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By David Swanson, teleSUR
By world standards, a U.S. government led by President Bernie Sanders would be exceptionally militarized and very much an outlier in terms of its disregard for the standards of international law and its lack of respect for the sovereignty of other nations.
By comparison to a U.S. government led by a hyper-militarist President Hillary Clinton, a Bernie government would be the peaceful, law-abiding, and humanitarian Age of Aquarius.
Senator Sanders has been unwilling to propose any significant reduction in military spending, despite the boon it would be to his campaign, which faces criticism over planned taxes to pay for desired domestic programs. Just stating "I would cut aggressive and counterproductive military weapons and operations," would eliminate the need to ever raise taxes on a non-billionaire to pay for anything ever again, but Sanders won't state that. I've communicated with his campaign, which has declined thus far to tell me what level of military spending Sanders favors, but it seems clear it would not be dramatically different from the world-record levels of spending now current.
Candidate Sanders tells us he would continue to kill people with drones, he would continue the wars but seek more partners and funders abroad. He rather grotesquely wants Saudi Arabia to "get its hands dirty." He also has a long history of justifying military spending as a jobs program, and of merging his support for the needs of veterans with glorification of war making. While he eventually opposed the Gulf War and then the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sanders supported wars in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Sanders lacks any transformative vision of peace, international cooperation, the rule of law, or transition to a peaceful economy. He does not propose to eliminate nuclear weapons or join the International Criminal Court or ban weapons in space or stop antagonizing Russia. He's offered no proposal for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, or other diplomatic initiative in Syria / Iraq. There's reason to hope only that a Sanders White House would be a bit less bellicose than Obama's -- and the chief reason to hope that is that Sanders would almost certainly not include Hillary Clinton in his cabinet.
Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 largely because she'd been in the Senate in time to vote for the Iraq invasion, while Barack Obama had not. That they'd both later voted repeatedly to fund that war seemed lost both on those defending Clinton's vote and those claiming Obama for the peace movement.
Prior to 2008 we already knew Clinton's history. She had pushed her husband in a militaristic direction throughout his presidency, including on Yugoslavia and Iraq. The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act had laid the groundwork for the war to come. She's urged Bill Clinton to bomb Kosovo in violation of the U.N. Charter and against the will of Congress. She'd not only voted for the war on Iraq, and against an amendment to pursue inspections first, but she'd promoted all of Bush-Cheney's lies as her own, despite having been well informed of the facts. She'd then continued to defend her actions for years, and to argue for continuing and escalating the war.
In 2006, Democrats had won Congressional victories principally on the public demand to end the war on Iraq. Clinton protégé and future despot of Chicago Rahm Emanuel openly told the Washington Post that the Democrats would keep the war on Iraq going in order to run against it again in 2008, and that's what Hillary Clinton did. In time for the 2008 primaries, she turned against the Iraq war and began lying that she'd never supported it and only ever wanted inspections pursued, a lie she has articulated in recent weeks as well.
None of this has changed in the past 8 years. On top of it we can add the following. Hillary Clinton turned the U.S. State Department into an arm of the military, redefined "diplomacy" to mean the communication of threats of violence, made diplomats work as marketing staff for weapons companies, waived restrictions on arms sales to brutal governments that donated to her personal foundation, led the advocacy for escalation in Afghanistan, led the lobbying for a war to overthrow the government of Libya creating the disaster now found there, backed a military coup in Honduras, defended dictators and torturers in Tunisia and Egypt until the last possible moment, and in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia until the present moment, threatened assault on Iran and lied about Iranian nukes even after finally being compelled to support the nuclear agreement with Iran, supported the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, opposed opportunities for peace in Syria at every turn, and much much more. Clinton had in fact joined Republicans in pushing for the disarmament of Syria as early as 2004. On Afghanistan, Libya, and the attack on Osama bin Laden, Secretary of State Clinton was more hawkish than Secretary of "Defense" Robert Gates.
Much of the additional information we know comes from WikiLeaks which exposed the Clinton State Department as a cynical Machiavellian club for contemptuous rogues out to dominate the world for the sake of corporate profits. The fault here lies not with Chelsea Manning for exposing these outrages, but with Clinton for leading them. But her attitude toward whistleblowers like Manning and Edward Snowden has exposed another difference with Sanders, to Sanders' advantage. A Hillary Clinton administration promises to be as secretive and vindictive as Obama's.
A Sanders White House would not cut off the free weaponry and legal immunity for Israel, but a Clinton White House would expand on those policies, offer unlimited support to openly racist Israeli assaults on and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Sanders has proposed normalizing relations with Iran, while Clinton has denounced that idea and demanded that all (meaning nuclear) options be "on the table." If peace should come to Syria with Assad still in power, Clinton can be expected to continue the line she has already promoted, namely that Obama should have overthrown Assad with massive force long ago. Sanders, in contrast, could be expected to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on domestic matters until the next crisis develops.
While Clinton has accused Sanders of heresy for disagreeing with Obama's disastrous domestic policies, she herself has frequently criticized Obama's foreign policies for being insufficiently militaristic. Clinton does not hide who she is. She's fear mongered 9/11 in a debate. She's giggled jubilantly while bragging about the murder of Muamar Gadaffi. She's suggested the possibility of "obliterating" Iran. She talks up her dedication to the Israeli rightwing in public as well as behind closed doors with donors. Donors like Boeing have successfully hired her, while Secretary of State, to personally market their products to foreign governments.
I've asked the Clinton campaign what her military budget proposal would be, and have thus far heard nothing back, but it's hard to imagine how she could do what she would do without raising it, and it's easy to imagine that her election would boost the campaign to add young women to the selective service draft registry.
Pollsters imagine that Donald Trump's negatives make him easily defeatable, but they imagined that in the primaries as well. Polls also suggest that Hillary would be weaker than Bernie in a general election and that many Bernie supporters might not support Hillary. Imagine an election in which the mad militarist with the comb-over fear mongers Muslims but accurately accuses Clinton of lying about Iraq and helping to create ISIS. Would she counter with the promise of another bigger, better war? Would such a situation create a new opportunity to move public opinion against war? What would peace advocates do? How many would hold their nose and flee the country? What would Henry Kissinger advise?
Mary Anne Grady Flores speaks in this 1-hour special from inside the jail near Syracuse, N.Y., where she has been imprisoned for 6 months for protesting drone murders at Hancock Air Base.
Total run time: 56:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
A cease-fire, even a partial one by only some of the parties to the war in Syria, is the perfect first step -- but only if it's widely understood as a first step.
Almost none of the news coverage I've seen speaks to what purpose the cease-fire serves. And most of it focuses on the cease-fire's limitations and who predicts someone else will violate it, and who openly promises to violate it. The big outside parties, or at least Russia, plus the Syrian government, will go right on bombing selected targets, which will go right on shooting back, while Turkey has announced that ceasing to kill Kurds would just be taking the whole thing a bit too far (Kurds the United States is arming against other people the United States is arming, by the way).
The United States distrusts Russia on this, while Russia distrusts the United States, various Syrian opposition groups distrust each other and the Syrian government, everybody distrusts Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- the Turks and Saudis most of all, and U.S. neocons remain obsessed with Iranian evil. The predictions of failure could be self-fulfilling, as they seem to have been before.
Vague talk of a "political solution," which parties take to mean completely incompatible things, is not a second step designed to make a cease-fire succeed. It's a fifth or sixth or seventh step. The second step that is missing, after ceasing to directly kill people, is to cease facilitating the killing of people by others.
This was what was needed when Russia proposed peace in 2012 and the United States brushed it aside. This is what was needed after the chemical weapons agreement in 2013. Instead the United States held off on bombing, under public and international pressure, but escalated its arming and training of others to kill, and its winking at Saudi Arabia's and Turkey's and others' fueling of the violence.
Truth be told, this was what was needed when President Barack Obama was allowing Hillary Clinton to convince him to overthrow the government of Libya in 2011. Outside parties need an agreement to cease supplying weapons and fighters, and an agreement to supply unprecedented levels of humanitarian aid. The goal should be disarming those who would kill, supporting those who would join the violence out of economic need, and countering the highly successful propaganda of groups that live off the assaults on them by outside nations.
ISIS is thriving in Libya now and going after the oil there. Italy, which has a shameful history in Libya, is showing some reluctance to worsening the situation there by continuing to attack. The point is not that local forces can defeat ISIS but that nonviolence would do less harm than violence in the short, middle, and long term. Hillary Clinton, for her part, is bordering on the criminally insane, or at least the criminal, as she just spoke about Libya in her most recent debate on the model of a permanent occupation of Germany, Japan, or Korea. So much for hope and change.
The second step, the public commitment to which could make the first step work, would involve the United States withdrawing from the region and insisting on Turkey and Saudi Arabia and others ceasing to fuel the violence. It would involve Russia and Iran pulling out all forces and canceling backwards ideas like Russia's new proposal to arm Armenia. Russia should ship nothing but food and medicine to Syria. The United States should do the same and commit to no longer seeking the overthrow of the Syrian government -- not because it's a good government, but because it has to be overthrown nonviolently by forces that actually mean well, not by a distant imperial power.
Secretary of State John Kerry's already announced plan B is to partition Syria, meaning to continue to fuel the mass murder and suffering, while hoping to diminish the size of the state allied to Iran and Russia, in favor of empowering the terrorists that the United States empowered in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in Iraq in the 2000s and right now in Yemen. The U.S. delusion that yet another overthrow, yet again empowering small groups of killers, will fix things is a root cause of the conflict at this point. But so is the Russian delusion that bombing just the right people will bring peace and stability. Both nations have stumbled into a cease-fire, but seem to think of it as an opportunity to appease a bit of global outrage while reloading. If you want to know how the cease-fire is going, watch the weapons companies' stocks.
The chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party called to complain that I was being unfair to him, and maybe he was right. But I'd simply urged the need to avoid any appearance of bias, and if the chairman doesn't understand that, he's in for a heck of a lot more criticism than he's ever imagined. This is his bio on the party website at 11:15 a.m. ET on Friday, February 26, just after he called me:
The Washington Times had prompted Harrison's call with this article:
. . . What his bio on the party’s Web page doesn’t mention, though, is that Mr. Harrison is also a principal at the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm founded by brothers Tony and John Podesta — the same John Podesta who is chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Mr. Harrison’s day job is likely to get more scrutiny as the presidential campaign turns to South Carolina and questions continue to swirl about whether the Democratic Party apparatus is fairly treating Mrs. Clinton’s challenger, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont. . . .
“If you want to avoid appearances of conflict of interest, you need to be completely open and reveal that,” said David Swanson, a spokesman at Rootsaction.org, a progressive online group that also has organized a petition asking for the ouster of the head of the Democratic National Committee. “Someone can be in favor of one candidate and still conduct a fair primary election, but if they’re hiding that they have close ties — beyond just electoral interest, but with actual monetary interests — that starts to look bad.”
Harrison called me up and recounted his long connections with staffers for Bernie Sanders, and said that he had been the first to invite Sanders to come speak even before he was officially a candidate. Harrison said he'd also had Sanders as the first ever guest in his video series called "Chair Chats." Here's that video:
And here's one with Hillary Clinton, which has about half as many views.
Harrison said he'd offered Sanders the party's resources and conference room, that his own Deputy Executive Director had gone to work for the Sanders campaign, that anything he and the party had done for Clinton they'd done for Sanders, and that I could ask the Sanders campaign and they'd say as much.
I said I was certain they would indeed, whether true or not, but that I had merely answered a reporter's question on one point, that of Harrison's bio on the party site leaving out what he did for a living, namely that he worked for a Clinton-affiliated organization. Amazingly, Harrison claimed not to know whether his bio included that info or not. He blamed me for not investigating it myself, while he himself claimed not to have looked into it either. And he assured me that if I "googled" him I'd see that he worked for the Podesta Group.
But isn't that the point, I asked? If I google Santorum I'll find something else entirely, but that's what Google shows, not what Santorum chooses to display. If everyone can find out that your paycheck comes from a Clinton-associated group, but that's left out of your bio, how does that look? Harrison promised to look into it and to make sure that it said from now on right at the top: "Jamie Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and Principle at the Podesta Group...."
I said I thought that would be a good idea.
The Podesta Group was founded by John and Tony Podesta, the former serving also as Hillary Clinton's campaign chair.
I explained to Harrison that my concern was not over any actual unfair treatment I knew him to have engaged in, but over the appearance of it in a context that had everyone understandably on the lookout for bias. I pointed out to him that the DNC Chair was quite openly on Hillary Clinton's side, had sought to minimize debates and hide them on Saturday nights and other times of low viewership, had sought to deny Sanders access to his own voter files, had just opened up the Democratic Party to money from corporate lobbyists to benefit one candidate, had refused to release the results in Iowa, etc., and that the Party had its superdelegates lined up for Hillary in open defiance of popular will.
Harrison said he agreed with me that the superdelegate system and the electoral college for that matter should be scrapped. And he agreed with my blaming the DNC, which he pointed out was not the South Carolina Democratic Party.
The funny thing is, after I hung up, I looked at Harrison's bio on the Podesta Group website. That bio is very open about his Democratic Party identifications. And they include this: "Member of the DNC Executive Committee."
I was looking for love in all the wrong places
Looking for love in too many faces
Searching your eyes, looking for traces
Of what I'm dreaming of --Waylon Jennings
Why do the Republican presidential debates resemble world wrestling matches without all the formality and politeness?
Why do the Democratic presidential debates always end up with the two candidates deeply respecting the other's admirable efforts to destroy everything decent in the world?
Because the Republicans are going after voters who are thoroughly disgusted with the U.S. government, including the man running it, Barack Obama, while the Democrats are going after voters who are thoroughly disgusted with the U.S. government but in love with the man running it.
Senator Bernie Sanders explains that we need the opposite of what Obama's been doing, then claims to agree with Obama. Why? Because he wants to win over voters who think exactly that, who believe that Obama has done everything wrong but who love Obama despite, or even because, of his disastrous conduct. Sanders knows that many of the same voters feel (that's the key word) the same way about Hillary Clinton.
Pick up a book called I [Heart] Obama by Erin Aubry Kaplan. In it, she explains that she and others she's asked love Obama for his looks, his voice, his poise, his attitude, his facial expressions, and his skin color. She and others she quotes fell in love with him before they'd learned anything about his political performance. And whatever they later learned entirely confirmed their sentiments. If he did something terrible, they imagined he'd tried to do something good. If he failed, they loved his failure and blamed it on his racist opponents. Because racists hate him, one must love him, they feel.
Kaplan hoped for change, but when Obama didn't meet her expectations she condemned anyone so misguided as to complain. Then she blamed the public for not rising up and complaining, without which Obama couldn't very well be expected to do anything, could he? But even when Obama didn't do the right thing, you could be sure he knew what the right thing to do would have been. And that was good enough. Hell, that was better. And if he lied about it, that was better than truth. Even his bullshit smelled sweet. Kaplan writes:
"Does the fact that his 'Hope/Change' campaign was more a matter of brilliant branding than anything else diminish the fact that hope and change are exactly what black folks need?"
Perish the thought!
Racists would even object to Obama murdering people. Not the Obamaphiles Kaplan quotes: "'I know it's hard for people to look at the drones, to look at why he doesn't do this thing or that thing,' says Ward. 'But the tightrope is one that he has to walk. I have a friend in the South who says she's seen bars with calendars on the walls that count down the days to when Obama gets assassinated.'"
Get it? Racists want to murder Obama, so he should go on murdering all those dark-skinned foreigners, and you should shut up about it and love him even if you hate what he's doing.
Do the old people and black people backing Hillary Clinton in primaries associate her with Obama and his lovable odiousness? Or do they associate her with the Democratic Party and identify with that party as they might with a racial group? Or do they want to feel the warm tingles of watching a woman, instead of a man, pilot the empire over the cliff? Are good people going to double down on tokenism while the fascists prepare to play their trump card?
The answer is, of course, not to elect all white guys. The answer is to end the election obsession, and build a movement. And when we must have an election, elect the best person. Democrats need to stop loving the people who have created everything Sanders wants to fix. Obama and Hillary do not love you back, my friends. They're using you. They have nothing but contempt for you. And if the morning ever comes, you'll hate yourself in it.
Republicans, of course, need to stop bowing down before a fascist clown who openly tells them that he only loves himself and they should love him too. For him, you are beneath contempt, unworthy even of notice. You'd better hope the Democrats don't run the woman you hate against him, because then he'll be president, you'll be the woman scorned, you'll hate yourselves more than the Democrats hate you, and most people will give up hope for the electoral system -- which will of course turn out to be even worse than falling for false hope with a nice smile.
