Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Apocalypse Numb

I was about two-thirds of the way through Avengers: Infinity War when I realized just how tired I was. Not “tired” as in bored, but “tired” as in exhausted, depleted — maybe even a little depressed. That’s not, for the most part, a qualitative assessment of the movie — for the record, I found it significantly more engaging than the last Avengers film but not nearly as entertaining as the first. Rather, it’s a response to the constant, bludgeoning promise of repeated apocalyptic devastation.

Some say we go to the movies to get away from the problems of everyday life. But what do you do when allegedly escapist entertainment traffics in endless visions of doom and gloom? Just a little over a month ago, I saw alien dinosaur monster thingamabobs lay waste to Tokyo and other cities as they attempted to seize control of the planet in Pacific Rim Uprising. A few months before that, I witnessed a supervillain try to enslave and replace the Earth, in November’s Justice League. Two X-Men movies ago an ancient, godlike Egyptian mutant literally named Apocalypse came back and nearly wiped out civilization. The villains of Transformers: The Last Knight wanted to turn our world into the planet Unicron. That was, I think, the fourth time that someone in the Transformers movies tried to terraform the Earth. Of course, they also tried to do that in Man of Steel, and the first Avengers. By contrast, the bad guy in Avengers: Age of Ultron merely wanted to raise an entire city miles up into the sky so he could drop it down to Earth and destroy all of humanity.

For the moviegoer — or the film critic — who dutifully trudges out to these pictures all year long, the effect is a seemingly ceaseless, soul-eating series of global and cosmic calamities that mostly stopped being bracing or suspenseful or even all that interesting some time ago.

But this is about more than movies. If there’s a boundary in our minds between reality and fiction, visions of cataclysm have begun to obliterate it. Not only are we constantly subjected to end-times scenarios onscreen, we continually face them outside the theater as well — via presidential tweets, responses to presidential tweets (sometimes, our own), screaming news updates, absolutist language across the world, and a constant stream of deeply alarming (and, sadly, often accurate) reporting about all the ways in which our planet and society are totally, irretrievably screwed.

Like I said, I’m tired.

[related_posts post_id_1=”585861″ /]

Apocalyptic stories (as well as post-apocalyptic ones) have been with us forever; as a species, we are uniquely fascinated with our own annihilation. Such tales have, throughout history, served to remind us of our mortality, which in turn has tended to focus human thought and action. This can happen on both the molecular and cultural level. People have ways of helping themselves deal with “the threat of demise,” says psychology professor Jeff Zacks, director of the Dynamic Cognition Lab at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Flicker: Your Brain on Movies. “When you get cues that make it clear that your life could end, you have some mechanisms that kick in.”

Physiologically, threatening circumstances can cause a “fight or flight” (or “stress”) response, when a flood of hormones boosts our heart rates, dilates our pupils, and unleashes stored energy. Such circumstances can also have an impact on a broader, cultural level. “Terror Management Theory,” developed by a group of social psychologists in the 1980s, posits that the fear of death can prompt people to act in ways that bind them closer to others with whom they share certain values — or, as one of the authors of the initial study once put it, “to maintain faith in their own culture’s beliefs and to follow the culture’s paths to an enduring significance that will outlast their own physical death.” That can, of course, be a mixed bag, as it also leads to increased tribalism and heightened prejudice against those who think, look, or act differently.

But surely made-up stories about the apocalypse and actual apocalyptic beliefs or threats are two totally different things? Yes and no. Zacks points to what psychologists call the “sleeper effect,” which posits that exposure to a message, even when you know it’s bogus, can over time still persuade you. The idea was developed during World War II, with draftees who were shown scenes from Frank Capra’s government-financed wartime documentary series Why We Fight. The soldiers were initially highly skeptical of the film, recognizing it as propaganda. When questioned some weeks later, however, they were a lot more convinced of the truth of its message; they had retained the point, but had forgotten its dubious origins.

The sleeper effect suggests a potentially troubling truth about the human mind: Our brains have to work harder than we realize to distinguish between fiction and reality. “Wordsworth had this idea that to appreciate literature we had to engage in a willing suspension of disbelief,” Zacks explains. “But it’s actually the opposite: As humans, we have to engage in a willing suspension of belief.” He tells me that as humanity evolved, “we got really good at being able to populate our models of the world with information from disparate sources. I can get a sense of what’s happening around me not just from cues that I observe, but from information you tell me. So, if story-like stuff gets into our brains, we have to treat it as part of the environment. We have to work harder to make it clear to ourselves that it’s fictional. Of course we can distinguish between reality and a movie — but it’s harder than we realize.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”576676″ /]

Does that partly explain my exhaustion? Or the elevated rhetoric we hear on seemingly every issue of controversy? It’s not like I now think that the Battle of Sokovia is a real thing that actually happened, or that the armies of Chitauri that invaded New York through a wormhole in Avengers are now part of the historical record — but somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, I feel like I’m living in the midst of an ongoing cataclysm, one in which CGI images of a ruined world have joined forces with constant headlines about rogue nuclear states and a dying planet to produce a sense of numb, dead-eyed helplessness.

