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Military Industrial Complex
By Alfredo Lopez
To get to the point: there is nothing -- nothing at all -- in any recent law or legislative action that will in any way weaken the police state structure our government has put into place for rapid deployment. You are not any more free than you were last week and, no matter what the Congress has done with the expired provisions of the Patriot Act or the newly developed and Orwellian-named "USA Freedom Act", you are not going to be any more free next week.
By Dave Lindorff
Omigod! We're all gonna die!
Three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were allowed to expire on June 1 thanks to a Senate disagreement over how to "fix" them (and thanks to Sen. Rand Paul's outspoken opposition to renewal), and now we’re vulnerable to terrorism!
That at least is what President Obama and other fear mongers in Washington are saying.
It’s not just police killings: Tazing and Bust of Videotaper Shows Abuse of Blacks is Just Normal Philly Cop Behavior
By Linn Washington Jr.
A July 2013 Philadelphia police attack on Sharif Anderson, where officers beat, kicked and shot Anderson twice with a Taser, is more than just another ugly incident of abuse by a big city police force long assailed for its persistent brutality and corruption.
By John Grant
Anthropologists have found that in traditional societies, memory becomes attached to places.
What happens when a bunch of lawyers intent on distinguishing combatants from civilians discover, by interviewing hundreds of civilians, that it cannot be done?
Does it become legal to kill everyone or no one?
The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) has published a report called The People's Perspectives: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict. Researchers, including from Harvard Law School, interviewed 62 people in Bosnia, 61 in Libya, 54 in Gaza, and 77 Somali refugees in Kenya. The lead author of the report is Harvard Law School Fellow Nicolette Boehland.
One might ask why Iraq and Afghanistan were left out, or any number of other countries, but the report says the researchers went where they were able. And the result is a valuable contribution that I'm willing to bet would not have found fundamentally different results by looking elsewhere.
The House of Representatives has headed out of town to memorialize wars without managing to achieve agreement with the Senate on reauthorizing some of the most abusive "temporary" measures of the PATRIOT Act. Three cheers for Congressional vacations!
What if not just our civil liberties but our budget got a little bit of 2001 back?
In 2001, U.S. military spending was $397 billion, from which it soared to a peak of $720 billion in 2010, and is now at $610 billion in 2015. These figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (in constant 2011 dollars) exclude debt payments, veterans costs, and civil defense, which raise the figure to over $1 trillion a year now, not counting state and local spending on the military.
Military spending is now 54% of U.S. federal discretionary spending according to the National Priorities Project. Everything else -- and the entire debate in which liberals want more spending and conservatives want less! -- is contained within the other 46% of the budget.
U.S. military spending, according to SIPRI, is 35% of the world total. U.S. and Europe make 56% of the world. The U.S. and its allies around the globe (it has troops in 175 countries, and most countries are armed in great part by U.S. companies) make up the bulk of world spending.
Iran spends 0.65% of world military spending (as of 2012, the last year available). China's military spending has been rising for years and has soared since 2008 and the U.S. pivot to Asia, from $107 billion in 2008 to now $216 billion. But that's still just 12% of world spending.
Per capita the U.S. now spends $1,891 current U.S. dollars for each person in the United States, as compared with $242 per capita worldwide, or $165 per capita in the world outside the U.S., or $155 per capita in China.
The dramatically increased U.S. military spending has not made the U.S. or the world safer. Early on in the "war on terror" the U.S. government ceased reporting on terrorism, as it increased. The Global Terrorism Index records a steady increase in terrorist attacks from 2001 to the present. A Gallup poll in 65 nations at the end of 2013 found the United States overwhelmingly viewed as the greatest threat to peace in the world. Iraq has been turned into hell, with Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia close behind. Newly embittered terrorist groups have arisen in direct response to U.S. terrorism and the devastation it's left behind. And arms races have been sparked that benefit only the arms dealers.
But the spending has had other consequences. The U.S. has risen into the top five nations in the world for disparity of wealth. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built; but local U.S. police have weapons of war now. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations. The U.S. now ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, 36th in life expectancy, 47th in preventing infant mortality, 57th in employment, and trails in education by various measures.