By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
The U.S. government, from Dick Cheney to Hillary Clinton, told blatant lies about the Iraqi government creating chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in 2002, despite having been informed of the fact that Iraq was doing no such thing. U.S. leaders lied about ties between Iraq and terrorists that they also knew did not exist.
Then the U.S. military attacked and invaded Iraq, in the process heavily bombing old sites of Iraqi chemical weapons from the 1980s, many of those weapons having been provided by the United States. In large part because of the U.S. origin of the old Iraqi chemical weapons, the U.S. kept quiet about them during the new war. Another reason for the official silence was that, during the 2003 U.S. destruction of Iraq, many of those old weapons were seized by fledgling terrorist groups. The war had done exactly what it had been justified as being needed to prevent; it had given WMDs to terrorists.
The geniuses running the U.S. military set up U.S. bases at the sites of old chemical weapons piles, dug giant burn pits into the ground, and began burning the military's trash -- monumental quantities of trash, something like The Story of Stuff on steroids. They burned hundreds of tons of trash every day, including everything you can think of: oil, rubber, tires, treated wood, medicines, pesticides, asbestos, plastic, explosives, paint, human body parts, and . . . (wait for it) . . . nuclear, biological, and chemical decontamination materials.
The burn pits poisoned Iraq, together with depleted uranium weapons, napalm, white phosphorous, and various other horrors, creating unprecedented epidemics of birth defects, and killing untold masses of Iraqis. The burn pits also poisoned tens of thousands of U.S. troops, many of whom have died as a result, including very likely the son of the current U.S. vice president. The burn pits profited Halliburton, the company of the previous U.S. vice president.
The burn pits were no secret, although bases sometimes stopped the burning during VIP tours. Typically, huge clouds of smoke filled the air and created immediate breathing difficulties and sicknesses. Soldiers knew which colors of smoke were most dangerous and discussed it as they discussed an enemy. Numerous burn pits turned hundreds of previously healthy U.S. troops into invalids. But the burn pits at six particular bases caused the most severe illnesses and the most deaths. They caused, among other things, numerous cases of constrictive bronchiolitis, which could only have resulted from exposure to mustard gas -- a chemical weapon left over from a program the United States had supported when it existed and used as an excuse for war when it didn't.
I'm reminded of a ship that sits at the bottom of the Mediterranean. In 1943, German bombs sank a U.S. ship at Bari, Italy, that was secretly carrying a million pounds of mustard gas. Many of the U.S. sailors died from the poison, which the United States dishonestly claimed to have been using as a "deterrent," despite keeping it secret. The ship is expected to continue leaking the gas into the sea for centuries. The earth and water of Iraq have been similarly poisoned, as have U.S. soldiers.
The Pentagon made crystal clear in Iraq, as most everywhere else, that it cares not a damn for the people or the natural environment of the places it attacks, and that it cares even less for the troops it uses to do so. But if you imagine that the Pentagon has reserved its concern for the civilian inhabitants of the Fatherland, don't look too closely into the open-air burns still happening in the United States. The U.S. military is the third-largest polluter of U.S. waterways, top producer of superfund disaster sites, and top consumer of petroleum. At least 33,480 U.S. nuclear weapons workers who have received compensation for health damage are now dead. Where it is blocked by legal regulations effectively enforced, the military shows restraint; where it isn't, it doesn't. In Virginia, the military very responsibly throws dead soldiers into a landfill rather then burning them. Either method communicates equally well just how much the military cares.
Halliburton, for its part, is as happy to deal death at home as abroad. Residents of Duncan, Oklahoma, have sued Cheney's cash machine for poisoning the ground water with ammonium perchlorate. Government investigators also concluded that Halliburton was, in part, to blame for the BP oil spill that flooded into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Joseph Hickman's new book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers, collects the evidence, including from similar incidents during the first Gulf War that were known before the first 2003 burn pit was dug and lit. Hickman gives us stories of young healthy men who headed off to Iraq believing the lies, believing that the U.S. government that is now begging Russia to stop attacking terrorists because the U.S. wants to overthrow yet another government -- believing that this U.S. government had good intentions in attacking Iraq. These poor souls went to Iraq hoping to protect people from horrible suffering, and ended up inflicting horrible suffering on people including themselves. They come home, develop cancer, get stonewalled by the VA, and die dreaming of what it might have been to have health and the wealth needed to attend college. Their American Dream was cut short by the militarized American Fantasy.
Joe Biden supported a war that very likely killed his son by means of burn pits. He then chose not to run for president because of his grief. His decision not to run received more media coverage than several months of the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders who had voted against the war. But did Biden lift a finger to hold Halliburton or the military or the Congress accountable? Not that I've heard.
Hickman describes the burn pits, and analogous poisons from past wars like Agent Orange in Vietnam, as "recklessly endangering the health of our fighting men and women." The only trouble with this is the fact that all war, all "fighting," consists of recklessly endangering the lives of the vast bulk of the victims (the Vietnamese, Iraqis, etc.) and of the U.S. troops. There's nothing non-reckless about any war. Perhaps distant drone pilots are not endangered in the typical way, but then look at how they're mocked within the Air Force. If troops weren't endangered, people wouldn't treat them with reverence and describe them -- as Hickman does -- as somehow "serving" their country, even while the facts he includes in his book speak otherwise.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held since 1950 that members and former members of the military cannot sue over injuries received on the job. It may, however, still prove possible to win compensation from Halliburton. If so, you can probably chalk up another assist to Chelsea Manning who leaked evidence that the military had knowledge of the dangers when it created the burn pits, knowledge that General David Petraeus blatantly lied about in response to a Congressional inquiry.
It now appears that the 2003- war on Iraq not only created ISIS, but armed it with mustard gas, thereby proving, I guess, that Saddam Hussein could indeed had given WMDs to terrorists had he just been as evil as the U.S. military.
Harvey Wasserman is a life-long activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, history, drug war, election protection and grassroots politics. He teaches (since 2004) history and cultural & ethnic diversity at two central Ohio colleges, and is married with five daughters and five grandchildren. Harvey works primarily for the permanent shutdown of the nuclear power industry and the birth of Solartopia, a democratic and socially just green-powered Earth free of all fossil and nuclear fuels. He writes regularly for a wide internet readership through Ecowatch, solartopia.org, freepress.org and nukefree.org, which he edits. His articles also appear at Commondreams, CounterPunch, HuffingtonPost, Buzzflash and others. He hosts the Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show at www.prn.fm. In this show, Harvey discusses the stripping and flipping of U.S. elections.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
By Harvey Wasserman, David Swanson, Bob Fitrakis
Bernie Sanders’ common sense proposals for dealing with universal health care, college tuition, restoring the infrastructure, confronting poverty and more have encountered predictable scorn from “fiscally responsible” corporatists.
They all scream about the “deficit spending” and tax hikes that might be required to pay for these vital programs. From predictable right-wing corporatists to Hillary Clinton (“free stuff! free stuff!” she mocks) to fictional “left-leaning economists” invented by the New York Times, numerous voices scorn Bernie’s agenda because his proposals “cost too much.”
But nowhere do we find anyone willing to take on the biggest imperial welfare program of them all, the most obvious source of revenue for the programs needed to heal our nation: the military budget. If Sanders were willing to cut the military budget he’d encounter no criticism for raising taxes, because he’d have no need to raise taxes. We hope that he’ll no longer pass up this opportunity to tell us how he would cut into a military budget that exceeds nearly all the rest of the world’s combined, and that largely has nothing to do with fighting terrorism (and so often makes it worse).
It’s not that Bernie doesn’t have a good answer for how he would pay for everything. He does, and it’s plenty clear and simple for an intelligent fourth grader, and possibly even Donald Trump, to grasp. But just try squeezing the following into a sound byte television response to “You want to raise my taxes!”
Even this lengthy list does not seem to straightforwardly explain that Medicare for All could raise your taxes, but would give you net savings as you dropped your health insurance payments.
For those who can get past sound bytes, Sanders’ proposals are good, and the taxes all needed for the sake of equitable sharing of wealth and power. But cutting the oceans of cash going to the armed forces is also needed for the purpose of slowing down the military industrial complex and its penchant for creating wars.
And there are projects that the United States and the world desperately need that aren’t listed above. Rather than more wars and occupations, the United States has a moral responsibility to begin a massive investment in actual humanitarian aid to the world, a world beginning to suffer from climate change driven more by the United States than any other nation, with the possible exception of the much, much larger nation of China.
The United States is currently extremely stingy in foreign aid by global standards, and a Marshall-Plan scale investment could work wonders in transforming world opinion about the U.S. government. A similar investment, much more than $100 billion per year, is needed in the United States for green energy. The possibility of creating a Solartopia is slipping away from us, while the cost of the Iraq war alone would have been enough to halt climate change.
Here are some simple, obvious ways to pay for all those programs Bernie advocates, and much much more:
- There are various plans afoot to “upgrade” the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, with price tags in the range of $1,000,000,000,000 and more. Why don’t we just get rid of all of them and use the money to pay for much of the above?
- There is talk of a replacement fleet of a dozen “Ohio Class” nuclear submarines at a (currently estimated) cost of up to $8,000,000,000 each (which is bound to soar), with construction to begin in 2021. These are perfectly designed to protect us from the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, and will do nothing except bankrupt us, making us more vulnerable to the likes of ISIS, which was created by our intervention in Iraq.
- The United States currently maintains at least 900 bases outside its borders, with troops stationed in 175 foreign nations and waging or threating war in some of the handful of nations that do not have U.S. troops (Syria, Iran). The financial cost is over $100 billion a year. The bases, in many cases, generate an enormous amount of popular resentment and hatred, serving as motivations for attacks on the bases themselves or elsewhere — famously including the attacks of September 11, 2001. Why continue to pay for this?
- The military spends millions every year advertising itself as a career opportunity, with fly-overs at football games, saturation TV spots, marching bands (the military is the nation’s leading employer of musicians) and more. In fact, it has an entrenched interest in keeping college tuitions high, as a key incentive for young people to enlist is to be able to afford tuition. Yet while the armed forces are heavily over-staffed, and recruitment ads for the National Guard depict the bringing of aid to natural disasters, the reality is that a major effort to aid those at home and abroad impacted by climate change or disasters like the methane gas leak at Port Ranch, California, doesn’t exist and would be a prime step toward guaranteeing a true global peace.
If the military were scaled back even a little, in the direction of a purely defensive operation, we could create such a modern civilian conservation corps and, among other things, put solar panels on the rooftops of every building on earth.
There is, of course, much more that could be done to cut the military budget and pay for what we really need. The vast bulk of military expenditures today have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. In many cases, the clumsy bludgeonings of our over-stuffed military actually promote it.
Yet this kind of discussion has not yet made it into the mainstream. We look forward to either journalists or brave nonviolent event disruptors inserting this topic into the endless election coverage.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of the upcoming THE STRIP & FLIP SELECTION OF 2016 FIVE JIM CROWS & ELECTRONIC ELECTION THEFT.
The United States has launched over 100,000 air strikes during its war on (or is it of) terror. It's blown up houses, apartments, weddings, dinners, town hall meetings, religious gatherings. It's killed senior citizens, children, men, women. It's tapped them, double tapped them, bugsplatted them, targeted them, kill-sported them, and collateral damaged them by the hundreds of thousands. It's killed civilians, journalists, mercenaries, opportunists, those trying to get by through support of the dominant force in their village, and those opposing the foreign occupation of their countries. It's killed kind people, smart people, dumb people, and nasty sadistic people who -- purely because of where they were born and raised -- had no opportunity to become U.S. presidential candidates.
Of course I would like all militaries to refrain from bombing hospitals, but I want to say a word in support of the not-yet-injured. Don't people of sound body have rights too? If there is a problem with bombing hospitals, why is there not a problem with bombing everywhere else? If there's not a problem with bombing everywhere else, why isn't it OK to bomb hospitals too?
I suppose in a certain fantasy of honorable war, brave soldiers only kill those on the battlefield trying to kill them, so that both sides can claim self-defense in a mutual moral scam. But then shouldn't the planes fight planes, the drones fight drones, the napalm do battle with other loads of napalm, the white phosphrous take on other launchers of white phosphorous, and the soldiers kicking in doors set up some houses so that other soldiers can kick their doors in? What in the name of all Hell does blowing up buildings with missiles have to do with honor? What does any of this have to do with honor? How do you explain to a war supporter who openly admits it's mass murder that there's something wrong with using torture, but that the mass murder is OK, as long as it stays away from hospitals?
Even operating under the delusion that everybody being intentionally blown up is a "combatant," while everyone nearby is a deeply regretted statistic, why are so many combatants blown up while retreating en masse or while eating dinner with their family or sipping tea at a cafe? What kind of slacker combatants is it only possible to find at weddings? Are they doing combat singing?
The United States has young people sitting in boxes, staring at computer screens, and blowing other human beings (and whoever's near them) to little bugsplatted bits thousands of miles away. Their victims are not alleged to be in the act of waging war. They're alleged to be on the side of waging war, to have previously done something to wage war and/or to be planning to possibly participate in war, or to appear likely to do so given their insolent choice to live where they were born.
Well, if you're murdering people at the command of the U.S. president because of who they are, not what they are doing, then it doesn't much matter if they are retreating or resting or registering for a self-help class, and it's hard to see why it matters if they're in a hospital. Clearly the Pentagon can't see the distinction and chooses not to pretend to, offering only the insult of a halfhearted lie that the hospital attacks are accidental.
The wars as a whole cannot be accidental, and if you pick them apart, bit by bit, eliminating each moral outrage, you'll be left with nothing. There's no legitimate core left standing. There's no "legitimate enemy." There's no battlefield. These are wars fought where people live. They are in these wars by force. You want to "support" the U.S. troops even when you oppose the policy, cheer as for a sports team even when the sport is murder? Well, what about the non-U.S. troops? Do they not get the same understanding?
The military draft has not been used in the United States since 1973, but the machinery has remained in place (costing the federal government about $25 million a year). Males over 18 have been required to register for the draft since 1940 (except between 1975 and 1980) and still are today, with no option to register as conscientious objectors or to choose peaceful productive public service. Some in Congress have been making “enlightened” feminist noises about forcing young women to register as well. In most states young men who get driver’s licenses are automatically registered for the draft without their permission (and virtually all of those states’ governments claim that automatically registering people to vote would just not be realistic). When you apply for financial aid for college, if you’re male, you probably won’t get it until after a mandatory check to see if you’re registered for the draft.
A new bill in Congress would abolish the draft, and a petition in support of it has gained a good deal of traction. But a significant contingent among those who sincerely want peace vehemently opposes ending the draft, and in fact favors drafting young people into war starting tomorrow. Since coming out as a supporter of the new legislation, I’ve encountered far more support than opposition. But the opposition has been intense and sizable. I’ve been called naive, ignorant, ahistorical, and desirous of slaughtering poor boys to protect the elite children I supposedly care exclusively about.
Mr. Moderator, may I have a thirty-second rebuttal, as the distinguished demagogue addressed me directly?
We’re all familiar with the argument behind peace activists’ demand for the draft, the argument that Congressman Charles Rangel made when proposing to start up a draft some years back. U.S. wars, while killing almost exclusively innocent foreigners, also kill and injure and traumatize thousands of U.S. troops drawn disproportionately from among those lacking viable educational and career alternatives. A fair draft, rather than a poverty draft, would send — if not modern-day Donald Trumps, Dick Cheneys, George W. Bushes, or Bill Clintons — at least some offspring of relatively powerful people to war. And that would create opposition, and that opposition would end the war. That’s the argument in a nutshell. Let me offer 10 reasons why I think this is sincere but misguided.
- History doesn’t bear it out. The drafts in the U.S. civil war (both sides), the two world wars, and the war on Korea did not end those wars, despite being much larger and in some cases fairer than the draft during the American war on Vietnam. Those drafts were despised and protested, but they took lives; they did not save lives. The very idea of a draft was widely considered an outrageous assault on basic rights and liberties even before any of these drafts. In fact, a draft proposal was successfully argued down in Congress by denouncing it as unconstitutional, despite the fact that the guy who had actually written most of the Constitution was also the president who was proposing to create the draft. Said Congressman Daniel Webster on the House floor at the time (1814): “The administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion…Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, sir, indeed it is not…Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty?” When the draft came to be accepted as an emergency wartime measure during the civil and first world wars, it never would have been tolerated during peacetime. (And it’s still not anywhere to be found in the Constitution.) Only since 1940 (and under a new law in ’48), when FDR was still working on manipulating the United States into World War II, and during the subsequent 75 years of permanent wartime has “selective service” registration gone on uninterrupted for decades. The draft machine is part of a culture of war that makes kindergarteners pledge allegiance to a flag and 18-year-old males sign up to express their willingness to go off and kill people as part of some unspecified future government project. The government already knows your Social Security number, sex, and age. The purpose of draft registration is in great part war normalization.
