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Getting what’s been stolen by raising employer FICA tax : Time to Recover Productivity Gains Our Bosses Have Expropriating
By Dave Lindorff
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy, trying to change the subject from his own shabby performance as governor, has called for $ billion in cuts to Social Security and Medicare, claiming it’s time for a “grownup discussion” of the alleged funding crisis facing both critically important programs.
Legacy of racism and colonialism targeted: Reparations Movements Meet to Make International Connections
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Dignitaries from three continents gathered in New York City recently to sharpen their strategies for confronting some of the world’s most powerful nations over a subject that sizable numbers of citizens support in the nearly two-dozen nations represented: reparations for the legacy of a history of slavery, colonialism and government-sanctioned segregation.
NY Times covers up Washington’s monstrous evil: Hiding America’s War Crimes in Laos, While Reporting on the Grim Results
By Dave Lindorff
17 Years and still brutal and corrupt: Feds Rediscover Police Brutality in City of Brotherly Love...er...in Beat City
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The report slammed the Philadelphia Police Department for its historically flawed use of fatal force, directed primarily at non-whites, underscoring a repeated finding that Philadelphia’s Police Department has long owned one of the worst reputations of any police department in the United States.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The report released in early March by a panel President Obama appointed to examine serious shortcomings in police practices across America, including the shooting of unarmed people, mostly non-white, listed problems and proposed solutions that are hauntingly similar to those found in a report on police abuses released 47 years ago by another presidential panel.
By Dave Lindorff
Seriously? Venezuela is a “national security threat”?
That is what President Obama has reportedly declared today in a new executive order.
And how exactly is poor Venezuela, a nation of 29 million, with a small military upon which it spends just 1% of GDP, one of the lowest rates in the world (the US spends 4.5% of GDP on its own bloated military), a threat to the US?
By Alfredo Lopez
When Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested last week, charged with organizing and leading a coup, the U.S. State Department's spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false. The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means."
Republicans and Many Democrats are on the attack: If We’re Going to Defend Social Security We Need to Understand It
By Dave Lindorff
The Republican-dominated Congress, with the help of a cadre of sell-out conservative Democrats in both chambers, are gearing up to attack Social Security again, under the guise of “saving” the program.
By John Grant
We have to address the political grievances terrorists exploit.
-- Barack Obama
This week we speak with Barry Spector. He is the author of Madness At The Gates Of The City: The Myth Of American Innocence (winner of the 2011 PEN/Oakland Literary Award). Barry has lectured at several Bay Area graduate schools and Osher Lifelong Learning courses. This winter he will be teaching at Sonoma State University and Osher / U.C. Berkeley. His book’s website is www.madnessatthegates.com and he blogs regularly at www.madnessatthegates.wordpress.com. His writing looks at contemporary cultural and political events from the perspectives of mythology, archetypal psychology and indigenous wisdom traditions. He serves on the planning committee of the Redwood Men’s Center.
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No more AUMFs! No more ‘unitary executives’!: We’re Already Losing Our Democracy and All Our Freedoms to the 2001 AUMF
By Dave Lindorff
Critics of President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force AUMF) against ISIS have been focused upon its deliberately obfuscatory and ambiguous language, which they rightly note would make it essentially a carte blanche from Congress allowing the president to go to war almost anywhere some would-be terrorist or terrorist copycat could be found who claims affinity with ISIS.
Blocking executions was long overdue: Pennsylvania’s New Governor Wolf Issues Surprise Execution Moratorium
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Although Pennsylvania's new Governor Tom Wolf, who last November unseated Republican incumbent Tom Corbett, cited more than 315 million solid reasons to back his surprise order putting an immediate moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, law enforcement organizations in the state still castigated his action, calling it an outrageous assault on a criminal justice system that they contend works well.
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to get a good understanding of how thoroughly corrupted and sold-out our government in Washington is, you need only look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a series of trade “deals” that is heading towards passage right now, and that, like its predecessors, NAFTA and CAFTA, as well as the World Trade Organization, will be sucking jobs out of the US for years.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
By John Grant
Sen. John McCain is ‘low-life scum’: And NPR Is Not Reporting the News on Cuba Much Differently than the Corporate Media
By Dave Lindorff
What the U.S. government does openly is many times worse than anything it can be doing secretly, and yet the secrets fascinate us.
