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Dahlia Wasfi is an Iraqi-American justice activist who has written and spoken extensively on U.S. policy in the region of Iraq. She is currently writing a book on Iraq and recently published the article "Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq War Redux." She discusses the past quarter century of U.S. bombing of Iraq.
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I’m afraid that one of the best books I’ve read on war abolition may be overlooked by non-Catholics, because its title is Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War (by David Carroll Cochran). The book does draw on Catholic arguments against war and work to rebut Catholic arguments in favor of war, but in my view this enriches the debate and detracts not at all from Cochran’s universal argument for the elimination of all war — much of which has little or nothing to do with Catholicism. I’ve added this book to my war abolition shelf along with these books of my own and others:
- Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry (2009)
- Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers (2009)
- War Is A Lie by David Swanson (2010)
- The End of War by John Horgan (2012)
- Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac (2012)
- War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson (2013)
- Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand (2013)
- War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo (2014)
- Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran (2014)
- A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War (2015)
- War Is A Lie: Second Edition by David Swanson (April 5, 2016)
“War’s two great lies are its righteousness and its inevitability.” Thus begins Cochran’s book, and he demonstrates the truth of his statement beyond any reasonable doubt. He examines the lies that are told to start wars and the lies that are told about how wars are conducted. We might call these two kinds of lies mendacia ad bellum and mendacia in bello. Cochran puts a major emphasis on the latter, pointing out that war kills a large number of innocents — and always has, even in earlier epochs armed by very different weaponry. There never was any just ad bellum or jus in bello.
Cochran includes among the innocent both civilians and soldiers. Including only civilians is enough to make his point, as wars have always killed large numbers of civilians (though the percentage of dead who are civilian has increased in recent decades to the point where it is the vast majority of those killed). Cochran does not consider soldiers innocent because their side of a war is defensive. He considers them innocent on the side of the aggressor as well — and not only those soldiers who quietly regret what they are doing or those who honestly believe the propaganda that would justify their actions. No, even combatants who fully support the war are innocent, in a certain sense, in Cochran’s view.
This seems at odds with some Catholic tradition. I remember Erasmus urging that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle: “The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!”
I find Cochran’s case for soldiers’ innocence convincing, although I have really very little interest in whether his position is more properly Catholic than someone else’s. He points out that it is generally viewed as wrong to kill soldiers who are wounded or surrendering. This, Cochran writes, is because they have done nothing to deserve being slaughtered, although slaughtered they are in the general course of a war. One idea put forward by war supporters is that in the normal course of war, soldiers are mutually engaged in self-defense against each other, but Cochran points out that the justification of self-defense for individuals outside of war only works when an aggressor has attacked a victim. War is conducted on a very different scale and with very different norms. Soldiers during a war are not expected to try all nonviolent approaches first before resorting to violence, and in fact routinely kill other soldiers who do not pose any imminent threat. Most killing in historical battles has happened after one side has begun retreating. Remember how the United States killed 30,000 retreating Iraqi soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War.
The ultimate fallback justification for the mass-murder of war is that innocents can be slaughtered if the harm done is outweighed by the goals of the war. But such goals are often secret or lied about, and it is the war makers who get to decide whose deaths are outweighed by what goals. U.S. terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up a government building in 1995 and claimed that the deaths that resulted were merely “collateral damage” because killing those people had not been his purpose. The U.S. military plays the same game, the only difference being that it is allowed to get away with it.
Partly the military gets away with it by constantly claiming to have found technological solutions to collateral damage. But, in fact, the latest such ploy — weaponized drones — kills more civilians than it kills people for whom anyone asserts any (always unsubstantiated) right to murder.
To call combatants innocent in analyzing the morality of war is not, in my view, to diminish the moral superiority of refusing to fight. Nor is it to suggest some sort of moral perfection in the individual lives of soldiers. Nor is it to set aside the Nuremberg standard that requires disobeying illegal orders. Rather, it is to understand that no justification exists for killing soldiers. There might be a justification for otherwise sanctioning their behavior, and — more so — the behavior of those who sent them into war, but not for killing them.
Not only is war dramatically different from normal individual relations in which one might speak of self-defense, but, Cochran shows, it is also radically different from police work. Legitimate, praiseworthy police work seeks to reduce and avoid violence. It targets people based on suspicion of wrongdoing unique to the individual targeted. It seeks to facilitate the work of courts of law. War, on the contrary, seeks to maximize violence, targets entire armies and populations, and pauses not for any court rulings but sees two sides each declare the other guilty en masse. Calling a war a “police action” or giving soldiers actual policing duties does not change the fact that war is not policing. While good policing creates “order,” war creates violence, chaos, and instability.
Opposing war because it is immoral, and opposing war because nonviolent tools work better, are not separate approaches at odds with each other. War is immoral in large part because it does not work, because it generates enemies and violence rather than reducing them.
The moral arguments of the first part of Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War are excellent, but the real high point of the book may be its review of past institutions of mass violence that were considered moral, natural, inevitable, and permanent, but which are now gone. You’ll find this case sketched out in most of the books listed at the top of this article, but Cochran does the best job of it I’ve seen. He includes discussions of dueling and slavery, but also the less commonly used examples of trial by ordeal and combat, and lynching.
In some ways, trial by ordeal and combat is the best example because the most dependent, as is much of war, on the actions of a government, albeit local level governments in many trial-by-ordeal-and-combat cases. While rulers understood that trial by ordeal and combat did not actually produce the truth it claimed, they went on using it for many years as they found doing so convenient. Catholics produced complex justifications for it, similar to those produced by “just war” theory. Trial by ordeal and combat was deemed moral and necessary for self-defense, protecting the innocent, and creating peace and stability. Gradually cultural and political changes ended the supposedly un-endable.
Dueling’s supporters also believed it necessary, and eliminating it naive and dreamy. They claimed that dueling maintained peace and order. Cultural and political change brought majorities to consider dueling laughable, barbaric, ignorant, shameful, and a threat to peace and order.
Slavery, in the form that has virtually vanished, rested on fundamental lies and contradictions, including recognizing and not recognizing the humanity of those enslaved. It also rested on “just war” theory which maintained that slavery was a generous alternative to the mass-murder of conquered peoples. As humanitarian warriors claim that wars are for the benefit of their victims, defenders of slavery claimed that it benefitted the people held captive. As war supporters today claim that it maintains a way of life that is by definition greedy and unfair, supporters of slavery contended that it was essential to the existing way of life of the slave owners.
Interestingly, Cochran stresses that the evidence shows the demise of chattel slavery not to have been driven by any economic forces but rather by a moral revolution. Just before slavery was ended, it was extremely profitable. But, writes Cochran, “globally minded political and economic elites came to see slavery as an embarrassing deviation from international norms.”
Lynching may not have been exactly legal, but it was an established institution, and the arguments used to maintain it closely resemble the fallacious claims made about other institutions of violence. Lynching, its supporters said, was defensive, defending the white race through an inevitable “racial instinct.” They believed, however, that it should be used as a “last resort.” That is, they believed that, until they gradually didn’t any longer believe it, until lynching gradually became seen, not as a defense of but as a threat to law and order.
If one section of the book is slightly weaker than the others, I think it is the concluding section on what to do to end war. I believe Cochran indulges in a bit too much Pinkerism in his claim that war has been reduced. I don’t place the value he does on spreading democracy in order to spread peace, in part because the leading war maker is a “democracy,” and in part because it has attacked numerous other “democracies.” I think there’s too much focus on blaming poor countries for war. As great a correlate with war as poverty is the presence of oil. And wars in poor countries that do not involve troops from wealthy ones, do involve weapons from wealthy ones.
“End the arms trade,” the Pope told the U.S. Congress, which cheered and escalated the arms trade.
Your new movie, Where to Invade Next, is very powerful, your best so far for certain.
We need you.
You've packed a great many issues into this film, with visuals, with personalities, with entertainment. If people will watch this, they'll learn what many of us have struggled to tell them and more, as there was plenty that I learned as well.
I must assume that when U.S. audiences watch scenes that dramatically clash with their world yet seem humane and reasonable they'll be brought to the point of thinking.
You show us political candidates, not screeching for more prisons, but holding a televised election debate in a prison in an effort to win the votes of the prisoners, who are permitted to vote. What are we to make of that? You also show us scenes from U.S. prisons of grotesque brutality. Then you show us the effective rehabilitation achieved by Norwegian prisons (25% of U.S. recidivism rate). That doesn't just clash with what's familiar in the United States, but it also clashes with what the United States teaches about "human nature," namely that criminals cannot be rehabilitated. And you expose the driving force of vengeance that lies behind that pseudo-belief by showing the collective response of forgiveness and sanity with which Norway responded to a major terrorist incident. We all know how the U.S. has responded to those.
If we've read Steven Hills' book Europe's Promise or others like it, or lived in Europe and visited Europe or other parts of the world, we have some notion of much of what you show us: Italians and others with many weeks of paid vacation and parental leave plus 2-hour lunch breaks, Germans with paid weeks at a spa if they feel stress, Finland with soaring educational achievement reached by shunning standardized tests and homework while shrinking the school day, France with nutritious gourmet school lunches, Slovenia and dozens of other countries with free college, workers making up 50% of corporate boards in Germany, Portugal legalizing drugs (best line of the movie: "So does Facebook."). By bringing all of this together in a concise and intelligent and entertaining way, you've done us all a favor.
I was worried, I will confess. I apologize. I've been watching Bernie Sanders propose these sorts of changes without a real vision behind them and without daring to mention that the money is all being dumped into the U.S. military. And I've watched you, Michael, make some oddly supportive comments about Hillary Clinton who has spent decades working against everything this movie is about. So, I was worried, but I was wrong. Not only were you willing to point out that the United States pays nearly as much as these other countries in taxes, and much more when adding in the additional things paid for outside of taxes (college, healthcare, etc.), but you also included the elephant in the room, the 59% (in the figure you used) of U.S. income tax that goes to militarism. This movie, because you included that fundamental difference between the United States and other nations, is a terrific boost for the cause of ending war. That you point out the contrast between what Germans know and feel about the holocaust and what U.S. Americans know and feel about past U.S. wars, genocides, and slavery only adds to the value.
You included in a single 2-hour movie, in a clear and unrushed manner, not only all of the above, but also explanation of the popular resistance needed to create it, plus a critique of the racist U.S. drug war, mass incarceration, prison labor, and the death penalty. You showed us Muslim leaders in a largely Muslim nation more advanced on women's rights than is the United States. You showed us the openness of numerous nations to women sharing in power. I do, by the way, recognize the good intentions that may lie behind your interest in electing a female president, but I ask you if Margaret Thatcher advanced or impeded the cause. Does electing women create humane societies, or is it at least as much the case that humane societies elect women?
The other story you bring us from Iceland, in addition to women in power, is bankers prosecuted for their crimes. Odd, isn't it? Americans thirst for such revenge that they imprison small-time criminals for decades and brutalize them, but big-time criminals are rewarded. A shift to a more civilized system of justice would reduce the nastiness in one case but impose penalties that have been lacking in the other.
You allowed some powerful voices to speak in this movie. One of them suggested that Americans try taking an interest in the rest of the world. I've noticed, living abroad, that not only do other people want to know about the United States (and everywhere else), but they also want to know what Americans think of them. And I always have to reply with shame that Americans don't, in fact, think anything of them at all. Not only should we start to be curious about others, but we should start to be curious about what others think of us.
P.S. -- I'm old enough to remember your film about Bush's Iraq lies, Michael. The leading Republican presidential candidate now says Bush lied. The trailing Democratic candidate doesn't, and told the same lies at the time herself. You helped make U.S. culture, not yet good enough to end homelessness, but good enough to get that question right. Thank you.
The new book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century by Mark Engler and Paul Engler is a terrific survey of direct action strategies, bringing out many of the strengths and weaknesses of activist efforts to effect major change in the United States and around the world since well before the twenty-first century. It should be taught in every level of our schools.
This book makes the case that disruptive mass movements are responsible for more positive social change than is the ordinary legislative "endgame" that follows. The authors examine the problem of well-meaning activist institutions becoming too well established and shying away from the most effective tools available. Picking apart an ideological dispute between institution-building campaigns of slow progress and unpredictable, immeasurable mass protest, the Englers find value in both and advocate for a hybrid approach exemplified by Otpor, the movement that overthrew Milosevic.
When I worked for ACORN, I saw our members achieve numerous substantive victories, but I also saw the tide moving against them. City legislation was overturned at the state level. Federal legislation was blocked by war madness, financial corruption, and a broken communications system. Leaving ACORN, as I did, to work for the doomed presidential campaign of Dennis Kucinich might look like a reckless, non-strategic choice -- and maybe it was. But bringing prominence to one of the very few voices in Congress saying what was needed on numerous issues has a value that may be impossible to measure with precision, yet some have been able to quantify.
This Is An Uprising looks at a number of activist efforts that may at first have appeared defeats and were not. I've listed previously some examples of efforts that people thought were failures for many years. The Englers' examples involve more rapid revelation of success, for those willing and able to see it. Gandhi's salt march produced little in the way of solid commitments from the British. Martin Luther King's campaign in Birmingham failed to win its demands from the city. But the salt march had an international impact, and the Birmingham campaign a national impact far greater than the immediate results. Both inspired widespread activism, changed many minds, and won concrete policy changes well beyond the immediate demands. The Occupy movement didn't last in the spaces occupied, but it altered public discourse, inspired huge amounts of activism, and won many concrete changes. Dramatic mass action has a power that legislation or one-on-one communication does not. I made a similar case recently in arguing against the idea that peace rallies fail where counter-recruitment succeeds.
The authors point to disruption, sacrifice, and escalation as key components of a successful momentum-building action, while readily admitting that not everything can be predicted. A plan of escalated disruption that involves sympathetic sacrifice by nonviolent actors, if adjusted as circumstances call for, has a chance. Occupy could have been Athens, instead of Birmingham or Selma, if the New York police had known how to control themselves. Or perhaps it was the skill of the Occupy organizers that provoked the police. In any case, it was the brutality of the police, and the willingness of the media to cover it, that produced Occupy. The authors note Occupy's many ongoing victories but also that it shrank when its public places were taken away. In fact, even as Occupiers continued to hold public space in numerous towns, its announced death in the media was accepted by those still engaged in it, and they gave up their occupations quite obediently. The momentum was gone.
An action that gains momentum, as Occupy did, taps into the energy of many people who, as the Englers write, are newly outraged by what they learn about injustice. It also, I think, taps into the energy of many people long outraged and waiting for a chance to act. When I helped organize "Camp Democracy" in Washington, D.C., in 2006, we were a bunch of radicals ready to occupy D.C. for peace and justice, but we were thinking like organizations with major resources. We were thinking about rallies with crowds bussed in by labor unions. So, we planned a wonderful lineup of speakers, arranged permits and tents, and brought together a tiny crowd of those already in agreement. We did a few disruptive actions, but that wasn't the focus. It should have been. We should have disrupted business as usual in a way carefully designed to make the cause sympathetic rather than resented or feared.
When many of us planned an occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., in 2011 we had somewhat bigger plans for disruption, sacrifice, and escalation, but in the days just before we set up camp, those New York police put Occupy in the news at a 1,000-year flood level. An occupy camp appeared nearby us in D.C., and when we marched through the streets, people joined us, because of what they'd seen from New York on their televisions. I'd never witnessed that before. A lot of the actions we engaged in were disruptive, but we may have had too much of a focus on the occupation. We celebrated the police backing down on efforts to remove us. But we needed a way to escalate.
