You are hereCongress
USA Freedom Act has nothing to do with freedom: House-Passed Phone Surveillance ‘Reform’ Bill is an Obscene Joke
By Alfredo Lopez
It just wasn't a very good week for phones or for freedom.
By Dave Lindorff
I was shocked to find myself in almost perfect agreement today with a recent column by the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer.
Usually Krauthammer has me groaning, but yesterday his column nailed it.
By John Grant
I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. Reality is telling us that every day. But if I am told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, then I say, “We part company.”
-Hugo Chavez, 2004
The hypocrisy of the government of the United States seems to know no limits. The current posture it’s taking toward the elected government of Venezuela is simply shameful.
The media is awash with information about a potential presidential run by Hillary Clinton. She has the overwhelming support of Democrats, unparalleled name-recognition, and the assurance of more money for her campaign than either candidate had in the historically-expensive Obama-Romney match-up of 2012. Her credentials – mastermind of her husband’s comeback campaign for Governor of Arkansas, former first lady, former senator from a heavily populated state, presidential candidate, former Secretary of State – look very impressive, if one doesn’t look too closely. However, it is high time one did so.
A hallway dispute that could become a real public debate: Companies and FCC in Net Neutrality Scuffle
By Alfredo Lopez
As the FCC hurtles towards what seems like an approval this coming Thursday of new proposed rules that would, effectively, allow establishment of a second high-speed, higher-cost Internet, we've caught a glimpse of an interesting and infrequently noted split in the circles of power.
It's a minor scuffle but, if it continues, it could open up debates that would involve genuine free-Internet forces and that would quickly put the need to protect the Internet on the national agenda.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Bipartisan Members, Introduce the War Authorization Review and Determination Act
... to Limit Executive Branch’s ‘Blank Check’ for Military Force
Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced the bipartisan War Authorization Review and Determination Act (WARD Act), to reinsert Congressional oversight and determination into any future use of military force, as well as repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). As the House prepares to take up the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, Congresswoman Lee introduced this legislation to end the executive branch’s “blank check” for military action.
Since her lone vote against the AUMF in 2001, Congresswoman Lee has consistently called for the repeal of this legislation, which has been used as legal justification for a wide range of activities, including targeted drone killings, warrantless surveillance and wiretapping, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA), a member of the Homeland Security Committee, joined Congresswoman Lee in introducing the WARD Act and advocating for stronger congressional oversight in authorizing military force.
“As the only Member of Congress to vote against the AUMF on September 14th, 2001, I have been deeply concerned about this overly-broad blank check for endless war,” said Congresswoman Lee. “I knew then, as I know now, that it gives any president the nearly unlimited authority to wage limitless war at anytime, anywhere, for any reason, in perpetuity. Regardless of how you perceive the AUMF, the fact remains that it is overly broad in scope and runs contrary to Congress’s constitutional role in war making and oversight.”
“The AUMF has been the underlying legal justification for countless acts of federal overreach and abuse, including: targeted drone killings of American citizens, broad warrantless surveillance and wiretapping activities, and indefinite detention. This attack upon our Constitutional liberties must stop – and I was pleased to work across the aisle to put forward a bill which would curb these instances of gross federal overreach,” said Congressman Broun. “While the AUMF originally passed in 2001 to allow the government to pursue Al Qaeda – it has expanded far beyond its originally intended scope. The WARD Act works to address this dramatic growth of power by restoring transparency and the Congressional oversight role. I urge my colleagues to work immediately to pass this common-sense, bipartisan bill.”
According to a CRS report from July 2013, there are 30 known instances where the AUMF has been invoked by Presidents Bush and Obama for the purposes of deploying troops in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Georgia, and Yemen, justifying detentions at Guantanamo Bay, and conducting military commissions.
Original sponsors of the WARD Act include Representatives Louis Slaughter (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Rules, Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a member of the House Rules Committee, John Garamendi (D-CA), a member of the Committee on Armed Services, Ted Yoho (R-FL), a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Thomas Massie (R-KY), a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Steve Stockman (R-TX), a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Washington's Pivot to Ignorance: Will the State Department Torpedo Its Last Great Program? By Ann Jones
Often it’s the little things coming out of Washington, obscured by the big, scary headlines, that matter most in the long run. Items that scarcely make the news, or fail to attract your attention, or once noticed seem trivial, may carry consequences that endure long after the latest front-page crisis has passed. They may, in fact, signal fundamental changes in Washington’s priorities and policies that could even face opposition, if only we paid attention.