If U.S. military spending were merely returned to 2001 levels, the savings of $213 billion per year could meet the following needs:
End hunger and starvation worldwide -- $30 billion per year.
Provide clean drinking water worldwide -- $11 billion per year.
Provide free college in the United States -- $70 billion per year (according to Senate legislation).
Double U.S. foreign aid -- $23 billion per year.
Build and maintain a high-speed rail system in the U.S. -- $30 billion per year.
Invest in solar and renewable energy as never before -- $20 billion per year.
Fund peace initiatives as never before -- $10 billion per year.
That would leave $19 billion left over per year with which to pay down debt.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but this is life and death. War kills more by how the money isn't spent than by how it is spent.
By John Grant
By Robert C. Koehler
“What struck me” journalist Christian Parenti said in a recent Truthout interview, referring to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “was the fact that these local towns and states around the region were sending the only resources they had to New Orleans: weapons and militarized gear.
“After 30 years of the War on Drugs and a neoliberal restructuring of the state at the local level, which is not a reduction of the public sector but a transformation of the public sector, the only thing local governments had were weapons.”
Parenti’s observation summed up a deep sense of puzzled frustration I’ve been feeling for a long time, which has been growing in intensity since the Reagan era and even more so since 9/11 and the unleashed Bush agenda. Fear, exploited and unchecked, triggers a deep, “rational” insanity. We’re driving ourselves into a new Dark Age.
The driving force is institutional: government, the mainstream media, the military-industrial economy. These entities are converging in a lockstep, armed obsession over various enemies of the status quo in which they hold enormous power; and this obsession is devolving public consciousness into a permanent fight-or-flight mentality. Instead of dealing with real, complex social issues with compassion and intelligence, our major institutions seem to be fortifying themselves – with ever-increasing futility – against their imagined demons.
Parenti went on, in his interview with Vincent Emanuele: “So, less money for public housing, more money for private prisons. It’s a literal transfer of resources to different institutions, from a flawed social democratic institution like public housing, to an inherently evil, but still very expensive and publicly funded institution, like prison.”
As American society militarizes, it dumbs itself down.
The only surprising aspect to a recent story in the U.S. edition of The Guardian, for instance – about how the Houston office of the FBI broke its own rules in beginning an investigation of opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline – was how unsurprising it was.
In essence, the FBI office violated the department’s internal rules – “designed,” according to The Guardian, “to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues” – by beginning a surveillance operation against anti-pipeline activists without receiving high-level approval to do so. Furthermore, “the investigation was opened in early 2013, several months after a high-level strategy meeting between the agency and TransCanada, the company building the pipeline,” The Guardian reported.
“… At one point, the FBI’s Houston office said it would share with TransCanada ‘any pertinent intelligence regarding any threats’ to the company in advance of a forthcoming protest.”
Perhaps the only surprising thing about this revelation is that the agency has internal rules designed to keep its nose out of sensitive political issues. Obviously, they’re easily circumvented. What’s not surprising is the corporate-FBI alliance to stand tough against “environmental extremists” or the agency’s lumping of environmental protests with other “domestic terrorism issues” – its pathological fear, in other words, of peaceful protest and civil disobedience and its inability to see the least bit of patriotic value in their cause.
This is the case despite the long, honored tradition of protest and civil disobedience in the United States and the widespread public awareness of the need to protect our environment. Doesn’t matter. In the realm of law enforcement, a simple moralism too often prevails: Get the enemy.
Imagine, just for a moment, an American law enforcement institution that operated out of an emotional state other than armed self-righteousness; that regarded the security it was established to protect as a complex matter that required cooperation and fairness and was ill-served by intimidation. Imagine a law enforcement institution capable of learning from past wrongs and not automatically donning riot gear in the face of every challenge to social conditions – and not automatically manning the firehoses.
What I see our powerful, status-quo institutions doing is arming themselves against the future. Consider the enemies: poor people, immigrants, protesters of all sorts . . . whistleblowers.
“A federal court in Alexandria, Virginia sentenced former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling to three and a half years in prison on Monday in a case that has received widespread condemnation for revealing the ‘rank hypocrisy’ of the U.S. government’s war on whistleblowers,” Common Dreams reported.