We also, I think, refused to accept that where the public sympathy had been created was for victims of Wall Street. Our original plan had involved what we saw as an appropriately large focus on war, in fact on the interlocking evils that King identified as militarism, racism, and extreme materialism. The dumbest action I was part of was probably our attempt to protest a pro-war exhibit at the Air and Space Museum. It was dumb because I sent people straight into pepper spray and should have scouted ahead to avoid that. But it was also dumb because even relatively progressive people were, in that moment, unable to hear the idea of opposing war, much less opposing the glorification of militarism by museums. They couldn't even hear the idea of opposing the "puppets" in Congress. One had to take on the puppet masters to be understood at all, and the puppet masters were the banks. "You switched from banks to the Smithsonian!?" In fact, we'd never focused on banks, but explanations weren't going to work. What was needed was to accept the moment.
What made that moment still looks, in large part, like luck. But unless smart strategic efforts are made to create such moments, they don't happen on their own. I'm not sure we can announce on day 1 of anything "This is an uprising!" but we can at least continually ask ourselves "Is this an uprising?" and keep ourselves aimed toward that goal.
This book's subtitle is "How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century." But nonviolent revolt as opposed to what? Virtually nobody is proposing violent revolt in the United States. Mostly this book is proposing nonviolent revolt rather than nonviolent compliance with the existing system, nonviolent tweaking of it within its own rules. But cases are also examined of nonviolent overthrows of dictators in various countries. The principles of success seem to be identical regardless of the type of government a group is up against.
But there is, of course, advocacy for violence in the United States -- advocacy so enormous that no one can see it. I've been teaching a course on war abolition, and the most intractable argument for the massive U.S. investment in violence is "What if we have to defend ourselves from a genocidal invasion?"
So it would have been nice had the authors of This Is An Uprising addressed the question of violent invasions. If we were to remove from our culture the fear of the "genocidal invasion," we could remove from our society trillion-dollar-a-year militarism, and with it the primary promotion of the idea that violence can succeed. The Englers note the damage that straying into violence does to nonviolent movements. Such straying would end in a culture that ceased believing violence can succeed.
I have a hard time getting students to go into much detail about their feared "genocidal invasion," or to name examples of such invasions. In part this may be because I preemptively go into great length about how World War II might have been avoided, what a radically different world from today's it occurred in, and how successful nonviolent actions were against the Nazis when attempted. Because, of course, "genocidal invasion" is mostly just a fancy phrase for "Hitler." I asked one student to name some genocidal invasions not engaged in or contributed to by either the U.S. military or Hitler. I reasoned that genocidal invasions produced by the U.S. military couldn't fairly be used to justify the U.S. military's existence.
I tried to produce my own list. Erica Chenoweth cites the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, where armed resistance failed for years but nonviolent resistance succeeded. A Syrian invasion of Lebanon was ended by nonviolence in 2005. Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands, while fueled by U.S. weapons, have been resisted more successfully thus far by nonviolence than violence. Going back in time, we could look at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968 or the German invasion of the Ruhr in 1923. But most of these, I was told, are not proper genocidal invasions. Well, what are?
My student gave me this list: "The Great Sioux War of 1868, The Holocaust, Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands." I objected that one was U.S.-armed in recent years, one was Hitler, and one was many many years ago. He then produced the alleged example of Bosnia. Why not the even more common case of Rwanda, I don't know. But neither was an invasion exactly. Both were completely avoidable horrors, one used as an excuse for war, one allowed to continue for the purpose of a desired regime change.
This is the book that I think we still need, the book that asks what works best when your nation is invaded. How can the people of Okinawa remove the U.S. bases? Why couldn't the people of the Philippines keep them out after they did remove them? What would it take for the people of the United States to remove from their minds the fear of "genocidal invasion" that dumps their resources into war preparations that produce war after war, risking nuclear apocalypse?
Do we dare tell the Iraqis they must not fight back while our bombs are falling? Well, no, because we ought to be engaged 24-7 in trying to stop the bombing. But the supposed impossibility of advising Iraqis of a more strategic response than fighting back, oddly enough, constitutes a central defense of the policy of building more and more bombs with which to bomb the Iraqis. That has to be ended.
For that we'll need a This Is An Uprising that objects to U.S. empire.
Pass the popcorn! Wait till I tweet this! Did you see the look on his face?
Ain't elections exciting? We just can't get enough of them, which could be why we've stretched them out to a couple of years each, even though a small crowd of Super Delegates and a couple of state officials with computer skills could quite conceivably decide the whole thing anyway.
Through the course of this marvelous election thus far I've been trying to get any human being to ask any candidate to provide just the most very basic outline of the sort of budget they would propose if president, or at least some hint at the single item in the budget that takes up more than half of it. Do they think military spending should go up, go down, or stay right where it is?
Who knows! Aren't elections wonderful?
I'd even settle for the stupid "gotcha" question in which we find out if any of the candidates knows, even roughly, what percentage of the budget military spending is now.
Why is this topic, although seemingly central, scrupulously avoided?
- The candidates all, more or less, agree.
- None of the candidates brings it up.
- Nobody in Congress, not even the "progressive" caucus, brings it up.
- Nobody in the corporate media brings it up.
- The corporate media outlets see war profiteers as customers who buy ads.
- The corporate media outlets see war profiteers in the mirror as parts of their corporate families.
- The fact that the military costs money conflicts with the basic premise of U.S. politics which is that one party wants to spend money on socialistic nonsense while the other party wants to stop spending money and build a bigger military.
Those seem like the obvious answers, but here's another. While you're being entertained by the election, President Obama is proposing a bigger military than ever. Not only is U.S. military spending extremely high by historical standards, but looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department's annual "Green Book" makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history.
Check out the new budget proposal from the President who distracted millions of people from horrendous Bush-Cheney actions with his "peace" talk as a candidate eight years ago. He wants to increase the base Do"D" budget, both the discretionary and the mandatory parts. He wants to increase the extra slush fund of unaccountable money for the Do"D" on top of that. This pot used to be named for wars, but wars have gotten so numerous and embarrassing that it's now called "Overseas Contingency Operations."
When it comes to nuclear weapons, Obama wants to increase spending, but when it comes to other miscellaneous extras for the military, he also wants to increase that. Military retirement spending, on the other hand, he'd like to see go up, while the Veterans Administration spending he proposes to raise. Money for fueling ISIS by fighting it, Obama wants raised by 50%. On increasing hostility with Russia through a military buildup on its border, Obama wants a 400% spending boost. In one analysis, military spending would jump from $997.2 billion this year to $1.04 trillion next year under this proposal.
That's a bit awkward, considering the shade it throws on any piddly little project that does make it into election debates and reporting. The smallest fraction of military spending could pay for the major projects that Senator Bernie Sanders will be endlessly attacked for proposing to raise taxes for.
It's also awkward for the whole Republican/Hillary discussion of how to become more militarized, unlike that pacifist in the White House.
And, of course, it's always awkward to point out that events just go on happening in the world rather than pausing out of respect for some inanity just uttered by Marco Rubio.
U.S. military recruiters are teaching in public school classrooms, making presentations at school career days, coordinating with JROTC units in high schools and middle schools, volunteering as sports coaches and tutors and lunch buddies in high, middle, and elementary schools, showing up in humvees with $9,000 stereos, bringing fifth-graders to military bases for hands-on science instruction, and generally pursuing what they call "total market penetration" and "school ownership."
But counter-recruiters all over the United States are making their own presentations in schools, distributing their own information, picketing recruiting stations, and working through courts and legislatures to reduce military access to students and to prevent military testing or the sharing of test results with the military without students' permission. This struggle for hearts and minds has had major successes and could spread if more follow the counter-recruiters' example.
A new book by Scott Harding and Seth Kershner called Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools surveys the current counter-recruitment movement, its history, and its possible future. Included is a fairly wide range of tactics. Many involve one-on-one communication with potential recruits.
"Do you like fireworks?" a veteran of the latest war on Iraq may ask a student in a high school cafeteria. "Yes!" Well, replies Hart Viges, "you won't when you get back from war."
"I talked to this one kid," recalls veteran of the war on Vietnam John Henry, "and I said, 'Has anybody in your family been in the military?' And he said, 'My grandfather.'
"And we talked about him, about how he was short and he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and I said, 'Oh, what does he tell you about war?'
"'That he still has nightmares.'
"And I said, 'And you are going in what branch of the service?'
"'And you're going to pick what skill?'
"'Oh, I'm just going to go infantry.'
"You know ... your grandfather is telling you he's still got nightmares and that was 40 years ago. He's had nightmares for 40 years. Do you want to have nightmares for 40 years?"
Minds are changed. Young lives are saved -- those of the kids who do not sign up, or who back out before it's too late, and perhaps also the lives they would have contributed to ending had they entered the "service."
This sort of counter-recruitment work can have a quick payoff. Says Barbara Harris, who also organized the protests at NBC that supported this petition and got a pro-war program off the air, "The feedback I receive from [parents] is just incredibly heartwarming because [when] I speak to a parent and I see how I've helped them in some way, I feel so rewarded."
Other counter-recruitment work can take a bit longer and be a bit less personal but impact a larger number of lives. Some 10% to 15% of recruits get to the military via the ASVAB tests, which are administered in certain school districts, sometimes required, sometimes without informing students or parents that they are for the military, sometimes with the full results going to the military without any permission from students or parents. The number of states and school districts using and abusing the ASVAB is on the decline because of the work of counter-recruiters in passing legislation and changing policy.
U.S. culture is so heavily militarized, though, that in the absence of recruiters or counter-recruiters well-meaning teachers and guidance counselors will thoughtlessly promote the military to students. Some schools automatically enroll all students in JROTC. Some guidance counselors encourage students to substitute JROTC for gym class. Even Kindergarten teachers will invite in uniformed members of the military or promote the military unprompted in their school assignments. History teachers will show footage of Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day and talk in glorifying terms of the military without any need for direct contact from recruitment offices. I'm reminded of what Starbucks said when asked why it had a coffee shop at the torture / death camp in Guantanamo. Starbucks said that choosing not to would amount to making a political statement. Choosing to do so was just standard behavior.
Part of what keeps the military presence in the schools is the billion dollar budget of the military recruiters and other unfair powers of incumbency. For example, if a JROTC program is threatened, the instructors can order the students (or the children formerly known as students) to show up and testify at a school board meeting in favor of maintaining the program.
Much of what keeps recruitment working in our schools, however, is a different sort of power -- the power to lie and get away with it unchallenged. As Harding and Kershner document, recruiters routinely deceive students about the amount of time they're committing to be in the military, the possibility of changing their minds, the potential for free college as a reward, the availability of vocational training in the military, and the risks involved in joining the military.
Our society has become very serious about warning young people about safety in sex, driving, drinking, drugs, sports, and other activities. When it comes to joining the military, however, a survey of students found that none of them were told anything about the risks to themselves -- first and foremost suicide. They are also, as Harding and Kershner point out, told much about heroism, nothing about drudgery. I would add that they are not told about alternative forms of heroism outside of the military. I would further add that they are told nothing about the primarily non-U.S. victims of wars that are largely one-sided slaughters of civilians, nor about the moral injury and PTSD that can follow. And of course, they are told nothing about alternative career paths.
That is, they are told none of these things by recruiters. They are told some of them by counter-recruiters. Harding and Kershner mention AmeriCorps and City Year as alternatives to the military that counter-recruiters sometimes let students know about. An early start on an alternative career path is found by some students who sign on as counter-recruiters working to help guide their peers away from the military. Studies find that youth who engage in school activism suffer less alienation, set more ambitious goals, and improve academically.
Military recruitment climbs when the economy declines, and drops off when news of current wars increases. Those recruited tend to have lower family income, less-educated parents, and larger family size. It seems entirely possible to me that a legislative victory for counter-recruitment greater than any reform of ASVAB testing or access to school cafeterias would be for the United States to join those nations that make college free. Ironically, the most prominent politician promoting that idea, Senator Bernie Sanders, refuses to say he would pay for any of his plans by cutting the military, meaning that he must struggle uphill against passionate shouts of "Don't raise my taxes!" (even when 99% of people would not see their wallets shrink at all under his plans).
Free college would absolutely crush military recruitment. To what extent does this fact explain political opposition to free college? I don't know. But I can picture among the possible responses of the military a greater push to make citizenship a reward for immigrants who join the military, higher and higher signing bonuses, greater use of mercenaries both foreign and domestic, greater reliance on drones and other robots, and ever more arming of foreign proxy forces, but also quite likely a greater reluctance to launch and escalate and continue wars.
And that's the prize we're after, right? A family blown up in the Middle East is just as dead, injured, traumatized, and homeless whether the perpetrators are near or far, in the air or at a computer terminal, born in the United States or on a Pacific island, right? Most counter-recruiters I know would agree with that 100%. But they believe, and with good reason, that the work of counter-recruitment scales back the war-making.
However, other concerns enter in as well, including the desire to protect particular students, and the desire to halt the racial or class disparity of recruitment that sometimes focuses disproportionately on poor or predominately racial minority schools. Legislatures that have been reluctant to restrict recruitment have done so when it was addressed as an issue of racial or class fairness.
Many counter-recruiters, Harding and Kershner report, "were careful to suggest the military serves a legitimate purpose in society and is an honorable vocation." In part, I think such talk is a strategy -- whether or not it's a wise one -- that believes direct opposition to war will close doors and empower adversaries, whereas talking about "student privacy" will allow people who oppose war to reach students with their information. But, of course, claiming that the military is a good thing while discouraging local kids from joining it rather stinks of NIMBYism: Get your cannon fodder, just Not In My Back Yard.
Some, though by no means all, and I suspect it's a small minority of counter-recruiters actually make a case against other types of peace activism. They describe what they do as "actually doing something," in contrast to marching at rallies or sitting in at Congressional offices, etc. I will grant them that my experience is atypical. I do media interviews. I mostly go to rallies that have invited me to speak. I get paid to do online antiwar organizing. I plan conferences. I write articles and op-eds and books. I have a sense of "doing something" that perhaps most people who attend an event or ask questions from an audience or sign an online petition just don't. I suspect a great many people find talking students away from the edge much more satisfying than getting arrested in front of a drone base, although plenty of wonderful people do both.
But there is, in my opinion, a pretty misguided analysis in the view of certain counter-recruiters who hold that getting tests out of schools is real, concrete, and meaningful, while filling the National Mall with antiwar banners is useless. In 2013 a proposal to bomb Syria looked very likely, but Congress members started worrying about being the guy who voted for another Iraq. (How's that working out for Hillary Clinton?) It was not primarily counter-recruiters who made the Iraq vote a badge of shame and political doom. Nor was it outreach to students that upheld the Iran nuclear agreement last year.
The division between types of peace activism is somewhat silly. People have been brought into counter-recruitment work at massive rallies, and students reached by counter-recruiters have later organized big protests. Recruitment includes hard to measure things like Super Bowl fly-overs and video games. So can counter-recruitment. Both counter-recruitment and other types of peace activism ebb and flow with wars, news reports, and partisanship. I'd like to see the two merged into massive rallies at recruiting stations. Harding and Kershner cite one example of a counter-recruiter suggesting that one such rally created new opposition to his work, but I would be surprised if it didn't also hurt recruitment. The authors cite other examples of well-publicized protests at recruitment offices having had a lasting effect of reducing recruitment there.
