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What happens when a bunch of lawyers intent on distinguishing combatants from civilians discover, by interviewing hundreds of civilians, that it cannot be done?
Does it become legal to kill everyone or no one?
The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) has published a report called The People's Perspectives: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict. Researchers, including from Harvard Law School, interviewed 62 people in Bosnia, 61 in Libya, 54 in Gaza, and 77 Somali refugees in Kenya. The lead author of the report is Harvard Law School Fellow Nicolette Boehland.
One might ask why Iraq and Afghanistan were left out, or any number of other countries, but the report says the researchers went where they were able. And the result is a valuable contribution that I'm willing to bet would not have found fundamentally different results by looking elsewhere.
Some weeks back I got a call from Al Jazeera wanting me to be on a show, but insisting that I couldn't do it from a local studio via satellite or from my computer via Skype. No, I would have to fly to New York and back, and they would pay for the flight and pay a "per diem" as well (they didn't specify how much). I was not eager to take a whole day out of my life to fly to New York and back, but they sold me on it. This, they told me, would be the premier edition of a new Sunday morning news program to compete with the existing ones. And it would include different perspectives.
"This week, we are producing a debate on whether or not the 'American empire is on decline', and I would love to have you on the show to share your thoughts on the issue on this very exciting debate," wrote a woman who turned out to be one of many producers, in an initial email. We exchanged emails and spoke by phone. I provided brief responses on several subtopics. I even wrote and published a column on the topic and sent it to them. Various Al Jazeera staff got in on the email thread. I also spoke by phone with executive producer Robert Lilly.
At the studio in New York, I found out just before the taping who I would be debating. She had apparently known about me as her debate opponent for some time. Her name was Tara Maller and she worked at the Aspen Institute with General Stanley McChrystal. She and some of the producers sitting in the waiting room seemed to compete with each other in dropping the names of horribly blood-soaked and ridiculously over-wealthy people they knew. It reminded me of waiting to go on Fox News more than, say, theRealNews.com.
The debate turned out to be something like 15 minutes. Host Imran Garda veered away from the declining empire topic to focus on the question of war. I found that shift welcome. I was delighted to explain my views on war in general and various specific wars, to the extent that one can do so in a few teeny sound bytes. Garda seemed surprised, however, that someone could actually oppose all wars. There may have been a memo he missed on that. Maller, for her part, did fine, but told me afterwards that I talked faster than she did, and remarked to one of the gaggle of producers how absurd it was for her to have played the role of war supporter. Of course, her views were her own and I would have welcomed it had she chosen to oppose war, but she was clearly more comfortable debating someone to her right who wanted more war than she did.
I thought the taping went well, such as it was. There were no glaring problems, and all sorts of executives and bigwigs shook our hands and thanked us. I thanked one of them for airing (I thought that the show would in fact be airing) something that the other networks would never air, and the look I got back disturbed me. I wondered whether they actually found that idea unpleasant. I flew back home on their dime. I started telling people that Al Jazeera was going to air something different from the norm of Sunday political TV.
I heard little from the Al Jazeera folks for some weeks. They'd been eager to know when I'd be back in New York, but when I told them they didn't seem so interested anymore. I asked them about paying my "per diem" and they weaseled out of it with a claim that they would only pay for food and cabs with receipts. I'd given them a receipt for a cab when their car hadn't shown up at La Guardia. They'd never hinted that I needed to get receipts for food or that that was what they meant by "per diem." In the same email that included that weaseling, the out-of-the-loop producer who'd first contacted me said "I hope you got to watch the premier this past Sunday!"
That was odd. Nobody had told me it was going to be on or that they'd seen it. What good was this show if nobody saw it? I asked where the clip was online and got no response. Some days later I found a website for the show. Here it is: http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/third-rail.html The show is called The Third Rail, but it's not exactly electrifying. It's the same old, same old, with Judith Miller and Alan Dershowitz and such types. The guests fit with the attitude I picked up on in the studio of wanting to be CNN. These videos don't make for something worth announcing to the world as new and different from the usual gang of corporate hacks regurgitating talking points. The show I taped is not there.
I emailed the original producer who had been my main contact and CC'd a colleague she had been CCing. "I see you now have the show here http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/third-rail.html with no sign of any debate that might question war," I emailed. "On the contrary Judith Miller's smiling face front and center. What's up? I took an entire day out of my life to debate a war-proponent in teeny little sound bites and then you killed it? Your plan is to compete with Meet the Depressed and such shows by imitating them?"
The CC'd colleague, Senior Interview Producer Katy Ramirez Karp, wrote back saying let's talk tomorrow.
"Sure," I replied. "Why did you kill a program supposedly aimed at being different and including an anti-war point of view in order to air the same old slop from Alan Dershowitz and Judith Miller and all your typical Meet The Depressed style warmongering hacks? Was the other guest happy or upset to have the show killed? Did you tell her? Were you planning on telling me? Do you intend to ape the lousy existing shows but just have fewer viewers, or are you hoping to create something different?"
Wait sixty seconds.
The phone rang. It was Katy. "If you have something to say . . . !" She quickly accused me of "badgering" and "threatening." Whom was I threatening with what, how, and when? I asked her four or five times before she said "I'm not accusing you of threatening. I'm objecting to your tone." (Picture someone screaming "I'm objecting to your screaming!"). Ignoring her tone, I asked her why they had killed the program and if they had intended to tell me. Her response: "It was a practice run, my dear. We thought we might use part of it." She went on to say something about how they fully planned to include points of view from "your kind of advocates and causes." You got the sense she was holding something at arm's length with her nose pinched.
