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The Entertainment Superpower and our American Theater of Cruelty

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Between January 11, 2002 and April 23, 2011, one day before the latest Wikileaks release of the Guantanamo files, there were roughly 15 million search entries, five million images, 25 thousand videos, six thousand news items, 900 related books, and around 80 related movies-- including an American stoner styled 'comedy' pictured to your right-- about the Guantanamo Bay detention and torture camp.

While new information has been published in Wikileaks' latest release of the Guantanamo files, a plethora of evidence about Guantanamo's child detainees, specious justification, and illegality were already in the public domain, including a Senate Armed Services Committee report that stated detainees had been murdered in U.S. custody.

As Jason Leopold said to me in an interview, "Murdered. I am talking about murder. I mean, this report talks about how the torture program was based on the US military's resistance to interrogation survival training technique...So, yes, you are absolutely right there are a number of documents and a number of reports that are out there. The problem is that people, and that includes some journalists, frankly don't take the time to read it."

The image above of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo is not a comedy. It's a horror show. And, Guantanamo Bay is the beginning of the entertainment superpower's theater of cruelty, coming to a town near you.

The institutions of society and government - in other words, the organs of power, their structure, and their relationship to one another - including the press, the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary- no longer function in a manner that ensures their intended counter balance to tyranny.

As a result, our nation's civic, civil, and military power has been usurped by the highest bidder, and our democratic republic is drowning in a sea of Blackwater.

The Press

Public discourse in the United States of America has devolved into three rhetorical devices: satire, frothy emotional appeals to false hope, and demagogy.

The political blackout to Guantanamo is partly a reaction to the intoxicating polemics of the previous generations' culture war that eclipse most public discourse about the shifting boundaries of our social geography and economic life.

Fundamentally, the prevalence of political feeding frenzies and demagogy is a natural outgrowth of a corporate news media compelled by an economic imperative.

Traditional media industries operate in what economists refer to as a 'dual product market'. They produce two commodities: content and audiences. Audiences are attracted to content, and those audiences are then sold to advertisers.

Media firms fall under the traditional research and development business model - with its characteristic high production and low replication costs. Since creativity and intellectual property are both expensive and time consuming - what economists refer to as Baumol's effect - media firms have an economic imperative to control the entire supply chain, including the downstream access to audiences.

While most industries today are under pressure to flatten their business models, media firms, are compelled to grow both horizontally and vertically. A natural by-product of this growth is that they have the ability to exploit their vertical and horizontal economies of scale by repurposing their content across multiple platforms.

The power of the press lies not merely in its capacity to express ideas. Media firms have the capacity to actually set the agenda for what and how the public discusses anything at all - simply by virtue of the fact that these firms can replicate, and thereby amplify, their messages across a multitude of communication platforms, which they control.

The print media landscape in the United States, for example, is dominated by 14 corporations, which own myriad vertically and horizontally integrated communication organs for print, TV, and film.

Considering this reality, it would appear, that Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are examples of the alternative press in the United States. But are they really?

We are going the way of our former cold war enemies. The playwright, Heiner Mueller, once remarked that the potency of theater in his native East Germany was based on the absence of other ways of getting messages across to people. "As a result," Mueller says, "Theater here has taken over the function of other media in the West."

While the never ending surface chatter of talking points and double speak on both the left and right continue to erode the value of words, they also inflate the space between the lines. But it's a kind of emasculated public discourse, a parody, literally theater.

Simon Cowell, former host of American Idol once remarked to Larry King when asked about the prohibition of "American Idol" like shows in China. Says Cowell: "Well, because it's a democracy, isn't it? You know, I mean, it's the public voting."

The Entertainment Superpower: Information as a Weapon in a Theater of War

In the information economy the means of production are inside your head. The question is, who owns yours?

America is the entertainment superpower, and by entertainment I mean media and information. US broadcasters benefit from their economies of scale. According to economists Deidre McClosky and Arjo Klamer, persuasion, advertising, counseling, and consulting account for twenty-five percent of US gross domestic product. 