- People bled for this. When voting rights are threatened, when elections are corrupted, and even when we are admonished to hold our noses and vote for one or another of the god-awful candidates regularly placed before us, what are we reminded of? People bled for this. People risked their lives and lost their lives. People faced fire hoses and dogs. People went to jail. That’s right. And that’s why we should continue the struggle for fair and open and verifiable elections. But what do you think people did for the right not to be drafted into war? They risked their lives and lost their lives. They were hung up by their wrists. They were starved and beaten and poisoned. Eugene Debs, hero of Senator Bernie Sanders, went to prison for speaking against the draft. What would Debs make of the idea of peace activists supporting a draft in order to stir up more peace activism? I doubt he’d be able to speak through his tears.
- Millions dead is a cure worse than the disease. I am very well convinced that the peace movement shortened and ended the war on Vietnam, not to mention removing a president from office, helping to pass other progressive legislation, educating the public, communicating to the world that there was decency hiding in the United States, and — oh, by the way — ending the draft. And I have zero doubt that the draft had helped to build the peace movement. But the draft did not contribute to ending the war before that war had done far more damage than has any war since. We can cheer for the draft ending the war, but four million Vietnamese lay dead, along with Laotians, Cambodians, and over 50,000 U.S. troops. And as the war ended, the dying continued. Many more U.S. troops came home and killed themselves than had died in the war. Children are still born deformed by Agent Orange and other poisons used. Children are still ripped apart by explosives left behind. If you add up numerous wars in numerous nations, the United States has inflicted death and suffering on the Middle East to equal or surpass that in Vietnam, but none of the wars has used anything like as many U.S. troops as were used in Vietnam. If the U.S. government had wanted a draft and believed it could get away with starting one, it would have. If anything, the lack of a draft has restrained the killing. The U.S. military would add a draft to its existing billion-dollar recruitment efforts, not replace one with the other. And the far greater concentration of wealth and power now than in 1973 pretty well assures that the children of the super-elite would not be conscripted.
- Don’t underestimate support for a draft. The United States has a much greater population than do most countries of people who say they are ready to support wars and even of people who say they would be willing to fight a war. Forty-four percent of U.S. Americans now tell Gallup polling that they “would” fight in a war. Why aren’t they now fighting in one? That’s an excellent question, but one answer could be: Because there’s no draft. What if millions of young men in this country, having grown up in a culture absolutely saturated in militarism, are told it’s their duty to join a war? You saw how many joined without a draft between September 12, 2001, and 2003. Is combining those misguided motivations with a direct order from the “commander in chief” (whom many civilians already refer to in those terms) really what we want to experiment with? To protect the world from war?!
- The supposedly non-existent peace movement is quite real. Yes, of course, all movements were bigger in the 1960s and they did a great deal of good, and I’d willingly die to bring back that level of positive engagement. But the notion that there has been no peace movement without the draft is false. The strongest peace movement the United States has seen was probably that of the 1920s and 1930s. The peace movements since 1973 have restrained the nukes, resisted the wars, and moved many in the United States further along the path toward supporting war abolition. Public pressure blocked the United Nations from supporting recent wars, including the 2003 attack on Iraq, and made supporting that war such a badge of shame that it has kept Hillary Clinton out of the White House at least once so far. It also resulted in concern in 2013 among members of Congress that if they backed the bombing of Syria they’d been seen as having backed “another Iraq.” Public pressure was critical in upholding a nuclear agreement with Iran last year. There are many ways to build the movement. You can elect a Republican president and easily multiply the ranks of the peace movement 100-fold the next day. But should you? You can play on people’s bigotry and depict opposition to a particular war or weapons system as nationalistic and macho, part of preparation for other better wars. But should you? You can draft millions of young men off to war and probably see some new resisters materialize. But should you? Have we really given making the honest case for ending war on moral, economic, humanitarian, environmental, and civil liberties grounds a fair try?
- Doesn’t Joe Biden’s son count? I too would love to see a bill passed requiring that congress members and presidents deploy to the front lines of any war they support. But in a society gone mad enough for war, even steps in that direction wouldn’t end the war making. It appears the U.S. military killed the Vice President’s son through reckless disregard for its own cannon fodder. Will the Vice President even mention it, much less make a move to end the endless warmaking? Don’t hold your breath. U.S. Presidents and Senators used to be proud to send their offspring off to die. If Wall Street can out-do the gilded age, so can the servants of the military industrial complex.
- We build a movement to end war by building a movement to end war. The surest way we have of reducing and then ending militarism, and the racism and materialism with which it is interwoven, is to work for the end of war. By seeking to make wars bloody enough for the aggressor that he stops aggressing, we would essentially be moving in the same direction as we already have by turning public opinion against wars in which U.S. troops die. I understand that there might be more concern over wealthier troops and greater numbers of troops. But if you can open people’s eyes to the lives of gays and lesbians and transgendered people, if you can open people’s hearts to the injustices facing African Americans murdered by police, if you can bring people to care about the other species dying off from human pollution, surely you can also bring them even further along than they’ve already come in caring about the lives of U.S. troops not in their families — and perhaps even about the lives of the non-Americans who make up the vast majority of those killed by U.S. warmaking. One result of the progress already made toward caring about U.S. deaths has been greater use of robotic drones. We need to be building opposition to war because it is the mass murder of beautiful human beings who are not in the United States and could never be drafted by the United States. A war in which no Americans die is just as much a horror as one in which they do. That understanding will end war.
- The right movement advances us in the right direction. Pushing to end the draft will expose those who favor it and increase opposition to their war mongering. It will involve young people, including young men who do not want to register for the draft and young women who do not want to be required to start doing so. A movement is headed in the right direction if even a compromise is progress. A compromise with a movement demanding a draft would be a small draft. That would almost certainly not work any of the magic intended, but would increase the killing. A compromise with a movement to end the draft might be the ability to register for non-military service or as a conscientious objector. That would be a step forward. We might develop out of that new models of heroism and sacrifice, new nonviolent sources of solidarity and meaning, new members of a movement in favor of substituting civilized alternatives for the whole institution of war.
- The war mongers want the draft too. It’s not only a certain section of peace activists who want the draft. So do the true war mongers. The selective service tested its systems at the height of the occupation of Iraq, preparing for a draft if needed. Various powerful figures in D.C. have proposed that a draft would be more fair, not because they think the fairness would end the warmaking but because they think the draft would be tolerated. Now, what happens if they decide they really want it? Should it be left available to them? Shouldn’t they at least have to recreate the selective service first, and to do so up against the concerted opposition of a public facing an imminent draft? Imagine if the United States joins the civilized world in making college free. Recruitment will be devastated. The poverty draft will suffer a major blow. The actual draft will look very desirable to the Pentagon. They may try more robots, more hiring of mercenaries, and more promises of citizenship to immigrants. We need to be focused on cutting off those angles, as well as on in fact making college free.
- Take away the poverty draft too. The unfairness of the poverty draft is not grounds for a larger unfairness. It needs to be ended too. It needs to be ended by opening up opportunities to everyone, including free quality education, job prospects, life prospects. Isn’t the proper solution to troops being stop-lossed not adding more troops but waging less war? When we end the poverty draft and the actual draft, when we actually deny the military the troops it needs to wage war, and when we create a culture that views murder as wrong even when engaged in on a large scale and even when all the deaths are foreign, then we’ll actually get rid of war, not just acquire the ability to stop each war 4 million deaths into it.
Thank you to Jim Naureckas for pointing out the gap from 1975-1980 now mentioned in the first paragraph.
If you've just seen Michael Moore's movie and are wondering how in the world the United States got diverted into the slow lane to hell, go watch Noam Chomsky's movie. If you've just seen Noam Chomsky's movie and are wondering whether the human species is really worth saving, go see Michael Moore's movie. If you haven't seen either of these movies, please tell me that you haven't been watching presidential debates. As either of these movies would be glad to point out to you, that's NOT HOW YOU CHANGE ANYTHING.
"Filmed over four years, these are his last long-form documentary interviews," Chomsky's film, Requiem for the American Dream, says of him at the start, rather offensively. Why? He seems perfectly able to give interviews and apparently gave those in this film for four years. And of course he acquired the insights he conveys over many more years than that. They are not new insights to activists, but they would be like revelations from another world to a typical U.S. resident.
Chomsky explains how concentrated wealth creates concentrated power, which legislates further concentration of wealth, which then concentrates more power in a vicious cycle. He lists and elaborates on ten principles of the concentration of wealth and power -- principles that the wealthy of the United States have acted intensely on for 40 years or more.
1. Reduce Democracy. Chomsky finds this acted on by the very "founding fathers" of the United States, in the creation of the U.S. Senate, and in James Madison's statement during debate over the U.S. Constitution that the new government would need to protect the wealthy from too much democracy. Chomsky finds the same theme in Aristotle but with Aristotle proposing to reduce inequality, while Madison proposed to reduce democracy. The burst of activism and democracy in the United States in the 1960s scared the protectors of wealth and privilege, and Chomsky admits that he did not anticipate the strength of the backlash through which we have been suffering since.
2. Shape Ideology. The Powell Memo from the corporate right, and the Trilateral Commission's first ever report, called "The Crisis of Democracy," are cited by Chomsky as roadmaps for the backlash. That report referred to an "excess of democracy," the over engagement of young people with civic life, and the view that young people were just not receiving proper "indoctrination." Well, there's a problem that's been fixed, huh?
3. Redesign the Economy. Since the 1970s the United States has been moved toward an ever larger role for financial institutions. By 2007 they "earned" 40% of corporate profits. Deregulation has produced wealth concentration and economic crashes, followed by anti-capitalist bailouts making for more wealth concentration. Offshore production has reduced workers' pay. Alan Greenspan testified to Congress about the benefits of promoting "job insecurity" -- something those Europeans in Michael Moore's film don't know about and might find it hard to appreciate.
4. Shift the Burden. The American Dream in the 1950s and 60s was partly real. Both the rich and the poor got richer. Since then, we've seen the steady advance of what Chomsky calls the plutonomy and the precariat, that is the wealthy few who run the show and get all the new wealth, and the precarious proletariat. Back then, taxes were quite high on corporations, dividends, and wealth. Not anymore.
5. Attack Solidarity. To go after Social Security and public education, Chomsky says, you have to drive the normal emotion of caring about others out of people's heads. The U.S. of the 1950s was able to make college essentially free with the G.I. Bill and other public funding. Now a much wealthier United States is full of "serious" experts who claim that such a thing is impossible (and who must strictly avoid watching Michael Moore).
6. Run the Regulators. The 1970s saw enormous growth in lobbying. It is now routine for the interests being regulated to control the regulators, which makes things much easier on the regulated.
7. Engineer Elections. Thus we've seen the creation of corporate personhood, the equation of money with speech, and the lifting of all limits under Citizens United.
8. Keep the Rabble in Line. Here Chomsky focuses on attacks on organized labor, including the Taft Hartley Act, but one could imagine further expansions on the theme.
9. Manufacture Consent. Obsessive consumers are not born, they're molded by advertising. The goal of directing people to superficial consumption as a means of keeping people in their place was explicit and has been reached. In a market economy, Chomsky says, informative advertisements would result in rational decisions. But actual advertisements provide no information and promote irrational choices. Here Chomsky is talking about, not just ads for automobiles and soap, but also election campaigns for candidates.
10. Marginalize the Population. This seems as much a result as a tactic, but it certainly has been achieved. What the public wants does not typically impact what the U.S. government does.
Unless the trends described above are reversed, Chomsky says, things are going to get very ugly.
Then the film shows us a clip of Chomsky saying the same thing decades earlier when he was still shown on U.S. television. He's been marginalized along with the rest of us.
I imagine every friendly critic of this film has a #11 to add, and that they are all different. In fact, I can think of lots of things to add, but I insist on mentioning one of them. It's the same one missing from Bernie Sanders' home movie starring Iowa and New Hampshire. Its the thing missing from all U.S. discourse but showing up in Michael Moore's movie as a great difference between the United States and Europe.
11. Dump Massive Funding into Militarism. Why should this be included? Well, militarism is the biggest public program in the United States. It's over half of federal discretionary spending. If you're going to claim that lobbyists are concentrating wealth through their influence on the government, why not notice the single budget item that eats up over half the budget? It does indeed concentrate wealth and also power. It's a vast pot of unaccountable funding for cronies. And it generates public interest in fighting foreign enemies rather than enemies hanging out on Wall Street. It does militarize the police for free, however, just in case Wall Street generates any disgruntled customers.
Chomsky does, of course, oppose militarism. As far as I know he's consistently opposed it for many years. We see B-roll of him in the movie with anti-war books in his office. And discussion of point #1 above mentions the peace movement of the 1960s. How the single biggest thing that the wealthy and powerful do in their effort to expand their power over the whole globe didn't make the top-10 list I don't know.
The film concludes with a call to build mass movements for change. The United States still has a very free society, Chomsky advises. A lot can be done, he tells us, if people will only choose to do it.
Dahlia Wasfi is an Iraqi-American justice activist who has written and spoken extensively on U.S. policy in the region of Iraq. She is currently writing a book on Iraq and recently published the article "Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq War Redux." She discusses the past quarter century of U.S. bombing of Iraq.
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I’m afraid that one of the best books I’ve read on war abolition may be overlooked by non-Catholics, because its title is Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War (by David Carroll Cochran). The book does draw on Catholic arguments against war and work to rebut Catholic arguments in favor of war, but in my view this enriches the debate and detracts not at all from Cochran’s universal argument for the elimination of all war — much of which has little or nothing to do with Catholicism. I’ve added this book to my war abolition shelf along with these books of my own and others:
- Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry (2009)
- Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers (2009)
- War Is A Lie by David Swanson (2010)
- The End of War by John Horgan (2012)
- Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac (2012)
- War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson (2013)
- Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand (2013)
- War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo (2014)
- Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran (2014)
- A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War (2015)
- War Is A Lie: Second Edition by David Swanson (April 5, 2016)
“War’s two great lies are its righteousness and its inevitability.” Thus begins Cochran’s book, and he demonstrates the truth of his statement beyond any reasonable doubt. He examines the lies that are told to start wars and the lies that are told about how wars are conducted. We might call these two kinds of lies mendacia ad bellum and mendacia in bello. Cochran puts a major emphasis on the latter, pointing out that war kills a large number of innocents — and always has, even in earlier epochs armed by very different weaponry. There never was any just ad bellum or jus in bello.
Cochran includes among the innocent both civilians and soldiers. Including only civilians is enough to make his point, as wars have always killed large numbers of civilians (though the percentage of dead who are civilian has increased in recent decades to the point where it is the vast majority of those killed). Cochran does not consider soldiers innocent because their side of a war is defensive. He considers them innocent on the side of the aggressor as well — and not only those soldiers who quietly regret what they are doing or those who honestly believe the propaganda that would justify their actions. No, even combatants who fully support the war are innocent, in a certain sense, in Cochran’s view.
This seems at odds with some Catholic tradition. I remember Erasmus urging that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle: “The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!”
I find Cochran’s case for soldiers’ innocence convincing, although I have really very little interest in whether his position is more properly Catholic than someone else’s. He points out that it is generally viewed as wrong to kill soldiers who are wounded or surrendering. This, Cochran writes, is because they have done nothing to deserve being slaughtered, although slaughtered they are in the general course of a war. One idea put forward by war supporters is that in the normal course of war, soldiers are mutually engaged in self-defense against each other, but Cochran points out that the justification of self-defense for individuals outside of war only works when an aggressor has attacked a victim. War is conducted on a very different scale and with very different norms. Soldiers during a war are not expected to try all nonviolent approaches first before resorting to violence, and in fact routinely kill other soldiers who do not pose any imminent threat. Most killing in historical battles has happened after one side has begun retreating. Remember how the United States killed 30,000 retreating Iraqi soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War.
The ultimate fallback justification for the mass-murder of war is that innocents can be slaughtered if the harm done is outweighed by the goals of the war. But such goals are often secret or lied about, and it is the war makers who get to decide whose deaths are outweighed by what goals. U.S. terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up a government building in 1995 and claimed that the deaths that resulted were merely “collateral damage” because killing those people had not been his purpose. The U.S. military plays the same game, the only difference being that it is allowed to get away with it.
Partly the military gets away with it by constantly claiming to have found technological solutions to collateral damage. But, in fact, the latest such ploy — weaponized drones — kills more civilians than it kills people for whom anyone asserts any (always unsubstantiated) right to murder.
To call combatants innocent in analyzing the morality of war is not, in my view, to diminish the moral superiority of refusing to fight. Nor is it to suggest some sort of moral perfection in the individual lives of soldiers. Nor is it to set aside the Nuremberg standard that requires disobeying illegal orders. Rather, it is to understand that no justification exists for killing soldiers. There might be a justification for otherwise sanctioning their behavior, and — more so — the behavior of those who sent them into war, but not for killing them.
