Qualid Benomrane provided very important information to FBI investigators concerning Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar (2 of the 9/11 hijackers).
Qualid Benomrane provided very important information to FBI investigators concerning Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar (2 of the 9/11 hijackers).
When we were at Francis Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, Steve Paddock and I were required to take electrical shop class. At Poly and our junior high, we were required to take metal shop so we could work the drill presses at the GM plant. We took drafting. Drafting like in “blueprint drawing.”
Paddock. Palast. We sat next to each other at those drafting tables with our triangular rulers and #2 pencils so we could get jobs at Lockheed as draftsman drawing blueprints of fighter jets. Or do tool-and-dye cutting to make refrigerator handles at GM where they assembled Frigidaire refrigerators and Chevys.
But we weren’t going to fly the fighter jets. Somewhere at Phillips Andover Academy, a dumbbell with an oil well for a daddy was going to go to Yale and then fly our fighter jets over Texas. We weren’t going to go to Yale. We were going to go to Vietnam. Then, when we came back, if we still had two hands, we went to GM or Lockheed.
(It’s no coincidence that much of the student population at our school was Hispanic.)
But if you went to “Bevvie” – Beverly Hills High – or Hollywood High, you didn’t take metal shop. You took Advanced Placement French. You took Advanced Placement Calculus. We didn’t have Advanced Placement French. We didn’t have French anything. We weren’t Placed, and we didn’t Advance.
Steve was a math wizard. He should have gone to UCLA, to Stanford. But our classes didn’t qualify him for anything other than LA Valley College and Cal State Northridge. Any dumbbell could get in. And it was nearly free. That’s where Steve was expected to go, and he went with his big math-whiz brain.
And then Steve went to Lockheed, like we were supposed to. Until Lockheed shut down plants in 1988. Steve left, took the buy-out.
And after NAFTA, GM closed too.
Land of Opportunity? Well, tell me: who gets those opportunities?
Some of you can and some of you can’t imagine a life where you just weren’t give a fair chance. Where the smarter you are, the more painful it gets, because you have your face pressed against the window, watching THEM. THEY got the connections to Stanford. THEY get the gold mine. WE get the shaft.
This is where Paddock and Palast were bred: Sun Valley, the anus of Los Angeles. Literally. It’s where the sewerage plant is. It’s in a trench below the Hollywood Hills, where the smog settles into a kind of puke yellow soup. Here’s where LA dumps its urine and the losers they only remember when they need cheap labor and cheap soldiers when the gusanos don’t supply enough from Mexico.
I’ll take you to Sun Valley. It’s in my film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. In the movie, a kind of dream scene, the actress Shailene Woodley takes me back to my family’s old busted home in the weeds and then down San Fernando Road, near Steve’s place. Take a look, America. Along the tracks that once led in to the GM plant, you see a bunch of campers that the union men bought for vacations. Now they live in them.
No, Steve’s brain was too big to end up on the tracks. He lived in empty apartments in crappy buildings he bought, then in a barren tract house outside Reno. I laugh when they say he was “rich.” He wanted to be THEM, to have their stuff. He got close.
It’s reported that Steve was a “professional gambler.” That’s another laugh. He was addicted to numbing his big brain by sitting 14 hours a day in the dark in front of video poker machines. He was a loser. Have you ever met a gambler who said they were a Professional Loser?
It’s fair to ask me: Why didn’t I end up in a hotel room with a bump-stock AR-15 and 5,000 rounds of high velocity bullets?
Because I have a job, a career, an OBSESSION: to hunt down THEM, the daddy-pampered pricks who did this to us, the grinning billionaire jackals that make a profit off the slow decomposition of the lives I grew up with.
But I’m telling you, that I know it’s a very fine line, and lots of crazy luck, that divided my path from Paddock’s.
Dear Reader: The publication that pulled this story at the last moment was plain scared–that they’d be accused of approving murder.
Paddock slaughtered good people, coldly, with intense cruelty, destroying lives and hundreds of families forever. If you think I’m making up some excuse for him, then I give up.
But also this: The editor of the Beverly Hills-based publication, a Stanford grad, could not understand that, just like veterans of the Vietnam war who suffer from PTSD even today, so too, losers of the class war can be driven mad by a PTSD that lingers, that gnaws away, their whole lives.
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it …fester like a sore? Does it stink like rotten meat? Sag…like a heavy load?
Or does it explode?
Steve, you created more horrors than your cornered life could ever justify.
But, I just have to tell you, Steve: I get it.
