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Yes, I saw the glum faces of prosecutors in the courtroom a few days ago, when the judge sentenced CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling to three and a half years in prison -- far from the 19 to 24 years they’d suggested would be appropriate.
Yes, I get that there was a huge gap between the punishment the government sought and what it got -- a gap that can be understood as a rebuke to the dominant hard-line elements at the Justice Department.
And yes, it was a positive step when a May 13 editorial by the New York Times finally criticized the extreme prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling.
But let’s be clear: The only fair sentence for Sterling would have been no sentence at all. Or, at most, something like the recent gentle wrist-slap, with no time behind bars, for former CIA director David Petraeus, who was sentenced for providing highly classified information to his journalist lover.
Jeffrey Sterling has already suffered enormously since indictment in December 2010 on numerous felony counts, including seven under the Espionage Act. And for what?
The government’s righteous charge has been that Sterling provided information to New York Times reporter James Risen that went into a chapter of his 2006 book “State of War” -- about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, which in 2000 provided Iran with flawed design information for a nuclear weapon component.
As Marcy Wheeler and I wrote last fall: “If the government’s indictment is accurate in its claim that Sterling divulged classified information, then he took a great risk to inform the public about an action that, in Risen’s words, ‘may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.’ If the indictment is false, then Sterling is guilty of nothing more than charging the agency with racial bias and going through channels to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee of extremely dangerous CIA actions.”
Whether “guilty” or “innocent” of doing the right thing, Sterling has already been through a protracted hell. And now -- after he has been unemployable for more than four years while enduring a legal process that threatened to send him to prison for decades -- perhaps it takes a bit of numbness for anyone to think of the sentence he just received as anything less than an outrage.
Human realities exist far beyond sketchy media images and comfortable assumptions. Going beyond such images and assumptions is a key goal of the short documentary “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling,” released this week. Via the film, the public can hear Sterling speak for himself -- for the first time since he was indicted.
One of the goals of the government’s assault on whistleblowers is to depict them as little more than cardboard cutouts. Aiming to dispense with such two-dimensional portrayals, the director Judith Ehrlich brought a film crew to the home of Jeffrey Sterling and his wife Holly. (On behalf of ExposeFacts.org, I was there as the film’s producer.) We set out to present them as they are, as real people. You can watch the film here.
Sterling’s first words in the documentary apply to powerful officials at the Central Intelligence Agency: “They already had the machine geared up against me. The moment that they felt there was a leak, every finger pointed to Jeffrey Sterling. If the word ‘retaliation’ is not thought of when anyone looks at the experience that I’ve had with the agency, then I just think you’re not looking.”
In another way, now, maybe we’re not truly looking if we figure that Sterling has received a light sentence.
Even if the jury’s guilty verdict was correct -- and after sitting through the entire trial, I’d say the government didn’t come close to its burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt -- an overarching truth is that the whistleblower(s) who provided journalist Risen with information about Operation Merlin rendered a major public service.
People should not be punished for public service.
Imagine that you -- yes, you -- did nothing wrong. And now you’re headed to prison, for three years. Since the prosecution wanted you behind bars for a lot longer than that, should we figure you got a “light” sentence?
While the government keeps harassing, threatening, prosecuting and imprisoning whistleblowers for public service, we’re living in a society where corrosive repression continues to use fear as a hammer against truth-telling. Directly countering such repression will require rejecting any claim or tacit assumption that government prosecutors set the standard for how much punishment is too much.
Norman Solomon’s books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and coordinates its ExposeFacts project. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. Disclosure: After the guilty verdict, Solomon used his frequent-flyer miles to get plane tickets for Holly and Jeffrey Sterling so they would be able to go home to St. Louis.
Rania Khalek discusses her reports on Baltimore police training in Israel, Israel targeting children with drone strikes, and Israeli officials openly advocating genocide. Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass. She is a regular contributer at The Electronic Intifada, where she sits on the editorial board. Her work has also appeared at Truthout, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Salon, AlterNet and more. You can follow her work at her website raniakhalek.com and on twitter at @RaniaKhalek. She also cohosts a podcast called “Unauthorized Disclosure."
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Katrina vanden Heuvel says there's an emerging populist agenda. Of course populist agendas tend to emerge in times of demobilization for election distraction -- that is to say, in moments when huge political party and NGO resources are being dumped into focusing attention on a distant election instead of on the crises and work at hand. Witness all the efforts to get Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, to oppose the TPP.
And of course the agendas don't actually emerge. There's nothing new about them. Millions of us have favored a living wage and free education and breaking up the banking monopolies for years. The point of having such ideas "emerge" is to create reservoirs of patience for not getting them and not even demanding them, but rather diverting one's interest into cheerleading for future saviors who will later treat campaign promises like, well, campaign promises.
But what interests me about what's "emerging" is what's missing from it, even in the rhetoric. Vanden Heuvel links to six reports or platform statements. Each deals with economics, the public budget, spending and investment priorities. Virtually absent from them all, by some coincidence, is any mention of military spending, despite its taking up a majority of the discretionary spending budget every year, and despite its swallowing far more wealth than goes to the billionaires who are so rightly upbraided for hoarding it so immorally.
Five of the six populist agendas propose nothing related to military spending. It might as well not exist. One of them includes as number 11 of its 12 points: "We should reduce military budgets and properly support humanitarian programs."
Was that so hard? It used to be the norm in Democratic Party platform promises. Where has it gone too? The other five organizations will not attack the sixth with sharp critiques for including this, of course. Their preferred tactic is silence.
The new normal seems to be PEP. Usually PEP means Progressive Except for Palestine (we all know people who are generally against murdering babies but not when Israel does it). But I'm using PEP to mean Populist Except for the Pentagon.
If you don't want to take the time to watch the video of Bernie Sanders' 12 proposals, here's his list:
1. major investment in infrastructure
2. reverse climate change
3. new economic models, no more huge tax breaks to corporations, but support for worker-owned coops
4. Employee Free Choice Act (remember that?)
5. make minimum wage a living wage
6. pay equity for women
7. end NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China
8. affordable college
9. break up the Wall Street banks
10. Medicare for all - single payer healthcare
11. expand Social Security
12. progressive taxation
All wonderful stuff. Some of it quite courageous outside-the-acceptable stuff. But what do you spend on reversing climate change? And do you also keep spending on the single biggest contributor to climate change, namely the military? What do you invest in infrastructure? It's not as though Sanders doesn't know about the trade-offs. In between listing items 1 and 2, he blames "the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq" for costing $3 trillion. He says he wants infrastructure instead of wars. But routine "base" military spending is $1.3 trillion or so each and every year. It's been far more in recent years than all the recent wars, and it generates the wars as Eisenhower warned it would. It also erodes the economy, as the studies of U-Mass Amherst document. The same dollars moved to infrastructure would produce many more jobs and better paying ones. Why not propose moving some money? Why not include it in the list of proposals?
In Sanders' case, I think he's partly a true believer in militarism. He wants good wars instead of bad wars (whatever that means) despite the belief in "good wars" requiring ongoing military spending. And partly, I think, he comes at it from a deep habit of "supporting" the troops and veterans for both sincere and calculating reasons. He's also a PEP in the Palestine sense.
But people will be thrilled just to hear Sanders mention "the bad Bush-Cheney war," when their standard is set by such war hawks as Hillary Clinton, whose love for war, rather than some collective fit of amnesia, explains the absence of the military from most of the emerging populist agendas.
We should be clear that this degeneration of the Democratic Party platform does not represent a shift in public attitudes, but rather an increase in the corruption of the political system. No polls support this. Many campaign funders do.
Some Americans have heard of New York Times reporter and book author James Risen and his refusal to expose a source. But, because most reports on that matter scrupulously avoided the subject of what it was Risen had reported, relatively few people can tell you. In fact, Risen reported (in a book, as the New York Times obeyed a government request to keep it quiet) that back in the year 2000 the CIA gave nuclear weapons plans to Iran. Flaws had been introduced into the plans, with the stated intention of slowing down an Iranian nuclear weapons program if one existed. Risen's reporting that the flaws were glaringly obvious, including to the former-Russian asset assigned to deliver the plans to Iran, made the scheme look even worse than it at first sounds.
Jeffery Sterling, a CIA handler of the former-Russian asset, was convicted earlier this year of being Risen's source. He was convicted on the basis of the sort of circumstantial evidence known as "meta-data" that the NSA maintains we're not supposed to worry about, but which an appeals court on Thursday ruled the bulk collection of unconstitutional. Sterling is expected to be sentenced Monday to a lengthy prison term.
During the course of Sterling's trial, the CIA itself made public a bigger story than the one it pinned on Sterling. The CIA revealed, unintentionally no doubt, that just after the nuclear weapons plans had been dropped off for the Iranians, the CIA had proposed to the same asset that he next approach the Iraqi government for the same purpose. The CIA revealed this by entering into evidence this cable:
Mr. S., also known as Bob S., was and is a CIA officer. M is short for Merlin which is code for the former Russian and also the name of the operation (Operation Merlin). The cable refers to a more adventurous extension of the operation to somewhere other than Iran. The name for this other location begins with a vowel, because it follows the indefinite article "AN."
Look closely at the text of the cable. The letters line up in vertical columns as well as the usual horizontal rows. It's a grid. The missing word on the seventh line begins with a vowel and has five letters. It can be IRAQI or OMANI.
Keep reading. The missing word on the tenth line has four letters. It is either IRAQ or OMAN.
There follows a discussion of a meeting place, which is likely not in Iraq (or Oman).
Read to the last line. There the missing word has six letters. It can be IRAQIS or OMANIS.
The circumstantial evidence for choosing Iraq over Oman as the second target for Operation Merlin is far more weighty than what was used to convict Jeffrey Sterling of informing the public of the first target. Oman has never been alleged publicly by anyone of having or pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Oman has never been known to be a target of U.S. military action. Iraq in 2000 had been the target of multiple CIA-backed coup attempts. Iraq's weaponry was a top focus of the CIA. Within two years, claims about Iraqi weaponry would be used by the CIA to support the U.S. attack on Iraq that would come in March 2003.
The 2002-2003 claims by then-President George W. Bush and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that a smoking gun could come from Iraq in the form of a mushroom cloud take on a different light when we learn that some short time earlier the CIA had proposed to give Iraq nuclear weapons plans as part of a program that Condoleezza Rice personally persuaded the New York Times not to reveal.
In 1995, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel had informed U.S. and British intelligence officers that "all weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed." Yet, on October 2, 2002, President Bush said, "The regime has the scientists and facilities to build nuclear weapons, and is seeking the materials needed to do so." This was a claim he would also put in a letter to Congress and in his 2003 State of the Union Address.
Vice President Dick Cheney went so far as to claim, on March 16, 2003, on Meet The Press, "And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
There was no evidence for this, of course, and pretended evidence was carefully manufactured, including forged documents purporting to show that Iraq was trying to buy uranium, and an incorrect analysis of aluminum tubes that had to be carefully sought out after all the usual experts refused to provide the desired answer.
"We do know that there have been shipments going . . . into Iraq . . . of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tools [sic] that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," said Condoleezza Rice on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer on September 8, 2002.
When the experts at the Departments of Energy, State, and Defense refused to say that aluminum tubes in Iraq were for nuclear facilities, because they knew they could not possibly be and were almost certainly for rockets, a couple of guys at the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center near Charlottesville, Va., were happy to oblige. Their names were George Norris and Robert Campus, and they received "performance awards" (cash) for the service. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell used Norris' and Campus' claims in his U.N. speech despite the warning of his own staff that they weren't true.
The U.S. government has never engaged in any such efforts to falsely portray Oman as pursuing nuclear weapons.
Did the CIA follow through with Merlin and actually give anything to the Iraqi government? Did it provide nuclear weapons plans as with Iran? Did it provide nuclear weapons parts, as originally conceived for Iran but not followed through on?
We don't know. But we know that the CIA continued paying "Merlin" and his wife for some service. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, "altogether, the CIA paid the Merlins roughly $413,223.67 over the 7 years after James Risen supposedly ruined Merlin's usefulness as an asset." For all we know, we taxpayers are still funding the Merlin household.
Kathy Kelly is just out of prison, where she'd been sent for nonviolently opposing drone murders.
An appeals court has just overturned convictions for Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Gregory Boertje-Obed, imprisoned for entering and protesting a nuclear weapons site at Oak Ridge, Tenn., three years ago. Resentencing on lesser charges, and quite possibly immediate release, is expected.
Amazingly, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the government failed to prove that the activists intended to "injure the national defense." (Maybe Venezuela, accused by President Obama of being a threat to the same, should appeal to the Sixth Circuit!)
The U.S. government has just dropped charges against eight members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance who nonviolently protested the U.S. military's environmental destruction with a march from the EPA to the Pentagon this past Earth Day.
"It can only be speculated why the charges were dismissed," said NCNR. "The eight activists were charged with 'Failure to Comply With a Lawful Order' and were scheduled to appear for trial on June 4 at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA. The group was well prepared to challenge the charge and to speak some truth to power in the courtroom. Perhaps the U.S. attorney recognized that the defendants at the Pentagon were simply exercising their constitutionally-protected right to speak out against our government's wrong-headed policies. Or possibly he agreed with the defendants' messages."
In recent months there have been absurd indictments and sentences. But there have also been surprising acquittals and the dismissal of charges.
Freedom isn't free, it's won by continued protests of wars.
Now to free all the other prisoners!
John Kiriakou, just out of prison, writes about his experience here.
Remarks at UNAC Conference, May 8, 2015.
This week I read an article by someone I have a lot of respect for and who I know to mean well, and who wrote about being a part of something called "the Less War Movement."
Now, in my analysis, war murders, it injures, it traumatizes, and it harms huge numbers of people, fuels hostility, makes the aggressor less safe, drains away wealth for both victim and aggressor, wastes resources that could have saved many more lives than war kills, devastates the natural environment, erodes civil liberties, turns police officers into occupying armies, destroys the rule of law, and corrupts morality beyond recognition. So I consider myself part of something I call the No More War Movement.
If I wanted only less war but still some war, that would mean that I believed some wars were good. But, then, wouldn't I want to make sure to keep the good wars and get rid of the bad ones? I mean, if I just demanded less war, and the wars were reduced or eliminated at random, we might get stuck with all the bad ones and none of the good ones. Wouldn't it make more sense to start an Only The Good Wars Movement?
But then you'd have to find some good ones, a crusade that carries most of its participants back 70 years in search of their most recent example -- an example that transforms into a nightmare monster once examined. An Only the Good Wars Movement ends up making as much sense as an Only the Good Rapes Movement or an Only the Good Child Abuse Movement. There are no good wars.
I suspect the reasoning behind proposing a so-called Less War Movement is actually that all wars are bad but it's more strategic to pretend otherwise. Of course if this were so and it could get us fewer wars, who would complain? But, in reality, once you've proposed that some wars are good, you're trapped inside the logic of the war machine. If even a single potential war is going to be good, why not make 110% sure -- indeed, why not make 1,000% sure -- of winning it? And that means weapons, and troops, and mercenaries, and flying killer robots, and personnel in 175 countries, and surveillance of the planet, and emergency authoritarian secrecy and power that generates more wars -- all of which, incidentally, are lost, not won.
On this Mother's Day weekend, recall Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870 which said, "From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession."
There's logic. There's passion. There's something to build a movement around. You can't build a movement around less war. You can't create a coherent agenda around "Hey Hey LBJ Please kill somewhat less kids today." Nobody's moved by "No justice, no peace. U.S. partially out of the Middle East."
It isn't the bad wars, whichever ones they may be, that do the major damage. It's the routine preparation in case of a future good war. The routine so-called non-war military spending is 10 times the war spending. It kills more by how it's not spent than by how it's spent. It's not spent on food, water, medicine, agriculture, and clean energy.