Take the current case of an unprecedented, unkind, under-the-radar cut in the State Department’s budget for the Fulbright Program, the venerable 68-year-old operation that annually arranges for thousands of educators, students, and researchers to be exchanged between the United States and at least 155 other countries. As Washington increasingly comes to rely on the “forward projection” of military force to maintain its global position, the Fulbright Program may be the last vestige of an earlier, more democratic, equitable, and generous America that enjoyed a certain moral and intellectual standing in the world. Yet, long advertised by the U.S. government as “the flagship international educational exchange program" of American cultural diplomacy, it is now in the path of the State Department’s torpedoes.
Right now, all over the world, former Fulbright scholars like me (Norway, 2012) are raising the alarm, trying to persuade Congress to stand by one of its best creations, passed by unanimous bipartisan consent of the Senate and signed into law by President Truman in 1946. Alumni of the Fulbright Program number more than 325,000, including more than 123,000 Americans. Among Fulbright alums are 53 from 13 different countries who have won a Nobel Prize, 28 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, 29 who have served as the head of state or government, and at least one, lunar geologist Harrison Schmitt (Norway, 1957), who walked on the moon -- not to mention the hundreds of thousands who returned to their countries with greater understanding and respect for others and a desire to get along. Check the roster of any institution working for peace around the world and you’re almost certain to find Fulbright alums whose career choices were shaped by international exchange. What’s not to admire about such a program?
Yet the Fulbright budget, which falls under the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), seems to be on the chopping block. The proposed cut amounts to chump change in Washington, only $30.5 million. But the unexpected reduction from a $234.7 million budget this year to $204.2 million in 2015 represents 13% of what Fulbright gets. For such a relatively small-budget program, that’s a big chunk. No one in the know will say just where the cuts are going to fall, but the most likely target could be “old Europe,” and the worldwide result is likely to be a dramatic drop from 8,000 to fewer than 6,000 in the number of applicants who receive the already exceedingly modest grants.
For the U.S., that’s not a saving, it’s a foolish blunder. Only about 1% of American college students ever study abroad. Fewer than 20% speak more than one language -- a figure that includes immigrants for whom English comes second or third -- but all students benefit from the presence of international “Fulbrighters” on their campuses and the return of their own professors and grad students from study and teaching in other countries. Those Fulbrighters chosen according to standards of academic excellence may seem to be an elite group, but their presence on campuses from North Dakota State to Notre Dame is thoroughly democratic. Their knowledge gained abroad, unlike money in our economy, trickles down and spreads out.
Cutting the Fulbright budget also sends a dangerous message to allies around the world: that the U.S. is not truly committed to its biggest and best international exchange program. That news comes as a kick in the teeth to 50 partner countries that have established Fulbright commissions of their own to fund their share, or more than their share, of the mutual exchange. (Norway, for one, funds 70% of it.) What are good friends to make of “cultural diplomacy” like this?
Developing a Twitter-Worthy Worldview
Given what the program achieves, and what it contributes to American prestige abroad, the budget cut is a terrible idea, but the scheme behind it is worse. It hinges on the difference between thinking long and thinking short. With decades of experience, the Fulbright Program clearly welcomes the positive effects of the regular exchange of scholars and educators of proven excellence on broad issues of cultural diplomacy like peace, the progress of democracy, and economic cooperation over time. But it’s not so heedless of history as to think it can determine those outcomes.
The State Department, on the other hand, is headed largely by short-term political appointees, many without specialized experience, most fixated on their own competitive careers. Their thinking leans quite naturally toward the quick fix consistent with an alarmist and historically suspect worldview, quite possibly derived from CNN, inscribed in the justification of the federal budget proposed for 2015: “Global events and trends now start, spread, and shape countries in an instant.” For them, history now only happens on the fast track.
Given this Twitter-worthy worldview, the laggard State Department had to make some “strategic shifts,” according to Susan Pittman, a spokesperson for State’s ECA, the office now responsible for all of America’s “cultural diplomacy.” She claimed the shifts had to be made “in order to be able to take a different angle of doing some short-term targeted programs” in instantaneous crises like that now occurring in Ukraine. “To that end,” Pittman said, “there was the desire to be able to redistribute things.”