If you compare polling on majority views on most political topics with actual U.S. policy, there's little overlap. Scholars now produce reports finding that the United States is an oligarchy. Most people don't vote. Those who try to engage with U.S. politics get excited when the Democrats fall back into the minority and start pretending to favor popular policies again. People hope to find reflected bits of decency in official rhetoric during a two-year-long period of pretended governance that amounts to a public sales pitch and a private wink to the campaign funding overlords.
Our government openly subsidizes the destruction of our planet's climate, openly allows corporations to pay negative taxes, openly redistributes wealth upward, openly funds a military as costly as the rest of the globe's nations' combined, openly serves as the marketing firm for the U.S. weapons that make up much of that other half of the globe's armed forces, openly enacts corporate trade policies that ruin economies and the environment, openly denies us basic human services, openly prosecutes whistleblowers, openly restricts our civil liberties, openly murders large numbers of people with drone strikes. We can watch a police officer in New York choke a man to death on video and walk away without being prosecuted for any crime. We can watch the U.S. Congress take direction in promoting a new war from a foreign leader (tune in February 11 for the latest), and yet what goes on in secret obsesses us.
I don't mean the lies that have been exposed, the false excuses for wars, the miscalculations, the "misplacement" of billions of dollars. I mean the human drama. It's not enough to know that Obamacare is a grotesque and deadly monstrosity; we want to know about the insurance executives' roles in writing it. It's not enough to know that Iraq has been destroyed. We want to hear about the oil barons drawing up the plans with Dick Cheney. It's not enough to know that a tragic crime was used to launch catastrophic wars, we want to know whether the crime was staged. We want to know who was behind every assassination, and every powerful bit of propaganda. We want to know whether each CIA operation can be explained by evil or incompetence. We're like Mark Twain, who said, "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."
This is what I wonder in looking at Operation Merlin, over which Jeffrey Sterling is now on trial as a whistleblower. Whether giving nuclear weapons plans to Iran can be explained by incompetence that surpasses my understanding or must be explained by evil, the U.S. government is openly trying to incarcerate a whistleblower who did his legal duty. I just happen to have read a book by Donald Jeffries called Hidden History: An Expose of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-ups in American Politics. I've been thinking over dozens of alleged conspiracies from the killing of President Kennedy to the supposed forging of Obama's birth certificate. Some I think are real, others nonsense. The point is that I think there may be a hybrid solution. I may not have to choose incompetence or evil to explain the CIA giving nukes to Iran. I can choose incompetence combined with bureaucratic dysfunction combined with evil priorities.
If the CIA's top priority was nuclear disarmament, it wouldn't have tried, as it claims to have tried, to slow down an Iranian nuclear weapons program (if one existed, it didn't know) by giving Iran nuclear plans. The CIA officers involved testified in court that they knew their action risked proliferating nuclear weapons technology. That also means that if their top priority had been obeying the law, they wouldn't have created Operation Merlin. But if their top priority was being involved, appearing to be doing something important, and if they were risking an outcome that didn't much worry them, Operation Merlin is exactly what they would have done -- assuming gargantuan levels of incompetence. That is, if they didn't much care if Iran got nukes, if they in fact thought it would be a pretty cool excuse to start a war if Iran could be shown to be working on nukes, well then, why the heck not find the most outlandishly stupid and illegal way in which to try to slow Iran down -- a way that could very well speed Iran up?
This same hybrid explanation applies to other mysteries as well, of course. If the U.S. government's top priority had been preventing a crime like 911, it would have stopped bombing and occupying Muslim nations, adopted an approach of cooperation and generosity with the world, and invested at least a wee bit of effort into preventing the crime, especially when the president was handed a memo warning about it and when his top advisor was shouting about the need. But if the people running the U.S. government didn't really give much of a damn about preventing such a crime, and if they in fact thought it would be just about the only way to get new wars started, well then, they would have done at least what we know them to have done and perhaps more that we could learn from a proper investigation. Part incompetent, part evil -- how evil, we don't know. But we don't need to conclude that the hijackers didn't exist or a missile hit the Pentagon or the World Trade Center was blown up from within to achieve a satisfactory explanation. All such things could coexist with this theory, but they're not needed.