Sterling was convicted, on circumstantial evidence, of leaking classified info to New York Times journalist James Risen about a bizarre CIA operation called Operation Merlin. If true, Sterling committed the crime of embarrassing the U.S. government by outing an ill-conceived CIA plan to pass flawed information about nuclear-weapon design to Iran, which may actually have furthered Iran’s weapons program. The government has no right to hide its operations – and certainly not its mistakes – from the public. By pretending that it’s defending “our” security by doing so, even as it ignores and fails to invest in true measures of security, such as a rebuilt social safety net, it squanders its legitimacy.
And the more legitimacy it squanders, the more it militarizes.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
Child Soldier released from jail by Canadian court: US Still Seeks Jail for ‘Fighter’ Captured at 15 in Afghanistan
By Dave Lindorff
The good news is that an appellate judge in Canada has had the courage and good sense to uphold the release from jail on bail of Omar Khadr, a native of Canada who was captured as a child soldier at the age of 15 in Afghanistan by US forces back in 2002 and shipped off to Guantanamo, where he became one of the children held in captivity.
The U.S. Senate has been very concerned not to let peace with Iran slip into place too easily, even while a new war in Iraq and Syria proceeds without the formal pretense of Congress "authorizing" or rejecting it.
Both houses of Congress are interested in ramming through the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) on a fast track. The fast track procedure of rushing things through Congress or creating them without Congress seems to be reserved for the least popular ideas our government produces.
What if, instead, a fast track were set up for those items favored by a vast majority of the public, or required for the future habitability of the planet, but which meet resistance from campaign funders, lobbyists, and the corporate media?
Of course I'd rather have clean elections and a publicly accountable Congress if we can't have public initiatives and direct democracy. But in the absence of such utopias, why not use extreme anti-democratic measures to ram through the things people want rather than the things we'd protest if we found out about them? Why not slip one past the plutocrats rather than slipping one past the people? Why not go with voice votes, no debate, and no time to read the details on measures to demilitarize and protect the planet rather than on "trade" agreements that empower corporate lawyers to overturn laws?
I recently read this in an email newsletter from peace advocate Michael Nagler: "The other day I went to test-drive an electric car. When we got through some of the technicalities and were waiting for a red light the salesperson coming with me said, 'So what do you do?' Here it comes, I thought: 'I work with a nonprofit; (gulp, and) we're promoting nonviolence.' After a reflective pause she said quietly, 'Thank you.'"
I've often had that same experience, but increasingly I eagerly reply: "I work on abolishing war." That's what I replied recently in a sandwich shop here in Charlottesville called Baggby's. I didn't get a "thank you," but I got a question as to whether I had known Jack Kidd. I had never heard of Jack Kidd, but Jack Kidd, a retired two-star Air Force general who lived in Charlottesville, had been in Baggby's in the past debating the need to abolish war with some other bigwig general who favored keeping war and militarism going.
So, I read Kidd's book, Prevent War: A New Strategy for America. Of course, I think we need a strategy for earth, not for the United States, if we are going to end war. Kidd, who died in 2013, believed in 2000, when the book was published, that only the United States could lead the way toward peace, that the United States had always meant well, that war could be used to end war, and all sorts of things I can't bring myself to take seriously. And yet, believing everything he still believed, after "waking up" in the early 1980s, as he describes it, Kidd came to recognize the insanity of failing to work for the abolition of war.
This was a man who had bombed German cities in World War II; who believed he'd survived a particularly difficult mission during which he'd shot down lots of German planes, because he'd prayed to God who'd answered his prayer; who'd flown secret nuclear attack plans from Washington to Korea during the Korean war; who'd "served" as Chief of the Joint War Plans Branch and worked on plans for World War III; who believed in the Gulf of Tonkin attack; who had obeyed orders to knowingly fly his plane through nuclear clouds moments after bomb tests -- as self-human experimentation; and yet . . . and yet! And yet Jack Kidd organized retired U.S. and Soviet generals to work for disarmament at the height of the Cold War.