It is not America’s gun laws that are the issue when it comes to the mass shootings which occur with banal regularity in the land of the free, it is the gun culture that underpins those laws – a culture symptomatic of the moral sickness the country is suffering from, and for which in 2017 there appears no sign of a cure.
In the wake of the latest mass shooting to erupt in the US, this one at an open-air music festival in Las Vegas – during which 59 people were killed and hundreds more wounded by lone gunman Stephen Paddock, spraying automatic gunfire into the crowd from the window of a room overlooking the event at the Mandalay Bay Hotel – the same debate over America’s notorious gun laws has ensued, involving the usual parade of fulminating defenders of the country’s ‘sacred’ Second Amendment of the US Constitution, enshrining the right of citizens to bear arms.
Said supporters of this provision within the country’s constitution, adopted and ratified in 1791 at a time when automatic and semi-automatic weapons were still centuries away from being invented, have in time honoured fashion been extending themselves in arguing that freedom in America means the freedom to be able to walk into a gun store on any given day and procure enough firepower to wipe out a herd of elephants.
But as mentioned, the question is not over the rights or wrongs of the Second Amendment; the question is the culture of violence married to the near total lack of social cohesion that pervades in a country suffocating under the weight of its own nauseating hypocrisy. This culture and this lack of social cohesion are the underlying causes of the mass shootings and massacres that are so ubiquitous in America that they have become part of the cultural fabric, just like the Superbowl and Kim Kardashian’s tits.
The sentiments of right wing TV host Bill O’Reilly, who described this latest atrocity as the “price of freedom,” while clearly outlandish and utterly contemptible to anyone who’s managed to retain a semblance of sanity, are nonetheless evidence of the mass psychosis that passes for normality in large swathes of America.
In penetrating the foundational myths by which the US sustains itself – rugged individualism, self reliance, the apotheosis of private property and personal wealth, seasoned with Old Testament virtues of work, self discipline, and the exaltation of ‘righteous’ violence – we come face to face with an ugly and suppurating reality in the form of the widespread atomisation of society, white supremacy, along with a pervasive yet irrational fear of central government, fuelled by conspiracy theory. Add to this lethal cocktail the grotesque sense of exceptionalism which informs the country’s political culture, an entertainment industry and celebrity culture that distorts the true measure of human worth and meaning with its worship of obscene wealth and fame, and you are talking a society coming apart at the seams.
Is it any wonder that mental illness is so ubiquitous in a society in which rapacious competitiveness and a religious attachment to acquisition has reduced the lived experience of the majority of its citizens to one of unremitting pressure not only to succeed but for far too many just to survive? On the other side of this dismal equation sits a healthcare system which attests to the core inhumanity that no amount of boasts of America’s innate goodness and promise could possibly elide, providing the ingredients that go into producing mass killers such as Stephen Paddock.
The gun culture in America is also central to law enforcement. The inordinate number of people killed by cops across the country on a regular basis is less to do with trigger-happy police officers in fear of their lives committing catastrophic and fatal errors, and more to do with an ethos of vigilantism born of the dehumanization of the poor and/or of minorities, who make up the vast majority of victims of cop violence across the country. Indeed, in this respect, things have got to the point where within US law enforcement it seems that executing young black males, regardless of whether they happened to be armed or unarmed, has become more acceptable than ‘protecting and serving’.
Analyzing this perverse exaltation of violence in America, author and journalist Chris Hedges writes, “Vigilantes and lone avengers are the popular heroes in American culture. They are celebrated on television and in Hollywood movies. Audiences, especially as they feel economic and political power slipping from their hands, yearn for the violent authority embodied in rogue cops in films such as Dirty Harry or in unrepentant killers such as Bradley Cooper in American Sniper.”
America’s exaltation of violence is likewise reflected in a muscular and aggressive foreign policy that has been responsible for the deaths of more people around the world since the end of the Second World War. Thus, when black civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, himself assassinated by a crazed lone gunman, described the US government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” he never spoke a truer word. They are words attested to by the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the destruction of North Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and not forgetting the countless proxy wars it has funded in Central and South America, the Middle East.
So, yes, we are dealing with a culture in which the capacity for unleashing lethal violence on a mass scale is lauded in movies and on television, in which the veneration of tough cops and the glorification of the military are consonant with the dehumanization of the poor and minorities, and in which the Second Amendment is treated as if the very suggestion it should be reformed is considered sacrilege.
It is why in 2017 the biggest threat to the average American citizen is not North Korea, Russia, or Iran – is not even terrorism – but instead is the organization which exists to protect the right to bear arms, an organization whose money and political influence has succeeded in blocking even the most incremental change to the nation’s gun laws.