The fact is that no form of opposition to militarism is what it used to be. Harding and Kershner cite stunning examples of the mainstream nature of counter-recruitment in the 1970s, when it had the support of the National Organization for Women and the Congressional Black Caucus, and when prominent academics publicly urged guidance counselors to counter-recruit.
The strongest antiwar movement, I believe, would combine the strengths of counter-recruitment with those of lobbying, protesting, resisting, educating, divesting, publicizing, etc. It would be careful to build resistance to recruitment while educating the public about the one-sided nature of U.S. wars, countering the notion that a large percentage of the damage is done to the aggressor. When Harding and Kershner use the phrase in their book "In the absence of a hot war" to describe the current day, what should the people being killed by U.S. weaponry in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, etc., make of it?
We need a strategy that employs the skills of every kind of activist and targets the military machine at every possible weak point, but the strategy has to be to stop the killing, no matter who does it, and no matter if every person doing it survives.
Are you looking for a way to help? I recommend the examples in Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools. Go forth and do likewise.
Elliott Adams is a former Army paratrooper in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Alaska; and former National President of Veterans For Peace. He has conducted nonviolence and social movement trainings for organizations such as Fellowship Of Reconciliation, School Of Americas Watch, Peacemakers of Schoharie, Student Environmental Action Coalition, War Resisters League. He currently works with the Meta Peace Team and is co-chair of Creating a Culture of Peace. In 2014 and again in 2015 he spent several months as a member of Meta Peace Team using third party non-violent intervention in the West Bank, Palestine.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
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By David Swanson, teleSUR
Super Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL. The U.S. military has been dumping millions of our dollars, part of a recruitment and advertising budget that's in the billions, into paying the NFL to publicly display love for soldiers and weaponry.
Of course, the NFL may in fact really truly love the military, just as it may love the singers it permits to sing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but it makes them pay for the privilege too. And why shouldn't the military pay the football league to hype its heroism? It pays damn near everybody else. At $2.8 billion a year on recruiting some 240,000 "volunteers," that's roughly $11,600 per recruit. That's not, of course, the trillion with a T kind of spending it takes to run the military for a year; that's just the spending to gently persuade each "volunteer" to join up. The biggest military "service" ad buyer in the sports world is the National Guard. The ads often depict humanitarian rescue missions. Recruiters often tell tall tales of "non-deployment" positions followed by free college. But it seems to me that the $11,600 would have gone a long way toward paying for a year in college! And, in fact, people who have that money for college are far less likely to be recruited.
Despite showing zero interest in signing up for wars, and despite the permanent presence of wars to sign up for, 44 percent of U.S. Americans tell the Gallup polling company that they "would" fight in a war, yet don't. That's at least 100 million new recruits. Luckily for them and the world, telling a pollster something doesn't require follow through, but it might suggest why football fans tolerate and even celebrate military national anthems and troop-hyping hoopla at every turn. They think of themselves as willing warriors who just happen to be too busy at the moment. As they identify with their NFL team, making remarks such as "We just scored," while firmly seated on their most precious assets, football fans also identify with their team on the imagined battlefield of war.
The NFL website says: "For decades the NFL and the military have had a close relationship at the Super Bowl, the most watched program year-to-year throughout the United States. In front of more than 160 million viewers, the NFL salutes the military with a unique array of in-game celebrations including the presentation of colors, on-field guests, pre-game ceremonies and stadium flyovers. During Super Bowl XLIX week [last year], the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project invited veterans to attend the Salute to Service: Officiating 101 Clinic at NFL Experience Engineered by GMC [double payment? ka-ching!] in Arizona. ..."
Pat Tillman, still promoted on the NFL website, and eponym of the Pat Tillman Foundation, is of course the one NFL player who gave up a giant football contract to join the military. What the Foundation won't tell you is that Tillman, as is quite common, ceased believing what the ads and recruiters had told him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American. The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the "enemy." Clearly the military wants a connection to football and is willing to lie as well as to pay for it. The Pat Tillman Foundation mis-uses a dead man's name to play on and prey on the mutual interest of football and the military in being connected to each other.
Those on whom the military's advertising succeeds will not typically die from friendly fire. Nor will they die from enemy fire. The number one killer of members of the U.S. military, reported yet again for another year this week, is suicide. And that's not even counting later suicides by veterans. Every TV pundit and presidential debate moderator, and perhaps even a Super Bowl 50 announcer or two, tends to talk about the military's answer for ISIS. What is its answer for people being stupidly ordered into such horrific hell that they won't want to live anymore?
It's in the ads
At least as big a focus of the Super Bowl as the game itself is the advertising. One particularly disturbing ad planned for Super Bowl 50 is an ad for a war video game. The U.S. military has long funded war video games and viewed them as recruiting tools. In this ad Arnold Schwarzenegger shows what fun it is to shoot people and blow up buildings on the game, while outside of the game people are tackling him more or less as in a football game. Nothing here is remotely warlike in a realistic sense. For that I recommend playing with PTSD Action Man instead. But it does advance the equation of sport with war -- something both the NFL and the military clearly desire.
An ad last year from Northrop Grumman, which has its own "Military Bowl," was no less disturbing. Two years ago an ad that appeared to be for the military until the final seconds turned out to be for Jeeps. There was another ad that year for Budweiser beer with which one commentator found legal concerns:
"First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot 'suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment' of any 'non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise. ... Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."
Two serious issues with this. One: the military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL. Two: despite my deep-seated opposition to the very existence of an institution of mass murder, and my clear understanding of what it wants out of advertisements (whether by itself or by a car or beer company), I can't help getting sucked into the emotion. The technique of this sort of propaganda (here's another ad) is very high level. The rising music. The facial expressions. The gestures. The build up of tension. The outpouring of simulated love. You'd have to be a monster not to fall for this poison. And it permeates the world of millions of wonderful young people who deserve better.
It's in the stadium
If you get past the commercials, there's the problem of the stadium for Super Bowl 50, unlike most stadiums for most sports events, being conspicuously "protected" by the military and militarized police, including with military helicopters and jets that will shoot down any drones and "intercept" any planes. Ruining the pretense that this is actually for the purpose of protecting anyone, military jets will show off by flying over the stadium, as in past years, when they have even done it over stadiums covered by domes.
The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers of the Super Bowl. That the military's purpose is to kill and destroy, that it's recent major wars have eventually been opposed as bad decisions from the start by a majority of Americans, just doesn't enter into it. On the contrary, the military publicly questions whether it should be associating with a sports league whose players hit their wives and girlfriends too much.
My point is not that assault is acceptable, but that murder isn't. The progressive view of the Super Bowl in the United States will question the racism directed at a black quarterback, the concussions of a violent sport that damages the brains of too many of its players (and perhaps even the recruitment of new players from the far reaches of the empire to take their place), sexist treatment of cheerleaders or women in commercials, and perhaps even the disgusting materialism of some of the commercials. But not the militarism. The announcers will thank "the troops" for watching from "over 175 countries" and nobody will pause, set down their beer and dead animal flesh and ask whether 174 countries might not be enough to have U.S. troops in right now.
The idea that the Super Bowl promotes is that war is more or less like football, only better. I was happy to help get a TV show canceled that turned war into a reality game. There is still some resistance to that idea that can be tapped in the U.S. public. But I suspect it is eroding.
The NFL doesn't just want the military's (our) money. It wants the patriotism, the nationalism, the fervent blind loyalty, the unthinking passion, the personal identification, a love for the players to match love of troops -- and with similar willingness to throw them under a bus.
The military doesn't just want the sheer numbers of viewers attracted to the Super Bowl. It wants wars imagined as sporting events between teams, rather than horrific crimes perpetrated on people in their homes and villages. It wants us thinking of Afghanistan not as a 15-year disaster, murder-spree, and counter-productive SNAFU, but as a competition gone into double quadruple overtime despite the visiting team being down 84 points and attempting an impossible comeback. The military wants chants of "USA!" that fill a stadium. It wants role models and heroes and local connections to potential recruits. It wants kids who can't make it to the pros in football or another sport to think they've got the inside track to something even better and more meaningful.
I really wish they did.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new war in Libya, more war in Syria, permanent war in Afghanistan, climate change crashing over the cliff -- these and other immediate disasters are pursued with one hand, while the magician's other hand distracts us with caucuses, primaries, and super bowls. Remember when insiders said the TPP would die the moment it was made public? Well, what if it was made public during an election season? Bread and circuses, even in Rome, weren't designed to make the people happy but to keep them pacified while all the real energy and treasure went into destroying Carthage and filling the vomitoria of the oligarchs. And it's easier for a good team to make it into the super bowl than for a truly good candidate to make it into corporate election reporting. I deny none of that. And yet ...
The 2015-2016 presidential election has, by some measures, already accomplished more than all the previous elections in my lifetime put together. And it's scaring some of the right people.
If you had claimed in 1969 that it would be possible for presidential candidates in the United States to reject religion before they could reject permanent worldwide military empire, you'd have been laughed right out of the Age of Aquarius.
If you'd prognosticated in 1999 that an independent socialist focused like a laser beam on taxing billionaires and busting up some of their most profitable scams (not to mention taxing many of the rest of us) could grab the lead in a Democratic primary campaign against a Clinton with no intern scandals, you'd have been triangulated right out of your career as you knew it.
And if you'd predicted in 2014 that a candidate virtually ignored by the consolidated corporate media, as consolidated under the Clinton Telecom Act, would surge in the polls, you'd have garnered as much respect as those guys in The Big Short did when they claimed to know more than the high priests of Wall Street.
Bernie Sanders, for all of his dramatic shortcomings, is a phenomenon created by a perfect storm of institutional failure -- by Hillary Clinton's coronation constructed of cards just waiting for someone to suggest that millions of outraged winds breathe on it. Sanders is 6 years older and generations more advanced than his Democratic Party rival.
God Is Dead
"What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" --Friedrich Nietzsche
Sanders' website calls him "secular" and "not particularly religious." His answers to a religion question during a CNN "town hall" this week were typical. A member of the audience asked about religion and race, and Sanders answered only about race. Then the moderator asked again about religion. And this was Sanders' answer, I swear to ... -- well, I just swear:
"It's a guiding principle in my life. Absolutely it is. You know, everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings. I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children that are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can't afford their prescription drugs, you know what? That impacts you, that impacts me, and I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, 'It doesn't matter to me. I got it. I don't care about other people.' So, my spirituality is that we are all in this together, and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That is my very strong spiritual feeling."
It's also my very strong non-spiritual feeling. But that was a typical Bernie answer, one he's given many times, typical even in its focus on only 4% of humanity and on only a particular type of homeless people. Some states, by the way, are making huge strides toward ending the shame of homelessness for veterans, so that soon all homeless people in the United States may be people who have never been part of a mass-murder operation. I point this out not to oppose it. Better more people with homes, no matter how it's done! And I point it out not to quibble with Sanders' statement of generosity and humanism, but to suggest that part of how Sanders slipped a completely irreligious answer past an audience that asked a religious question is that Sanders identified himself with the true U.S. religion, the religion that will be front and center and in the jet noise overhead at the super bowl -- the religion of war, the religion of national exceptionalism. Who can forget Ron Paul being booed in a primary debate for applying the golden rule to non-Americans?
When Sanders is asked explicitly if he "believes in God," he also answers, "What my spirituality is about is that we're all in this together." Exactly what my non-spirituality is about. I think it's safe to assume he'll never be asked if he believes in death (which television sponsors would be pleased by that topic?), so "God" is the question he'll get, and he won't be required to answer it. New Hampshire is the least religious state in the country, but the country as a whole has also moved against religion and even more so against "organized religion." Some of us always preferred the organized part (the community, the music, etc.) to the religion, but the larger trend here is a rejection of elite institutions telling us how to run our lives while demonstrably running the world into the ground. And who has more to answer for in that regard than God?
Rejecting organized religion while proclaiming an individual "spirituality" may be all that is needed, and that is tremendous news. That Sanders has done this while professing an ideology of generosity and solidarity, and winning applause for that, is even better news. Studies find that lack of religion can correlate with greater generosity, as certainly seems to be the case with the Scandinavian societies Sanders points to as models. (Seventeen percent of Swedes, as compared to 65% of U.S. Americans, say religion is "important".)
A majority in the United States say they wouldn't vote for an atheist, but for many atheism, like gender, race, sexual preference, and other identifiers is now a matter of self-identification. Someone must choose to call themselves an atheist. Just having no use for theism doesn't qualify them. The media also seems to have no direct interest in attacking candidates on religion. Nobody pays them to do that. And it doesn't show a lot of potential as a weapon. Donald Trump is seen as the least religious candidate in the field, and some of the most religious voters say they support him and just don't care. In addition, Sanders is a supporter of religious freedom, tolerance, and even tax exemptions. He doesn't fit the mold of the bigoted atheist who finds Islam dangerously more religious than Christianity. The media is also no big fan of Ted Cruz, who's on a Dubya-like mission from God. All of these factors seem to have made it possible to run for president of the United States on a platform of pure enlightenment humanism. I didn't think I'd live to see that.
Most Dangerous Man on Wall Street
Hillary Clinton friend and funder and CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein seems to view Bernie Sanders as President Richard Nixon characterized Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and as President Barack Obama seems to view WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as the most dangerous person in the United States. Sanders' sin, in Blankfein's view, is failure to worship the almighty dollar.
Blankfein is fully aware that his endorsing a candidate would hurt that candidate, but seems not to have thought through the possibility that opposing a candidate might help them. Reportedly, Blankfein suggested this week that "Sanders' attacks on the 'billionaire class' and bankers could be dangerous. 'It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,' Blankfein said."
It sounds like the 1% has a case of 99% envy. Misery loves company, but fear demands it. Think about what Blankfein is claiming. One of the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, who has long said explicitly that the Democratic Party should represent banks, has taken $675,000 (or about $5,000 per minute) to give three speeches to Blankfein's company, in which she reportedly reassured them they had nothing to worry about (despite widely known crimes that wrecked the economy of the United States and other nations). Public demands to even see what Clinton told Goldman Sachs have thus far gone unanswered and unechoed in the media, except by Ralph Nader. On Clinton Blankfein has no comment and sees nothing unusual. This is normal, standard, and unquestionable behavior.
But Bernie Sanders proposes to enforce laws, laws against financial trickery, laws against cheating on taxes, laws against monopolization, laws against market manipulation, and new taxes on unearned wealth. Well, this is unacceptable and in fact "dangerous"! It's extreme madness is what it is, according to Blankfein, who depicts Sanders' position as fanatical: "It's a liability to say I'm going to compromise, I'm going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you'll never compromise. It's just incredible. It's a moment in history." That it is.
Here's how Bill Clinton reportedly viewed popular resentment of bankers in 2014: "You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again." Of course, nobody had proposed killing bankers. Many had proposed enforcing laws. But that's how bankers view such a proposal, through the lens of fear. They are probably not alone. Sanders is proposing to end fracking and various other disastrous industries, while investing in new ones. He promises to block the TPP, which Clinton -- long a big supporter of it -- merely claims to "oppose" without committing to actually prevent. Sanders wants to tax the very wealthiest, including the 20 individuals who own as much as half the country. He wants to break up monopolies, including on Wall Street, and perhaps in the media -- which is already clearly shaken by the fact that he's advanced in the polls without them.