What argues against such explanations of unknown government misdeeds is not the degree of evilness. Remember, we're talking about a government that has used 911 as an excuse to destroy whole countries and kill upwards of a million human beings. Blowing up a couple of buildings is perfectly acceptable to most people who would launch wars. The exception is anyone whose sincere nationalism actually makes them value U.S. lives while considering non-U.S. lives to be worthless. But, remember, we're talking about the U.S. government. They send U.S. troops off to kill and die in the process of slaughtering the foreigners. They allow millions in the U.S. to die for lack of basic services while they dump funding into war preparations. Dick Cheney contemplated a proposal to stage a shooting of U.S. troops disguised as Iranians. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Northwoods, which would have murdered Americans to frame Cuba. At question is not level of evil, but particular level of competent engagement in particular acts of evil.
Jeffries' book mixes a half century of well-documented crimes with pure speculation. I don't think the inclusion in a book of dubious conspiracies should hurt the inclusion of likely ones. If we aren't open to questioning everything, we'll miss lots of things. But it's simply not possible that every unusual plane crash over a period of decades has been an assassination. At least one or two of them must have been accidents. That Jeffries throws in completely random silliness, such as that Janet Reno was rumored to be gay (so what?) or that a couple killed on 911 had been married at the Vatican (gasp!), or that he thinks the Institute for Policy Studies is part of the elite establishment, doesn't mean that Lee Harvey Oswald actually killed Kennedy. I think we have to look at every case seriously and go where the evidence leads. I think that our approach should be: Distrust but verify. Begin with the assumption that the government is lying, and see if it can prove itself honest.
When I read that Karl Rove views religion as a useful tool for manipulating the gullible or that Bill Clinton had a seat on a jet known for providing sex with underage girls, I don't think such gossip is as significant as trade, energy, and war policies that will result in millions of deaths. But I don't think the public interest in such stories is completely beside the point either. "Whether important policy decisions are made at Bohemian Grove or not," writes Jeffries, "it is at the very least disturbing to know that our leaders are gathering together to worship a massive owl, dress in robes, and recite occult incantations." Is it? We just had a president who openly said God had told him to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. Who cares if he worships an owl, unless it was the owl who told him that? But it is disturbing because of the secrecy. Politicians who will pretend they want to end wars or tax billionaires whenever they're in the minority and in no danger of actually doing it are politicians with contempt for you and me; they are people who believe they are above us and can, like Henry V, make their own laws. Of course Michael Hastings' death could have been an accident, but to assume so, and to suggest that investigating it as a murder would be loony is to demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of history. Recently, with each new FBI terror plot foiled and celebrated, I've assumed it would be shown to have been a case of entrapment in which the FBI encouraged the crime before preventing it. In each case, I've been right. That doesn't mean that tomorrow the FBI won't capture a terrorist it had nothing to do with creating; it just means: Distrust but verify.
Distrusting may have started with Kennedy's assassination, even if the need for distrusting today can be advanced further through an honest retelling of Pearl Harbor, and myths of losing innocence ought by all rights to go back to the genocide of the Native Americans if not to the agricultural revolution. Hidden History is not where I think people should start reading about Kennedy (James Douglass's book might be better). But I learned new things about Kennedy from Hidden History and think we should all consider Jeffries' remark: "[O]nce I realized that the president of the United States could be killed in broad daylight, without a single high-ranking public official questioning what really happened, and without any supposed journalist having the slightest curiosity about the subject, I understood that anything was possible."
Jeffries' book roams chronologically through a long list of scandals. He briefly mentions numerous outrages that are not really in dispute: Northwoods, Tonkin, Mongoose, Mockingbird, MK-Ultra, Cointelpro, Fred Hampton, etc., etc. He focuses at greater length on a smaller number of possible conspiracies, providing good summaries of what's known about the killing of JFK and RFK in particular. On Chappaquiddick he's less convincing, on the October Surprise he's vague and truly bizarre (but could have been completely convincing as I think the evidence is well established). He strays into economics and politics and general corruption, speculates on AIDS, Vince Foster, Oklahoma City, etc. His sections on JFK Jr. and on the Anthrax scare are of interest, I think.
