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Whereas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not self-enforcing,
Whereas statement of the inherent dignity and of the equal and supposedly inalienable rights of all members of the human family achieves little without a struggle against greed, injustice, tyranny, and war,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights could not have resulted in the barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind without the cowardice, laziness, apathy, and blind obedience of well-meaning but unengaged spectators,
Whereas proclaiming as the highest aspiration of the common people the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want doesn't actually produce such a world,
Whereas nonviolent rebellion against tyranny and oppression must be a first resort rather than a last, and must be our constant companion into the future if justice and peace are to be achieved and maintained,
Whereas governments do not reliably conduct themselves humanely toward other nations' governments or peoples unless compelled to do so by their own people and the people of the world,
Whereas a common understanding of human rights and freedoms is false if it omits the eternal vigilance, struggle, and sacrifice necessary to create and maintain them,
Now, Therefore we proclaim THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RESPONSIBILITIES as a common standard of practice for all people, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by energetic use of creative nonviolence to promote the actual observance of what have never been but indeed should be made universal, equal, and inalienable rights and freedoms,
- Human beings are born into every variety and degree of freedom and oppression, privilege and poverty, peace and war. All have a responsibility to work for the betterment of the condition of those around them and those less well off.
- Everyone is obligated to work at building understanding and equality across lines of race, color, sex, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, and birth or other status. Everyone is obligated to actively reject the privileging of or discriminating against any such group, whether their own or others', with no exceptions created by the presence of or participation in war.
- Everyone has the responsibility to help organize and take part in resistance to any violation of anyone's right to life, liberty or security of person, whether that violation impacts a single individual or a large number, but in particular including resistance to war of any kind.
- Everyone has a responsibility to work for the swift elimination of slavery and servitude in all their forms.
- Everyone has a responsibility to expose any instance of torture or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or of any conspiracy to facilitate such acts, and a responsibility to work to end these practices and to prosecute those responsible in a fair and open court of law.
- Everyone has a responsibility to work and to sacrifice something of their own comfort to ensure that every other human being is afforded equal recognition as a person before the law.
- All are obliged to actively oppose any discrimination in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and against any incitement to such discrimination.
- Everyone has the responsibility to insist upon, for themselves and all others, an effective remedy by the competent local, national, or international tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Everyone has a responsibility to treat the arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, of anyone else as though it were that of themselves or a loved one.
- Everyone has a responsibility to understand and require for every human being the right to full equality and to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of their rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against them.
- (1) Everyone is obligated to ensure for anyone charged with a penal offense the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defense.
- (2) Everyone is obligated to ensure that no one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed, and that no heavier penalty shall be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.
- All are responsible for not taking part in and for working to eliminate and to legally prohibit any arbitrary interference with anyone's privacy, family, home or correspondence, or attacks upon their honor and reputation.
- (1) Everyone has the responsibility to protect everyone's freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
- (2) Everyone has the responsibility to protect everyone's right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.
- Everyone has the responsibility to protect for all the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution but not from prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes.
- Everyone has the responsibility to protect for all the right to a nationality and the right to change that nationality.
- All are obliged to protect the right of free and fully consenting adults to marry.
- All are obliged to defend the right of all others to own property.
- Everyone has the responsibility to protect freedom of thought for all.
- Every human being has a duty to help communicate to others to the greatest extent possible information about injustice and war, and information about nonviolent efforts to achieve justice and peace. This duty includes a responsibility to work for the creation of meaningful freedom of the press in which the communication of neither current events nor history is dominated or controlled by any privileged group within a society.
- Everyone has the responsibility to frequently exercise or attempt nonviolently to exercise the right to peaceful assembly and association in opposition to injustice or war, and in support of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work for the creation and maintenance of democratic and/or representative government uncorrupted by bribery of any form, by an unfree press, or by arbitrary restrictions on participation as electoral candidates or voters.
- Everyone has a responsibility to struggle nonviolently to alter the political and economic world so as to increase the opportunity for every human being to live, learn, and work in dignity with security from fear and want.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work with others to ensure the protection of one and all to a free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to the freedom to join a trade union and to strike, to equal pay for equal work, and to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work not only at their primary career but also for the betterment of society and the establishment of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work for a more just and less wasteful distribution of resources to ensure that one's own and all future generations can provide every single human being, including every child, a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood.
- Everyone has the responsibility to assist in the education of themselves and others and to work toward the provision of free, high-quality education, including education in civil responsibilities and the history of social change through people's movements, education directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, education that promotes understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and education that furthers the creation and maintenance of peace.
- Everyone has the responsibility to defend and exercise the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits, and the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which they are the author.
- Everyone has the responsibility to organize, agitate, sacrifice, and struggle nonviolently and strategically for sustainable environmental practices, demilitarization, the development of democratic and representative structures of government, and the realization of the rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Don't people who are wrong annoy you? I just read a very interesting book called "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," by Kathryn Schulz. Of course I read it with an eye toward figuring out how better to correct those other people who are so dangerously and aggravatingly wrong. And of course the book ended up telling me that I myself am essentially a creature of wrongness.
But if we're all wrong, I can live with that. It's being more wrong than other people that's intolerable. However, statistics show that most of us believe we're more right than average, suggesting a significant if not downright dominant wrongness in our very idea of wrongness.
Even worse, we're clearly not wrong by accident or despite the best of intentions. We go wrong for the most embarrassing of reasons -- albeit reasons that might serve unrelated purposes, or which perhaps did so for distant ancestors of ours. For example, when asked to solve simple and obvious problems that a control group of similar people has no trouble solving, a disturbing number of humans will give the wrong answer if stooges planted in the room confidently give that wrong answer first.
Even more disturbingly, measurements of brain activity during this process suggest that those giving such wrong answers actually perceive them as correct following careful consideration of the question with no particular energy expended on consideration of peer relationships. In other words, people believe their own obvious B.S., even though its been blatantly placed in their minds by a bunch of fraudsters. (I am aware of the redundancy in making this observation during what has been an election year in the United States.)
A lone dissenter in the room can change the dynamic (which perhaps explains why Fox News quickly cuts off the microphone of any guest straying from the script, why a sports announcer who denounces our gun culture must be punished, why a commentator who questions Israel's crimes must be silenced, etc.), but why should we need someone else to dissent before we can?
Well we don't all or always. But a disturbing amount of the time a lot of us do.
Even more disturbingly, few of us are often inclined to say we are undecided between possibilities. We are inclined toward certainty, even if we have just switched from being certain of an opposing proposition. As we are confronted with reasons to doubt, it is not uncommon for our certainty to grow more adamant. And we are inclined to greater certainty if others share it. Many of us often admire, and all too often obey, those who are certain -- even about things they could not possibly be certain about, even about things there is no great value in being certain about, and even about things these "leaders" have been wrong about before.
Now, I think Schulz is wrong in her book on wrongness not to place greater emphasis on the issue of why politicians change their positions. If they do so for corrupt reasons, to please their funders, we have corruption as well as indecisiveness to dislike. But if they do so in response to public pressure and we still condemn them for indecisiveness, we are condemning representative government along with it. But there is no doubt that many people -- sometimes disastrously -- can be inclined to prefer the certain and wrong to the hesitant and ultimately right. A baseball umpire who's wrong but adamant is the norm, because one who corrects himself is soon out of a job.
We begin our careers of wrongness early. If you show a toddler a candy box and ask what's in it, they'll say candy, completely free of doubt. If you then show them that it's actually full of pencils, and ask them what they had thought -- five seconds earlier -- would be in the box, they will tell you they thought it was full of pencils. They will tell you that they said it was full of pencils. Schulz says this is because young children believe that all beliefs are true. It could also be a result of the same desire to be right and not wrong that we find prevalent in adults, minus adults' ability to recognize when the evidence of their wrongness is overwhelming. A psychologist in 1973 asked 3,000 people to rank their stances on a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" with positions on a range of social issues like affirmative action, marijuana legalization, etc. Ten years later he asked them to do so again and to recall how they thought they had answered 10 years prior. The what-I-used-to-think answers were far closer to the people's current positions than to their actual positions of a decade back.
A decade back I would have told you that it might be valuable to work for progressive change within the Democratic Party. Now I'd tell you that's counterproductive. Never mind if I was wrong then or am wrong now, or perhaps there's not enough information in such brief statements to know whether I'm not perhaps wrong in both positions. The point is that I only know how misguided I used to be because my blog doesn't edit itself, and I go back and read it. Not so with my brain. It edits itself quite efficiently. We have no idea how wrong we are, and much less idea how wrong we used to be. And we absolutely do not want to know.
"It isn't that we care so fiercely about the substance of our claims," writes Schulz. "It is that we care about feeling affirmed, respected, and loved." This helps explain why a common response to being wrong is to make the situation significantly worse and facilitate new cases of being wrong in the future. Medical mistakes in our hospitals kill a great many more Americans than any of the commonly thought of but statistically trivial causes of death (like terrorism) or even the truly major causes of death (like automobiles). And hospitals typically respond with evasion, defensiveness, and denial.
We see this across the field of public policy. Alan Greenspan may admit the error of his ways on the way out the door. So may President Eisenhower, albeit without calling it a confession. Even Secretary McNamara may recant his love for warfare before he dies. But those vigorously pursuing careers usually avoid admitting wrongness. And those proven wrong are typically replaced with new people willing to push the identical mistaken policies.
Members of the public who support wrongheaded policies (the markets will take care of themselves; weapons spending makes us safer; global warming doesn't hurt; the wealth will trickle down; etc.) often manage to continue with those policies despite their glaring debunking in particular instances or their recantation by particular officials. This is what I hoped to get some insight on in reading this book (as in reading a lot of books), and I don't think I failed. (I wouldn't, would I?)
Believers in Iraqi WMDs, when confronted with the facts, have in many cases nonsensically doubled down on their beliefs or, at the very least, continued to imagine the best intentions on the part of those who pushed the propaganda. Of course, a proper understanding of wrongness must lead us to accept the possibility that many who appear to be lying actually believe what they say. And the well-documented dishonesty, intentional fraud, and pressure on others to lie in the case of the Iraq War marketing campaign doesn't change the fact that many who helped spread the lies believed them to one degree or another.
Dropping the WMD belief would mean accepting that respected leaders were either mistaken or lying. It would also mean admitting that hostile opponents in a very public and long-lasting debate were right. Hence the tenaciousness of those still believing that Saddam Hussein hid his massive stockpiles in a magical land somewhere.
A few lessons can be gathered, I think. One is that when we're speaking with those who disagree, we should not refer to magical lands as I've just done, not mock, not gloat, not set up a hostile competition over who was right and who was wrong. Recounting previous instances of war supporters being wrong to illustrate the universality of the phenomenon could help or backfire depending on how it's done. Ultimately it must be done if the same mistakes are not to be repeated forever. It's certainly appropriate to demand that television networks stop limiting their crews of experts to those who have always been wrong before. Ultimately there must be accountability for the leaders of wrongness (regardless of the degree of honesty or good-intention involved). But there are those who will simply believe that Spain blew up the Maine even if they had never heard of that incident before in their lives, if you -- their opponent -- bring it up, even if you intend it as a comforting example of how others have screwed up too.
Clearly, focusing on the numerous times someone has themself been wrong is unlikely to help, but conveying the fact that we have been wrong too might. People should feel that they can remain or become secure, safe, respected, and loved while dropping their misguided belief, and without substituting a new zealotry in favor of another belief (even ours!) -- that they can become more cautious, more willing to remain in doubt, and more willing to continue that way in the face of the certainty of others. Ideally, people should be urged toward better beliefs by a friendly and welcoming and large group of others. There's no reason peer pressure can't be put to good use, even while seeking to reduce its power.