What the State Department desires to redistribute is Fulbright funding. It can’t kill the program, but it can starve it. Ukraine, however, is a bad example to cite as a target for redistributed fast-action funds, since the Fulbright Program, thinking long, has been operating in Ukraine for all 23 years of that country’s independence, exchanging about 1,200 scholars and educators. The spokesperson did not seem to know that, or chose not to mention it. Or perhaps Ukraine sprang to mind because her brand-new boss, Evan Ryan, a former special assistant to Vice President Biden and now -- as if by magic -- assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, happens to be married to President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, who had just appeared on all the Sunday talk shows speaking about... you guessed it: Ukraine. Well, I’m just guessing, too, but such things happen in the crowded and intimate little space inside Washington’s Beltway.
Anyway, the State Department actually has its eye on other prizes. In fact, the “strategic shifts” in State Department programming coincide miraculously well with the Obama administration’s militarized “pivots” in foreign policy. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will spend $10 million in Southeast Asia and $20 million in Africa on brand new quick-fix programs to “increase outreach” to “young leaders... shaping the... future.” That’s $30 million drawn from the Fulbright budget and dispatched instead to follow the ships, drones, Navy SEALs, and other Special Forces types to unpublicized points in Asia (for the containment of China) and Africa (for who knows what).
These new ECA programs speak of “partnership,” but they are not like the Fulbright Program’s mutual exchanges. They are unilateral projects whose aim is to identify and cultivate the locals we can do business with in countries that may or may not welcome our outreach, or our handpicked young leaders either. Recall that Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the 2012 coup that overthrew the elected government of Mali, started a war, and destabilized a vast region of Africa, was selected and trained in the United States under another State Department scheme: the International Military Education and Training program.
The ECA also plans to spend $2.5 million next year in Vietnam on what seems to be a consolation prize: a new American Fulbright University, named in honor of Senator J. William Fulbright who created the flagship program that bears his name and ushered it through Congress back in 1946. Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat, was then a first-term senator whose experience as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford had fostered his international perspective. He went on to spend 30 years in the Senate, becoming the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the twentieth century’s most influential senators. Yet if the State Department has its way, the proposed university to be named in his honor will be paid for by money cut from the international exchange program he considered his most important achievement.
In fact, there’s no good reason why the ECA budget should be balanced on the back of the Fulbright Program in the first place. Overall, the federal budget for international exchange programs will actually increase by 1.6% in 2015, to a proposed $577.9 million, while the total proposed budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will be $46.2 billion.
Surely that’s money enough to fully fund the Fulbright Program as well as those short-term, shortsighted, potentially explosive unilateral ones. So you have to ask: Why, with all those billions in pocket, must $30 million be snatched from Fulbright and its priceless reputation discounted?
At her confirmation hearing, Evan Ryan gave the game away, signaling to the senators that she knows perfectly well what she’s doing. She assured them that her office was “working closely with regional bureaus to ensure exchange programs are in line with U.S. foreign policy priorities and that they meet the needs of the changing global landscape.”
Soldiers, Not Scholars
There, of course, is the catch. The Fulbright Program was never meant to be a tool of foreign policy, much less a tactic of military intervention. It was and still is “designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Senator Fulbright himself thought Americans had the most to learn. Asked near the end of his life what he had intended by the exchange program, he said, “Aw, hell, I just wanted to educate these goddam ignorant Americans!”
In the aftermath of World War II, he hoped that both the educational and humanizing effects of an international exchange program would promote peace and that within peace would be found authentic security for everyone. At the time, all nations counted and the world was round.
Now the landscape has shifted, and the globe has tilted to match the slant of America’s exceptional (and mostly classified) interests, as well as a version of “national security” dependent upon secrecy, not exchange, and war, not peace. You can see how the land lies today by tracing the dispersal of U.S. troops around that badly bashed and lopsided globe or tracking the itinerary of President Obama, just back from an Asian trip that included a new agreement extending the reach of soldiers, not scholars.
You can search hard and find little trace of those quaint old notions of international understanding and peace on the American agenda. Consider it a sign of the times that a president who, from his Nobel acceptance speech putting in a good word for war to his surges in Afghanistan to the “kill list” he regularly mulls over in the White House, has hardly been a Nobel Prize-quality executive, yet must still repeatedly defend himself against charges that he is too slow and far too wussy to go to war, perhaps as a result of his own “un-American” international childhood.