Not only is war dramatically different from normal individual relations in which one might speak of self-defense, but, Cochran shows, it is also radically different from police work. Legitimate, praiseworthy police work seeks to reduce and avoid violence. It targets people based on suspicion of wrongdoing unique to the individual targeted. It seeks to facilitate the work of courts of law. War, on the contrary, seeks to maximize violence, targets entire armies and populations, and pauses not for any court rulings but sees two sides each declare the other guilty en masse. Calling a war a “police action” or giving soldiers actual policing duties does not change the fact that war is not policing. While good policing creates “order,” war creates violence, chaos, and instability.
Opposing war because it is immoral, and opposing war because nonviolent tools work better, are not separate approaches at odds with each other. War is immoral in large part because it does not work, because it generates enemies and violence rather than reducing them.
The moral arguments of the first part of Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War are excellent, but the real high point of the book may be its review of past institutions of mass violence that were considered moral, natural, inevitable, and permanent, but which are now gone. You’ll find this case sketched out in most of the books listed at the top of this article, but Cochran does the best job of it I’ve seen. He includes discussions of dueling and slavery, but also the less commonly used examples of trial by ordeal and combat, and lynching.
In some ways, trial by ordeal and combat is the best example because the most dependent, as is much of war, on the actions of a government, albeit local level governments in many trial-by-ordeal-and-combat cases. While rulers understood that trial by ordeal and combat did not actually produce the truth it claimed, they went on using it for many years as they found doing so convenient. Catholics produced complex justifications for it, similar to those produced by “just war” theory. Trial by ordeal and combat was deemed moral and necessary for self-defense, protecting the innocent, and creating peace and stability. Gradually cultural and political changes ended the supposedly un-endable.
Dueling’s supporters also believed it necessary, and eliminating it naive and dreamy. They claimed that dueling maintained peace and order. Cultural and political change brought majorities to consider dueling laughable, barbaric, ignorant, shameful, and a threat to peace and order.
Slavery, in the form that has virtually vanished, rested on fundamental lies and contradictions, including recognizing and not recognizing the humanity of those enslaved. It also rested on “just war” theory which maintained that slavery was a generous alternative to the mass-murder of conquered peoples. As humanitarian warriors claim that wars are for the benefit of their victims, defenders of slavery claimed that it benefitted the people held captive. As war supporters today claim that it maintains a way of life that is by definition greedy and unfair, supporters of slavery contended that it was essential to the existing way of life of the slave owners.
Interestingly, Cochran stresses that the evidence shows the demise of chattel slavery not to have been driven by any economic forces but rather by a moral revolution. Just before slavery was ended, it was extremely profitable. But, writes Cochran, “globally minded political and economic elites came to see slavery as an embarrassing deviation from international norms.”
Lynching may not have been exactly legal, but it was an established institution, and the arguments used to maintain it closely resemble the fallacious claims made about other institutions of violence. Lynching, its supporters said, was defensive, defending the white race through an inevitable “racial instinct.” They believed, however, that it should be used as a “last resort.” That is, they believed that, until they gradually didn’t any longer believe it, until lynching gradually became seen, not as a defense of but as a threat to law and order.
If one section of the book is slightly weaker than the others, I think it is the concluding section on what to do to end war. I believe Cochran indulges in a bit too much Pinkerism in his claim that war has been reduced. I don’t place the value he does on spreading democracy in order to spread peace, in part because the leading war maker is a “democracy,” and in part because it has attacked numerous other “democracies.” I think there’s too much focus on blaming poor countries for war. As great a correlate with war as poverty is the presence of oil. And wars in poor countries that do not involve troops from wealthy ones, do involve weapons from wealthy ones.
“End the arms trade,” the Pope told the U.S. Congress, which cheered and escalated the arms trade.
Your new movie, Where to Invade Next, is very powerful, your best so far for certain.
We need you.
You've packed a great many issues into this film, with visuals, with personalities, with entertainment. If people will watch this, they'll learn what many of us have struggled to tell them and more, as there was plenty that I learned as well.
I must assume that when U.S. audiences watch scenes that dramatically clash with their world yet seem humane and reasonable they'll be brought to the point of thinking.
You show us political candidates, not screeching for more prisons, but holding a televised election debate in a prison in an effort to win the votes of the prisoners, who are permitted to vote. What are we to make of that? You also show us scenes from U.S. prisons of grotesque brutality. Then you show us the effective rehabilitation achieved by Norwegian prisons (25% of U.S. recidivism rate). That doesn't just clash with what's familiar in the United States, but it also clashes with what the United States teaches about "human nature," namely that criminals cannot be rehabilitated. And you expose the driving force of vengeance that lies behind that pseudo-belief by showing the collective response of forgiveness and sanity with which Norway responded to a major terrorist incident. We all know how the U.S. has responded to those.
If we've read Steven Hills' book Europe's Promise or others like it, or lived in Europe and visited Europe or other parts of the world, we have some notion of much of what you show us: Italians and others with many weeks of paid vacation and parental leave plus 2-hour lunch breaks, Germans with paid weeks at a spa if they feel stress, Finland with soaring educational achievement reached by shunning standardized tests and homework while shrinking the school day, France with nutritious gourmet school lunches, Slovenia and dozens of other countries with free college, workers making up 50% of corporate boards in Germany, Portugal legalizing drugs (best line of the movie: "So does Facebook."). By bringing all of this together in a concise and intelligent and entertaining way, you've done us all a favor.
I was worried, I will confess. I apologize. I've been watching Bernie Sanders propose these sorts of changes without a real vision behind them and without daring to mention that the money is all being dumped into the U.S. military. And I've watched you, Michael, make some oddly supportive comments about Hillary Clinton who has spent decades working against everything this movie is about. So, I was worried, but I was wrong. Not only were you willing to point out that the United States pays nearly as much as these other countries in taxes, and much more when adding in the additional things paid for outside of taxes (college, healthcare, etc.), but you also included the elephant in the room, the 59% (in the figure you used) of U.S. income tax that goes to militarism. This movie, because you included that fundamental difference between the United States and other nations, is a terrific boost for the cause of ending war. That you point out the contrast between what Germans know and feel about the holocaust and what U.S. Americans know and feel about past U.S. wars, genocides, and slavery only adds to the value.
You included in a single 2-hour movie, in a clear and unrushed manner, not only all of the above, but also explanation of the popular resistance needed to create it, plus a critique of the racist U.S. drug war, mass incarceration, prison labor, and the death penalty. You showed us Muslim leaders in a largely Muslim nation more advanced on women's rights than is the United States. You showed us the openness of numerous nations to women sharing in power. I do, by the way, recognize the good intentions that may lie behind your interest in electing a female president, but I ask you if Margaret Thatcher advanced or impeded the cause. Does electing women create humane societies, or is it at least as much the case that humane societies elect women?
The other story you bring us from Iceland, in addition to women in power, is bankers prosecuted for their crimes. Odd, isn't it? Americans thirst for such revenge that they imprison small-time criminals for decades and brutalize them, but big-time criminals are rewarded. A shift to a more civilized system of justice would reduce the nastiness in one case but impose penalties that have been lacking in the other.
You allowed some powerful voices to speak in this movie. One of them suggested that Americans try taking an interest in the rest of the world. I've noticed, living abroad, that not only do other people want to know about the United States (and everywhere else), but they also want to know what Americans think of them. And I always have to reply with shame that Americans don't, in fact, think anything of them at all. Not only should we start to be curious about others, but we should start to be curious about what others think of us.
P.S. -- I'm old enough to remember your film about Bush's Iraq lies, Michael. The leading Republican presidential candidate now says Bush lied. The trailing Democratic candidate doesn't, and told the same lies at the time herself. You helped make U.S. culture, not yet good enough to end homelessness, but good enough to get that question right. Thank you.
The new book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century by Mark Engler and Paul Engler is a terrific survey of direct action strategies, bringing out many of the strengths and weaknesses of activist efforts to effect major change in the United States and around the world since well before the twenty-first century. It should be taught in every level of our schools.
This book makes the case that disruptive mass movements are responsible for more positive social change than is the ordinary legislative "endgame" that follows. The authors examine the problem of well-meaning activist institutions becoming too well established and shying away from the most effective tools available. Picking apart an ideological dispute between institution-building campaigns of slow progress and unpredictable, immeasurable mass protest, the Englers find value in both and advocate for a hybrid approach exemplified by Otpor, the movement that overthrew Milosevic.
When I worked for ACORN, I saw our members achieve numerous substantive victories, but I also saw the tide moving against them. City legislation was overturned at the state level. Federal legislation was blocked by war madness, financial corruption, and a broken communications system. Leaving ACORN, as I did, to work for the doomed presidential campaign of Dennis Kucinich might look like a reckless, non-strategic choice -- and maybe it was. But bringing prominence to one of the very few voices in Congress saying what was needed on numerous issues has a value that may be impossible to measure with precision, yet some have been able to quantify.
This Is An Uprising looks at a number of activist efforts that may at first have appeared defeats and were not. I've listed previously some examples of efforts that people thought were failures for many years. The Englers' examples involve more rapid revelation of success, for those willing and able to see it. Gandhi's salt march produced little in the way of solid commitments from the British. Martin Luther King's campaign in Birmingham failed to win its demands from the city. But the salt march had an international impact, and the Birmingham campaign a national impact far greater than the immediate results. Both inspired widespread activism, changed many minds, and won concrete policy changes well beyond the immediate demands. The Occupy movement didn't last in the spaces occupied, but it altered public discourse, inspired huge amounts of activism, and won many concrete changes. Dramatic mass action has a power that legislation or one-on-one communication does not. I made a similar case recently in arguing against the idea that peace rallies fail where counter-recruitment succeeds.
The authors point to disruption, sacrifice, and escalation as key components of a successful momentum-building action, while readily admitting that not everything can be predicted. A plan of escalated disruption that involves sympathetic sacrifice by nonviolent actors, if adjusted as circumstances call for, has a chance. Occupy could have been Athens, instead of Birmingham or Selma, if the New York police had known how to control themselves. Or perhaps it was the skill of the Occupy organizers that provoked the police. In any case, it was the brutality of the police, and the willingness of the media to cover it, that produced Occupy. The authors note Occupy's many ongoing victories but also that it shrank when its public places were taken away. In fact, even as Occupiers continued to hold public space in numerous towns, its announced death in the media was accepted by those still engaged in it, and they gave up their occupations quite obediently. The momentum was gone.
An action that gains momentum, as Occupy did, taps into the energy of many people who, as the Englers write, are newly outraged by what they learn about injustice. It also, I think, taps into the energy of many people long outraged and waiting for a chance to act. When I helped organize "Camp Democracy" in Washington, D.C., in 2006, we were a bunch of radicals ready to occupy D.C. for peace and justice, but we were thinking like organizations with major resources. We were thinking about rallies with crowds bussed in by labor unions. So, we planned a wonderful lineup of speakers, arranged permits and tents, and brought together a tiny crowd of those already in agreement. We did a few disruptive actions, but that wasn't the focus. It should have been. We should have disrupted business as usual in a way carefully designed to make the cause sympathetic rather than resented or feared.
When many of us planned an occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., in 2011 we had somewhat bigger plans for disruption, sacrifice, and escalation, but in the days just before we set up camp, those New York police put Occupy in the news at a 1,000-year flood level. An occupy camp appeared nearby us in D.C., and when we marched through the streets, people joined us, because of what they'd seen from New York on their televisions. I'd never witnessed that before. A lot of the actions we engaged in were disruptive, but we may have had too much of a focus on the occupation. We celebrated the police backing down on efforts to remove us. But we needed a way to escalate.
We also, I think, refused to accept that where the public sympathy had been created was for victims of Wall Street. Our original plan had involved what we saw as an appropriately large focus on war, in fact on the interlocking evils that King identified as militarism, racism, and extreme materialism. The dumbest action I was part of was probably our attempt to protest a pro-war exhibit at the Air and Space Museum. It was dumb because I sent people straight into pepper spray and should have scouted ahead to avoid that. But it was also dumb because even relatively progressive people were, in that moment, unable to hear the idea of opposing war, much less opposing the glorification of militarism by museums. They couldn't even hear the idea of opposing the "puppets" in Congress. One had to take on the puppet masters to be understood at all, and the puppet masters were the banks. "You switched from banks to the Smithsonian!?" In fact, we'd never focused on banks, but explanations weren't going to work. What was needed was to accept the moment.
What made that moment still looks, in large part, like luck. But unless smart strategic efforts are made to create such moments, they don't happen on their own. I'm not sure we can announce on day 1 of anything "This is an uprising!" but we can at least continually ask ourselves "Is this an uprising?" and keep ourselves aimed toward that goal.
This book's subtitle is "How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century." But nonviolent revolt as opposed to what? Virtually nobody is proposing violent revolt in the United States. Mostly this book is proposing nonviolent revolt rather than nonviolent compliance with the existing system, nonviolent tweaking of it within its own rules. But cases are also examined of nonviolent overthrows of dictators in various countries. The principles of success seem to be identical regardless of the type of government a group is up against.
But there is, of course, advocacy for violence in the United States -- advocacy so enormous that no one can see it. I've been teaching a course on war abolition, and the most intractable argument for the massive U.S. investment in violence is "What if we have to defend ourselves from a genocidal invasion?"
So it would have been nice had the authors of This Is An Uprising addressed the question of violent invasions. If we were to remove from our culture the fear of the "genocidal invasion," we could remove from our society trillion-dollar-a-year militarism, and with it the primary promotion of the idea that violence can succeed. The Englers note the damage that straying into violence does to nonviolent movements. Such straying would end in a culture that ceased believing violence can succeed.
I have a hard time getting students to go into much detail about their feared "genocidal invasion," or to name examples of such invasions. In part this may be because I preemptively go into great length about how World War II might have been avoided, what a radically different world from today's it occurred in, and how successful nonviolent actions were against the Nazis when attempted. Because, of course, "genocidal invasion" is mostly just a fancy phrase for "Hitler." I asked one student to name some genocidal invasions not engaged in or contributed to by either the U.S. military or Hitler. I reasoned that genocidal invasions produced by the U.S. military couldn't fairly be used to justify the U.S. military's existence.
I tried to produce my own list. Erica Chenoweth cites the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, where armed resistance failed for years but nonviolent resistance succeeded. A Syrian invasion of Lebanon was ended by nonviolence in 2005. Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands, while fueled by U.S. weapons, have been resisted more successfully thus far by nonviolence than violence. Going back in time, we could look at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968 or the German invasion of the Ruhr in 1923. But most of these, I was told, are not proper genocidal invasions. Well, what are?
My student gave me this list: "The Great Sioux War of 1868, The Holocaust, Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands." I objected that one was U.S.-armed in recent years, one was Hitler, and one was many many years ago. He then produced the alleged example of Bosnia. Why not the even more common case of Rwanda, I don't know. But neither was an invasion exactly. Both were completely avoidable horrors, one used as an excuse for war, one allowed to continue for the purpose of a desired regime change.
This is the book that I think we still need, the book that asks what works best when your nation is invaded. How can the people of Okinawa remove the U.S. bases? Why couldn't the people of the Philippines keep them out after they did remove them? What would it take for the people of the United States to remove from their minds the fear of "genocidal invasion" that dumps their resources into war preparations that produce war after war, risking nuclear apocalypse?
Do we dare tell the Iraqis they must not fight back while our bombs are falling? Well, no, because we ought to be engaged 24-7 in trying to stop the bombing. But the supposed impossibility of advising Iraqis of a more strategic response than fighting back, oddly enough, constitutes a central defense of the policy of building more and more bombs with which to bomb the Iraqis. That has to be ended.
For that we'll need a This Is An Uprising that objects to U.S. empire.
Pass the popcorn! Wait till I tweet this! Did you see the look on his face?
Ain't elections exciting? We just can't get enough of them, which could be why we've stretched them out to a couple of years each, even though a small crowd of Super Delegates and a couple of state officials with computer skills could quite conceivably decide the whole thing anyway.
Through the course of this marvelous election thus far I've been trying to get any human being to ask any candidate to provide just the most very basic outline of the sort of budget they would propose if president, or at least some hint at the single item in the budget that takes up more than half of it. Do they think military spending should go up, go down, or stay right where it is?
Who knows! Aren't elections wonderful?
I'd even settle for the stupid "gotcha" question in which we find out if any of the candidates knows, even roughly, what percentage of the budget military spending is now.
Why is this topic, although seemingly central, scrupulously avoided?
- The candidates all, more or less, agree.
- None of the candidates brings it up.
- Nobody in Congress, not even the "progressive" caucus, brings it up.