Baltimore City Schools spends $5,336 per student, while Maryland spends $38,383 per prisoner, and every man, woman, and child in Maryland and in the rest of the United States on average each, EACH spends $4,063 per year on the U.S. military — except those who refuse to pay. That the prisons and military do harm, rather than good, compounds the damage.
The routine weapons business, buying by the U.S. government, and marketing to dictatorships abroad is what ends up providing local police with the equipment, training, conditioning, and attitude of war. You can't sell all the weapons to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, with the latter blowing up the former's. You have to unload some of them on police ($12 million worth to Maryland), who then figure out what to do with them when you explain that protesters are low-level terrorists, and terrorists are by definition protesters. Many of the police who rioted in Baltimore were trained in Israel, and as Medea just noted in U.S. wars.
This weekend in 1944, in El Salvador, a nonviolent movement overthrew a dictator. The victory did not last, but on average such nonviolent victories last far longer than violent ones, and nonviolent action is more likely to result in a victory to begin with. Notice that I said nonviolent ACTION, not nonviolent inaction, which we have way more than enough of.
Nonviolent action is the answer to the question "What do you replace war with?" You replace it with tools that work better: economic, legal, and political structures that facilitate peace and disarmament, actions of resistance and constructive replacement that disrupt business as usual.
You know, I have to confess that I feel bad for the Baltimore Police. The Pentagon would have immediately announced that it broke its victim's spine for women's rights and the spread of democracy. The Baltimore Police had to get the Washington Post to claim that Freddie Gray broke his own spine. It's hard to have to claim something you yourself cannot believe. Like a drone pilot driving home for dinner, the Baltimore Police have been thrust from participation in a war on poor black people into trying to defend murder in a civilian world. In war you don't have to defend murder.
What yanked those killers out of a war and into a society under the rule of law? People in Baltimore standing up and acting.
Young people in Baltimore are as trapped in poverty as almost anywhere on earth. Yet we're told to look for the causes of anger in skin color or culture. In a parallel manner we're told that Western Asia, the so-called Middle East, is violent because of a religion. Yet it is as heavily armed as anywhere on earth, and armed principally by the United States weapons industry.
We're told to debate which type of violence to add to the mix, when the answer right in front of us is Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Stop arming people and beating people and denouncing them as violent.
When we push for disarmament with the logic of reality, that armaments bring wars, and wars bring enemies, and enemies bring the propaganda that brings more armaments, we break a vicious cycle. And perhaps we begin to get somewhere. Of course we won't achieve an instant result of zero armaments. The government will at best give us less armaments. But that is no reason to pre-compromise. Our job is to speak truth to power, not because it makes us feel better, but because it is believable.
Don't put your time, energy, or money into a less war movement, much less a less war candidate for president and for kill list decider in chief. Put it into disarmament, disarmament of Israel, disarmament of Egypt, disarmament of Saudi Arabia, of Bahrain, of Washington D.C., of police departments across this country, of secret agencies, of immigration patrols, disarmament of our households, disarmament of our minds.
We have more powerful tools. We just need to stand up and use them.
The U.S. Senate has been very concerned not to let peace with Iran slip into place too easily, even while a new war in Iraq and Syria proceeds without the formal pretense of Congress "authorizing" or rejecting it.
Both houses of Congress are interested in ramming through the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) on a fast track. The fast track procedure of rushing things through Congress or creating them without Congress seems to be reserved for the least popular ideas our government produces.
What if, instead, a fast track were set up for those items favored by a vast majority of the public, or required for the future habitability of the planet, but which meet resistance from campaign funders, lobbyists, and the corporate media?
Of course I'd rather have clean elections and a publicly accountable Congress if we can't have public initiatives and direct democracy. But in the absence of such utopias, why not use extreme anti-democratic measures to ram through the things people want rather than the things we'd protest if we found out about them? Why not slip one past the plutocrats rather than slipping one past the people? Why not go with voice votes, no debate, and no time to read the details on measures to demilitarize and protect the planet rather than on "trade" agreements that empower corporate lawyers to overturn laws?
I recently read this in an email newsletter from peace advocate Michael Nagler: "The other day I went to test-drive an electric car. When we got through some of the technicalities and were waiting for a red light the salesperson coming with me said, 'So what do you do?' Here it comes, I thought: 'I work with a nonprofit; (gulp, and) we're promoting nonviolence.' After a reflective pause she said quietly, 'Thank you.'"
I've often had that same experience, but increasingly I eagerly reply: "I work on abolishing war." That's what I replied recently in a sandwich shop here in Charlottesville called Baggby's. I didn't get a "thank you," but I got a question as to whether I had known Jack Kidd. I had never heard of Jack Kidd, but Jack Kidd, a retired two-star Air Force general who lived in Charlottesville, had been in Baggby's in the past debating the need to abolish war with some other bigwig general who favored keeping war and militarism going.
So, I read Kidd's book, Prevent War: A New Strategy for America. Of course, I think we need a strategy for earth, not for the United States, if we are going to end war. Kidd, who died in 2013, believed in 2000, when the book was published, that only the United States could lead the way toward peace, that the United States had always meant well, that war could be used to end war, and all sorts of things I can't bring myself to take seriously. And yet, believing everything he still believed, after "waking up" in the early 1980s, as he describes it, Kidd came to recognize the insanity of failing to work for the abolition of war.
This was a man who had bombed German cities in World War II; who believed he'd survived a particularly difficult mission during which he'd shot down lots of German planes, because he'd prayed to God who'd answered his prayer; who'd flown secret nuclear attack plans from Washington to Korea during the Korean war; who'd "served" as Chief of the Joint War Plans Branch and worked on plans for World War III; who believed in the Gulf of Tonkin attack; who had obeyed orders to knowingly fly his plane through nuclear clouds moments after bomb tests -- as self-human experimentation; and yet . . . and yet! And yet Jack Kidd organized retired U.S. and Soviet generals to work for disarmament at the height of the Cold War.
Kidd's book contains numerous proposals to move us away from war. One of them is to fast track disarmament agreements. For that idea alone, his book is worth reading. It's also worth giving to the most hard-core war supporters as a sort of a gentle nudge. It's also worth asking, I think, why Charlottesville has no memorial to this former General who's layed out a plan for peace when it has so many to those whose only accomplishment was losing the U.S. Civil War.
Friday, May 8 – Sunday, May 10, 2015
(30 minutes from New York City)
Learn more: http://www.unacconference2015.org
I'll be speaking there Friday evening, May 8, and hope to see you!
Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( http://vcnv.org ) a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. During each of fourteen trips to Afghanistan, since 2010, Kathy Kelly, has lived alongside ordinary Afghan people in a working class neighborhood in Kabul. She is just out of prison for having protested drone murders at Whiteman Airforce Base in Missouri. Kelly discusses the state of peace and war.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
There just might be a big boost in government honesty soon, as both houses of Congress have now passed with two-thirds votes and sent to the states for ratification a potential 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution bearing the unofficial title "The Truth in Advertising Amendment." This is the text as passed by Congress:
Preamble: The first through tenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States are hereby repealed.
1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, apart from tax breaks for churches, and other than appropriate surveillance, entrapment, and drone strikes for members of any non-established religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof except where that exercise withholds taxes that fund war; or abridging the freedom of campaign bribery in any way or the freedom of speech from within adequate caged areas at an appropriate distance from potential listeners, unless that speech reveals wrongdoing by the government; or of the press cartel or of its right to propagandize for war; or the right of white people peaceably to assemble when not organizing a union, opposing a war, or protesting injustice, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, and to peaceably contemplate the Government's wisdom in ignoring any demands.
2. A well-armed world, being necessary to the profits of the weapons makers, the right of the people, police, government, and foreign nations to keep and bear any weapon they can afford to purchase, shall not be infringed, nor facts about the damage done be openly discussed.
3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be educated in the optional, unnecessary, counterproductive, uncontrollable, murderous, and trauma-inducing nature of war, nor any war veteran be quartered in any house without the proper funding or loan to purchase or rent that house in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4. The right of white people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated much, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, unless the Government deems it appropriate to collect any electronic or other communication, or to record or film any behavior, or to kidnap, imprison, torture, or murder any person.
5. No police officer shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger, in which cases fuggedaboutit; nor shall any white person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall any high-ranking official be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor any non-whistleblower be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, except as stipulated in section 4; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation, unless someone has smoked marijuana.
6. In all criminal prosecutions of extremely wealthy defendants, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty million dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the White House Office of Legal Counsel.
8. Excessive bail shall not be required of white people, nor excessive fines imposed on high-ranking officials, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted on non-whistleblowers, nor on anyone who has not been designated a military-aged male.
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, including the right to shop.
10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people, at the discretion of the President.
A powerful new film on what's wrong with the U.S. media is now being screened around the country. It's called Shadows of Liberty and you can set up a screening of it as part of an upcoming international week of actions for whistleblowers called Stand Up For Truth. Or you can buy the DVD or catch it on Link TV. (Here in Charlottesville I'll be speaking at the event, May 19, 7 p.m. at The Bridge.)
Judith Miller is on a rehabilitative book tour; the Washington Post recently reported that a victim of Baltimore police murder broke his own spine; and recently leaked emails from the State Department asked Sony to entertain us into proper war support. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner was just blocked, for now, but the existence of those mega-monopolies in their current form is at the root of the problem, according to Shadows of Liberty.
Allowing for-profit companies to decide what we learn about the world and our government, allowing those companies to consolidate into a tiny cartel controlling the formerly public airwaves, allowing them to be owned by much larger companies that rely on the government for weapons contracts, and allowing them to determine politicians' access to the public and to bribe politicians with "campaign contributions" -- this, in the analysis of Shadows of Liberty, this subservience of public space to private profit is what creates news that misinforms, that takes no interest in the poor, that propagandizes for wars, and that shuts out any journalist who steps out of line.
The film is not primarily analysis, but example. The first example is of Roberta Baskin's reports for CBS on Nike's labor abuses in Asia. CBS killed her big story in exchange for Nike paying CBS so much money that CBS agreed to have all of its "journalists" wear Nike logos during their olympics "coverage."
Another example from CBS in the film is the shooting down of TWA flight 800 by the U.S. Navy, a case of media cowardice and government intimidation, which I wrote about here. As Shadows of Liberty points out, CBS was at the time owned by Westinghouse which had big military contracts. As a for-profit business, there was no question where it would side between one good reporter and the Pentagon. (This is exactly why the owner of the Washington Post shouldn't be someone with much larger funding flowing in from the CIA.)
The New York Timesseemed impressed by an earlier film devoted entirely to the TWA flight 800 mass-killing. The Times favored a new investigation but lamented the supposed lack of any entity that could credibly perform an investigation. The U.S. government comes off as so untrustworthy in the film that it can't be trusted to re-investigate itself. So a leading newspaper, whose job it ought to be to investigate the government, feels at a loss for what to do without a government that can credibly and voluntarily perform the media's own job for it and hold itself accountable. Pathetic. If only Nike were offering to pay the New York Times to investigate the government!
Another example in the bad media highlight reel in Shadows of Liberty is the case of Gary Webb's reporting on the CIA and crack cocaine, also the subject of a recent movie. Another is, inevitably, the propaganda that launched the 2003 attack on Iraq. I just read an analysis of Judith Miller's role that blamed her principally for not correcting her "mistakes" when the lies were exposed. I disagree. I blame her principally for publishing claims that were ludicrous at the time and which she never would have published if made by any non-governmental entity or any of 199 of the 200 national governments on earth. Only the U.S. government gets that treatment from its U.S. media partners in crime -- and in fact only certain elements within the U.S. government. While Colin Powell lied to the world and much of the world laughed, but the U.S. media bowed down, his son pushed through yet more media consolidation. I agree with the recommendation of Shadows of Liberty to blame the media owners, but that doesn't subtract any blame from the employees.
To the credit of Shadows of Liberty it includes among the stories it tells some examples of complete media silence. The story of Sibel Edmonds, for example, was totally whited out by the U.S. mega-media, although not abroad. Another example would be Operation Merlin (the CIA's giving of nuclear plans to Iran), not to mention the extension of Operation Merlin to Iraq. Dan Ellsberg says in the film that a government official will tell the big newspapers to leave a story alone, and the other outlets will "follow the lead of silence."
The U.S. public airwaves were given to private companies in 1934 with big limits on monopolies later stripped out by Reagan and Clinton and the Congresses that worked with them. The 1996 Telecom Act signed by Clinton created the mega-monopolies that have destroyed local news and already guaranteed his wife a 2016 presidential nomination on the basis of the money she'll spend on TV ads.
The bad media's greatest hits are finding a miniature progressive echo-chamber but are not, in fact, isolated cases. Rather they are extreme examples that have taught lessons to countless other "journalists" who have sought to keep their jobs by never stepping out of line in the first place.
The problem with the corporate media is not particular incidents, but how it always reports on everything including the government (which always means well) and wars (there must always be more) and the economy (it must grow and enrich investors) and people (they are helpless and powerless). The particular story lines that do the most damage are not always inherently the worst. Rather, they are those that make it into the general corporate echo-chamber.
The Washington Post sometimes admits exactly what it does wrong but counts on most people never to notice, because such articles will not be repeated and discussed in all the papers and on all the shows.
According to Shadows of Liberty, 40-70% of "news" is based on ideas that come from corporate PR departments. Another good chunk, I suspect, comes from government PR departments. A plurality in the U.S. in the last poll I saw believed Iraq had benefitted from the war on Iraq and was grateful. A Gallup poll of 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. widely believed the be the greatest threat to peace on earth, but within the U.S., as a glaring result of nothing but ludicrous propaganda, Iran was deemed worthy of that honor.
The Tonight Show regularly asks people if they can name a senator and then if they can name some cartoon character, etc., showing that people know stupid stuff. Ha ha. But that's how the corporate media shapes people, and clearly the U.S. government doesn't object enough to do anything about it. If nobody knows your name, they won't be protesting you anytime soon. And there's never any need to worry about being reelected.
Shadows of Liberty is long on problem and short on solution, but its value is in exposing people to an understanding of the problem. And the solution offered is just right, as far as it goes. The solution offered is to keep the internet open and use it. I agree. And one of the ways in which we ought to use it is to popularize foreign reporting on the United States that outdoes domestic reporting. If media tends to report well only on nations in which it is not based, and yet it's all equally accessible online, we need to start finding and reading the media about our country produced in others. In the process, perhaps we can develop some sense of caring what 95% of humanity thinks about this 5%. And in that process perhaps we can weaken nationalism just a bit.
Independent media is the solution proposed, not public media, and not a restoration of the corporate media to its earlier not-quite-so-awful form. The shrinking of newsrooms is to be lamented, of course, but perhaps the recruitment of foreign news rooms and independent bloggers can mitigate that loss in a way that imploring the monopolists to do better won't achieve. I think that part of the solution is creating better independent media, but part of it is finding, reading, appreciating, and using independent and foreign media. And part of that shift in attitude should be dropping the absurd idea of "objectivity," understood as point-of-viewlessness. Another part should be redefining our reality to exist without the blessing of the corporate media, so that we can be inspired to build activist movements whether or not they are on corporate TV. This includes, of course, persuading independent media to invest in stories that are ignored by corporations, not just focus on retelling in a better way the stories the corporations tell wrong.
Independent media has long been the most bang we could get for a buck donated to a useful cause. The next year-and-a-half is a real opportunity, because a completely broken U.S. election system expects hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning people to be given to candidates to give to the TV networks to whom we gave our airwaves. What if we withheld some of that money and built up our own media and activism structures? And why think of the two (media and activism) as separate? I think the jury is still out on The Intercept as new independent media, but it's already far superior to the Washington Post.
No independent media will be perfect. I wish Shadows of Liberty didn't glorify the American revolution to sounds of cannon fire. Later we hear President Reagan calling the Contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers" while the film shows dead bodies -- as if the American revolution produced none of those. But the point that free press, as theoretically provided by the first amendment, is critical to self-governance is right on. The first step in creating freedom of the press is publicly identifying its absence and the causes.