That organization is the National Rifle Association, more commonly referred to as the NRA. It is an organization which in a very real sense is dripping in the blood of the 59 victims of this latest mass shooting in Las Vegas, along with that of the countless tens of thousands of victims of gun violence all across America.
Stephen Paddock is neither the moral nor cultural aberration defenders of the Second Amendment assert. In fact, the country’s history is littered with countless thousands of Stephen Paddock’s, unleashing wanton slaughter against native Americans, blacks, and the poor, evidence that the true history of America is a history of psychopathic violence buttressed by the salve of a bible in whose name the crimes that have and continue to be committed are legion.
We have met the enemy and he is us.
After the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, which has already claimed the lives of 50 people and injured more than 400 more, Nelba Márquez-Greene, mother of Ana Márquez-Greene, a 6-year-old girl who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012, is sounding off on Twitter in a series of remarkable and heartbreaking comments that puts the blame for yet another mass shooting directly on the shoulders of Congress.
She also wants to know why we don’t confront the true reality that the majority of mass shootings are committed by angry, white men.
Marquez-Greene noted roughly 91 people per day from from guns in the United States and we do nothing.
Can you imagine if ISIS were killing 91 people per day? Ebola? It would be a national emergency and we would commit every single resource we had to stopping the tragedy. Instead, we have a Republican Congress that not only rolled back an Obama administration law making it more difficult for mentally ill people to get guns, they are (or were) going to vote this week to make it easier to purchase gun silencers! You can purchase a gun silencer in the United States by completely a background check and Republicans want to get rid of the background check requirement. How is that helping people in this country?
In a series of 22 tweets, Nelba Márquez-Greene tells it like it is—Congress needs to stop ignoring the grieving mothers and families from every single zip code in this country. They should’ve taken action to protect the life and liberty of all citizens long before now. How many mass shootings will it take?
Frightening attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana struck the heart of America’s spy network in Cuba, with intelligence operatives among the first and most severely affected victims, The Associated Press has learned.
It wasn’t until U.S. spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.
While the attacks started within days of President Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The U.S. has called the situation “ongoing.”
To date, the Trump administration largely has described the 21 victims as U.S. embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community.” That description suggested only bona fide diplomats and their family members were struck, with no logical motivation beyond disrupting U.S.-Cuban relations.
Behind the scenes, though, investigators immediately started searching for explanations in the darker, rougher world of spycraft and counterespionage, given that so many of the first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the U.S. embassy. That revelation, confirmed to the AP by a half-dozen officials, adds yet another element of mystery to a year-long saga that the Trump administration says may not be over.
The State Department and the CIA declined to comment for this story.
The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the U.S. government’s intelligence network on the communist-run island, in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half century.
But the U.S. soon discovered that actual diplomats at the embassy had also been hit by similar attacks, officials said, further confounding the search for a culprit and a motive.
Of the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several U.S. officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity. They heard an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their Havana homes, described as similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill.
Over time, the attacks seemed to evolve.
In many of the more recent cases, victims didn’t hear noises and weren’t aware an attack was occurring, identifying the symptoms only later. That has raised concerns among investigators that the attacks may be getting more sophisticated and harder to detect, individuals briefed on the investigation said.
Though the State Department has called all the cases “medically confirmed,” several U.S. officials said it’s unclear whether all of the victims’ symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks. Considering the deep sense of alarm among Americans working in the embassy, it’s possible some workers attributed unrelated illnesses to attacks.
Almost nothing about what has transpired in Havana is perfectly clear. But this is Cuba.
For decades, Washington and Havana pushed their rivalry to unprecedented levels of covert action. The former enemies tracked each other’s personnel, turned each other’s agents and, in the case of the CIA, even mounted a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government in the 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion.
There were hopes, though, that the two nations were starting to put that bitter history behind them after renewing diplomatic relations in 2015. When the attacks first occurred, the U.S. and Cuban governments were hard at work on clinching new commercial and immigration agreements. No new spat among intelligence services was publicly known.
Eleven months on, the U.S. cannot guarantee the threat is over. Last week, the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Cuba and ordered more than half the embassy staff to leave indefinitely. The U.S. had previously given all embassy staff the option to come home, but even most of those struck by the mysterious attacks had opted to stay, individuals familiar with the situation said.
For those staying and new arrivals, the U.S. has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress. They’re also learning steps to take if an attack occurs that could mitigate the risk, officials said.