- Nobody in the corporate media brings it up.
- The corporate media outlets see war profiteers as customers who buy ads.
- The corporate media outlets see war profiteers in the mirror as parts of their corporate families.
- The fact that the military costs money conflicts with the basic premise of U.S. politics which is that one party wants to spend money on socialistic nonsense while the other party wants to stop spending money and build a bigger military.
Those seem like the obvious answers, but here's another. While you're being entertained by the election, President Obama is proposing a bigger military than ever. Not only is U.S. military spending extremely high by historical standards, but looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department's annual "Green Book" makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history.
Check out the new budget proposal from the President who distracted millions of people from horrendous Bush-Cheney actions with his "peace" talk as a candidate eight years ago. He wants to increase the base Do"D" budget, both the discretionary and the mandatory parts. He wants to increase the extra slush fund of unaccountable money for the Do"D" on top of that. This pot used to be named for wars, but wars have gotten so numerous and embarrassing that it's now called "Overseas Contingency Operations."
When it comes to nuclear weapons, Obama wants to increase spending, but when it comes to other miscellaneous extras for the military, he also wants to increase that. Military retirement spending, on the other hand, he'd like to see go up, while the Veterans Administration spending he proposes to raise. Money for fueling ISIS by fighting it, Obama wants raised by 50%. On increasing hostility with Russia through a military buildup on its border, Obama wants a 400% spending boost. In one analysis, military spending would jump from $997.2 billion this year to $1.04 trillion next year under this proposal.
That's a bit awkward, considering the shade it throws on any piddly little project that does make it into election debates and reporting. The smallest fraction of military spending could pay for the major projects that Senator Bernie Sanders will be endlessly attacked for proposing to raise taxes for.
It's also awkward for the whole Republican/Hillary discussion of how to become more militarized, unlike that pacifist in the White House.
And, of course, it's always awkward to point out that events just go on happening in the world rather than pausing out of respect for some inanity just uttered by Marco Rubio.
U.S. military recruiters are teaching in public school classrooms, making presentations at school career days, coordinating with JROTC units in high schools and middle schools, volunteering as sports coaches and tutors and lunch buddies in high, middle, and elementary schools, showing up in humvees with $9,000 stereos, bringing fifth-graders to military bases for hands-on science instruction, and generally pursuing what they call "total market penetration" and "school ownership."
But counter-recruiters all over the United States are making their own presentations in schools, distributing their own information, picketing recruiting stations, and working through courts and legislatures to reduce military access to students and to prevent military testing or the sharing of test results with the military without students' permission. This struggle for hearts and minds has had major successes and could spread if more follow the counter-recruiters' example.
A new book by Scott Harding and Seth Kershner called Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools surveys the current counter-recruitment movement, its history, and its possible future. Included is a fairly wide range of tactics. Many involve one-on-one communication with potential recruits.
"Do you like fireworks?" a veteran of the latest war on Iraq may ask a student in a high school cafeteria. "Yes!" Well, replies Hart Viges, "you won't when you get back from war."
"I talked to this one kid," recalls veteran of the war on Vietnam John Henry, "and I said, 'Has anybody in your family been in the military?' And he said, 'My grandfather.'
"And we talked about him, about how he was short and he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and I said, 'Oh, what does he tell you about war?'
"'That he still has nightmares.'
"And I said, 'And you are going in what branch of the service?'
"'And you're going to pick what skill?'
"'Oh, I'm just going to go infantry.'
"You know ... your grandfather is telling you he's still got nightmares and that was 40 years ago. He's had nightmares for 40 years. Do you want to have nightmares for 40 years?"
Minds are changed. Young lives are saved -- those of the kids who do not sign up, or who back out before it's too late, and perhaps also the lives they would have contributed to ending had they entered the "service."
This sort of counter-recruitment work can have a quick payoff. Says Barbara Harris, who also organized the protests at NBC that supported this petition and got a pro-war program off the air, "The feedback I receive from [parents] is just incredibly heartwarming because [when] I speak to a parent and I see how I've helped them in some way, I feel so rewarded."
Other counter-recruitment work can take a bit longer and be a bit less personal but impact a larger number of lives. Some 10% to 15% of recruits get to the military via the ASVAB tests, which are administered in certain school districts, sometimes required, sometimes without informing students or parents that they are for the military, sometimes with the full results going to the military without any permission from students or parents. The number of states and school districts using and abusing the ASVAB is on the decline because of the work of counter-recruiters in passing legislation and changing policy.
U.S. culture is so heavily militarized, though, that in the absence of recruiters or counter-recruiters well-meaning teachers and guidance counselors will thoughtlessly promote the military to students. Some schools automatically enroll all students in JROTC. Some guidance counselors encourage students to substitute JROTC for gym class. Even Kindergarten teachers will invite in uniformed members of the military or promote the military unprompted in their school assignments. History teachers will show footage of Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day and talk in glorifying terms of the military without any need for direct contact from recruitment offices. I'm reminded of what Starbucks said when asked why it had a coffee shop at the torture / death camp in Guantanamo. Starbucks said that choosing not to would amount to making a political statement. Choosing to do so was just standard behavior.
Part of what keeps the military presence in the schools is the billion dollar budget of the military recruiters and other unfair powers of incumbency. For example, if a JROTC program is threatened, the instructors can order the students (or the children formerly known as students) to show up and testify at a school board meeting in favor of maintaining the program.
Much of what keeps recruitment working in our schools, however, is a different sort of power -- the power to lie and get away with it unchallenged. As Harding and Kershner document, recruiters routinely deceive students about the amount of time they're committing to be in the military, the possibility of changing their minds, the potential for free college as a reward, the availability of vocational training in the military, and the risks involved in joining the military.
Our society has become very serious about warning young people about safety in sex, driving, drinking, drugs, sports, and other activities. When it comes to joining the military, however, a survey of students found that none of them were told anything about the risks to themselves -- first and foremost suicide. They are also, as Harding and Kershner point out, told much about heroism, nothing about drudgery. I would add that they are not told about alternative forms of heroism outside of the military. I would further add that they are told nothing about the primarily non-U.S. victims of wars that are largely one-sided slaughters of civilians, nor about the moral injury and PTSD that can follow. And of course, they are told nothing about alternative career paths.
That is, they are told none of these things by recruiters. They are told some of them by counter-recruiters. Harding and Kershner mention AmeriCorps and City Year as alternatives to the military that counter-recruiters sometimes let students know about. An early start on an alternative career path is found by some students who sign on as counter-recruiters working to help guide their peers away from the military. Studies find that youth who engage in school activism suffer less alienation, set more ambitious goals, and improve academically.
Military recruitment climbs when the economy declines, and drops off when news of current wars increases. Those recruited tend to have lower family income, less-educated parents, and larger family size. It seems entirely possible to me that a legislative victory for counter-recruitment greater than any reform of ASVAB testing or access to school cafeterias would be for the United States to join those nations that make college free. Ironically, the most prominent politician promoting that idea, Senator Bernie Sanders, refuses to say he would pay for any of his plans by cutting the military, meaning that he must struggle uphill against passionate shouts of "Don't raise my taxes!" (even when 99% of people would not see their wallets shrink at all under his plans).
Free college would absolutely crush military recruitment. To what extent does this fact explain political opposition to free college? I don't know. But I can picture among the possible responses of the military a greater push to make citizenship a reward for immigrants who join the military, higher and higher signing bonuses, greater use of mercenaries both foreign and domestic, greater reliance on drones and other robots, and ever more arming of foreign proxy forces, but also quite likely a greater reluctance to launch and escalate and continue wars.
And that's the prize we're after, right? A family blown up in the Middle East is just as dead, injured, traumatized, and homeless whether the perpetrators are near or far, in the air or at a computer terminal, born in the United States or on a Pacific island, right? Most counter-recruiters I know would agree with that 100%. But they believe, and with good reason, that the work of counter-recruitment scales back the war-making.
However, other concerns enter in as well, including the desire to protect particular students, and the desire to halt the racial or class disparity of recruitment that sometimes focuses disproportionately on poor or predominately racial minority schools. Legislatures that have been reluctant to restrict recruitment have done so when it was addressed as an issue of racial or class fairness.
Many counter-recruiters, Harding and Kershner report, "were careful to suggest the military serves a legitimate purpose in society and is an honorable vocation." In part, I think such talk is a strategy -- whether or not it's a wise one -- that believes direct opposition to war will close doors and empower adversaries, whereas talking about "student privacy" will allow people who oppose war to reach students with their information. But, of course, claiming that the military is a good thing while discouraging local kids from joining it rather stinks of NIMBYism: Get your cannon fodder, just Not In My Back Yard.
Some, though by no means all, and I suspect it's a small minority of counter-recruiters actually make a case against other types of peace activism. They describe what they do as "actually doing something," in contrast to marching at rallies or sitting in at Congressional offices, etc. I will grant them that my experience is atypical. I do media interviews. I mostly go to rallies that have invited me to speak. I get paid to do online antiwar organizing. I plan conferences. I write articles and op-eds and books. I have a sense of "doing something" that perhaps most people who attend an event or ask questions from an audience or sign an online petition just don't. I suspect a great many people find talking students away from the edge much more satisfying than getting arrested in front of a drone base, although plenty of wonderful people do both.
But there is, in my opinion, a pretty misguided analysis in the view of certain counter-recruiters who hold that getting tests out of schools is real, concrete, and meaningful, while filling the National Mall with antiwar banners is useless. In 2013 a proposal to bomb Syria looked very likely, but Congress members started worrying about being the guy who voted for another Iraq. (How's that working out for Hillary Clinton?) It was not primarily counter-recruiters who made the Iraq vote a badge of shame and political doom. Nor was it outreach to students that upheld the Iran nuclear agreement last year.
The division between types of peace activism is somewhat silly. People have been brought into counter-recruitment work at massive rallies, and students reached by counter-recruiters have later organized big protests. Recruitment includes hard to measure things like Super Bowl fly-overs and video games. So can counter-recruitment. Both counter-recruitment and other types of peace activism ebb and flow with wars, news reports, and partisanship. I'd like to see the two merged into massive rallies at recruiting stations. Harding and Kershner cite one example of a counter-recruiter suggesting that one such rally created new opposition to his work, but I would be surprised if it didn't also hurt recruitment. The authors cite other examples of well-publicized protests at recruitment offices having had a lasting effect of reducing recruitment there.
The fact is that no form of opposition to militarism is what it used to be. Harding and Kershner cite stunning examples of the mainstream nature of counter-recruitment in the 1970s, when it had the support of the National Organization for Women and the Congressional Black Caucus, and when prominent academics publicly urged guidance counselors to counter-recruit.
The strongest antiwar movement, I believe, would combine the strengths of counter-recruitment with those of lobbying, protesting, resisting, educating, divesting, publicizing, etc. It would be careful to build resistance to recruitment while educating the public about the one-sided nature of U.S. wars, countering the notion that a large percentage of the damage is done to the aggressor. When Harding and Kershner use the phrase in their book "In the absence of a hot war" to describe the current day, what should the people being killed by U.S. weaponry in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, etc., make of it?
We need a strategy that employs the skills of every kind of activist and targets the military machine at every possible weak point, but the strategy has to be to stop the killing, no matter who does it, and no matter if every person doing it survives.
Are you looking for a way to help? I recommend the examples in Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools. Go forth and do likewise.
Elliott Adams is a former Army paratrooper in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Alaska; and former National President of Veterans For Peace. He has conducted nonviolence and social movement trainings for organizations such as Fellowship Of Reconciliation, School Of Americas Watch, Peacemakers of Schoharie, Student Environmental Action Coalition, War Resisters League. He currently works with the Meta Peace Team and is co-chair of Creating a Culture of Peace. In 2014 and again in 2015 he spent several months as a member of Meta Peace Team using third party non-violent intervention in the West Bank, Palestine.
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Super Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL. The U.S. military has been dumping millions of our dollars, part of a recruitment and advertising budget that's in the billions, into paying the NFL to publicly display love for soldiers and weaponry.
Of course, the NFL may in fact really truly love the military, just as it may love the singers it permits to sing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but it makes them pay for the privilege too. And why shouldn't the military pay the football league to hype its heroism? It pays damn near everybody else. At $2.8 billion a year on recruiting some 240,000 "volunteers," that's roughly $11,600 per recruit. That's not, of course, the trillion with a T kind of spending it takes to run the military for a year; that's just the spending to gently persuade each "volunteer" to join up. The biggest military "service" ad buyer in the sports world is the National Guard. The ads often depict humanitarian rescue missions. Recruiters often tell tall tales of "non-deployment" positions followed by free college. But it seems to me that the $11,600 would have gone a long way toward paying for a year in college! And, in fact, people who have that money for college are far less likely to be recruited.
Despite showing zero interest in signing up for wars, and despite the permanent presence of wars to sign up for, 44 percent of U.S. Americans tell the Gallup polling company that they "would" fight in a war, yet don't. That's at least 100 million new recruits. Luckily for them and the world, telling a pollster something doesn't require follow through, but it might suggest why football fans tolerate and even celebrate military national anthems and troop-hyping hoopla at every turn. They think of themselves as willing warriors who just happen to be too busy at the moment. As they identify with their NFL team, making remarks such as "We just scored," while firmly seated on their most precious assets, football fans also identify with their team on the imagined battlefield of war.
The NFL website says: "For decades the NFL and the military have had a close relationship at the Super Bowl, the most watched program year-to-year throughout the United States. In front of more than 160 million viewers, the NFL salutes the military with a unique array of in-game celebrations including the presentation of colors, on-field guests, pre-game ceremonies and stadium flyovers. During Super Bowl XLIX week [last year], the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project invited veterans to attend the Salute to Service: Officiating 101 Clinic at NFL Experience Engineered by GMC [double payment? ka-ching!] in Arizona. ..."
Pat Tillman, still promoted on the NFL website, and eponym of the Pat Tillman Foundation, is of course the one NFL player who gave up a giant football contract to join the military. What the Foundation won't tell you is that Tillman, as is quite common, ceased believing what the ads and recruiters had told him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American. The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the "enemy." Clearly the military wants a connection to football and is willing to lie as well as to pay for it. The Pat Tillman Foundation mis-uses a dead man's name to play on and prey on the mutual interest of football and the military in being connected to each other.
Those on whom the military's advertising succeeds will not typically die from friendly fire. Nor will they die from enemy fire. The number one killer of members of the U.S. military, reported yet again for another year this week, is suicide. And that's not even counting later suicides by veterans. Every TV pundit and presidential debate moderator, and perhaps even a Super Bowl 50 announcer or two, tends to talk about the military's answer for ISIS. What is its answer for people being stupidly ordered into such horrific hell that they won't want to live anymore?
It's in the ads
At least as big a focus of the Super Bowl as the game itself is the advertising. One particularly disturbing ad planned for Super Bowl 50 is an ad for a war video game. The U.S. military has long funded war video games and viewed them as recruiting tools. In this ad Arnold Schwarzenegger shows what fun it is to shoot people and blow up buildings on the game, while outside of the game people are tackling him more or less as in a football game. Nothing here is remotely warlike in a realistic sense. For that I recommend playing with PTSD Action Man instead. But it does advance the equation of sport with war -- something both the NFL and the military clearly desire.
An ad last year from Northrop Grumman, which has its own "Military Bowl," was no less disturbing. Two years ago an ad that appeared to be for the military until the final seconds turned out to be for Jeeps. There was another ad that year for Budweiser beer with which one commentator found legal concerns:
"First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot 'suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment' of any 'non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise. ... Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."
Two serious issues with this. One: the military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL. Two: despite my deep-seated opposition to the very existence of an institution of mass murder, and my clear understanding of what it wants out of advertisements (whether by itself or by a car or beer company), I can't help getting sucked into the emotion. The technique of this sort of propaganda (here's another ad) is very high level. The rising music. The facial expressions. The gestures. The build up of tension. The outpouring of simulated love. You'd have to be a monster not to fall for this poison. And it permeates the world of millions of wonderful young people who deserve better.
It's in the stadium
If you get past the commercials, there's the problem of the stadium for Super Bowl 50, unlike most stadiums for most sports events, being conspicuously "protected" by the military and militarized police, including with military helicopters and jets that will shoot down any drones and "intercept" any planes. Ruining the pretense that this is actually for the purpose of protecting anyone, military jets will show off by flying over the stadium, as in past years, when they have even done it over stadiums covered by domes.
The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers of the Super Bowl. That the military's purpose is to kill and destroy, that it's recent major wars have eventually been opposed as bad decisions from the start by a majority of Americans, just doesn't enter into it. On the contrary, the military publicly questions whether it should be associating with a sports league whose players hit their wives and girlfriends too much.