Health insurance executives can't be feeling too much better than banksters, unless they're wise enough to see the bigger picture. I waited on hold for 30 minutes this week to try to fix the latest SNAFU with my Obamacare, and then a really helpful woman answered who promised she'd fix it. I asked her if she could also back Bernie Sanders to put an end to the industry she worked for. She said yes, indeed.
The wiser minds in the plutocracy should follow that example. Nobody's out to hurt you, only to help you share your hoarded loot with those who worked for it. Your life will be different, but not necessarily worse. It might even be happier.
The more hopelessly greedy minds in much of the U.S. plutocracy, right about now, will start wishing they'd been prescient enough to go into weapons making and war profiteering, that sacred realm that Sanders' spirituality dares not threaten.
Patrick Hiller is the Executive Director of the War Prevention Initiative by the Jubitz Family Foundation and teaches in the Conflict Resolution Program at Portland State University. As a Peace Scientist, his writings and research are almost exclusively related to the analysis of war and peace and social injustice. Among other involvements, Patrick serves on the Executive Committee of the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association and on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War where he works with me at http://worldbeyondwar.org. We discuss the remarkable discoveries of peace researchers reported in the newly created Peace Science Digest.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
To: The U.S. Congress
Uphold your Constitutional responsibility and your duty under the United Nations Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, basic human decency, and a minimal ability to learn from past mistakes by blocking all funding for another war on Libya.
Why is this important?
The illegal 2011 overthrow of the Libyan government subjected the people of that nation and surrounding nations to violence, weapons proliferation, chaos, and desperate insecurity. In no way will compounding the problem with the same approach again improve matters in this case or establish good precedents.
How it will be delivered
In Washington, D.C.
A Proposal from World Beyond War
David Swanson, Director
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has requested budget proposals from organizations and members of the public. Here is a friendly suggestion from World Beyond War.
Last year’s Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by, in my calculation, 1%. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut. This was not the case in other recent years, when the CPC prominently proposed to end wars and cut particular weapons. With all due respect, how is this censoring of any mention of the military evidence of progressing, rather than regressing?
Military spending is 53.71% of discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. No other item adds up to even 7%. Whether a budget proposal is progressive, communist, fascist, conservative, or libertarian, how can it avoid mentioning this elephant in the room? Military spending, of course, produces the need for ongoing additional spending on debt, care for veterans, etc., so that total U.S. military spending is somewhere over twice the figure used by NPP.
Using the numbers of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which leaves out huge U.S. military expenses (which are of course in several departments of the government), U.S. military spending is as much as the next several nations’ combined — and most of those nations are close U.S. allies and major U.S. weapons industry customers. Because SIPRI almost certainly leaves out more U.S. spending than spending by other nations, in reality U.S. spending on militarism is probably the equivalent of a great many, if not all other, foreign nations combined.
In addition, U.S. military spending is extremely high by historical standards. Looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department’s annual “Green Book” makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history. Here are the numbers in constant 2016 dollars, thanks to Nicolas Davies:
Obama FY2010-15 $663.4 billion per year
Bush Jr FY2002-09* $634.9 ” ” ”
Clinton FY1994-2001 $418.0 ” ” ”
Bush Sr FY1990-93 $513.4 ” ” ”
Reagan FY1982-89 $565.0 ” ” ”
Carter FY1978-81 $428.1 ” ” ”
Ford FY1976-77 $406.7 ” ” ”
Nixon FY1970-75 $441.7 ” ” ”
Johnson FY1965-69 $527.3 ” ” ”
Kennedy FY1962-64 $457.2 ” ” ”
Eisenhower FY1954-61 $416.3 ” ” ”
Truman FY1948-53 $375.7 ” ” ”
*Excludes $80 billion supplemental added to FY2009 under Obama.
War Spending Drains an Economy:
It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.
War Spending Increases Inequality:
Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved.
War Spending Is Unsustainable, As Is Exploitation it Facilitates:
While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? This is far from clear, and if it were, it would not be sustainable in light of the dangers created by war, the environmental destruction of war, and the economic drain of militarism.
The Money Is Needed Elsewhere:
Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if some of the funds now invested in war were transferred there. Morally, they must be. As a matter of simple continued human existence, they must be, as they must be transferred to housing, education, infrastructure, and healthcare — at home and abroad.
It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. U.S. foreign aid right now is about $23 billion a year. Increasing it would have a number of interesting impacts, including the saving of a great many lives and the prevention of a tremendous amount of suffering. It would also, if one other factor were added, make the nation that did it the most beloved nation on earth. A recent poll of 65 nations found that the United States is far and away the most feared country, the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world. Were the United States responsible for providing schools and medicine and solar panels, the idea of anti-American terrorist groups would be as laughable as anti-Switzerland or anti-Canada terrorist groups, but only if one other factor were added — only if the funding came from where it really ought to come from — reductions in militarism.
Some U.S. states are setting up commissions to work on the transition from war to peace industries.
Popular opinion polls show huge support for cutting militarism and increasing spending in useful areas. In 2011 numerous polls found the top public solution to a budget “crisis” was to tax the super-rich, and the second most popular solution was to cut the military. This support increases dramatically when people find out how high military spending now is. Polls show that people have no idea. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed people the budget and then asked them about it. The results were very encouraging.
If a supposedly “progressive” caucus will not so much as tell people what the basic outlines of the budget look like, why produce a progressive budget? If you will tell people what the budget looks like, you really ought to follow through by proposing to change it.
We recommend eliminating nuclear weapons and working with the rest of the world to do the same globally. We recommend closing foreign bases, removing foreign and ocean-based weapons, and keeping U.S. troops within 200 miles of the United States. We recommend eliminating aircraft carriers, long-range missiles and other weapons that serve an offensive rather than a defensive purpose. We recommend eliminating secret “special” forces and weaponized drones that allow presidential killing sprees without Congressional oversight. This should, of course, be done through a program of conversion or transition that strategically retools and retrains to benefit U.S. and world workers, infrastructure, energy systems, the natural environment, and international relations.
We thank you for your consideration and encourage you to contact us for additional information.
No, the cornfields are not full of dumb blondes (except when Fox News shows up), but it truly is hard not to be sexist in Iowa.
For example, I think it's reprehensible to take tens of millions of dollars from murderous kingdoms and dictatorships and then waive restrictions on selling them weapons including the weapons that Saudi Arabia has been using to slaughter men, women, and children in Yemen. And this makes me a sexist, or so I'm told.
In my view, parroting every war lie of Bush and Cheney was disgusting enough, but then pretending you meant well and didn't understand, even though once the war was begun you voted over and over again to fund it, is literally criminal as well as a moral abomination. Taking so many millions of dollars from war profiteers just makes it worse -- at least in the eyes of us sexist fans of Jill Stein.
Serving the health insurance and drug industries by smashing every attempt for decades to create a civilized health system like those in the rest of the wealthy world is also murderous by any straightforward empirical measure. Millions have died, and many billions of dollars have been diverted from better use as a result. But mentioning it turns out to be sexist. Tasking your daughter to give speeches lying about it shows, on the contrary, deep respect for women.
Pushing policies with your husband to create mass incarceration and then pretending it just happened like the weather, ramming through NAFTA and pushing more corporate trade agreements at every opportunity (but pretending momentarily to oppose the TPP), defending the Wall Street crooks who trashed the economy and taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to give them speeches promising to protect them and refusing to make public the transcripts, pressuring the White House for a war on Libya for reasons of oil and looting, facilitating coups in Honduras and Ukraine, stirring up hostilities with Russia, talking of obliterating Iran, insisting on yet more, counterproductive war in Syria and Iraq, pushing for massive bombing in Syria, giggling about murdering Gadaffi and the people (including female people) of the entire region be damned, turning the State Department into a marketing firm for U.S. weapons companies and U.S. fracking companies, taking many millions from corrupting interested parties while claiming to be dead broke, supporting unconstitutional spying and retribution against whistleblowers, corporatizing the Democratic Party and proposing that it should "represent banks," defending any and all of this by yelling "9/11," and suggesting that opposition to any of this makes someone sexist -- that all seems outrageously reprehensible to me.
The people Hillary Clinton would kill, the people she would deprive of healthcare, the students she would deny a free quality education, the families she would deny a decent income, the workers she will deny jobs, the generations she will deny an inhabitable environment -- are they going to feel better because she's a woman?
And how are the poor people of Iowa going to feel if they're responsible for supporting her?
By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
I asked Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein about her platform this week and came away believing it had a better chance of winning than Bernie Sanders'. I know that platforms don't run, people do, and they do so within a two-party dominated system. But this already crazy presidential election could turn into a crazier five-way race. And, even if it doesn't, or if it does but still nobody ever learns that Jill Stein exists, there is nonetheless much for us and for the other candidates to learn from her platform.
If you think free college is popular, you should see what young people think of free college and erasing all existing student debt.
If single-payer healthcare with raised taxes (but net savings, if you make it to that fine print) excites voters, how do you think they'd respond to single-payer healthcare with no raised taxes?
If fewer wars and asking Saudi Arabia to do more of the funding and fighting sounds promising, what would you say to no more wars, a 50 percent cut in the $1 trillion/year military spending, no more weapons sales to Saudi Arabia which is doing more than enough killing, thank you, no more free weapons for Israel either, and investment of some of the savings in a massive green energy jobs campaign producing a sustainable energy policy and a full-employment economy?
Senator Bernie Sanders' domestic proposals have got millions excited, but the (unfair and misleading) criticism that he'll raise taxes may be a tragic flaw, and it's one he opens himself up to by refusing to say that he'll cut the military. Stein would cut at least half of the single biggest item in the discretionary budget, an item that takes up at least half of that budget: military spending. She'd cut fossil fuel subsidies, as well, and expect savings to come from healthcare, including as a result of cutting pollution and improving food quality. But the big immediate item is the military. Cutting it is popular with voters, but not with Democratic or Republican presidential candidates. Sanders will be labeled the Tax Man by the corporate media, while Jill Stein will have to be attacked in a different way if she gets mentioned.
"Cutting the military budget is something that we can do right now," Stein told me, "but we want to be clear that we are putting an end to wars for oil – period. And that is part of our core policy of a Green New Deal which creates an emergency program, establishing twenty million living wage jobs, full-time jobs, to green the economy, our energy, food, and transportation systems, building critical infrastructure, restoring ecosystems, etc. This is an emergency program that will get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. So this is a war-time-level mobilization in order to completely detoxify our energy system, and that means both nuclear and fossil fuel. In doing that, we deprive the empire of this major justification for wars and bases all around the world. So we want to be clear that that emphasis is gone, and goading the American public into war so as to feed our fossil fuel energy system – that ends and makes all the more essential and possible the major cutting of the military budget."
Which 50 percent of the military would Stein cut? Two places she named that she would start with (there would have to be much more) are foreign bases (she'd close them) and the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Would she unilaterally scrap U.S. nukes? I asked.
"We don’t even need to do it unilaterally," Stein said, "because the Russians have been begging to revive the process of nuclear disarmament, which the U.S., in its wisdom, undercut. ... The Russians have been persistently trying to restore those nuclear talks for the purpose of disarmament. And that would be step one – is to make major reductions between the U.S. and Russia and then to convene a world forum to put an end to nuclear weapons altogether."
The "war on terror," Stein pointed out, has only created more terror, while costing each U.S. household $75,000. "That’s not going to make people terribly enthusiastic for it, particularly when you point out that all this has done is create failed states, worse terrorist threat, whether you look at the Taliban, the globalization of al-Qaeda, the creation of ISIS. This has been an utter, unmitigated disaster, and the massive refugee crisis which is threatening to tear apart the European Union. This is absolutely unsustainable by any count."
To change U.S. foreign policy, Stein proposed financial reforms unheard of in any presidential debate thus far. She suggested that military and other government contractors should face "pay to play protections" preventing them from "buying their way into policy." Stein explained: "If you establish that anyone who contributes, who provides campaign contributions, or who lobbies is not eligible for contracting with the government, the minute you break that umbilical cord, then the industry loses its power to corral Congress and dictate foreign policy." Stein said such protections could also block U.S. government facilitation of weapons sales to foreign buyers.
"War profiteering should not be allowed," Stein explained, "in the same way that energy profiteering is not compatible with our survival." Ultimately, the big profits, Stein said, are in healthcare: "We spend a trillion dollars plus on the military industrial complex every year, but we spend three trillion and counting every year on the sick care system, which doesn't make us well. It just enables us to tread water while we cope with these disastrous health impacts of the war economy and the fossil fuel economy."
Stein did not hesitate to highlight differences when I asked her about Bernie Sanders. She cited his "support, for example, for the F-35 weapons system which has been an incredible boondoggle." While Sanders would keep killing with drones and "fighting terrorism," Stein calls "fighting terrorism" an oxymoron and points to counterproductive results: "Terrorism is a response to drones that sneak up on you in the night and to night raids and this is where we recruit and we enable ISIS and al-Qaeda to continue expanding ... something Bernie hasn't quite gotten straight by saying the solution here is to turn the Saudis loose; the Saudi's need to 'get their hands dirty'."
"We can actually begin to rein in the Saudis with a weapons embargo and by impounding their bank accounts," Stein said. The same goes for Israel, she added, stressing the need to respect the law. Should the United States join the International Criminal Court, I asked. "Oh, my god, of course!" was Stein's reply. "And the treaty on land mines?" "Of course! My god. Yes. ... There are all sorts of treaties that are ready to move forward. In fact the Soviets and the Chinese have been prime movers in expansion of treaties to prohibit weapons in space and to establish the rule of law in cyberspace."
So, what would President Jill Stein do about ISIS? She answered that question with no hesitation: "Number 1: we don't stop ISIS by doing more of what created ISIS. This is like the elephant in the room that none of the other presidential candidates are willing to acknowledge, even Rand Paul, I might say, surprisingly. So we don't bomb ISIS and try to shoot ISIS out. We've got to stop ISIS in its tracks by ending the funding of ISIS and by ending the arming of ISIS. How do we do that? We do that with a weapons embargo. And so the U.S. can unilaterally move forward on that, but we need to sit down and talk with the Russians as well, and Putin tried to do this.
"You know, Putin, our arch enemy Putin, was actually trying to create a peace process in Syria. ... We need to begin talking with Russia and with other countries. We need to build on our relative détente with Iran to engage them, and we need to bring our allies into the process. Right now, the peace process, as I understand it, is held up by, guess who -- Saudi Arabia, who wants to bring in known terrorist groups as the representatives of the opposition. The Saudis should not be defining the way forward here ... Our ally Turkey needs to understand that their membership in NATO or their position with the U.S. and other allies around the world should not be taken for granted, and that they cannot be in the business either of funding ISIS and related groups through the purchase of their oil [or of] shipping weapons. They also need to close down their border to the movement of the militias."
Stein was sounding an awful lot like the leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, and I asked her about him. "I have already met with Jeremy Corbyn," she said, "when I was in Paris for the climate talks, ... and we had a surprising amount of time to talk and we agreed completely on collaborating on this 'peace offensive,' which is the name we have given to our solution to the problem of ISIS. Peace is not passive. We need an active, interventionist program based on peace which means to stop the flow or arms and money, etc. So, we've already agreed that we see eye-to-eye on foreign policy."