Do the surveillance state and the proliferation of private cameras end these mysteries? Imagine Kennedy shot in Dallas today. The video footage would be voluminous, and it would be around the world on the internet before the blood dried. But imagine Abdulrahman al Awlaki's killing today. Much of the world doesn't have the same technology one could expect in Dallas. And imagine Eric Garner's killing today. We have the video, but we're told not to believe our lying eyes. What could end bad government -- as well as misplaced suspicions of bad government -- would be open government, including the elimination of secret agencies. And what could accomplish that would be if the public, including Jeffrey Sterling's jury, assumed that anything the CIA said was more than likely a lie.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Heather Zichal, former top climate and energy aide to President Barack Obama his top aide in crafting his 2008 presidential campaign energy platform, has joined the industry-funded Atlantic Council as a fellow at its Global Energy Center.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
By John Grant
By all means let’s mourn together; but let’s not be stupid together.
The costly debacle known as the Iraq War put the US government in a tough spot that's now exacerbated by the rise of the Islamic State in Anbar Province and western Syria.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
By Linn Washington Jr.
Tinduf, Algeria -- News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
I couldn't tell you about it and couldn't tell you why: ‘Gagged’ by the Government: a Police State Story
By Alfredo Lopez
For the past three months, I and other leaders of the organization May First/People Link have been under a federal subpoena to provide information we don't have. During that time, we have also been forbidden by a federal court "gag order" to tell anyone about that subpoena, although we had already announced it and commented on it before the order was sent. Finally, we were forbidden from telling anyone about the gag order itself.
By Dave Lindorff
Let me make it clear from the outset of this article: I’m against violence and killing, and I’m certainly no advocate of killing police officers.
Obama’s Trojan Horse: US Recognition of Cuba after 54 Years of Hostility and War Does't Mean an End to US Subversion
Obama’s Trojan Horse:
US Recognition of Cuba after 54 Years of Hostility and War Does't Mean an End to US Subversion
By Dave Lindorff
"Fields that would never be harvested, plantations that would never be irrigated, paths that would become desolate. A sense of destruction and worthlessness. An image of thistles and brambles everywhere, a desolate tawniness, a braying wilderness. And already from those fields accusing eyes peered out at you, that silent accusatory look as of a reproachful animal, staring and following you so there was no refuge." -- Yizhar Smilansky, Khirbet Khizeh
On the day in 2014 that I read the new English translation of Khirbet Khizeh, Tom Engelhardt published a blog post rewriting recent news articles on the U.S. Senate's torture report as a 2019 Senate report on drone murders. The 2019 "news" media in Tom's believable account is shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- by the rampant murder discovered to have been committed using missiles from drones of all things.
The point is that most of what's been discussed as news from the recent torture report, and certainly all of the fundamental moral points -- has been known -- or, more accurately, knowable for years. For the past several years, the U.S. establishment has been repeatedly "banning" torture. It has also been repeatedly discovering the same evidence of torture, over and over again. Leading torturers have gone on television to swear they'd do it all again, while radical activist groups have demanded "investigations."
The point is that at some point "truth and reconciliation" is lies and reconciliation -- the lies of pretending that the truth needed to be unearthed, that it was hidden for a time, that the crimes weren't committed in the broad daylight of television spotlights on a sweaty old man assuring us he was about to start working on the dark side.
Illustrated at right, from the iNakba app, are villages that were destroyed in 1948 to create Israel. Generations of Israelis have grown up not knowing, not wanting to know, pretending not to know, and knowing without confronting the Catastrophe. Israelis are discovering what happened, unburying the hidden truth, filming aging participants' distorted confessions, and hunting out the outlines of disappeared villages on GoogleEarth.
But what if the truth was always marching naked down the street with trumpets sounding?
In May 1949, Yizhar Smilansky published Khirbet Khizeh, a fictional account of the destruction of a fictional village much like many real ones. Smilansky knew or hoped that he was ahead of his time, so much so that he began the tale by framing it as a recollection from the distant future. The narrator, like the reader, was known by the author to be unable to see for years to come.
What would keep the book alive until that distant day?