Yes, Bernie Sanders would be a far superior president to Hillary Clinton.
That requires a bit of elaboration. Something I just scraped off my shoe would be a far superior president to Hillary Clinton, but Sanders would actually be good in a whole lot of ways. He has numerous imperfections, but the contrast with Clinton is like day to night.
I'd rather have him running than not.
But please do not give him or Hillary or the wonderful Jill Stein or any other candidate a dime or a moment of your life. Instead, join the movement that's in the streets of Baltimore opposing police murder, that's in the halls of the United Nations pushing to abolish nukes, that's blocking mountaintop removal, divesting from Israel, advancing renewable energy, and struggling to create fair elections through steps like automatic registration in Oregon, and pushing legislation to provide free media, match small donors, give each voter a tax credit to contribute, or take the power to establish plutocracy away from the Supreme Court.
I'm not against elections. I think we should have one some day. At the presidential level we do not currently have elections. That office is not up for election; it is up for sale.
The point is not that we should abandon all hope or that when the going gets tough we should just give up. The point is that there is a huge opportunity here. Hillary Clinton expects to bring in billions (with a B) in bribery for her campaign (primary and general). To begin to compete with Hillary, Sanders would have to bring in a big chunk of that, at least some hundreds of millions of dollars.
For that kind of money we could create a television network dedicated to peace and justice and democracy from here on out. Or we could open a counter-recruiting office next-door to every military recruitment office in the United States. Or we could organize and bus people in for the largest and longest march on Washington against racism, militarism, extreme materialism, and the corruption of our elections ever seen, complete with food supplies and bail funds for as long as it takes. Instead of a march for nothing, how about an occupation for no more Bushes or Clintons or anyone like them?
The complete breakdown of the presidential election system is made obvious to some by the pairing of another Clinton against another Bush. Sanders muddies that clear picture, but only if you imagine he actually has a chance. On that basis, some will now propose to take a year away from policy-based principled activism, after which, the thinking will go, what's another half a year for hold-your-nose lesserevilist Clinton campaigning? And, please understand, by entering the Democratic primaries, Sanders has committed to supporting the Democratic Party nominee and to encouraging his supporters to support her.
Activism gave women the right to vote. Activism got kids out of factories. Activism got the Navy out of Vieques. Activism won the last civil rights movement. Activism has always been the driving force for change. Two years of "registering voters" busy work out of every four years, and the reliance on corrupt figures that it creates, drains away our activism. It was activism that forced President Bush in 2008 to end the war on Iraq as of 2011 in a treaty signed by himself and Iraqi President Maliki. It was the antiwar uproar of the Bush years that led Congress members to think twice about voting for a new war in 2013 and has left them incapable of formally supporting the new war in Iraq that President Obama launched in 2014 despite the feelings of any number of people who believed that voting for him was somehow a significant act.
I worked as press secretary for Dennis Kucinich for president in 2004. I watched him make all the right points and win the most standing ovations in debates with the other Democrats. The reports the next day tended to mention him in the last paragraph as having also been there. And if you asked people in the room cheering for him they'd say "Yeah, I'd vote for him if he had a chance." And inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, I'd rage at them: "Imagine the chance he'd have if all you morons weren't bowing down to your televisions? Why show up and act as if you have an independent brain if you're just going to do what your television told you to do?"
So, here I am in the role of "that jerk" telling Bernie Sanders fanatics that it's hopeless -- a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom if ever there was one. But we have limited time, energy, and money. I don't think saving the planet is hopeless. I just think the best place to put our resources is into uncorrupted, principled, policy-driven, nonviolent, creative activism -- including the activism needed to create fair, open, verifiable elections.
Sure, we now have the internet in a slightly larger way than a decade ago. Sure, a few more people are disgusted enough with Clinton without yet being disgusted with the whole broken system. Sanders is coming to speak in a very small church in my town next week and I'll probably go listen. Any tiny influence the corporate media will allow him on the conversation, so much the better. Maybe with only two Democrats running they'll be forced to allow him a few seconds here and there. Maybe he'll point out that a corrupt corporate hack who voted for the war on Iraq was unacceptable last time and should be again. And yet, she'll be accepted.
The price has been rising. The media has been worsening. Sanders will be skillfully marginalized and mocked. Hillary will avoid debating him. And the election will place either a Democratic or a Republican catastrophe in the White House. Not because I have some sort of wisdom due to having been around a few years. Not because I'm in a bad mood. But because the media monopolies that Clinton's husband facilitated have demonstrably grown more powerful than ever, and elections have grown more corrupted by money -- Just ask Hillary who pretends to oppose it.
Now anything is technically possible. But considering the scandals already known about Hillary Clinton, what sort of new one could make a difference? None that I can even imagine. She could suffer some unfortunate sudden illness or accident, but in that unlikely and undesirable scenario, the media would hand the election to the Republican, even blame Sanders for Clinton's illness or death. You think I'm kidding? The Washington Post just suggested that a victim of Baltimore Police murder broke his own spine.
There's no need for any hard feelings at all among those who mean well. You think the smartest strategy is raising funds for Bernie, we can still be the best of friends. I just happen to disagree. The real question is not whether the next President will be a walking disaster, but what sort of popular movement will have been developed to resist it.
"What a horrible idea! Leave this magnificent place as nature made it!" — Mikell Werder
"NO! NO! NO! Leave our natural wonder ALONE!" — cathy blaivas
RootsAction.org has posted a lot of petitions, but most have not gathered 30,000 signatures in the first day. This one's off to an enthusiastic start and includes comments like these.
"The Grand Canyon is a world treasure; leave it alone!" — Carol & David Moudry
"Developing the Grand Canyon would be and is one of the worst ideas ever!!! Where will this money grubbing desire stop?" — Joseph Gleason
What has people so upset? One of the most deservedly celebrated natural wonders in North America is also among the most endangered. Plans for uranium mining, a tourist tram line, and massive "development" threaten the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. So we're going to deliver this petition to the U.S. Forest Service.
A mining company, Energy Fuels Resources, is seeking to reopen the Canyon Mine uranium mine near the south rim of the Grand Canyon and sink an additional 1,200 feet of shaft to reach ore. A proposed 1.6-mile tramway would take tourists from new commercial developments on the canyon's rim to the canyon's floor. The nearby town of Tusayan, Ariz., is proposing a mega-development that the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has called one of the greatest threats in the park's 96-year history. The Stilo Development Group, based in Italy, would build in Kaibab National Forest, and profit from, 2,000 homes, 3 million square feet of commercial space, a spa, a dude ranch, and even a water slide -- with no source of water identified. Porca miseria, cosa farete, amici nostri italiani?!
People are taking this very seriously:
"This leaves me speechless. What has become of America? If we allow even the Grand Canyon to become a sacrifice zone for profit, maybe America isn't worth saving. I have visited the Grand Canyon, and it is magnificent. Let's keep it that way." — Lucia Dutton
"It boggles the mind that anyone would even consider developing this unparalleled resource. This is only shameless profiteering." — Rod Danner
It boggles the mind because even as we go merrily about rendering the earth uninhabitable, we expect the Grand Canyon to remain unharmed. Instead it could exist for millions of years with human-made touristy crap clinging all over it. There may be few if any people to see it, but we still know it will be that way, and it upsets people. I mean, what if our grandchildren survive and have to look at it? So, we're asking the Forest Service to reject the town's special use permit.
Numerous petition signers are denouncing greed:
"What hideous, short-sighted proposals. Must every natural wonder be peed-upon by developers/profit making interests? Hearing of this makes me sick at heart, especially since commercial interests get their way so much of the time in the U.S. where nothing is sacred except for the dollar. The uranium mine proposal is equally appalling. What is the end use of this uranium …for another Fukushima? …for depleted uranium in missiles and bullets (which cause birth defects, cancer, immunity problems as in Iraq). These development ideas are not meant to serve the public; they are for individual short-term-profit...where everything and everybody is for sale. Do not sell out the Grand Canyon." — Kathy Hamilton
"This whole area is known to the world as a beautiful wonder which would be protected forever by any other nation. The Forest Service is our only hope for protection of our treasured Grand Canyon here in the US, as corporate greed has overrun our very government! PLEASE PROTECT IT!" — Dorothy Richmond
People who've seen other spots ruined want this one spared:
"Really? you want to spoil that beautiful place? Just came back from Phoenix and that has been over built and ruined with only fountains and Wisconsin style grass to replace the beauty of the desert. Please leave the Grand Canyon alone." — Joan Ouellette
"The Grand Canyon is too important to sell off. It is irreplaceable, and the kind of development under consideration will destroy this Natural Wonder forever. Doesn't the Grand Canyon belong to all of us? Doesn't the Grand Canyon belong to Future Generations? Is there nothing more important than profits anymore? Do not sell what belongs to ME. Do not sell what belongs to YOU. Do not sell what belongs to OUR FUTURE. Thank you." — marcus white
"Anyone asking the Hopis about these plans?" — Lynne Lee
A number of commenters appeal to enlightened capitalism:
"Please do not allow any construction whatsoever in or near the glorious Grand Canyon, which is not only a national treasure but a treasure for the entire planet - worth so much more than any amount of uranium or additional tourist dollars! Indeed, many tourists will avoid an over-exploited Grand." — Judi Avery
"The fact that it is unspoiled by development is the major attraction. This is just more pandering to corporations if development and mining is allowed." — Marshall A. Boyler
Some ask the Forest Service to do its job:
"I had the impression that this was set aside to be preserved for future generations, not EXPLOITED/destroyed by this one. DO YOUR JOB." — jon cooper
Some ask those involved to find their lost souls:
"The natural world does not exist for human plunder and commercial profit. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could visit the canyon and completely miss its beauty and sacredness. Anyone who can stand on the edge of this awesome site and scheme about how to make money has truly lost his/her soul." — Wallace Schultz
Reading Nick Turse's new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, raises the question of whether black lives in Africa matter to the U.S. military any more than black lives in the United States matter to the police lately trained and armed by that military.
Turse scouts out the still little told tale of U.S. military expansion into Africa over the past 14 years, and primarily over the past 6 years. Five to eight thousand U.S. troops plus mercenaries are training, arming, and fighting alongside and against African militaries and rebel groups in nearly every nation in Africa. Major land and water routes to bring in the U.S. armaments, and all the accouterments of bases housing U.S. troops, have been established to avoid the local suspicions created by building and improving airports. And yet, the U.S. military has proceeded to acquire local agreements to make use of 29 international airports and gotten to work building and improving runways at a number of them.
The U.S. militarization of Africa includes airstrikes and commando raids in Libya; "black ops" missions and drone murders in Somalia; a proxy war in Mali; secretive actions in Chad; anti-piracy operations that result in increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea; wide-ranging drone operations out of bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger, and the Seychelles; "special" operations out of bases in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; CIA bungling in Somalia; over a dozen joint training exercises a year; arming and training of soldiers in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya; a "joint special operations" operation in Burkina Faso; base construction aimed at accommodating future "surges" of troops; legions of mercenary spies; the expansion of a former French foreign legion base in Djibouti and joint war-making with France in Mali (Turse must be reminded of that other wonderfully successful U.S. takeover of French colonialism known as the war on Vietnam).
AFRICOM (Africa Command) is in fact headquartered in Germany with plans to be based at the giant new U.S. base built in Vicenza, Italy, against the will of the Vicentini. Important parts of AFRICOM's structure are in Sigonella, Sicily; Rota, Spain; Aruba; and Souda Bay, Greece -- all U.S. military outposts.
Recent U.S. military actions in Africa are mostly quiet interventions that stand a good chance of leading to enough chaos to be used as justifications for future public "interventions" in the form of larger wars that will be marketed without mention of their causation. Future famous evil forces that may one day be threatening U.S. homes with vague but scary Islamic and demonic threats in U.S. "news" reports are discussed in Turse's book now and are arising now in response to militarism rarely discussed in corporate U.S. news media.
AFRICOM is advancing with as much secrecy as it can, trying to maintain the pretense of self-governance by local government "partners," as well as to avoid the scrutiny of the world. So, it hasn't been invited by public demand. It isn't riding in to prevent some horror. There has been no public debate or decision by the U.S. public. Why, then, is the United States moving U.S. war making into Africa?
AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham explains the U.S. militarization of Africa as a response to the problems it may in the future manage to create: "The absolute imperative for the United States military is to protect America, Americans, and American interests [clearly something other than Americans]; in our case, in my case, to protect us from threats that may emerge from the African continent." Asked to identify such a threat in current existence, AFRICOM cannot do so, struggling instead to pretend that African rebels are part of al Qaeda because Osama bin Laden once praised them. During the course of AFRICOM's operations, violence has been expanding, insurgent groups proliferating, terrorism rising, and failed states multiplying -- and not by coincidence.
The reference to "American interests" may be a clue to real motivations. The word "profit" may have been accidentally omitted. In any case, the stated purposes are not working out very well.
The 2011 war on Libya led to war in Mali and anarchy in Libya. And less public operations have been no less disastrous. U.S.-backed war in Mali led to attacks in Algeria, Niger, and Libya. The U.S. response to greater violence in Libya has been still more violence. The U.S. embassy in Tunisia was attacked and burned. Congolese soldiers trained by the United States have mass raped women and girls, matching the atrocities committed by U.S.-trained Ethiopian soldiers. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has arisen. The Central African Republic has had a coup. The Great Lakes region has seen violence rise. South Sudan, which the United States helped to create, has fallen into civil war and humanitarian disaster. Et cetera. This is not entirely new. U.S. roles in instigating long wars in Congo, Sudan, and elsewhere predate the current Africa "pivot." African nations, like nations in the rest of the world, tend to believe the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth.
Turse reports that AFRICOM's spokesman Benjamin Benson used to claim the Gulf of Guinea as the sole supposed success story, until doing so became so untenable that he began claiming he'd never done so. Turse also reports that the Benghazi disaster, contrary to what common sense might suggest, became a basis for further expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa. When something's not working, try more of it! Says Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, "We will be in Africa for some time to come. There's lots more to do there."
Someone recently told me that China had threatened to cut of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's profits from casinos in China if he continued to fund Congress members who insisted on going to war with Iran. The alleged motivation for this was that China can better buy oil from Iran if Iran is not at war. True or not, this fits Turse's description of China's approach to Africa. The U.S. relies heavily on war making. China relies more on aid and funding. The U.S. creates a nation doomed to collapse (South Sudan) and China buys its oil. This of course raises an interesting question: Why can't the United States leave the world in peace and still, like China, make itself welcome through aid and assistance, and still, like China, buy up the fossil fuels with which to destroy life on earth by means other than warfare?
The other pressing question raised by the Obama government's militarization of Africa, of course, is: Can you imagine the ear-splitting everlasting biblical proportions of the outrage had a white Republican done this?
Graphic from TomDispatch.
Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment, a new book by Burt Neuborne, at first appears an unlikely work to serve much purpose today. Who wants to celebrate slave owner James Madison's view of freedom as embodied in a long outdated Constitution in desperate need of updating or rewriting? And who wants to hear it from a former legal director of the ACLU who just signed a petition supporting the hiring of Harold Koh, defender of drone murders and presidential wars of aggression, to teach human rights law at New York University, a petition by a bunch of stuffy corrupted professors countering the moral stand being taken by students?
But Neuborne's main thesis is not the worship of James Madison, and he merely suffers the same blindness to war as the rest of his society, believing, as he writes, that the world is "dependent on the anchor of American power" (whether the world wants it or not). While legalizing murder may not be a problem for Neuborne's view of the Constitution, legalizing bribery is. And that's where Madison's Music becomes useful. Each time the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of plutocracy it is ruling against precedents, common sense, basic decency, and a coherent and plausible reading of the Bill of Rights that reads the various amendments as aimed at strengthening democracy.