But Corbyn is in office with a shot at becoming prime minister. With the U.S. public completely sold on the hopelessness of third-party bids, at least by non-multi-billionaires, what is Stein's plan for actually becoming president?
"First of all," she says, "there are 43 million young people and not-so-young people who are trapped in debt, in student debt. My campaign is the only campaign that will be on the ballot that will abolish student debt. We did it for the bankers who plunged us into this economic crisis that persists in spite of what they say. And they did that by way of their waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet we bailed them out to the tune of $16 trillion and counting.
"So, isn't it about time we bail out the victims of that waste, fraud, and abuse -- the young people of this country whose leadership and whose civic engagement is essential for blazing the trail to our future? It has always required a fresh generation to re-envision, you know, what our future looks like. So, we need to bail out the young people, for their benefit and for ours. That can be done through another quantitative easing which is relatively simple, does not cost us, essentially expands the money supply in a way that works as a stimulus to the economy, unlike the bailout that they provided to Wall Street which has only created a stimulus for more reckless gambling – waste, fraud, and abuse. ... I have yet to find a young person in debt who doesn't become a missionary for our campaign the minute they learn that we will cancel their debt. ... The 43 million young people – that is a plurality of the vote. In a three-way race, that's enough to win the vote."
Stein also pointed to 25 million Latinos who, she said, "have learned that the Democrats are the party of deportation, of night raids, and of detention, of refugees who are fleeing a crisis in their home countries that we created. How? Through NAFTA, though illegal coups and CIA-sponsored regime changes, and through the drug wars. ... If people want to fix the immigration problem, the answer is, 'Stop causing it.'"
But will Stein be in the debates for the general election? "In my experience," she told me, "all you have to do is have a real conversation, have an open mic, a true presidential debate that actually allows presidential candidates to debate who have broad enough support that they are on the ballot for a majority of Americans and could numerically win the election. We are challenging the Commission on Presidential Debates in court and we will be challenging them soon with a direct action campaign, so stay tuned, because the American public deserves to know about the issues. The American public deserves the right to vote. And they have a right to know who they can vote for and what they are voting about."
Here's audio of the interview that produced this report.
“I was sleeping peacefully late one night when I felt someone grab my leg and drag me from my bed onto the floor. My leg was pulled so hard I heard my pajama pants rip down the middle. Looking up and seeing my father, I began to panic as he pulled my hair and told me he was going to kill me.”
Paul Chappell is recounting an incident from when he was four years old. The terror of such unpredictable attacks in the years that followed traumatized him. Chappell’s father had been traumatized by war, and Chappell would also end up joining the military. But over the years, Paul managed to turn his childhood trauma, not into a continued cycle of violence but rather into a means of gaining insight into how the institution of mass violence might be ended.
Chappell’s latest book, The Cosmic Ocean: New Answers to Big Questions, is the fifth in a projected seven-part series. Like a sculptor pounding out variations on a theme, Chappell each year produces a newer, thicker, wiser, and more illuminating take on the questions that tear at his heart: How can we be so kind and cause such suffering? How can we fail to care about others just like ourselves? What sort of change is possible and how can it be brought about?
I’m usually wary of anything that could be repetitive or pedantic, as life is just too short and I just too rebellious. But Chappell is repetitive because he is a teacher, and he is becoming a better teacher every year. He wants us to understand important truths in a variety of contexts, to remember them, and to act on them. As with his previous books, I once again recommend the latest one as the best, but encourage reading them all. Skip a presidential debate or two if you have to.
I’m always wary of efforts to solve war by finding inner peace. “Does the Pentagon give a flying f— if you’ve got inner peace?!” I’ve been known to scream, very unpeacefully. “Will your forgiving of your obnoxious neighbor and your spreading of harmony through your neighborhood stop Raytheon and Boeing and Lockheed from profiting off another war on Libya?” But, in fact, Chappell is examining the reasons people become violent and accepting of violence at least in part in order to understand what it would take to create a society in which Donald Trump would speak to entirely empty coliseums, and any Congress member who failed to end a war would be confronted by a unanimous constituency insisting on peace. Chappell’s point is not to shut out the world, but to understand better how to change it.
I generally object to investigations into “human nature” as I believe the concept primarily serves as an excuse for nasty behavior, and I’m unaware of any empirical means of determining what actions do and do not qualify as “human nature.” But Chappell is not trying to identify a mystically correct moral behavior in order to insist that we imitate it. He’s trying to accurately grasp the motivations of even the most damaging actions, in part in order to enlarge our capacity for empathy — and in part in order to re-classify certain types of behavior as illness. He’s also exposing the use of “human nature” as an excuse.
“When someone gets malaria, cancer, or HIV,” writes Chappell, “I have never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, that’s just human nature,’ because people realize something has gone wrong with the human body. But if someone becomes violent, people often say, ‘Oh that’s just human nature,’ which assumes that violence is an essential part of being human (like eating and sleeping), rather than the result of something that has gone wrong. But what if violence, like an illness, has a cause that we can understand and prevent?” Chappell includes among such causes, “poverty, desperation, injustice, dehumanization, ignorance, bullying, and trauma.”
Of course it’s a choice we make to categorize something as an illness, not an eternal discovery about “human nature,” but it is a wise choice when we’re talking about violence and war.
A traumatized person, Chappell writes, wants others to understand the trauma and sympathize with their suffering. But how can they communicate the trauma? They can try ordinary speech or art, but often another medium appears superior: violence. By making others feel the same pain, a traumatized person can finally make himself understood. As a sophomore in college, Chappell happened to mention to his classmates that when he’d been bored in high school he’d fantasized about killing all of his fellow students. Chappell assumed that this was universal, but his college friends reacted with horror.
Chappell came to understand that a desire for violence can arise out of trauma, and that it was not typical. “Cruel actions, if we define them as inflicting, watching, and enjoying the suffering of a living creature (without that creature’s consent), are relatively rare in the world,” he writes. A member of an ancient culture who believed that a child sacrifice would appease the god or gods and save a society might, and in various accounts did, deeply regret having to kill a child, but acted on the basis of a false belief.
I might add that most religious believers these days don’t act on their beliefs in ways that conflict with broader society. Exceptions include, on the plus side, those who protest at drone bases in the name of Jesus, and on the negative side, those who sacrifice chickens, deny their kids medicine, or disregard climate change on the grounds that it’s not in the Bible. Willful ignorance can muddy up the question of feeling empathy for someone acting from within a particular worldview, but only slightly. As we develop a habit of empathizing, it should reach more and more people and behaviors. Empathizing is, of course, a different thing than supporting, justifying, or excusing.
Chappell suggests, however, that building empathy depends on building accuracy: “When we search for the underlying causes of problems and arrive at inaccurate answers, it can silence our empathy. For example, if you believe a baby girl is born with a disability because she is cursed by the gods or paying back bad karma from a past life, it can reduce your empathy not only for her, but also her family.”
Empathizing with more individuals, Chappell argues, can also result in greater feelings of empathy for humanity as a whole, and as a result greater confidence in the ability of great masses of humanity to improve our ways: “[W]hen we believe that humanity is born evil, naturally violent, and destined to forever wage war, it can silence our empathy, but the scientific understanding that violence is instead caused by trauma and other preventable factors offers us a more accurate (and empathetic) understanding of human beings.”
Another route toward empathizing with humanity all over the earth today (and perhaps even losing the need to “humanize” each new person before we can care about them) is learning to empathize with human generations long past: “The reason I am discussing the enormous challenges our ancestors overcame is because we must strengthen our respect, empathy, and appreciation for human beings and stop viewing ourselves as a cancer or virus upon the earth.”
But aren’t we a virus upon the earth? Haven’t we launched a mass extinction of millions of beautiful species, possibly including our own? Perhaps we have. But we won’t avoid it, assuming we can avoid it, by viewing ourselves as cancer. That’s a recipe for hopelessness, and also for cruelty and war — which can only make matters dramatically worse. If we are to save ourselves we have to understand that we are worth saving, and that even our virus-like activities are generally well-intended.
That we mean well does not suggest that our government in Washington, D.C., means well — although many members of that government often do, in some ways at least, have much better intentions than the results convey. It also does not mean that humans aren’t engaged in horrible activities, first among them being war: “Many people today have a condescending attitude toward those who practiced human sacrifice thousands of years ago, but what if we are not so different from them? What if people in the modern world continue to die in massive ceremonies of human sacrifice? What if you supported the ritual of human sacrifice at some point in your life, without even realizing it?” Chappell is referring to war, that institution to which U.S. parents continue to send their offspring.
War, in fact, has become a U.S. religion, Chappell writes. War has heretics and behaviors that are seen as sacrilegious. Many people display more reverence for Veterans’ Day than for Christmas. One might add that war has holy objects, such as flags, that must never be desecrated, although human beings can be desecrated in large numbers for the good of the flag.
How does empathy get us out of this fix? Chappell turns, late in the book, to the topic of beauty, arguing not just against the often criticized standards of the beauty products industry, but for truly seeing all humans as beautiful, regardless of their age, health, race, or culture. We should have a reverence for life, he writes, using language that has, I’m afraid, been damagingly taken over by the abortion debate.
Chappell has a vision of people someday seeing, not just that little black boys and black girls in Alabama are able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers, but seeing every person on the whole earth as part of their own family: “When a baby is born anywhere on earth, even to people whose skin color differs from yours, about 99.9 percent of your DNA is passed on.” You want biological descendants? There’s no need to have eight kids. There’s a need to protect your human family.
The term “racism,” Chappell writes, dates only to the 1930s, and “sexism” to the 1960s. Here’s one more we might add: “American exceptionalism.” I’ve read somewhere that it dates to 1929. Perhaps it will be a thing of the past by 2029. Perhaps if it isn’t we all will be.
The Oregon tragi-comedy has left one dead, one injured, six arrested, some guys in Michigan trying to fix a water system with their guns, and millions of Americans deprived of intelligent television content for weeks.
I know that people outside the Occupy movement, in particular those employed by CNN, had a hard time telling what we wanted, but I myself have had a hard time telling what the Nevadans and others in Oregon wanted.
They demanded justice on behalf of people who said they'd never wanted the help. They demanded a small government willing to do them big favors. They wanted a fight to the death but didn't want to hurt anyone.
Really, the clearest answer was that they wanted to save the Constitution.
But how? Which bit? From whom? When we in Occupy demanded taxation of billionaires and cuts to the military, the CNN employees grabbed their heads and moaned in pain, insisting that we must settle on One Single Demand or their brains would explode.
Well, the Constitution has seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. That's way too many for an effective peaceful gun battle.
And the Constitution creates a big, distant, tax-raising government. Why wouldn't these guys get into shoot-outs for the Articles of Confederation? Weren't those more to their taste and only slightly more ancient and irrelevant than the Constitution?
No, they insisted that it was always the Constitution for which they were suffering along on donated snacks and anger. But which part? Surely not the First Amendment and its silly right to peaceably assemble.
The Second Amendment? But if you've been permitted to own piles of guns, can you really propose to get into a fight with those guns over your demand to be allowed to have those guns -- much less to have them for a well-regulated militia? Well-regulated militias remember to bring snacks.
The Third Amendment? No. It's a bit too awkward to take over buildings without the consent of the owner in order to Youtube to the death for the right never to have fighters move into anywhere without the consent of the owner.
And they didn't name any of these amendments. They named the Constitution.
Why? Here's an ancient and anti-democratic document produced by an elitist federal government that had redirected popular anger toward a foreign country. It condoned slavery and facilitated genocide and conquest through expansion to the west. As a contemporary document in 2016 it's an embarrassing vestige from a long-gone epoch. It provides no environmental protections, and no human protections -- no rights to any basic necessities of life.
But maybe that's part of the attraction. The Constitution may have been a step toward bigger government, but it was created in an age of much smaller government, of great resistance to any standing army, of no income taxes, of no draft, of no department of education, of no social safety net even on the miserable level of the 21st century United States.
The Constitution created a rather unrepresentative legislature, with a weak executive. It's been made almost completely unrepresentative, while its executive has been made virtually a king, and its Supreme Court has been given the power to rewrite the Constitution as it sees fit.
The U.S. government and the U.S. nation bear little similarity to the U.S. Constitution or the land in which it was written. And the U.S. government of today is Kafkan in its frustrating coldness, incompetence, and almost complete corruption. Isn't that what it comes down to? The government taxes you, gives you almost nothing in return, and then spends all your money teaching you by example that the way to solve problems is to act tough, take a stand, move into a new territory and declare "mission accomplished" -- no need to really have a thought-out plan, just have lots and lots of weaponry and everything will be fine. The locals will welcome you as liberators.
Maybe the late militia should have called itself the Unknown Unknowns.
Bill Fletcher Jr. has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staffperson in the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of “The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941”; the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of “Solidarity Divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice“; and the author of “‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty other myths about unions.” Fletcher is a syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator on television, radio and the Web. You can find him at billfletcherjr.com
He wrote the article Obama Morocco and Saharawi Self-Determination.
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By David Swanson, Telesur
A recent bribery conviction may lead to the U.S. Supreme Court further corrupting the U.S. political system.
How does one even get convicted of bribery in a system that has legalized it to the extent that ours has? Look at Congress members' and other federal office holders' actions and their sources of funding. There is debate only over whether they are bribed to act or rewarded for having acted, but the correlation between action and funding is undisputed, and the sources of funding unrestricted. A headline like "Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton's State Department" raises a few eyebrows but no indictments.
The correlation is even more strongly documented between funding and gaining access to Congress members, and the general trend so clear that an academic study has identified the U.S. form of government as an oligarchy. Many political observers now think of elections as a corrupting influence, which no doubt fuels a taste for pseudo-solutions like term limits and billionaire politicians who don't have to sell out.
And yet, two U.S. state governors have recently been convicted of taking bribes: Alabama's Don Siegelman and Virginia's Bob McDonnell. Siegelman has been in prison for over four years though he was targeted by politically motivated prosecutors and was never accused of any personal gain. McDonnell was bribed with a Rolex watch, plane tickets, dinners, trips, loans, catering, golf bags, and i-phones, and, according to his successful prosecutors took official actions in his capacity as governor to benefit the person bribing him within minutes of receiving various loot. The U.S. Supreme Court has kept McDonnell and his wife (also convicted) out of prison as it considers his case. A bipartisan collection of 113 current and former state Attorneys General urged the Supreme Court to correct the injustice to Siegelman, and it declined to consider it.
The U.S. Supreme Court was uninterested in a bribery case like Siegelman's that involved no bribery. What's frightening is its interest in a case like McDonnell's. His lawyers will argue that while he and his wife clearly benefitted, he didn't know everything his wife had promised in return for the bribes, nor did he agree to it, nor did he deliver on it. There is clearly the potential that the new standard in U.S. politics going forward will be that you can give luxury toys and personal bribes directly to an office holder, as long as he or she fails to deliver the public policy you asked for, or as long as he or she doesn't try very hard to deliver it.
Such a standard would open the door to direct bribery of politicians in a new way not achieved by Citizens United and related rulings that facilitate bribery through campaigns and PACs and foundations. As long as the two parties are discreet, who will be able to prove that the favor your politician did your corporation was actually in response to the Mercedes you gave him?