It's not a Senate report. Khirbet Khizeh is a work of masterful insight and storytelling that grips you and compels you to enter the experience of its narrator and his companions, as they do what the author had done, as they imitate Nazis before all the ashes had fallen from the skies above the ovens in Europe.
This book was planted and grew. It's been taught in Israeli schools. It was a movie on Israeli television in 1978. And now, with a sense that perhaps sleepy eyes are stretching open at long last, the book has had itself translated into the language of the imperial homeland, English.
But how could poetry keep heresy alive?
Several ways, I think. Absolute failure to pay attention, for one. Think about how literature is taught in many U.S. schools, for example. The ability of people to hear the poetry without the meaning, for another. Think about people singing John Lennon's Imagine without having the slightest idea they've just proposed to abolish religions, nations, and private property, or how people throw around the phrase "peace on earth" in December. Perverse but predictable and perhaps predicted misinterpretation, for another. Think about how viewers of the propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty read accounts of torture, for example -- as a dirty job that needed doing for a greater cause.
It's a strain, to me at least, to read Khirbet Khizeh as a celebration of genocide or mass-eviction. And the book not only suffered but also benefitted from being ahead of its time. It pre-existed the mythologies and rhetorical defenses that grew up around the Catastrophe in the decades that followed. When the narrator makes a slight resistance to what he is engaged in, no reader can find anything but humanitarian motivation in his resistance. The idea that this soldier, questioning his fellow soldiers, is engaged in anti-Semitism would literally make no sense. He's revolted by the cruelty, no more no less -- cruelty that every adult and child has to have always known was part of any mass settlement of ancient lands in 1948.
When I was a child, in elementary school, I wrote a story about an eviction of a family from its house, complete with plenty of tear-jerking details. As a good American I wrote about British redcoats evicting patriotic U.S. revolutionaries. My teacher suggested to me that I had a talent for writing. But that wasn't writing. Had I written of the Native Americans, the Hawaiians, the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, of Diego Garcia or Vieques or the Marshall Islands or Thule or Okinawa or any of the many places about which silence was expected, that might have been writing.
Let us wish no more Khirbet Khizehs on the people of Palestine and many more Khirbet Khizehs on the world.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The U.S. Senate has voted 89-11 to approve the Defense Authorization Act of 2015, following the December 4 U.S. House of Representatives' 300-119 up-vote and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.
Photo Credit: C-SPAN Screenshot
The 1,648-page piece of pork barrel legislation contains a provision — among other controversial measures — to streamline permitting for hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") on U.S. public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.
Buried on page 2,179 of the bill as Section 3021 and subtitled "Bureau of Land Management Permit Processing," the bill's passage has won praise from both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and comes on the heels of countries from around the world coming to a preliminary deal at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, to cap greenhouse gas emissions.
Alluding to the bottoming out of the global price of oil, Naatz further stated, "In these uncertain times of price volatility, it’s encouraging for America’s job creators to have regulatory certainty through a streamlined permitting process.”
Streamlined permitting means faster turn-around times for the industry's application process to drill on public lands, bringing with it all of the air, groundwater and climate change issues that encompass the shale production process.
At the bottom of the same press release, IPAA boasted of its ability to get the legislative proposal introduced initially by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) as the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 after holding an "educational meeting" with Udall's staffers. Endorsed by some major U.S. environmental groups, Udall took more than $191,000 from the oil and gas industry during his successful 2014 re-election campaign.
IPAA's publicly admitted influence-peddling efforts are but the tip of the iceberg for how Big Oil managed to stuff expedited permitting for fracking on U.S. public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.
“Dear Fredrik, Last Friday I went to an event organized by the Carnegie Corporation on the anniversary of the end of WWI. I was struck by how similar Andrew Carnegie’s ideas, as well as his philanthropy, were to Alfred Nobel’s. Do you know whether they were ever in contact? All best, Peter [Weiss].
“These are Peter’s questions: Why the similarities? Were Carnegie and Nobel ever in contact? And this is mine: Why is the connection so interesting – and consequential? –Fredrik S. Heffermehl.”