It's also ruling against a Constitution that nowhere gave it, the Supreme Court, any right to rule on any such things. While there is, sadly, no way to read the Supreme Court out of the Constitution, it can be quite easily understood as subject to the laws of Congress rather than vice versa. Not that today's Congress gets us any closer to democracy than does today's Supreme Court, but when our culture is ready for reform, the paths available will be numerous and each and every institution subject to reform or abolition.
The first amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Neuborne, to his credit, does not choose to read this as the ACLU does, namely as including a defense of bribery and private election spending.
Madison's original draft, severely edited by the Senate -- one of those institutions worthy of abolition, and one for which Madison himself was in part to blame -- began with protection of both religious and secular conscience. The final draft begins by forbidding the government from imposing religion, and then forbids it from prohibiting anyone's religion. The point is to establish, in an eighteenth century manner, the freedom of thought. From thought, one moves on to speech, and from ordinary speech one moves on to the press. Each of these is guaranteed freedom. Beyond speech and press, the trajectory of an idea in a democracy proceeds to mass action: the right to assemble; and beyond that there remains the right to petition the government.
As Neuborne points out, the first amendment depicts a functioning democracy; it doesn't simply list unrelated rights. Nor is freedom of speech the only real right it lists, with the other rights being simply particular instances of it. Rather, freedom of thought and press and assembly and petition are unique rights with their own purposes. But none of them are ends in themselves. The purpose of the whole array of rights is to shape a government and a society in which popular thought (at one time of wealthy white males, later expanded) has at least some significant impact on public policy. Currently, of course, it does not, and Neuborne puts much of the blame for that on the Supreme Court's choices over the centuries, well meaning and otherwise, in how to read the first amendment.
As Neuborne suggests, the right to petition the government has been neglected. Nothing goes to a vote in the House of so-called Representatives unless approved by the majority party leader. Forty-one senators representing a tiny sliver of the population can stop almost any bill in the Senate. A democratic understanding of the right of petition might allow the public to compel votes in Congress on matters of public interest. In fact, I think this understanding would not be a new one. Jefferson's Manual, which is part of the rules of the House, allows for petitions and memorials, which are often submitted to Congress by local and state governments and groups. And at least in the case of impeachment proceedings, it lists a petition and memorial (written statement of facts accompanying the petition) as one of the means of initiating impeachment proceedings. I know because thousands of us collected millions of signatures on petitions to begin the impeachment of President George W. Bush, the desirability of which also reached a majority in public opinion polls despite zero action or discussion in Washington. The public was unable to even compel a vote. Our grievances were not redressed.
The right of assembly has been confined in free-speech cages, the right of free press has been corporate-monopolized, and the right of free speech has been shriveled away in the right places and expanded in the wrong places.
I'm not convinced by those who argue against all limits on speech. Speech is, appropriately enough, not considered free when it comes to threats, blackmail, extortion, false statements causing harm, obscenity, "fighting words," commercial speech urging illegal action, or egregiously false and misleading commercial speech. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, "any propaganda for war" must be prohibited, a standard which, if enforced, would eliminate a big chunk of U.S. television viewing.
So, we must choose where to allow speech and where not to, and as Neuborne documents, this is currently done with zero respect for logic. Spending money to elect a plutocratic-friendly candidate is considered "pure speech," deserving of the highest protection, but contributing money to that candidate's campaign is "indirect speech," deserving of a bit less protection and therefore subject to limits. Meanwhile burning a draft card is merely "communicative conduct" and when a voter writes in a name as a protest vote that gets no protection at all and can be banned. The Supremes do not allow judges to hear cases in which one litigant is a major benefactor of the judge, yet allow elected officials to govern people who buy them their seats. Corporations get first amendment rights despite lacking the human dignity to qualify for the fifth amendment's right to remain silent; are we supposed to pretend corporations are human or not? The Court upheld an Indiana voter ID requirement despite understanding that it would disproportionately harm the poor and despite not a single case of voter fraud being found anywhere in Indiana. If the right to outspend anyone else and effectively buy a candidate an election is the highest form of protected speech, why is the right to vote the lowest? Why are long lines to vote in poor neighborhoods allowed? Why can districts be gerrymandered to guarantee election of a candidate or party? Why can a criminal conviction strip away the right to vote? Why can elections be designed to benefit a two-party duopoly rather than the voters?
Neuborne writes that, "the robust third-party culture of the nineteenth century rested on ease of ballot access and the ability to cross-endorse. The Supreme Court has wiped out both, leaving a Republicrat cartel that stifles new ideas that might threaten the status quo."
Neuborne suggests many of the usual, and very good, solutions: creating free media on our air waves, providing tax credits to effectively give every person money to spend on elections, matching small donations as New York City does, creating automatic registration as Oregon just did, creating an election day holiday. Neuborne proposes a duty to vote, allowing an opt-out -- I'd rather add an option to vote for "none of the above." But the real solution is a popular movement that compels one or more branches of our government to view its purpose as supporting democracy, not just bombing other countries in its name.
Which brings us to the primary thing our government does, which even its detractors among law professors approve, namely war. To his credit, Neuborne favors the right to conscientious objection, as well as the free-speech right of groups or individuals to teach nonviolent action techniques to groups labeled "terrorist." Yet he supports hiring as a teacher of so-called human rights law a man who used his law background to tell Congress it had no war powers, to legitimate a brutal and blatantly illegal attack on Libya that has left behind a possibly permanent catastrophe from which helpless people are fleeing by boat, and to sanction the practice of murdering men, women, and children in large numbers by missile from drone.
I would love to see the explanation from Professor Neuborne as to how it can be the government's right to murder him (and anyone near him) with a hellfire missile, while it is simultaneously his right to be secure in his person against unreasonable search and seizure, his right not to be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, his right to a speedy and public trial, his right to be informed of the accusation and to be confronted by the witnesses, his right to subpoena witnesses, his right to a trial by jury, and his right not to suffer cruel or unusual punishment.
By Joy First
As I traveled to DC to risk arrest in an action organized by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) I was feeling nervous, but also knowing this is what I needed to be doing. This would be my first arrest since I was arrested at the CIA in June 2013, and served a one-year probation sentence after an October 2013 trial. Taking almost two years off from risking arrest helped me to really examine what I was doing and why, and I was committed to continuing to live a life in resistance to the crimes of our government.
I have been a part of NCNR for 12 years - since the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003. As the number of people involved in the anti-war movement declines, I know that we must keep up the resistance. Though we don’t have big numbers now, it is more important than ever that we speak the truth about what is happening in the wars in Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, in the drone warfare program, and in looking at ways in which the climate crisis is exacerbated by the military.
There are so many ways in which the military is destroying our planet through the use of fossil fuels, nuclear weapons, depleted uranium, spraying poisonous chemicals on fields in the “War on Drugs” in South America, and through the several hundred military bases around the world. Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War is still affecting the environment. According to Joseph Nevins, in an article published by CommonDreams.org, Greenwashing the Pentagon, “The U.S. military is the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels, and the single entity most responsible for destabilizing the Earth’s climate.”
WE MUST TAKE ACTION TO END THIS DESTRUCTION OF OUR ENVIRONMENT BY THE U.S. MILTARY.
NCNR began planning an Earth Day action several months ago where we hold the military accountable for their role in the destruction of the planet. I was sending quite a few emails to various individuals and lists as we continued our planning. Then about 6 weeks ago I was contacted by Elliot Grollman from the Department of Homeland Security. He wondered what we were doing, and as a way to try and get more information from me, he asked if he could help facilitate our action on April 22. What was very surprising to me was that he told me he knew about our action by reading my private email correspondence. We cannot ever think that anything we say will not be monitored. He called my home phone number in Mount Horeb, WI at 7:00 am on the morning of the action. Of course I was in Washington, DC and my husband told him that and gave him my cell phone number.
On Earth Day, April 22, I joined other activists to deliver a letter to Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, calling on the EPA to do their job in monitoring and bringing an end to the military’s complicity in causing climate chaos, and then we went to the Pentagon where we would try to deliver a letter to the Secretary of Defense. Both of these letters were mailed several weeks before the action and we never received a response. In both of these letters we asked for a meeting to discuss our concerns.
About thirty people gathered outside the EPA at 10:00 am on the day of the action. David Barrows made a large banner that read “EPA – Do Your Job; Pentagon – Stop Your Ecocide”. There was a picture of the earth in flames on the banner. We also had 8 smaller posters with quotes from our letter to Ashton Carter.
Max started the program and talked about Mother Earth weeping as she was being destroyed by her children. Beth Adams read a statement, followed by Ed Kinane reading a statement by environmentalist Pat Hynes.
We had the letter we wanted to deliver to the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, or to a representative in a policy-making position. Instead the EPA sent someone from their Public Relations office out to receive our letter. They said they would get back to us, and I will be surprised if they do.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo then spoke. Marsha had been an employee of the EPA until she blew the whistle on activities they were part of that were killing people. When she spoke up they told her to keep silent. But Marsha talked about how she would see people like us outside the window protesting against the EPA. Those protestors gave her courage to continue to push for an end to the crimes being committed by the EPA, even though she was fired. Marsha told us that by us being outside the EPA, we were offering inspiration to people who wanted to speak up, but were feeling scared to do so.
We had more work to do and so we left the EPA and took the Metro to the Pentagon City mall food court where we had a final briefing before heading over to the Pentagon.
We had about fifty people processing to the Pentagon with people holding puppets made by Sue Frankel-Streit taking the lead.
As we approached the Pentagon I could feel the butterflies in my stomach and my legs were feeling like they were turning to jelly. But I was with a group of people who I knew and trusted and I knew that I needed to be a part of this action.
We entered the Pentagon reservation and walked on the sidewalk towards the Pentagon. At least 30 officers waiting for us. There was a metal fence along the sidewalk with a small opening that we were ushered through onto a grassy area. This area on the other side of the fence was designated as the “free speech zone”.
Malachy led the program and, as usual, he spoke eloquently about why we need to continue this work. He talked about NCNR writing letters to elected and appointed officials over the last several years. We have NEVER received a response. This is chilling. As citizens, we should be able to communicate with our government about our concerns. There is something gravely wrong with our country that they do not pay attention to what we say. If we were lobbyists for a defense contractor, big oil, or another big corporation we would be welcomed into the offices on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon. But we, as citizens, do not have any access to government officials. How do we try to change the world when those in power refuse to listen to us?
Hendrik Vos spoke movingly about how our government supports undemocratic governments in Latin America. He talked about the importance of our civil resistance action with our willingness to risk arrest. Paul Magno was inspiring as he talked about the many civil resistance actions that we are building on, including the Plowshare activists.
After listening to the speakers eight of us who were risking arrest walked through the small opening onto the sidewalk to try to deliver our letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, or a representative in a policy-making position. We were on a sidewalk that the public regularly walks on to enter the Pentagon.
We were immediately stopped by Officer Ballard. He did not look very friendly as he told us we were blocking the sidewalk and that we had to re-enter the “free speech zone”. We told him we would stand against the fence so people could freely pass by.
Again, someone with no power from the PR office came to meet us and accept our letter, but we were told there would be no dialogue. Ballard told us we had to leave or we would be arrested.
We were eight concerned nonviolent individuals standing peacefully against the fence on a public sidewalk. When we said we couldn’t leave until we talked to someone in a position of authority, Ballard told another officer to give us our three warnings.
Malachy began to read the letter we wanted to deliver to Secretary Carter as the three warnings were given.
After the third warning, they closed the opening to the free speech area, and about 20 officers from the SWAT team, who were waiting 30 feet away, came charging at us. I will never forget the look of rage on the face of the officer who came towards Malachy and violently snatched the letter out of his hands and put him in cuffs.
I could see this was going to be another violent arrest at the Pentagon. In April of 2011, NCNR organized an action at the Pentagon and there was a lot of violence by the police at that time also. They knocked Eve Tetaz to the ground and violently wrenching my arm up behind my back. I heard reports from others that they were also roughed up that day.
My arresting officer told me to put my hands behind my back. The cuffs were tightened and he jerked them tighter still, causing a great deal of pain. Five days after the arrest my hand is still bruised and tender.
Trudy was crying out in pain because her cuffs were so tight. She asked that they be loosened, and the officer told her that if she didn’t like it, she should not be doing this again. None of the arresting officers were wearing nametags and so could not be identified.
We were arrested at around 2:30 pm and released around 4:00 pm. The processing was minimal. I noticed some of the men were patted down before we were put into the police van, but I wasn’t. Once we arrived at the processing station, they cut our handcuffs off immediately as we entered the building, and then the women were put in one cell and the men in another. They took mug shots of all of us, but did not fingerprint any us. Fingerprinting takes a long time and maybe when they got our ids, they found that all of our fingerprints were already in their system.
Arrested were Manijeh Saba of New Jersey, Stephen Bush of Virginia, Max Obuszewski and Malachy Kilbride of Maryland, Trudy Silver and Felton Davis of New York, and Phil Runkel and Joy First of Wisconsin.
David Barrows and Paul Magno provided support and were waiting to meet us as we were released.
We were at the Pentagon exercising our First Amendment rights and our obligations under Nuremberg, and also as human beings concerned with the plight of Mother Earth. We were on a sidewalk that was used by the public peacefully asking for a meeting with someone in the Pentagon, and then reading the letter that we had sent to the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter. We did not commit a crime, but we were acting in resistance to the crimes of our government, and yet we were charged with violating a lawful order. This is the definition of civil resistance
It is a very serious problem that our calls for peace and justice are going unheeded by government officials. Even though it seems like we are not being listened to, it is very important to continue to act in resistance. I know that even when we feel like we are ineffective, acting in resistance is my only choice to do what I can to make a difference in the lives of my grandchildren and the children of the world. Though it is difficult to know whether we are being effective, I believe that we all must do everything we can to continue our work for peace and justice. That is our only hope.
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Remarks at Houston Peace and Justice Center Conference on April 25, 2015.
I hope to be brief enough to leave lots of time for questions after I talk.
I know that most of you are probably exceptions to what I'm about to say, because I suspect that most of you came here voluntarily. If you're here on duty for the FBI, raise your hand.
You may all be the exceptions, but most people in the United States have no idea of the suffering that war brings.
War brings suffering first through the wasting of some $2 trillion every year, roughly half of it by the U.S. government alone, but much of the weaponry purchased with the other $1 trillion, spent by other governments, is U.S.-made weaponry. Never mind what the money is spent on. It could be dumped in a hole and burned and we'd all be better off, but the most suffering is caused by what it's not spent on.
For tens of billions of dollars the world could end starvation, unclean drinking water, and various health problems; it could invest in green energy and sustainable agriculture and education in massive, undreamed of ways. Yet $2 trillion is wasted every year on a criminal enterprise without redeeming merit of any sort. To get a sense of the scale of the funding, all the accumulated student debt of former and current students in the United States is $1.3 trillion. The United States spends $1.3 trillion on militarism in a single year, and the same amount again the next year, and the next year. For tens of billions, college could be free. Whether the students who emerged would have learned to love the bomb would depend on how the funding was handled and other factors, but a tiny fraction of military spending would do it -- I'm referring to military spending across numerous departments of the government, and it has doubled or close to it during the Bush-Obama wars. Military spending is over half the money Congress spends each year. The recently proposed Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by 1%, which gives you an idea of the extreme limits of debate in U.S. politics, which I think Robert Jensen will be telling us more about. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut.
Now, it's hard to separate deaths due to disease and starvation, from the direct effects of warfare, with warfare creating refugee crises and destroying farms and so forth. It's also true that the financial resources to address human needs could be found in another place other than war, namely in the pockets of the greediest 400 people in the United States. Their hoarding of wealth, even those of them not principally funded by the war machine, can certainly be blamed as well when a child starves to death anywhere on earth. But blame is not a finite quantity. You can blame plutocracy or militarism, and niether one exculpates the other. Military spending could end starvation for the price of a small rounding error and is therefore culpable.