During the closing days of the 2016 election, Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson, co-author of How to Survive the Apocalypse, took a look at the seemingly nonstop cycles of cataclysmic hysteria on both the left and the right. Remember, that campaign was seen as the Flight 93 election by some on the right, the final chance to save a doomed country. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric took things to a whole new level. But the left also used such absolute imagery for its own ends. Wilkinson noted that the “apocalyptic tenor…[is] pervasive in American political rhetoric.” It can sometimes even be used for positive ends, since “apocalypse” means more than destruction; Wilkinson points out that the original Greek word, apokalypsis, also means “the dismantling of perceived realities — an ending of endings, a shocking tremor of revelation that [remakes] creation in its wake.”

Of course, Americans have tended to view the present in such dire terms almost since the founding of the country, says Alison McQueen, a Stanford professor of political science and the author of Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times. “The Puritans thought they were literally escaping the Antichrist and founding a New Jerusalem,” she explains. Over the years, she notes, such language has been a persistent feature of our political speech; Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan have not been unique in their extensive use of it. “At its best,” McQueen wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2016, “the tradition of apocalyptic rhetoric in the United States has sought to unite rather than divide…to rouse citizens to confront injustices in which they may themselves be implicated — from slavery to environmental catastrophe.”

But over the past couple of decades, this sort of rhetoric has become relentless, finding easy purchase in a culture whose growing fondness for overstatement is matched only by its blistering capacity for amplification. McQueen notes that after the events of 9-11, George W. Bush became quite fond of apocalyptic rhetoric; in his second inaugural address in 2005, he referred to the attack as a “day of fire,” and spoke of the liberating power of “the untamed fire of freedom.” But the “apocalyptic mirror-game,” as the feminist theologian Catherine Keller called it, existed on both the left and the right in the wake of 9-11 — in part because it offered an opportunity to eschew complexity in favor of indignant certainty. Was this terror management kicking in, triaging such energy-depleting things as nuance and humanity in an effort to deal with a perceived existential threat?

[related_posts post_id_1=”44206″ /]

As Bush launched multiple wars, our political discourse continued to become a zero-sum game of absolute good and evil, with the fate of the planet and human civilization metaphorically hanging in the balance in every election or policy debate. Since then, the drumbeat of imminent cataclysm has not relented, as everything from the 2008 financial crisis to the rise of ISIS to the Ebola outbreak of 2014–16 has been consumed and processed through the rhetoric of world-ending catastrophe. Overwhelmed by it as we all are, it’s hard sometimes to understand when such fervor is justified. There’s certainly unrelenting real-world horrors on a massive scale: Ebola killed thousands around the world, and would have killed millions more were it not for the heroic efforts of doctors, aid workers, and many others. The wars in the Middle East have destroyed cities and upended — and ended — countless lives. Meanwhile, there is a very real chance that the Pacific Northwest will be devastated in our lifetimes by an immense earthquake. And then, you know, there’s the other thing.

Still, one person’s very real apocalypse is another person’s overreaction: I admit, I did give a bitter chuckle a couple of months ago at an op-ed declaring that apocalyptic language in the gun debate was uncalled for upon seeing that it was written by Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter generally credited with the “day of fire” inaugural, as well as some of the former president’s more biblically inflected pronouncements. (For the record, U.S. gun deaths in 2017 claimed five times the number of lives that 9-11 did.)

In some senses, our cultural products are merely reflecting the anxiety of the times. “Hollywood picks up, in a semi-Jungian way, whatever is going on in the culture and transmits it back to us in all kinds of strange scenarios,” says Dr. Harvey Roy Greenberg, a psychoanalyst and journalist, and the author of Screen Memories: Hollywood Cinema on the Psychoanalytic Couch. Obviously, there have been entries in the cataclysmic canon since the dawn of cinema; the 1950s and ’60s saw monster movies that echoed anxieties about the nuclear age in the U.S. and abroad. In the 1990s, advances in computer graphics breathed new life into the disaster movie — especially ones in which the destruction was caused by the vicissitudes of nature (who can forget the competing volcano movies of 1997, Dante’s Peak and Volcano?), the indifferent cruelty of random astronomical phenomena (who can forget the competing asteroid movies of 1998, Armageddon and Deep Impact?), or the nebulous motivations of unfriendly extraterrestrials (who can forget the competing alien invasion movies of 1996, Independence Day and Mars Attacks!?).