The above was the announcement of a contest at NobelWill.org that I just won with the following:
We do not know of, but also cannot exclude, a meeting face to face, or an exchange of letters, between Alfred Nobel and Andrew Carnegie that can explain how strikingly “similar Andrew Carnegie’s ideas, as well as his philanthropy, were to Alfred Nobel’s.” But the similarity is partially explained by the culture of the day. They were not the only tycoons to fund war abolition, just the wealthiest. It may be further explained by the fact that a primary influence on both of them in their peace philanthropy was the same person, a woman who met them both in person and was in fact very close friends with Nobel — Bertha von Suttner. Further, Nobel’s philanthropy came first and was itself an influence on Carnegie’s. Both offer fine examples for today’s super-rich — far richer, of course, than even Carnegie, but none of whom have put a dime into funding the elimination of war. They also offer excellent examples for the legally mandated operation of their own institutions which have strayed so far off course.
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) and Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) lived in an era with fewer super-wealthy individuals than today; and even Carnegie’s wealth did not match that of today’s wealthiest. But they gave away a higher percentage of their wealth than today’s wealthy have done. Carnegie gave away a higher amount, adjusted for inflation, than all but three living Americans (Gates, Buffett, and Soros) have thus far given.*
No one in the Forbes list of top 50 current philanthropists has funded an effort to abolish war. Nobel and Carnegie funded that project heavily while they lived, and engaged in promoting it apart from their financial contributions. Before they died, they arranged to leave behind them a legacy that would continue funding efforts to reduce and eliminate war from the world. Those legacies have done a great deal of good and have the potential to do a great deal more, and to succeed. But both have survived into an era that largely disbelieves in the possibility of peace, and both organizations have strayed far from their intended work, changing their missions to match the times, rather than resisting a militarization of culture by sticking to their legal and moral mandates.
What is interesting and consequential about the similarities between Nobel and Carnegie is the extent to which their philanthropy for peace was a product of their time. Both became engaged in peace activism, but both favored the abolition of war before becoming so engaged. That opinion was more common in their age than now. Philanthropy for peace was also more common, though usually not with the same scale and consequence that Nobel and Carnegie managed.
What is most interesting is that the consequences of what Nobel and Carnegie did remain to be determined, by the actions living people take to fulfill the promise of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as by the actions we take to pursue the peace agenda outside of those institutions, and perhaps by current philanthropists who might find ways to emulate these past examples. In 2010, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates encouraged billionaires to donate half their wealth (not up to the Nobel-Carnegie standard, but still significant). Buffett described the first 81 billionaires’ signatures on their pledge as “81 Gospels of Wealth,” in tribute to “The Gospel of Wealth,” an article and book by Carnegie.
It would be hard to prove that Carnegie and Nobel never corresponded. We are dealing here with two prolific letter writers in an age of letter-writing, and two men whose letters we know have vanished from history in huge numbers. But I have read a number of biographical works of the two of them and of friends they had in common. Some of these books refer to both men in such a way that if the author knew them ever to have met or corresponded it certainly would have been mentioned. But this question may be a red herring. If Nobel and Carnegie came into contact with each other, it was clearly not extensive and certainly not what made them similar in attitudes toward peace and philanthropy. Nobel was a model for Carnegie, as his peace philanthropy preceded Carnegie’s in time. Both men were urged on by some of the same peace advocates, most importantly Bertha von Suttner. Both men were exceptional, but both lived in an era in which funding progress toward the elimination of warfare was something that was done, unlike today when it is something that just isn’t done — not even by the Nobel Committee or the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
One could list a hundred similarities and dissimilarities between Nobel and Carnegie. Some of the similarities that might have a slight bearing here include these. Both men had immigrated in their youth, Nobel from Sweden to Russia at age 9, Carnegie from Scotland to the United States at age 12. Both were sickly. Both had little formal schooling (not as rare back then). Both were longtime bachelors, Nobel for life, and Carnegie into his 50s. Both were lifelong travelers, cosmopolitans, and (particularly Nobel) loners. Carnegie wrote travel books. Both were writers of numerous genres with a wide array of interests and knowledge. Nobel wrote poetry. Carnegie did journalism, and even happened to remark of the power of news reporting that “Dynamite is child’s play compared to the press.” Dynamite was of course one of Nobel’s inventions, and also a product someone once used to try to blow up Carnegie’s house (something one historian I asked pointed to as the closest connection between the two men). Both were in part but not primarily war profiteers. Both were complex, contradictory, and certainly to some extent guilt ridden. Nobel tried to rationalize his manufacture of weapons with the thought that extreme enough weapons would persuade people to abandon war (a somewhat common idea up through the age of nuclear nations waging and losing numerous wars). Carnegie used armed force to suppress workers’ rights, had got his break running telegraphs for the U.S. government during the U.S. Civil War, and profited from World War I.