When I pointed out that I never would have come to New York for a practice run and had, needless to say, never been fed that line prior to this moment, she said she would have to speak with her colleagues about that. She ranted for a while about how she was a professional, and when I tried to say something she hung up.
Now, I don't seriously think they flew people in for a practice run and lied to them about it. I think quite obviously they decided after filming the program, for whatever reason, that they preferred to air the stuff you'll see on their website.
Was my performance or Muller's unsatisfactory in some sort of technical way? I doubt it. I was just like I was in the clips of me they'd seen before inviting me on.
Did I say the wrong things about Syria or the weapons industry or something else in particular? I doubt it.
My best guess is they didn't want to be the show that premiers by doing something as laughable as opposing mass murder -- you can't touch such a third rail when you've already got the name Third Rail! But of course I'm just guessing. They won't tell me. They would rather claim that they lied to me for weeks and couldn't find anyone in the entire city of New York who could sit in for a "practice run."
Tim Wright is the Australian Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. There are now 107 nations committed to legally banning the possession, production, or use of nuclear weapons. Wright discusses the strategy of this abolition movement. See also:
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By David Swanson
The history of catastrophically murderous and stupid warfare that the United States can memorialize on Memorial Day dates back to Day 1 and earlier, begins with the genocide of the native inhabitants of the land, the invasions of Canada, etc., and from that day to this too many deadly escapades to list.
But one way in which the U.S. government gets itself into major crusades of mass killing is by hearing what it wants to hear. It even goes to the extent of allowing top U.S. government officials, sometimes briefly out the revolving door of public "service," to work in the pay and service of foreign nations pushing war propaganda on the U.S. public.
James Bradley's new book is called The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in China. It's well worth a read. For years leading up to World War II, the China Lobby in the United States persuaded the U.S. public, and many top U.S. officials, that the Chinese people all wanted to become Christian, that Chaing Kai-shek was their beloved democratic leader rather than the faltering fascist he was, that Mao Zedong was an insignificant nobody headed nowhere, that the United States could fund Chaing Kai-shek and he would use the funding to fight the Japanese, as opposed to using it to fight Mao, and that the United States could impose a crippling embargo on Japan without any Japanese military response.
For years leading up to at least the brink of World War III, the Israel Lobby in the United States has persuaded the United States that Israel is a democracy rather than an Apartheid state with rights based on religious identity. The United States, which has just derailed plans at the United Nations for a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East, and done so at the behest of nuclear Israel, has been following Israel's catastrophic lead in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the rest of the region, chasing the mirage of a democratic law-abiding Israel that is no more real than that of the Christian-Americanized China that eventually had the U.S. identifying the little island of Taiwan as "the real China."
The mirage that contributed to the "new Pearl Harbor" of 911, in other words, is not entirely unlike the mirage that contributed to Pearl Harbor itself. The U.S. thinking of China as an extension of the United States, while knowing nothing about China and actually forbidding anyone Chinese from entering the country, did more harm to the world than imagining Israel as the 51st state has yet accomplished. Give it time.
Bradley's new book, in the early sections, covers more quickly some of the same ground as his remarkable The Imperial Cruise, still very much worth reading -- including the U.S. militarization of Japan and Theodore Roosevelt's encouragement of Japanese imperialism. The new book covers, better than I've seen anywhere else, the history of how many of the wealthiest individuals and institutions of the East Coast United States in the 19th century got their money -- including Franklin Delano Roosevelt's grandfather's money -- by illegally selling opium in China. The opium trade led to the opium wars and to the British and U.S. attacks on and occupation of pieces of China, making use of early versions of what the U.S. now calls in most nations on earth "Status of Forces Agreements."
The U.S. flooded China with drug dealers, traders of other commodities, and Christian missionaries, the latter far less successful than the others, converting very few people. A leading missionary admitted that in 10 years he had converted 10 Chinese people to Christianity. With an eye on Chinese and Southeast Asian trade, the United States built the Panama Canal and took over the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. With an eye on keeping Russia away from profitable Pacific trade, President Theodore Roosevelt supported Japanese expansion into Korea and China, and negotiated "peace" between Japan and Russia while secretly consulting with Japan every step of the way. (Another echo of the Palestinian "peace process" in which the U.S. is on Israel's side and "neutral.") T.R. was given a Nobel Peace Prize for the deed, about which award presumably not a single Korean or Chinese person was consulted. When Woodrow Wilson refused to meet with non-white Hoh Chi Minh in Paris, he also took part in handing over to Japan the colonies previously claimed by Germany in China, enraging the Chinese, including Mao. The seeds of future wars are small but perfectly discernable.
The U.S. government slant would soon shift from Japan to China. The image of the noble and Christian Chinese peasant was driven by people like the Trinity (later Duke) and Vanderbilt educated Charlie Soong, his daughters Ailing, Chingling, and Mayling, and son Tse-ven (T.V.), as well as Mayling's husband Chaing Kai-shek, Henry Luce who started Time magazine after being born in a missionary colony in China, and Pearl Buck who wrote The Good Earth after the same type of childhood. TV Soong hired retired U.S. Army Air Corps colonel John Jouett and by 1932 had access to all the expertise of the U.S. Army Air Corps and had nine instructors, a flight surgeon, four mechanics, and a secretary, all U.S. Air Corps trained but now working for Soong in China. It was just the start of U.S. military assistance to China that made less news in the United States than it did in Japan.