Most people, I think, also fail to understand that the suffering created by military spending is mostly created by routine war preparations by an empire ever planning for more wars, and much less by the wars themselves. We need to stop announcing how many schools we could have had instead of a particular war, because we could have had 10 times as many instead of the routine so-called non-war military spending during the same period. Or, better, we could have provided 10 times as many to the world rather than to one particular little country that is far from the worst off.
Most people also fail to understand that there is no up side to military spending, that it doesn't balance the slaughter of human beings with the creation of jobs. The same money, if spent on peaceful enterprises, would create more jobs and better paying jobs. Military spending is a drain on the economy of the aggressor.
The U.S. weapons industry is the leading arms dealer to the world, and it arms and props up dictatorships on a permanent basis. Who can calculate the suffering that causes? A former president of Egypt was just sentenced to prison for killing protesters, while the current president tortures them to death and gets a personal phone call from President Obama promising him more free weaponry -- billions of dollars worth for free every year, just as for Israel. And when Israel engages in one of its genocidal fits of bombing, the U.S. rushes more weaponry over to fill the armories. The Saudi war on Yemen is a proxy war, not between Iran and anyone but between the United States and the United States. U.S. weapons provided to support a brutal dictator in Yemen are blown up by U.S. weapons sold to a brutal dictator in Saudi Arabia who also uses them to prop up the U.S.-armed brutal dictator in Bahrain.
Wars and arms races around the world are fueled by the United States, but the United States is also the leading direct user of war. And, again, I think most people do not understand the suffering inflicted. U.S. newspapers refer to the U.S. Civil War as the deadliest U.S. war. It killed some 750,000 people, or 2% of the population. Compare that to a million and a half killed out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or 2 million killed in Korea, or 4 million killed in Vietnam, or 3 million killed by war and sanctions in Iraq since 1991 -- 11% of the Iraqi population. Nobody knows these numbers, but even if they did, the lack of understanding would be intense because the United States still thinks of wars in the terms of the last war fought here, other than the wars of Native American genocide, namely the U.S. Civil War. Everyone still talks about so-called battlefields, while the wars are fought in people's cities, towns, and farms. Most people killed are on one side; most are civilian; as many are women and children and elderly as men. More are injured than killed. More are traumatized than injured. Huge areas are depopulated. Permanent refugee camps are created. Poisons unknown during the U.S. Civil War create permanent health crises and birth defect epidemics. Children unborn during wars die later when picking up cluster bombs. And urban societal structures of energy, health, transportation, and education, unknown in the 1860s, are devastated by war's destruction.
On January 26 of this year, Mohammed Tuaiman, age 13, of Marib, Yemen, became the third member of his family to be killed by a U.S. drone strike. The drone struck a car carrying Mohammed, his brother in law, Abdullah al-Zindani, and another man. Mohammed's older brother Maqded told the Guardian newspaper, "I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal. When we arrived we couldn't do anything. We couldn't move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car."
During the 20th century, not counting the lives that could have been saved with the same money, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous four centuries. The 21st century is in the running to dwarf that record, or indeed to shatter it through nuclear or environmental catastrophe.
Is there any imaginable way in which the most recent 200 million war deaths could have each been just? If 200 million men, women, and children are guilty of something deserving murder, then must we not all be? If even 10 percent of them are, then must we not all be?
On May 15, 2012, Ahmed Abdullah Awadh of Ja'ar, Yemen, was killed. "It was 9 am in the morning," said his neighbor. "I was at home with my son, Majed. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and we all ran out to see what happened. Everyone in the neighborhood came out. To our surprise, we find our sweet neighbor, Ahmed, a taxi driver, burned and in pieces. About 15 minutes later a second strike struck the same place. I survived but my 25 year old son, Majed was hit pretty hard. 50% of his body was burned. When we went to the only clinic we have here in Ja'ar, they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 a.m., Majed's heart stopped and he died."
According to former U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. military creates 10 new enemies for every innocent person it kills. But most of the people being killed are innocent, in the drone strikes, in the bombing campaigns, in the ground wars. Could that help explain why the U.S. loses every war? Why ISIS begs the U.S. to attack it and then watches its recruitment soar after the U.S. obliges? Why 65 nations polled at the end of 2013 almost all said the United States was the greatest threat to peace on earth? Imagine if Canada decides to continue down its current militarist path how many years it will have to work to generate anti-Canadian terrorist groups to match those the United States has germinated? Canada will have to shut down its schools and hospitals to invest in creating animosity abroad if it hopes to catch up at all.
If I weren't speaking to you exceptional people but to a typical group of Americans, I would be asked at the end how the U.S. might defend itself if it reduced its war preparations. Well, how do other nations do it? I don't mean who does France call on when it thinks Libya needs to be destroyed, the region thrown into chaos, thousands of desperate people left to risk their lives on rafts in the Mediterranean trying to escape post-liberation Libya. I mean, how does France defend itself from being conquered by evil foreign hordes? How does Costa Rica or Iceland or Japan or India? To match average military spending by all other nations, the United States would have to cut 95% of its military spending. And what does that extra 95% buy? It buys less safety, not more.
On January 23, 2012, an eight-year-old girl named Seena in Sanhan, Yemen, lost her father to a drone strike. "I want to play outside," she says. "But I can't dream of that ever happening anymore." Numerically, most victims of drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan are not those killed or injured, but those afraid to go outdoors. Families teach children at home rather than send them to school. But how do they teach them to live with the ongoing sense of horror created by the buzzing noise in the sky, the buzzing of an evil god that can obliterate their world at any moment and for no apparent reason? And how does forcing children to live that way "defend" the United States?
Exceptional as you all are, I doubt you can understand -- I certainly cannot understand -- what the weight of 190 million stories like Seena's feels like. Multiply that times 10 according to Stanley McChrystal. What does that feel like? During the war on Iraq of the last decade, U.S. commanders could plan operations that they expected to kill up to 30 innocent Iraqis. If they expected 31, then they had to get Donald Rumsfeld's approval -- which I dare suggest was something of a known known. U.S. deaths in that war amounted to about 0.3% of the death toll, and fittingly Iraqi deaths were valued by the U.S. government at 0.3% the dollar value of U.S. deaths. That is to say, the U.S. typically paid $0 to $5,000 dollars as compensation for an Iraqi life, while the State Department and Blackwater arrived at the figure of $15,000, but the lowest government value for a U.S. life was $5 million assigned by the Food and Drug Administration.
In Pakistan, the people terrorized by U.S. drones heard about the phrase that drone pilots in the United States use to refer to their murders. They call them "bug splat," because to them, on their video monitors, it looks like they are squishing bugs. So an artist created a giant image on a Pakistani farm, visible to drones above, of a young girl for a project called Not A Bug Splat.
Are we idiots? Do we not know that a girl thousands of miles away is a girl? Do we have to be told? Apparently we do. Our entire culture is permeated with the idea that humans must be "humanized" in order to be recognized as humans. When we see photos or hear personal stories with detail about a person or a group of people, when we learn someone's name and daily habits and little quirks and weaknesses, we declare, "Wow, that really humanizes them." Well, I'm sorry, but what the hell were they before they were humanized?
We have liberal law professors who believe that a drone murder that has been observed in close detail can remain in a state of legal limbo: if it's not part of a war then it's murder, but if it's part of a war then it's perfectly fine -- and whether it's part of a war is unknowable because President Obama claims his legal reasoning is officially secret even though we've already seen it. Even thought it blatantly makes no sense, we maintain the formal pretense that secretly it might.
Have any of you seen a movie called My Cousin Vinny? In it a woman screams at her boyfriend for worrying about what pair of pants to wear when he goes deer hunting. Her concern is for the life of the deer, not the pants of, if you can excuse the language, the SOB who shoots the deer. Here's a modified version of that little speech:
Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck whether the son of a bitch who shot you was part of a war or not?
I can't even say UN-authorized war because the U.S. no longer bothers with that.
I can't even say Congressionally authorized war because the president no longer bothers with that.
The latest stage in the U.S. war on Iraq is called Operation Inherent Resolve. Eager to maintain some pretense of relevance, Congress is constantly debating whether to debate whether to "authorize" this ongoing war, which Obama says will go on just the same with or without their feckless chattering. And somehow we're supposed to hear the name "Operation Inherent Resolve" and not burst out laughing at the sort of idiots who would think we were the sort of idiots who would like that name.
Unless of course we are.
But but but but what would you do about ISIS? That's the question, right? A group of rebels created by the previous U.S. war on Iraq kills some people in the style used on a much grander scale by U.S.-backed governments in places like Saudi Arabia, and suddenly it's my job to explain how to destroy ISIS using the same tools that created it? I wouldn't have created it in the first place. Like you, I protested the war that destroyed Iraq before it even began, and before it even began the first time in 1990. And now I have to choose yet more war or nothing, because the range of debate has been limited to another knowingly hopeless U.S. ground war or a knowingly hopeless U.S. air war with ground troops momentarily assigned as enemies of an enemy, albeit not of other enemies?
The Middle East is armed by the United States. The region explodes in death and destruction using weapons 80-90 percent of which come from the United States. The first step is to stop arming the Middle East. The second is to negotiate an arms embargo. The third is to stop propping up brutal dictators. The fourth is to provide humanitarian aid and diplomacy, peaceworkers, human shields, journalists, video cameras, green energy, doctors, agriculture. All of those steps could be launched on Monday. The urgency of the crisis demands it, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
We need a shift from war to peace. This is why preventing the bombing of Syria in 2013 was a short-lived victory. Instead of taking an approach of peace, the CIA sent in arms and trainers and bided its time until better propaganda could be found.
Now, there are lots of things we can do. We can work on transition to peaceful industries at the local, state, and federal levels. We can build up democratic institutions, workplaces, and credit unions that divest from war and offer jobs to those considering the military or mercenary company careers. We can educate, protect, encourage peaceful alternatives, engage in cultural and educational and economic exchanges.
We can build a movement for the abolition of war like the one we are building at WorldBeyondWar.org where people in 112 countries have signed a statement supporting the ending of all war, and I hope you will too.
But one thing in particular that we can do, and related to my current topic, is that we can convey the reality of the human suffering created by war.
Until a video surfaced recently of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering a man named Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
We can also search for stories and photographs and promote awareness of them to new audiences. The stories I've mentioned today, and more, are found at SupportYemen.org
We can find stories closer to home as well. The suffering of U.S. troops and mercenaries and their families is more than enough to shatter any heart with even the faintest beat in it. But there's an educational shortcoming. When we only tell the stories of U.S. troops, people imagine that they make up some significant portion of the victims, even half, even a majority. And people imagine that the other victims are also mostly troops and mercenaries. These are dangerous misconceptions that leave the U.S. population offering some significant degree of support for wars that the rest of the world sees as one-sided slaughters.
And, of course, encouraging Americans to think that they should only care about American lives is the root of the problem. It also merges subtly into cheerleading for the military, which merges imperceptibly into cheerleading for the wars.
We need a culture that opposes war and celebrates nonviolent action, peace, the rule of law, and sustainable practices that resist militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.
Yes, yes, yes, of course the presidents and congress members and generals get more blame than the rank and file. Yes, of course, everyone is redeemable, everyone remains human, every troop is a potential resister, whistleblower, and peace activist. But there is nothing accomplished by internalizing "support the troops" propaganda. Nobody says they oppose the death penalty but "support" the guy who flips the switch. Nobody says they oppose mass incarceration but "support" the prison guards. Why should they have to? What would that mean? Our failure to "support the prison guards" is not interpreted as some sort of treasonous plan to harm the prison guards. Why would it be? And, by the way, please go to RootsAction.org to email your state legislators to try to protect prisoners in Texas from dying of extreme heat and other inhumane conditions. You won't be failing to support the prison guards.
I live in Virginia, which probably does more for war than any other U.S. state. But on Thursday I got an email from Francis Boyle who wrote the Biological Weapons Act and who tends to notice when it's being violated. He was alerting people to a notice that the National Biocontainment Laboratories at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, as well as at Boston University, is, in his words, "aerosolizing BSL4 Biowarfare Agents—a telltale sign of offensive biowarfare work for delivery as a weapon by air to human beings." Now, I know that every corner of the United States is packed full of places to protest the military, but Galveston suddenly seems like an especially important one to me.
Another might be Ellington Airport from which I understand drone pilots have been killing people in Afghanistan. If there aren't protests of that yet, there are people in New York, Nevada, California, Virginia, etc., who can help. KnowDrones has been running TV ads in some of these places asking pilots to refuse to fly.
Another thing we can do is to stop celebrating war holidays and instead celebrate peace ones. We have a calendar of peace holidays at WorldBeyondWar.org. Today, for example, is the day on which, in 1974, the Carnation Revolution ended military rule in Portugal. Almost no shots were fired, and crowds of people stuck carnations into the muzzles of rifles and onto the uniforms of soldiers. There are in fact suitable holidays for peace every day of the year, just as there are for war. It's up to us which we choose to mark.
Four years ago Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee created a new holiday that I'm pleased to say I've never heard of anyone celebrating. This is the law as passed:
"The President shall designate a day entitled a National Day of Honor to celebrate members of the Armed Forces who are returning from deployment in support of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat areas."
Catchy, isn't it?
Did the president designate such a day? Just once or annually? I have no idea. But this is part of what the Congresswoman said in proposing it:
"Today I rise . . . to ask support for an amendment that can bring all of us together, the designation of a national day of honor to celebrate the members of the Armed Services who will be returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and other combat areas. This national day of honor would recognize the enormous sacrifice and invaluable service that those phenomenal men and women have undertaken to protect our freedom and share the gift of democracy in other parts of the world. How many of us have stopped to say 'thank you' to a soldier walking alone in an airport. . . . "
Now, the alternative to this is not the apocryphal spitting on troops. The alternative to this is to grow out of a barbaric culture that continues to recruit and train and send off more troops, albeit in such insufficient numbers for the Pentagon that mercenaries and robots are coming to dominate. The alternative is to honestly recognize that even if you say "freedom" and "troops" in the same breath the fact remains unaltered that we lose our freedoms with every passing year of war. The alternative is to join the rest of the earth in recognizing the grotesqueness of pretending that the U.S. military has brought democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan or to the unnamed "other combat areas" that our great democracy does not always afford us the right to even know the names of.
Do not thank a soldier in an airport. If you're able to sit down and speak with a soldier, tell them that you know of veterans who suffer horribly, that you'd like to help, that if they ever want to consider a different career there may be a way to make that change. Give them your number or one for a GI Rights Hotline. And you can say more or less the same thing to the TSA agents in the airport as well of course.
Much more importantly is for us to figure out how we can say to the people of the many places the U.S. military makes war: we are sorry, we are with you, we are working to end it.
PAINTING BY FARIBA ABEDIN.
Chris Woods' excellent new book is called Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars. The title comes from a claim that then-President George W. Bush made for drone wars. The book actually tells a story of gradual injustice. The path from a U.S. government that condemned as criminal the type of murder that drones are used for to one that treats such killings as perfectly legal and routine has been a very gradual and completely extra-legal process.
Drone murders started in October 2001 and, typically enough, the first strike murdered the wrong people. The blame game involved a struggle for control among the Air Force, CENTCOM, and the CIA. The absurdity of the struggle might be brought out by modifying the "Imagine you're a deer" speech in the movie My Cousin Vinny: Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck which agency the son of a bitch who shot you was working for?
Yet much more attention has gone into which agency does what than into how best to pretend it's all legal. CIA team leaders began getting orders to kill rather than capture, and so they did. As of course did the Air Force and the Army. This was novel when it came to the murder of specific, named individuals as opposed to large numbers of unnamed enemies. According to Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the late 1990s, "There was a sense that the White House did not want to put clearly on paper anything that would be seen as authorization to assassinate, but instead preferred more of a wink-and-nod to killing bin Laden."