More importantly perhaps, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we can prevent people developing attachments to lies about Syria or Iran, we will save ourselves endless headaches trying to rid them of those lies later. If we can establish not just that Iraq was unarmed but also that Iraq's being armed would have been no justification for bombing its people, we will shift the conversation onto favorable ground. If Syria killing Syrians with the wrong kind of weapons is understood not to justify the United States killing more Syrians with the right kind of weapons, we won't have to engage in a fast-break competition to determine and then prove whether Syria is using weapons that the United States claims it is using.
The preceding paragraph is the theme of a book I wrote called "War Is A Lie," which I intended for war preparedness in the sense of preparation to resist common types of lies about wars. In that book, I did not follow all of the advice above. People in fact have complained to me (a small minority of readers I should say) that the book is at times sarcastic or mocking or contemptuous. In my defense, I see a value in entertaining as well as educating those already in large agreement, as well as in reaching through as powerful a manner as possible those without ossified views on the subject. But then again, there is always and forever the possibility that I'm horrendously wrong.
It warms one's heart to recall in the depths of winter that over half the taxes we labor to submit to our government each year go into war preparations. Such bountiful spending is required, because one never knows when the Japs or the Serbians or the Iranians may attack. To appreciate the need for creating so many weapons-producing billionaires and millionaires, we must recall with fondness the glory days of the war that three-quarters of a century back gave us the military industrial complex, the Air Force, the CIA, nuclear weapons, witch hunts, intense environmental destruction, and some 70 million dead bodies.
Ah, who can forget . . .
Nazi Germany, we actually tend to overlook sometimes, could not have existed or waged war without the support for decades past and ongoing through the war of U.S. corporations like GM, Ford, IBM, and ITT. U.S. corporate interests prefered Nazi Germany to the communist Soviet Union, were happy to see those two nations' peoples slaughter each other, and favored the United States entering the oh-so-good-and-necessary World War II on the side of England only once the U.S. government had made that very profitable.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent hope for years was that Japan would attack the United States. This would permit the United States (not legally, but politically) to fully enter World War II in Europe, as its president wanted to do, as opposed to merely providing weaponry and assisting in the targeting of submarines as it had been doing. Of course, Germany's declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor and the immediate U.S. declaration of war on Japan, helped as well, but it was Pearl Harbor that radically converted the American people from opposition to support for war.
On December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn't work and went with Japan alone. Germany quickly declared war on the United States, possibly in hopes that Japan would declare war on the Soviet Union.
Getting into the war was not a new idea in the Rosevelt White House. FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked. Roosevelt also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. This map was of the quality of the Associated Press's recent "Iranian bomb graph," or Karl Rove's "proof" that Iraq was buying uranium in Niger.
And yet, the people of the United States didn't buy the idea of going into another war until Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and — just 11 days before the "unexpected" attack — he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet:
A few thoughts in praise of backwardness.
"We don't look backward," says President Obama in reference to imposing justice on powerful large-scale criminal suspects. Of course, as we don't prosecute future crimes but only crimes of the past, "not looking backward" is a euphemism for immunity -- an immunity not granted to those accused of small-scale crimes or crimes with no victims at all.
"Forward!" says President Obama, making that seemingly vacuous word his slogan. But the word has meaning; it means continuing thoughtlessly in the current direction, without seeking guidance from the mistakes or accomplishments or untested inspirations of the past.
The secrecy of the Obama White House, including record levels of classification, ground-breaking legal claims to secrecy, and record-level prosecutions of whistleblowers, moves us in practice to the position of rolling "forward" without a clear idea where we are or where we've just been. This is nearly as fatal to good public policy as "looking forward" is to law enforcement.
We need to know our immediate history, but equally we need to know the history of distant times and places, for otherwise we can be greatly deceived by those in power -- including with that greatest deception of all: the idea that we are powerless. Only history shows us what works and what doesn't in attempting to improve the world.
Only history reveals, as well, how dramatically different patterns of life and thought and notions of "human nature" can be in cultures separated by time and/or space. It is always easier to imagine radical changes for the better after examining how radically different people have already been.
In 1888 Edward Bellamy wrote a book called "Looking Backward," which told the story of a man put into a trance in 1887 and awakened in the year 2000. In 1888 people bought as many copies of this book as could be printed, created clubs and organizations inspired by it, and developed a political movement the lasting (though indirect) benefits of which are no doubt tremendous.
Bellamy was, of course, looking forward, but we must look backward to recall an age in which anyone looked forward in a terribly useful or inspiring way. In 1888, people imagined the world could be made a much more pleasant place to live. In 2012 we are lucky if we can muster any confidence that the world will not collapse into an environmental or military or plutocratic hell on earth.
Bellamy got his prediction of the year 2000 largely wrong, but of course he was prescribing more than predicting. He got his prescription wrong as well. That is to say, what he prescribed was probably to some extent unworkable and undesirable. But it is tempting for us to confuse these questions, to imagine that whatever hasn't happened couldn't have or shouldn't have.
Bellamy had no accurate notion of what technology would look like in the year 2000. He idealized large and centralized bureaucracy. He valued military-like discipline rather than cooperation in the workplace. He imagined, absurdly I think, that a perfect society need not contain a mechanism for additional major changes. He believed -- and I have doubts on the point -- that religion and superstition could persist harmoniously with extreme ethical enlightenment.
In questionable moves, Bellamy bestowed greater power on the old than the young, built elitism into systems of governance and justice, and condoned the use of solitary imprisonment. In notable silences, Bellamy's vision did not address the question of environmental sustainability or the problem of outsourcing -- which is not to say that his utopia could not have incorporated solutions to such concerns.
But Bellamy advocated nonviolent change over violent in a manner suggesting an understanding of history he had not lived through. He argued plausibly for the elimination of debt, interest, and -- in fact -- money (which is not to say all forms of compensation). He laid out plans for peace, relative equality of wealth, security for all, an elimination of (most) prisons and virtually all crime, and the serious and nonviolent elimination of something all men and women have longed for since at least the age of Shakespeare: lawyers and law schools.
Bellamy's world would be prosperous and wealthy despite a retirement age of 45, in part through the elimination of debt, of militaries, of prisons, of tax assessors, of crime, of advertisements, of wasted or duplicated efforts (think of how much our "health insurance" system costs us compared to those of other nations), and -- here's the bit our current president would like, at least for the rich and powerful -- of a criminal justice system. (I'm afraid the steps that could conceivably bring us closer to Bellamy's world would need to come in a proper order, with the elimination of accountability for those in power evolving late in the process).
Bellamy may have been deluding himself if he imagined a world free of dangerous levels of selfishness. But he was certainly on the right track in envisioning a world that did not promote selfishness as a virtue, that valued instead one's responsibility to society, to children, and to future generations. Bellamy imagined huge advances for women's rights, many of which have in fact materialized. But other dreams of "Looking Backward" remain dreams.
Can we have competition, checks, and balances, but no advertising or systemic motivations to deceive? Can we have media outlets democratically managed by their consumers? Can we put one umbrella over a sidewalk when it rains instead of each carrying our own?
Dare I say it? Yes, we can.
But not until we abandon our affection for cries of "Forward!"
A coalition of groups has launched a new campaign at http://jobs-not-wars.org
Talk Nation Radio speaks with national coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War Michael Eisenscher and national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice Michael McPhearson, who is also a board member of Veterans For Peace.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
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Here's audio of a great show discussing "fiscal cliff," Bradley Manning, Palestine, and drone wars:
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One tool being employed by the government of Israel to evict Palestinian people from their homes is the claim that doing so will allow archaeologists to discover historical evidence of the existence of King David. Such evidence is intended to strengthen the claim that Jews are returning to land occupied by Jews millennia ago.
Yet the living people moved off their land by Israeli expansion are denied any right to return to it.
The King David in the book of Samuel is greedy and cruel, thoughtless of the pain he causes others. David is punished for his actions, but appears to learn nothing from the punishment. The lesson that Nathan attempts to teach David, to condemn evil actions in oneself that one would condemn in others, is a difficult lesson to learn.
We encourage the government of Israel to try.
David R. Applebaum, professor, USA
David Bacon, photographer, USA
David Barkham, film-production-designer, South Africa
David Becker, environmental-lawyer, USA
David ben Or, computer-scientist, USA
David J. Biviano, educator, USA
David Berrian, videographer, USA
Dave Bleakney, educator, Canada
David Booth, software-architect, USA
David Brast, appliance-repairer, USA
David Brookbank, social-worker, USA
David B. Buehrens, editor, USA
David Camfield, professor, Canada
David Cobb, activist, USA
David Cole, researcher, USA
David Cone, webmaster, USA
David Crowningshield, consultant, USA
David Earnhardt, filmmaker, USA
David Ecklein, computer-consultant, USA
David Finke, printer, USA
David Finkelstein, filmmaker, USA
David Graeber, anthropologist, UK
David Scott Halenda, rambler, USA
David Hall, MD, physician
David Hartsough, activist, USA
David J. Heap, professor, Canada
David R. Heap, actor, Ireland
David Janzen, activist, Canada
David Klein, professor, USA
David Korten, author, USA
David Kubiak, journalist, Japan
David Lambert, Activist, USA
David Lerner, PR guy, USA
David Levy, computer-consultant, USA
David Lindorff, reporter, USA
David Lippman, songwriter, USA
David Lloyd, Professor, USA
David L. Mandel, attorney, USA
David Marsh, broadcaster, USA
David R. Marshall, guitarist, USA
David McGiffen, atheist, UK
David McNally, professor, Canada
David McReynolds, activist, USA
David Meserve, activist, USA
David J. Milne, peace-and-justice-worker, Canada
David Morris, musician, USA
David Neff, manager (retired), USA
David Norris, city council member, USA
David I. Robinson, professor, USA
David Rovics, musician, USA
David Rubinson, activist, France
David Schaich, physicist, USA
David Schott, partnership-coordinator, USA
David Shelton, entrepreneur, USA
David Shewan, Environmentalist, UK
David Eric Shur, salesman, USA
David A. Smith, sociologist, USA
David Solnit, author, USA
David Soumis, human, USA
David Stark, executive director, USA
David Swanson, author, USA
David Tykulsker, attorney, USA
David Underhill, descendant, USA
David Weiss, environmental-activist, USA
David Welsh, labor organizer, USA
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Many of us have heard the current period referred to as a second gilded age. Or we've seen the current inequality in wealth in the United States compared to that of 1929. But we have not all given sufficient thought to what ended the first gilded age, what created greater equality, what created the reality behind that category our politicians now endlessly pretend we are all in: the middle class. We have a sense of what went wrong at the turn of each century, but what went right in between?
This is the theme of Sam Pizzigati's new book, "The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970." I take away three primary answers short enough to include in a brief summary. First, we taxed the riches right out from under the rich people. Second, we empowered labor unions. And third -- and this one came first chronologically as well as logically -- we developed a culture that saw it as absolutely necessary for the greater good that the rich be made poorer.