Even so, much as it did in the political realm, 9-11 represented a major inflection point in Hollywood’s growing love affair with the apocalypse, as the movies rediscovered the box-office power and cultural impact of evil itself, often abstracted into fantasy or supervillainy. Greenberg evokes the Freudian concept of “narcissistic injury”: “We keep ourselves going by our deepest feelings about who we are in the world, and an assault is anything that harms our core belief in who we are — whether it’s the parent who slaps you, or Osama bin Laden. All human development has evolved to protect that sense of self. And 9-11 was a red-hot pipe plunged into the center of the American self.”

I’m dwelling on 9-11 a lot. In many ways, it continues to feed the apocalyptic thinking that has overwhelmed our culture. (The Marvel movies, by the way, understand this; their constant references to “the Battle of New York” from the first Avengers evoke the impact of 9-11.) Maybe because the wars that were launched in the wake of 9-11 never really ended, we never really got the period of pause and reflection that’s required to process all that we’ve lived through. Maybe the imagery just proved too powerful, too profitable, too alluring. In the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we all wondered how mere entertainment could possibly matter when held up against the horror of that time. And yet, not long after, audiences were ready to welcome epic, elemental battles between the forces of light and dark for the fate of the world.

[related_posts post_id_1=”560127″ /]

And the movies delivered. Fortuitously, many of the films that would come to rule our future were already waiting in the wings. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was starting its press rollout in advance of the December release of the first installment, and would soon be garlanded with awards and acclaim, treated with the kind of reverence generally reserved for historical monuments. The first Harry Potter movie would hit in November of 2001. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, one of the movies to inaugurate the age of the superhero movie, had been shot, but not yet released. (The studio famously erased the image of the World Trade Center from its advertising; I still have an old poster with the Twin Towers reflected in Spidey’s eyes.) Soon, it was all good and evil, and absolutes, and the end of the world — in theaters, on TV, in the papers. And it doesn’t appear to have stopped. None of these film series ended. Even the ones that ended came back. We got three more Hobbit films, and we’re now getting a Lord of the Rings TV show. The Potterverse won’t go away. There are going to be Star Wars movies every year for the rest of our goddamn lives.

I don’t think that we were wrong to have embraced these films. Shared horror like 9-11 does demand metaphors of appropriate immensity, consequence, and universality. We escape into fantasy that seems somehow significant. It may well be reflections of a societal “stress response” — humanity as an organism, responding to the threat of collapse by focusing its attention and looking for something greater than itself, which of course includes cultural products.

However, there’s something else to know about the stress response: Its power to protect us only really works in short bursts. If it’s repeated and sustained for too long, it results in exhaustion and paralysis. That would explain the paradox at the heart of my dilemma — the fact that even as I feel a constant sense of anxiety about the fate of the world around me, I am increasingly numb to the imagery and rhetoric of collapse, even bored by it. Indeed, there’s an ongoing debate in the environmental community about whether all the cataclysmic language around climate change might be counterproductive when it comes to convincing people to do something to combat it.

And what about this issue of terror management? As noted earlier, all that apocalyptic language and rhetoric may well be feeding various bigotries, pushing like toward like, balkanizing our society into warring clusters of cultural uniformity. Not to mention making us susceptible to the cynical promises of opportunistic demagogues — scaring the shit out of people is a good way to get them to give up their freedoms and accrue power, and it’s hard not to feel that the relentless heightened rhetoric all around the world has sent so many democracies to willingly drift into the arms of corrupt, ridiculous strongmen and wannabe savior-gods. And maybe — just maybe — the nagging sense of incipient cataclysm we feel in real life is being fed, albeit subconsciously, by repeated visions of the apocalypse on our screens and elsewhere in our cultural products.

Where does that leave the movies? Beyond the multiplex, some filmmakers are wrestling with the realities of apocalyptic obsession. Paul Schrader’s upcoming First Reformed follows a troubled priest (played by Ethan Hawke) who counsels a young parent-to-be reluctant to bring a child into a fallen, dying world; soon, the priest himself becomes consumed with the poisoning of the planet. Tense, grim, and electrifying, the film tackles these issues of helplessness, exhaustion, and despair head-on — and finds no easy answers. Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here also gives us a soul on the edge — an abused man (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who has fought in America’s overseas wars, then served in law enforcement, and now works to save kidnapped children from enslavement. The film isn’t ostensibly about any kind of doomsday, and yet, as I watch it, the protagonist’s soul-corroding anxiety and quest for oblivion feels both personal and cultural — an intimate apocalypse of sorts. Both films testify to the fact that movies need not hammer viewers with spectacle to speak to the horror of our times. Meanwhile, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, for all its cute talking pups, is effectively an allegory of genocide, plague, and political calamity.