In the early months of Bush-Cheney, the Air Force and CIA were each struggling to impose the drone murder program on the other. Neither wanted to end up in a heap of trouble for something so illegal. After September 11, Bush told Tenet the CIA could go ahead and murder people without asking for his permission each time. One model for this was Israel's targeted murder program, which the U.S. government denounced as illegal up until 9-11-2001. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was the lead author of an April 2001 U.S. government report that said Israel should cease and desist, and criticized its operation as failing to distinguish protests from terrorism.
How did the U.S. government get from there to a "Homeland Security Department" that trains local police to consider protesters to be terrorists? The answer is: gradually and fundamentally through a change in behavior and culture rather than through legislation or court ruling. By late 2002, the U.S. State Department was being questioned in a press conference as to why it condemned Israeli murders but not similar U.S. murders. Why the double standard? The State Department had no answer whatsoever, and simply stopped criticizing Israel. The U.S. government kept quiet for years, however, about the fact that some of the people it was murdering were U.S. citizens. The groundwork had not yet been prepared sufficiently for the public to swallow that.
Some three-quarters of U.S. drone strikes have been in supposed battlefields. As one weapon among many in an existing war, armed drones have been deemed legal by lawyers and human rights groups across the full spectrum of the tiny percentage of humanity whose governments are engaged in the drone murders -- plus the "United Nations" that serves those governments. What makes the wars legal is never explained, but this sleight of hand was a foot in the door for the acceptance of drone murders. It was only when the drones killed people in other countries where there was no war underway, that any lawyers -- including some of the 750 who've recently signed a petition in support of allowing Harold Koh (who justified drone murders for the State Department) to teach so-called human rights law at New York University -- saw any need to concoct justifications. The UN never authorized the wars on Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya, not that it actually could do so under the Kellogg Briand Pact, and yet the illegal wars were taken as legalizing the bulk of the drone murders. From there, just a little liberal sophistry could "legalize" the rest.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's Asma Jahangir declared non-war drone murders to be murder at the end of 2002. UN investigator (and law partner of Tony Blair's wife) Ben Emmerson noted that in the U.S. view, war could now travel around the world to wherever bad guys went, thus making drone murders anywhere only as illegal as other wars, the legality of which nobody gave a damn about. In fact, the CIA's view, as explained to Congress by CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass in 2013, was that treaties and customary international law could be violated at will, while only domestic U.S. law need be complied with. (And, of course, domestic U.S. laws against murder in the United States might resemble domestic Pakistani or Yemeni laws against murder in Pakistan or Yemen, but resemblance is not identity, and only the U.S. laws matter.)
The growing acceptance of drone murders among Western imperialist lawyers led to all the usual attempts to tweak the crime around the edges: proportionality, careful targeting, etc. But "proportionality" is always in the eye of the killer. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, along with various innocent people, when Stanley McChrystal declared it "proportionate" to blow up a whole house to murder one man. Was it? Was it not? There is no actual answer. Declaring murders "proportionate" is just rhetoric that lawyers have told politicians and generals to apply to human slaughter. In one drone strike in 2006, the CIA killed some 80 innocent people, most of them children. Ben Emmerson expressed mild displeasure. But the question of "proportionality" wasn't raised, because it wasn't helpful rhetoric in that case. During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. commanders could plan operations in which they expected to kill up to 30 innocent people, but if they expected 31 they needed to get Donald Rumsfeld to sign off on it. That's the sort of legal standard that drone murders fit into just fine, especially once any "military aged male" was redefined as an enemy. The CIA even counts innocent women and children as enemies, according to the New York Times.
As drone murders rapidly spread during the Bush-Cheney years (later to absolutely explode during the Obama years) the rank and file enjoyed sharing the videos around. Commanders tried to halt the practice. Then they began releasing select videos while keeping all the others strictly hidden.
As the practice of murdering people with drones in nations where mass-murder hadn't been somehow sanctioned by the banner of "war" became routine, human rights groups like Amnesty International began stating clearly that the United States was violating the law. But over the years, that clear language faded, replaced by doubt and uncertainty. Nowadays, human rights groups document numerous cases of drone murders of innocents and then declare them possibly illegal depending on whether or not they are part of a war, with the question of whether murders in a given country are part of a war having been opened up as a possibility, and with the answer resting at the discretion of the government launching the drones.
By the end of the Bush-Cheney years, the CIA's rules were supposedly changed from launching murderous drone strikes whenever they had a 90% chance of "success" to whenever they had a 50% chance. And how was this measured? It was in fact eliminated by the practice of "signature strikes" in which people are murdered without actually knowing who they are at all. Britain, for its part, cleared the way for murdering its citizens by stripping them of their citizenship as needed.
All of this went on in official secrecy, meaning it was known to anyone who cared to know, but it wasn't supposed to be talked about. The longest serving member of Germany's oversight committee admitted that Western governments were depending largely on the media to find out what their spies and militaries were doing.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize in the White House took drone murders to a whole new level, destabilizing nations like Yemen, and targeting innocents in new ways, including by targeting the rescuers just arrived at the bloody scene of an earlier strike. Blow back against the U.S. picked up, as well as blow back against local populations by groups claiming to be acting in retaliation for U.S. drone murders. The damage drones did in places like Libya during the 2011 U.S.-NATO overthrow was not seen as a reason to step back, but as grounds for yet more drone killing. Growing chaos in Yemen, predicted by observers pointing to the counterproductive effects of the drones strikes, was claimed as a success by Obama. Drone pilots were now committing suicide and suffering moral stress in large numbers, but there was no turning back. A 90% majority in Yemen's National Dialogue wanted armed drones criminalized, but the U.S. State Department wanted the world's nations to buy drones too.
Rather than ending or scaling back the drone-murder program, the Obama White House began publicly defending it and advertising the President's role in authorizing the murders. Or at least that was the course after Harold Koh and gang figured out how exactly they wanted to pretend to "legalize" murder. Even Ben Emmerson says it took them so long because they hadn't yet figured out what excuses to use. Will the dozens of nations now acquiring armed drones need any excuse at all?
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
After a speech I gave this past weekend, a young woman asked me whether a failure by the United States to properly surround and intimidate China might result in instability. I explained why I thought the opposite was true. Imagine if China had military bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the United States and ships in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Would you feel stabilized? Or might you feel something else?
The U.S. empire can continue to see itself as a force for good, doing things that would be unacceptable for anyone else but never to be questioned when performed by the global cop -- that is, it can go on not seeing itself at all, expanding, over-reaching, and collapsing from within. Or it can recognize what it's about, shift priorities, scale back militarism, reverse the concentration of wealth and power, invest in green energy and human needs, and undo the empire a bit sooner but far more beneficially. Collapse is not inevitable. Collapse or redirection is inevitable, and thus far the U.S. government is choosing the path toward the former.
Let's look at a few of the indicators.
The United States bombs nations in the name of democracy, yet has one of the least democratic and least functioning of the states calling themselves democracies. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout among wealthy, and lower even than many poor, countries. An election is looming for next year with leading contenders from two aristocratic dynasties. The United States does not use national public initiatives or referenda in the way that some countries do, so its low voter turnout (with over 60% of eligible voters choosing not to vote in 2014) matters all the more. The U.S. democracy is also less democratic than other wealthy democracies in terms of its internal functioning, with a single individual able to launch wars.
Low public participation is not the result of satisfaction so much as recognition of corruption, combined with antidemocratic barriers to participating. For years now 75% to 85% of the U.S. public has been saying its government is broken. And clearly a big part of that understanding is related to the system of legalized bribery that funds elections. Approval of Congress has been under 20% and sometimes under 10% for years now. Confidence in Congress is at 7% and falling quickly.
Recently a man, expecting to lose his job at the very least, landed a little bicycle-helicopter at the U.S. Capitol to try to deliver requests to clean the money out of elections. He cited as his motivation the "collapse of this country." Another man showed up at the U.S. Capitol with a sign reading "Tax the 1%" and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Polls suggest those are not the only two people who see the problem -- and, it should be noted, the solution.
Of course, the U.S. "democracy" operates in greater and greater secrecy with ever greater powers of surveillance. The World Justice Project ranks the United States below many other nations in these categories: Publicized laws and government data; Right to information; Civic participation; and Complaint mechanisms.
The U.S. government is currently working on ratifying, in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which empowers corporations to overturn laws enacted by the U.S. government.
A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations.
The core of the U.S. sales pitch to itself is that, for all its flaws it provides freedom and opportunity. In fact, it trails most European countries in economic mobility, self-assessment of wellbeing, and ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, according to Gallup, 2014.
The United States contains 4.5 percent of the world’s population and spends 42 percent of the world's health care expenses, and yet Americans are less healthy than the residents of nearly every other wealthy nation and a few poor ones as well. The U.S. ranks 36th in life expectancy and 47th in preventing infant mortality.
The U.S. spends more on criminal justice and has more crime, and more gun deaths than most countries, rich or poor. That includes shootings by U.S. police that kill about 1,000 per year, compared to single digits in various Western nations.
The U.S. comes in 57th in employment, stands against the trend of the world by providing no guarantee of paid parental leave or vacation, and trails in education by various measures. The United States, however, leads the way in putting students into debt for their education to the tune of $1.3 trillion, part of a wider problem of personal debt.
The United States is #1 in debt to other countries, including governmental debt, although #3 per capita. As others have pointed out, the U.S. is declining in terms of exports, and the power of the dollar and its use as currency for the globe are in doubt.
DROP IN POPULAR OPINION ABROAD
In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America. In fact, the United States is less generous with aid but more profligate with bombs and missiles than other countries and trails generally in how it treats the rest of the world.
The second U.S.-backed dictator in Yemen in the past few years has now fled to Saudi Arabia and requested the bombing of his own country with U.S. weapons, a country in chaos in significant part because a U.S. drone war has given popular support to violent opposition to the U.S. and its servants.
ISIS produced a 60-minute film depicting itself as the leading enemy of the U.S. and essentially asking the U.S. to attack it. The U.S. did and its recruitment soared.
The United States is favored by brutal governments in Egypt and around the region, but not by popular support.
MILITARISM FOR ITS OWN SAKE
The United States is far and away the leading selling and giver of weapons to the world; the leading spender on its own military, with expenses having skyrocketed to now about $1.3 trillion per year, roughly equivalent to the rest of the world put together; the leading occupier of the world with troops in almost every other country; and the leading participant in and instigator of wars.
The United States is also, far and away, the leader in incarceration, with more people and a higher percentage of people locked up than in any other time or place, and with even more people on parole and probation and under the control of the prison system. More African-Americans are locked up than were slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. The U.S. is likely the first and only place on earth where the majority of sexual assault victims are male.
Civil liberties are eroding rapidly. Surveillance is expanding dramatically. And all in the name of war without end. But the wars are endless defeats, generating enemies rather than any advantage. The wars empower and create enemies, enrich nations engaged in nonviolent investment, and empower the war profiteers to push for more wars. The propaganda for the wars fails to boost military enlistment at home, so the U.S. government turns to mercenaries (creating additional pressure for more wars) and to drones. But the drones boost the creation of hatred and enemies exponentially, generating blowback that sooner or later will include blowback by means of drones -- which the U.S. war profiteers are marketing around the globe.
Resistance to empire does not come only in the form of a replacement empire. It can take the form of violent and nonviolent resistance to militarism, economic resistance to exploitation, and collective agreement to improve the world. When Iran urges India, China, and Russia to oppose NATO's expansion, it is not necessarily dreaming of global empire or even of cold war, but certainly of resistance to NATO. When bankers suggest the Yuan will replace the dollar, that need not mean that China will duplicate the Pentagon.
The current U.S. trajectory threatens to collapse not just the United States but the world in one or both of two ways: nuclear or environmental apocalypse. Green energy models and antimilitarism constitute resistance to this path. The model of Costa Rica with no military, 100% renewable energy, and ranked at the top in happiness is a form of resistance too. At the end of 2014, Gallup of course did not dare ask again what nation was the greatest threat to peace but did ask if people would ever fight in a war. In many nations large majorities said No, never.
The United States is growing isolated in its support for the institution of war. Last year 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations declared that they would never use war. U.S. support for Israeli wars has left it virtually alone and up against a growing campaign for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. The United States is increasingly understood as rogue, as it remains the lone or nearly lone holdout on the treaty on the rights of the child, the land mines treaty, the covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights, the International Criminal Court, etc.
Latin American nations are standing up to the United States. Some have kicked out its bases and ceased sending students to the School of the Americas. People are protesting at US bases in Italy, South Korea, England, and at US Embassies in Philippines, Czech Republic, Ukraine. German courts are hearing charges that it is illegally participating in US drone wars. Pakistani courts have indicted top CIA officials.
EXCEPTIONALISM ON THE ROPES
The idea of American exceptionalism is not a serious claim so much as an attitude among the U.S. public. While the U.S. trails other nations in various measures of health, happiness, education, sustainable energy, economic security, life expectancy, civil liberties, democratic representation, and peace, and while it sets new records for militarism, incarceration, surveillance, and secrecy, many Americans think of it as so exceptional as to excuse all sorts of actions that are unacceptable in others. Increasingly this requires willful self-deception. Increasingly the self-deception is failing.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death he wasn't warning us. He was warning our parents and grandparents. We're the dead.
Can we be revived?
Remarks at Physicians for Social Responsibility annual event in Baltimore, Md., April 18, 2015.
It is an honor to be asked to speak to a group of people doing as much strategic and principled good as you, not to mention the good that those of you who are doctors do as doctors and health advocates in your day jobs. The closest I ever came to a respectable profession was when I studied architecture prior to dropping out. I later got a master's degree in philosophy which, combined with a couple of dollars, will get you a bus ride. Anyway, architecture students always read this novel by Ayn Rand called The Fountainhead because the protagonist is an architect. But architecture doesn't really come into it, as the book focuses more on the fact that the guy is also something of a sociopath. But around the time I read that book I also read The Plague by Albert Camus in which the protagonist dedicated himself to cheerfully making the world a better place against overwhelming odds, without any real concern for the likelihood of success, and without any particular mythologizing of the good supposedly accomplished by being a superior bastard. Camus' protagonist has stuck with me, though I haven't reread the book. He's always somewhere in the back of my head. And of course he was a doctor.
I've rather given up on every other profession in our society. NYU has hired Harold Koh, legal architect of the drone wars and legal defender of the 2011 war on Libya and of presidential war powers, to teach human rights law. After students circulated a petition protesting, liberal law professors this week created a counter petition defending Koh's record. Our hope right now does not seem to lie with lawyers. I know there are exceptions, thank goodness.
Teaching in U.S. academia now are John Yoo, David Petraeus, and all variety of killers and torturers. Erik Prince, the creator of the mercenary company Blackwater came on a book tour to the University of Virginia this week and was treated like any good academic. After all, the people his company kills aren't usually Americans or Christians or English speakers. A couple of years back professors at the University of Virginia organized a teach-in in favor of war on Syria. The students have not organized an event for, against, or indifferent to war. I don't turn to academia for inspiration at the moment. I know there are rare exceptions.
Do I even have to mention the shortcomings of the hacks we used to call statesmen and women? The Congressional Progressive Caucus produced its progressive budget this month. It stood no chance of passing. It was a rhetorical statement. Yet it made no mention of an item that takes up a majority of the budget, namely militarism. If you hunted through the numbers you could find that they were proposing to cut military spending, which has doubled during the so-called war on terror -- they were proposing to cut it by 1%. I don't look to politicians for salvation. I would say, in this case as well, that I know there are rare exceptions, except that there really aren't, not in the federal government. There are, at best, people who try to mitigate the damage a bit or who plagiarize that parental (or is it medical?) attitude of "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" as they sorrowfully destroy the planet.
