The River

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When I saw the previews for Iron Man, I thought it looked like military porn, so when I heard it had an "anti-war" message, I was skeptical. I mean, the guy makes himself into an evil-looking piece of military hardware. I have no intention of seeing it, so I can't talk knowledgeably about anything beyond a few clips, but Nick Turse can:

Torturing Iron Man
The Strange Reversals of a Pentagon Blockbuster

by Nick Turse,


Robert Downey Jr. has been nearly universally praised for a winning performance as playboy-billionaire-merchant-of-death-genius-inventor Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, a fictional version of Lockheed or Boeing. In the film, Stark travels to Afghanistan to showcase a new weapon of massive destruction to American military commanders occupying that country. On a Humvee journey through the Afghan backlands, his military convoy is caught up in a deadly ambush by al-Qaeda stand-ins, who capture him and promptly subject him to what Vice President Dick Cheney once dubbed “a dunk in the water,” but used to be known as “the Water Torture.” The object is to force him to build his Jericho weapons system, one of his “masterpieces of death,” in their Tora Bora-like mountain cave complex.

As practically everyone in the world already knows, Stark instead builds a prototype metal super-suit and busts out of his cave of confinement, slaughtering his terrorist captors as he goes. Back in the U.S., a born-again Stark announces that his company needs to get out of the weapons game, claiming he has “more to offer the world than making things blow up.” Yet, what he proceeds to build is, of course, a souped-up model of the suit he designed in the Afghan cave. Back inside it, as Iron Man, he then uses it to “blow up” bad guys in Afghanistan, taking on the role of a kind of (super-)human-rights vigilante. He even tangles with U.S. forces in the skies over that occupied land, but when the Air Force’s sleek, ultra high-tech, F-22A Raptors try to shoot him down, he refrains from using his awesome powers of invention to blow them away. This isn’t the only free pass doled out to the U.S. military in the film.

Just as America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to bring various Vietnam analogies to mind, Iron Man has its own Vietnam pedigree. Before Tony Stark landed in Afghanistan in 2008, he first lumbered forth in Vietnam in the 1960s. That was, of course, when he was still just the clunky hero of the comic book series on which the film is based. Marvel’s metal man then battled that era’s American enemies of choice: not al-Qaedan-style terrorists, but communists in Southeast Asia.

Versions of the stereotypical evil Asians of Iron Man’s comic book world would appear almost unaltered on the big screen in 1978 in another movie punctuated by gunfire and explosions that also garnered great reviews. The Deer Hunter, an epic of loss and horror in Vietnam, eventually took home four Academy Awards, including Best Picture honors. Then, and since, however, the movie has been excoriated by antiwar critics for the way it turned history on its head in its use of reversed iconic images that seemingly placed all guilt for death and destruction in Vietnam on America’s enemies.

Most famously, it appropriated a then-unforgettable Pulitzer prize-winning photo of Lt. Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s national police chief, executing an unarmed, bound prisoner during the Tet Offensive with a point blank pistol shot to the head. In the film, however, it was the evil enemy which made American prisoners do the same to themselves as they were forced to play Russian Roulette for the amusement of their sadistic Vietnamese captors (something that had no basis in reality).

The film Iron Man is replete with such reversals, starting with the obvious fact that, in Afghanistan, it is Americans who have imprisoned captured members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban (as well as untold innocents) in exceedingly grim conditions, not vice-versa. It is they who, like Tony Stark, have been subjected to the Bush administration’s signature “harsh interrogation technique.” While a few reviewers have offhandedly alluded to the eeriness of this screen choice, Iron Man has suffered no serious criticism for taking the imprisonment practices, and most infamous torture, of the Bush years and superimposing it onto America’s favorite evil-doers. Nor have critics generally thought to point out that, while, in the film, the nefarious Obadiah Stane, Stark’s right hand man, is a double-dealing arms dealer who is selling high-tech weapons systems to the terrorists in Afghanistan (and trying to kill Stark as well), two decades ago the U.S. government played just that role. For years, it sent advanced weapons systems — including Stinger missiles, one of the most high-tech weapons of that moment — to jihadis in Afghanistan so they could make war on one infidel superpower (the Soviet Union), before setting their sights on another (the United States). And while this took place way back in the 1980s, it shouldn’t be too hard for film critics to recall - since it was lionized in last year’s celebrated Tom Hanks film Charlie Wilson’s War.


As Inspector Lohmann pointed out the other day, the comments at Common Dreams are worth reading, and the first few on the above article posted there are no exception:

kelmer May 21st, 2008 12:10 pm
Its fun to watch Rambo 3 these days since it has Rambo fighting alongside Osama Bin Laden’s mujahadeen.


kivals May 21st, 2008 12:21 pm
I try to keep my 11-year-old son informed (for an 11-year-old) on political and foreign policy matters, and so I was not surprised that when he returned from seeing “Iron Man” with a friend he claimed it was about the stupidest movie he ever saw and mentioned some of the same problems brought up in this article. If a well-informed 11-year-old can see that, why do US movie critics refuse to? What audience are they speaking to?