And believe it or not, for all my cry-uncle exhaustion during Infinity War, I was impressed that the film’s most tragic moments came quietly, mournfully. That gave me momentary hope that even the Marvel movies might be starting to move away from the mind-numbing grandiosity of onscreen devastation. Of course, that’s a silly hope. Loud CGI spectacle is what Hollywood does best, and it’s one of the few things that the global audience still looks to American movies to provide. Besides, there’s a new Jurassic World coming, and the next Avengers has already been shot.

To those of us who grew up during the Cold War, with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over us, fears of the end are nothing new. But when we were presented with images of global calamity during the years it seemed imminent, it rarely felt so casual, disposable. (Well, most of the time.) There’s a reason why Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick’s satire about the end of the world, has endured — it was a chilling, magnificent outlier, an alien presence that dared to laugh at the prospect of humanity getting wiped out. And in so doing, it reinforced the situation’s gravity.

Today, however, references to the end aren’t what we use to convey urgency and gravity; they’re merely part of the landscape now. Meanwhile, competing blockbusters play games of one-upmanship, raising the stakes so that each catastrophe is bigger than the last. But in so doing, they are again merely mirroring the culture at large — a culture in which such language and imagery have been debased. The apocalypse is now a punch line, and a tired one at that.

 

Click here to sign up for our weekly film and TV newsletter.

Categories
NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

How NYC Is Commemorating the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 This Weekend

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and New York City’s official commemoration events will honor those who lost their lives that day.

Here are some remembrance ceremonies and memorials occurring around the city from Friday through September 11.

NYPD 9/11 PARADE: The NYPD is holding the first annual remembrance day parade to honor the 23 officers who lost their lives on 9/11, and those who died following the attacks of cancer and other 9/11-related illnesses. The parade will be held Friday, September 9, from noon to 3 p.m. beginning near the Wall Street Bull on Broadway in Lower Manhattan and ending at the NYPD’s Police Memorial Wall near Liberty Street and South End Avenue, where a memorial service will be held.

9/11 MEMORIAL LIVE STREAM: The 15th anniversary commemoration ceremony at the World Trade Center site will be broadcast live on the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s website from 8:46 a.m., beginning at the time when the first place crashed into the World Trade Center.

NEW YORK CITY FIRE MUSEUM MEMORIAL: The service held at the museum on Sunday will honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the attacks. The memorial begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. at the FDNY Museum’s 278 Spring Street location.

ST. PAUL’S CHAPEL: The small church located across the street from the World Trade Center offered rescue workers a place to recover in the days following 9/11. The annual tradition begins at 8:46 a.m. when Rev. Dr. William Lupfor will ring the Bell of Hope in four sets of five rings in remembrance of the fallen. There will be an additional ceremony at 3:30 p.m. commemorating the workers who lost their lives because of the attacks.

Bell of Hope
Bell of Hope

TRIBUTE IN LIGHT: On Sunday, beginning at sunset, the twin beams of light symbolizing the fallen Twin Towers will illuminate the city’s skyline from Ground Zero and will be visible within a 60-mile radius until they fade at dawn. Anyone who wishes to view the Tribute in Light up close can visit the 9/11 Memorial plaza, open to the public from 3 p.m. to midnight.

ESPLANADE & POSTCARDS: The outdoor sculpture in the St. George neighborhood of the Staten Island near the Ferry Terminal honors the 275 Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the tragedy. Granite plaques with names and birthdays of victims line the inside of the sculpture’s two white marble wings, standing 30 feet tall meant to represent postcards to loved ones. It is the first major 9/11 memorial completed in the city, framing the location where the towers stood. A memorial ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, and the memorial is open all day to the public.

Postcards Memorial in Staten Island
Postcards Memorial in Staten Island

 

Categories
NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Giuliani’s New Ad for Lhota Reuses Lines From His 2008 Presidential Bid

In a new TV ad, Rudy Giuliani ladles praise on his mayoral disciple. “Joe Lhota is New York,” he says, as images flash of Lhota’s life as a born-and-raised New Yorker. It’s the first official campaign stamp from Lhota’s old boss, whom he served as a deputy mayor and liaison to Washington. But the argument Rudy makes for Lhota’s candidacy is one of self-plagiarism, in which he posits the candidate (and, in turn, himself) as “running the city” during 9/11–much to the dismay of Lhota’s rivals. Ugh, do we have to go back to 2008?