This is scarcely the moment for Washington to knock one nickel off its budget for international exchange. Longstanding educational partners of the U.S. in Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and elsewhere now have other excellent opportunities for intellectual, scientific, and artistic exchange. Meanwhile, the dysfunctional, militarized, pistol-packin’ United States has lost much of its global allure. It was precisely this sort of isolation from the ideas and experiences of other cultures -- self-imposed by our own overweening ignorance -- that Fulbright feared. In his classic book The Arrogance of Power, published in 1966 in the midst of another unnecessary American war, he warned against the historic tendency of powerful nations to mistake military might for moral and intellectual strength and, by overreaching in an attempt to impose their views upon the world, to bring themselves to ruin.
Fulbright was hopeful that the United States might avoid this trap by “finding the wisdom to match her power,” but he was not confident because, as he wrote, “the wisdom required is greater wisdom than any great nation has ever shown before.” It is certainly greater than the wisdom in evidence in Washington today.
Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, and War Is Not Over When It’s Over, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project (Haymarket, 2013). She encourages interested readers to check out the website http://www.savefulbright.org.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story.
Copyright 2014 Ann Jones
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was one of three U.S. diplomats who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Platts confirmed CSX Corporation's train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. CSX CEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.
On Sunday, April 27, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on U.S. television, denouncing progress made in reconciliation talks between Fatah, which ostensibly controls the West Bank, and Hamas, the democratically-elected government in the Gaza Strip.
According to CNN: “Netanyahu said he and Secretary of State John Kerry recently applauded that some progress was being made toward a peace agreement. ‘And then the next day, we were both shocked, there's no other word, we were absolutely stupefied that President Abbas embraced the terrorist organization Hamas that seeks Israel's destruction,’ he said on ‘Face the Nation.’”
Drone Strikes and Transparency
The craven U.S. Senate has stripped from a bill a requirement that the president disclose casualties resulting from his murderous, almost indiscriminant drone strikes. The original wording of the bill, authorizing intelligence operations for fiscal year 2014, required an annual report stating the number of ‘combatants’ and ‘non-combatant civilians’ that were either killed or injured by drone strikes.
By Alfredo Lopez
When a federal court trashed its "net neutrality" compromise policy in January, the Federal Communications Commission assured us that the Internet we knew and depended on was safe. Most activists didn't believe federal officials and this past week the FCC demonstrated how realistic our cynicism was.
By John Grant
I met Janet Burroway when I was a Vietnam veteran on the GI Bill at Florida State University and I signed up for a creative writing workshop she was just hired to teach. She was a worldly, published novelist seven years older than me. She had just left an oppressive husband, a Belgian, who was an important theater director in London where she’d been to parties with the likes of Samuel Beckett. I graduate in 1973, and in a turn of events that still amazes me, I asked her out and ended up living with her for a couple years. She had two beautiful boys, Tim, 9, and Toby, 6, who I grew to love.
Cross-Posted from Occupy.com
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The spirited protest outside the front door of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, where nearly 150 demonstrators bashed NJ Governor Chris Christie for scandalous obstruction of the state's medical marijuana law, featured the presence and participation of the youngest offspring of two of the most legendary stars in reggae music history.
A Special Report today on the issue of ending Marijuana Prohibition and the massively destructive War on Drugs, by TCBH! collective journalist Linn Washington, Jr. and three students in his Temple University journalism class:
Marijuana: Facts and Falacies, by Linn Washington
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska's statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.
It's not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.
The question of who owns Alaska's natural gas and where they're from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.
By Dave Lindorff
By David Hartsough, WagingNonviolence
As April 15 approaches, make no mistake: The tax money that many of us will be sending to the U.S. government pays for drones that are killing innocent civilians, for “better” nuclear weapons that could put an end of human life on our planet, for building and operating more than 760 military bases in over 130 countries all over the world. We are asked by our government to give moral and financial support to cutting federal spending for our children’s schools, Head Start programs, job training, environmental protection and cleanup, programs for the elderly, and medical care for all so that this same government can spend 50 percent of all our tax dollars on wars and other military expenditures.
My wife Jan and I have been war tax resisters since the war in Vietnam. We cannot in good conscience pay for killing people in other parts of the world.