In fact, the US media and entertainment sectors are the only American sectors that boast a surplus balance of trade with nearly every nation in the world. (Source: International Intellectual Property Alliance)

In Learning to Leverage New Media: The Israeli Defense Forces in Recent Conflicts, U.S. Army Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV; Dennis M. Murphy, professor of information operations and information in warfare at the U.S. Army War College; and Anton Mennin, media strategist at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, write that media and information are now a 'warfighting function' - a euphemism for weapon - in a theater of war:

Surrendering the information environment to the adversary is not a practical option. [T]he military must seriously consider where information and the new media lie in relationship to conventional warfighting functions. One thing seems sure: we must elevate information in doctrinal importance, and adequately fund and staff organizations dealing with information...

...During conflict, the same dynamism plays havoc with traditional notions of the media's role in informing, shaping, and swaying public opinion. In 2003, Frank Webster argued in War and the Media that 'the public are no longer mobilized to fight wars as combatants, they are mobilized as spectators - and the character of this mobilization is of the utmost consequence...the familiar industrial model of warfare was giving way to an informational model. The struggle for public opinion retained central importance, but the sheer pervasiveness and responsiveness of new media recast the terms and content of the struggle. There were at least two clear implications. The first was that the military has a commensurately more complex task in winning the information war. The second was that there remains little choice but to engage new media as part of the larger media explosion. Failure to do so would leave a vacuum - the adversary's version of reality would become the dominant perception.

US Central Command has purchased software that creates false online profiles from the California-based Ntrepid for $2.76 million. CENTCOM's spokesperson, Commander Bill Speaks, says, "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable CENTCOM to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."

According to the Washington Times, the software can be used for countering disinformation campaigns, military deception, computer network operations or hacking. See also Operation Metal Gear.

Technological Cross Fertilization between Military, Entertainment, and Defense

U.S. military surveillance, targeting, and weapons systems, use technology developed primarily for motion pictures and entertainment software - or the consumer electronics market.

The U.S. government employs Panavision's 300x compound zoom lens for military surveillance. According to an interview that I conducted with the senior vice president of worldwide sales at Panavision in 2006, federal contracts with the U.S. Government are the fastest growing segment of Panavision's business.

More provocative is how Hollywood and video games drive the development of high-speed, high-resolution digital image capture, management, transmission, and display that have implications for fields where these advanced technological applications would be economically unviable to develop on their own.

Entertainment software has led to faster introduction and deployment of processors, broadband networks, and high definition disks like HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. But, "IBM places value on chips made for entertainment software that goes beyond revenue and profits," says Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president and group executive for IBM Technology Group: "These chips help drive technology in other areas."

The Mercury Computer's CELL based blade server, for example, can handle the requirements of sonar and radar computation for military or scientific applications, because of its ability to process real time data streams. "The Cell BE processor was originally designed for the volume home entertainment market," says Craig Lund, chief technology officer of Mercury Computer Systems, "but its architecture of nine heterogeneous on-chip cores is well-suited to the type of distributed, real-time processing that will power tomorrow's digital battlefield."

The U.S. military hegemony is based on the ability of the U.S. Navy to dominate the world's oceans - due partially to the superior numbers and technology of US naval vessels, which are augmented significantly by U.S. dominance in space-based reconnaissance technology, and made possible by entertainment software consumers and movie goers world-wide.

Transfer of Human Capital

The overlap between digital technology - which by its nature erodes market boundaries - and defense is driven by myriad forces: the economics of the global marketplace; the instinct for self-preservation and for power by business, bureaucrat, and tyrant alike; and even by the social instincts and amusements of consumers.

In like manner to, the former Executive President of Egypt's National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, Dr. Amr Badawi, spent nine years at GTE & General Dynamics before he became a Senior Advisor to the Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

He held this position when the Internet went down during the Egyptian revolution. He represents a common transfer of human and intellectual capital across sectors of the US military industrial and entertainment complex.

Misdiagnosing the Problem

In his book, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, political scientist and founder of the Kennedy School of Government, Richard Neustadt, describes the erosion of the executive branch that began when Woodrow Wilson made a direct appeal to the populace in his quest to ratify the Fourteen Points.

Prior to that, American presidents had delivered their 'State of the Unions' in written letters to Congress. Neustadt considers this act a usurpation of legislative power by the executive, and the beginning of a mutation that has weakened the American presidency.

John Yoo, the former Bush administration official who authored the Torture Memos, on which we based the 'legality' of our enhanced interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay and our black sites, finds his roots in a battle between executive and congressional power that dates to the Nixon White House and the War Powers Act. Not surprisingly, many of the officials in the Bush administration were former aids to President Nixon.