You might remember this little tidbit in the lead-up to the Democratic and Republican primaries in late 2007. To much applause and laughter, then-Senator Smokin’ Joe Biden captured the essence of Rudy’s campaign in three words: “a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” Maybe it was Giuliani putting all his money into winning Florida, but the Republican frontrunner at the time would soon falter under the weight of Biden’s sharp observation.

Of course, for good reason. In a column titled “Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11,” former Voice heavyweight Wayne Barrett highlights quotes from the old mayor’s 2008 campaign that focus on the theme he’s now projecting onto Lhota. The similarities are almost too easy. For example:

“Every effort was made by Mayor Giuliani and his staff to ensure the safety of all workers at Ground Zero.”

“Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us.”

“I don’t think there was any place in the country, including the federal government, that was as well prepared for that attack as New York City was in 2001.”

“I think the thing that distinguishes me on terrorism is, I have more experience dealing with it.”

The last talking point here resounds all too clearly with Rudy’s opening line in the new ad, where he says, “In these uncertain times, only one candidate for mayor has already proven he’s ready–Joe Lhota.” He later describes him as “one of the most effective leaders in my administration.”

The thematic transplant from 2008 to 2013 ties together Rudy and Joe in a different way, too. Just as Quinn falls under Bloomberg’s shadow, the criticism here is that these two candidates for mayor will extend the same policies of their designated forerunners. But, as this ad shows, Lhota wants to move beyond that and adapt basically the same campaign strategy as Rudy–something Quinn is financially and thematically unable to do with Bloomberg.

Should someone tell Lhota that Giuliani’s strategy failed in 2008? Eh, he’ll find out on his own.

Categories
Living NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Bless My Bars, 30 More Subway Stations Are Getting WiFi!

We’ve been hearing whispers of this for months, but today New Yorkers’ ability to tweet in transit expanded dramatically. Governor Cuomo has formally announced that 30 subway stations are getting wireless voice and data service, putting the grand total of stations with WiFi capability at 36.

“This goes beyond providing cell service underground. It brings our customers a new level of security–with the ability to dial 911 in an emergency,” the governor said in a statement. “Customers now know that when they see something, they can now say something using their device to call 911. And now with all the major carriers on board, the vast majority of MTA customers will have the ability to do so.”

Representatives from Verizon and Sprint were also at the press conference, which took place in Times Square. Both are en route to participating in the network, which will now include all four major carriers. Transit Wireless, the company that’s been working with the MTA to bring wireless underground, plans to bring service to 40 more stations in the first quarter of 2014–and eventually, all 277 stations across the city.

You can check out the full list of stations with WiFi capability below. Grindr is about to get a lot more interesting.

[@sydbrownstone][sbrownstone@villagevoice.com]

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New York State Senator Throws Tantrum on CNN, Still Thinks We Should Torture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Two days before the federal government filed charges against Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, New York State Senator Greg Ball jumped on news of the teenager’s capture and recommended spicing up traditional due process. On Saturday, the lawmaker suggested that authorities torture Tsarnaev. Yes, torture, illegal under international law.

On Sunday, Ball released a statement, doubling down on the tweet. “Is ‘torture’ ever justified in the war against terror, if it can save lives?” he asked. “I am not shy in joining those who say yes, and I believe we must give those tasked with protecting us every constitutional and effective tool to do so.” But while the lawmaker has appeared in several interviews righteously supporting this case, a new report on US interrogation techniques on detainees in the wake of 9/11 doesn’t.

On Monday, Ball took on five interviews, including Fox News and CNN with Piers Morgan. On CNN, Ball blew up at Morgan when questioned about how the state senator might torture Tsarnaev.

“Would you play cards with Osama bin Laden? What would you do?” Ball asked. “Maybe I should have said it in a British accent,” he added, pointing out the CNN presenter’s lilt.

“Can you stop being such a jerk?” Morgan asked. “Seriously, I invited you onto my show because you tweeted this to the world.”

“Why? Because you don’t have another bobble head that you can beat up and treat like a coward?” Ball quipped in response. You can watch the exchange below.

And yet. One of the major stories that slipped past the media radar last week was the release of a nearly 600-page report from the Constitution Project detailing how the United States engaged in the torture of detainees after 9/11. While the report confirmed that it was “indisputable” that the US tortured prisoners, it also highlighted the fact that torture may not have even worked to gain information or prevent atrocities.