In 1938, with Japan attacking Chinese cities, and Chaing barely fighting back, Chaing instructed his chief propagandist Hollington Tong, a former Columbia University journalism student, to send agents to the United States to recruit U.S. missionaries and give them evidence of Japanese atrocities, to hire Frank Price (Mayling's favorite missionary), and to recruit U.S. reporters and authors to write favorable articles and books. Frank Price and his brother Harry Price had been born in China, without ever encountering the China of the Chinese. The Price brothers set up shop in New York City, where few had any idea they were working for the Soong-Chaing gang. Mayling and Tong assigned them to persuade Americans that the key to peace in China was an embargo on Japan. They created the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression. "The public never knew," writes Bradley, "that the Manhattan missionaries diligently working on East Fortieth Street to save the Noble Peasants were paid China Lobby agents engaged in what were possibly illegal and treasonous acts."
I take Bradley's point to be not that Chinese peasants are not necessarily noble, and not that Japan wasn't guilty of aggression, but that the propaganda campaign convinced most Americans that Japan would not attack the United States if the United States cut off oil and metal to Japan -- which was false in the view of informed observers and would be proved false in the course of events.
Former Secretary of State and future Secretary of War Henry Stimson became chair of the committee, which quickly added former heads of Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, the Church Peace Union, the World Alliance for International Friendship, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, the Associate Boards of Christian Colleges in China, etc. Stimson and gang were paid by China to claim Japan would never attack the United States if embargoed -- a claim dismissed by those in the know in the State Department and White House, but a claim made at a time when the United States had virtually no real communication with Japan.
The public's desire to stop arming Japan's assaults on China seems admirable to me and resonates with my desire that the U.S. stop arming Saudi Arabia's assault on Yemen, to take one example of dozens. But talking could have preceded an embargo. Setting aside the racist and religious filters in order to see the reality on the ground in China would have helped. Refraining from the threatening moves of the U.S. Navy, moving ships to Hawaii and building airstrips on Pacific Islands could have helped. The anti-war choices were far wider than economic antagonization of Japan and non-communicative insults to Japanese honor.
But by February 1940, Bradley writes, 75% of Americans supported embargoing Japan. And most Americans, of course, did not want war. They had bought the China Lobby's propaganda.
FDR and his Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau set up front companies and loans to Chaing, going behind the back of Secretary of State Cordell Hull. FDR, it seems, was not just catering to the China Lobby but truly believed its story -- at least up to a point. His own mother, who had lived in a U.S. bit of China as a child with her opium-pushing father, was honorary chairwoman of both the China Aid Council and the American Committee for Chinese War Orphans. FDR's wife was honorary chairwoman of Pearl Buck's China Emergency Relief Committee. Two thousand U.S. labor unions backed an embargo on Japan. The first economic advisor to a U.S. president, Lauchlin Currie, worked for both FDR and the Bank of China simultaneously. Syndicated columnist and Roosevelt relative Joe Alsop cashed checks from TV Soong as an "advisor" even while performing his service as "objective journalist." "No British, Russian, French, or Japanese diplomat," writes Bradley, "would have believed that Chaing could become a New Deal liberal." But FDR seems to have believed it. He communicated with Chaing and Mayling secretly, going around his own State Department.
Yet FDR believed that if embargoed, Japan would attack the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) with the possible result of a wider world war. Morgenthau, in Bradley's telling, repeatedly tried to slip through a total embargo on petroleum to Japan, while FDR resisted. FDR did move the fleet to Pearl Harbor, impose a partial embargo on aviation-fuel and scrap, and loan money to Chaing. The Soong-Chaing syndicate also worked with the FDR White House to create a U.S.-funded, U.S.-trained, and U.S.-staffed air force for China to use in attacking Japanese cities. When FDR asked his advisor Tommy Corcoran to check out the leader of this new air force, former U.S. Air Corps captain Claire Chennault, he may have been unaware that he was asking someone in the pay of TV Soong to advise him on someone else in the pay of TV Soong.
Bradley says that FDR kept his Asian air war scheme secret from the U.S. public. Yet, on May 24, 1941, the New York Times reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of "numerous fighting and bombing planes" to China by the United States. "Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected," read the subheadline. This may have been "kept secret" in the sense in which Obama's kill list is secret despite appearing in the New York Times. It's not endlessly discussed because it doesn't fit well into happy little narratives. The "first draft of history" is always very selectively entered into history books that survive into future decades.
But Bradley is right that this was no secret from Japan. And he includes something I don't remember knowing before, namely that Chennault admitted that when a ship carrying his pilots left San Francisco for Asia in July 1941, his men heard a Japanese radio broadcast boast, "That ship will never reach China. It will be sunk." Also in July, FDR approved a Lend-Lease program for China: 269 more fighters and 66 bombers, and froze Japanese assets. All of this was part of longer and wider trends that Bradley could have developed more fully. But he offers some interesting details and a curious interpretation of them, concluding that Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson catapulted the United States into World War II by maneuvering to deny any U.S. oil to Japan for a month, beginning while FDR was off conspiring with Winston Churchill on a boat and creating what would be called the Atlantic Charter.