But the U.S. has not identified whatever device is responsible for the harm. FBI sweeps have turned up nothing.
So to better identify patterns, investigators have created a map detailing specific areas of Cuba’s capital where attacks have occurred, several individuals familiar with the matter said. Three “zones,” or geographic clusters of attacks, cover the homes where U.S. diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.
Since first disclosing the situation in August, the United States had generally avoided the word “attacks.” It called them “incidents” instead until last Friday. Now, the State Department deems them “specific attacks” targeting Americans posted in Havana, without saying what new information, if any, prompted the newfound confidence they were indeed deliberate.
The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba. If that’s the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding.
Last week’s embassy drawdown added to the growing friction between the nations. And an accompanying new travel warning deemed Havana’s hotels unsafe for visitors, threatening to drive down tourism, a backbone of Cuba’s economy.
In Havana, American diplomats are frantically selling off possessions — from mattresses to canned goods to children’s toys — and hunting for jobs and places to live in the United States. Many have spent years overseas and don’t have homes waiting for them in the United States.
“Heartbroken? Me too, but this will make you feel better,” one seller posted in a chatroom for foreigners in Cuba, under a picture of a Costco artichoke hearts jar selling for $6.
For Cubans, it may be no better. The U.S. has been providing 20,000 visas a year to Cubans moving to the United States. It has issued thousands more to Cubans wishing to visit family in America. The reduction in U.S. staff in Havana means visa processing there has been suspended indefinitely.
Cuba has vehemently denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. Some in the U.S. government believe the Cubans may be telling the truth, officials said.
When President Raul Castro denied any culpability in February, he did so on the sidelines a meeting in Havana with five visiting U.S. members of Congress, the AP found. The U.S. had raised complaints about the attacks to Cuba just days earlier through diplomatic channels.
But the visiting lawmakers knew nothing of the attacks taking place in the country they were visiting.
Nor did they know that Castro had used the occasion of their meeting to pull aside Jeff DeLaurentis, then the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, to say privately that his government was equally alarmed and willing to help.
The lawmakers all declined to comment. Cuban officials say they’re disappointed in the U.S. retaliatory measures but will continue cooperating with the investigation.
NYC’s MTA chairman: “I’m not at liberty to discuss that”
It’s been two-and-a-half days since Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico, slamming the island of more than 3.5 million people with torrential rains, winds, and flooding the likes of which haven’t been seen in nearly a century. The latest reports indicate that at least six people have been killed in Puerto Rico (and 27 total throughout the Caribbean) as a result of the storm, but that figure is likely to rise as authorities make their way through areas still cut off from communications and rescue operations, according to the Associated Press. As of Friday, much of the island was still without power and working cell phone networks; El Nuevo Dia, one of Puerto Rico’s main news organizations, is reporting that dozens of municipalities are still “incommunicado.” Carlos Mercader, the Washington, D.C.-based representative of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, says that there are likely more municipalities still cut off, and that authorities still don’t know the full scope of the damage, noting that even he can’t get in touch with his parents who live in the western part of the island. “That whole west side is totally compromised in terms of communication,” he tells Mother Jones. Meanwhile, Guajataca Dam in the northwestern part of the island suffered a “failure,” according to the National Weather Service, causing the evacuation of at least 10,000 people in the area, Mercader says.
Here we look ahead at what’s next for the island.
What is the latest with the federal response?
President Trump signed a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico on Thursday, paving the way for federal support for things such as grants for temporary housing and home repairs, loans for uninsured property losses, and other federal programs. Making matters more complicated is Puerto Rico’s dire financial situation. Jennifer González-Colón, the island’s non-voting representative to Congress, sent a letter to the president that same day asking that he waive FEMA’s cost-sharing requirements, which typically requires a 25 percent match from local jurisdictions.
The federal government began flying supplies in to Puerto Rico on Thursday morning, including water, helicopters, trucks, and equipment to clear the roads, Mercader says. On Friday morning, after a request from Gov. Rosselló, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo assembled a relief flight that included large-scale generators, 34,000 bottles of water, 10,000 ready-to-eat meals, along with thousands of cots and blankets, according to CNBC. Rosselló told MSNBC Friday that all supplies were being coordinated through a logistics center and will then be distributed through 12 zones on the island, the New York Times reports.
The US Department of Energy reported as of 4 p.m. ET Friday that all of the island’s major ports were closed and that the US Postal Service had closed all of its facilities.
How long will it take to restore power?