If you imagine the Supreme Court's interest is in correcting injustice, as opposed to expanding the legalization of bribery, have another look at the Don Siegelman case. Siegelman was by far the most successful Democratic politician in an overwhelmingly Republican government in Alabama. When he won reelection as governor in 2002, the election result was reversed after Republican officials in a single county waited until the Democratic officials had gone home, then recounted the votes and determined that there had been an error. Despite Democrats' objections of impropriety and pointing out that the voters whose votes were switched away from Siegelman didn't -- as one would have expected -- have their votes similarly "corrected" in other races, the Republican Attorney General of Alabama upheld the result and forbid any manual recount to verify it.
Republican lawyer Jill Simpson describes "a five-year secret campaign to ruin the governor," during which Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's senior political advisor, asked her to "try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife." Rove associate Bill Canary, she says, told her that his wife Leura and friend Alice Martin, both federal prosecutors, would "take care of" Siegelman. When Siegelman began running to win his office back two years after losing it, the U.S. Justice Department took him to trial alleging a Medicaid scam, but the judge listened to the opening argument and then threw out the case as worthless.
The "Justice" Department kept trying, and finally got Siegelman on bribery. His offense? He was not alleged to have pocketed a dime or to have received any support through any foundation or committee. Rather, he re-appointed a man to a board who had been appointed to the same position by the previous three governors, a man who made contributions to a state lottery to pay for college scholarships for poor kids. Yes, Siegelman's idea to help poor people with a lottery seems to have missed the fact that lotteries are taxes on poor people. But does that make him guilty of bribery or justify prosecutors targeting him?
The star witness in the Siegelman case claimed that Siegelman met with this man and emerged from the meeting with a check in hand talking openly about the quid pro quo. In reality, the check was written days after that meeting, and the star witness was facing 10 years in prison and had cut a deal with the prosecutors to reduce his sentence.
A U.S. House Committee investigated the Siegelman case and asked Karl Rove to testify. He declined. And the committee declined to hold him in contempt or to use inherent contempt. He was simply allowed to refuse. Now Siegelman's son, attorney Joseph Siegelman, has filed suit seeking documents from the U.S. government. I asked him what he hopes to find.
"Every stone that gets overturned ends up showing something negative," he said. As an example he pointed to the Justice Department's description of an email from a prosecutor of Siegelman to the campaign manager of his main Republican opponent, a description of an email that didn't become public until years after Siegelman's trial. "We don't know what else they have to hide," said Joseph Siegelman.
I asked Joseph Siegelman about the Supreme Court's decision to hear McDonnell's case and not his father's, and he exclaimed, "How can our system of justice be so skewed?"
The worst of it may be that a ruling in favor of McDonnell and the inherent right to accept Rolexes from lobbyists could leave Siegelman sitting in prison. He never accepted any Rolex. And he did re-appoint that healthcare professional to that healthcare board.
Should the Supreme Court further legalize bribery, the people of the United States should send Benjamin Franklin a note informing him that we were not able to keep a republic after all. Or they should rise up and compel the Congress, or compel the states to go around the Congress in amending the Constitution, to end all forms of bribery, ban all private election spending, create free and equal media air time on our air waves for all qualified candidates, provide public financing for campaigns, and for godsake free Don Siegelman.
Originally published by American Herald Tribune
Major corporate media outlets in the United States are reporting on a new viability for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, based on his rise in the polls nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire -- and possibly, though this goes largely unmentioned, based on his big new advertising purchases from major corporate media outlets. In independent progressive media as well, there's a small flood of maybe-he-can-really-win articles.
Whether this goes any further or not, something remarkable has happened. The Donald Trump campaign (in many ways outlandish and uniquely dangerous) more or less fits the usual mold in terms of media success; the data are very clear that the media gave Trump vastly disproportionate media coverage, following which he rose in the polls -- the same polls later used anachronistically to justify the coverage. This was the story of how the media created Howard Dean's success before tearing him down in 2004, and it has been the story of most candidates, successful and otherwise: the polling closely follows the coverage, not the other way around.
Bernie is something new. The major media has given him ridiculously little coverage, and belittled him in most of that coverage. Yet he has surged in the polls, in volunteers, in small-donor fundraising, and in real world events. While television news has shunted aside actual events, crises, social movements, the state of the natural environment, any number of wars, countless injustices, and most legislative activities in order to focus more than ever on the next election, and has done so ever since it was nearly two years away, the media has also given wildly disparate attention to certain candidates, in a way that bears no correlation to polling or internet searching or donors or any such factor. As of last fall, Bernie Sanders had received a total of 8 minutes of coverage from broadcast evening news, less than Mitt Romney or Joe Biden got for deciding not to enter the race.
And yet, Bernie polls better against Donald Trump (now that a pollster finally asked that question and released the results) than does Hillary Clinton. And Bernie is gradually catching up to Clinton in polls of Democrats. If he wins New Hampshire (very likely) and Iowa (pretty likely), all sorts of bandwagon jumpers could switch their support to him, and uninspired voters become inspired to vote in the next several primary states, snowballing the magical force of "momentum" into an upset victory with great media ratings, even if horrifying political implications from the point of view of major media outlets' corporate owners.
According to Ted Rall, we are seeing the failure of propaganda: "Everyone in a position to block Sanders' campaign did everything they could to sabotage him. ... Marginalization always used to work. Remember John Edwards? His 2008 primary campaign was doomed because TV networks refused to cover him. But the media's cold shoulder isn't hurting Bernie."
As Glenn Greenwald sees it, Sanders is riding the same wave of backlash against the establishment that Jeremy Corbyn has surfed in Britain. Part of that tidal wave may also motivate Trump supporters who, in some cases, admit that they don't like his views but simply love that he says whatever he feels like saying. Sharp policical observer Sam Husseini pointed out to me that the more the media demanded Bill Clinton's impeachment, the more the public opposed it. Sometimes what the media wants backfires. As the media shifts from ignoring Sanders to attacking him, that could benefit him, or it could hurt him. As Dave Lindorff and others have pointed out, "socialist" is actually a popular word now. Pundits in whose world "socialist" is equated with traitor, could actually hurt the cause of derailing the Bern inferno if they keep labeling him a socialist.
Some observers are far less sanguine about the defeat of propaganda. "If Bernie wins the nomination," media critic Jeff Cohen told me, "I suspect we'll see a barrage of mainstream news media bias and smear and distortion against Bernie and his platform on healthcare and Wall Street and taxes and government-funded jobs that will be at a level rarely witnessed in history. Not to mention a new level of attack ads bought by dozens of GOP and corporate SuperPACs. And all this will have impact, partly mitigated thanks to social media and indy media."
Cohen draws on history, which he clearly believes has not ended: "The anti-Bernie barrage will be reminiscent of 1934 when former Socialist Party leader Upton Sinclair left that party and stunned the nation by winning the Dem nomination for governor of California on a totally progressive platform; Sinclair was defeated in the general election by new innovations in smear politics from business interests, especially the Hollywood studios. If Bernie somehow gains the nomination, we'll see whether, aided by new media, the public is any smarter 80 years later in seeing through and fighting back against the distortions."
For the better part of a year I have shared Cohen's expectations for what the media might try to do to Sanders in early 2016. I assumed it would wait this long because a contest makes for better ratings than a coronation. But I did not predict this level of success for Sanders. I think we will see media support for all kinds of lies coming from the Clinton campaign, like those issued recently around healthcare. We'll see smears about sexism, and all variety of molehills turned into mountains. We'll also see Sanders denounced as a cowardly pacifist endangering us all by refusing to bomb enough people.
The tragic and ironic flaw in Sanders' strategy may be this. He'll take criticism as a socialist because he is one. And he'll take criticism as a pacifist although he's become a dedicated militarist at heart, intent on continuing drone kills and "destroying" ISIS, and unwilling to say he'll cut military spending. Not only is cutting military spending incredibly popular, not only would proposing to cut it lead to people like me knocking on doors for Bernie, but if Bernie were willing to cut a small fraction of the military that he routinely says is loaded with fraud and waste, he wouldn't have to fund healthcare or college or anything else with any sort of tax increases.
The U.S. government does not need more money in order to provide world-class social services. It needs to tax multi-billionaires in order to reign in their power. But it can fund our wildest dream by shifting money out of the military. And Bernie knows this. Yet he has opened himself up wide to what will likely be the most common criticism: "He wants to raise taxes!" He can explain that you'll save more by ending private health insurance than you'll pay in higher taxes, but how will he fit that in 4 seconds? How will he repeat it as often as the accusation? How can we be sure people are both mad at the establishment and intelligent enough to see through its deceptions?
Incidentally, peace groups have tried everything short of interrupting a Sanders event on the Black Lives Matter model. The Black Lives Matter activists who did that may have looked ill-informed, but they improved Bernie's campaign and benefited his campaign and thereby the country. Peace activists should consider that.
Most media deceptions are somewhat subtle. Look at this Time magazine video and text. The video at the top of the page is remarkably fair. The text below it, including an error-plagued transcript apparently produced by a robot, is less fair. Time says of Bernie: "[H]e's so far been unable to convince most Democrats he'd make a better candidate against a Republican than Clinton." By no stretch of the English language is the 48% or 52% backing Clinton in polls "most Democrats." The polling story should be that Sanders has climbed from 3% to 37% or 41% without any help.
Here's Time's summary of Sanders' platform: "He talked taxes (he'd raise them), turning points (he thinks he's at one) and tuxedos (he's never owned one)." Notice that two of the three items are sheer fluff and the only serious one is that he'll raise your taxes. Time follows that by linking to an article making the case that Sanders cannot win. Time of course has no "balancing" argument that he can win.
Time then links to an article on "The Philosophical Fight Underlying the Democratic Debate," which presents this very serious, well-researched reporting: "If Sanders and Clinton were in business together, he'd be the dreamy one pitching the next big thing while she'd be the hard-nosed one arguing that they need to stay within their budget. The decision voters will have to make is: do they want big dreams or clear-eyed realism?" Gosh, I want clear eyes and a hard nose, doesn't everyone?
What weighs against this steady stream of bias on the Time website is the transcript of Sanders' own comments, and his willingness to push back against the media. Pushing back against the media is even more popular than taxing billionaires or cutting the military. Here's Sanders replying to a cheap shot from Time: "Someone says oh you're raising taxes by $5,000. No, I am lowering your healthcare costs by $5000. So you can take a cheap shot, say I'm just trying to raise taxes. That's a distortion of reality. We are substantially lowering healthcare costs." Fewer people will hear his reply than hear the accusation, but they'll hear it in the context of media criticism, and that could inspire them. Check out this exchange:
Time: "So as president you're calling rallies—"
Bernie: "It's not just rallies, don't be sarcastic here."
The media mocks popular assembly, free speech, and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, and Sanders instructs the media not to be sarcastic. That's a plus for Bernie.
Will it get him past the onslaught? If it does, will the super delegates outvote the people? Will the DNC outmaneuver him? Is the voting process itself rigged? If he gets elected will anything get through Congress? Let's Bern those bridges when we come to them.
When We Fight We Win! is the overly violent and overly optimistic title of a very good new book about recent nonviolent social struggles in the United States for LGBTQ rights, immigrants rights, economic justice, public education, a sustainable environment, and an end to mass incarceration.
My initial response to this book was very different from my considered response.
My initial response to a table of contents like the one in this book is always: Where the hell is war? Don't they know that war eats up all the money that could solve all these problems with ease? Haven't they considered that immigrants are refugees from war? That discrimination and hate feed off war? That the top destroyer of the environment is the military -- which destroys the environment in the process of killing people for oil with which to destroy the environment?! Goddamn it, when did acceptance of mass murder become progressive?!
Then I calm down a bit, wipe the blood off my forehead, pick up the broken dishes, apologize to the owner of the coffee shop, and read the book.
By the end of this book, I was wondering why a completely different topic was missing, or rather, why it wasn't in the headline since its shadow so dominates almost every page. That topic is media reform / media production.
The chapter on LGBTQ rights reminds us of the length and complexity of the struggle, and of how much it has been a struggle of communication. The chapter itself, like the rest of the book, is in fact not so much devoted to analyzing activist strategies as to actually engaging in the strategy of communicating the stories of the relevant people. The book is an act of communication, and such acts are the heart of the activism described.
Accounts of successes are inspiring, even if we harbor doubts that the oligarchy really objects to LGBTQ rights. But the point of the chapter is largely to do what a truly democratic television channel or newspaper or online journal could do: show us what is unfair, make us feel suffering, bring us in on people's struggles for justice, convert us to the cause.
When it comes to the defense of public education, we're dealing with a struggle against vast wealth, and it is mostly a losing struggle, but this book focuses on successes, including in Chicago where Rahm Emanuel got a little too greedy. The lessons learned include the need to organize and build personal relationships, but also the need to communicate through the media and through artwork and by aligning teachers with parents and community in a major struggle for huge goals, not technical details.
With mass incarceration and the environment we see potential in divestment campaigns and, again, the need to build large coalitions. But a big focus is media reform in the piecemeal sense of forcing the worst programing, such as Cops, off the air via public pressure. ColorofChange.org targets prisons by targeting ugly and racist portrayals of black men on television. (Peace groups have done the same with war shows.) Immigrants rights groups have persuaded the Associated Press to stop calling people "illegal."
They've also moved President Obama by standing up to him -- and meeting with him but refusing to shake his hand, refusing to censor outrage -- and by threatening to make news advancing their cause with one of his party's Republican rivals. Longtime organizer Marshall Ganz "advised the activists that their story could be their most potent tool for social change." The media attention given to the Occupy movement is also recorded as a successful tool for social change, and for state-level reforms that have been achieved in housing and lending.
It's not that everything is communications, or the media is all that matters, but the media is hugely important. You can watch Bernie Sanders in 1988 propose that labor unions and progressives pool their money and create media outlets. Apart from some small but significant steps on the internet, that's never really happened. I used to work for the AFL-CIO and lobby it to create media outlets, and it chose to put everything into pitching stories to the corporate media.
Seen any good stories about the struggles of working people in the corporate media lately?
And yet somehow Bernie Sanders, who's had the right positions on media reform for decades, has found his way into what amounts to a massive amount of media attention for someone saying something decent -- a significant percentage even of the media coverage Joe Biden received for not entering the presidential race; Sanders may even reach double figures in time spent belittling him as a percentage of the time spent hyping Donald Trump in the media. That could be worth many millions of dollars.
Bernie Sanders' platform is, of course, the same as the table of contents of When We Fight We Win. He's not communicating much, if anything, about peace as an alternative to war. But he's communicating a similar message to Occupy's about wealth and economic justice. If people actually don't know what Scandinavian countries do, or if people literally can't imagine funding education and retirement rather than billionaires, Bernie could be a single-handed movement for change. At the moment, I think he is.
But to the extent that what people learn is that a movement should be a presidential candidate, and should live or die with that candidate, then they are learning a deeply flawed lesson with great potential for debilitating disappointment and despair.
On all of the topics in When We Fight We Win, Bernie advances the discussion beyond where the usual candidates take it. If the media does to him what I've long assumed it will do, or if -- as I certainly hope -- it doesn't, the question will be the same: how can we seize opportunities to accomplish larger and more lasting steps forward, building on anything that anyone learned from his campaign?
A good place to start is with When We Fight We Win.