Nowadays, it's not hard to find people who would like the poor to be richer. But who wants the rich to be poorer? It seems so impolite and improper and cruel. Surely Bill Gates earned, deserves, and needs his $66 billion. While he might live exactly as comfortably as before if he lost 65 of those billions, how could we expect others to do all the good Gates has done (surely he's done some) if they can't expect to also be permitted to hoard $66 billion while other people starve and go homeless. In fact, without the possibility of hoarding your own $66 billion, nobody will work (will they?) or "create jobs" for others, and in the end if we took $65 billion away from Gates it would vanish into the air leaving the poor even poorer than they'd been. Or so we like to fantasize.
Pizzigati points to the polling that shows that Americans imagine their nation is much more equal than it is, and that they would like it to be more equal still -- would in fact far prefer Sweden's distribution of wealth to our own. But what does this tell us about our willingness to do what it takes to get there? I just saw an article in Mother Jones Magazine claiming that President Obama's caving in and permitting the continuation of the "Bush" tax cuts for the super wealthy was actually a progressive victory because of other things Obama got in the process. Such analyses suffer, I think, not just from hero-worship and partisan defensiveness, but from misplaced priorities. Taxing the rich is absolutely essential to every humanitarian cause and the viability of representative government.
"We can have democracy in this country," Louis Brandeis accurately said, "or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
The history that Pizzigati tells demonstrates this. Democracy and wealth concentration rise and fall in opposition to each other. Limitations on extreme wealth do nothing to reduce work and initiative. Extreme wealth impoverishes the poor; it doesn't enrich them. Trying to enrich the poor while allowing the rich to grow richer is an uphill if not impossible struggle, as the super-rich rewrite the rules to their own advantage. Thus "Tax Cuts For Everybody!" is an even worse policy than we commonly understand. It's not just that Congress rigs such deals to give the wealthiest the biggest cuts, but beyond that the wealthy will gain the power to quickly enact even worse legislation for the rest of us.
In the decades before World War I, authors and activists built an understanding that survived that horror, an understanding that the rich needed to be brought down if the poor were going to be brought up, that a rising tide doesn't lift all ships, that voodoo economics doesn't work just because preaching it can get you elected. It took decades of struggle, partial victories, and many setbacks. It took civil disobedience. It took third political parties. It took a willingness to spend money on World War II that we have yet to compel our government to spend on green energy or infrastructure or education or health. It took the alternative of communism competing for the world's approval. It took until the 1940s and 1950s for success to come. It was never a perfect success, and it came under greater threat of reversal the more people came to take it for granted. The success came after some who had worked for it had died. It came slowly.
And this is what worries me. Dave Lindorff speculated the other day that the rich and powerful in the United States may be driving climate disaster forward because they actually think that they and their friends will be able to weather the storms (and the millions who will suffer and die be damned). If at the start of the last century global warming had been what it is now, the struggle for success by mid-century in bringing down plutocracy would have come too late. We don't have a half century to play with. We can't leave power in the hands of maniacs willing to destroy the planet for a half century. "Those who succeed us," said Senator William Andrews Clark at the turn of the last century as he proposed hacking down the national forests, "can well take care of themselves." Many U.S. senators clearly feel the same way today under the cloud of greater dangers.
This is not an argument against reading Pizzigati's book. It's an argument for reading it immediately and acting on it even more swiftly than that. It's an argument for building a cultural awareness, not of hatred and vengeance, not of violence, not of counterproductive spasms of rage, but of awareness that aristocracy is incompatible with democracy, that in one form or another 99% of us must join together, undo the status of the 1%, and then welcome them as 1% among equals. There is much we can learn from the history of how the rich have sometimes lost.
Is there ought we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
that the union makes us strong.
Unmanned killer robot planes have convinced certain people that there is a better way of waging war.
But these drones have now made the United States as unpopular in places like Pakistan and Yemen as any nation has ever been in another. Making our nation hated does not make us safer. It endangers us.
These drone wars are not a reduction in war-making but an expansion. They're underway in nations the United States was not previously at war with. They're beginning to result in the addition of ground troops, the opposite result of the image we have in our heads of drones taking the place of ground troops.
Drone pilots in Afghanistan have been targeted and killed. Drone pilots in the United States suffer PTSD at higher rates than real pilots.
Drone victims are 98% innocent civilians according to a recent Stanford/NYU study. The other 2% are targeted victims of murder without charge, trial, due process, or in many cases even knowledge of the target's name.
Drones buzzing over houses traumatize children before they kill them. That those children are (in most cases) not American hardly diminishes the immorality.
Drones are rapidly being developed and deployed by other nations. It is time for Americans to ask themselves: Do I support the equal right of other nations to kill with drones in the United States? And if not, why not? And how can I apply a different standard to my own government?
Did you know that the White House has refused to allow Congress, the institution charged by the U.S. Constitution with making every law, to see its legal reasoning that supposedly justifies killing men, women, children, Americans, and non-Americans anywhere on earth without any charge or trial?
Did you know that even the current president believes no Republican president should ever be allowed the powers he has himself created?
The following organizations have decided to do something about this:
Arlington Green Party
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Jeannette Rankin Peace Center
The Northampton Committee to Stop War
Sitkans for Peace and Justice
Veterans For Peace
Veterans For Peace Chapter 27
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
These groups have decided to urge:
- the United Nations Secretary Generalto investigate the concerns of Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s top human rights official, that drone attacks violate international law -- and to ultimately pursue sanctions against nations using, possessing, or manufacturing weaponized drones;
- the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Courtto investigate grounds for the criminal prosecution of those responsible for drone attacks;
- the U.S. Secretary of State, and the ambassadors to the United States from the nations of the world, to ratify a treaty forbidding the possession or use of weaponized drones;
- President Barack Obama, to abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his "kill list" program regardless of the technology employed;
- the Majority and Minority Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, to ban the use or sale of weaponized drones.
You can join this movement and put your name on the petition being delivered to those authorities. It will take you 10 seconds or so, right here:
Glen Ford of blackagendareport.com discusses what the Obama presidency has meant for black society, black activism, and progressive activism in the United States.
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Liberal groups have been organizing protests of the looming "grand bargain" (a bargain between two political parties aimed at saving us from the fictional "fiscal cliff" by giving more of our money to the super-rich and the war machine). But they've been doing so only in Republican Congressional districts and with messages placing all the blame on "the Republicans," thus telegraphing the message that all shall be tolerated if labeled "Democratic."
We're supposed to be against a bargain, but only against one of the two partners to the bargain. Any bets on how well that'll work?
Meanwhile Obama's senior advisor David Plouffe hypes the danger of the "fiscal cliff," calls for lower corporate taxes and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, but says not one word about military spending. He also claims to want to end tax cuts for the wealthy but is much more passionate about the danger of ending those cuts across the board, suggesting -- as did Obama's statements and silences at his first post-election press conference -- that the White House will not in the end refuse to extend the "Bush" tax cuts for everyone, including the multi-billionaires -- just as it's done before. At the same press conference, Obama volunteered that we need "deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes."
Liberal groups have written to the president politely suggesting what they'd like, but with nothing in the way of consequences if they don't get it. And what they'd like is slightly higher taxes on the super-rich, and no cuts to Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. Or else . . . or else . . . they'll be sadly loyal until death do them part.
Neither Plouffe nor Obama nor any liberal activist group mentions that half of discretionary spending goes into war preparations. None proposes to raise corporate taxes, restore the estate tax, remove the cap on Social Security taxes, tax financial transactions and capital gains, tax carbon emissions, massively and urgently invest in green energy jobs, or cut the $1.3 trillion war preparations budget in half.
We are not broke. We are being robbed.
I get emails every day now on the "This isn't what we voted for" theme. "TPP is not what we voted for." "Drone kills are not what we voted for." As if you can ignore the candidate's platform and vote for your own fantasy under his name, and then "pressure" him to become what you fantasized even while swearing your allegiance to his party come hell or high water or hurricanes. Well, guess what, the Grand Bargain is what Democrats and Republicans voted for. But that doesn't mean we have to stand for it. Having voted against it wouldn't have stopped it. Only getting out of our houses and nonviolently resisting it now will stop it.
The peace movement is ready to take to the streets and the suites, but worried that it doesn't have the size to do the job. Of course it does have the size to start something big if it merely finds the determination. But imagine what could happen if Tahrir Square inspired us all again and more seriously, and with four years rather than two years to work with before the next debilitation by the latest "Most Important Election of Your Lifetime." Imagine if liberal organizations and labor unions openly recognized where all the public money is (in the war machine) and demanded it for useful purposes.
The peace movement is in favor of everything they're in favor of: the right to organize, civil liberties, an end to for-profit prisons and drug wars and racism, affordable housing, a living wage, education, healthcare, and a sustainable environment. The enemy of these things is the military industrial complex, and if it remains beyond challenge, a just society will remain unachievable. When Dr. King opposed "racism, extreme materialism, and militarism," he didn't mean for us to ignore the third one. He didn't mean for us to imagine that the three were separable and that we could oppose one or two of them effectively without opposing the combination.
Let's stop obediently opposing the worst bits of a Grand Catastrophe and begin denouncing and resisting the whole charade, replacing it with a grand vision of our own devising. RootsAction.org, created just last year, is already approaching 200,000 active members, and has been flooding Congress and the President with this message:
"Here's a grand bargain we want: expand Medicare and Social Security, invest in green energy, raise taxes on the rich and corporations, and cut military spending back to the level of 12 years ago."
The message is editable, meaning that you can and should add your own comments. I encourage everyone to do so, to ask friends to do so, and to be preparing for serious nonviolent action.
We're approaching three years since Howard Zinn left us, and to my ear his voice sounds louder all the time. I expect that effect to continue for decades and centuries to come, because Zinn spoke to enduring needs. He taught lessons that must be relearned over and over, as the temptations weighing against them are so strong. And he taught those lessons better than anybody else.
We like to use the word "we," and to include in it everything the Constitution pretends to include in it, notably the government. But the government tends to act against our interests. Multi-billionaires, by definition, act against our interest. Zinn warned us endlessly of the danger of allowing those in power to use "we" to include us in actions we would otherwise oppose. It's a habit we carry over from sports to wars to economic policies, but the danger of a spectator claiming "we scored!" doesn't rise to the same level as millions of spectators claiming "we liberated Afghanistan."
We like to think of elections as a central, important part of civic life, and as a means of significantly impacting the future. Zinn not only warns against that misperception with incisive historical examples, and with awareness of the value of the struggle for black voting rights in the Southern United States, but he was a part of that struggle and warned against misplaced expectations at the time.
We like to think of history as shaped by important stand-out individuals. We like to think of war as a necessary tool of last resort, as demonstrated by our list of "good wars" which generally includes the U.S. war of independence, the U.S. civil war, and the second world war (debunked by Zinn as 'The Three Holy Wars'). We imagine that political parties are central to our efforts to shape the world, but that civil disobedience is not. We imagine that we often have no power to shape the world, that the forces pushing in other directions are too powerful to be reversed. If you listen to enough Howard Zinn, each of these beliefs ends up looking ludicrous -- even if, in some cases, tragic.
If you haven't had enough Howard Zinn lately (and who has?), there's a new book of his collected speeches just published, called Howard Zinn Speaks. Of course it's just a tiny sampling of his speeches, as he gave innumerable speeches over the years. With one exception, these have been transcribed from speeches given without pre-written remarks. Zinn doesn't have his footnotes in hand. He paraphrases people rather than quoting them. But he also says what he believes to be most needed, what he has thought about most deeply, what pours out of him in ever-changing variation on his one and only theme: We can shape the future if, and only if, we make use of the past.