The Department of Energy report noted that nearly all of the 1.57 million power customers on the island were without power, and “all generation assets are believed to be offline.” Local authorities have estimated that it could take four to six months to fully restore power across the island. Mercader says that FEMA, in coordination with local authorities, is working to get electricity and communications back up as quickly as possible, but the process could still take weeks.
“We just spoke to someone on the ground from one of the agencies that has war experience, and he says [it’s like] a war zone, [similar to] when he served in Afghanistan,” Mercader says. “We are saying that the devastation is total. It’s complete devastation.”
New York Power Authority CEO Gil Quiniones also traveled to Puerto Rico with a 10-person team, including drone operators, to help assess the damage to the island’s main electricity provider, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which was already reeling under billions in debt and years of deferred maintenance due to the inability to fund it. PREPA Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said Thursday that the company would not begin normal operations until at least Monday “in an effort to avoid jeopardizing the safety of its employees.”
PREPA already suffered $400 million in damages from Hurricane Irma in early September.
How will this impact the ongoing fiscal crisis?
Puerto Rico, in the midst of a 10-year economic downturn and dealing with structural colonial economic issues, was already reeling financially. With more than $120 billion in outstanding debt and pension obligations, the island sought to restructure debts under a law signed by President Obama in 2016. The 2016 law allowed the island’s government to seek a form of bankruptcy earlier this year, created a financial review board that would manage the island’s spending and, theoretically, work out debt repayment arrangements with the island’s creditors. So far, as Slate wrote Friday, the board has cut public spending by 30 percent, closed many schools, and lowered the minimum wage for younger workers.
Former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño told Politico that any plans made between the governor and the fiscal control board were based on assumptions that were “out the window now,” and that there was “no way” the governor was going to be able to hit the budget set by the board. The board did allow Rosselló to reallocate $1 billion for emergency response efforts, Politico notes, and told the governor that it would “expeditiously approve” additional budget issues that come up as a result of Hurricane Maria.
Members of Congress are already discussing aid packages for Puerto Rico. But there are also fears that hedge funds will use the crisis as a means to further push privatization on the island, and that unless Congress steps up with a package that truly helps, the island’s residents and union workers will lose out.
“Now the island will need massive infusions of captial to rebuild,” David Dayen writes in the American Prospect. “The hedge funds have the wealth to provide it, and have reaped more than enough profit from the picked carcass of Puerto Rico that they can easily afford to give something back … The hard-hearted business decsison to capitalize on suffering isn’t likely to soften now.”
Via Mad Cow…
A new movie coming out in four weeks attempts to pull off a feat no other biopic from a major Hollywood studio ever has…
Called “American Made” and starring Tom Cruise as drug smuggler Barry Seal, the upcoming release has airbrushed out the very things that made its main character famous to begin with.
“We’re a fun movie.”
“American Made” assiduously ignores the fact that the dramatic saga of Barry Seal has been the stuff of numerous bestsellers, like ‘Partners in Power’ by Sally Denton and National Book Award winner Dr. Roger Morris, who was a former member of the National Security Council; ‘The Secret Life of Bill Clinton’ by British journalist Ambrose Evans Pritchard, ‘Compromised’ by Terry Reed and John Cummings, and even my own “Barry & ‘the boys’ .
Considered alongside the contemporaneous “Dark Alliance” series by courageous San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, Barry Seal’s story indicated that the Reagan Administration—whose more famous slogan was Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No— had allowed tons of cocaine to be sold to Americans. Even though the Congress of the United States of America had already voted to keep the Reagan Administration from funding a war in Central America, the drug money was used, ostensibly, to pay for the Contra’s war with the Sandinista’s in Nicaragua.
For his pains, Webb, a true American hero, was run out of journalism, lost his home, his family, and eventually his life.
Liman, however, doesn’t want his film to be seen as a political statement.
“Barry Seal is like a conspiracy theorist magnet,” Liman told journalists around the world in a press package for the movie. “Because it doesn’t matter which side of the spectrum you’re on, he touches everybody. Because he was working for the federal government, which is the Republicans and the Reagan’s and Bush’s. But he was doing it out of Arkansas, which is where Bill Clinton reigned, because he was governor.”
“But, you know, we’re a fun movie. So we left the politics – you know, we leave that to other people, and journalists.”
Through the simple expedient of pretending Barry Seal’s drug trafficking connection with the CIA didn’t exist, Cruise and director Doug Liman have concocted a weightless confection which adds absolutely nothing to serious inquiry.
It is a breathtakingly arrogant appropriation of American history. And not by accident, either. By design.
