Sunday, October 24, 2010

Worlds Meet

TV Points Finger At Contractors

When the new FOX series Nikita premiered in September, it became the sixth series to feature the idea of a contracting industry that grows uncontrollably beyond government constraints. We dare to ask if fiction writers see this threat, why many government policy people and most media continue to ignore the problem.

In the climax of the opening episode, Nikita, a former operative of the Division rescues an African leader from an assassination attempt by her former employer. Nikita told the African leader that he was the target of a rogue department created by the government, which no longer maintained that control. The Division started as a Blackwater-like secret ops organization with specialized ninja-like rangers.

Contracting firms like Blackwater, now called Xe, are hired by the government to handle protection as bodyguards, accompany convoys of trucks and even gather intelligence from areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nikita became the sixth series recognizing contracting firms as a threat. The CBS series Jericho (which ran from 2006 to 2008), showed the culprit of a contracting firm called J&R that could destroy US towns in order to preserve national security. The season before it ended, 24 (FOX) presented a contracting firm that decided the national interest called for smuggling nuclear material into Washington D.C. along with a seizure of the President. Both Flash Forward (ABC) and The Unit (CBS) demonstrated the ability of those rogue corporations to subvert the FBI, CIA and national security forces. This year’s The Event (NBC) casts a president kept out of the loop by such a threat.

Yet the problem of such corporations is being ignored by most people. Blackwater was temporarily banned from working in Iraq when a series of citizen killings alienated the Iraqi government. But the ban was short lived and the company was called back because the Pentagon considered its work necessary for national security. When a key writer for The Nation detailed how Blackwater’s founder was implicated in murder in an August 4, 2009 article, the warning produced little attention. One court even suggested that the black ops people were outside of any US jurisdiction. We should dare to ask if these corporations are exerting even more unseen influence and perhaps exert power to suppress information.

Blackwater or Xe, or Blackwater Worldwide, which it was before becoming Xe, lies at the tip of a threatening iceberg. The Center for Public Integrity reported that since 1994, the Defense Department entered into 3,601 contracts worth $300 billion from 12 corporations like Xe. Arguments claim these corporations are an inevitable measure to save money. However, those comments don’t explain how paying a Xe contractor $600 a day while billing the government for $900 day compares to using standard army personnel.

A recent NPR report described the death of a Taliban leader during a strike. Oddly, the report also indicated the Taliban leader code-named White, was a black ops contractor. So when we see reports like that spotlighting our supposed enemies as those we placed to protect us, maybe departments like the Division, or Jack Bauer’s foe, might not be as fictional as we think.

The threats abound. Is the cloak of protecting the country’s national security a massive cover for deciding the course of history without giving the public a voice in the decision? Dare we ask if the average Roman worried about seeing the Praetorian Guard around his leader? Did he fear that those guards might one day seize power without regard for democracy?

- Tom Pope

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

A Vampire for the Times

Season 3 of the critically acclaimed HBO series True Blood introduced us to Russell Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi and the big bad guy of the past season. After watching Russell in action throughout the course of season 3, I thought to myself that if Edgington had actually existed in the real world, he would have fit in extremely well in our current world order. We live in an age where we are reminded of the threat of another terrorist attack either internally or externally almost on a daily basis. The divide between rich and poor continues to grow at an alarming rate, and politicians and other religious and societal leaders preach unity and togetherness, but actually practice divisiveness, power mongering and hypocrisy.

On the surface, Russell Edgington (played with gusto, excellence and a touch of camp by Denis O’Hare) seems to be a cool, cultured blue blood of a vampire. He also donates regularly to the American Vampire League, a political organization that is trying to do their best to co-exist peacefully with humans. And he tolerates the Vampire Magister, the judge and jury of internal vampire disputes, although he finds the Magister and his ways archaic and prohibitive.

But Edgington’s fa├žade belies a bigoted, Machiavellian nature. Edgington sees vampires as the superior life form, and according to his world view, humans and the other supernatural species that inhabit the True Blood world are only good for food and/or slave labor. At close to three thousand years old, Edgington has been a part of many crucial moments in the history of the world, even going so far as to employ werewolves to do his bidding while roaming Europe and while masquerading as a Nazi during World War II.

While Edgington wants vampires to take, what he believes to be their rightful place on the top of the food chain, he won’t hesitate to sell out his own kind for money and power. Some examples include giving and selling vampire blood to both humans and werewolves, and exposing the Vampire Queen of Louisiana’s dire financial state of affairs so that he could marry her, take over her territory and her V (the term for Vampire blood) business.

In an act of revenge, vampire Eric Northman, kills Talbot, Edgington’s consort in response for Edgington and his werewolves slaughtering Eric’s family in Sweden close to one thousand years ago. This causes Edgington to go off the deep end and exhibit his true vampiric nature. On national TV, Edgington disrupts a news broadcast, eviscerating the host on live TV. He goes on to declare that vampires are the dominant species, and that humans need to beware.

Edgington’s subsequent action causes anti-vampire sentiment and hate crimes to skyrocket. The American Vampire League denounces him as an extremist and a terrorist and declares that the brazen act of one vampire is not an accurate or fair representation of all vampires. Hmmm, where have we heard that before?

While Edgington’s actions on True Blood are heightened and exaggerated, the real world messages and analogies are clear and unmistakable. When a terrorist act occurs, it’s easy to give in to fear and assume that an entire ethnic or religious group is responsible rather than a select few extremists. Or that a select few that have power and influence, are above the rules and laws of their governing body and will do what they need to keep and consolidate their power (such as the AIG’s, Citigroup’s and the Bank of America’s of the world), even if it means exploiting those less fortunate.

Edgington has no use for government of any kind whether it’s the old school Magister or the American Vampire League, unless it benefits him in some way, shape or form. In order to consolidate his territory and power, Edgington forces the Magister to marry both he and the Vampire Queen of Louisiana. After the Magister performs the ceremony and threatens to report Edgington to the Vampire Board, Edgington kills him.

While not as drastic or visceral, we’ve seen this mentality countless times in the real world too. The Republicans and many Tea Party members use it as a mantra. They want the government to get their hands out of Medicare, Social Security and the banks. But when something goes wrong (like the financial crisis of 2007 or a natural disaster) , they’re quick to jump back on the government bandwagon only to go back to their “hands off” government approach once the problem is fixed. I know that many Wall Street brokers, credit card companies and mortgage lenders are baring their fangs because of all the new regulations that have been imposed upon them. But like Edgington, they have found loopholes and ways around the current restrictions, even going so far as to give their top executives nice, big bonuses this year.

In the end, many of us are just like the vampire. Despite our best attempts to be civilized and politically correct, when push comes to shove and we feel threatened or in a position of superiority, we turn our minds off, and show our basest, most savage natures.

- Hamilton Maher

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