The speeches collected here are themselves part of the past. There's one from the 1960s, two from the 70s, two from the 80s, four from the 90s, and over half the book from the Bush-Obama years. But the examples Zinn draws on, the stories he tells to make his points, go back for centuries into a past that most Americans only dimly recognize.
Zinn traces the roots of racism and wars through Columbus, slavery, colonialism, and current U.S. wars. "The abolition of war," he says, "is of course an enormous undertaking. But keep in mind that we in the antiwar movement have a powerful ally. Our ally is a truth which even governments addicted to war, profiting from war, must one of these days recognize: that wars are not practical ways of achieving their ends. More and more, in recent history, the most powerful nations find themselves unable to conquer much weaker nations."
Four years ago, Zinn warned: "It is dangerous to look just to Obama. This has been part of our culture, looking to saviors. Saviors will not do it. We cannot depend on the people on top to save us. I hope that people who supported Obama will not simply sit back and wait for him to save us but will understand that they have to do more than this. All of these are limited victories."
In April, 1963, Zinn spoke in similar terms -- if anything even more forthrightly -- of President Kennedy. "This is beyond the South," he said. "Our problem is not basically that Eastland is vicious, but that Kennedy is timid."
Obama Zinn criticized Kennedy for his actions and inactions in 1961 and again in 1963 when the Senate had the opportunity, as it always does, at the beginning of each new session, to change its own rules and do away with the filibuster. Kennedy, Zinn had concluded, wanted to allow the racists to filibuster against civil rights. Echoes of Zinn should be amplified between now and January loudly enough for current senators, and the current president, to hear.
In May of 1971, Zinn said, "It's been a long time since we impeached a president. And it's time, time to impeach a president, and the vice president, and everybody else sitting in high office who carries on this war." In 2003, Zinn said, "There are people around the country calling for Bush's impeachment. Some people think this is a daring thing to say. No, it's in the Constitution. It provides for impeachment. . . . Congress was willing to impeach Nixon for breaking into a building, but they're not willing to impeach Bush for breaking into a country."
"It is true," Zinn says of our endless and perhaps permanent elections hang-up, "that Americans have been voting every few years for Congressmen and presidents. But it is also true that the most important social changes in the history of the United States -- independence from England, Black emancipation, the organization of labor, gains in sexual equality, the outlawing of racial segregation, the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam -- have come about not through the ballot box but through the direct action of social struggle, through the organization of popular movements using a variety of extralegal and illegal tactics. The standard teaching of political science does not describe this reality."
Later (years later) Zinn says, without self-pity: "So if we don't have a press that informs us, we don't have an opposition party to help us, we are left on our own, which actually is a good thing to know. It's a good thing to know we're on our own. It's a good thing to know that you can't depend on people who are not dependable. But if you're on your own, it means you must learn some history, because without history you are lost. Without history, anybody in authority can get up before a microphone and say, 'We've got to go into this country for that reason and for this reason, for liberty, for democracy, the threat.' Anybody can get up before a microphone and tell you anything. And if you have no history, you have no way of checking up on that."
But if you do have history, Zinn says, then you gain the additional advantage of recognizing that "these concentrations of power, at certain points they fall apart. Suddenly, surprisingly. And you find that ultimately they're very fragile. And you find that governments that have said 'we will never do this' end up doing it. 'We will never cut and run.' They said this in Vietnam. We cut and ran in Vietnam. In the South, George Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama: 'Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.' Enormous applause. Two years later, Blacks in Alabama had in the meantime begun to vote and Wallace was going around trying to get Black people to vote for him. The South said never, and things changed."
The more things change . . . the more we need to hear Howard Zinn.
I've been fond of December 1st ever since I was born on it. I later found out that it had been on a December 1st that Rosa Parks had sat down and refused to stand up or move to the back of that racist bus in Montgomery. Later still I found out about a December 1st that had happened still earlier.
It was on December 1, 1948, that President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the military of Costa Rica. He didn't "cut" its projected dream budget by a teeny fraction that sounded bigger if multiplied by 10 and announced as a reduction "over 10 years." He didn't cut it in the ordinary sense of actually cutting it. He abolished it. Costa Rica put its military in a museum and a museum in its military headquarters. It turned its military bases into schools. It turned its military budget into a fund for useful projects. In 1986, President Oscar Arias Sánchez declared December 1st the Día de la Abolición del Ejército (Military Abolition Day).
Without a military, Costa Rica has not been a perfect paradise on earth, but it has avoided invading or being invaded by other countries. It has avoided military coups and civil wars and CIA interventions (although a coup in Honduras in 2009 involved flying the president to Costa Rica).
Costa Rica is not rich, but its people have a higher life expectancy than we do in the United States. Costa Rica provides a social safety net and of course provides everyone healthcare, spending less per capita than we do but providing superior healthcare than is provided by the wealthy United States. Costa Rica is ranked by the Happy Planet Index as the #1 best place to live for happiness. The United States comes in at #150 out of 178. U.S. elections have 50% turnout and somewhere around 98% disgust. Costa Rican elections have 90% turnout and enthusiastic participation. And Costa Rica's way of life is far more sustainable than ours, one of the most sustainable in the world.
It's not a coincidence that our super wealthy country spends as much as all other nations combined on war preparations and ranks pitifully low in measures of health, education, environmentalism, happiness, and well-being. We imagine that without a big military other nations would attack ours. But why would they? Simply because ours frequently attacks others? That's a projection, not an observation.
We imagine that without the largest military ever seen, we couldn't attack other nations for their own good and the good of the world. But the tradeoff we've chosen is not one of sacrificing for the world's safety. If the United States didn't spend $1 trillion every year on war preparation and war, it could spend that money on its own people and the world's. We could have turned Afghanistan into Costa Rica over the past decade. We could have built schools and hospitals and green infrastructure. Does anyone seriously imagine that the people of Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen would hate the U.S. government more if it bought them a better life rather than raining its hated missiles from the sky?
Libertarians in the United States may not want to help the world, or even our own country, but they at least want to stop investing in killing. Liberals, on the other hand, want to keep the war preparations money flowing while taxing millionaires to help pay for it. Every "progressive" group in the United States right now is demanding that we protect what's left of our safety net, tax millionaires and billionaires, and (through careful silence) leave military spending right where it is or where it's headed. Costa Rica has made progress beyond the imagining of our progressives, and it hasn't done so through progressive taxation. Costa Rica has chosen not to make large-scale murder its primary public purpose, or any purpose at all.
In the United States, peace groups sometimes mark the International Day of Peace. But virtually everyone ignores Military Abolition Day. It's time we changed that.
William Blum discusses militarism, politics, and his new book "America's Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About U.S. Foreign Policy and Everything Else."
Total run time: 29:00
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Music by Duke Ellington.
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Henry Kissinger's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize didn't, in the end, eliminate satire from the earth (or peace prizes for war-makers, for that matter). Conceivably, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the lack of impeachment of George W. Bush haven't eliminated presidential impeachment from the Constitution.
I'll grant you, it looks pretty grim. Congress is dominated by the two real branches of the U.S. government: the Democratic and the Republican. Democrats obey Democratic presidents and fear Republican ones. Republicans obey Republican presidents and attack Democratic ones for imaginary nonsense rather than their real abuses. These patterns seem firmly established and locked into escalating feedback loops, as does the unending career of Nancy "impeachment is off the table" Pelosi.
The public, for its part, seems increasingly convinced that presidents should be kings, kings should serve the military, citizens should volunteer for electoral campaigns instead of activist campaigns, and a police state is necessary to protect the freedoms sacrificed to the police state. One-third of the residents of the Home of the Brave now approve of cavity searches prior to airplane travel.
But consider: the U.S. public, unlike Congress, opposed the Clinton impeachment and favored Bush's impeachment -- the latter a rather remarkable finding by pollsters given the general lack of impeachment discussion on corporate television during the Bush years. Many Republicans hate Democratic presidents enough to support their impeachment even for legitimate reasons. And some Democrats could conceivably be brought around to supporting an impeachment that was both Constitutionally solid and allowed them to act like Republicans.
These presidents have faced impeachment or serious attempts at impeachment as lame ducks: Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and -- if we count popular movements blocked decisively by Congress -- George W. Bush. While Barack Obama was just reelected with 51% of the vote, Nixon got 61% and was quickly thrown out on his ear.
And consider this: During the effort to impeach Bush, there was virtually no debate over the validity of the charges against him. Rather, our misrepresentatives in Congress told us that impeaching Bush would give us Cheney or impeaching Cheney would leave us Bush, or impeaching Bush and Cheney would hurt the Democratic Party because the unpopular impeachment of Clinton had supposedly hurt Republicans (never mind the disaster of the Albert "I never met Bill Clinton" Gore presidential campaign). Or, alternatively, we were told there was no point in impeaching Bush when he only had a few years left, or Hillary Clinton was running for president and preferred that impeachment not be mentioned, or the Senate wasn't pre-committed to convicting Bush so there was no requirement for House members to uphold their oaths of office. None of the debate actually disputed that Bush was clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors -- that is, severe abuses of power.
Now here's the interesting part: Obama has expanded upon those abuses.
In fact, if Bush had been known to keep a secret list of men, women, and children, American and foreign, to be killed, and had routinely killed them, support for his impeachment would not have been the bare majority it was but almost certainly a good deal higher and a greater priority.
We were told, when we tried to impeach Bush and Cheney, that we simply hated those men. No, we replied, we want to prevent the precedent that will make the next men or women worse -- guaranteed. That our gloomy prediction has proved right ought to constitute grounds for being taken seriously now when we say that further failure to impeach will result in still worse abuses to come. The simple and obvious, but almost universally uncomprehended, point is not that Joe Biden or Mitt Romney or anyone else is a better human being than Barack Obama. The point is that a President Biden entering office following the impeachment and removal of his predecessor for particular crimes and abuses would be less likely to engage in those crimes and abuses, as would other presidents to come.
President Obama has developed an assassination program, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, targeting men, women, and children, but overwhelmingly killing non-targeted victims who happened to be in the wrong place. He has launched a war on Libya, facilitated a war on Syria, sent so-called special forces and drones and missiles into numerous sovereign nations, threatened war on Iran, and given war-making powers to the CIA in violation of Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the War Powers Resolution, and the United Nations Charter. President Obama has seized the power to imprison without charge or trial in violation of Article I, Section 9 and the Forth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments. He has claimed the power to torture and directed the Attorney General not to prosecute the crime of torture, in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. He has engaged in widespread warrantless spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has escalated a war in Afghanistan and built permanent military bases there. He has selectively revealed classified information, even while falsely and vindictively prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, and while holding accused whistleblower Bradley Manning in cruel and inhuman conditions for over two years prior to any trial. President Obama has abused claims of state secrets to block judicial review of government abuses. He has created secret laws through the Office of Legal Counsel. He has announced his intent to violate laws with signing statements.
A full collection of what would in previous decades have been considered obvious impeachable offenses would run for pages. Standards have changed. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, Nixon's abuses have now been legalized. But can a president or a secret office or a corrupted Congress legalize what is unconstitutional? Clearly the answer is yes, if we let them.
Brian Terrell is headed to prison at the end of this month for having nonviolently protested drone wars. Brian is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He discusses the immorality of drone wars and the protest and trial that have led to his incarceration.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
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Remarks to the Marin Peace & Justice Coalition, Social Justice Center of Marin, and Community Media Center of Marin, Armistice Day 2012.