In Bradley's account Hull learns of the embargo, a month in, on September 4, 1941, and informs FDR that day. But they elect to leave it unchanged as somehow undoing it would somehow be seen as allowing Japan to get "more" oil than before. The embargo had by this point been public news in Japan for a month. FDR had access to reports on Japanese news, as well as to decoded secret Japanese government communications, not to mention that he met with the Japanese ambassador in the interim. Were communications really not advanced in 1941 beyond what they were when Texas took so long to learn that slavery had ended?
In any case, when Japan saw the embargo lasting, it did not move toward moderate democracy as the China Lobby had always said would happen. Instead it became a military dictatorship. Meanwhile Time magazine was publicly hoping that a U.S. and British war on the side of China would persuade the Chinese to convert to Christianity. The parallel in the Israel Lobby is of course the Christian fanatics who believe that Israel is leading the way toward some magically prophesied future of desirable catastrophe.
Mayling Soong's speech to the U.S. Congress in February 1943 rivaled Bibi Netanyahu's of 2015 for mass adoration, delusion, and devotion to a fraudulent foreign power. The delusion would continue for generations. The Catholic Vietnam Lobby would get in on the game. The U.S. wouldn't recognize Mao's China until it had been reduced to making Richard Nixon its president. For the full account, I recommend Bradley's book.
Yet I think the book has some gaps. It doesn't seek to touch on FDR's desire for war on Germany, nor on the value to him and his administration of a Japanese attack as the key to entering both the Atlantic and the Pacific wars. What follows I have written about before.
What Was FDR's Game?
On December 7, 1941, FDR drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn't work and went with Japan alone. Germany, as expected, quickly declared war on the United States.
FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked.
Roosevelt had also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism.
As of December 6, 1941, eighty percent of the U.S. public opposed entering a war. But Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet: "It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side."
On August 18, 1941, Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: "The President had said he would wage war but not declare it." In addition, "Everything was to be done to force an incident."
From the mid-1930s U.S. peace activists -- those people so annoyingly right about recent U.S. wars -- were marching against U.S. antagonization of Japan and U.S. Navy plans for war on Japan -- the March 8, 1939, version of which described "an offensive war of long duration" that would destroy the military and disrupt the economic life of Japan.
In January 1941, the Japan Advertiser expressed its outrage over Pearl Harbor in an editorial, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan wrote in his diary: "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course I informed my government."
On February 5, 1941, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson to warn of the possibility of a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
As noted, as early as 1932 the United States had been talking with China about providing airplanes, pilots, and training for its war with Japan. In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China one hundred million dollars for war with Japan, and after consulting with the British, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau made plans to send the Chinese bombers with U.S. crews to use in bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
On December 21, 1940, China's Minister of Finance T.V. Soong and Colonel Claire Chennault, the retired U.S. Army flier who was working for the Chinese and had been urging them to use American pilots to bomb Tokyo since at least 1937, met in Henry Morgenthau's dining room to plan the firebombing of Japan. Morgenthau said he could get men released from duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps if the Chinese could pay them $1,000 per month. Soong agreed.
By July, the Joint Army-Navy Board had approved a plan called JB 355 to firebomb Japan. A front corporation would buy American planes to be flown by American volunteers trained by Chennault and paid by another front group. Roosevelt approved, and his China expert Lauchlin Currie, in the words of Nicholson Baker, "wired Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Claire Chennault a letter that fairly begged for interception by Japanese spies." Whether or not that was the entire point, this was the letter: "I am very happy to be able to report today the President directed that sixty-six bombers be made available to China this year with twenty-four to be delivered immediately. He also approved a Chinese pilot training program here. Details through normal channels. Warm regards."
The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers (logo later designed by Walt Disney, as Bradley notes), moved ahead with recruitment and training immediately and were provided to China prior to Pearl Harbor.
On May 31, 1941, at the Keep America Out of War Congress, William Henry Chamberlin gave a dire warning: "A total economic boycott of Japan, the stoppage of oil shipments for instance, would push Japan into the arms of the Axis. Economic war would be a prelude to naval and military war."
On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, "If we cut the oil off , [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had a war. It was very essential from our own selfish point of view of defense to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out there." Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said "was" rather than "is." The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan, whether Acheson actually sneaked this past Roosevelt or not. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal after the war, called the embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence," and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
On August 7, 1941, the Japan Times Advertiser wrote: "First there was the creation of a superbase at Singapore, heavily reinforced by British and Empire troops. From this hub a great wheel was built up and linked with American bases to form a great ring sweeping in a great area southwards and westwards from the Philippines through Malaya and Burma, with the link broken only in the Thailand peninsula. Now it is proposed to include the narrows in the encirclement, which proceeds to Rangoon."
By September the Japanese press was outraged that the United States had begun shipping oil right past Japan to reach Russia. Japan, its newspapers said, was dying a slow death from "economic war."
In late October, U.S. spy Edgar Mower was doing work for Colonel William Donovan who spied for Roosevelt. Mower spoke with a man in Manila named Ernest Johnson, a member of the Maritime Commission, who said he expected "The Japs will take Manila before I can get out." When Mower expressed surprise, Johnson replied "Didn't you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?"
On November 3, 1941, the U.S. ambassador sent a lengthy telegram to the State Department warning that the economic sanctions might force Japan to commit "national hara-kiri." He wrote: "An armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness."
On November 15th, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media on something we do not remember as "the Marshall Plan." In fact we don't remember it at all. "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan," Marshall said, asking the journalists to keep it a secret, which as far as I know they dutifully did.