So I don't really mean to put the weight of humanity on your shoulders, but maybe physicians, or at least some significant number of physicians are a group we can look to with respect and appreciation rather than contempt or sadness.
When I was in philosophy school at the University of Virginia near the home of the guy who wrote that we were endowed by a creator with certain inalienable rights, I came across the idea of how ludicrous that might sound to a doctor. You have to picture the scene of a doctor cutting open a human body and trying to locate the right to free speech, for example. Do people really believe political rights are somehow inherent in us anymore, as opposed to being things we create and struggle to defend? I don't know. But I'll tell you what a lot of people believe. They believe that war is inherent in the human body. Now I ask you, as doctors, have you ever looked into a human brain or any other organ and discovered there a massive cultural institution that requires huge organization, planning, preparations, and investment, and has been completely unknown to most humans who have ever lived? Of course you haven't. If there's anything meant by calling a behavior "natural," war is the furthest thing from it. Raise your hand if you've encountered any epidemics of post traumatic stress from war deprivation. The United States would have to cut its military spending by 95% to match the average of the other 95% of humanity, if the spending is taken per-capita, 99.5% if taken per nation. So if you could find war in a human body, would you find it prominent in U.S. bodies? And in U.S. infants? Of course not. That seems pretty easy to figure out even without medical school, but I'm not sure most Americans would go along with it. War, they believe, is built into us somehow.
OK. Here's an even easier question. War has been evolving technologically and in other ways. Who can tell me the number one way in which war kills people today? Just shout it out.
You know, war used to kill more people than it injured, and it used to kill them first and foremost by spreading deadly diseases. Deadly diseases remain the top cause of death in the poor countries of the earth, but the way war contributes to them is primarily through the diversion of resources into war. While tens of billions of dollars per year could provide the earth with clean drinking water and all sorts of hygienic and medical aid, not to mention ending starvation, two TRILLION dollars every year, half of it from the United States alone, is dumped into war. If military spending were redirected into a global marshall plan and a domestic marshall plan and a massive crash investment in green energy aimed at protecting the planet's climate, imagine the lives that could be saved. As already noted, this very idea is basically absent from discussions of the U.S. government's budget.
Of course, war advances disease and starvation through its active destruction, its generation of refugee crises, and the injuries and trauma it inflicts, so drawing a line between deaths caused by war and those caused by other sicknesses seems difficult. Wars have rendered large areas of the earth uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War has slowed the eradication of polio, and may have spread HIV/AIDS. Land mines make farmland unusable. Et cetera. War "rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality," according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School. Leaning divides war's environmental impact into four areas: "production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste."
According to the World Health Organization, "between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress." Of course that prediction could be wildly off in either direction, possibly depending on what we do in the next 15 years. War is not only our top producer of superfund sites and destroyer of islands used as bombing ranges, but it's our top consumer of petroleum. The U.S. military burns more oil and gas than does each of the majority of nations on earth. The military obsession with oil began as a way to fuel the British Navy. The British Navy wasn't created to fight over the oil. The idea that keeping the wars far away, where they only kill people who don't look like us, the idea that that will keep us safe -- well that idea falls apart if you even glance at it from all different angles, but one story that might stick with people and make the point is the story of John Wayne's death. Raise your hand if you know how John Wayne died.
He died filming pro-war movies and avoiding war himself. He filmed a movie down-wind from a nuclear test site, and an unusually high percentage of the cast and crew died of cancer, including him. You can run but you cannot hide. The Koch brothers' beach houses will go underwater. There's only one little planet and no planet B.
Here's another question. Does the United States spend more money fighting wars or preparing to fight wars?
That's right. We hear loud lamentations over war spending. We read comparisons of war spending and what we could have purchased instead. But war preparations spending, normalized routine "base" military spending is ten times greater. It would stun President Eisenhower in its size, in its profitability, in its privatized nature, and in the degree to which chunks of it are recycled back into the system through bribes we call campaign contributions, just as the people involved spin through a revolving door between public and private sector employment. Opposing a war in order to save money and keep the military prepared for supposedly better wars is a self-defeating argument. It is the preparation for wars that spends most of the money, and that generates the wars.
So, militarism by the greatest purveyor of violence kills first by sucking up all the money, and most of it is for maintaining the military. Actually using the military becomes an excuse for extra funding. But there's another major problem with militarism before even arriving at actual U.S. wars, and that is weapons sales. The United States is far and away the leading seller and donor of military weaponry to the rest of the earth. A good patriotic weapons factory job is a job producing weapons for dictatorships and so-called democracies around the globe. We're trained to think of Western Asia, the Middle East, as inherently violent. But the vast majority of the weapons are from the United States. The U.S. backed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia uses U.S. weapons to support the U.S. backed dictatorships in Bahrain and Yemen, and is currently bombing U.S. weapons in Yemen using other U.S. weapons, which the U.S. is rushing to replenish.
Imagine a prison experiment like the famous one at Stanford where you give some students power over others and wait for cruelty to begin. Only imagine that whenever you use Muslim students you provide each guard and prisoner with tasers, grenades, and automatic assault rifles. A conclusion that Muslims are more violent would be ridiculous. But if you watch a political talk show tomorrow morning, that's what they'll tell you.
Coming finally to war itself, an article in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Healthsaid, "Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous 4 centuries."
Despite population growth, this sounds like it might be at odds with the Western academic pretense that war is going away. In fact, that pretense is based largely on the fact that some other forms of violence have declined, combined with a Western view of war that miscounts the dead, attributes many of the dead to other causes, and weighs the dead in places wars occur against the population of the globe or of the distant war power that attacked a poorer country.
The same article goes on to say that "civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war," including delayed casualties. For example, "seventy percent to 90% of the victims of the 110 million landmines planted since 1960 in 70 countries were civilians." Of course these numbers also indicate something else about war victims: most of them are on one side. When the U.S. attacks Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan and most of the deaths are civilian, those include very few if any U.S. civilians. The civilians killed are all in the place where the war is. And to them can be added most of the non-civilians, as also being residents of the country under attack. When we hear about U.S. war dead, and the suffering of U.S. military families, the suffering can be absolutely heartbreaking. But it is hardly a drop in the bucket of all the damage done. And when U.S. newspapers tell us that the deadliest U.S. war was . . . What? What do they say was the deadliest U.S. war?
Right, the U.S. Civil War, which killed perhaps 750,000 people, compared to a million and a half out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or perhaps 2 million in Korea, 4 million in Vietnam, or something over a million in Iraq. When the U.S. media says that the U.S. Civil War was the deadliest U.S. war without specifying that it is only considering U.S. lives, it keeps the U.S. public misinformed about its largest public investment.
Some of the worst wars in recent years have been in places like the Congo and Sudan that we hear less about, but that our government plays a part in. The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya. The assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was likely done by the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda. The West did not send in peaceworkers or negotiators, but allowed the crisis to develop. The killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame's government took the war -- with U.S. aid and weapons and troops -- and bombed refugee camps killing some million people. The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals. A real motivation has been Western control and profitsfrom resources, including materials used in the NSA tracking devices we call smart phones. War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving as many as 6 million dead.
But the worst major war led by U.S. troops in recent years has of course been Iraq, a true sociocide, the killing of a society. I've seen polling suggesting that Americans believe their nation suffered and Iraq benefitted from that war, with a plurality in the U.S. believing Iraqis are grateful. It is on these sorts of lies that arguments for future humanitarian wars rest. In March, Physicians for Social Responsibility co-authored a report called "Body Count" that looks at deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over a 12-year period, finding 1.3 million people killed by U.S.-led warmaking, of whom 1 million were Iraqi. Some have placed the figures much higher, especially in the case of Afghanistan. Others have looked at Iraq from 1991 forward and found a total of 3 million Iraqis killed by U.S.-led wars and sanctions over that longer period. The deaths in recent U.S. wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere add to the total, as do the death and suffering of refugees abroad following wars of so-called liberation. One estimate finds 4 million people in Muslim countries killed by U.S.-led wars since 1990.
How does the war on Iraq compare to historical horrors? Well, let's see. The worst single, relatively short event in world history, the worst thing we've done to ourselves, was World War II. One can ignore the decades of decisions that led up to it, from the Treaty of Versailles to the Wall Street funding of Nazis to the rejection of Jewish refugees to the antagonization of Japan. One can ignore the vicious brutality of its conduct including the completely unjustifiable development and use of nuclear weapons. One can claim it was a good war, but one can hardly dispute the vast extent of the death and misery.
The impact of World War II on particular nations varied dramatically, ranging from 16% of the population of Poland killed, all the way down to 0.01% of the population of Iraq killed. That compares to 5% of Iraq's population killed by Operation Iraqi Liberation (the original name in 2003 with the acronym OIL). (That's 1.4 million killed out of 27 million.) Or 11% of the Iraqi population killed by U.S. militarism since 1991. (That's 3 million killed out of 27 million.) In World War II, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union suffered a higher percentage of deaths than Iraq has from its recent U.S.-led wars. Most nations did not. Japan lost 3% to 4%. France and Italy lost 1% each. The U.K. lost less than 1%. The United States lost 0.3%. Nine nations in World War II lost a million or more lives. Five or six lost over 3 million. Of course the Soviet Union and China lost a LOT more. But among those that did not lose a million were France, Italy, the U.K., and the United States.
So the United States imposed a level of killing on Iraq that it has not experienced, not even in the U.S. Civil War in which it may have lost 2% of its population. And the damage continues to spread. A group like ISIS has a long ways to go to reach total U.S. murders, or even total Saudi beheadings, but ISIS would not exist without the U.S. attack of 2003. A comprehensive calculation of U.S. killing in Iraq might include some share of ISIS's killings. Of course in saying that, I am aware of the necessity to add the obvious disclaimer that contrary to popular conception blame is not a finite quantity. When you blame someone for something you don't unblame anybody else. ISIS remains 100% guilty of its killings even though it would not have come into existence without the U.S. war machine that is now trying to fix the problem with yet more war.
The second-strangest thing about war is that, unlike other evils that hardly compare to it in evilness, we aren't by and large trying to get rid of it. Instead rules are constantly being devised to distinguish good wars from the bad small wars known as terrorism. The strangest thing about war is that the efforts to devise good wars are making it much easier to start more wars. Drones are still only killing half as many people as U.S. police officers kill, but they are serving to stir up much greater violence. A report by the United Nations special rapporteur, also known as Tony Blair's wife's law partner (remember what I said about lawyers, with apologies to the good ones), maintains that drones have now made war the norm. This is an institution, the U.N., supposedly established to abolish war, albeit by using war to abolish war, that is now declaring war the normal state of affairs. How is such a development, directly related to our biggest public program, not news? A law professor named Rosa Brooks, whose mother I consider something of a genius and a hero who speaks at War Resisters League and other peace events, has herself now advocated for legally establishing permanent war time, doing away with any distinction between peace and war, in order to apply the same laws everywhere all the time.
In her defense there was something unsustainable about the U.S. liberal lawyerly notion that murdering someone with a drone is either murder if not part of a war, or just fine if part of a war, with the determination as to whether or not its part of a war being left up to the people firing the missile, and the answer as to what makes the war legal being left unanswered. But the solution is not to throw in the towel on civilization and declare war eternal and limitless. The solution is to ban weaponized drones, which even by the standards of the civilizers of war, should be no more acceptable, because no more targeted and discriminate, than poison gas. Of the thousands of men, women, and children murdered by drones (and "murder" is the charge brought against the CIA station chief by courts in Pakistan, "murder" is in fact the term used by the U.S. government in its own memo justifying drone murders) -- of the thousands killed, most have been so-called collateral damage, and most of the rest have been profiled, with living-while-Muslim serving as the equivalent of driving-while-black. Many of those actually targeted could easily have been arrested if charged with any crime. And the vast majority of the drone victims are not the dead, and not the wounded, but the traumatized -- the children who dare not go out of doors and who spend days and weeks wondering at what moment everything will be pulverized. Banning fully automated drones but keeping other armed drones legal -- and selling them to dozens of nations -- grossly overestimates the distinction between a drone pilot and a machine. By the accounts of a former drone pilot, there is very little thought involved in the following of illegal orders that constitutes the job of piloting drones.
Unless we end drone wars, the next president will walk into the power to murder at whim, as well as greater war powers and secrecy powers and spying powers than ever before held by anyone on earth. The idea that it matters which individual walks into those powers, choosing between two war mongers, is ridiculous. But let me come back to that.
The damage of all types of war has to include the injuries and the trauma as well as the deaths. It also has to include war's status as top cause of homelessness. Forty-three million people have been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes. The U.N.'s figures for the end of 2013 list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. Colombia comes in second place following years of war, Congo third, Afghanistan fourth. Also in the top of the list: Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Palestine. Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem. Honduran children aren't bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They're fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.
The case that we're trying to make at World Beyond War for the ending of all war is that war has no upside. It makes us less safe. It robs us of resources. It kills, injures, and harms like nothing else. It drains an economy. It erodes civil liberties. It perverts morality. It damages the natural environment. And it increasingly risks nuclear holocaust. Increasingly -- because of the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and nuclear energy, and because of the lack of interest in preventing disaster.
The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan's forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.
The movements resisting U.S. base construction and presence in South Korea, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy, England, the Marianas, and even in the United States are focused on preventing environmental damage as well as on preventing war.
Despite the huge catalog of health impacts from war and militarism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health provide zero grants for work on war prevention. And war prevention is not taught in most schools of public health. The NRA is trying to stop doctors from advising kids on the dangers of guns. What about the dangers of enlistment? I've never seen a good argument that we can survive continuing to make war like this, and yet there is just a universal assumption that we will continue it -- just as there was the assumption that plantation slavery would always continue up until just before it ended.
On fossil fuel consumption there is a growing assumption that we will end it, with most people assuming that we will end it at a pace that is probably too slow. And yet somehow this seems to cheer them up.
This week on TomDispatch.com, Michael Klare wrote that a shift to renewable energy is underway and that "perhaps the most impressive indication of this shift can be found in the carbon-reduction plans major nations are now submitting to U.N. authorities in preparation for a global climate summit to be held this December in Paris. . . . These plans, for the most part, have proven to be impressively tough and ambitious. More important yet, the numbers being offered when it comes to carbon reduction would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. The U.S. plan, for example, promises that national carbon emissions will drop 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, which represents a substantial reduction. . . . No one can predict the outcome of the December climate summit, but few observers expect the measures it may endorse to be tough enough to keep future increases in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, the maximum amount most scientists believe the planet can absorb without incurring climate disasters far beyond anything seen to date. Nevertheless, implementation of the [plans], or even a significant portion of them, would at least produce a significant reduction in fossil fuel consumption and point the way to a different future."
Think about that a minute. The author is predicting a future of disasters far beyond what we've known, and yet a somehow encouraging future because we will have slowed the pace at which we are worsening those disasters for the still more distant future -- even though the new low U.S. consumption in 2025 will still be much higher than current European (or anywhere else) consumption in 2015. This is something like how many Americans think of war. It's become the norm, it's become the main thing we do, we have an economy built around it, we've empowered the president and secret agencies to engage in it no questions asked, polls of the world find the United States overwhelmingly seen as the greatest threat to peace on earth, and yet Steven Pinker and some other imperialist professors say war is going away, so it must be. And that's nice, because we're all for peace, especially the Pentagon. Erik Prince said he was in favor of peace when he spoke at UVA this week.
Today is a day of action everywhere against the Terrible Plutocratic Plan, also known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP, also known as NAFTA on steroids, and as the bestowing of nationhood on corporations. That they've packed everything bad on every issue into a single law and are trying to pass it in secret -- even though we know from leaks much of what's in it, ought to be taken as an opportunity to launch a massive popular movement for change, for shifting our priorities from war profiteers and other oligarchs to human needs. That the next presidential election, already underway, is going to put up one incredibly corrupt corporate warmonger against another, both of them possibly from presidential dynasties, ought to be taken as an opportunity. What if we were to withhold a bit of the resources, the money and time, that we usually invest in an election and invest it instead in policy-based activism for peace, the environment, and election reform that would allow us to elect and unelect who we want? The results could be dramatic.