Grisly execution viewed as ‘madcap romp”
The press release for “American Made” calls it a “true-life crime tale” based on the true story of Barry Seal, a drug dealer who worked for the CIA.”
Apparently nobody told director Doug Liman.
“Neither Tom nor I was interested in making a dry biography,” director Doug Liman explained during a press tour. “We chose the details we liked. Tom and I wanted to create our own version of Barry Seal.”
What does “Tom and Doug’s” ‘version’ of Barry Seal look like?
“The trailer for ‘American Made,’ “said the Hollywood Reporter, “suggests a madcap ’80s romp set against the backdrop of America’s “War on Drugs.”
A “madcap romp” is a curious take on Barry Seal’s frenetic and often sordid life and grisly execution, which saw him die in a hail of bullets fired at point blank range from a MAC-10 machine gun in Baton Rouge in February of 1986.
It was the most public assassination in America since the Kennedy’s. “Assassination” is defined as “murder which changes the world.”
But “madcap” mean “amusingly eccentric,” so it looks like we’ve got a disconnect there. Movies described as “madcap romps” often escalate into “zany hijinks,” or even full-blown shenanigans. Sometimes “hilarity ensues.” Sometimes not.
That’s fine if you’re making a movie like Mission Impossible, or about a fictional character, like Cheeky Kilo, or Fat Pete, or Joey Cakes.
But there’s nothing particularly madcap about having your brains blown out by Colombian hit men.
“Interfaced” with Old George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George Junior
Seal was an important historical figure in the second half of the 20th century in America. He became famous for his prominent role in the CIA drug trafficking scandal that broke during the early years of Bill Clinton’s Presidency.
So there is an inescapably political element to Barry Seal’s story, which touches that of three U.S. Presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
But not for Doug Liman, who doesn’t want his film to be seen as a political statement.
“Barry Seal wasn’t really thinking about what he was flying, what was in the back of his airplane, so the movie doesn’t focus on that,” he states unconvincingly. “It’s not really about the cocaine business. It’s not really about the CIA and whether it was a smart war or a dumb war that they were getting Barry involved in.”
“It’s about, you know, being free. And for someone like Tom and myself, both of us have really aspired to a life filled with risk and adventure.”
“American Made” isn’t really about Barry Seal… it’s about Doug Liman and Tom Cruise. The American people will have to wait a little longer for a serious treatment of the Barry Seal story.
“Heady accomplishment” means pallets stacked with money
If you were alive in the 1980’s, and did a line of cocaine, chances were good it had been flown into the U.S. by “Barry & ‘the boys.’”
This was quite a heady accomplishment. Cocaine was a blizzard throughout the decade. Today’s baby boomer grandparents were like babies in a candy store. The word “hoover” re-entered the American lexicon with meanings having nothing do with vacuums.
Barry Seal was America’s most famous drug smuggler, because he solved two simple problems.
Problem one was taking off and landing on muddy landing strips in the steamy South American jungle. Barry Seal solved it.
“Barry Seal applied military logistics—JATO rockets, C-123 cargo planes, mil-spec Beechcraft twins—to the problem of importing cocaine from Colombia into the United States,” a Miami private investigator told us crisply.
“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Problem two only becomes a problem if problem one has been solved. It’s how to land safely, and without unpleasantness from law enforcement, back in the United States.
Barry Seal had this covered too. He had worked for the CIA since the 1950’s.
Barry Seal wasn’t starring in a Jason Bourne movie. He was involved in something much bigger—and more important—than that.
Here’s the real skinny: Barry Seal was the ‘whale’ that breached the surfaced while tourists on the whale-watching boat had their binoculars pointed in his direction.
No gold chains. No Spanish accents. No bandolier-strapped-across-bare-chests, no narcobanners…. Barry Seal was an American Drug Lord, in a country that isn’t supposed to have any.
Say, what’s up with that, anyway? The U.S. has Silicon Valley, more hedge fund guys than Obama-era dreamers… But no Drug Lords?
The Russian Mob is eating our lunch all over the planet. America apparently has a huge Drug Lord gap that neither major political party seems eager to address. The irony is lost on Doug Liman.
“Barry Seal, he didn’t care what was in the back of his airplane,” Liman continues to explain earnestly. “He just cared how heavy it was. If it absolutely had to be there overnight and it was illegal, Barry Seal was your guy.”
“He could get it in and out of the country. He could get it in and out of Colombia, or Panama. There’s no place he wouldn’t fly to. And so, you know, he always delivered. He was completely reliable, it’s a reason Escobar considered him his most trusted pilot. And the CIA considered him their most trusted pilot, because he always delivered. He just was, you know. He was playing both sides against each other and they didn’t even know it.”