Does it make sense to work every day for peace and justice and then contribute one day’s pay each week for war and war-making? In order to wage wars, governments need young men and women willing to fight and kill, and they need the rest of us to pay our taxes to cover the cost of soldiers, bombs, guns, ammunition, planes and aircraft carriers. The cost of just the wars being fought now is in the trillions of dollars.
Increasingly, we are able to recognize that most wars are based on lies — weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, and now al-Qaeda behind every bush and in every country our government wants to attack.
As our government uses drones that kill thousands of innocent people, we create ever more enemies, thus assuring that we will have wars to fight in perpetuity. The war against communism used to be the rationale for all our military expenditures. Now it is the war on terror. But the problem is that all war is terrorism. It just depends which end of the gun or bomb you are on. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.
At what point do we the people refuse to cooperate with these immoral, illegal and senseless wars? The government cannot fight these wars without our tax dollars and our moral support. And I bet that if the Pentagon sent people out door to door to ask us to contribute to its wars, aircraft carriers, drones and new fighter jets, most of us would not contribute.
Some people argue that the Internal Revenue Service is so powerful that it will get the money anyway from our paychecks or bank accounts, so what good does it do to refuse to pay the 50 percent of our taxes that go for war? My response is that if the Pentagon has to take the money we were planning to contribute to schools and organizations working for peace and justice, at least we aren’t paying for the wars voluntarily. And if millions of us refused to pay our war taxes, the government would have a real crisis on its hands. It would be forced to listen.
As President Nixon’s chief of staff Alexander Haig looked out the White House window and saw more than 200,000 anti-war demonstrators marching by, he said, “Let them march all they want to as long as they pay their taxes.”
If our country put even 10 percent of the money we presently spend on wars and military expenditures into building a world where every person has shelter, enough to eat, an opportunity for education and access to medical care, we could be the most loved country in the world — and the most secure. But perhaps even more pressing is the question of whether we can in conscience continue to pay for the killing of other human beings and perpetuate the war system for all the world’s children.
The choice is ours. Hopefully many of us will join the increasing number of people who are refusing to pay the portion of taxes that pay for war and are redirecting their refused taxes to funding human and environmental needs.
My wife and I engage in war tax resistance by simply deducting 50 percent of the taxes we owe and depositing it in the People’s Life Fund. The fund keeps the money in case the IRS seizes our bank account or paycheck and will return it to us so we have the funds to replenish what the IRS has taken. Interest on the money in the People’s Life Fund is contributed to peace and justice organizations and programs addressing the needs of people in our communities. That way, as long as the IRS leaves us alone, the funds we refuse to pay go to the places we would like to see it go. The IRS may add penalties and interest on what we owe, but for me that is a small price to pay for refusing to voluntarily pay for wars and the American empire.
Someday, we hope to see a special fund set up by the government itself for those who cannot in good conscience allow their money to be used for war, such as the one that the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund has outlined. In the meantime, there are more resources about tax resistance available through the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
If your conscience so directs you, refuse to pay $1, $10, $100 or 50 percent of the taxes you owe, and send letters to your elected representatives and your local newspaper explaining why you are doing so. For the 50 percent of our taxes that my wife and I do pay, we make out a check to the Department of Health and Human Services instead of to the IRS and send it along with our 1040 form. We ask the IRS to allocate all the funds we pay to programs for health, education and human services.
For acts like this to become truly powerful, however, we need to make war tax resistance a mass movement. We need to reach out to all people who want to help build a more peaceful and just world, people who don’t believe in killing other people, people who are hurting because of the massive cuts in programs aimed at meeting human needs while the military gets the lion’s share, and people who are tired of living in the center of an empire that inflicts death and destruction on those who stand in the way. If all or even many of the people who feel this way were to refuse to pay the war and military portion of their taxes, we would have a mass movement that couldn’t be stopped.
ThisCantBeHappening! interviews Prof. Harold Wanless on PRN.fm: Climate Change is Much Worse than Even the IPCC Predictions
By Dave Lindorff
Dave Lindorff, host of the Progressive Radio Network program "ThisCantBeHappening!", interviews Professor Harold Wanless, chair of the Geology Department at the University of Miami and a leading climate change expert. Wanless talks about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, explaining that as scary as that organization's latest predictions are concerning accelerating global warming, it is far too conservative.
By Dave Lindorff
Let us pause to honor Charles Fury.
By Alfredo Lopez
For two years, starting in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development ran a social networking service -- similar to Twitter -- for the Cuban people. Its long-term objective was to forment popular revolt against the government and de-stabilize the country.