I'm not against elections. I think we should start having elections. In 2016 we will not have a legitimate election with any chance of doing anyone any good in its choice of president. Here's what I think we need:
- No private election spending.
- Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- No gerrymandering.
- Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.
- Election day holiday.
- Limited campaign season.
- Automatic voter registration.
- Full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Voting rights regardless of criminal conviction.
- National popular vote with no electoral college.
- Mandatory voting with an option for "none of the above."
- Abolition of the Senate.
- A larger House of Representatives.
- Direct public vote on important matters (national initiative).
- Ban on war profiteering.
- Ban on secret budgets and agencies.
- Ban on executive power use by vice presidents.
Here's how we could get it: Declare the current system so broken that you will invest not a minute and not a dime in trying to elect anyone president of the United States. Instead, put all that effort and money into a policy-driven nonviolent activist campaign for these reformsand other urgent policy changes (peace, the environment, etc.) at the local, state, and federal levels.
It's a well kept secret that the primary propaganda goal of the government is not to sell us on wars or convince us they care but to persuade us that we are powerless. Why did the government invest such enormous resources in opposing Occupy? Why is the Pentagon working with Facebook to study how emotions can be manipulated and movements stifled? Not because we are powerless! In 2013 the war mongers wanted to bomb Syria. But you had members of Congress reportedly expressing concern that they not become seen as the guy who voted for "another Iraq." Why is Hillary Clinton not already president? Because unlike President Obama she was in the Senate in time to vote for and advocate for and propagandize for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Who made that a badge of shame rather than honor? In large part the peace movement (or I should say the anti-Republican-war movement, which is different from a peace movement).
There are some startling signs that people are ready for actions that require sacrifice. There's a great media outlet here in Baltimore called The Real News Dot Com, and one of their reporters pointed out to me that in the past week, a man has landed his little bicycle-helicopter on the U.S. Capitol Grounds in an attempt to deliver 535 demands to clean the money out of politics, and a man has apparently shot himself to death at the U.S. Capitol after holding up a sign that reportedly said "Tax the 1%." Does that sound like people not ready to organize for action?
We are held back primarily by our accepting and repeating of the propaganda that we have no power. And of course we have a moral duty to try even if there's only the slimmest chance that we have any power. And of course doing so is enjoyable and fulfilling. Read The Plague by Albert Camus. This comes at the end of it:
"It was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
"It's bad enough to be creating more profit incentive for war," I told former head of Blackwater Erik Prince, "but you recycle part of the profits as bribes for more war in the form of so-called campaign contributions. You yourself have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates. The three of you," I said, referring to Prince, another guest, and the host of a television show that had just finished filming and was taking questions from the audience, "you seem to agree that we need either mercenaries or a draft, ignoring the option of not having these wars, which kill so many people, make us less safe, drain the economy, destroy the natural environment, and erode our civil liberties, with no upside. But this systemic pressure has been created for more war. Will you, Erik Prince, commit to not spending war profits on elections?"
Prince had hardly been asked a serious question during the past hour of filming, but that of course did not mean he would answer one. The point was to raise the topic and put it in the minds of the people sitting and applauding him. Prince tried to answer by talking about how much the F-35 fighter jet costs, continuing the hour-long pretense that if you oppose mercenaries you favor the rest of the military. I cut him off and told him to answer the question. So he said that he was no longer working with the U.S. government but with other governments around the world. Does that mean he'll stop bribing the U.S. government? Does that mean he doesn't bribe other governments? He didn't say.
The event was held at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, which has a long, long tradition of inviting war makers and war advocates, but has never that I know of asked an opponent of the institution of war to speak. The show, minus the question and answer portion, will air on television on May 3rd. The host, Doug Blackmon, asked challenging questions like, "Do you think contractors should receive medals like other soldiers?" The day before the event he'd emailed me this comment:
"We've featured a lot of people over the past two years, with a lot of objections to the war-making of the United States—as well as a lot of objections to mass incarceration, police violence, and other terrible manifestations of our society. We also have heard from people who would disagree with you—but had nothing to do with making war. In any case, this will be a vigorous dialogue tomorrow. It may not cover everything you would cover if you were organizing the same program, but it's a completely appropriate way for us to explore these hugely important and controversial issues, and to hear two sides in a meaningful way."
At the end of the event I asked him whether Prince would have been invited to speak had most of the people Blackwater killed been Americans. Blackmon refused to answer.
The other guest was Ann Hagedorn, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security. Her book is not bad, but from the first moments of the event it became crystal clear why Prince had agreed to take part. The subject of drones wasn't broached, but there was a lot of droning, and ummming, and slow and deliberate prefacing of . . . nothing. I could have clicked the audio on my little electronic device to have it read sections of Hagedorn's book and made a better debate than she made in person. This was frustrating, of course, because the well-spoken Erik Prince needed somebody to reply to the outrages he was uttering. In an attempt to figure out where, if anywhere, Hagedorn was coming from, or perhaps to expose her as a commie peacenik, a member of the audience asked after the show whether, if mercenaries were eliminated, Hagedorn would move on to opposing the standard military. This was actually a good question, because most of Hagedorn's critique of mercenaries, even more so at the event than in the book, was of their differences from other soldiers. But she didn't answer the question. She said that she was a reporter who had no opinions or positions. Inspiring!
Hagedorn's book is not a bad primer for people just discovering that the U.S. military hires mercenary companies. In Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, she writes, the use of mercenaries and other contractors climbed -- under Obama/Clinton direction -- to the point where there were 10 for every 1 troop, 18 for every 1 state department personnel, and 100 for every 1 USAID worker. She criticizes the lack of accountability for what this huge number of people do. She admits that the majority of deaths in these wars are civilians. I say "admits" because at the show taping she claimed that if Americans knew about the deaths of U.S. mercenaries they would then have a good sense of the deaths in the wars. She points out the fear mongering done by mercenary companies as well as governments to gin up business. She writes that of 195 Blackwater shootings between 2005 and 2007 in 84% Blackwater shot first and left the scene. She even quotes someone proposing we have fewer wars and cites the example of South Africa banning mercenaries.
Hagedorn notes Obama and Clinton's flip to support mercenaries beginning in 2009, and their use of them to extend the occupation of Iraq in 2011 while "ending" it. Hillary Clinton, she writes, also pushed shipping companies to hire mercenaries to fend off pirates. The United Nations, too, is using mercenaries. The U.S. border with Mexico is being armed with mercenaries. Immigrants are being handled by mercenaries. U.S. police are being trained by mercenaries (with horrible results).
But Hagedorn is big on patriotism and the supposed democratic public institution of war (which would never survive a Ludlow Amendment creating a public vote on wars). When she called war an inherently public operation on Wednesday, Prince ignored any hint that private war creates more wars and simply pointed to the long history of mercenaries and to examples of other operations that have been privatized.
Blackmon began Wednesday's show by asking Prince about the sentencing of four of his former employees to prison on Monday. Part of Prince's defense was that "We've asked for cameras. . . . The State Department denied them." This is bizarre because he never asserted that anything other than the intentional murder of civilians would have been filmed had there been cameras. He also claimed that his killers could not get a jury of their peers among civilians 7,000 miles away. So, does he want crimes committed in Iraq to be prosecuted in Iraq then?
Hagedorn explicitly refused to discuss the details of the Nissour Square Massacre but did point out that it was the sort of thing that boosted recruitment of forces against the U.S. military/mercenaries.
Blackmon asked if mercenaries had been scapegoated for an overall disaster, but Hagedorn said no, that that made no sense if you considered the scale of the mercenary involvement. Prince said that during the war on Vietnam peace activists went after troops and now they go after mercenaries. "Nature hates a vacuum," he argued, suggesting apparently that Congressional contracts are produced by "nature." Prince also pointed to the murder of Miriam Carey by the U.S. Capitol Police as if one inexcusable killing justifies others. "There was no hue and cry," over that killing he lied, but imagine the uproar if it had been poor little old mercenaries who had done it. Of course, most killings of civilians by mercenaries in distant U.S. wars produce in fact no hue or cry at all back home.
I should note that Prince claims his mercenaries are (were) not mercenaries because they were U.S. military veterans. What that changes he never explained. Instead he calls them "volunteers" despite paying them. Asked about financial interests in keeping wars going, he said what was needed was oversight, but not from Washington, from empowering the people at the front. Whatever that meant. Prince advocated a smaller military budget, and Hagedorn said that smaller overall budgets always mean more for mercenaries.
Repeatedly Prince claimed to be fighting evil people "who want to destroy the Western world, you know, our way of life." He claimed that mercenaries could be hired to destroy ISIS, no problem! He also claimed that what's going on in the Middle East is an age-old Sunni-Shia conflict that the United States can only tweak around the edges (through such steps, I suppose, as destroying ISIS). That each war creates more problems to be addressed with more wars, that ISIS would never have existed without the 2003 invasion, didn't come up (except through my comments during the Q&A).
One questioner suggested that "if war were the path to peace we'd sure have peace by now," and Prince claimed to be for peace. So Hagedorn asked him, a-t l-e-n-g-t-h, to fund the peace movement (even though she has no opinions as a Journalist), and he declined, suggesting that the mercenary industry association should do it. That's an association, by the way, that changed its name from the International Peace Operations Association to the International Stability Operations Association in response to criticism of being "too Orwellian" -- as if war brings stability any more than it brings peace.
Prince said that rather than funding peace he would focus on "protecting Christians who are being driven out of the Holy Land." He said this during the Q&A section with the filming of the show already stopped. Someone might have asked why people of a particular religion were of more value. But then we were at an event that never would have happened if the people whom Prince's company killed had belonged to that religion.
Sheila Carapico is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. She discusses the state of affairs in Yemen.
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Andreas Schüller is an attorney on the staff of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He is the lead attorney on a suit being brought by ECCHR and Reprieve against the German government on behalf of three Yemeni survivors of a U.S. drone strike. The case will be heard May 27th in Cologne.
Their suit argues that it is illegal under German law for the German government to allow the U.S. air base at Ramstein to be used for drone murders abroad. The suit comes after the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament in February 2014 urging European nations to "oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings" and to "ensure that the Member States, in conformity with their legal obligations, do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states."
I've always thought of drone murders as illegal under the laws of the countries where the murders happen, as well as under the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. I asked Schüller: Is your suit seeking prosecution for murder where (or in one of the places where) the act is committed from a distance?
"The suit," he replied, "is based on constitutional rights in Germany and thus not seeking prosecution, but measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen." The central claim, he said, is that the U.S. air base at Ramstein is involved in drone operations, by transmitting data from and to drones through a satellite relay station as well as transatlantic fiber cables. The suit seeks to stop use of the air base's air operations center for analysis of surveillance images sent by drones as part of combat drone missions.
How, I asked, does this differ from the recent indictment of a former CIA station chief in Pakistan?
"The Pakistani case," Schüller said, "deals with drone strikes in the country where they take place in massive numbers and with high numbers of killed civilians. It's about prosecuting individuals responsible for the strikes set up. Our suit concerns the preemptive protection of our clients that are living in an area with continuing drone operations as well as technical and targeting aspects in drone operations and state collaboration."
In the United States it's common for lawyers to claim that murder is legal if it's part of a war, and to defer to the warmakers to tell them if something is part of a war or not; does it matter in your case whether the act was part of a war?
"It is important to prove that the U.S. practice in conducting drone strikes is illegal in several aspects. On the one hand, strikes in Yemen are conducted outside an armed conflict and thus infringe the right to life without any justification. In line with a legal opinion by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office we don't consider the U.S. to be in a global armed conflict against Al-Qaida and associate forces. Even if there would be the case of an armed conflict, the targeting practice by the U.S. is too broad and includes a large number of targets that do not fall under the category of legitimate military targets in an armed conflict. Attacks against those targets are thus illegal, even in armed conflict."
Is Germany obliged by the European Parliament to end drone murders from its soil? (And does this apply to every EU member country?) And by the German Constitution?
"Politically, the European Parliament made a strong statement against the illegal and expanded use of drone strikes. All EU member states are also bound by laws, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, to respect and protect the right to life. A similar provision is part of the German constitution."
Briefly what is the story of the victims in your case?
"On August 29, 2012, five rockets fired by U.S. drones struck the village of Khashamir in eastern Yemen. The extended family of our clients had gathered in the village to celebrate a wedding. Two members of the family were killed in the strike. Other family members were left with ongoing trauma. The family members killed were outspoken critics of AQAP and active in countering their influence in the region through speeches and social activities."
What do you hope to prove?
"It's about the use of German territory for illegal drone operations and the need for European governments to take a stronger legal and political position against the continuing US practice."
What is the timing?
"The lawsuit has been filed in October 2014 with the administrative court in Cologne. In the end of May 2015 an oral hearing will take place. Further court session as well as rendering of a judgment are not foreseeable, as well as appeals procedures."
What could result if you succeed?
"The result could be that the German government must take a stronger position towards the U.S. government to stop the use of the U.S. airbase in Ramstein for drone operations, including activities to rebuild the relay station or the air operations center."
Any benefit for this movement that I just wrote about?
"In Europe, we need to form a transborder activists network addressing and opposing the use of European allies' soil for drone operations. So the German case will definitely be of interest for Italy and other countries in Europe."
What can people do to help?
"The ultimate political goal is to change the U.S. practice of drone strikes and to conduct them according to human rights standards. People must continue to put pressure on governments worldwide to take a clear position on the legal boundaries of drone strikes as well as the long-term consequences in international relations if such an illegal practice continues in many different places worldwide."
Well let's hope the ultimate goal is not murders by flying robots that meet "human rights standards" whatever in the world those might be! But let's help advance this effort to hold the German government to a higher standard than the abysmal one modeled by the United States.
A key witness in court will be former U.S. drone pilot Brandon Bryant. If you know of any other drone pilots willing to speak about what they've done, please let me know.
© ECCHR / Photo: Nihad Nino Pušija
I just did a radio show in South Africa on the topic of Hillary Clinton. Perhaps they won't air it since I told them it was a non-story about something long since underway being "launched," but a story the U.S. media likes because it's substance-free. Yet in South Africa it seems to be a story. They really didn't know she was running until now, and they wanted to know if John McCain was her opponent. And yet they had the sense to ask if she would cause more wars and if there was really any difference between Hillary and the Republicans. If even the places that don't know she's running know that, perhaps there is hope for public awareness of basic facts after all.
Of course I pointed out Hillary Clinton's role in wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Ukraine, etc., her profiteering off Boeing while marketing Boeing weapons as Secretary of State, her transformation of the State Department into a fully owned subsidiary of the military, her foundations taking money from Chevron and Exxon-Mobil while she persuades Eastern European countries not to ban fracking. Hillary backs Israel's crimes, opposes the UN and international law. The corruption and nastiness in her hidden emails need hardly be seen to be estimated. She was too corrupt for the Watergate Committee, for godsake, trying to keep Nixon in for Ted Kennedy to run against, just as the Democrats of 2007 kept the war on Iraq going in order to run against it again. See http://WarIsACrime.org/Hillary
Hillary backs the NSA, wants Edward Snowden in prison, gets $2,777 per minute for speeches at which no questioning is allowed, lets her guards beat up Ray McGovern for turning his back on her, and is a candidate from a presidential dynasty in a year (next year, not this!) in which two of them are in play. See http://NoBushesOrClintons.org
And here is our opportunity. It is time for us to dedicate ourselves to fixing a broken system, not working within it. Don't try to elect someone in a system that is clearly broken. Joke about it, sure:
Ideally Hillary Clinton will run with Jeb Bush as her vice president & Bush will run with Clinton as his so they'll both win no matter what