My point is not that assault is acceptable, but that murder isn't. The progressive view of the Super Bowl in the United States will question the racism directed at a black quarterback, the concussions of a violent sport that damages the brains of too many of its players (and perhaps even the recruitment of new players from the far reaches of the empire to take their place), sexist treatment of cheerleaders or women in commercials, and perhaps even the disgusting materialism of some of the commercials. But not the militarism. The announcers will thank "the troops" for watching from "over 175 countries" and nobody will pause, set down their beer and dead animal flesh and ask whether 174 countries might not be enough to have U.S. troops in right now.
The idea that the Super Bowl promotes is that war is more or less like football, only better. I was happy to help get a TV show canceled that turned war into a reality game. There is still some resistance to that idea that can be tapped in the U.S. public. But I suspect it is eroding.
The NFL doesn't just want the military's (our) money. It wants the patriotism, the nationalism, the fervent blind loyalty, the unthinking passion, the personal identification, a love for the players to match love of troops -- and with similar willingness to throw them under a bus.
The military doesn't just want the sheer numbers of viewers attracted to the Super Bowl. It wants wars imagined as sporting events between teams, rather than horrific crimes perpetrated on people in their homes and villages. It wants us thinking of Afghanistan not as a 15-year disaster, murder-spree, and counter-productive SNAFU, but as a competition gone into double quadruple overtime despite the visiting team being down 84 points and attempting an impossible comeback. The military wants chants of "USA!" that fill a stadium. It wants role models and heroes and local connections to potential recruits. It wants kids who can't make it to the pros in football or another sport to think they've got the inside track to something even better and more meaningful.
I really wish they did.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new war in Libya, more war in Syria, permanent war in Afghanistan, climate change crashing over the cliff -- these and other immediate disasters are pursued with one hand, while the magician's other hand distracts us with caucuses, primaries, and super bowls. Remember when insiders said the TPP would die the moment it was made public? Well, what if it was made public during an election season? Bread and circuses, even in Rome, weren't designed to make the people happy but to keep them pacified while all the real energy and treasure went into destroying Carthage and filling the vomitoria of the oligarchs. And it's easier for a good team to make it into the super bowl than for a truly good candidate to make it into corporate election reporting. I deny none of that. And yet ...
The 2015-2016 presidential election has, by some measures, already accomplished more than all the previous elections in my lifetime put together. And it's scaring some of the right people.
If you had claimed in 1969 that it would be possible for presidential candidates in the United States to reject religion before they could reject permanent worldwide military empire, you'd have been laughed right out of the Age of Aquarius.
If you'd prognosticated in 1999 that an independent socialist focused like a laser beam on taxing billionaires and busting up some of their most profitable scams (not to mention taxing many of the rest of us) could grab the lead in a Democratic primary campaign against a Clinton with no intern scandals, you'd have been triangulated right out of your career as you knew it.
And if you'd predicted in 2014 that a candidate virtually ignored by the consolidated corporate media, as consolidated under the Clinton Telecom Act, would surge in the polls, you'd have garnered as much respect as those guys in The Big Short did when they claimed to know more than the high priests of Wall Street.
Bernie Sanders, for all of his dramatic shortcomings, is a phenomenon created by a perfect storm of institutional failure -- by Hillary Clinton's coronation constructed of cards just waiting for someone to suggest that millions of outraged winds breathe on it. Sanders is 6 years older and generations more advanced than his Democratic Party rival.
God Is Dead
"What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" --Friedrich Nietzsche
Sanders' website calls him "secular" and "not particularly religious." His answers to a religion question during a CNN "town hall" this week were typical. A member of the audience asked about religion and race, and Sanders answered only about race. Then the moderator asked again about religion. And this was Sanders' answer, I swear to ... -- well, I just swear:
"It's a guiding principle in my life. Absolutely it is. You know, everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings. I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children that are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can't afford their prescription drugs, you know what? That impacts you, that impacts me, and I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, 'It doesn't matter to me. I got it. I don't care about other people.' So, my spirituality is that we are all in this together, and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That is my very strong spiritual feeling."
It's also my very strong non-spiritual feeling. But that was a typical Bernie answer, one he's given many times, typical even in its focus on only 4% of humanity and on only a particular type of homeless people. Some states, by the way, are making huge strides toward ending the shame of homelessness for veterans, so that soon all homeless people in the United States may be people who have never been part of a mass-murder operation. I point this out not to oppose it. Better more people with homes, no matter how it's done! And I point it out not to quibble with Sanders' statement of generosity and humanism, but to suggest that part of how Sanders slipped a completely irreligious answer past an audience that asked a religious question is that Sanders identified himself with the true U.S. religion, the religion that will be front and center and in the jet noise overhead at the super bowl -- the religion of war, the religion of national exceptionalism. Who can forget Ron Paul being booed in a primary debate for applying the golden rule to non-Americans?
When Sanders is asked explicitly if he "believes in God," he also answers, "What my spirituality is about is that we're all in this together." Exactly what my non-spirituality is about. I think it's safe to assume he'll never be asked if he believes in death (which television sponsors would be pleased by that topic?), so "God" is the question he'll get, and he won't be required to answer it. New Hampshire is the least religious state in the country, but the country as a whole has also moved against religion and even more so against "organized religion." Some of us always preferred the organized part (the community, the music, etc.) to the religion, but the larger trend here is a rejection of elite institutions telling us how to run our lives while demonstrably running the world into the ground. And who has more to answer for in that regard than God?
Rejecting organized religion while proclaiming an individual "spirituality" may be all that is needed, and that is tremendous news. That Sanders has done this while professing an ideology of generosity and solidarity, and winning applause for that, is even better news. Studies find that lack of religion can correlate with greater generosity, as certainly seems to be the case with the Scandinavian societies Sanders points to as models. (Seventeen percent of Swedes, as compared to 65% of U.S. Americans, say religion is "important".)
A majority in the United States say they wouldn't vote for an atheist, but for many atheism, like gender, race, sexual preference, and other identifiers is now a matter of self-identification. Someone must choose to call themselves an atheist. Just having no use for theism doesn't qualify them. The media also seems to have no direct interest in attacking candidates on religion. Nobody pays them to do that. And it doesn't show a lot of potential as a weapon. Donald Trump is seen as the least religious candidate in the field, and some of the most religious voters say they support him and just don't care. In addition, Sanders is a supporter of religious freedom, tolerance, and even tax exemptions. He doesn't fit the mold of the bigoted atheist who finds Islam dangerously more religious than Christianity. The media is also no big fan of Ted Cruz, who's on a Dubya-like mission from God. All of these factors seem to have made it possible to run for president of the United States on a platform of pure enlightenment humanism. I didn't think I'd live to see that.
Most Dangerous Man on Wall Street
Hillary Clinton friend and funder and CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein seems to view Bernie Sanders as President Richard Nixon characterized Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and as President Barack Obama seems to view WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as the most dangerous person in the United States. Sanders' sin, in Blankfein's view, is failure to worship the almighty dollar.
Blankfein is fully aware that his endorsing a candidate would hurt that candidate, but seems not to have thought through the possibility that opposing a candidate might help them. Reportedly, Blankfein suggested this week that "Sanders' attacks on the 'billionaire class' and bankers could be dangerous. 'It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,' Blankfein said."
It sounds like the 1% has a case of 99% envy. Misery loves company, but fear demands it. Think about what Blankfein is claiming. One of the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, who has long said explicitly that the Democratic Party should represent banks, has taken $675,000 (or about $5,000 per minute) to give three speeches to Blankfein's company, in which she reportedly reassured them they had nothing to worry about (despite widely known crimes that wrecked the economy of the United States and other nations). Public demands to even see what Clinton told Goldman Sachs have thus far gone unanswered and unechoed in the media, except by Ralph Nader. On Clinton Blankfein has no comment and sees nothing unusual. This is normal, standard, and unquestionable behavior.
But Bernie Sanders proposes to enforce laws, laws against financial trickery, laws against cheating on taxes, laws against monopolization, laws against market manipulation, and new taxes on unearned wealth. Well, this is unacceptable and in fact "dangerous"! It's extreme madness is what it is, according to Blankfein, who depicts Sanders' position as fanatical: "It's a liability to say I'm going to compromise, I'm going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you'll never compromise. It's just incredible. It's a moment in history." That it is.
Here's how Bill Clinton reportedly viewed popular resentment of bankers in 2014: "You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again." Of course, nobody had proposed killing bankers. Many had proposed enforcing laws. But that's how bankers view such a proposal, through the lens of fear. They are probably not alone. Sanders is proposing to end fracking and various other disastrous industries, while investing in new ones. He promises to block the TPP, which Clinton -- long a big supporter of it -- merely claims to "oppose" without committing to actually prevent. Sanders wants to tax the very wealthiest, including the 20 individuals who own as much as half the country. He wants to break up monopolies, including on Wall Street, and perhaps in the media -- which is already clearly shaken by the fact that he's advanced in the polls without them.
Health insurance executives can't be feeling too much better than banksters, unless they're wise enough to see the bigger picture. I waited on hold for 30 minutes this week to try to fix the latest SNAFU with my Obamacare, and then a really helpful woman answered who promised she'd fix it. I asked her if she could also back Bernie Sanders to put an end to the industry she worked for. She said yes, indeed.
The wiser minds in the plutocracy should follow that example. Nobody's out to hurt you, only to help you share your hoarded loot with those who worked for it. Your life will be different, but not necessarily worse. It might even be happier.
The more hopelessly greedy minds in much of the U.S. plutocracy, right about now, will start wishing they'd been prescient enough to go into weapons making and war profiteering, that sacred realm that Sanders' spirituality dares not threaten.
Patrick Hiller is the Executive Director of the War Prevention Initiative by the Jubitz Family Foundation and teaches in the Conflict Resolution Program at Portland State University. As a Peace Scientist, his writings and research are almost exclusively related to the analysis of war and peace and social injustice. Among other involvements, Patrick serves on the Executive Committee of the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association and on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War where he works with me at http://worldbeyondwar.org. We discuss the remarkable discoveries of peace researchers reported in the newly created Peace Science Digest.
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To: The U.S. Congress
Uphold your Constitutional responsibility and your duty under the United Nations Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, basic human decency, and a minimal ability to learn from past mistakes by blocking all funding for another war on Libya.
Why is this important?
The illegal 2011 overthrow of the Libyan government subjected the people of that nation and surrounding nations to violence, weapons proliferation, chaos, and desperate insecurity. In no way will compounding the problem with the same approach again improve matters in this case or establish good precedents.
How it will be delivered
In Washington, D.C.
A Proposal from World Beyond War
David Swanson, Director
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has requested budget proposals from organizations and members of the public. Here is a friendly suggestion from World Beyond War.
Last year’s Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by, in my calculation, 1%. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut. This was not the case in other recent years, when the CPC prominently proposed to end wars and cut particular weapons. With all due respect, how is this censoring of any mention of the military evidence of progressing, rather than regressing?
Military spending is 53.71% of discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. No other item adds up to even 7%. Whether a budget proposal is progressive, communist, fascist, conservative, or libertarian, how can it avoid mentioning this elephant in the room? Military spending, of course, produces the need for ongoing additional spending on debt, care for veterans, etc., so that total U.S. military spending is somewhere over twice the figure used by NPP.
Using the numbers of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which leaves out huge U.S. military expenses (which are of course in several departments of the government), U.S. military spending is as much as the next several nations’ combined — and most of those nations are close U.S. allies and major U.S. weapons industry customers. Because SIPRI almost certainly leaves out more U.S. spending than spending by other nations, in reality U.S. spending on militarism is probably the equivalent of a great many, if not all other, foreign nations combined.
In addition, U.S. military spending is extremely high by historical standards. Looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department’s annual “Green Book” makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history. Here are the numbers in constant 2016 dollars, thanks to Nicolas Davies:
Obama FY2010-15 $663.4 billion per year
Bush Jr FY2002-09* $634.9 ” ” ”
Clinton FY1994-2001 $418.0 ” ” ”
Bush Sr FY1990-93 $513.4 ” ” ”
Reagan FY1982-89 $565.0 ” ” ”
Carter FY1978-81 $428.1 ” ” ”
Ford FY1976-77 $406.7 ” ” ”
Nixon FY1970-75 $441.7 ” ” ”
Johnson FY1965-69 $527.3 ” ” ”
Kennedy FY1962-64 $457.2 ” ” ”
Eisenhower FY1954-61 $416.3 ” ” ”
Truman FY1948-53 $375.7 ” ” ”
*Excludes $80 billion supplemental added to FY2009 under Obama.
War Spending Drains an Economy:
It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.
War Spending Increases Inequality:
Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved.
War Spending Is Unsustainable, As Is Exploitation it Facilitates:
While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? This is far from clear, and if it were, it would not be sustainable in light of the dangers created by war, the environmental destruction of war, and the economic drain of militarism.
The Money Is Needed Elsewhere:
Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if some of the funds now invested in war were transferred there. Morally, they must be. As a matter of simple continued human existence, they must be, as they must be transferred to housing, education, infrastructure, and healthcare — at home and abroad.
It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. U.S. foreign aid right now is about $23 billion a year. Increasing it would have a number of interesting impacts, including the saving of a great many lives and the prevention of a tremendous amount of suffering. It would also, if one other factor were added, make the nation that did it the most beloved nation on earth. A recent poll of 65 nations found that the United States is far and away the most feared country, the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world. Were the United States responsible for providing schools and medicine and solar panels, the idea of anti-American terrorist groups would be as laughable as anti-Switzerland or anti-Canada terrorist groups, but only if one other factor were added — only if the funding came from where it really ought to come from — reductions in militarism.
Some U.S. states are setting up commissions to work on the transition from war to peace industries.
Popular opinion polls show huge support for cutting militarism and increasing spending in useful areas. In 2011 numerous polls found the top public solution to a budget “crisis” was to tax the super-rich, and the second most popular solution was to cut the military. This support increases dramatically when people find out how high military spending now is. Polls show that people have no idea. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed people the budget and then asked them about it. The results were very encouraging.
If a supposedly “progressive” caucus will not so much as tell people what the basic outlines of the budget look like, why produce a progressive budget? If you will tell people what the budget looks like, you really ought to follow through by proposing to change it.
We recommend eliminating nuclear weapons and working with the rest of the world to do the same globally. We recommend closing foreign bases, removing foreign and ocean-based weapons, and keeping U.S. troops within 200 miles of the United States. We recommend eliminating aircraft carriers, long-range missiles and other weapons that serve an offensive rather than a defensive purpose. We recommend eliminating secret “special” forces and weaponized drones that allow presidential killing sprees without Congressional oversight. This should, of course, be done through a program of conversion or transition that strategically retools and retrains to benefit U.S. and world workers, infrastructure, energy systems, the natural environment, and international relations.
We thank you for your consideration and encourage you to contact us for additional information.
No, the cornfields are not full of dumb blondes (except when Fox News shows up), but it truly is hard not to be sexist in Iowa.
For example, I think it's reprehensible to take tens of millions of dollars from murderous kingdoms and dictatorships and then waive restrictions on selling them weapons including the weapons that Saudi Arabia has been using to slaughter men, women, and children in Yemen. And this makes me a sexist, or so I'm told.
In my view, parroting every war lie of Bush and Cheney was disgusting enough, but then pretending you meant well and didn't understand, even though once the war was begun you voted over and over again to fund it, is literally criminal as well as a moral abomination. Taking so many millions of dollars from war profiteers just makes it worse -- at least in the eyes of us sexist fans of Jill Stein.
Serving the health insurance and drug industries by smashing every attempt for decades to create a civilized health system like those in the rest of the wealthy world is also murderous by any straightforward empirical measure. Millions have died, and many billions of dollars have been diverted from better use as a result. But mentioning it turns out to be sexist. Tasking your daughter to give speeches lying about it shows, on the contrary, deep respect for women.
Pushing policies with your husband to create mass incarceration and then pretending it just happened like the weather, ramming through NAFTA and pushing more corporate trade agreements at every opportunity (but pretending momentarily to oppose the TPP), defending the Wall Street crooks who trashed the economy and taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to give them speeches promising to protect them and refusing to make public the transcripts, pressuring the White House for a war on Libya for reasons of oil and looting, facilitating coups in Honduras and Ukraine, stirring up hostilities with Russia, talking of obliterating Iran, insisting on yet more, counterproductive war in Syria and Iraq, pushing for massive bombing in Syria, giggling about murdering Gadaffi and the people (including female people) of the entire region be damned, turning the State Department into a marketing firm for U.S. weapons companies and U.S. fracking companies, taking many millions from corrupting interested parties while claiming to be dead broke, supporting unconstitutional spying and retribution against whistleblowers, corporatizing the Democratic Party and proposing that it should "represent banks," defending any and all of this by yelling "9/11," and suggesting that opposition to any of this makes someone sexist -- that all seems outrageously reprehensible to me.