By Alfredo Lopez
"Connectivity," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a CNN interview last year, "is a human right."
By Alfredo Lopez
"Connectivity," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a CNN interview last year, "is a human right."
Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.
Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it's unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.
Clump of oil on the sand; Photo Credit: U.S. EPA
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
At the just-completed U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing titled, "The Geopolitical Potential of the U.S. Energy Boom," Admiral Dennis Blair — former Director of National Intelligence, President and CEO of Institute for Defense Analyses and Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command — admitted what's still considered conspiratorial to some.
Put tersely: the U.S. and allied forces launched the ongoing occupation in Iraq and occupy large swaths of the Middle East to secure the flow of oil to the U.S. and its global allies, explained Blair.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S. Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.
U.S. Sen Mary Landrieu at the U.S. Sen. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; Photo Credit: U.S. Sen. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses.
Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn't mean the issue isn't important to national security types.
Indeed, the Pentagon's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a "threat force multiplier" that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking's accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, "threat force multiplication" impacts of climate change went undiscussed.
With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.
So, why wasn't the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: ten of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.
I've been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves. Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.
I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent. I don't think the "because chickenhawks" dissent found, for example, in John Horgan's "The End of War" is sufficient. That is to say, just because a politician doesn't want to do the killing himself or herself doesn't mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn't heartless and calculating. Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.
But are they?
When I look at national politicians in the United States -- presidents and Congress members -- I can't identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other. They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences. They all make bad compromises. There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum. They all fund the largest killing machine in history. The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget. Some support wars on "humanitarian" and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way.
The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies. Or at least that's true much of the time on many issues. Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience. Senator Dianne Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it's turned against her. Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam. Weren't four million people killed there? Didn't many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones? Shouldn't we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder? In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable -- and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.
The spectrum of morality in our elected officials ranges from those who often indicate their concern and their desire to help if their own careers won't suffer in any way, to those who take tentative stands for peace or justice if their own family is impacted, to those who talk a good line and always act against it, and all the way over to those who don't even put up a pretense. But all of this is within a culture where we routinely discuss the supposed need to "humanize" humans. That is to say, we teach each other that foreigners are made more human when we see their photos and learn their names and stories and the stories of their loved ones in some trivial detail -- as if we are supposed to imagine that people don't have names or quirks or loved ones until we get a specific account of those things.
When it was revealed that a bunch of TV news guest experts on war were actually getting their talking points from the Pentagon, there was no way to watch the videos and distinguish the corrupt pundits from the truly independent ones. They all talked the same. The mercenary fraudsters fit right in. It's the same with any sociopaths in Congress. They may be there, but how could one possibly spot the difference?
Kall raises the question of why people enjoy watching shows about sociopaths such as "House of Cards," and speculates that people admire sociopaths' ability to stay calm in crises, to express confidence, to project charisma, and to dominate and manipulate others. That's probably right. And such shows spread sociopathy by example. But there's also the function such shows serve of explaining (accurately or not) why our government is so bad. There's also the joy of hoping against hope that Vice President Underwood will land in prison where so many of his real-life colleagues belong. But watch the real-life "journalists" playing themselves on fictional TV interviews in these shows. They clearly don't imagine themselves as having any value that can be lost by such charades. Watch the advertisements for which many TV shows are filler, and you'll see politicians routinely describing their opponents as behaving sociopathically.
Some experts believe sociopaths make the best CEOs of large corporations. Everybody else recognizes that the CEOs of large corporations are given incentives to behave immorally, regardless of whether it impacts them emotionally in a typical manner or not. Also encouraged to behave immorally are presidents and Congress members.
Well-designed governments encourage good behavior and bar against the potential for evil. They treat 100% -- not 2% or 10% or 80% -- of elected officials as potential psychopaths. Elections are made open and verifiable. Bribery is forbidden. Powers are checked and balanced. Abuses are exposed and punished. Secrecy is curtailed and openness required. War powers are placed in a legislature or the public, or war abolished. Standing armies are disbanded. Profiteering and other conflicts of interest are avoided. Adversarial journalism is encouraged. Our government, in contrast, treats every elected official as a saint capable of overcoming all kinds of bribery and pressure to misbehave, while our culture encourages them and the rest of us to be anything but.