ProPublica has the tidy summary:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others have claimed that abusive treatment saved “thousands of American lives.” But the report found no evidence that torture itself was actually useful. As Obama’s former National Director of Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair wrote, as quoted in the report, “There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”

“As a red-blooded American, I said, who out there, if it would save an innocent American life, wouldn’t use torture? I for one, would,” Ball told Morgan before he left the interview early.

And if it didn’t save lives? Ball’s in Ball’s court. (Eh heh.)

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

*UPDATE: Judge Allows Censor of Testimony* Censorship Ruling Expected at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Military Tribunal Hearing

[UPDATE]: Testimony at the 9/11 military tribunal trial at Guantanamo Bay will be subject to censorship, according to court documents released yesterday.

Judge Col. James Pohl ruled last week that the testimony of the defendants, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, could contain information that will compromise its War on Terror.

Pohl will allow a forty-second audio-delay — for the media and other observers — to remain in place, and security officers will have the authority to muffle out any testimony they deem to be “classified.”

“The Commission is acutely aware of its twin responsibilities of insuring the transparency of the proceeding while at the same instance preserving the interests of national security,” Pohl wrote in his decision released yesterday. “The brief delay is the least intrusive and least disruptive method of meeting both responsibilities.”

The ACLU and a coalition of 14 major news organizations challenged the government’s request to censor testimony from Mohammed and the other alleged perpetrators. The government filed its protective order amid concerns that the defendants might reveal information about their time at Guantanamo that could be detrimental to national security.

“We’re profoundly disappointed by the military judge’s decision, which didn’t even address the serious First Amendment issues at stake here,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a release. “The government wanted to ensure that the American public would never hear the defendants’ accounts of illegal CIA torture, rendition and detention, and the military judge has gone along with that shameful plan.”

The ACLU argued at a pre-trial hearing in October that the public already has abundant access to detailed accounts of the various torture tactics used on the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

“The decision undermines the government’s claim that the military commission system is transparent and deals a grave blow to its legitimacy,” Shamsi said.

[ORIGINAL]: The military tribunal — where alleged 9-11 master-mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9-11conspirators will be tried — is expected to rule at a pre-trial hearing today on the government’s request to censor testimony.

The government filed the motion back in April, requesting that the court implement a 40-second tape-delay in the audio-feed from which news reporters and select observers will listen to the proceedings. It argues that the tape delay will ensure that classified information, regarding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program at Guantanamo Bay, is not released to the public.

The ACLU and a coalition of 14 media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters, have filed separate motions to block the censorship.

Anytime the defendants mention their experiences in detainment, the 40-second delay will allow the court to mute the testimony. In its motion, the ACLU argued that the censorship was pointless because there’s already tons of information available to the public that details specifically what the now illegal interrogation program consisted of.

“That delay renders the proceedings presumptively closed by withholding from the public, media, and observers, at the press of a button, any access to detainees’ personal accounts of their detention and mistreatment,” the motion states.

The ACLU cites, among many sources, a 2005 report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which Mohammed and the four other defendants describe how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. The report gives detailed information about the more brutal torture techniques used on terror suspects including sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, beatings, forced shavings and water-boarding.

The government argues that even though classified information has leaked to the public, it’s still classified. It also argues that there’s no way to know what the defendants might reveal that could jeopardize the country’s fight against terror.

“Because the Government cannot predict whether the Accused intends to disclose classified information at [the] arraignment or during subsequent public proceedings in this case, the Government requests that the Military Judge immediately implement the protective measures set forth in the proposed Protective Order,” according to the government’s motion.

According to First Amendment precedent, the government bears the burden of proving that the potential release of classified information during the trial will cause a serious threat to National Security. The ACLU argues that many of the interrogation techniques are no longer legal and already well-known, so testimony detailing that information couldn’t be considered a threat to the country’s counter-terrorism operations.

The ACLU requests that if the court does accept the government’s motion for an audio-delay, uncensored transcripts should be made available to the public and the media in an expedient manner. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, argues that such a restraint of First Amendment rights only serves to further undermine the credibility of military tribunals.

The Obama administration originally called for Mohammed to be tried in Manhattan Federal Court, but heavy backlash and costly security measures, led to the decision to move the trial to Guantanamo Bay. Many critics have called into question the fairness of military tribunals.

“There is an ongoing public debate about the fairness and transparency of the Guantanamo military commissions, and if the government succeeds in imposing its desired censorship regime, the commissions will certainly not be seen as legitimate,” Shamsi said in a release.

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Plight of the West Village Blackout Victim: West Villagers Sound Off

Yesterday, we published an article about a support group that has been set up by a West Village resident who claims he suffered “acute stress disorder” after he was left helpless and without power for five whole days following Hurricane Sandy.

