, Mr. Obama chose to soft-pedal the disgrace of torture, called the perpetrators "patriots," and told those of us upset about the whole thing not to be "sanctimonious" in our indignation.

The rest: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/25430-the-dumpster-fire-of-obamas-moral-authority

"My Head Exploded When Obama Sanctimoniously Said, 'We Tortured Some Folks'"

My Head Exploded When Obama Sanctimoniously Said, "We Tortured Some Folks"
By Akira Watts
BuzzFlash | Commentary

Tuesday 05 August 2014


It's not simply that "folks" manages to conflate the man who had a major role in planning the September 11th attacks with a guy unlucky enough to get scooped off a street. And it's not simply that "folks" builds on the foundation of vagueness laid by "some." I mean, "folks" just seems like a small number of people. You wouldn't think "look at all those folks" if you saw a stadium filled with people. Both of those points are troubling, but they don't quite get at the skin-crawling creepiness of the phrase.

It's the juxtaposition of the starkness of the first two words with this middle American jolliness that I find hard to stomach. It tries to soften the blow in an utterly tone-deaf fashion. It doesn't work. It doesn't sound like anything an actual human being would ever say, unless it was immediately followed by said human being unhinging its jaw and swallowing you whole.

But hey at least that wasn't the whole speech, right? Surely that was just a minor glitch. Well, sort of. There was the acknowledgement that, what with torturing folks and all, a line was crossed. Not really the sort of statement that should be necessary; once torture is on the table, any lines there may be have pretty much been carpet bombed out of existence. Never mind that, Obama saying that a line had been crossed was a nice gesture.

So what are we going to do about it? Start with what's been done in the past. "[O]ne of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report." Hmm. "Some." Neat. But never mind the past, the past is dead. What about the future. I mean, torture, right? Prosecutions, jail terms, further investigations all of those are surely in the works?


And then this: "And it's important for us not to feel too sanctimonious about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and were real patriots." This is the point where my exploded head bursts into flames of rage. Let me get this straight. We tortured. A line was crossed. But we shouldn't be all sanctimonious because the people that did it were patriots and under a lot of pressure. Really?

OK. I get that, given that the droolers in Congress would probably object to Obama declaring Ronald Reagan our national saint, even pushing for prosecutions would be a tricky political sell. Understood. And I'm sure that Obama would rather not blow his political capital on the fight that would ensue, since I just know he's saving all that capital up for something super special that will totally knock our socks off. But, after taking prosecutions or any other meaningful response off the table, was there really any need to make excuses for the people who carried out torture? Or, by extension, for those higher up who ordered and justified it?

Don't get sanctimonious? They were under pressure? They're all good patriots? Are you kidding me?

This is America. Go ahead, violate the Geneva Convention. You're under stress and you're all just wonderful, patriotic people. And after it's all over, we'll acknowledge what you did in a way that does its damndest to minimize the stark horror of what we have become.

We're America and we tortured some folks.

The rest: http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/obama-sancitmoniously-said-we-tortured-some-folks
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