Most members of our species that have lived on this earth have never known war. Most societies that have developed war have later abandoned it. While there's always war somewhere, there are always many somewheres without war. War deprivation, the prolonged absence of war, has never given a single person post traumatic stress disorder. Most nations that participate in wars do so under duress as members of coalitions of the willing but not the eager. Most nations that engage in wars refuse to use particularly awful weapons and tactics. Most incidents that are used to spark wars are identical to other incidents not used to spark wars. War making does not increase with population density, resource scarcity, testosterone, or the election of Republicans. War making is, like all forms of violence, on the decline globally, even as the Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World develops a permanent war economy and gives war powers to temporary despots or 4-year kings.
Today we celebrate Armistice Day, a moment of tremendous opposition to war -- opposition that built understanding and structures to prevent war, structures that failed once and only once as regards wars like World War I, wars among the wealthy well-armed and white nations of the world. That the rich nations continue to wage racist and exploitative wars against the poor nations doesn't erase the fact that Europe stopped attacking itself until Yugoslavia became an opportunity for NATO. Soldiers in the U.S. civil war and drone pilots would not recognize each other as engaged in the same enterprise. There is no central core to war that homo sapiens are obliged to continue by their genes. We can choose not to eat, drink, sleep, have sex, or breathe. The notion that we can't choose to refrain from something as complex and laborious as war is just incoherent.
That Europeans only attack poor people is not, of course, grounds to give the European Union a Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, indeed, it is a little-acknowledged feat of miraculous life-saving power that Europe has not gone to war with itself -- other than that whole Yugoslavia thing -- since World War II. It's as clear a demonstration as anything that people can choose to stop fighting. It's a testament to the pre-war peace efforts that criminalized war, the post-war prosecutions of the brand new crime of making war, the reconstruction of the Marshall Plan, and ... and something else a little less noble, and much less Nobel-worthy.
Alfred Nobel's will, written in 1895, left funding for a prize to be awarded to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Fredrik Heffermehl has been leading a valuable effort to compel the Nobel committee to abide by the will. Now they've outdone themselves in their movement in the other direction.
Europe is not a person. It has not during the past year -- which is the requirement -- or even during the past several decades done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations. Ask Libya. Ask Syria. Check with Afghanistan. See what Iraq thinks. Far from doing the best work to abolish or reduce standing armies, Europe has joined with the United States in developing an armed global force aggressively imposing its will on the world. The Nobel prize money will not fund Europe's supposed disarmement work remotely as much as Europe could fund itself by simply buying fewer armaments.
There were good nominees and potential nominees available, even great ones, including a young man named Bradley Manning. In fact, I happen to believe a truly qualified nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize next year would be Medea Benjamin.
Now, instead of moving in that direction, the Nobelites have almost guaranteed themselves a second-ever pro-war peace-prize acceptance speech. If you don't recall who gave the first one, I'll give you a clue. If he were a Republican we'd all have posters and bumper stickers denouncing him for it.
Was Nobel asking so much really when he asked that a prize go to whoever did the best work toward abolishing war?
Was Carnegie asking so much when he required that his endowment work to eliminate war?
Is it asking too much today for our so-called progressive movement to address the spending of over half of federal discretionary dollars on preparations for the criminal act of war?
Ninety-four years ago today, on the original Armistice Day in 1918, much of the world ended a four-year war that served no useful purpose whatsoever while costing the lives of some 10 million soldiers, 6 million civilians, 21 million soldiers wounded, an outbreak of Spanish influenza that took another 100 million lives, environmental destruction that is ongoing today, the development of new weapons—including chemical weapons—still used today, huge leaps forward in the art of propaganda still plagiarized today, huge setbacks in the struggle for economic justice, and a culture more militarized, more focused on stupid ideas like banning alcohol, and more ready to restrict civil liberties in the name of nationalism, and all for the bargain price, as one author calculated it at the time, of enough money to have given a $2,500 home with $1,000 worth of furniture and five acres of land to every family in Russia, most of the European nations, Canada, the United States, and Australia, plus enough to give every city of over 20,000 a $2 million library, a $3 million hospital, a $20 million college, and still enough left over to buy every piece of property in Germany and Belgium. And it was all legal. Incredibly stupid, but totally legal. Particular atrocities violated laws, but war was not criminal. It never had been, but it soon would be.
A powerful movement would ban war in 1928 in a treaty still on the books and to which 81 countries are now party. In 1935, the New York Herald-Tribune's Institute of Public Opinion found that 75% of voters wanted a public referendum before any war could be launched, and 71% opposed joining in any war with other countries to "enforce the peace." That's not just a quantitative difference from today. Our great grandparents were able to think of war very differently. They'd ended blood feuds and duelling and other barbaric habits. War was to be next. It was mass murder. The problem wasn't butchering or urinating on corpses. You couldn't clean that up and make war OK. The problem was the creation of the corpses. War was to be abolished, and not just bad wars and aggressive wars. All wars. They didn't keep defensive duelling around. There was no humanitarian duelling. War needed to be set behind us.
In this militarized nation that has essentially never ended World War II, never left Germany or Japan, never undone the taxes and the spending, never stopped seeking out uses and customers for weaponry, we've lost track of the campaign to abolish war and of the steps already taken on that path. As war evolves to minimize further the deaths of the aggressing army, while continuing to kill foreigners (and even occasional U.S. citizens made to seem frighteningly foreign) war is ironically coming to resemble more closely in the minds of many what it has always been: murder. An assassination program is a form of war no more or less moral or dangerous or controllable or legal than any other form of war. But it may bring home to people that war is not a sport, that war is the killing of men, women, and children in their homes at such expense that we could instead have bought new homes for them and all their neighbors.
We should remember at a time like this that when the slightly less funded of two corporate funded candidates wins, we don't win. President Obama publicly and illegally instructed the Attorney General not to prosecute the CIA for torture. We accepted that. Obama told environmental groups not to speak of climate change and most of them obeyed. Obama told unions not to say "single payer" and they didn't. The peace movement spent the first Obama year muttering about how it was too early, the second worrying about the midterm elections, the third trying to focus the Occupy Movement on our collective antagonists, and the fourth being scared of Mitt Romney. Now we're being told we must not demand military spending cuts or the prosecution of war crimes or the immediate withdrawal of forces abroad. Progressive groups want to pretend to take a stand on Social Security and Medicare before caving. And their opening pretense doesn't even touch military spending.
It's our job to add that to the conversation. It's our job to focus our friends and neighbors on the fact that our money and our names are being used to kill, and that there is nothing necessary about it. War is waged by a particular type of nation. War is waged by a nation that accepts the waging of war. That acceptance needs to end now.
Remarks at the biennial general meeting of the War and Law League in San Francisco on Armistice Day 2012.
I'll try briefly to make five points.
First, there are clear laws on the books that make U.S. wars unlawful, along with U.S. threats of war and U.S. propaganda for war. The laws are either forgotten, ignored, evaded, or cleverly reinterpreted to reverse their meaning. But they could be enforced someday.
Second, U.S. wars are evolving in ways that make them violate additional laws without bringing them into compliance with any of the laws already violated.
Third, participants in U.S. wars face occasional prosecution at home or abroad for their specific actions, although those actions do not stray from the basic purpose of the wars.
Fourth, other nations are prosecuted for or would be prosecuted if they attempted the same behavior engaged in by the United States.
And Fifth, U.S. wars are launched and conducted by officials elected in an illegitimate system dominated by open bribery.
On the original Armistice Day in 1918, much of the world ended a four-year war that served no useful purpose whatsoever while costing the lives of some 10 million soldiers, 6 million civilians, 21 million soldiers wounded, an outbreak of Spanish influenza that took another 100 million lives, environmental destruction that is ongoing today, the development of new weapons -- including chemical weapons -- still used today, huge leaps forward in the art of propaganda still plagiarized today, huge setbacks in the struggle for economic justice, and a culture more militarized, more focused on stupid ideas like banning alcohol, and more ready to restrict civil liberties in the name of nationalism, and all for the bargain price, as one author calculated it, of enough money to have given a $2,500 home with $1,000 worth of furniture and five acres of land to every family in Russia, most of the European nations, Canada, the United States, and Australia, plus enough to give every city of over 20,000 a $2 million library, a $3 million hospital, a $20 million college, and still enough left over to buy every piece of property in Germany and Belgium. And it was all legal. Incredibly stupid, but totally legal. Particular atrocities violated laws, but war was not criminal.
The Outlawry Movement of the 1920s -- the movement to outlaw war -- sought to replace war with arbitration, by first banning war and then developing a code of international law and a court with the authority to settle disputes. The first step was taken in 1928 with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which banned all war. Today 81 nations are party to that treaty, including ours, and many of them comply with it. I'd like to see additional nations, poorer nations that were left out of the treaty, join it (which they can do simply by stating that intention) and then urge the greatest purveyor of violence in the world to comply.
It's easier to comply with the U.N. Charter because of the two big loopholes it opened up, allowing wars that are either defensive or simply U.N. approved. As you know, the United States fights wars against unarmed impoverished nations halfway around the planet and calls them defensive. The U.S. fights wars never approved of by the U.N. and claims that they were. When the United States chose never to end World War II, never to demilitarize, de-tax, or de-mobilize, when the U.N. Charter, NATO, the Geneva Conventions, and the CIA made war normal and supposedly civilized it, we lost the ability to think of abolition, or even to award Nobel prizes to those who worked for it. However, the U.N. Charter made threatening war illegal, and while the Kellogg-Briand Pact is forgotten, the U.N. Charter must be intentionally ignored, as the United States is constantly threatening wars.
There has been an International Criminal Court for 10 years now, but it only prosecutes particular atrocities, and only those committed by Africans. The idea seems to be that African war makers should get civilized and learn to melt the skin off children and radiate neighborhoods and burn down houses the way the enlightened war makers do. The ICC is years away from possibly prosecuting the crime of making war, and then only for nations that have chosen to subject themselves to its authority, only in cases approved of by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and only in cases of aggressive war (as if there were some other kind).
Since 1976, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has made war propaganda illegal. The argument that our First-Amendment right to freedom of the press and of speech overrides this is severely weakened, I think, by the fact that our major media outlets routinely shut out the viewpoints of the vast majority of us, to the point where people holding majority opinions on most political questions can be expected to believe they are part of a small minority. If we had freedom of the press we would have the ability to effectively counter war propaganda. As it is, we largely lack that freedom, and war propaganda is so pervasive we barely recognize it.
The U.S. Constitution not only makes treaties, along with itself, the supreme law of the land. It also requires that Congress pass a declaration of war. We haven't had one since 1941. Congress is to decide on lesser military actions that might not count as war. Congress is to raise armies as needed, but not to fund them for longer than two years. Most wars in history have lasted less than two years -- a fact worth considering as we credit Obama with supposedly ending a war in Afghanistan over the next two (or is it 12?) years. The War Powers Act legislated exceptions to the Constitution, allowing presidents to launch wars or other military actions for short periods of time prior to gaining Congressional authorization. The authorizations to use force that preceded the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq went even further, handing presidents the power to declare wars -- which is why even the one for Iraq has never been repealed despite the announcement of that war's end. Obama's lawyer Harold Koh famously told Congress that attacking Libya was neither war nor hostilities (the language the War Powers Act used to include all military actions).