This West Village victim — who apparently called into NY1 at the height of his trauma — compares his struggle to cope with the horrors of having no electricity for nearly a week with what people went through after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also thinks I’m an “asshole.”

Barry Drogin — whom I contacted yesterday to find out what, exactly, his support group entailed — never called me back. But he took to the comment section of the post we published yesterday to vent about his struggle with darkness. Some of his neighbors sounded off, too.

Drogin’s comment:

I was not traumatized by five whole days of no electricity, you assholes. If you know anything about real trauma, you know it is caused by a moment of supreme emotional distress caused by a single moment of witnessing or experiencing something traumatic. For me it occurred at around 10:30pm on Friday night, November 2, 6 hours before my neighborhood had power restored.

Your idiotic assumption, and the assumption of all the other assholes that have posted so far on your blog page, is that everyone in the Far West Village are rich Eurotrash or coop-owning hedge fund managers. Surprise, surprise, there are original tenants here who are not young, good-looking and rich, and who haven’t been pushed out yet.

After 9/11 I was mercilessly pilloried on-line by the “truth” movement.  I stood up to them and I’ll stand up to you.  Go ahead, tell me that the insomnia I have been experiencing for 10 days, the lack of appetite, the inability to remember what I was thinking 5 seconds ago, isn’t real. Call me a drama queen for seeking help for myself and others who have already contacted me. Tell me to see a psychiatrist as I wait for the $900 initial consultation that was “fit in” a week after I requested it.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t all own smartphones with data plans and instant messaging.

If you had one-tenth of the guts I had, you would publish your real names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses like I did. My life is an open book. Forfend you should actually visit my website and learn about who I am before posting your garbage. It is so easy to be hard.

As to James King, who is too incompetent to even set up his answering machine, I had to take two days off from work to deal with my exhaustion from sleeplessness. On Monday I returned to work – sorry that your imagined story was too tempting to write without confirmation, and thanks for not providing an evening phone number to reach you, but I’m sure you were just trolling for more tidbits to sprinkle into your little laughfest. I’ve been reading The Village Voice cover to cover since 1978. Apparently the new staff of the “village” voice assumes that everyone in the original village is gone and been replaced by yuppies.

So here’s the challenge, you social media whores and gutless wonders. Don’t respond without ending the way I am now.

Barry Drogin

212-243-8784

Another West Village victim — this one anonymous — also chimed in:

In printing this mierda, the Village Voice has made itself suitable only for making cat litter. And to the people who commented here who are without empathy for the residents of the West Village, congratulations. You have revealed yourselves as sociopaths. Now everybody knows who you are.

As did a former West Villager, who thankfully was spared the hardship of five entire days without electricity:

have not lived in NYC since 1989, was born and raised there, just tells me the west village has not changed, only concerned about themselves and their little village world. Too bad!

But Cynthia Diaz summed it up the best:

White people.

As we mentioned yesterday, people in Staten Island, the Rockaways, New Jersey, and Long Island are currently living in what resembles a war zone. But who cares about them — let’s get these West Village heroes the help they desperately need.

Visit Drogin’s website, on which he has dedicated an entire section to the trauma of living without electricity for five whole days.

Categories
NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Federal Pension Lawsuit Expanded For All City Workers Called to Military Duty After 9/11

All city workers called to military duty after 9/11 will be represented in a lawsuit to recover unpaid pension funds.

In early August, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of three retired NYPD officers seeking to recoup pension funds they would’ve earned had they not been called to active duty.

Bharara announced the expansion of the lawsuit yesterday. The original lawsuit argues that the New York City Police Pension Fund failed to calculate the amount of money officers would’ve have made in overtime and other bonus earnings if the military hadn’t mandated their service.

“As we said when we filed our class action lawsuit on behalf of retired NYPD officers who were called to active duty after 9/11, we are committed to ensuring that all retired City employees who selflessly and bravely served our country since 9/11 receive the benefits to which they are legally entitled,” Bharara said in a release.

“Since the lawsuit was filed we have received dozens of inquiries from veterans who worked in other City agencies, prompting the expansion of our investigation,” he said.

]

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed the original lawsuit on Aug. 2 on behalf of former NYPD officers David Goodman, Michael Doherty and Robert Black. The suit looks closely at the rate of overtime and night-shift compensation the officers received 12 or so months prior to their call to duty, according to court documents obtained by the Voice.

The officers say their current pension payments only incorporate base-salary earnings for that time, which the lawsuit argues is a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Goodman, who retired from the NYPD in 2009, was called to duty by the U.S. Army Reserves four times following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — where he served in both
Afghanistan and Iraq.