Ten days later Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his diary that he'd met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday.
It has been well documented that the United States had broken the Japanese' codes and that Roosevelt had access to them. It was through intercept of a so-called Purple code message that Roosevelt had discovered Germany's plans to invade Russia. It was Hull who leaked a Japanese intercept to the press, resulting in the November 30, 1941, headline "Japanese May Strike Over Weekend."
That next Monday would have been December 1st, six days before the attack actually came. "The question," Stimson wrote, "was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition."
The day after the attack, Congress voted for war. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R., Mont.) stood alone in voting no. One year after the vote, on December 8, 1942, Rankin put extended remarks into the Congressional Record explaining her opposition. She cited the work of a British propagandist who had argued in 1938 for using Japan to bring the United States into the war. She cited Henry Luce's reference in Life magazine on July 20, 1942, to "the Chinese for whom the U.S. had delivered the ultimatum that brought on Pearl Harbor." She introduced evidence that at the Atlantic Conference on August 12, 1941, Roosevelt had assured Churchill that the United States would bring economic pressure to bear on Japan. "I cited," Rankin later wrote, " the State Department Bulletin of December 20, 1941, which revealed that on September 3 a communication had been sent to Japan demanding that it accept the principle of 'nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific,' which amounted to demanding guarantees of the inviolateness of the white empires in the Orient."
Rankin found that the Economic Defense Board had gotten economic sanctions under way less than a week after the Atlantic Conference. On December 2, 1941, the New York Times had reported, in fact, that Japan had been "cut off from about 75 percent of her normal trade by the Allied blockade." Rankin also cited the statement of Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, U.S.N., in the Saturday Evening Post of October 10, 1942, that on November 28, 1941, nine days before the attack, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., (he of the catchy slogan "Kill Japs! Kill Japs!" ) had given instructions to him and others to "shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea."
General George Marshall admitted as much to Congress in 1945: that the codes had been broken, that the United States had initiated Anglo-Dutch-American agreements for unified action against Japan and put them into effect before Pearl Harbor, and that the United States had provided officers of its military to China for combat duty before Pearl Harbor.
An October 1940 memorandum by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum was acted on by President Roosevelt and his chief subordinates. It called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to "the Orient," keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch deny the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan in collaboration with the British Empire.
The day after McCollum's memo, the State Department told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying "Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war."
The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, "IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT."
Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy's communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: "It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country."
The night after the attack, President Roosevelt had CBS News's Edward R. Murrow and Roosevelt's Coordinator of Information William Donovan over for dinner at the White House, and all the President wanted to know was whether the American people would now accept war. Donovan and Murrow assured him the people would indeed accept war now. Donovan later told his assistant that Roosevelt's surprise was not that of others around him, and that he, Roosevelt, welcomed the attack. Murrow was unable to sleep that night and was plagued for the rest of his life by what he called "the biggest story of my life" which he never told.
Salvatore Babones' proposals in Sixteen for '16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America are not bad, assuming a progressive agenda can limit itself to one nation.
But these sorts of proposals tend to be -- and this one is no exception -- smart, compassionate takes on the topics that are in the corporate media. The topics that aren't already on your television also aren't in this book or others like it.
What should the U.S. public budget be? Is nearly double the 2001 level too much military spending, too little, or just right? Who knows. Babones doesn't say.
Why not consult someone on "the other 54% of the budget" that all such literature ignores (the military's 54% of discretionary spending, as calculated by the National Priorities Project)? Just a quick consultation with someone aware of the existence of the single largest public project of the United States would add something to all of these pseudo-electoral platforms.
Item number 14 in Babones' list is "Stop torturing, stop assassinating, and close down the NSA." He goes through the common pretense that Obama "banned torture," as if it weren't a felony that was simply going unpunished on Obama's orders. He follows this up with the usual pretense that the limited "ban" on torture opened up loopholes for torturing "legally." Babones does a bit better on drone murders. But what about manned-aircraft murders? Tank murders? Gun murders? What about war? Is war "progressive"? Who knows!
Should we, as the other 15 points propose, create jobs, build America's infrastructure, support public education, extend Medicare to everyone, raise taxes on top incomes, refinance social security, take down Wall Street, make it easy to join a union, set a living minimum wage, upgrade to 10-10-10, put an end to the prison state, pass a national abortion law, let people vote, suffer the refugee children, and save the earth? Of course, we should.
But if you're willing to end the prison state (and as the text expands on that, to end the militarization of local police) then you are willing to make significant change, and you are aware of the problem of militarization. So how does that little item that takes up 54% of the budget go AWOL from all of these projects?
If U.S. military spending were merely returned to 2001 levels, the savings of $213 billion per year could fund education, a new justice system, aid for refugees, an open and fair and verifiable election system, and the saving of the earth -- with a good bit of change left over.
Whence the nearly unanimous decision to avoid the topic? The Institute for Policy Studies, which published this book, does not ignore the topic elsewhere. Why does it not manage to infiltrate these progressive platforms? Perhaps peace is just not progressive.
The U.S. military admitted on Thursday to killing two girls in Syria.
If a target of U.S. aggression can be alleged to have killed children, especially with the wrong kind of weapon, that is used as grounds for war. War is supposed to be the cure for that.