The people Hillary Clinton would kill, the people she would deprive of healthcare, the students she would deny a free quality education, the families she would deny a decent income, the workers she will deny jobs, the generations she will deny an inhabitable environment -- are they going to feel better because she's a woman?
And how are the poor people of Iowa going to feel if they're responsible for supporting her?
By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
I asked Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein about her platform this week and came away believing it had a better chance of winning than Bernie Sanders'. I know that platforms don't run, people do, and they do so within a two-party dominated system. But this already crazy presidential election could turn into a crazier five-way race. And, even if it doesn't, or if it does but still nobody ever learns that Jill Stein exists, there is nonetheless much for us and for the other candidates to learn from her platform.
If you think free college is popular, you should see what young people think of free college and erasing all existing student debt.
If single-payer healthcare with raised taxes (but net savings, if you make it to that fine print) excites voters, how do you think they'd respond to single-payer healthcare with no raised taxes?
If fewer wars and asking Saudi Arabia to do more of the funding and fighting sounds promising, what would you say to no more wars, a 50 percent cut in the $1 trillion/year military spending, no more weapons sales to Saudi Arabia which is doing more than enough killing, thank you, no more free weapons for Israel either, and investment of some of the savings in a massive green energy jobs campaign producing a sustainable energy policy and a full-employment economy?
Senator Bernie Sanders' domestic proposals have got millions excited, but the (unfair and misleading) criticism that he'll raise taxes may be a tragic flaw, and it's one he opens himself up to by refusing to say that he'll cut the military. Stein would cut at least half of the single biggest item in the discretionary budget, an item that takes up at least half of that budget: military spending. She'd cut fossil fuel subsidies, as well, and expect savings to come from healthcare, including as a result of cutting pollution and improving food quality. But the big immediate item is the military. Cutting it is popular with voters, but not with Democratic or Republican presidential candidates. Sanders will be labeled the Tax Man by the corporate media, while Jill Stein will have to be attacked in a different way if she gets mentioned.
"Cutting the military budget is something that we can do right now," Stein told me, "but we want to be clear that we are putting an end to wars for oil – period. And that is part of our core policy of a Green New Deal which creates an emergency program, establishing twenty million living wage jobs, full-time jobs, to green the economy, our energy, food, and transportation systems, building critical infrastructure, restoring ecosystems, etc. This is an emergency program that will get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. So this is a war-time-level mobilization in order to completely detoxify our energy system, and that means both nuclear and fossil fuel. In doing that, we deprive the empire of this major justification for wars and bases all around the world. So we want to be clear that that emphasis is gone, and goading the American public into war so as to feed our fossil fuel energy system – that ends and makes all the more essential and possible the major cutting of the military budget."
Which 50 percent of the military would Stein cut? Two places she named that she would start with (there would have to be much more) are foreign bases (she'd close them) and the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Would she unilaterally scrap U.S. nukes? I asked.
"We don’t even need to do it unilaterally," Stein said, "because the Russians have been begging to revive the process of nuclear disarmament, which the U.S., in its wisdom, undercut. ... The Russians have been persistently trying to restore those nuclear talks for the purpose of disarmament. And that would be step one – is to make major reductions between the U.S. and Russia and then to convene a world forum to put an end to nuclear weapons altogether."
The "war on terror," Stein pointed out, has only created more terror, while costing each U.S. household $75,000. "That’s not going to make people terribly enthusiastic for it, particularly when you point out that all this has done is create failed states, worse terrorist threat, whether you look at the Taliban, the globalization of al-Qaeda, the creation of ISIS. This has been an utter, unmitigated disaster, and the massive refugee crisis which is threatening to tear apart the European Union. This is absolutely unsustainable by any count."
To change U.S. foreign policy, Stein proposed financial reforms unheard of in any presidential debate thus far. She suggested that military and other government contractors should face "pay to play protections" preventing them from "buying their way into policy." Stein explained: "If you establish that anyone who contributes, who provides campaign contributions, or who lobbies is not eligible for contracting with the government, the minute you break that umbilical cord, then the industry loses its power to corral Congress and dictate foreign policy." Stein said such protections could also block U.S. government facilitation of weapons sales to foreign buyers.
"War profiteering should not be allowed," Stein explained, "in the same way that energy profiteering is not compatible with our survival." Ultimately, the big profits, Stein said, are in healthcare: "We spend a trillion dollars plus on the military industrial complex every year, but we spend three trillion and counting every year on the sick care system, which doesn't make us well. It just enables us to tread water while we cope with these disastrous health impacts of the war economy and the fossil fuel economy."
Stein did not hesitate to highlight differences when I asked her about Bernie Sanders. She cited his "support, for example, for the F-35 weapons system which has been an incredible boondoggle." While Sanders would keep killing with drones and "fighting terrorism," Stein calls "fighting terrorism" an oxymoron and points to counterproductive results: "Terrorism is a response to drones that sneak up on you in the night and to night raids and this is where we recruit and we enable ISIS and al-Qaeda to continue expanding ... something Bernie hasn't quite gotten straight by saying the solution here is to turn the Saudis loose; the Saudi's need to 'get their hands dirty'."
"We can actually begin to rein in the Saudis with a weapons embargo and by impounding their bank accounts," Stein said. The same goes for Israel, she added, stressing the need to respect the law. Should the United States join the International Criminal Court, I asked. "Oh, my god, of course!" was Stein's reply. "And the treaty on land mines?" "Of course! My god. Yes. ... There are all sorts of treaties that are ready to move forward. In fact the Soviets and the Chinese have been prime movers in expansion of treaties to prohibit weapons in space and to establish the rule of law in cyberspace."
So, what would President Jill Stein do about ISIS? She answered that question with no hesitation: "Number 1: we don't stop ISIS by doing more of what created ISIS. This is like the elephant in the room that none of the other presidential candidates are willing to acknowledge, even Rand Paul, I might say, surprisingly. So we don't bomb ISIS and try to shoot ISIS out. We've got to stop ISIS in its tracks by ending the funding of ISIS and by ending the arming of ISIS. How do we do that? We do that with a weapons embargo. And so the U.S. can unilaterally move forward on that, but we need to sit down and talk with the Russians as well, and Putin tried to do this.
"You know, Putin, our arch enemy Putin, was actually trying to create a peace process in Syria. ... We need to begin talking with Russia and with other countries. We need to build on our relative détente with Iran to engage them, and we need to bring our allies into the process. Right now, the peace process, as I understand it, is held up by, guess who -- Saudi Arabia, who wants to bring in known terrorist groups as the representatives of the opposition. The Saudis should not be defining the way forward here ... Our ally Turkey needs to understand that their membership in NATO or their position with the U.S. and other allies around the world should not be taken for granted, and that they cannot be in the business either of funding ISIS and related groups through the purchase of their oil [or of] shipping weapons. They also need to close down their border to the movement of the militias."
Stein was sounding an awful lot like the leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, and I asked her about him. "I have already met with Jeremy Corbyn," she said, "when I was in Paris for the climate talks, ... and we had a surprising amount of time to talk and we agreed completely on collaborating on this 'peace offensive,' which is the name we have given to our solution to the problem of ISIS. Peace is not passive. We need an active, interventionist program based on peace which means to stop the flow or arms and money, etc. So, we've already agreed that we see eye-to-eye on foreign policy."
But Corbyn is in office with a shot at becoming prime minister. With the U.S. public completely sold on the hopelessness of third-party bids, at least by non-multi-billionaires, what is Stein's plan for actually becoming president?
"First of all," she says, "there are 43 million young people and not-so-young people who are trapped in debt, in student debt. My campaign is the only campaign that will be on the ballot that will abolish student debt. We did it for the bankers who plunged us into this economic crisis that persists in spite of what they say. And they did that by way of their waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet we bailed them out to the tune of $16 trillion and counting.
"So, isn't it about time we bail out the victims of that waste, fraud, and abuse -- the young people of this country whose leadership and whose civic engagement is essential for blazing the trail to our future? It has always required a fresh generation to re-envision, you know, what our future looks like. So, we need to bail out the young people, for their benefit and for ours. That can be done through another quantitative easing which is relatively simple, does not cost us, essentially expands the money supply in a way that works as a stimulus to the economy, unlike the bailout that they provided to Wall Street which has only created a stimulus for more reckless gambling – waste, fraud, and abuse. ... I have yet to find a young person in debt who doesn't become a missionary for our campaign the minute they learn that we will cancel their debt. ... The 43 million young people – that is a plurality of the vote. In a three-way race, that's enough to win the vote."
Stein also pointed to 25 million Latinos who, she said, "have learned that the Democrats are the party of deportation, of night raids, and of detention, of refugees who are fleeing a crisis in their home countries that we created. How? Through NAFTA, though illegal coups and CIA-sponsored regime changes, and through the drug wars. ... If people want to fix the immigration problem, the answer is, 'Stop causing it.'"
But will Stein be in the debates for the general election? "In my experience," she told me, "all you have to do is have a real conversation, have an open mic, a true presidential debate that actually allows presidential candidates to debate who have broad enough support that they are on the ballot for a majority of Americans and could numerically win the election. We are challenging the Commission on Presidential Debates in court and we will be challenging them soon with a direct action campaign, so stay tuned, because the American public deserves to know about the issues. The American public deserves the right to vote. And they have a right to know who they can vote for and what they are voting about."
Here's audio of the interview that produced this report.
“I was sleeping peacefully late one night when I felt someone grab my leg and drag me from my bed onto the floor. My leg was pulled so hard I heard my pajama pants rip down the middle. Looking up and seeing my father, I began to panic as he pulled my hair and told me he was going to kill me.”
Paul Chappell is recounting an incident from when he was four years old. The terror of such unpredictable attacks in the years that followed traumatized him. Chappell’s father had been traumatized by war, and Chappell would also end up joining the military. But over the years, Paul managed to turn his childhood trauma, not into a continued cycle of violence but rather into a means of gaining insight into how the institution of mass violence might be ended.
Chappell’s latest book, The Cosmic Ocean: New Answers to Big Questions, is the fifth in a projected seven-part series. Like a sculptor pounding out variations on a theme, Chappell each year produces a newer, thicker, wiser, and more illuminating take on the questions that tear at his heart: How can we be so kind and cause such suffering? How can we fail to care about others just like ourselves? What sort of change is possible and how can it be brought about?
I’m usually wary of anything that could be repetitive or pedantic, as life is just too short and I just too rebellious. But Chappell is repetitive because he is a teacher, and he is becoming a better teacher every year. He wants us to understand important truths in a variety of contexts, to remember them, and to act on them. As with his previous books, I once again recommend the latest one as the best, but encourage reading them all. Skip a presidential debate or two if you have to.
I’m always wary of efforts to solve war by finding inner peace. “Does the Pentagon give a flying f— if you’ve got inner peace?!” I’ve been known to scream, very unpeacefully. “Will your forgiving of your obnoxious neighbor and your spreading of harmony through your neighborhood stop Raytheon and Boeing and Lockheed from profiting off another war on Libya?” But, in fact, Chappell is examining the reasons people become violent and accepting of violence at least in part in order to understand what it would take to create a society in which Donald Trump would speak to entirely empty coliseums, and any Congress member who failed to end a war would be confronted by a unanimous constituency insisting on peace. Chappell’s point is not to shut out the world, but to understand better how to change it.
I generally object to investigations into “human nature” as I believe the concept primarily serves as an excuse for nasty behavior, and I’m unaware of any empirical means of determining what actions do and do not qualify as “human nature.” But Chappell is not trying to identify a mystically correct moral behavior in order to insist that we imitate it. He’s trying to accurately grasp the motivations of even the most damaging actions, in part in order to enlarge our capacity for empathy — and in part in order to re-classify certain types of behavior as illness. He’s also exposing the use of “human nature” as an excuse.
“When someone gets malaria, cancer, or HIV,” writes Chappell, “I have never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, that’s just human nature,’ because people realize something has gone wrong with the human body. But if someone becomes violent, people often say, ‘Oh that’s just human nature,’ which assumes that violence is an essential part of being human (like eating and sleeping), rather than the result of something that has gone wrong. But what if violence, like an illness, has a cause that we can understand and prevent?” Chappell includes among such causes, “poverty, desperation, injustice, dehumanization, ignorance, bullying, and trauma.”
Of course it’s a choice we make to categorize something as an illness, not an eternal discovery about “human nature,” but it is a wise choice when we’re talking about violence and war.
A traumatized person, Chappell writes, wants others to understand the trauma and sympathize with their suffering. But how can they communicate the trauma? They can try ordinary speech or art, but often another medium appears superior: violence. By making others feel the same pain, a traumatized person can finally make himself understood. As a sophomore in college, Chappell happened to mention to his classmates that when he’d been bored in high school he’d fantasized about killing all of his fellow students. Chappell assumed that this was universal, but his college friends reacted with horror.
Chappell came to understand that a desire for violence can arise out of trauma, and that it was not typical. “Cruel actions, if we define them as inflicting, watching, and enjoying the suffering of a living creature (without that creature’s consent), are relatively rare in the world,” he writes. A member of an ancient culture who believed that a child sacrifice would appease the god or gods and save a society might, and in various accounts did, deeply regret having to kill a child, but acted on the basis of a false belief.
I might add that most religious believers these days don’t act on their beliefs in ways that conflict with broader society. Exceptions include, on the plus side, those who protest at drone bases in the name of Jesus, and on the negative side, those who sacrifice chickens, deny their kids medicine, or disregard climate change on the grounds that it’s not in the Bible. Willful ignorance can muddy up the question of feeling empathy for someone acting from within a particular worldview, but only slightly. As we develop a habit of empathizing, it should reach more and more people and behaviors. Empathizing is, of course, a different thing than supporting, justifying, or excusing.
Chappell suggests, however, that building empathy depends on building accuracy: “When we search for the underlying causes of problems and arrive at inaccurate answers, it can silence our empathy. For example, if you believe a baby girl is born with a disability because she is cursed by the gods or paying back bad karma from a past life, it can reduce your empathy not only for her, but also her family.”
Empathizing with more individuals, Chappell argues, can also result in greater feelings of empathy for humanity as a whole, and as a result greater confidence in the ability of great masses of humanity to improve our ways: “[W]hen we believe that humanity is born evil, naturally violent, and destined to forever wage war, it can silence our empathy, but the scientific understanding that violence is instead caused by trauma and other preventable factors offers us a more accurate (and empathetic) understanding of human beings.”
Another route toward empathizing with humanity all over the earth today (and perhaps even losing the need to “humanize” each new person before we can care about them) is learning to empathize with human generations long past: “The reason I am discussing the enormous challenges our ancestors overcame is because we must strengthen our respect, empathy, and appreciation for human beings and stop viewing ourselves as a cancer or virus upon the earth.”
But aren’t we a virus upon the earth? Haven’t we launched a mass extinction of millions of beautiful species, possibly including our own? Perhaps we have. But we won’t avoid it, assuming we can avoid it, by viewing ourselves as cancer. That’s a recipe for hopelessness, and also for cruelty and war — which can only make matters dramatically worse. If we are to save ourselves we have to understand that we are worth saving, and that even our virus-like activities are generally well-intended.
That we mean well does not suggest that our government in Washington, D.C., means well — although many members of that government often do, in some ways at least, have much better intentions than the results convey. It also does not mean that humans aren’t engaged in horrible activities, first among them being war: “Many people today have a condescending attitude toward those who practiced human sacrifice thousands of years ago, but what if we are not so different from them? What if people in the modern world continue to die in massive ceremonies of human sacrifice? What if you supported the ritual of human sacrifice at some point in your life, without even realizing it?” Chappell is referring to war, that institution to which U.S. parents continue to send their offspring.
War, in fact, has become a U.S. religion, Chappell writes. War has heretics and behaviors that are seen as sacrilegious. Many people display more reverence for Veterans’ Day than for Christmas. One might add that war has holy objects, such as flags, that must never be desecrated, although human beings can be desecrated in large numbers for the good of the flag.
How does empathy get us out of this fix? Chappell turns, late in the book, to the topic of beauty, arguing not just against the often criticized standards of the beauty products industry, but for truly seeing all humans as beautiful, regardless of their age, health, race, or culture. We should have a reverence for life, he writes, using language that has, I’m afraid, been damagingly taken over by the abortion debate.
Chappell has a vision of people someday seeing, not just that little black boys and black girls in Alabama are able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers, but seeing every person on the whole earth as part of their own family: “When a baby is born anywhere on earth, even to people whose skin color differs from yours, about 99.9 percent of your DNA is passed on.” You want biological descendants? There’s no need to have eight kids. There’s a need to protect your human family.