Doherty was called to U.S. Coast Guard Reserves multiple times, including one three year stint in Afghanistan from 2004-2007. Black, who joined NYPD in 1984, also served active duty relating to the war in Afghanistan for the U.S. Coast Guard, documents say.

“The purpose of this lawsuit is to ensure that soldiers remain on the same footing as their civilian counterparts and receive all the benefits to which they are entitled, and, that they are not penalized for their service by the unlawful calculation of those benefits,” Bharara said. “Each and every City employee who was called to active military service is entitled to have his or her pension calculated consistent with USERRA.”

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Censorship Ruling Expected at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Military Tribunal Hearing

The military tribunal — where alleged 9-11 master-mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9-11 conspirators will be tried — is expected to rule at a pre-trail hearing today on the government’s request to censor testimony.

The government filed the motion back in April, requesting that the court implement a 40-second tape-delay in the audio-feed from which news reporters and select observers will listen to the proceedings. It argues that the tape delay will ensure that classified information, regarding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program at Guantanamo Bay, is not released to the public.

The ACLU and a coalition of 14 media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters, have filed separate motions to block the censorship.

Anytime the defendants mention their experiences in detainment, the 40-second delay will allow the court to mute the testimony. In its motion, the ACLU argued that the censorship was pointless because there’s already tons of information available to the public that details specifically what the now illegal interrogation program consisted of.

“That delay renders the proceedings presumptively closed by withholding from the public, media, and observers, at the press of a button, any access to detainees’ personal accounts of their detention and mistreatment,” the motion states.

The ACLU cites, among many sources, a 2005 report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which Mohammed and the four other defendants describe how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. The report gives detailed information about the more brutal torture techniques used on terror suspects including sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, beatings, forced shavings and water-boarding.

The government argues that even though classified information has leaked to the public, it’s still classified. It also argue that there’s no way to know what the defendants might reveal that will jeopardize the country’s fight against terror.

“Because the Government cannot predict whether the Accused intends to disclose classified information at [the] arraignment or during subsequent public proceedings in this case, the Government requests that the Military Judge immediately implement the protective measures set forth in the proposed Protective Order,” according to the government’s motion.

According to First Amendment precedent, the government bears the burden of proving that the potential release of classified information during the trial will cause a serious threat to National Security. The ACLU argues that many of the interrogation techniques are no longer legal and already well-known, so testimony detailing that information couldn’t be considered a threat to the country’s counter-terrorism operations.

The ACLU requests that if the court does accept the government’s motion for an audio-delay, uncensored transcripts should be made available to the public and the media in an expedient manner. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, argues that such a restraint of First Amendment rights only serves to further undermine the credibility of military tribunals.

The Obama administration originally called for Mohammed to be tried in Manhattan Federal Court, but heavy backlash and costly security measures, led to the decision to move the trial to Guantanamo Bay. Many critics have called into question the fairness of military tribunals.

“There is an ongoing public debate about the fairness and transparency of the Guantanamo military commissions, and if the government succeeds in imposing its desired censorship regime, the commissions will certainly not be seen as legitimate,” Shamsi said in a release.

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Mitt Romney’s Remarkably Political Non-Political 9/11 Speech: A Translation

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney vowed yesterday to keep the anniversary of the September 11, terrorist attacks non-political — no attack ads, no rhetoric, etc.

“There is a time and place for that, but this day is not it,” Romney said yesterday.

Romney, it turns out, was full of shit.

Despite his statement, the candidate then gave a politically charged speech — without actually mentioning President Barack Obama — in which he seemed to try and make up for the fact that he didn’t mention the military even once during his address at the Republican National Convention last month. Below, we’ll translate the more political aspects of Romney’s non-political 9/11 speech.

Romney: “Our armed forces have been stretched to the brink, and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild. We can always find places to end waste. But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide.”

Translation: Barack Obama wants to gut the military. I want to give soldiers everything they need. Vote for me! Vote for me!

Romney: “The backlog of disability claims needs to be eliminated, the unconscionable waits for mental health treatment need to be dramatically shortened, and the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers and veterans must be treated like the emergency it is.”

Translation: Barack Obama doesn’t care about our soldiers after they come home from war. Vote for me! Vote for me!

Romney: “America must lead the free world” and “demonstrate confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in the application of our military might.”

Translation: Barack Obama hates America and wants to cut deals with Russia while in the safety of a second term. Vote for me! Vote for me!

Romney: “I wish I could say the world is less dangerous now…[but] we live in a time of turbulence and disruption.”

Translation: People want to kill us and Barack Obama can’t keep you as safe as I can. Vote for me! Vote for me!

Here’s a tip for anyone attempting to make a non-political speech: don’t make it political.