Kidd's book contains numerous proposals to move us away from war. One of them is to fast track disarmament agreements. For that idea alone, his book is worth reading. It's also worth giving to the most hard-core war supporters as a sort of a gentle nudge. It's also worth asking, I think, why Charlottesville has no memorial to this former General who's layed out a plan for peace when it has so many to those whose only accomplishment was losing the U.S. Civil War.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
I was seething inside as I watched the live television coverage of the recent rebellion/riot in Baltimore as we witnessed yet another explosion caused by America’s historic failures to reign in abusive police. Then I received a text message that lead to a conversation that absolutely broke my heart.
The conversation was with my 11-year-old grandson, who himself was seething from what he saw going on in his hometown of Baltimore.
My grandson told me he was mad…mad because police “keep killing black men.”
When I probed further into his anger he said he feared for his own life -– not because of what might happen when he gets older because of what could happen even now if he encountered a police officer.
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
By Linn Washington Jr.
In August 1936 nearly 20,000 excited spectators filled a vacant lot next to a municipal building in a small Kentucky town to watch the hanging of a man convicted of rape. That hanging would be the last public execution in America.
Keeping the Pentagon honest: 40 Years After the Liberation of Vietnam, Washington is Saying it was a US Victory and a Good War
By Dave Lindorff
In this podcast of the latest "This Can't Be Happening!" weekly broadcast on PRN.fm, ThisCantBeHappening.net collective member John Grant, a Vietnam War veteran and long-time peace activist, talks with show host Dave Lindorff about a Veterans for Peace campaign to counter the Pentagon's latest PR initiative to rewrite and distort the history of the Vietnam War. Grant says the VFP's Vietnam War Full Disclosure Project is calling out the Pentagon to correct the historical falsehoods in its multi-million-dollar 50th Year Commemoration of the Vietnam War propaganda program.
By Dave Lindorff
Philadelphians don’t have any problem figuring out what happened to Freddie Gray, the 25-year old black man who died as a result of a severed spine at the neck while being transported in a police van by Baltimore Police.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
After a speech I gave this past weekend, a young woman asked me whether a failure by the United States to properly surround and intimidate China might result in instability. I explained why I thought the opposite was true. Imagine if China had military bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the United States and ships in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Would you feel stabilized? Or might you feel something else?
The U.S. empire can continue to see itself as a force for good, doing things that would be unacceptable for anyone else but never to be questioned when performed by the global cop -- that is, it can go on not seeing itself at all, expanding, over-reaching, and collapsing from within. Or it can recognize what it's about, shift priorities, scale back militarism, reverse the concentration of wealth and power, invest in green energy and human needs, and undo the empire a bit sooner but far more beneficially. Collapse is not inevitable. Collapse or redirection is inevitable, and thus far the U.S. government is choosing the path toward the former.
Let's look at a few of the indicators.
The United States bombs nations in the name of democracy, yet has one of the least democratic and least functioning of the states calling themselves democracies. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout among wealthy, and lower even than many poor, countries. An election is looming for next year with leading contenders from two aristocratic dynasties. The United States does not use national public initiatives or referenda in the way that some countries do, so its low voter turnout (with over 60% of eligible voters choosing not to vote in 2014) matters all the more. The U.S. democracy is also less democratic than other wealthy democracies in terms of its internal functioning, with a single individual able to launch wars.
Low public participation is not the result of satisfaction so much as recognition of corruption, combined with antidemocratic barriers to participating. For years now 75% to 85% of the U.S. public has been saying its government is broken. And clearly a big part of that understanding is related to the system of legalized bribery that funds elections. Approval of Congress has been under 20% and sometimes under 10% for years now. Confidence in Congress is at 7% and falling quickly.
Recently a man, expecting to lose his job at the very least, landed a little bicycle-helicopter at the U.S. Capitol to try to deliver requests to clean the money out of elections. He cited as his motivation the "collapse of this country." Another man showed up at the U.S. Capitol with a sign reading "Tax the 1%" and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Polls suggest those are not the only two people who see the problem -- and, it should be noted, the solution.
Of course, the U.S. "democracy" operates in greater and greater secrecy with ever greater powers of surveillance. The World Justice Project ranks the United States below many other nations in these categories: Publicized laws and government data; Right to information; Civic participation; and Complaint mechanisms.
The U.S. government is currently working on ratifying, in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which empowers corporations to overturn laws enacted by the U.S. government.