The term “racism,” Chappell writes, dates only to the 1930s, and “sexism” to the 1960s. Here’s one more we might add: “American exceptionalism.” I’ve read somewhere that it dates to 1929. Perhaps it will be a thing of the past by 2029. Perhaps if it isn’t we all will be.
The Oregon tragi-comedy has left one dead, one injured, six arrested, some guys in Michigan trying to fix a water system with their guns, and millions of Americans deprived of intelligent television content for weeks.
I know that people outside the Occupy movement, in particular those employed by CNN, had a hard time telling what we wanted, but I myself have had a hard time telling what the Nevadans and others in Oregon wanted.
They demanded justice on behalf of people who said they'd never wanted the help. They demanded a small government willing to do them big favors. They wanted a fight to the death but didn't want to hurt anyone.
Really, the clearest answer was that they wanted to save the Constitution.
But how? Which bit? From whom? When we in Occupy demanded taxation of billionaires and cuts to the military, the CNN employees grabbed their heads and moaned in pain, insisting that we must settle on One Single Demand or their brains would explode.
Well, the Constitution has seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. That's way too many for an effective peaceful gun battle.
And the Constitution creates a big, distant, tax-raising government. Why wouldn't these guys get into shoot-outs for the Articles of Confederation? Weren't those more to their taste and only slightly more ancient and irrelevant than the Constitution?
No, they insisted that it was always the Constitution for which they were suffering along on donated snacks and anger. But which part? Surely not the First Amendment and its silly right to peaceably assemble.
The Second Amendment? But if you've been permitted to own piles of guns, can you really propose to get into a fight with those guns over your demand to be allowed to have those guns -- much less to have them for a well-regulated militia? Well-regulated militias remember to bring snacks.
The Third Amendment? No. It's a bit too awkward to take over buildings without the consent of the owner in order to Youtube to the death for the right never to have fighters move into anywhere without the consent of the owner.
And they didn't name any of these amendments. They named the Constitution.
Why? Here's an ancient and anti-democratic document produced by an elitist federal government that had redirected popular anger toward a foreign country. It condoned slavery and facilitated genocide and conquest through expansion to the west. As a contemporary document in 2016 it's an embarrassing vestige from a long-gone epoch. It provides no environmental protections, and no human protections -- no rights to any basic necessities of life.
But maybe that's part of the attraction. The Constitution may have been a step toward bigger government, but it was created in an age of much smaller government, of great resistance to any standing army, of no income taxes, of no draft, of no department of education, of no social safety net even on the miserable level of the 21st century United States.
The Constitution created a rather unrepresentative legislature, with a weak executive. It's been made almost completely unrepresentative, while its executive has been made virtually a king, and its Supreme Court has been given the power to rewrite the Constitution as it sees fit.
The U.S. government and the U.S. nation bear little similarity to the U.S. Constitution or the land in which it was written. And the U.S. government of today is Kafkan in its frustrating coldness, incompetence, and almost complete corruption. Isn't that what it comes down to? The government taxes you, gives you almost nothing in return, and then spends all your money teaching you by example that the way to solve problems is to act tough, take a stand, move into a new territory and declare "mission accomplished" -- no need to really have a thought-out plan, just have lots and lots of weaponry and everything will be fine. The locals will welcome you as liberators.
Maybe the late militia should have called itself the Unknown Unknowns.
Bill Fletcher Jr. has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staffperson in the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of “The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941”; the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of “Solidarity Divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice“; and the author of “‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty other myths about unions.” Fletcher is a syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator on television, radio and the Web. You can find him at billfletcherjr.com
He wrote the article Obama Morocco and Saharawi Self-Determination.
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By David Swanson, Telesur
A recent bribery conviction may lead to the U.S. Supreme Court further corrupting the U.S. political system.
How does one even get convicted of bribery in a system that has legalized it to the extent that ours has? Look at Congress members' and other federal office holders' actions and their sources of funding. There is debate only over whether they are bribed to act or rewarded for having acted, but the correlation between action and funding is undisputed, and the sources of funding unrestricted. A headline like "Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton's State Department" raises a few eyebrows but no indictments.
The correlation is even more strongly documented between funding and gaining access to Congress members, and the general trend so clear that an academic study has identified the U.S. form of government as an oligarchy. Many political observers now think of elections as a corrupting influence, which no doubt fuels a taste for pseudo-solutions like term limits and billionaire politicians who don't have to sell out.
And yet, two U.S. state governors have recently been convicted of taking bribes: Alabama's Don Siegelman and Virginia's Bob McDonnell. Siegelman has been in prison for over four years though he was targeted by politically motivated prosecutors and was never accused of any personal gain. McDonnell was bribed with a Rolex watch, plane tickets, dinners, trips, loans, catering, golf bags, and i-phones, and, according to his successful prosecutors took official actions in his capacity as governor to benefit the person bribing him within minutes of receiving various loot. The U.S. Supreme Court has kept McDonnell and his wife (also convicted) out of prison as it considers his case. A bipartisan collection of 113 current and former state Attorneys General urged the Supreme Court to correct the injustice to Siegelman, and it declined to consider it.
The U.S. Supreme Court was uninterested in a bribery case like Siegelman's that involved no bribery. What's frightening is its interest in a case like McDonnell's. His lawyers will argue that while he and his wife clearly benefitted, he didn't know everything his wife had promised in return for the bribes, nor did he agree to it, nor did he deliver on it. There is clearly the potential that the new standard in U.S. politics going forward will be that you can give luxury toys and personal bribes directly to an office holder, as long as he or she fails to deliver the public policy you asked for, or as long as he or she doesn't try very hard to deliver it.
Such a standard would open the door to direct bribery of politicians in a new way not achieved by Citizens United and related rulings that facilitate bribery through campaigns and PACs and foundations. As long as the two parties are discreet, who will be able to prove that the favor your politician did your corporation was actually in response to the Mercedes you gave him?
If you imagine the Supreme Court's interest is in correcting injustice, as opposed to expanding the legalization of bribery, have another look at the Don Siegelman case. Siegelman was by far the most successful Democratic politician in an overwhelmingly Republican government in Alabama. When he won reelection as governor in 2002, the election result was reversed after Republican officials in a single county waited until the Democratic officials had gone home, then recounted the votes and determined that there had been an error. Despite Democrats' objections of impropriety and pointing out that the voters whose votes were switched away from Siegelman didn't -- as one would have expected -- have their votes similarly "corrected" in other races, the Republican Attorney General of Alabama upheld the result and forbid any manual recount to verify it.
Republican lawyer Jill Simpson describes "a five-year secret campaign to ruin the governor," during which Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's senior political advisor, asked her to "try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife." Rove associate Bill Canary, she says, told her that his wife Leura and friend Alice Martin, both federal prosecutors, would "take care of" Siegelman. When Siegelman began running to win his office back two years after losing it, the U.S. Justice Department took him to trial alleging a Medicaid scam, but the judge listened to the opening argument and then threw out the case as worthless.
The "Justice" Department kept trying, and finally got Siegelman on bribery. His offense? He was not alleged to have pocketed a dime or to have received any support through any foundation or committee. Rather, he re-appointed a man to a board who had been appointed to the same position by the previous three governors, a man who made contributions to a state lottery to pay for college scholarships for poor kids. Yes, Siegelman's idea to help poor people with a lottery seems to have missed the fact that lotteries are taxes on poor people. But does that make him guilty of bribery or justify prosecutors targeting him?
The star witness in the Siegelman case claimed that Siegelman met with this man and emerged from the meeting with a check in hand talking openly about the quid pro quo. In reality, the check was written days after that meeting, and the star witness was facing 10 years in prison and had cut a deal with the prosecutors to reduce his sentence.
A U.S. House Committee investigated the Siegelman case and asked Karl Rove to testify. He declined. And the committee declined to hold him in contempt or to use inherent contempt. He was simply allowed to refuse. Now Siegelman's son, attorney Joseph Siegelman, has filed suit seeking documents from the U.S. government. I asked him what he hopes to find.
"Every stone that gets overturned ends up showing something negative," he said. As an example he pointed to the Justice Department's description of an email from a prosecutor of Siegelman to the campaign manager of his main Republican opponent, a description of an email that didn't become public until years after Siegelman's trial. "We don't know what else they have to hide," said Joseph Siegelman.
I asked Joseph Siegelman about the Supreme Court's decision to hear McDonnell's case and not his father's, and he exclaimed, "How can our system of justice be so skewed?"
The worst of it may be that a ruling in favor of McDonnell and the inherent right to accept Rolexes from lobbyists could leave Siegelman sitting in prison. He never accepted any Rolex. And he did re-appoint that healthcare professional to that healthcare board.
Should the Supreme Court further legalize bribery, the people of the United States should send Benjamin Franklin a note informing him that we were not able to keep a republic after all. Or they should rise up and compel the Congress, or compel the states to go around the Congress in amending the Constitution, to end all forms of bribery, ban all private election spending, create free and equal media air time on our air waves for all qualified candidates, provide public financing for campaigns, and for godsake free Don Siegelman.
Originally published by American Herald Tribune
Major corporate media outlets in the United States are reporting on a new viability for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, based on his rise in the polls nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire -- and possibly, though this goes largely unmentioned, based on his big new advertising purchases from major corporate media outlets. In independent progressive media as well, there's a small flood of maybe-he-can-really-win articles.
Whether this goes any further or not, something remarkable has happened. The Donald Trump campaign (in many ways outlandish and uniquely dangerous) more or less fits the usual mold in terms of media success; the data are very clear that the media gave Trump vastly disproportionate media coverage, following which he rose in the polls -- the same polls later used anachronistically to justify the coverage. This was the story of how the media created Howard Dean's success before tearing him down in 2004, and it has been the story of most candidates, successful and otherwise: the polling closely follows the coverage, not the other way around.
Bernie is something new. The major media has given him ridiculously little coverage, and belittled him in most of that coverage. Yet he has surged in the polls, in volunteers, in small-donor fundraising, and in real world events. While television news has shunted aside actual events, crises, social movements, the state of the natural environment, any number of wars, countless injustices, and most legislative activities in order to focus more than ever on the next election, and has done so ever since it was nearly two years away, the media has also given wildly disparate attention to certain candidates, in a way that bears no correlation to polling or internet searching or donors or any such factor. As of last fall, Bernie Sanders had received a total of 8 minutes of coverage from broadcast evening news, less than Mitt Romney or Joe Biden got for deciding not to enter the race.
And yet, Bernie polls better against Donald Trump (now that a pollster finally asked that question and released the results) than does Hillary Clinton. And Bernie is gradually catching up to Clinton in polls of Democrats. If he wins New Hampshire (very likely) and Iowa (pretty likely), all sorts of bandwagon jumpers could switch their support to him, and uninspired voters become inspired to vote in the next several primary states, snowballing the magical force of "momentum" into an upset victory with great media ratings, even if horrifying political implications from the point of view of major media outlets' corporate owners.
According to Ted Rall, we are seeing the failure of propaganda: "Everyone in a position to block Sanders' campaign did everything they could to sabotage him. ... Marginalization always used to work. Remember John Edwards? His 2008 primary campaign was doomed because TV networks refused to cover him. But the media's cold shoulder isn't hurting Bernie."
As Glenn Greenwald sees it, Sanders is riding the same wave of backlash against the establishment that Jeremy Corbyn has surfed in Britain. Part of that tidal wave may also motivate Trump supporters who, in some cases, admit that they don't like his views but simply love that he says whatever he feels like saying. Sharp policical observer Sam Husseini pointed out to me that the more the media demanded Bill Clinton's impeachment, the more the public opposed it. Sometimes what the media wants backfires. As the media shifts from ignoring Sanders to attacking him, that could benefit him, or it could hurt him. As Dave Lindorff and others have pointed out, "socialist" is actually a popular word now. Pundits in whose world "socialist" is equated with traitor, could actually hurt the cause of derailing the Bern inferno if they keep labeling him a socialist.
Some observers are far less sanguine about the defeat of propaganda. "If Bernie wins the nomination," media critic Jeff Cohen told me, "I suspect we'll see a barrage of mainstream news media bias and smear and distortion against Bernie and his platform on healthcare and Wall Street and taxes and government-funded jobs that will be at a level rarely witnessed in history. Not to mention a new level of attack ads bought by dozens of GOP and corporate SuperPACs. And all this will have impact, partly mitigated thanks to social media and indy media."
Cohen draws on history, which he clearly believes has not ended: "The anti-Bernie barrage will be reminiscent of 1934 when former Socialist Party leader Upton Sinclair left that party and stunned the nation by winning the Dem nomination for governor of California on a totally progressive platform; Sinclair was defeated in the general election by new innovations in smear politics from business interests, especially the Hollywood studios. If Bernie somehow gains the nomination, we'll see whether, aided by new media, the public is any smarter 80 years later in seeing through and fighting back against the distortions."
For the better part of a year I have shared Cohen's expectations for what the media might try to do to Sanders in early 2016. I assumed it would wait this long because a contest makes for better ratings than a coronation. But I did not predict this level of success for Sanders. I think we will see media support for all kinds of lies coming from the Clinton campaign, like those issued recently around healthcare. We'll see smears about sexism, and all variety of molehills turned into mountains. We'll also see Sanders denounced as a cowardly pacifist endangering us all by refusing to bomb enough people.
The tragic and ironic flaw in Sanders' strategy may be this. He'll take criticism as a socialist because he is one. And he'll take criticism as a pacifist although he's become a dedicated militarist at heart, intent on continuing drone kills and "destroying" ISIS, and unwilling to say he'll cut military spending. Not only is cutting military spending incredibly popular, not only would proposing to cut it lead to people like me knocking on doors for Bernie, but if Bernie were willing to cut a small fraction of the military that he routinely says is loaded with fraud and waste, he wouldn't have to fund healthcare or college or anything else with any sort of tax increases.
The U.S. government does not need more money in order to provide world-class social services. It needs to tax multi-billionaires in order to reign in their power. But it can fund our wildest dream by shifting money out of the military. And Bernie knows this. Yet he has opened himself up wide to what will likely be the most common criticism: "He wants to raise taxes!" He can explain that you'll save more by ending private health insurance than you'll pay in higher taxes, but how will he fit that in 4 seconds? How will he repeat it as often as the accusation? How can we be sure people are both mad at the establishment and intelligent enough to see through its deceptions?
Incidentally, peace groups have tried everything short of interrupting a Sanders event on the Black Lives Matter model. The Black Lives Matter activists who did that may have looked ill-informed, but they improved Bernie's campaign and benefited his campaign and thereby the country. Peace activists should consider that.
Most media deceptions are somewhat subtle. Look at this Time magazine video and text. The video at the top of the page is remarkably fair. The text below it, including an error-plagued transcript apparently produced by a robot, is less fair. Time says of Bernie: "[H]e's so far been unable to convince most Democrats he'd make a better candidate against a Republican than Clinton." By no stretch of the English language is the 48% or 52% backing Clinton in polls "most Democrats." The polling story should be that Sanders has climbed from 3% to 37% or 41% without any help.
Here's Time's summary of Sanders' platform: "He talked taxes (he'd raise them), turning points (he thinks he's at one) and tuxedos (he's never owned one)." Notice that two of the three items are sheer fluff and the only serious one is that he'll raise your taxes. Time follows that by linking to an article making the case that Sanders cannot win. Time of course has no "balancing" argument that he can win.
Time then links to an article on "The Philosophical Fight Underlying the Democratic Debate," which presents this very serious, well-researched reporting: "If Sanders and Clinton were in business together, he'd be the dreamy one pitching the next big thing while she'd be the hard-nosed one arguing that they need to stay within their budget. The decision voters will have to make is: do they want big dreams or clear-eyed realism?" Gosh, I want clear eyes and a hard nose, doesn't everyone?
What weighs against this steady stream of bias on the Time website is the transcript of Sanders' own comments, and his willingness to push back against the media. Pushing back against the media is even more popular than taxing billionaires or cutting the military. Here's Sanders replying to a cheap shot from Time: "Someone says oh you're raising taxes by $5,000. No, I am lowering your healthcare costs by $5000. So you can take a cheap shot, say I'm just trying to raise taxes. That's a distortion of reality. We are substantially lowering healthcare costs." Fewer people will hear his reply than hear the accusation, but they'll hear it in the context of media criticism, and that could inspire them. Check out this exchange:
Time: "So as president you're calling rallies—"
Bernie: "It's not just rallies, don't be sarcastic here."
The media mocks popular assembly, free speech, and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, and Sanders instructs the media not to be sarcastic. That's a plus for Bernie.
Will it get him past the onslaught? If it does, will the super delegates outvote the people? Will the DNC outmaneuver him? Is the voting process itself rigged? If he gets elected will anything get through Congress? Let's Bern those bridges when we come to them.