Suspicion, oh eats my heart!
There are abundant reasons to be suspicious of the motives behind the making of “American Made.” Here are a few:
Instead of filming in Baton Rouge, and Mena, Arkansas, where much of Seal’s story took place, Doug Limon’s project became the first major studio American movie to ever shoot principal photography in Medellin, Colombia.
The decision cost the lives of two pilots associated with the picture, who died in a plane crash in fog over rugged mountains they were unfamiliar with.
What were they doing there in the first place?
The movie which “American Made” is most often being compared to is Martin Scorsese’s tone-deaf “Wolf of Wall Street,” which invited audiences along for the hilarious ride of a crew of wacky Mobbed-up stock-brokers who were emblematic of the banksters and grifters who destroyed the American middle class in 2007 and 2008.
So it is only fitting that the Hollywood film company behind the film has become embroiled in a massive corruption scandal linked to the Malaysian prime minister.
Money from a Malaysian investment fund was used to fund the movie and gambling trips to Las Vegas, claims the US Justice Department
More than $1billion was siphoned off from the fund, funneling the cash through a Swiss bank account of a shell company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R Caldwell told a news conference:
‘The associates of these corrupt used illicit proceeds from their fraud scheme to fund production of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a movie about a corrupt stockbroker who tried to hide his own illicit profits in a perceived foreign safe haven. This is a case where life imitated art.”
Did Doug Liman’s film company’s presence in Medellin affect the picture’s sources of funding? Is there anything irregular about the money behind ‘American Made?’
The catastrophe in Texas is a man-made disaster accomplished by the criminal negligence of this nation’s elected officials, who have continued to support Wall Street’s speculative economy and imperial ambitions while arguing that the nation cannot afford to rebuild and replace its ancient and broken-down economic infrastructure. For the third time since 2005, major American cities have been flooded and their people devastated, because the plans for new infrastructure to protect the people, requiring tens of billions in investments, have been ignored and turned down. Hurricane Harvey now looms as the worst national disaster in our nation’s history and it is a disaster which did not have to happen.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people and wreaked $130 billion in economic losses. Only then, slowly, new flood-control and seagate infrastructure was built—at last—for New Orleans, at a fraction of the human and monetary costs of the damage inflicted by the storm. How many unnecessary deaths and suffering could this project have averted?
Four years later, the American Society of Civil Engineers met in Manhattan to discuss several storm surge barrier options for the New York City region. The estimate for the largest of these was $9 billion. The government decided to do nothing. Then, in 2012 Superstorm Sandy killed more than 100 people and caused $65 billion in economic losses. New York area residents now are going through a “Summer of Hell” as the 100-year-old regional transportation system, flooded and damaged five years ago, also was not repaired or replaced at the necessary pace.
The staggering economic and human suffering caused by Hurricane Harvey in the Texas and Louisiana Gulf region are not yet known, and will grow in magnitude as the water recedes; but, what has been known for many years, is that Texas Gulf cities are flood-prone, and have repeatedly flooded. Yet, no flood control or storm protection infrastructure has been built since the end of World War II. Plans for a new system for the Houston area had been drafted, but their $25 billion cost was deemed “too high” a price tag for our Wall Street–dominated agencies and elected officials. Now, hundreds of billions of dollars, and priceless human lives, are lost.
All of these disasters, and others in the recent period, could have been averted for a fraction of their eventual cost in lost wealth, let alone in lost lives. The media insist to Americans that each city’s disaster is caused by its particular economic habits, its choice of location, its squabbling jurisdictions, its ignoring of climate change, or its being close to water! This is nonsense. Wall Street, which has been bailed out repeatedly to the tune of trillions of dollars, with nothing but increased impoverishment of the American people to show for it, must no longer be allowed to dictate the economic policy of the United States of America.
“The nation calls for action, and action now!” in President Franklin Roosevelt’s words. During his presidency, and through the 1940s, the new infrastructure to prevent such “natural disasters”—such as the Tennessee Valley Authority—was funded by national credit, as through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Works Progress Authority.
Hurricane Harvey drowning cities in East Texas should be the national alarm which ends 70 years in which the country has been without any such national credit institutions.
Every so often, the worst-case scenario comes to pass.
As of Sunday afternoon, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey seem likely to exceed the worst forecasts that preceded the storm. The entire Houston metropolitan region is flooding: Interstates are under feet of water, local authorities have asked boat owners to join rescue efforts, and most of the streams and rivers near the city are in flood stage.