So-called "special" forces, the CIA, and our brave drones are engaged in military action in dozens of nations, none defensively or U.N. authorized, none in a manner that escapes the Kellogg-Briand Pact, none with a Constitutional declaration, many without any sort of authorization from Congress, most without the knowledge of Congress. Civil cases brought against U.S. military actions are shut down by claims of secret powers, or authorized by secret laws that we are not permitted to read, including secret sections of the PATRIOT Act, which we must comply with without seeing. Obama famously announced that he would review all of Bush's secret laws in the form of memos from the Office of Legal Counsel, but never announced the results of that review, what all the laws were, which were kept, which tossed, what new ones added, or what would prevent the next president from reworking all of that. While Constitutionally, Congress is required to make every law, the Congressional Research Service has been reduced to speculating on what sort of twisted logic the White House could use to make something like its assassination program look legal, were the White House inclined to bother.
While many have continued, even after the 1928 ban on war as mass murder, to think of war as an exception to the ban on murder, U.S. wars are now evolving to more closely resemble most people's conception of what murder looks like. Balanced against that is, of course, the power of racism and xenophobia. War techniques that supposedly reduce the murders of U.S. troops are acceptable to those who don't mind murdering the other 95% of humanity. But drones and night raids and other assassinations don't escape the ban on war, they simply add to their criminality by violating prohibitions on assassination. Nor do they fall under the protection of the barbaric U.S. laws of capital punishment. Drones provide no charges, trials, or due process. Our government has intentionally avoided arresting a 16-year-old boy in Pakistan, only to target and murder him with a drone when he tried to film the damage done by earlier drone strikes. This is not law enforcement, but lawless force.
On May 4th, the Congressional Research Service released a memo that attempted to guess at how drone killings of U.S. citizens or other mere humans geographically far removed from other warfare, not engaged in warfare on behalf of any nation, and residing in independent sovereign nations could be legal. According to the New York Times there is a secret memo from the Office of Legal Counsel that concludes, rather as John Yoo and Jay Bybee concluded that torture is not torture, that murder is not murder. But even Congress is not allowed to see the memo, so the Congressional Research Service was reduced to guessing what could be in it. Yet, the CRS was unable to guess anything clearly coherent. And the incoherence of the various public comments from the White House obscures the fact that the victims are not all suspected of plotting attacks on the United States. Most of the victims are simply innocent people in the wrong place. Others are targeted without so much as knowing their names, based on behavior that supposedly suggests, not that they are attacking the United States, but that they are aligned with those defending a foreign nation against U.S. attack. And that's not counting the children and adults traumatized by the threatening buzz overhead. The U.N. special Rapporteur has called drone strikes extrajudicial killing. The U.S. response was that it was none of his business.
You know whose business it is? It's the big business of some major campaign funders / job creators. Of course, military spending creates fewer jobs than any other kind of spending, but they are jobs easily eliminated. At one Congressional hearing not long ago, the Director of National Intelligence was asked what foreign nation might attack the United States, and he was unable to name one. War that is limited to nations, rather than individuals, is not good for business. Generating hostility abroad is. So is arming foreign groups and dictatorships. The U.S. sells 85% of international weapons sales, much of that also illegal, and all of it immoral. With no cover of law, Obama is arming Syrian terrorists, training Iranian terrorists, engaging in cyber attacks, and imposing what he calls so proudly crippling sanctions, all arguably illegal acts of war.
The UK Attorney General has decided that attacking Iran would be illegal. Top Israeli officials, according to one view of events that occurred two years ago, have refused orders to prepare an attack on Iran, in part because of the illegality. Yet, the United States continues to threaten Iran, to lie about Iran, to propagandize for war, to prepare for war, to arm Israel at our expense, and to protect Israel from any consequences for its crimes. At best, the United States has reached the conclusion that attacking Iran would be wrong if a Republican did it. After years of refusing, U.S. residents now tell pollsters they favor an attack on Iran, and -- not coincidentally -- that they now believe the lies about Iran that the U.S. government had been peddling for years unsuccessfully.
And the law be damned. The United States now allows spying without a warrant, imprisonment without a trial, rendition, torture, and murder. And that's for U.S. citizens, the people we supposedly slaughter the world to protect. Bahrain, that good human-rights-loving friend of the U.S. Navy, recently stripped protesters of citizenship. Apparently Bahrain didn't get the memo on how to strip citizens of all their rights.
Bradley Manning, tortured and held for years without a trial, and at risk as are other whistleblowers now of the hideous thing we call the death penalty, is trying to take a plea bargain, pleading to the crime of blowing the whistle on murder. The government is not eager to take the deal because Obama and gang have bigger fish to fry, hoping to prosecute Wikileaks for journalism. Manning's struggle, and that of every whistleblower and of every person who refuses illegal orders, is our struggle.
So are the legal struggles in courts of law still interested in the law. In Turkey, Israelis are being prosecuted in absentia for the murder of those trying to bring aid to Gaza. In Italy, two dozen CIA agents have been convicted in absentia for kidnapping a man to torture him. In the U.S. we've seen occasional court martials of low-ranking soldiers accused of torture, rape, murder, or -- oddly enough -- mistreatment of corpses they've murdered in an acceptable manner.
The last time Barack Obama was elected president, his transition team asked for proposals to be voted on through their website. The top vote getter was this:
“Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor – ideally Patrick Fitzgerald – to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”
Obama refused to answer the question. The dean of the University of California at Berkeley Law School Christopher Edley, Jr., said that he'd been party to very high level discussions and Obama's transition team had decided that the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt, and that Republicans would retaliate by blocking every piece of legislation. Wow, wouldn't that have been different? Now the question isn't even asked, and John Conyer's threat to impeach a president who attacked Iran is universally understood not to apply to Democrats.
We should remember at a time like this that when the slightly less funded of two corporate funded candidates wins, we don't. Obama publicly and illegally instructed the Attorney General not to prosecute the CIA for torture. We accepted that. Obama told environmental groups not to talk about climate change. Most of them obeyed. Obama told unions not to say "single payer" and they didn't. Now we're being told we must not demand military spending cuts or the prosecution of war crimes or the immediate withdrawal of forces abroad.
I propose that we pledge instead to protest and vote against and consider the impeachment of (I've listed plenty of grounds for that already) anyone in Congress or the White House who gives an inch on protecting Social Security and Medicare, who votes for current levels of military spending or anything above 75% of current levels, or who fails to oppose wars or to act against climate change. No more honey moons. No more veal pens in which the public servants tell the public organizations how to serve them. And no more promises to vote for you no matter what you do to us or to our brothers and sisters around the world. We need to use noviolent action not only to end war but also to provide an alternative path for our young people who might otherwise sign up to kill and die. Nonviolence requires more bravery, more commitment, more morality, and is far more satisfying than joining the war machine. The Declaration of Independence says we have the right to institute new government. It's getting to be about that time.
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznik have produced a phenomenally great book of U.S. history, and an accompanying television series premiering on Showtime on Monday. Having just read half the book and having watched an advance copy of the first episode, my conclusion is that the book is dramatically better than the TV show, but that both are at the top of what's available in their respective genres.
The Untold History of the United States is not people's history in the sense of telling the stories of popular movements. This is very much top-down history dominated by key figures in power. But it is honest history that tears through myths and presents a reality not expected by most Americans -- and backs it up with well-documented facts.
This is a history that focuses on foreign policy, and -- at least in the book -- begins with World War I. No book can include everything one might have liked to see included, but this one is a terrific sampling of things I've wished were told more often and things I never knew before. Some will call it a depressing tale lacking "all the good things the United States has done too." I call it a refreshingly honest tale aimed at improving our conduct going forward. I also come away with a deep sense of gratitude that -- for the moment anyway -- our society is still around at all. After considering the steps that certain presidents and scientists have taken to destroy life as we know it, one has to be amazed we're still here. Truman and Eisenhower figure prominently, and I believe that I have found in these authors a couple of men who might just agree with me that Harry Truman is the worst president we've ever seen. They certainly make that case quite powerfully.
The book is excellent on World War I and on the New Deal, as well as on forbidden topics like the Wall Street Putsch of 1934 or the Nye Committee hearings on war profiteering. The section on the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan is the best I've seen. The history of the Cold War and who started it is invaluable. The authors take on McCarthyism, the Eisenhower presidency, the Mossadeq overthrow, the Guzman overthrow, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and numerous other topics with great skill and insight -- and careful research.
The Kennedy assassination, which Stone has famously dramatized on film before, gets a mere two paragraphs. The discussion of the formation of Israel leaves much to be desired, but at least it's there. The Korean War account is incomplete to say the least, as is the discussion of moves to impeach Truman -- for which there were motives the authors don't touch on. But this is quibbling. I would love for everyone to read this book, and I'll read the second half on Monday.
The book's take on World War II is far superior to that of the television show's first episode. The episodes don't line up with the chapters, and so -- for whatever reason -- the TV viewers begin in World War II, not World War I. The book has more useful material than the film and is lacking some material the film ought to have left out too. The authors are very much in favor of U.S. entry into the war and wish it had come earlier. They claim that Pearl Harbor was a surprise and reject claims that it was "abetted" by the U.S. government. But who claims that? Many have well documented that it was expected and in a certain sense desired by the Roosevelt White House. But Stone and Kuznick's account makes crystal clear Roosevelt's desire for some such war-beginning incident, and their general account of the war is miles above any taught in any U.S. school I've ever seen. (Kuznik teaches at American University, so students might consider enrolling there.)
The TV episode on WWII lacks background and context that the book provides in various chapters. The bulk of it is standard history of supposed forces at work and intentions acted on. The "untold" bits include Truman's racist murderousness, and a particular focus on the starring role the Soviet Union played in "winning" the war. If Episode I serves to ease viewers into the fact-based reality being presented in "The Untold History," I'm all for it. I suspect, however, that some of the other episodes that I haven't yet had time to watch will be far more engaging and exciting, as well as controversial -- or because controversial. The episode on the dropping of the nuclear bombs might be the one to start your viewing with. Or, if you really want to take my strongest advice: read the book!
Remarks at the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center on November 10, 2012.
Thank you to Sergio for inviting me and helping set up this little trip I'm on.
Before I forget, tomorrow is Armistice Day, so we'll be celebrating by dying in front of Senator Feinstein's house at 10 a.m. at Vallejo & Lyon Streets before walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Please come. And at 1:30 Medea Benjamin and Cindy Sheehan and I will be speaking on the question of whether U.S. wars are legal at the main public library in San Francisco. We can talk about that question today, if you want, but I won't make it the main focus of my opening remarks.
Ninety-four years ago tomorrow on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, fighting ceased in the "war to end all wars." Thirty million soldiers had been killed or wounded and another seven million had been taken captive during World War I. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter, with tens of thousands falling in a day to machine guns and poison gas. After the war, more and more truth began to overtake the lies, but whether people still believed or now resented the pro-war propaganda, virtually every person in the United States wanted to see no more of war ever again. Posters of Jesus shooting at Germans were left behind as the churches along with everyone else now said that war was wrong. Al Jolson wrote in 1920 to President Harding:
"The weary world is waiting for
So take away the gun
From every mother's son
And put an end to war."
Congress passed an Armistice Day resolution calling for "exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding … inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples." Later, Congress added that November 11th was to be "a day dedicated to the cause of world peace."
While the ending of warfare was celebrated every November 11th, veterans were treated no better than they are today. When 17,000 veterans plus their families and friends marched on Washington in 1932 to demand their bonuses, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, and other heroes of the next big war to come attacked the veterans, including by engaging in that greatest of evils with which Saddam Hussein would be endlessly charged: "using chemical weapons on their own people." The weapons they used, just like Hussein's, originated in the U.S. of A.