The argument that those who grow rich will know best what to do with their hoarded wealth is actually supported by the examples of Nobel and Carnegie, although they are in this regard — of course — exceptional cases rather than the rule. It is very hard to argue with the general thrust of what they did with their money, and the assignment that Carnegie left behind for his Endowment for Peace is something of a model of morality that puts any professor of ethics to shame. Carnegie’s money was to be spent on eliminating war, as the most evil institution in existence. But once war has been eliminated, the Endowment is to determine what the next most evil institution is, and begin working to eliminate that or to create the new institution that would do the most good. (Isn’t this what any ethical human being should be engaged in, whether paid for it or not?) Here’s the relevant passage:
“When civilized nations enter into such treaties as named or war is discarded as disgraceful to civilized men, as personal war (dueling) and man selling and buying (slavery) have been discarded within the wide boundaries of our English-speaking race, the trustees will please then consider what is the next most degrading remaining evil or evils, whose banishment — or what new elevating element or elements if introduced or fostered, or both combined — would most advance the progress, elevation and happiness of man, and so on from century to century without end, my trustees of each age shall determine how they can best aid man in the upward march to higher and higher stages of developments unceasingly, for now we know that as a law of his being man was created with the desire and capacity for improvement to which, perchance, there may be no limit short of perfection even here in this life upon earth.”
Here’s the key passage from the will of Alfred Nobel, which created five prizes including:
“one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Both Nobel and Carnegie found their way to opposing war through the general culture around them. Nobel was a fan of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Carnegie’s notion quoted above of progress in overcoming slavery, dueling, and other evils — with war to be added to the list — could be found in early U.S. abolitionists (of slavery and war) like Charles Sumner. Carnegie was a 1898 anti-imperialist. Nobel first raised the idea of ending war to Bertha von Suttner, not the other way around. But it was the relentless advocacy of von Suttner and others that moved the two men to engage as they did in what was a very top-down, respectable, not to say aristocratic peace movement that advanced through the recruitment of VIPs and the holding of conferences with high-level government officials, as opposed to marches, demonstrations, or protests by anonymous masses. Bertha von Suttner persuaded first Nobel and then Carnegie to fund her, her allies, and the movement as a whole.
Both Nobel and Carnegie viewed themselves as a bit heroic and viewed the world through that lens. Nobel established a prize for an individual leader, though it has not always been administered as intended (sometimes going to more than one person or to an organization). Carnegie similarly created a Hero Fund to fund, and to make the world aware of, heroes of peace, not war.
Both men, as cited above, left formal instructions for the continued use of their money for peace. Both intended to leave a legacy to the world, not just to their personal families, of which Nobel didn’t have any. In both cases the instructions have been grossly disregarded. The Nobel Peace Prize, as well detailed in the writings of Fredrik Heffermehl, has been awarded to many who have not fit the requirements, including some who have even favored war. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has openly rejected its mission of eliminating war, moved on to numerous other projects, and re-categorized itself as a think tank.
Of numerous individuals who reasonably might have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize but have not been — a list that usually begins with Mohandas Gandhi — one nominee in 1913 was Andrew Carnegie, and the laureate in 1912 was Carnegie’s associate Elihu Root. Of course, mutual friend of Nobel and Carnegie, Bertha von Suttner received the prize in 1905 as did her associated Alfred Fried in 1911. Nicholas Murray Butler received the prize in 1931 for his work at the Carnegie Endowment, which included lobbying for the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. Frank Kellogg got the prize in 1929, and Aristide Briand already had in 1926. When U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt received the prize in 1906 it was Andrew Carnegie who persuaded him to make the trip to Norway to accept it. There are numerous connections of this sort that all came after Nobel’s death.