Colin Beavan attracted international attention for his year-long lifestyle redesign project and popular book and documentary film, No Impact Man. He has appeared on Nightline, Good Morning America, The Colbert Report, The Montel Williams Show, and NPR, and his story has been featured in news outlets from Time magazine to The New York Times. A sought after speaker by wide-ranging audiences, he also consults with businesses on improving eco-friendly and human-centered practices. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. And his new book is called How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps the World.
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Originally published by Telesur
President Barack Obama used his final State of the Union speech to claim that "America is leading the fight against climate change," while in reality the United States is far and away the worst offender, per capita, in the ongoing mad race to render the earth's climate uninhabitable. We "cut our imports of foreign oil," Obama brags, as if earth cares what flag its pollution belches into the air under. "Gas under two bucks a gallon ain't bad," said the President, wildly missing the mark. Yes, it is bad, if you're trying to preserve a livable planet, not just win cheap applause.
"I'm going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources," said the president. He made no mention of changing the way the U.S. government hands out subsidies to those industries.
The state of U.S. militarism also took a leap into an alternate reality. The President openly (if understatedly) bragged: "We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined." He was open about the global chess board he's playing on: "Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria — states they see slipping away from their orbit." And, somehow, "surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us." They do? All people of the world? It's just two years since a Gallup poll found the United States widely viewed around the world as the greatest threat to peace. When Russia and China vetoed war on Syria, much of the world wondered why they couldn't have tried to save Libya.
The President claimed that U.S.-created Middle Eastern disasters he helped to exacerbate are "conflicts that date back millennia." He also proposed -- no joke -- "winning" in "destroying" ISIS this year. Hmm. About closing that prison in Guantanamo and ending those wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ... ? After years of taking credit for "ending" the war on Afghanistan, Obama has switched to not mentioning it.
Also gone missing: the U.S. Constitution. "With or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons," said this former "Constitutional law professor," promising presidential war regardless of Congressional action. On Syria, Obama euphemized, "we’re partnering with local forces." Is that what you call them now? He also opposed "calls to carpet bomb civilians" after he led the dropping of over 20,000 bombs on mostly Muslim countries just in the past year.
The supreme value in this speech, as in the presidential debates it mocked, was revenge: "When you come after Americans, we go after you. ... [W]e have long memories, and our reach has no limit."
Remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Four Freedoms? Speech, worship, want, and fear? Obama has now proposed Four Questions. I'm paraphrasing:
1. How do you make a fair economy? (well not by bailing out the bankers and then coming out against them in a speech 7 years too late).
2. How do you make technology work, including on climate change? (what if the solution to climate change involves less technology? what if blaming technology and globalism for a bad economy overlooks the long-forgotten promises of the Employee Free Choice Act and the prize-winning marketing campaign of Obama 2008?)
3. How do you keep America safe and lead the world but not be the world's policeman? (Has the world asked for a leader? Why isn't cooperation an option?)
4. Can our politics reflect what's best in us? (Whatever.)
After seven years of worsening climate, ocean, plutocracy, wars, blowback, surveillance, retribution for whistleblowers, secrecy, presidential power abuses, and drone murders, this is what you've got for us, Mr. President?
The lesson I take away is this: Pay little attention to 2016 campaign promises. Pay great attention to mobilizing the public pressure that has been missing for seven years.
Have you seen Dahr Jamail's report on U.S. military plans for war games in Washington state? I'm sure some observers imagine that the military is simply looking for a place to engage in safe and responsible and needed practice in hand-to-hand combat against incoming North Korean nuclear missiles, or perhaps to rehearse a humanitarian invasion of Russia to uphold the fundamental international law against Vladimir Putin's existence.
But if you look over the history of domestic use of the U.S. military -- such as by reading the new book Soldiers on the Home Front: The Domestic Role of the American Military -- it's hard not to wonder whether, from the U.S. military's point of view, at least a side benefit of the coming war game isn't rehearsing for the next time citizens in kayaks interfere with a corporation intent on poisoning the earth's climate with fossil fuels.
Soldiers on the Home Front is almost rah-rah enthusiastic in its support for the U.S. military: "Our task here is to celebrate the U.S. military's profound historical and continuing contribution to domestic tranquility, while at the same time ... ." Yet it tells a story of two centuries of the U.S. military and state militias and the National Guard being used to suppress dissent, eliminate labor rights, deny civil liberties, attack Native Americans, and abuse African Americans. Even the well-known restrictions on military use put into law and often ignored -- such as the Posse Comitatus Act -- were aimed at allowing, not preventing, the abuse of African Americans. The story is one of gradually expanding presidential power, both in written law and in practice, with the latter far outpacing the former.
Some of us are grateful to see restraint in the approach to the men occupying a federal facility in Oregon. But we are horrified by the lack of similar restraint in using the military or militarized police against peaceful protesters in U.S. cities. Police departments as we know them simply did not exist when the U.S. Constitution -- virtually unaltered since -- was cobbled together in an age of muskets, slavery, and genocide. Among the developments that concern me far more than the authors of Soldiers on the Home Front:
Numerous drills and practices, and the locking down of Boston, desensitizing people to the presence of the U.S. military on our streets.
Congress members threatened with martial law if they vote against their oligarchs.
The legalization of lawless military imprisonment without charge or trial for U.S. citizens or anyone else.
The legalization of murder by drone or any other technology of U.S. citizens or anyone else, with arguments that apply within the Homeland just as anywhere else, though we've been told all the murders have been abroad.
Nuclear weapons illegally flown across the country and left unguarded.
Mercenaries on the streets of New Orleans after a hurricane.
Northcom given legal power to illegally act within the United States against the people of the United States.
Fusion centers blurring all lines between military and domestic government violence.
Secret and not-so-secret continuity of government plans that could put martial law in place at the decision of a president or in the absence of a president.
The militarization of the Mexican border.
The gruesome history and future of the attack on the Bonus Army, the bombing of West Virginia, Operation Northwoods, tin soldiers and Nixon coming, and Franklin Roosevelt's actual and Donald Trump's possible internment camps.
The authors of Soldiers on the Home Front claim that we must balance all such dangers with the supposed need for a military to address "storms, earthquakes, cyber attacks ..., bioterrorism." Why must we? None of these threats can be best addressed by people trained and armed to kill and destroy. When only such people have funding and numbers and equipment, they can look preferable to nothing. But what if we had an unarmed, nonviolent green energy brigade taking on the protection of the climate, and non-military police ready to enforce laws in crises, a major new Civilian Conservation Corps trained and equipped and funded to provide emergency services, a computer whiz team dedicated to fending off cyber attacks and preventing their ongoing provocation by U.S. government cyber attackers, a publicly funded healthcare system prepared for health emergencies, and a State Department redirected away from weapons marketing and into a new project of building respectful and cooperative relations with the world?
If the United States were to move from militarism to all of the above, the main problem would be what to do with all of the remaining money.
Cynthia McKinney has served in the Georgia State Legislature and the United States Congress where she voted against NAFTA, opposed the war on Iraq, and introduced the first resolution for the impeachment of George W. Bush.
She didn't leave Congress until Diebold voting machines flipped votes away from her right in front of voters' eyes.
She has been a Green Party candidate for U.S. President.
She recently completed a PhD in Leadership and Change.
Read her dissertation: “El No Murio, El Se Multiplico!” Hugo Chávez : The Leadership and the Legacy on Race
And her books:
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In the United States it's not actually difficult to find significant funding with which to research new and innovative -- not to say bizarre and absurd -- pursuits, as long as they form part of an overall project of mass murder.
The United States has hundreds of programs at universities, think tanks, and research institutes that claim to devote their attention to “security” and “defense” studies. Yet in almost all of these programs that receive many millions of dollars in Federal funding, the vast majority of research, advocacy and instruction have nothing to do with climate change, the most serious threat to security of our age.
Hence the need for this petition to the U.S. Congress: End federal funding for security and defense programs at universities and think tanks that do not take climate change as their primary subject for research and for instruction. All universities, think tanks and research institutes that claim to be concerned with “security” or “defense” research must devote at least 70% of their resources to work on the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change, or lose their eligibility for Federal funding.
This excellent proposal originated with Emanuel Yi Pastreich, Director of The Asia Institute. Other signers, including myself: David Swanson, Director, World Beyond War; John Kiriakou, Associate fellow, Institute for Policy Studies; John Feffer, Director, Foreign Policy in Focus; Norman Solomon, Cofounder, RootsAction.org; Coleen Rowley, Retired FBI agent and former Minneapolis Division legal counsel.
Why do we think this is important? Why do we plan to deliver the petition to the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Armed Services Committee? Here's why:
In an act of profound intellectual irresponsibility, so-called scholars of "security studies" spend their hours imagining fantastic military scenarios, rather than responding to the incontrovertible threat of climate change which scientists have unanimously identified as a reality.
We cannot waste any more of our tax dollars on security and defense studies that fail to address the primary threat to the well-being of the United States, and of the world.
The time has come to put an end to this insanity. We demand that all programs of defense and security studies in the United States identify in their statement of purpose climate change as the primary security threat to the United States and that they dedicate at least 70% of their budgets to research, teaching and advocacy to the critical topics of mitigation of (primarily) and adaptation to (secondarily) climate change.
Any program that fails to focus on climate change in this manner should lose its status for Federal funding.
Mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change should be the primary concerns for all in security and defense field studies. Obviously other security issues deserve study, but granted the fact that the cost of climate change will run in the trillions of dollars over the next decade, and even more beyond then, we do not have the funds to support programs that are not dedicated to addressing this immediate threat.
I don't know where this will end but every time I write about a book on Bernie Sanders, somebody sends me a larger one. At least my arms are getting stronger from lifting the things. One point is clear to me: if the media ever wanted to catch up on all the coverage of Bernie's campaign that it has foregone, it could do it with a minimum-wage staffer reading aloud from books -- reducing the need to find corporations opposed to oligarchy to buy the advertisements. The reporting is in books, it's just not in newspapers or boob tubes.
The latest is Bernie: A Lifelong Crusade Against Wall Street & Wealth by Darcy G. Richardson. Like the last one was, it is now the most substantial reporting I've seen on Bernie's political career. It also does the most to include the voices of Bernie's critics from the left (see Chapter 1). In addition it, by far, includes the most information on Bernie's foreign policy actions, good and bad, over the decades. The book is a bit too heavy on horse-race coverage of each of Sanders' past elections for my taste, but people who like that stuff will eat it up.
Having written elsewhere today about public diplomacy by towns and cities, I was particularly struck by Richardson's chapter titled "International Diplomacy," which covers, not Bernie's career in Washington, but his time as mayor of Burlington, Vt. It is safe to say that when it comes to foreign policy Bernie was better then than he is now, was better then than any current mayor in the United States, and was better then than possibly any other mayor ever. I say that while continuing to condemn the horrible things he did, including arresting peace activists for demanding conversion of weapons jobs to peaceful ones.
Mayor Bernie denounced the Pentagon budget, explained its local relevance, demanded nuclear disarmament, opposed apartheid in South Africa, and sought to improve U.S.-Soviet relations. "We're spending billions on military," he said, touching on a theme that today he wouldn't prod with a $10 billion screw out of an F-35. "Why can't we take some of that money to pay for thousands of U.S. children to go to the Soviet Union? And, why can't the Soviets take money they're spending on arms and use it to send thousands of Russian children to America?"
Mayor Bernie backed a successful ballot initiative telling the U.S. military to get out of El Salvador. He denounced the U.S. attack on Grenada. The Burlington Board of Alderman voted to encourage trade between Burlington and Nicaragua, in defiance of President Ronald Reagan's embargo. Mayor Bernie accepted an invitation from the Nicaraguan government to visit Nicaragua, where he spoke out against U.S. war mongering, and from which he returned to a speaking tour letting Vermonters know what he's seen and learned. He had also set up a sister city relationship for Burlington with a city in Nicaragua. He led an effort that provided $100,000 in aid to that city.
Again, articulating basic common sense wisdom that he wouldn't come near today for love or the presidency, Mayor Bernie Sanders said, "Instead of invading Nicaragua and spending tremendous amounts of tax dollars on a war there, money which could be much better used at home, it seems to me that it would be worthwhile for us to get to know the people of Nicaragua, understand their problems and concerns, and see how we can transform the present tension-filled relationship into a positive one based on mutual respect." Just try to imagine Senator Sanders saying that about the people of Syria or Iraq.
Richardson's book is of course largely devoted to the topic of taking on Wall Street greed, on which Sanders has been stellar and consistent for years and years. But we do also catch glimpses of Sanders' evolving foreign policy from his opposition to the war on Vietnam (which was more serious than other books have suggested) through to his proposal that Saudi Arabia "get its hands dirty" and kill more people. At the time of the Gulf War, Sanders was far more hawkish than a simple look at his No vote on invasion suggests. He supported the troop build up and the deadly embargo. He backed the NATO bombing in Kosovo. He opposed until very late any efforts to impeach Bush or Cheney.
But on the matter of Wall Street, Sanders has been as good in the past as he was in this week's speech. He warned of the danger of a crash years before it came, and questioned people like Alan Greenspan who brushed all worries aside. He opposed repealing Glass-Steagall. He opposed credit default swap scams. He opposed the appointments of Timothy Geithner and Jack Lew. His "big short" was perhaps to stay in politics until it became clear to all sane people that he'd been right on these matters, as on NAFTA and so much else. His favorite book in college, we learn, was Looking Backward. He found the root of most problems in capitalism. He developed a consistent ideology that makes his growing acceptance of militarism stand out as uniquely opportunistic and false.
By that I most certainly do not mean that he is a candidate for peace strategically pretending to be for war, as many voters told themselves about Barack Obama on even less basis. When Bernie was good on foreign policy he campaigned promising to be good on foreign policy. As his performance worsened, so did his campaign promises. Any elected official can be moved by public pressure, of course, but first he'd have to be elected and then we'd have to move him -- something millions of people have taken a principled stand against even trying with President Obama.
One note in Sanders' defense: Richardson cites a rightwing newspaper article claiming that Bernie and his wife together are in the top 2 percent of income earners. It's worth noting that were that true it would not put them anywhere at all near the top 2 percent in accumulated wealth. It also seems to be an extreme estimate on behalf of the author of a sloppy article. Another source places the Sanders in the top 5 percent in income, while noting how extremely impoverished that leaves them by the standards of the U.S. Senate.
What if the very worst result of George W. Bush's war lies is that people stop taking seriously the danger of actual nuclear weapons actually falling into the hands of actual lunatics? Arguably the very worst result of Woodrow Wilson's lies about German atrocities in World War I was excessive skepticism about reports of Nazi atrocities leading up to and during World War II. The fact is that nuclear weapons are being recklessly maintained, built, developed, tested, and proliferated. The fact is that governments make mistakes, fail, collapse, and engage in evil actions.
By Dick Cheney's calculation, if there was a 1% chance that a pile of ridiculous lies was true, it justified all out war on the world, destabilizing a region, killing and making homeless millions, and birthing radical new terrorist forces. By my calculation, there is a 100% chance that if we continue current nuclear policies, sooner or later, a huge number of people -- quite possibly all people -- will die, many of them with melted skin, eyes hanging out of their sockets, noses burnt off, and screams of bitter envy for those already dead. Surely this justifies some slight action of some sort, apart from more fracking or building internment camps for Muslims.