It was only after another war, an even worse war, a war that has in many ways never ended to this day, that Congress, following still another now forgotten war -- this one on Korea -- changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day on June 1, 1954. And it was six-and-a-half years later that Eisenhower warned us that the military industrial complex would completely corrupt our society. Veterans Day is no longer, for most people, a day to cheer the elimination of war or even to aspire to its abolition. Veterans Day is not even a day on which to mourn or to question why suicide is the top killer of U.S. troops or why so many veterans have no houses at all in a nation in which one high-tech robber baron monopolist is hoarding $66 billion, and 400 of his closest friends have more money than half the country. It's not even a day to honestly, if sadistically, celebrate the fact that virtually all the victims of U.S. wars are non-Americans, that our so-called wars have become one-sided slaughters. Instead, it is a day on which to believe that war is beautiful and good. Towns and cities and corporations and sports leagues call it "military appreciation day" or "troop appreciation week" or "genocide glorification month." OK, I made up that last one. Just checking if you're paying attention.
This year, Veterans For Peace is celebrating Armistice Day in over 50 cities, including by ringing bells at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Up in Auburn, Washington, however, Veterans For Peace Chapter 92 was been banned from marching in the Veterans Day Parade today. Auburn said that other applicants more closely met the parade's goals and purpose. Among the applicants accepted were a motorcycle club, a Corvette club, the Optimists and Kiwanis International, the Sons of Italy, and a Daffodil Festival float. Veterans For Peace was too off-topic. But VFP and the ACLU sued and won, so Vets For Peace 92 is marching.
Veterans For Peace president Leah Bolger had remarked: "Look at the choice that Auburn is setting up for people who have seen war for themselves. Either play along with the deadly lie that war is good and glorious, or be banished from the community and excluded from public events. Imagine the position that puts people in who know that, as Ben Franklin said, there has never been a good war or a bad peace. We should honor their courage in saying so, not deny them First Amendment rights that our highest courts now tell us even corporations can claim!"
On the original Armistice Day in 1918, much of the world ended a four-year war that served no useful purpose whatsoever while costing the lives of some 10 million soldiers, 6 million civilians, 21 million soldiers wounded, an outbreak of Spanish influenza that took another 100 million lives, environmental destruction that is ongoing today, the development of new weapons—including chemical weapons—still used today, huge leaps forward in the art of propaganda still plagiarized today, huge setbacks in the struggle for economic justice, and a culture more militarized, more focused on stupid ideas like banning alcohol, and more ready to restrict civil liberties in the name of nationalism, and all for the bargain price, as one author calculated it at the time, of enough money to have given a $2,500 home with $1,000 worth of furniture and five acres of land to every family in Russia, most of the European nations, Canada, the United States, and Australia, plus enough to give every city of over 20,000 a $2 million library, a $3 million hospital, a $20 million college, and still enough left over to buy every piece of property in Germany and Belgium. And it was all legal. Incredibly stupid, but totally legal. Particular atrocities violated laws, but war was not criminal. It never had been, but it soon would be.
One of the soldiers who died in World War I was a young British man named Wilfred Owen. Ninety-four years ago last Sunday he was shot and killed. The news of his death reached his parents home in England as the Armistice bells were ringing 94 years ago tomorrow. When the war had begun, many fools were fond of quoting an old Latin saying: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, meaning, "it is sweet and right to die for your country." During the war, Owen wrote a poem about how sweet and right it was to suffer from poison gas for no apparent purpose. I'm sure you've heard it, but I think it could be well directed to most U.S. corporate media outlets in business today, so if you don't mind, it went like this:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
And it's not as if nobody knew. It's not as if wars have to be fought in order to learn each time that war is hell. It's not as if each new type of weaponry suddenly makes war evil. It's not as if war wasn't already the worst thing every created. It's not as if people didn't say so, didn't resist, didn't propose alternatives, didn't go to prison for their convictions.
In 1915, Jane Addams met with President Wilson and urged him to offer mediation to Europe. Wilson praised the peace terms drafted by a conference of women for peace held in the Hague. He received 10,000 telegrams from women asking him to act. Historians believe that had he acted in 1915 or early in 1916 he might very well have helped bring the Great War to an end under circumstances that would have furthered a far more durable peace than the one made eventually at Versailles. Wilson did act on the advice of Addams, and of his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, but not until it was too late. The Germans did not trust a mediator who had been aiding the British war effort. Wilson was left to campaign for reelection on a platform of peace and then quickly propagandize and plunge the United States into Europe's war. And the number of progressives Wilson brought, at least briefly, to the side of loving war makes Obama look like an amateur.
It was not a new story. From 1856 to 1860 Elihu Burritt had promoted a plan to prevent civil war through compensated emancipation, or the purchase and liberation of slaves by the government, an example that the English had set in the West Indies. Burritt traveled constantly, speaking all over the country. He organized a mass convention that was held in Cleveland. He lined up prominent supporters. He edited newsletters. And he was right. England had freed its slaves in the Caribbean without a war. Russia had freed its serfs without a war. Slave owners in the U.S. South would almost certainly have preferred a pile of money to five years of hell, the deaths of loved ones, the burning and destruction of their property, and the uncompensated emancipation that followed, not to mention the century and a half of bitter resentment that followed that. And not only the slave owners would have preferred the way of peace; it's not as if they did the killing and dying. What does being right get you? Forgotten. Who's ever heard of Elihu Burritt?
But the victories are as forgotten as the failures, and that's probably what hurts us the most. The Outlawry Movement of the 1920s—the movement to outlaw war—sought to replace war with arbitration, by first banning war and then developing a code of international law and a court with the authority to settle disputes. The first step was taken in 1928 with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which banned all war. Today 81 nations are party to that treaty, including ours, and many of them comply with it. I'd like to see additional nations, poorer nations that were left out of the treaty, join it (which they can do simply by stating that intention) and then urge the greatest purveyor of violence in the world to comply.
I wrote a book about the movement that created that treaty, not just because we need to continue its work, but also because we can learn from its methods. Here was a movement that united people across the political spectrum, those for and against alcohol, those for and against the League of Nations, with a proposal to criminalize war. It was an uncomfortably large coalition. There were negotiations and peace pacts between rival factions of the peace movement. There was a moral case made that expected the best of people. War wasn't opposed merely on economic grounds or because it might kill people from our own country. It was opposed as mass murder, as no less barbaric than duelling as a means of settling individuals' disputes. Here was a movement with a long-term vision based on educating and organizing. There was an endless hurricane of lobbying, but no endorsing of politicians, no aligning of a movement behind a party. On the contrary, all four -- yes, four -- major parties were compelled to line up behind the movement. Instead of Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, the Republican National Convention of 1924 saw President Coolidge promising to outlaw war if reelected.
And on August 27, 1928, in Paris, France, that scene happened that made it into a 1950s folk song as a mighty room filled with men, and the papers they were signing said they'd never fight again. And it was men, women were outside protesting. And it was a pact among wealthy nations that nonetheless would continue making war on and colonizing the poor. But it was a pact for peace that ended wars and ended the acceptance of territorial gains made through wars, except in Palestine. It was a treaty that still required a body of law and an international court that we still do not have. But it was a treaty that in 85 years those wealthy nations would, in relation to each other, violate only once. Following World War II, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was used to prosecute victor's justice. And the big armed nations never went to war with each other again, yet. And so, the pact is generally considered to have failed. Imagine if we banned bribery, and the next year threw Sheldon Adelson in prison, and nobody ever bribed again. Would we declare the law a failure, throw it out, and declare bribery henceforth legal as a matter of natural inevitability? Why should war be different? We can and must be rid of war, and therefore incidentally we can and must be rid of bribery, or -- excuse me -- campaign contributions.
Activists in St. Paul, where Secretary of State Kellogg was from, and Chicago, where Salmon Levinson who led the movement for Outlawry was from, are working on getting their cities to make August 27th a holiday for peace. In the meantime, we need to reclaim Armistice Day and Mother's Day and Martin Luther King day, as well as the International Day of Peace, because we're up against Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Yellow Ribbon Day, Patriots Day, Independence Day, Flag Day, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Military Spouses Appreciation Day, the Iraq Afghanistan Wars Holiday, and dozens of others for every day of the year -- and this time I didn't make any of those up.
World War II changed everything, has never ended, and needs to be ended by us before we are ended by it. The horror and costs of World War II make World War I look like child's play. And yet the response of the nation has not been to radically expand the campaign to abolish war. Instead we've allowed war to become so much our new "normalcy" that we can't distinguish between war time and peace time anymore, and abuses justified by war time are justified for all time now.
On August 14, 1941, the military brought before the Senate plans to build a permanent building that would be the largest office building in the world and would be called the Pentagon. Senator Arthur Vandenberg asked for an explanation: "Unless the war is to be permanent, why must we have permanent accommodations for war facilities of such size?" Then he began to catch on: "Or is the war to be permanent?" he asked.
We weren't supposed to have standing armies, much less armies standing in everyone else's countries, much less armies fighting wars over the control of fuels that destroy the planet and armies that themselves consume the greatest quantity of those fuels, even though the armies lose all the wars. Before the Nobel Peace Prize was handed out to war makers, it was intended for those who had done the best work of removing standing armies from the world. World War II changed everything.
We never went back to pre-WWII taxes or pre-WWII military or pre-WWII restraint in foreign empire or pre-WWII respect for civil liberties or pre-WWII notions of who deserved a Nobel Peace Prize. We saw advances in civil rights for minorities, including the right to vote, but we saw the virtual elimination of any way to elect anti-war candidates.
We never saw another declaration of war from Congress, but we never stopped using those of 1941, never left Germany, never left Japan, never dismantled the Pentagon. Instead, as William Blum documents in his remarkable new book, "America's Deadliest Export: Democracy," since the supposed end of WWII, the United States has tried to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of them democratically elected; interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries; attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders; dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries; and attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 nations.
Oh, but we meant well, and we mean well. Absolutely not so. There's no "we" involved here. The U.S. government meant and means global domination, nothing else. And yet, even foreigners buy the U.S. snake oil. Gaddafi thought he could please Washington and be spared. So did the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein. When Hugo Chavez heard about the coup planned against him in 2002, he sent a representative to Washington to plead his case. The coup went ahead just the same. Subcomandante Marcos believed Washington would support the Zapatistas once it understood who they were. Ho Chi Minh had seen behind the curtain when Woodrow Wilson was president; World War II didn't change quite everything. Maurice Bishop of Grenada, Cheddi Jagan of British Guyana, and the foreign minister of Guatemala appealed to Washington for peace before the Pentagon overthrew their governments. "We" don't mean well when we threaten war on Iran any more than we meant well when "we" overthrew Iran's government in 1953. The U.S. government has the very same agenda it had in 1953 because it is still engaged in the very same war, the war without end.
At the very moment of supreme moral pretense in 1946, as the United States was leading the prosecution of Nazi war crimes including the crime of war, and killing the Nazis found guilty, at the very moment when Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson was declaring that those who sat in judgment at Nuremberg would be subject to the same standard of law, the United States was giving Guatemalans syphilis to see what would happen to them, and importing Nazi scientists by the dozen to work for the Pentagon. The war to save 6 million Jews that in reality condemned them and 60 million others to death, the war of innocence that followed the arming of the Chinese and the British, and before that the arming of the Nazis and Japanese, the war against empire that in reality spread the largest empire the earth has known, the war against inhumanity that in reality developed and used the greatest weapons ever directed against humans: that war wasn't a triumph; it IS a triumph. It has never ended. We've never stopped making our children pledge allegiance like little fascists. We've never stopped dumping our money into the complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us would exert total influence over our society. We've never stopped to consider whether attacks on a finite planet must end someday. Truman showed Stalin a couple of bombs, and the flags haven't stopped waving yet.