A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations.
The core of the U.S. sales pitch to itself is that, for all its flaws it provides freedom and opportunity. In fact, it trails most European countries in economic mobility, self-assessment of wellbeing, and ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, according to Gallup, 2014.
The United States contains 4.5 percent of the world’s population and spends 42 percent of the world's health care expenses, and yet Americans are less healthy than the residents of nearly every other wealthy nation and a few poor ones as well. The U.S. ranks 36th in life expectancy and 47th in preventing infant mortality.
The U.S. spends more on criminal justice and has more crime, and more gun deaths than most countries, rich or poor. That includes shootings by U.S. police that kill about 1,000 per year, compared to single digits in various Western nations.
The U.S. comes in 57th in employment, stands against the trend of the world by providing no guarantee of paid parental leave or vacation, and trails in education by various measures. The United States, however, leads the way in putting students into debt for their education to the tune of $1.3 trillion, part of a wider problem of personal debt.
The United States is #1 in debt to other countries, including governmental debt, although #3 per capita. As others have pointed out, the U.S. is declining in terms of exports, and the power of the dollar and its use as currency for the globe are in doubt.
DROP IN POPULAR OPINION ABROAD
In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America. In fact, the United States is less generous with aid but more profligate with bombs and missiles than other countries and trails generally in how it treats the rest of the world.
The second U.S.-backed dictator in Yemen in the past few years has now fled to Saudi Arabia and requested the bombing of his own country with U.S. weapons, a country in chaos in significant part because a U.S. drone war has given popular support to violent opposition to the U.S. and its servants.
ISIS produced a 60-minute film depicting itself as the leading enemy of the U.S. and essentially asking the U.S. to attack it. The U.S. did and its recruitment soared.
The United States is favored by brutal governments in Egypt and around the region, but not by popular support.
MILITARISM FOR ITS OWN SAKE
The United States is far and away the leading selling and giver of weapons to the world; the leading spender on its own military, with expenses having skyrocketed to now about $1.3 trillion per year, roughly equivalent to the rest of the world put together; the leading occupier of the world with troops in almost every other country; and the leading participant in and instigator of wars.
The United States is also, far and away, the leader in incarceration, with more people and a higher percentage of people locked up than in any other time or place, and with even more people on parole and probation and under the control of the prison system. More African-Americans are locked up than were slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. The U.S. is likely the first and only place on earth where the majority of sexual assault victims are male.
Civil liberties are eroding rapidly. Surveillance is expanding dramatically. And all in the name of war without end. But the wars are endless defeats, generating enemies rather than any advantage. The wars empower and create enemies, enrich nations engaged in nonviolent investment, and empower the war profiteers to push for more wars. The propaganda for the wars fails to boost military enlistment at home, so the U.S. government turns to mercenaries (creating additional pressure for more wars) and to drones. But the drones boost the creation of hatred and enemies exponentially, generating blowback that sooner or later will include blowback by means of drones -- which the U.S. war profiteers are marketing around the globe.
Resistance to empire does not come only in the form of a replacement empire. It can take the form of violent and nonviolent resistance to militarism, economic resistance to exploitation, and collective agreement to improve the world. When Iran urges India, China, and Russia to oppose NATO's expansion, it is not necessarily dreaming of global empire or even of cold war, but certainly of resistance to NATO. When bankers suggest the Yuan will replace the dollar, that need not mean that China will duplicate the Pentagon.
The current U.S. trajectory threatens to collapse not just the United States but the world in one or both of two ways: nuclear or environmental apocalypse. Green energy models and antimilitarism constitute resistance to this path. The model of Costa Rica with no military, 100% renewable energy, and ranked at the top in happiness is a form of resistance too. At the end of 2014, Gallup of course did not dare ask again what nation was the greatest threat to peace but did ask if people would ever fight in a war. In many nations large majorities said No, never.
The United States is growing isolated in its support for the institution of war. Last year 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations declared that they would never use war. U.S. support for Israeli wars has left it virtually alone and up against a growing campaign for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. The United States is increasingly understood as rogue, as it remains the lone or nearly lone holdout on the treaty on the rights of the child, the land mines treaty, the covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights, the International Criminal Court, etc.
