November 23, 2007

Dick Cheney’s Bookshelf: 1984

George Orwell wrote 1984 as a cautionary tale about the dangers of totalitarianism. Dick Cheney seems to think it is a How To manual.

Last year I wrote about Karl Rove’s bookshelf, how he might have used Machiavelli to advantage in managing the political landscape. I also wrote about how the administration might have learned something from Machiavelli when they were contemplating invading Iraq.

Cheney violated most of Machiavelli’s rules, and has not done well, if his objective was a stable and friendly Iraq. It is not clear to me that that is his objective, especially since he warned of the dangers of occupation way back in 1994. If his purpose was the enrichment of his friends at Haliburton and the Oil Companies, he is succeeding very well. Perhaps that is why he is always so upbeat about it all. But I digress.

Dick may have found 1984 more appealing. In any case, he has been working at remaking our society along the principles that Orwell set out. In fact, Cheney may be concerned because the project is, at this point, 23 years behind schedule and far from finished.

First of all, you may be wondering why I am picking on Dick Cheney. After all, he is just the Vice President. Isn’t George Bush the one with power? Well, Bush may have the power in theory but all the evidence is that it is Cheney that drives the ideological buggy in this administration. After all, Cheney has long been a leader of the Neo-Cons. He took a major part in writing The Project for a New American Century that laid the foundation for Bush Administration policies. The evidence is that Cheney and the Neo-Cons picked Bush as their front man and put him in power. Besides, I just can’t see Bush sitting up nights studying Orwell for clues on how to take over the world. That’s more up Cheney’s line. But, as I said, I digress.

Big Brother is Watching You

The most striking feature of the society portrayed in 1984 is the unrelenting surveillance by the government. People understand that their every move and utterance may be monitored. This is no secret. Telescreens are everywhere and it is impossible to escape the posters that proclaim “Big Brother is Watching You”. People have learned to accept it, even to take comfort that the government will protect them from, well, terrorists, if you will.

Cheney has taken that to heart with the warrantless wiretapping and datamining program that has finally succeeded in being able to monitor every phone conversation and every email with far more efficiency than Orwell ever imagined, thanks to modern computer technology ( Furthermore, there are persistent rumors that the government has the technology to listen in on phones (landlines and cellphones), even when they are turned off. It is true if you believe Fox News. ( If such wiretapping is done with a secret warrant it is perfectly legal, but Cheney does not seem to believe that a warrant is necessary in terrorism cases.

Endless War

Orwell understood that there is nothing like war to increase support for the government. And the best kind of war is far away, so you can show it on TV in a heroic sort of way and you don’t have to suffer the consequences of war at home. Any dissent can be branded as unpatriotic, even treasonous. This administration jumped to tell people to “Watch what you say”. “Support the Troops” comes to mean “Support the War” and “Support the Government”. The enemy is portrayed as pure evil, therefore the government must be pure good and above any criticism.

And if war is good, then a war without end is ideal. Cheney knows this and has not been shy to talk about “The Long War” against terrorism. Today the war is in Iraq and Afghanistan but it could just as well be anywhere. That is why Cheney keeps tensions high with Iran, North Korea, and Syria. He is ready to spring into action against any foe. In 1984 and today, there is no danger of peace breaking out.

There has to be an enemy to channel anger and cement support for the government that is going to protect us from that enemy. In 1984, the evil enemy was represented by Emmanuel Goldstein (no relation) and anonymous hordes of enemy soldiers. Today Cheney started with Osama Bin Laden, moved on to Saddam Hussein and now seems to have settled on anonymous hordes of terrorists. The arbitrary nature of these enemies is highlighted by the question in 1984 of whether Goldstein was a real person or was simply invented by the government in order to have an enemy to hate, which is never resolved. I don’t doubt that Bin Laden exists but it is possible that he hasn’t been captured because it is better to have him at large, and more threatening, in order to maintain a state of fear in our own population.