There is no use in strengthening executive power, when legislative power is incapacitated and corrupted by the same factions that own the former. The problem is misdiagnosed.

As Dr. Lawrence Lessig said in a presentation I attended for Fix Congress First, "There will be nothing for the right and nothing for the left until we fix our broken Government."

And the beginning of a solution to the host of ills and abuses by a corrupt Government that preys on the resources and spirits of citizens is re-establishing Government's independence by its right dependence on 'the people alone'. Tyranny is not 'going' to happen in the USA, it is happening right now.

Institutional Corruption and the Post-Totalitarian State

Neither technology, nor the instincts towards self-preservation, power, or social amusement are good or evil in themselves. They arise naturally in every man and every nation. 

The causes of faction cannot be removed, writes Madison in Federalist 10. The only relief "sought is in the means of controlling its effects."

The Federalists control effect through structuring institutions that are capable of decentralizing the concentration of power in the hands of dominant factions or interests. 

The authors of Federalist 52 write:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

The 'independence' of government, according to Federalists No. 52 is Government's 'dependence' on 'the people alone':

The definition of the right of suffrage is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government. It was incumbent on the convention, therefore, to define and establish this right in the Constitution. To have left it open for the occasional regulation of the Congress, would have been improper for the reason just mentioned. To have submitted it to the legislative discretion of the States, would have been improper for the same reason; and for the additional reason that it would have rendered too dependent on the State governments that branch of the federal government which ought to be dependent on the people alone.

Further regarding the House of Representatives:

As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.

Legitimate government does not spring from a tyranny of corporate or royal patronage. Nor, does it arise from an ideology or a system that runs counter to the aims of life. Real self interest arises from the individual. But, today, in the United States corporations have more human rights than the humans at Guantanamo.

In January 2010, the US Supreme Court abolished limits on corporate funding of candidate elections, citing the First Amendment. The decision overturned a century of precedent dating back to the Tillman Act of 1907.

More to the point, in an age where people and nations are increasingly interdependent on one another for survival Tocqueville's notion of 'self-interest rightly understood or an 'enlightened self-interest' become increasingly important as regards governing the commons: the air, water, food, patents on our genes, ideas, the very foundation of life itself.

Today disloyal, incompetent, special interests have usurped civic, civil and military power, spawning a host of threats to our liberty and to national security. Americans pay a hundred times more for the insecurity, we could have had for free. Guantanamo Bay  is a manifestation that fact.

The only difference between the United States and China, it seems, is a question of scope, political economy, and of the ideology used ostensibly to prop up and justify the architecture of tyranny. What difference is there really between the economy of influence in Washington D.C. and a communist bureaucracy in China?

Our Theater of Cruelty

Baudrillard maintains societal discourse does not take the shape of a dialectical polarity between two interlocutors, instead societal discourse takes the shape of a non-linear system of models or narratives that intersect each other around particular facts or events.

This non-linear system or language of models or narratives, each surrounding, particular facts or events, lends itself to the theatricality of the spectacle, since the boundary between facts or events and the models or narratives which appropriate them is no longer clear. Equally less clear is the boundary between a real or imagined spectacles or simulations. For this reason Baudrillard maintains that the terrorist act is a spectacle unleashed within a realm he identifies as a 'Theater of Cruelty.'

Baudrillard writes that everything in the terrorist event is "ambivalent and reversible: death, the media, violence and victory."

Death itself is undefinable: the death of the terrorists is equivalent to that of the hostages; they are substitutable. In spite of all efforts to set them into radical opposition, fascination allows no distinction to be made, and rightly so, for power finally does not make any either, but settles its accounts with everyone, and buries Baader and Schleyer, together at Stuttgart [or in the case of our War on Terror, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in a Libyan prison] in its incapacity to unravel the deaths and rediscover the fine dividing line, the distinctive and valid oppositions which are the secret to law and order. Nor is it possible to reclaim a positive role for the media, or a transference of repression: the repressive act traverses the same unforeseeable spiral as the terrorist act; no one knows where it will stop, nor all the setbacks and reversals that will ensue. There is no distinction possible between the "crime" and the "repression."

In the final analysis, the ideology of democratic liberalism acts as a mask of the U.S. regime in its own 'Theater of Cruelty,' a mask that covers up the general automatism of its hegemony on truth and the "general mobilization, dissuasion, pacification, and mental socialization" of its population by means of this automatism.

*This article was originally published on WL Central and OpEd News.

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