Some models suggest that the storm will linger over the area until Wednesday night, dumping 50 inches of water in total on Houston and the surrounding area.
“Local rainfall amounts of 50 inches would exceed any previous Texas rainfall record. The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before,” said a statement from the National Weather Service. “Catastrophic flooding is now underway and expected to continue for several days. ” (In years of weather reporting, I have never seen a statement this blunt and ominous.)
This means that thousands of people—and perhaps tens of thousands of people—are facing a terrifying and all-too-real struggle to survive right now. In an age when the climate is changing rapidly, a natural question to ask is: What role did human-caused global warming play in strengthening this storm?
Climate scientists, who specialize in thinking about the Earth system as a whole, are often reticent to link any one weather event to global climate change. But they say that aspects of the case of Hurricane Harvey—and the recent history of tropical cyclones worldwide—suggest global warming is making a bad situation worse.
It may not be obvious why global warming has anything to do with hurricane strength. Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. These gases prevent some of the sun’s rays from bouncing back into space, trapping heat in the planetary system and raising air temperatures all over the world.
This warmer air causes evaporation to happen faster, which can lead to more moisture in the atmosphere. But that phenomenon alone does not explain climate change’s effects on Harvey.
Storms like Harvey are helped by one of the consequences of climate change: As the air warms, some of that heat is absorbed by the ocean, which in turn raises the temperature of the sea’s upper layers.
Harvey benefitted from unusually toasty waters in the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm roared toward Houston last week, sea-surface waters near Texas rose to between 2.7 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average. These waters were some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world. The tropical storm, feeding off this unusual warmth, was able to progress from a tropical depression to a category-four hurricane in roughly 48 hours.
“This is the main fuel for the storm,” says Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Although these storms occur naturally, the storm is apt to be more intense, maybe a bit bigger, longer-lasting, and with much heavier rainfalls [because of that ocean heat].”
This also suggests an explanation for one of Harvey’s strangest and scariest behaviors. The storm intensified up until the moment of landfall, achieving category-four strength hours before it slammed into the Texas coast. This is not only rare for tropical cyclones in the western Gulf of Mexico: It may be unique. In the past 30 years of records, no storms west of Florida have intensified in the last 12 hours before landfall.
Why do storms normally weaken—and why didn’t Harvey? As mentioned above, hurricanes feed and grow on warm ocean surface waters. But as they grow, their strong winds often pick up seawater, churning the oceans and moving the warmest waters deep below the surface. The same winds also bring newer, colder water closer to the atmosphere, which usually serves to drain energy and weaken the storm.
That didn’t happen with Harvey. The hurricane churned up water 100 or even 200 meters below the surface, said Trenberth, but this water was still warm—meaning that the storm could keep growing and strengthening. “Harvey was not in a good position to intensify the way it did, because it was so close to land. It’s amazing it was able to do that,” he told me.
All of this said, a storm like Harvey could have happened even if there was no climate change. Planning experts have long fretted over the possibility of a major hurricane striking Houston. Harvey is also a powerful hurricane forming in one of the most hurricane-friendly regions of the world at the peak of hurricane season. Storms similar to it would form in any climate.
But Trenberth says that the extra heat could make the storm more costly and more powerful, overpowering and eventually breaking local drainage systems.
“The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so up to the total rainfall coming out of the storm,” he said. “It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway—but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”
More generally, it’s still unclear what effect climate change is having on hurricane formation across the greater Atlantic Ocean. A draft version of a major U.S. government review of climate science due out later this year says there is “medium confidence” that human activities “have contributed to the observed upward trend in North Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1970s.”
Houston has been ground zero for super-damaging storms lately. It has seen four 100-year flooding events since the spring of 2015, according to the meteorologist Eric Holthaus. The city also sees more than 156 percent more heavy downpours than it did in the 1950s. Meanwhile, only one-sixth of its residents have federal flood insurance, though that program has struggled to adjust to the increased flooding risk associated with climate change.
Yet even compared to recent storms, Harvey is unprecedented—just the kind of weird weather that scientists expect to see more of as the planet warms. Harvey has already dumped more water on Harris County than Tropical Storm Allison, the area’s previous worst-ever flooding disaster in 2001, though it has only lasted half the time of that earlier storm.
And it will keep raining. As of Sunday afternoon, Buffalo Bayou, a major river near downtown Houston, is one foot above flood stage. It is projected to rise as much as another 12 feet today alone.