Indefinite Detention

The Thought Police could show up at any moment to haul you away and hold you incommunicado for as long as they like, in 1984. If Dick Cheney thinks you are a terrorist, he can do the same to you. Guantanamo is the poster child for these prisons but there are secret prisons around the world that operate under the same principle. Furthermore, the CIA has been known to kidnap people, in a process known as rendition, and fly them to prison and torture in other countries. If they make a mistake, they won’t admit it. Innocent people will toe the line better if they are afraid of arbitrary arrests.


In 1984, torture is employed to break down the prisoner’s individuality and will to resist. Techniques are primarily psychological, including sensory deprivation, and prey on the prisoner’s fears to make them betray their humanity. The primary purpose is to take away any possibility of hope.

Dick Cheney has adopted this model and implemented it wholesale. The main difference is that he has to deny that it is torture. This semantic difference shows that the public is not yet sufficiently indoctrinated. However, the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General, despite his refusal to admit that torture is torture, shows that we are making "progress" in this area.


The ability to say one thing and mean the exact opposite. The No Child Left Behind Act systematically leaves poor children behind by withholding funds from schools that are failing through lack of funds. The Blue Skies initiative rewrites regulations to allow more air pollution. The PATRIOT Act eviscerates the Constitution. Need I go on?

We are at war with Eurasia … We have always been at war with Eastasia

Of course, this administration is an expert at rewriting history to meet the needs of the moment. Bush puts these changes across really well. The prime example is the justification for war in Iraq. They went seamlessly from WMDs to establishing democracy to fighting terrorists. It doesn’t matter that there were no WMDs, there is no democracy there and Al Queda wasn’t there at all until we opened up a space for them. Just like in 1984 the media doesn’t seem to notice the changes and reports the latest justification with a straight face. Unfortunately for Cheney, he doesn’t yet have anybody in the Ministry of Truth who can send inconvenient history down the memory hole to oblivion.

The Proles

The proles were the underclass, who exist below the notice of the government. But they do serve a purpose. It is necessary to have a lower class to do the unpaid work of society. Somebody has to do the unskilled, low paying jobs that keep things going. However, since these jobs don’t require much intellectual capacity, the government consciously kept this class uneducated, so they won’t realize how they are being exploited. As Orwell put it, “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

Poor people are similarly ignored today. Additionally in today’s world, people are reluctant to rebel because they are afraid of falling out of the middle class into the lower class. Cheney doesn’t want the government involved in helping out the poor. He would prefer to let them fend for themselves. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated this with a vengeance. FEMA no longer saw its purpose as helping disaster victims, especially if they were poor. Poor communities were damaged by the hurricane but wiped out by a government that placed obstacles in the way of rebuilding because they clearly hoped that those poor people would just go away.

The Neo-Cons believe that rich people deserve to be rich and poor people deserve to be poor. That is why their policies overwhelmingly favor the rich and hurt the poor. The hope is that people will come to believe that the way things are is the only way they could be. That is why Cheney cries about “class warfare” every time somebody criticizes his pro-rich people policies. “Class Warfare” is actually a throwback to Cold War era red-baiting and seems somewhat out of date today. He is just trying to shut down any opposition with a scary sounding label. He doesn’t actually oppose class warfare; he just wants his side (the rich) to win.

I could go on but you get the idea. It is actually kind of spooky how closely the Administration is mirroring techniques outlined in Orwell’s masterpiece.

Hmm… maybe Cheney really does think it is a How To Book.

November 15, 2007

Port Militarization Resistance: Stopping the War by Stopping the Shipments

Washington State’s quiet little capitol city of Olympia has become the center of a new movement to oppose the war by taking real, not symbolic action against it. The Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) movement is explicitly non-violent but anything but passive.

For the last 10 days, protestors have tried to stop the passage of military equipment through the Port of Olympia. They have succeeded in stopping the shipments for over 12 hours twice. ( They realize that actions like this in Olympia alone will not end the war, but they hope to inspire others across the country to take similar actions. The cost to Olympia both to its image and to its pocketbook may prevent that port from being used again by the military. And because PMR has also protested at other ports, it does make it more difficult for the US government to prosecute this illegal and immoral war.