This was the case in 2013 with the White House's false claims to knowledge that the Syrian government had killed children with chemical weapons. President Obama told us to watch videos of dead children and either support a bombing campaign against Syria or support killing children.
But that's a Catch-22, because it's telling you to either support killing children or support killing children.
In recent days I've been watching videos of children killed in Yemen by Saudi Arabia with U.S. missiles and support. Missiles are in fact not any more precise in their actual use than chemical weapons, not any less deadly, not any less guilty of killing children, including the hundreds of children the U.S. has killed with missiles from drones in just a few countries it doesn't even admit to being at war with.
The Pentagon doesn't admit to any of this; it sometimes admits to isolated incidents that have been widely reported.
But imagine if missiles were considered the wrong kind of weapon, and imagine if the Syrian government and its friends were considered "the international community" -- one could imagine the international community demanding the humanitarian bombing of Washington, D.C., as revenge for the brutal murder of two little girls by U.S. missile in Syria.
We in the United States view the domestic bombing of 4 little black girls in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 as barbaric, and we view racism as something we've overcome, but imagine if the little girls whom President Obama murdered in Syria in November had been white, Christian, English-speaking Americans. One cannot in that situation suppose the response would have been the same.
It is not possible to avoid civilian casualties in war. They are the majority of the casualties -- of the dead, of the injured, of those rendered homeless, and of the traumatized -- in virtually every war of the past half century. Often they are an enormous majority. The idea that war can be a tool to remedy something worse than war, or that genocide is truly distinct from war is not supported by facts.
The Pentagon admitting to killing civilians is rare but not unprecedented. In fact it is a small nod in the direction of a policy that President Obama created and then quickly abandoned under which he claimed that all such casualties would be reported.
Does it matter? Will people care?
For that, I think there has to be video, it has to be widely shown and the killings morally condemned, and people have to find their way to the media outlets willing to show it and condemn it.
That is, if we're talking about people in the United States.
Of course the people of Western Asia will protest the United States all the more fervently whether the general public in the United States knows what its government is doing or not.
The House of Representatives has headed out of town to memorialize wars without managing to achieve agreement with the Senate on reauthorizing some of the most abusive "temporary" measures of the PATRIOT Act. Three cheers for Congressional vacations!
What if not just our civil liberties but our budget got a little bit of 2001 back?
In 2001, U.S. military spending was $397 billion, from which it soared to a peak of $720 billion in 2010, and is now at $610 billion in 2015. These figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (in constant 2011 dollars) exclude debt payments, veterans costs, and civil defense, which raise the figure to over $1 trillion a year now, not counting state and local spending on the military.
Military spending is now 54% of U.S. federal discretionary spending according to the National Priorities Project. Everything else -- and the entire debate in which liberals want more spending and conservatives want less! -- is contained within the other 46% of the budget.
U.S. military spending, according to SIPRI, is 35% of the world total. U.S. and Europe make 56% of the world. The U.S. and its allies around the globe (it has troops in 175 countries, and most countries are armed in great part by U.S. companies) make up the bulk of world spending.
Iran spends 0.65% of world military spending (as of 2012, the last year available). China's military spending has been rising for years and has soared since 2008 and the U.S. pivot to Asia, from $107 billion in 2008 to now $216 billion. But that's still just 12% of world spending.
Per capita the U.S. now spends $1,891 current U.S. dollars for each person in the United States, as compared with $242 per capita worldwide, or $165 per capita in the world outside the U.S., or $155 per capita in China.
The dramatically increased U.S. military spending has not made the U.S. or the world safer. Early on in the "war on terror" the U.S. government ceased reporting on terrorism, as it increased. The Global Terrorism Index records a steady increase in terrorist attacks from 2001 to the present. A Gallup poll in 65 nations at the end of 2013 found the United States overwhelmingly viewed as the greatest threat to peace in the world. Iraq has been turned into hell, with Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia close behind. Newly embittered terrorist groups have arisen in direct response to U.S. terrorism and the devastation it's left behind. And arms races have been sparked that benefit only the arms dealers.
But the spending has had other consequences. The U.S. has risen into the top five nations in the world for disparity of wealth. 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; but local U.S. police have weapons of war now. 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 U.S. now ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, 36th in life expectancy, 47th in preventing infant mortality, 57th in employment, and trails in education by various measures.
If U.S. military spending were merely returned to 2001 levels, the savings of $213 billion per year could meet the following needs:
End hunger and starvation worldwide -- $30 billion per year.
Provide clean drinking water worldwide -- $11 billion per year.
Provide free college in the United States -- $70 billion per year (according to Senate legislation).
Double U.S. foreign aid -- $23 billion per year.
Build and maintain a high-speed rail system in the U.S. -- $30 billion per year.
Invest in solar and renewable energy as never before -- $20 billion per year.
Fund peace initiatives as never before -- $10 billion per year.
That would leave $19 billion left over per year with which to pay down debt.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but this is life and death. War kills more by how the money isn't spent than by how it is spent.
Alice Walker explains this line, "Though war speaks every language it never knows what to say to frogs" in the opening of her beautiful book, Why War Is Never a Good Idea, illustrated by Stefano Vitale, thus:
War speaks every language she says, because every nation has war. But of course this isn't true. Many nations that make war on others do not have war at home, not in remotely the way the nations have it where wars are fought. Anyone in the United States knows that a global war aggressor suffers, but also knows that the wars are not here, and that the difference is one of night and day. Many nations also do not make war, nearby or far off. Some nations, Costa Rica, Iceland, and lots of little nations, have no military, no war plans, no investment in future wars, and no wars. And this is why it matters that War Is Never a Good Idea, because good ideas exist as available alternatives.