Many agree that we should reform our government, but is something else needed to handle the threat of sociopaths, in public and private life alike? Kall wants sociopaths to be identified and prevented from doing damage. He wants them treated as alleged sex offenders are, despite the horrible failings of that approach and the much greater difficulty in identifying who is and who is not a sociopath. Kall goes further, suggesting sterilization. He writes that he would have happily shot and killed Nazis; and in the next breath lists billionaire Americans he considers parasites -- later reassuring us that he doesn't want to kill them.
The identification process is not clear cut. Sociopathy seems to be something of a matter of degree, with some small degree reaching all of us. We allowed our government to destroy Iraq, killing some million people and making millions more refugees, and we talk about that war in terms of how many Americans were killed and how many dollars it cost, as if Iraq doesn't matter at all. Or we talk about the military investment that will generate more wars as if it were a jobs program. That behavior looks like sociopathy to others.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the quintessential non-sociopath on Capitol Hill, the one member who voted against launching the past dozen years of wars. But I was once in a room with her and other progressive members of Congress, relatively early in the Bush-Cheney rampage, proposing that impeachment be begun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed opening an effort to impeach Vice President Cheney. Excitement gripped us. For an instant a few of us could imagine Congress pushing back against the lawlessness that has rolled on unimpeded to this day. And then Congresswoman Lee spoke up and said nobody had better do anything without getting approval from John Conyers. And that was that. Not sociopathy. But not pure principled morality either.
Studying the phenomenon of extreme cases at the other end of the spectrum from Rep. Lee is certainly desirable. What makes John McCain or Hillary Clinton tick? How could Dick Cheney contemplate ordering Americans to attack each other in the Straight of Hormuz in order to blame it on Iran and start a war? How could George W. Bush laugh off his lies about Iraq and claim it didn't matter? How could he proudly declare he would waterboard people again if given the chance? How could Barack Obama go to Copenhagen and intentionally and maliciously block any serious agreement to confront climate change? How could he pretend to know that Gadaffi was going to slaughter Benghazians or that Assad used chemical weapons, when evidence has emerged that he couldn't possibly have known any such things?
But if there have always been sociopaths everywhere, why are some societies doing more evil than others? Has the 95% of humanity that is currently investing dramatically less in war than the United States, identified and controlled its sociopaths? Or have they, rather, created less evil paths to power and influence? If a sociopath wants power and influence, why not give him or her a system in which good behavior is rewarded? In 1928 Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, who cared not a damn for peace, worked night and day for the peace treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact because he saw rewards in that direction and told his wife he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Had power lain in the direction of war-making, that's the direction Kellogg would have headed. If sociopaths make great propagandists, why not train better critical thinkers to see through the lies? Mentally healthy or not, our Congress members are holding off on bombing Syria or Iran because we've rejected the idea that doing so would improve things.
There is a danger, I think, in focusing on sociopaths' existence as the problem, of developing a cure as bad as the disease. Identifying a group of people to be targeted for discrimination, eugenics, imprisonment, or death seems like the habit of a culture that is itself more of a problem than are the genes of a small minority within it likely to be. What kind of a culture would produce such an idea? A sick one, I believe.
I agree with Kall that billionaires can be identified and their billions re-claimed. Excellent proposal! But not every immoral decider is a billionaire. Nor do I find it likely that every politician who promotes some evil practice can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath. Wouldn't it be easier to identify evil politicians by their evil deeds? What would be gained by identifying them instead as the sort of people likely to do something evil, and giving that category of people a scientific name? If an elected official fails to protect the environment, fails to advance peace and justice, fails to deal honestly and fairly with the people, he or she should be held accountable. If recognizing that such a person's emotions may not be functioning like ours helps us to reach them with our demands, terrific. But if it prevents us from reaching their emotions in a way that we might have, and from communicating our views more widely in the process, then it's hurting the cause of justice.
It's not as if we can't recognize the sociopaths coming. Molly Ivins warned us about Bush. He lost his election. Twice. Many of us warned about Obama. Twice. But Bush wasn't born destined to engage in extraordinary renditions. Obama wasn't born destined to drone-kill children on Tuesdays. Our entire system moves in that direction. Bush and Obama should be prosecuted and imprisoned, along with many of their colleagues -- as a step toward fixing the system. But their bodies shouldn't be studied for clues about whom to sterilize. Only a political culture already itself sterilized would think that was the solution.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Photo Credit: Getty Images
In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine's citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.