The demonstrators have persisted despite vicious police attacks. Police have repeatedly attacked nonviolent demonstrators with clubs and pepper spray. Many people report police spraying pepper spray directly into people’s eyes at short range. ( I don’t know what the police motivation it, but it seems to be to discourage people from exercising their first amendment rights by inflicting gratuitous pain. It is now not just a story about the war in Iraq but also about the loss of democratic rights here at home.

In these videos, protestors talk about the police brutality at a meeting organized by City Council Member TJ Johnson.

The PMR movement has grown out of efforts of a community coalition composed of students from The Evergreen State College and other community activists opposed to the use of The Port of Olympia, at the southern end of Puget Sound, to fight an immoral war that violates international law. In their own words, “Locally, since the military shipments through Olympia's port began in 2004, the community has fully employed a broad spectrum of democracy's tools - including letter-writing and petitioning public officials in open forums - to oppose the occupation of Iraq and the Port of Olympia profiting from it in any way. In large numbers, we have asked the Port Commissioners to withdraw support for the war and stop shipments to Iraq. Yet, just as the war, the killing, and corporate war-profiteering continue, so do the military shipments through Olympia .” (

As their statement of purpose says, “Port Militarization Resistance is organized to end our community’s complicity in the illegal occupation of Iraq by stopping the U.S. Military’s use of the Port of Olympia.“

In the spring of 2006, the Army decided to use the Port of Olympia to ship equipment to support the deployment of a Stryker Brigade to Iraq from Fort Lewis. When the shipment occurred in May 2006, it was met with demonstrations continuing for days as the Stryker vehicles and other equipment were driven through Olympia and loaded onto the ship. 37 people were arrested but after a year of efforts to convict them, the case against them was shown to be so weak that the remaining charges were dismissed in June 2007. See the Olympia paper, Works in Progress for all the details (

In a related action, in September 2006, 400 people marched peacefully on Indian Island, near Port Townsend, WA, the major West Coast base shipping munitions to Iraq. 37 were arrested there in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. These charges were also dismissed after the defendants spent months in court. This action was partly inspired by the PMR actions in Olympia but it was organized by different people. What it had in common was to focus on the fact that our communities are directly linked to the war by the shipments of war equipment, munitions and supplies.

In March 2007, the Army had another Stryker Brigade ready to ship out of Fort Lewis. Perhaps in an effort to avoid another round of demonstrations, they chose to use the Port of Tacoma this time. If that was indeed their intention, it didn’t work. This time the Olympia activists joined Tacoma activists and others from throughout Western Washington in another round of demonstrations. For over a week, the protests continued on a daily basis. The Army brought in the shipment in the middle of the night and Tacoma brought in a huge contingent of riot police, outnumbering the demonstrators and at times resorting to what appeared to be random violence and arrests. They used teargas and rubber bullets repeatedly against the spirited but non-violent crowds. You Tube videos of the police violence actually helped bring out more protesters. In this video, police tear gassed nonviolent demonstrators without warning ( At one point police even started arresting people just for carrying a backpack or water bottles. The only reason for this that I can think of is that some people had started to bring water and vinegar to wash out the eyes of people who had been gassed.

By now the story wasn’t just about protesting the war, it was about riot cops running riot. Now I know that this is nothing new. At the Port Townsend Film Festival, I got a chance to see the new movie “Chicago 10”, which shows graphically the police attacks on anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention. (It is scheduled for theatrical release in 2008.) And need I mention the police overreaction to the WTO protests in Seattle? Seattle was sued by mistreated demonstrators and it is costing them plenty. Olympia and Tacoma protestors certainly have grounds for similar suits.

Some people have critized PMRs tactics. Activist Phan Nguyen replies, “I have never stopped a war. I don’t know how it is done… If someone has a better idea, don’t just tell us what to do. Show us how it’s done. ” (