And if you want a deeply felt, realistically cynical anti-war story about the military, its logic, its hardware, its affect on society, and yes, wearing a mechanical suit to make you a super solider, I recommend The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Divide and conquer


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Abuse your illusions

Visit Stop Me Before I Vote Again, now on the blogroll at The River.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Perhaps 60 percent of today’s oil price is pure speculation

By F. William Engdahl
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 5, 2008, 00:19

The price of crude oil today is not made according to any traditional relation of supply to demand. It’s controlled by an elaborate financial market system as well as by the four major Anglo-American oil companies. As much as 60 percent of today’s crude oil price is pure speculation driven by large trader banks and hedge funds. It has nothing to do with the convenient myths of Peak Oil. It has to do with control of oil and its price. How?

First, the crucial role of the international oil exchanges in London and New York is crucial to the game. NYMEX in New York and the ICE Futures in London today control global benchmark oil prices which, in turn, set most of the freely traded oil cargo. They do so via oil futures contracts on two grades of crude oil: West Texas Intermediate and North Sea Brent.

A third rather new oil exchange, the Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME), trading Dubai crude, is more or less a daughter of NYMEX, with NYMEX President James Newsome sitting on the board of DME and most key personnel British or American citizens.

Brent is used in spot and long-term contracts to value as much of crude oil produced in global oil markets each day. The Brent price is published by a private oil industry publication, Platt’s. Major oil producers including Russia and Nigeria use Brent as a benchmark for pricing the crude they produce. Brent is a key crude blend for the European market and, to some extent, for Asia.

WTI has historically been more of a US crude oil basket. Not only is it used as the basis for US-traded oil futures, but it's also a key benchmark for US production.

‘The tail that wags the dog’

All this is well and official. But how today’s oil prices are really determined is done by a process so opaque only a handful of major oil trading banks such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley have any idea who is buying and who selling oil futures or derivative contracts that set physical oil prices in this strange new world of “paper oil.”

With the development of unregulated international derivatives trading in oil futures over the past decade or more, the way has opened for the present speculative bubble in oil prices.

Since the advent of oil futures trading and the two major London and New York oil futures contracts, control of oil prices has left OPEC and gone to Wall Street. It is a classic case of the “tail that wags the dog.”

A June 2006 US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on “The Role of Market Speculation in rising oil and gas prices,” noted, “ . . . there is substantial evidence supporting the conclusion that the large amount of speculation in the current market has significantly increased prices.”

What the Senate committee staff documented in the report was a gaping loophole in US government regulation of oil derivatives trading so huge a herd of elephants could walk through it. That seems precisely what they have been doing in ramping oil prices through the roof in recent months.

The Senate report was ignored in the media and in the Congress.


Dave Pollard on Joe Bageant's book, Deer Hunting With Jesus

My friend Joe Bageant's book Deer Hunting With Jesus explains through personal stories his brutal assessment of just how strong the class system in the US really is, why the classes are and always have been at war, and why that plays perfectly into the hands of the right-wing political and economic interests there. These are stories about the people Joe grew up with and calls friends, and to write about their lives so bluntly and candidly is an act of incredible courage and honesty.

This is a society where poverty and illness are stigmatized as symptoms of laziness, ignorance and self-neglect, a society built on two-way class vs class fear of the unknown and misunderstood. The principal determinant of one's class in America, and the hermetic worldview that comes with it, is education.

More than anything, Deer Hunting is a plea to those of progressive inclination to meet with their working-class peers, at a grass-roots level, to understand how they live, how they think, and why they think that way, and to find, as hard as it will be to do so, common cause with them against the corporatist exploiters and their right-wing political and religious handmaidens, and common cause for universal health care, quality education for all, a fair pension and a decent wage for a day's work -- the end of the "dead-end social construction that all but guarantees failure".

I'd given away three copies of Joe's book before I'd ready anything beyond the brilliant introduction -- I just knew the people I gave them to needed to read the book more than I did. If you've read Lakoff, and kind of understand the huge divide between conservative and liberal worldviews, you have to read Bageant, so you really understand the chasm between the worldviews of the uneducated and educated. When you read Joe's astonishing stories, all of a sudden what George Lakoff says makes sense. And, just as astonishingly, so does Bush's 2004 win, and the terrifying prospect that Republican arch-conservatives could be poised to establish a dynasty in the US that will accelerate the Cheney-Bush regime's project for endless war, bankrupting and dismantling government, and ending the separation of church and state, and which will last until that country's final, ghastly unraveling occurs (I'm betting that will happen later this century).

I can't recommend Joe's book highly enough. He has been traveling throughout the U.S. and elsewhere promoting it. Recently, our intrepid reporter, the best alive today hands down, noted on his site:

A couple of weeks ago at a speaking engagement I asked the audience to raise their hands if they thought total collapse was the only catalyst that can bring meaningful change to America. Every hand went up

I was struck damned near speechless. Three years ago when that question was asked, a hand seldom went up in the audience.

Something is afoot inside Americans, something no candidate dare talk about nor the media dare mention.