The frogs, Walker explains very accurately as being among the respresentatives in her book of the creatures who play no role in creating war, have no understanding of war, and suffer from war, directly from its violence, and indirectly from its impact on climate change and the natural environment.
Walker's personification of war as a being that knows and thinks and does things for its own purposes is also, strictly speaking, perfectly accurate, as well as powerfully provocative. Just as a "selfish gene" can be understood as aiming for the well-being of the gene rather than the organism, war does not benefit its participants, its victims, its observers, or for the most part its creators, supporters, cheerleaders, or tolerators. War does not generate happiness, prosperity, fulfillment, wisdom, beauty, or sustainability. War generates more war. In the absence of war it would be quite easy to persuade enough people to nip in the bud any notion of creating it. In the presence of war, the willful delusion that war is inevitable is quite pervasive.
"Though war is old, it has not become wise. It will not hesitate to destroy things that do not belong to it, things very much older than itself."
There is wisdom in that line. Not only have various nations set war aside for decades or centuries, and in some cases brought it back again, but most human cultures for most of human existence never knew war at all. It is newer than most every adaptation of human evolution, and we are unable to adapt to it, and should we do so it would destroy us.
"Here war is munching on a village. Its missiles taking chunks, big bites out of it. War's leftover gunk seeps like saliva into the ground. It is finding its way into the village well."
Stop drinking the water.
On October 29, 1948, the Israeli terrorist group Irgun ethnically cleansed the village of Safsaf in Palestine, lining some 70 men up, shooting them, dumping them in a ditch, and raping three girls. Among the survivors who fled to Lebanon were the grandparents of a young woman in Chicago who has a talent for telling stories in pictures and words. Safsaf was called Safsofa by the Romans and can be found as Safsufa on the iNakba app on your NSA-tracking device.
Baddawi is two things. It's the name of a refugee camp in Lebanon where this young woman's father grew up. The name comes from the word Bedouin, meaning nomad. "Al Beddaoui, Lebanon" locates it on Google-Earth. The residents have been there since 1948 or since they were born, and they are not nomads by choice. They live in a permament state of desiring to return home forever, even those who have never been home ever.
Justice for Palestine is where little sparks of opposition to war can be found among young people in the militarized United States of 2015, and where their art can be found as well.The second thing that Baddawi is, is a book that tells a story of childhood in Baddawi for Ahmad, the father of the author and artist Leila Abdelrazaq.
I've just read Baddawi and passed it along to my son. It's a book that tells a personal story that is also a cultural and historical record. This is the unique story of one boy, but in great measure the story of millions of Palestinian refugees. Ahmad's experiences growing up are often identical to my own or my son's, but often dramatically different. He plays the games and learns the lessons of children everywhere, but confronts the struggles of poverty, of war, and of discrimination -- of second-class citizenship in the land where Israel and its Western backers swept his unwanted ancestors.
Baddawi is the story of a rather remarkable boy, but a story that conveys a sense of what life was like and is like still for a great many boys and girls who live without nationality, not as a result of choosing world citizenship but by mandate of global powers who find their existence inconvenient. And yet the story is quite straightforwardly entertaining and good-spirited. One is disappointed when it ends rather abruptly, yet heartened to gain the impression that part two may be forthcoming.
I notice, incidentally, that there will be a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 2nd, on Israel's mistreatment of Palestinian Children, and that you can go here to ask your Misrepresentative and Senators to attend.
Full disclosure: I sometimes do work for this book's publisher, but that work does not include reviewing books.
David Segal is the Executive Director of Demand Progress. He discusses the current struggles to end mass surveillance by the U.S. government and to keep the internet free and open. Segal is a former Democratic Rhode Island State Representative, and served on the Providence City Council as a member of the Green Party. During his eight years as an elected official he oversaw the passage of legislation promoting economic justice, renewable energy and open space, banking reform, affordable housing, LGBT rights, criminal justice reform, and a variety of other progressive causes. He recently ran in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island’s first Congressional seat, supported by much of the netroots and organized labor. His opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, and in a variety of online publications. He has a degree in mathematics from Columbia University. See:
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At 41:00 in the above video, Sam Husseini asks Michael Morrell, former CIA Deputy and Acting Director 2010-13 about the WMD lies and gets the claim that there weren't any. It would have been nice to have about 10 follow ups. But Husseini shifts to torture, and Morrell claims nobody tortured, and claims that Egypt didn't torture al Libi for the U.S., that the U.S. never asked Egypt to torture him. Then Andrew Kreig asks if McCain met Baghdadi, and Morrell declares with all the wisdom of the CIA "I have no idea."
The number one error, engaged in by the majority of people, is failing to be an activist. The world's going to hell, countless situations can be easily improved, lives can be saved, and most people just sit there and do nothing. Others actively work to make matters worse. So, if you're working for peace and justice, you're among the tiny minority that's pretty much got the big stuff right. If constructive criticism drives you into despair, please stop reading this article right now and just continue what you're doing with your life. You have my gratitude.