Latin American nations are standing up to the United States. Some have kicked out its bases and ceased sending students to the School of the Americas. People are protesting at US bases in Italy, South Korea, England, and at US Embassies in Philippines, Czech Republic, Ukraine. German courts are hearing charges that it is illegally participating in US drone wars. Pakistani courts have indicted top CIA officials.
EXCEPTIONALISM ON THE ROPES
The idea of American exceptionalism is not a serious claim so much as an attitude among the U.S. public. While the U.S. trails other nations in various measures of health, happiness, education, sustainable energy, economic security, life expectancy, civil liberties, democratic representation, and peace, and while it sets new records for militarism, incarceration, surveillance, and secrecy, many Americans think of it as so exceptional as to excuse all sorts of actions that are unacceptable in others. Increasingly this requires willful self-deception. Increasingly the self-deception is failing.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death he wasn't warning us. He was warning our parents and grandparents. We're the dead.
Can we be revived?
Our rights are forgotten: The Government/Corporate Encryption Debate is About How Best to Spy on You
By Alfredo Lopez
A debate, going on in the quasi-private and well-catered halls of government-corporate collusion, has reached the post-smoldering stage. It's now a virtual forest fire in full public view.
It pits government spies against corporate cannibals and is about the often misunderstood and somewhat tedious issue of encryption.
"It's bad enough to be creating more profit incentive for war," I told former head of Blackwater Erik Prince, "but you recycle part of the profits as bribes for more war in the form of so-called campaign contributions. You yourself have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates. The three of you," I said, referring to Prince, another guest, and the host of a television show that had just finished filming and was taking questions from the audience, "you seem to agree that we need either mercenaries or a draft, ignoring the option of not having these wars, which kill so many people, make us less safe, drain the economy, destroy the natural environment, and erode our civil liberties, with no upside. But this systemic pressure has been created for more war. Will you, Erik Prince, commit to not spending war profits on elections?"
Prince had hardly been asked a serious question during the past hour of filming, but that of course did not mean he would answer one. The point was to raise the topic and put it in the minds of the people sitting and applauding him. Prince tried to answer by talking about how much the F-35 fighter jet costs, continuing the hour-long pretense that if you oppose mercenaries you favor the rest of the military. I cut him off and told him to answer the question. So he said that he was no longer working with the U.S. government but with other governments around the world. Does that mean he'll stop bribing the U.S. government? Does that mean he doesn't bribe other governments? He didn't say.
The event was held at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, which has a long, long tradition of inviting war makers and war advocates, but has never that I know of asked an opponent of the institution of war to speak. The show, minus the question and answer portion, will air on television on May 3rd. The host, Doug Blackmon, asked challenging questions like, "Do you think contractors should receive medals like other soldiers?" The day before the event he'd emailed me this comment:
"We've featured a lot of people over the past two years, with a lot of objections to the war-making of the United States—as well as a lot of objections to mass incarceration, police violence, and other terrible manifestations of our society. We also have heard from people who would disagree with you—but had nothing to do with making war. In any case, this will be a vigorous dialogue tomorrow. It may not cover everything you would cover if you were organizing the same program, but it's a completely appropriate way for us to explore these hugely important and controversial issues, and to hear two sides in a meaningful way."
At the end of the event I asked him whether Prince would have been invited to speak had most of the people Blackwater killed been Americans. Blackmon refused to answer.
The other guest was Ann Hagedorn, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security. Her book is not bad, but from the first moments of the event it became crystal clear why Prince had agreed to take part. The subject of drones wasn't broached, but there was a lot of droning, and ummming, and slow and deliberate prefacing of . . . nothing. I could have clicked the audio on my little electronic device to have it read sections of Hagedorn's book and made a better debate than she made in person. This was frustrating, of course, because the well-spoken Erik Prince needed somebody to reply to the outrages he was uttering. In an attempt to figure out where, if anywhere, Hagedorn was coming from, or perhaps to expose her as a commie peacenik, a member of the audience asked after the show whether, if mercenaries were eliminated, Hagedorn would move on to opposing the standard military. This was actually a good question, because most of Hagedorn's critique of mercenaries, even more so at the event than in the book, was of their differences from other soldiers. But she didn't answer the question. She said that she was a reporter who had no opinions or positions. Inspiring!