I say that's my calculation, but the idea actually arises -- one of many -- from my reading of an excellent book called City, Save Thyself! Nuclear Terror and the Urban Ballot. It was written by David Wylie, a former Cambridge, Mass., city councilor who helped initiate the first municipal Commission on Peace and Disarmament, the twenty U.S.-Soviet Sister City alliances, and an urban referendum effort against nuclear weapons.
What if we were to confront real dangers of nuclear apocalypse and climate apocalypse without the fear that produces stupidity, but with smart strategic action aimed at substantive change? That brings me to a second favorite idea from Wylie's book, and what I take to be his central proposal. Democratic people power is the force that can put a halt to the war profiteers and weapons proliferators. Democratic people power can best be created at the level of towns and cities. Towns and cities of the world can together form a federalist structure of global power of the sort that nations will never produce and which the United Nations has fervently resisted since its creation.
Do you live in a town or city in the United States? When you organize, are you able in some small way to influence your local government? Would people in your town be willing to communicate with people in a foreign town, perhaps a largely Muslim foreign town? Would people in your town be interested in a world that reduced and eliminated weapons of mass destruction? Would people in your town appreciate major new resources for education, infrastructure, green energy, and jobs -- resources that would become available with reductions in military spending? Would the people of your city like to tell the people of a foreign nation that, despite many differences and mutual ignorance of each other, you'd prefer not to see the U.S. military bomb them, and you'd in fact like to get to know them better through cultural exchanges and joint action as members of a global security committee?
None of this is far fetched. Cities and towns are in fact where it is entirely possible to get things done. While activist groups focus their efforts on doomed bills in Congress, U.S. cities are taking huge strides on election reform, green energy, education, voting rights, etc. We need to shift our worldviews to properly pursue this course. We need to stop identifying ourselves by the name of a nation, and instead think of ourselves in terms of our towns and the world. There is overwhelming evidence that redirecting political engagement from national advocacy that almost always fails into local advocacy that often works would be less a redirection of a finite amount of civic action and more a generation of vast new quantities of popular democratic work.
Sister and twin cities, Mayors for Peace, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the League of Historical Cities, and other such organizations point to the potential for giving local political strength a broader grip on the world. Communication across distances and languages is growing easier by the minute. Agreement that our communities would be better off not burned to the ground by either bombs or climate chaos is among the easiest and least controversial notions available to be proposed to a diverse group of democratic-spirited representatives from planet earth.
Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, I, as a Charlottesvillian and World Citizen, am pleased to report that our local city council has in recent years passed resolutions against possible wars on various countries, including Iraq and Iran, in favor of conversion to peaceful industries, and against the use of drones. Our city council, like most, routinely informs its state general assembly of its wishes. And the influence of the city's official voice does not end there. Cville's past resolutions on Iraq, military spending, uranium, and other matters have inspired other localities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to raise their voices as well. Some of these resolutions have been directed to the federal government, to which the residents of Charlottesville pay taxes and whose laws the residents of Charlottesville are subject to.
This is how our federalist republic is supposed to work. City council members in Virginia take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Cities and towns routinely send petitions to Congress for all kinds of requests. This is allowed under Clause 3, Rule XII, Section 819, of the Rules of the House of Representatives. This clause is routinely used to accept petitions from cities, and memorials from states, all across the United States. The same is established in the Jefferson Manual, the rule book for the House originally written by Thomas Jefferson for the Senate.
In 1967 a court in California ruled (Farley v. Healey , 67 Cal.2d 325) that "one of the purposes of local government is to represent its citizens before the Congress, the Legislature, and administrative agencies in matters over which the local government has no power. Even in matters of foreign policy it is not uncommon for local legislative bodies to make their positions known."
Abolitionists passed local resolutions against U.S. policies on slavery. The anti-apartheid movement did the same, as did the nuclear freeze movement, the movement against the PATRIOT Act, the movement in favor of the Kyoto Protocol, etc. We are not an island. If we become environmentally sustainable, others will ruin our climate. If we ban assault weapons, they'll arrive at our borders. And if the skies of the United States are filled with drones, it will become ever more difficult for Charlottesville to keep them out.
Wylie's proposal would further empower my city and thousands of other cities, each of which would appoint a representative to a global body. If nations won't protect the climate, cities of the world can nonetheless agree to do so. If nations won't resolve disputes by peaceful means, cities can nonetheless make that happen. If nations won't invest in peaceful industries, cities and towns can nonetheless create programs of economic conversion to industries that provide greater economic benefit while also reducing the chances of violent death by nuclear hell fire.
Wylie's proposal should be read in its entirety in his book, which outlines numerous ways for cities to advance this process, including ways to encourage and recognize world citizens, and to encourage and recognize world cities. Cities can also use referenda, rather than council votes, to give democratic weight and wisdom to their actions. And national politicians who denounce the broken system they are part of can take actions to strengthen the local-level system that still has life in it.
The proposal here is not to risk federal prosecution by secretly negotiating with foreign national governments. Rather the idea is to risk an outbreak of peace and mutual understanding by publicly interacting with local governments from one's own and other parts of the world. This public diplomacy could be truly public in the sense of publishing full video of all of its interactions on the public internet. (An outline for such transparency can be found in the remnants of broken campaign promises from a certain national U.S. political candidate of 2008.)
Wylie's book is a guide to action and includes in it a model letter to your local mayor or city council, a model resolution, a model agenda for a first meeting of a municipal security assembly, and a rich bibliography for deeper understanding of how to make this work. I highly recommend it.
The United States' 20 wealthiest people (The 0.000006 Percent) now own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households. The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation's entire African-American population — plus more than a third of the Latino population — combined; more wealth combined than the bottom 61 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 194 million people or 70 million households.
These stats are from the Middle Ages and also from the Institute for Policy Studies which acknowledges that much wealth is hidden offshore and the reality is likely even worse.
What did those 20 wealthiest, most meritorious people do to deserve such disgusting riches? The group includes four Wal-Mart heirs, three Mars candy heirs, and two Koch brother heirs. They earned their wealth by being born to wealthy parents, just like some who want to work for them, such as Donald Trump. One politician is actually one of them: Michael Bloomberg.
These individuals could fund a total shift to clean energy or end starvation on earth or eradicate diseases. That they choose not to is murderous and shameful. It's not their sacred right. It's not cute. And it's not funny when one of them pretends to give his money away by giving it to himself.
The 0.000006 Percent has a tight grip on the media as well, with Jeff Bezos owning the Washington Post and Amazon, Sheldon Adelson buying newspapers, Mark Zuckerberg owning Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Google, Warren Buffet owning whole chains of newspapers, and again Bloomberg with Bloomberg News.
In the first phase of the 2016 Presidential election cycle, according to the New York Times, 158 wealthy donors provided half of all campaign contributions, 138 of them backing Republicans, 20 backing Democrats. No candidate can easily compete without huge amounts of money. And if you get it from small donors, as Bernie Sanders has done the most of, you'll be largely shut out of free media coverage, and belittled in the bit of coverage you're granted. The media coverage, the debate questions, and the topics discussed are determined by the interests of the wealthy in this national oligarchy.
Then there's the corrupt foundation money and speaking fees flowing into the Clinton family from wealthy sources in the U.S. and abroad. While most Americans are unable to sit through a full presidential debate, Wall Street, Big Pharma, and corporate technology interests have shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars supposedly just to hear Hillary or Bill Clinton speak.
According to a new report by Consortium News, Hillary Clinton took in $11.8 million in 51 speaking fees between January 2014 to May 2015. Bill Clinton delivered 53 paid speeches to bring in $13.3 million during that same period. That's over $25 million total, largely if not entirely from wealthy parties with a strong interest in influencing U.S. government policy.
This system of rewarding former politicians is one of the great corrupting forces in Washington, DC, but the revolving door that brings such politicians back into power makes it many times worse.
According to the Washington Post, since 1974 the Clintons have raised at least $3 billion, including at least $69 million just from the employees and PACs of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment firms.
According to the International Business Times, the Clintons' foundation took in money from foreign nations while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, nations such as Saudi Arabia for which she then waived restrictions on U.S. weapons sales. (Also on that list: Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.) I brought this up on a recent television program, and one of the other guests protested that I was not, at that moment, criticizing Donald Trump. But, even if we assume Trump is the worst person on earth, what has he done that is worse than taking a bribe to supply Saudi Arabia with the weapons that have since been used to slaughter children in Yemen? And what does Trump have to do with bribery? He's self-corrupted. He's in the race because of the financial barrier keeping decent people out. But he hasn't been bribed to act like a fascist.
The Wall Street Journal reports that during the same period, Bill Clinton was bringing in big speaking fees from companies, groups, and a foreign government with interests in influencing the U.S. State Department. Eight-digit donors to the Clintons' foundations include Saudi Arabia and Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. Seven digit donors include: Kuwait, Exxon Mobil, Friends of Saudi Arabia, James Murdoch (son of Rupert), Qatar, Boeing, Dow, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart and the United Arab Emirates. Those chipping in at least half a million include Bank of America, Chevron, Monsanto, Citigroup, and the Soros Foundation. And they don't even get a speech!
Sign this petition:
We urge the Clintons to clear their corrupted image by donating their $25 million in recent lecture fees to organizations legitimately working for campaign finance reform, Wall Street reform, environmental protection, and peace.
There’s a terrific new book on abolishing war called Abolishing War: Criminalizing War, Removing War Causes, Removing War as Institution. The authors are Johan Galtung, Erika Degortes, Irene Galtung, Malvin Gattinger, and Naakow Grant-Hayford. Johan Galtung, who was recently on my radio show, is brilliant as always, drawing on vast knowledge and wisdom.
As the book’s subtitle suggests, it proposes three types of approaches to eliminating war: “three approaches to have war join slavery and colonization in the dust-bin of history. No question of picking and choosing, they belong together and the more seamlessly, the better.” I couldn’t agree more, and will be drawing on the ideas in this book in the work we do at World Beyond War.
The book’s longest section is on criminalizing war, and it offers an argument I haven’t seen before. I think there’s great value in the argument, and that it can augment others. Nonetheless, I’m going to quibble with it.
Here is a book that practically quotes the arguments of the Outlawrists of the 1920s without mentioning them. It recommends, as its first recommended course of action right on the inside of the front cover, recreating Japan’s Article 9 for all states. And yet it largely ignores and bizarrely dismisses the existence of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, from which Article 9 derives (and which it practically quotes) and which already applies to most large nations.
The book’s second recommendation is to somehow build on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ “implicit” criminalization of war. Nowhere is it explained how an implicit criminalization of war is more useful than an explicit one. In fact, Irene Galtung rather wistfully imagines how nice it would be to have an explicit one. Nowhere is the problem mentioned that the United Nations, as “implicit” criminalizer of war, legalizes defensive and otherwise UN-authorized wars — two loopholes that have been stretched and abused to effectively allow any Western war whatsoever. This is, of course, in contrast to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans all war and requires that nations settle all of their disputes entirely peacefully.
In the one instance where the book refers to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, it claims that, “this opens two huge loop-holes: use of force by non-members, and by and on non-states.” There are a number of errors in this claim. One of them is chronological. There were no laws banning war prior to Kellogg-Briand. In forbidding war between nations, the pact took war away in many cases from many major wagers of war. The pact was open to and remains open to all nations. Any nation that is not a member can simply send a letter to the U.S. State Department and instantly become a member. So, the so-called loophole for non-members is one that has been closing and could close further, but it wasn’t opened by the pact. War was legal for all states against all states prior to 1928.
What about non-states? The states that made the pact considered, and still to this day consider, war by non-states to be illegal. In fact, they consider illegal almost any action, if not the very existence, of most entities that might wage war without being a state. Within states, killing by anyone other than the state, is forbidden by national laws and by customary standards of law — as outlined, in fact, by the strategy pursued in the book by Galtung et alia — on which, more in a second. The bigger shortcoming is the failure to outlaw war by a member state against a non-state, but most such wars are also wars on the populations of states and often against the will of the governments of those states, often — indeed — against yet other states using proxies to wage war for them. A shortcoming, moreover, is not a condemnation of a useful step as counterproductive; it’s just a shortcoming requiring an additional step forward.
Clearly Galtung does not really think that criminalizing war between nations is an unhelpful step. He wants to do it singly, nation by nation, modeled on Japan’s Article 9 (which arguably has the very same shortcomings as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, plus the shortcoming of only applying to a single nation). Of course, Article 9 is under threat, and somewhat similar statements in the Constitutions of Italy and Germany and other nations are even less adhered to. But Galtung is right: bans on war in national constitutions should be strengthened, defended, and complied with. Doing so, however, presents a problem of logic in dismissing the Kellogg-Briand Pact as unhelpful. Never mind the purity of heart of its creators (its creators in fact were masses of people who brought legislators to it kicking and screaming) or the perfection of compliance by its members heretofore. If Japan launches a major war next year, Galtung will still want Article 9 upheld — or he should; I will. The Kellogg-Briand Pact is a law clearly banning all war for most major nations, including the least likely nations to agree to newly creating such a law today. Other nations could sign onto it and urge their fellow members to comply with it. Malaysia, for example, could choose to become a member of the pact and suddenly find itself a leader among its members by advocating for compliance — and for accountability and reparations and reconciliation — exactly as it would have to do with eternal vigilance if it instead used its own version of Article 9, only in this case with the major war makers of the world formally committed in clear language to compliance as well.
Because war is, in a major way, already illegal, calls to criminalize it ring in my ear a bit hollow, a bit like the rhetoric of the U.S. Congress proposing over and over again, year after year, to re-criminalize torture, rather than prosecuting torturers under long-standing laws. But the approach to criminalizing war proposed by Irene Galtung certainly has some merit. It doesn’t exactly claim that war is now legal, but it does claim that in written law it is legal, and this strikes me as dangerous.
The argument that Irene Galtung makes is not unrelated to the argument I have long made about drone murders, namely that murder is illegal under national law and customary international law. And it is nearly identical to the argument that Marjorie Cohn and other lawyers make for the illegality of torture under customary international law — only applied to war rather than torture.
Irene Galtung’s idea is that customary international law is higher than written international law or written national law. The problem, as she readily admits, is that — being unwritten — it is highly controversial. Still, what’s needed is an act of interpretation not entirely unlike the interpretation of a written law. Galtung claims that all national constitutions provide a right to life, and that the right to use deadly force in self-defense exists only when such use is necessary for self-defense. War is deadly force, simply on a larger scale, and it is never necessary, as there are always alternatives. Therefore, logically, even if you’d be hard-pressed to get many well-paid lawyers or human rights organizations or governments or judges to admit it, war is a crime.
This argument (which I have, of course, only sketched very roughly) is smart, logical, and educationally useful. I plan to repeat it often. But what appeals to “customary law” come down to are attempts to radically change legal custom on the authority of current legal custom (reinterpreted). That this couldn’t be helped by also pointing to existing laws like the Kellogg-Briand Pact is difficult for me to imagine. In fact, later in the book the authors cite the UN’s Declaration of the Right of the Peoples to Peace. That we have a right to peace means that we have a right to the absence of war. The Declaration states that it:
“Emphasizes that ensuring the exercise of the right of peoples to peace demands that the policies of States be directed towards the elimination of the threat of war, particularly nuclear war, the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The weakness is in those last few words, as the Charter contradicts itself and permits war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact lacks that particular weakness. I would love someday to hear a clear statement from Johan Galtung on what weaknesses he thinks its carries that justify its dismissal from public awareness and use.