If you're open to hearing some suggestions, for whatever they may be worth (and yes, of course, this list of errors will exclude those that I am myself guilty and unaware of), read on:
1. ELECTIONISM. We need elections but do not now have them in the United States, not at the federal level. Working for election reforms is one of the most important things anyone can do. But taking time off from activism to focus on elections is the biggest waste of resources we engage in. Election reform will come through creative nonviolent activism, education, organizing, media, disruption, resistance, and protest. It won't come through elections. Registering voters is not activism. Creating automatic registration, as just done in Oregon, is activism. Please stifle your compulsion to ask me who I'm voting for. You don't ask me if I want to win the lottery. (I do, but I will not buy a ticket or devote my life to staring at one.)
2. OBAMANISM. As bad as taking a break from activism every election cycle, is thinking and acting like a voter and a campaigner rather than an activist every day of every year, cheerleading for a team of corrupt officials rather than for policies, reforms, and actions that you support. "The nationalist," said Orwell, "not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." Nationalism is a huge problem, and its language, which has peace activists using the word "we" in saying "We are bombing Afghanistan," may contribute to identification with crimes. But the problem of managing not to even hear about them applies to partisanship as well. If a Republican were picking men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays, you'd see protests.
3. TOKENISM. "Black people are dumb." "Muslims are violent." These are understood to be ignorant hate speech. But "Women make better presidents" is not frowned on quite so much, despite its exactly equal idiocy. The problem is not the demographic characteristics of the president. The problem is having a single individual with the powers of a god, in debt to sociopathic billionaires, in a system dominated by militarism and corruption. We won't change it with a female or gay or Latina corporatist warmonger.
4. STRATEGISM. Winning a first and a second and a third step down a path to peace or justice is not best achieved through the means that many activists think of as "strategic." If you tell someone that they should halt one war so that the military can be better prepared for other wars, you weaken your argument against the one war, and you provide an argument for future wars. If you oppose the weapons that don't work, you give legitimacy to the far worse weapons that do work. If you object to a gimmick that boosts weapons spending over a mandated limit by transferring funds from a war budget, you shouldn't do so in a way that suggests either budget is acceptable at all, or in a way that suggests war spending is preferable to non-war-spending or budget trickery. Pre-compromising doesn't get you a compromise result; it gets you incoherence and lack of believability. A young woman pointing out to Jeb Bush that his brother (and Hillary and a few hundred others) created ISIS does a lot more to move people against war than do the strategies coming out of DC peace groups. War is counterproductive on its own terms, immoral, illegal, and catastrophic. Its funding should be eliminated. Our job is to demand that. A small reduction is a first step toward our goal.
5. IMPOTENTISM. The most pervasive and powerful propaganda is that of powerlessness. Telling yourself and each other that you are powerless is no different than Judith Miller repeating CIA lies about WMDs. It's exactly as ridiculous and exactly as damaging. We are not powerless. We quite easily have an impact frequently and could quite easily have a much bigger one. Expecting fairness won't help. We have to work uphill, but it's perfectly doable. Being impatient won't help. We have to keep working however long it takes and however few help out. Self-flagellation won't help. The money is against you and money is powerful. It's not your fault you haven't saved the world, but it might be thanks to you that your grandchildren save it.
6. PAROCHIALISM. We have to form uncomfortably large coalitions, and we really don't want to. I'm not advocating what I critiqued above as strategism. Don't sell your soul. Don't promote destructive ideologies for short-term gain. But don't be scared of guilt-by-association. Be willing to stand with people on an issue whose views and actions you deeply oppose on other issues.
7. LOCALISM. It's far more satisfying to find peace in your heart or sustainability in your backyard than to take on the military industrial complex. But if the earth dies, so will you. There are local and hyper-local angles that contribute to the greater cause. Cities and states can change nations. But individual action alone is not enough. Even small group action aimed too near is not enough. If everybody with solar panels on their roofs had put half the money into a movement to create public solar arrays, we'd have them.
8. FREUDISM. In a popular, simplistic notion of nonviolent communication, one never persuades anyone through rational argument. This is a claim, by the way, that comes out of an ideology supposedly dedicated to respecting people and their "needs." Apparently among those needs is not the need for a good reason to believe something. It would of course be equally simplistic to assert that all one ever needs are facts, or to ignore the age-old wisdom that it is hard to get someone to believe something they are paid not to. But when I tell people that college is free in other countries, their jaws drop, and it's not 30 seconds before they're saying it should be that way in the U.S. When I talk to non-self-selected groups about ending war, the majority say at the end that they have been moved toward believing that war can and should be ended. Facts are not enough, but they are one of the main things the corporate media deprives us of, and one of the key components of activism. They do nothing to help us see another's point of view if we're unwilling to look. They do nothing to alleviate high levels of fear. But it would be a mistake for us to become inversions of Edward Bernays working to manipulate people in a kinder, gentler manner.
9. FETISHISM. Here's a little secret. The people who speak the viewpoints that serve big money are not smarter, wittier, pithier, or better at framing a topic. They're on the air because they speak the viewpoints that serve big money. They may be more eloquent than you. They may be less so. But trying to think and sound like them in general is a quite risky proposition and completely unnecessary. There is nothing we need more than better media and better use of existing media by its readers, listeners, and viewers. There is no smarter place to invest as activists. But what we lack is not spokespeople. What we lack is microphones.
10. PINKERISM. "But haven't you heard? War is going away on its own? I heard it from someone who read a review of a book by Steven Pinker." War is not going to go away on its own. It is not even going away with our help. But it could go away if we really get our act together.
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."
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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.
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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.