Bertha von Suttner, mother of the war abolition movement, became a major international figure with the publication of her novel Lay Down Your Arms in 1889. I don’t think it was false modesty but accurate assessment when she attributed the success of her book to a sentiment already spreading. “I think that when a book with a purpose is successful, this success does not depend on the effect it has on the spirit of the times but the other way around,” she said. In fact, both are certainly the case. Her book tapped into a growing sentiment and dramatically expanded it. The same can be said for the philanthropy (truly loving of people) of Nobel and Carnegie that she encouraged.
But the best laid plans can fail. Bertha von Suttner opposed one of the first nominees for the peace prize, Henri Dunant as a “war alleviator,” and when he received it, she promoted the view that he’d been honored for supporting the abolition of war rather than for his work with the Red Cross. In
1905 1906, as noted, the prize went to warmonger Teddy Roosevelt, and the year after to Louis Renault, causing von Suttner to remark that “even war could get the prize.” Eventually people like Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama would make the list of laureates. A prize meant to fund demilitarization work was awarded in 2012 to the European Union, which could fund demilitarization most easily by spending less money on weaponry.
It did not take long for Carnegie’s legacy to slip off track as well. In 1917 the Endowment for Peace backed U.S. involvement in World War I. After a second world war, the Endowment put leading warmonger John Foster Dulles on its board along with Dwight D. Eisenhower. The same institution that had backed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans all war, backed the UN Charter which legalizes wars that are either defensive or UN-authorized.
As the disregard of climate change in the 1970s and 1980s helped create today’s climate crisis, disregard of Nobel’s and Carnegie’s intentions and legal mandates in the early and mid-twentieth century helped create today’s world in which U.S. and NATO militarism are widely acceptable to those in power.
Jessica T. Mathews, current President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes: “The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States. Founded by Andrew Carnegie with a gift of $10 million, its charter was to ‘hasten the abolition of war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.’ While that goal was always unattainable, the Carnegie Endowment has remained faithful to the mission of promoting peaceful engagement.”
That is, while denouncing without argument my required mission as impossible, I have remained faithful to that mission.
No. It doesn’t work that way. Here’s Peter van den Dungen:
“The peace movement was especially productive in the two decades preceding World War I when its agenda reached the highest levels of government as manifested, for instance, in the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907. A direct result of these unprecedented conferences – which followed an appeal (1898) by Tsar Nicholas II to halt the arms race, and to substitute war by peaceful arbitration – was the construction of the Peace Palace which opened its doors in 1913, and which celebrated its centenary in August 2013. Since 1946, it is of course the seat of the International Court of Justice of the UN. The world owes the Peace Palace to the munificence of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel tycoon who became a pioneer of modern philanthropy and who was also an ardent opponent of war. Like no one else, he liberally endowed institutions devoted to the pursuit of world peace, most of which still exist today.
“Whereas the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, guards its high mission to replace war by justice, Carnegie’s most generous legacy for peace, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), has explicitly turned away from its founder’s belief in the abolition of war, thereby depriving the peace movement of much-needed resources. This could partly explain why that movement has not grown into a mass movement which can exert effective pressure on governments. I believe it is important to reflect on this for a moment. In 1910 Carnegie, who was America’s most famous peace activist, and the world’s richest man, endowed his peace foundation with $10 million. In today’s money, this is the equivalent of $3.5 billion. Imagine what the peace movement – that is, the movement for the abolition of war – could do today if it had access to that kind of money, or even a fraction of it. Unfortunately, while Carnegie favoured advocacy and activism, the trustees of his Peace Endowment favoured research. As early as 1916, in the middle of the First World War, one of the trustees even suggested that the name of the institution should be changed to Carnegie Endowment for International Justice.”
I’m not sure any two economists calculate the value of inflation the same way. Whether $3.5 billion is the right number or not, it is orders of magnitude larger than anything funding peace today. And $10 million was only a fraction of what Carnegie put into peace through the funding of trusts, the building of buildings in DC and Costa Rica as well as the Hague, and the funding of individual activists and organizations for years and years. Imagining peace is difficult for some people, perhaps for all of us. Maybe imagining someone wealthy investing in peace would be a step in the right direction. Maybe it will help our thinking to know that it’s been done before.
*By some calculations some of the early robber barons were, in fact, wealthier than some of our current ones.