The Marshall Plan was a plan for domination—smarter and more skillful domination than some other attempts—but still domination. U.S. capitalist control was the highest purpose. Sabotage of leftist political gains was the primary approach. It's never changed. Dictators that play along have "our" full support. Don't go looking for "humanitarian" attacks by NATO in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Jordan or UAE or Qatar or Kuwait or Yemen, any more than Obama was willing to turn against Ben Ali or Mubarak or Gadaffi or Assad until doing so appeared strategic for the pursuit of global domination. The United States does not intervene. It never intervenes. It is incapable of intervening. This is because it is already intervened everywhere. What it calls intervening is actually switching sides.
The branches are blurring. The military, CIA, State Department, and Drug Enforcement Agency are becoming a team that operates in secret at the behest of the President. The Pentagon now has its own "intelligence" agency, while the State Department has its own office of proxy war making. U.S. Special Forces are active in 70 nations on any given day, on behalf of the President, without the authorization of Congress, and in the name of the uninformed people of the United States. The "special" forces, operating under the acronyms SOCOM and JSOC, are no longer special for being smaller. They're special for having the power to operate in greater secrecy and without the apparent limitation of any laws whatsoever.
Remember that raid that killed Osama bin Laden? Yay! Hurray! Whooo Hooo! Murder is sooooooo cool. But did you know that soldiers working for you do at least a dozen such raids somewhere in the world on any given night? Are you confident that everyone killed in a dozen raids a night deserves execution without charge or trial? Are you certain that this practice sets a good example? Would you support other nations adopting its use? "Our" "special" forces are now larger than most nations' militaries, and we don't have the slightest idea what those forces are doing. "Our access [to foreign countries]," says Eric Olson, former chief of Special Operations Command, "depends on our ability to not talk about it."
The U.S. military has set up dozens of bases all over the world from which to fly killer robots known as drones. And there are dozens of bases all over the United States involved in the drone wars. At Fort Benning in Georgia, where the annual protest of the School of the Americas torture school is coming up soon, they're testing drones that can shoot to kill without human input. What could go wrong?
Not only has the blowback begun, but it's how we learn where some of the drone bases are. In 2009, a suicide attack killed CIA officers and mercenaries at Forward Operating Base Chapman in the Khost province of Afghanistan, and only then did we learn that the base was used for targeting drone murders in Pakistan.
This is of course apart from the usual blowback of greatly heightened hostility which is being produced by the U.S. military in nations all over the world. The 2010 attack on Libya, for example, resulted in well-armed Tuareg mercenaries, who had backed Gadaffi, heading back to Mali, destabilizing that country, and producing a military coup by a U.S.-trained officer, as well as parts of the country being seized by the latest al Qaeda affiliate. And that's in Mali. Never mind what a paradise Libya has become post liberation!
Many of the bases the U.S. military uses abroad are in nations less heavily occupied than Afghanistan. They are permitted to operate where they do by the nasty governments of those nations, thanks to U.S. support for dictatorship. This explains why the Arab Spring produced so much footage of U.S.-made armored personnel carriers, tanks, helicopters, and tear gas. The Obama administration is eagerly increasing supplies of U.S.-made weaponry to the very regimes beating, jailing, and killing pro-democracy activists. Repeat after me: "But it's a jobs program."
In fact, it's a major jobs program. The Pentagon/State Department markets U.S. weapons abroad, and the U.S. tripled its sales of weapons abroad last year, now accounting for 85% of international weapons sales.
But the weapons sales are the least of it. The United States now maintains its own troops in most nations on the earth and engages in joint training exercises with the local militaries. The biggest areas for base construction today are probably Afghanistan and Africa. Despite the supposed "winding down" of the war on Afghanistan over the next 2 or 12 years, base construction is moving ahead full steam, including new "secret" bases for "special" forces, new "secret" drone bases, and new prisons. The thinking—and I use the term generously—in Afghanistan and around the globe is that the United States should let the locals do more of the killing and dying. Of course, this hasn't worked in Afghanistan or Iraq, any more than it worked in Vietnam. In Afghanistan, a proxy war in the 1980s produced notable blowback that can only be appreciated by fanatics for continued war, not by residents of New York or Washington.
The hurricanes and the rising ocean are our own creation. If we want to turn this trend around we will have to shut down the Department of so-called Defense and create a new department aimed at defending us from dangers that actually exist.
We are up against a military industrial complex that barely existed before World War II and now dominates our government. Over half of federal discretionary spending is dumped into it every year. It funds campaigns and it creates jobs that can easily be eliminated. It creates fewer jobs than any other use of the same dollars, but any other use would be socialism because it wouldn't kill anyone. The jobs are as permanent as the spending. We don't even pretend the wars will end all war anymore. Our Nobel laureates proclaim the permanence of war in their peace prize acceptance speeches.
We can take on the military industrial complex, but it will mean forming a very large coalition of interested but fearful parties. There's a group co-founded by a friend of mine in this area called Environmentalists Against War. But most big environmental groups won't take on our biggest environmental destroyer. In fact, they won't even mention climate change if the president asks them not to, as he did in 2009. The war preparation spending is what drives the torture and imprisonment and assassinations, but the ACLU won't recognize its existence. Wars drive immigrants out of their countries and then exploit them when they get here, but immigrants rights groups won't touch war. If we were to cut war preparations by 80%, leaving the United States with still the biggest military in the world, we could have a green energy program that might just save us, not to mention the best quality housing, transportation, education, healthcare, and retirements to be had. We could invent a dozen important human rights merely by reducing what we spend on the worst crime yet conceived. But where are the anti-poverty groups, the education groups, the housing groups when it comes to opposing the Pentagon. They're cowering. Not all together, but all separately. Together we could turn this thing around.
We've now voted down the racists and yet our government's primary function remains killing dark people. Do we object to racism only in domestic policy?
We are supposedly standing beside something called a fiscal cliff. You know what this makes me think of? I picture a person standing near the top of a cliff, and tied to the person's legs are two chains. Each chain runs over the edge of the cliff and supports a massive weight. The person is struggling to remain standing as these two enormous weights pull downward. One of the weights is war preparations spending. The other is tax cuts for the super rich that we are apparently required to name for Bush no matter how long Obama is around. Now the person is falling and being dragged backwards, face-down toward the edge. But then I picture an endless number of other people in exactly the same situation, and very close to each other. And we are able to take the chains off each other's ankles. This is what we now need: massive cuts to war spending, and massive increases in taxation of plutocrats -- plus massive spending on green energy and all things good and decent. Demanding that cuts to Social Security be a little smaller than they might be is not going to save us.
We should remember at a time like this that when the slightly less funded of two corporate funded candidates wins, we don't win. President Obama publicly and illegally instructed the Attorney General not to prosecute the CIA for torture. We accepted that. Obama told unions not to say "single payer" and they didn't. The peace movement spent the first Obama year muttering about how it was too early, the second worrying about the midterm elections, the third trying to focus the Occupy Movement on our collective antagonists, and the fourth being scared of Mitt Romney. Now we're being told we must not demand military spending cuts or the prosecution of war crimes or the immediate withdrawal of forces abroad. Progressive groups want to pretend to take a stand on Social Security and Medicare before caving. Their opening pretense doesn't even touch military spending. It's our job to add that to the conversation.
So, I don't want any more emails telling me to help Obama succeed at progressive efforts he is working hard against. I want Billionaires for Bush brought back as Oligarchs for Obama. I want the Bush Crimes Commission revived as the Obama Crimes Commission. I want John Conyers's threat to push for the impeachment of Bush if he attacks Iran applied to Obama. And I want the peace movement back!
I propose that we pledge right now to protest and vote against anyone in Congress or the White House who gives an inch on protecting Social Security and Medicare, who votes for current levels of military spending or anything above 75% of current levels, or who fails to oppose wars or to act against climate change. No more honey moons. No more veal pens in which the public servants tell the public organizations how to serve them. And no more promises to vote for someone no matter what they do to us or to our brothers and sisters around the world. We need to use nonviolent action not only to end war but also to provide an alternative path for our young people who might otherwise sign up to kill and die. Nonviolence requires more bravery, more commitment, more morality, and is far more satisfying than joining the Marines, no matter how benevolent the TV advertisements look.
The Declaration of Independence says we have the right to institute new government. It's getting to be about that time.
November 9, 4:15 p.m., Stanford
Omar Shaki, Medea Benjamin, Robert Crews, Shahzad Bashir
"Lives Under Drones"
Building 200, room 205, Stanford
Visit antiwar.stanford.edu for more info.
Co-sponsored by Muslim Students Awareness Network, Stanford NAACP, Stanford STAND, CDDRL Program on Human Rights, Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, Stanford Asian American Activism Committee, Pakistanis at Stanford, and the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center.
Drone Warfare Protest and Golden Gate Bridge March
Sunday, November 11, 10 a.m. Die-in at Senator Dianne Feinstein's mansion in Pacific Heights (Vallejo & Lyon Street) then caravan to monthly march across the Golden Gate Bridge. Noon: March begins!
Sunday, November 11, 11 a.m.
Corner of Fourth & Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA
Veterans for Peace chapters across the nation are meeting on street corners in major cities to celebrate the original ARMISTICE DAY by ringing bells 11 times at 11:00 on November 11 as as was done at the end of World War I, when the world came together in realization that war is so horrible we must end it now. Veterans for Peace Chapter 101 invites those with a personal or organizational commitment to peace to join us in the ringing of bells on the morning of November 11 to focus on the desire to end the horror of war rather than celebrate it. This event is co-sponsored by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, Woman's International League for Peace and Freedom, Code Pink, Move to Amend.
Sunday, November 11, 1:30-4:30 p.m. San Francisco
Medea Benjamin, Cindy Sheehan, and David Swanson
On the traditional Armistice Day, the War and Law League (WALL), http://warandlaw.org, presents a forum on the theme, "U.S. Wars -- Are They Lawful?" Admission is free. The forum, highlighting WALL's biennial general meeting, is endorsed by the S.F. American Friends Service Committee and East Bay Peace Action. Main Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street at Grove Street, San Francisco, CA, near Civic Center BART/Muni station.
November 11, 7:00 p.m. Marin County
Medea Benjamin and David Swanson
"Stopping War: The Next One? Forever? -- An Armistice Day Instead of Veterans Day Event"
Sponsor: Marin Peace & Justice Coalition. Co-sponsors: Social Justice Center of Marin and Community Media Center of Marin.
Olney Hall, College of Marin, 835 College Ave, Kentfield, CA
Admission $10 (No one turned away for lack of funds).
About the speakers at these events:
David Swanson will sign books including "When the World Outlawed War." Swanson blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.
Cindy Sheehan is a gold star mother, peace activist, host of Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox, and author of "Revolution: A Love Story."
Omar Shakir is a 3rd year Stanford Law student and co-author of the Stanford Law School report "Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from Drone Practices in Pakistan."
Robert Crews is a Stanford History Professor and co-editor of Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands.
Shahzad Bashir is a Stanford Religious Studies Professor and co-editor of Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands.
Gar Smith discusses his new book, Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth, which has a foreword by Jerry Mander and Ernest Callenbach. Gar Smith is editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal, a Project Censored award-winning investigative journalist, and cofounder of Environmentalists Against War.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
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