Hagedorn's book is not a bad primer for people just discovering that the U.S. military hires mercenary companies. In Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, she writes, the use of mercenaries and other contractors climbed -- under Obama/Clinton direction -- to the point where there were 10 for every 1 troop, 18 for every 1 state department personnel, and 100 for every 1 USAID worker. She criticizes the lack of accountability for what this huge number of people do. She admits that the majority of deaths in these wars are civilians. I say "admits" because at the show taping she claimed that if Americans knew about the deaths of U.S. mercenaries they would then have a good sense of the deaths in the wars. She points out the fear mongering done by mercenary companies as well as governments to gin up business. She writes that of 195 Blackwater shootings between 2005 and 2007 in 84% Blackwater shot first and left the scene. She even quotes someone proposing we have fewer wars and cites the example of South Africa banning mercenaries.
Hagedorn notes Obama and Clinton's flip to support mercenaries beginning in 2009, and their use of them to extend the occupation of Iraq in 2011 while "ending" it. Hillary Clinton, she writes, also pushed shipping companies to hire mercenaries to fend off pirates. The United Nations, too, is using mercenaries. The U.S. border with Mexico is being armed with mercenaries. Immigrants are being handled by mercenaries. U.S. police are being trained by mercenaries (with horrible results).
But Hagedorn is big on patriotism and the supposed democratic public institution of war (which would never survive a Ludlow Amendment creating a public vote on wars). When she called war an inherently public operation on Wednesday, Prince ignored any hint that private war creates more wars and simply pointed to the long history of mercenaries and to examples of other operations that have been privatized.
Blackmon began Wednesday's show by asking Prince about the sentencing of four of his former employees to prison on Monday. Part of Prince's defense was that "We've asked for cameras. . . . The State Department denied them." This is bizarre because he never asserted that anything other than the intentional murder of civilians would have been filmed had there been cameras. He also claimed that his killers could not get a jury of their peers among civilians 7,000 miles away. So, does he want crimes committed in Iraq to be prosecuted in Iraq then?
Hagedorn explicitly refused to discuss the details of the Nissour Square Massacre but did point out that it was the sort of thing that boosted recruitment of forces against the U.S. military/mercenaries.
Blackmon asked if mercenaries had been scapegoated for an overall disaster, but Hagedorn said no, that that made no sense if you considered the scale of the mercenary involvement. Prince said that during the war on Vietnam peace activists went after troops and now they go after mercenaries. "Nature hates a vacuum," he argued, suggesting apparently that Congressional contracts are produced by "nature." Prince also pointed to the murder of Miriam Carey by the U.S. Capitol Police as if one inexcusable killing justifies others. "There was no hue and cry," over that killing he lied, but imagine the uproar if it had been poor little old mercenaries who had done it. Of course, most killings of civilians by mercenaries in distant U.S. wars produce in fact no hue or cry at all back home.
I should note that Prince claims his mercenaries are (were) not mercenaries because they were U.S. military veterans. What that changes he never explained. Instead he calls them "volunteers" despite paying them. Asked about financial interests in keeping wars going, he said what was needed was oversight, but not from Washington, from empowering the people at the front. Whatever that meant. Prince advocated a smaller military budget, and Hagedorn said that smaller overall budgets always mean more for mercenaries.
Repeatedly Prince claimed to be fighting evil people "who want to destroy the Western world, you know, our way of life." He claimed that mercenaries could be hired to destroy ISIS, no problem! He also claimed that what's going on in the Middle East is an age-old Sunni-Shia conflict that the United States can only tweak around the edges (through such steps, I suppose, as destroying ISIS). That each war creates more problems to be addressed with more wars, that ISIS would never have existed without the 2003 invasion, didn't come up (except through my comments during the Q&A).
One questioner suggested that "if war were the path to peace we'd sure have peace by now," and Prince claimed to be for peace. So Hagedorn asked him, a-t l-e-n-g-t-h, to fund the peace movement (even though she has no opinions as a Journalist), and he declined, suggesting that the mercenary industry association should do it. That's an association, by the way, that changed its name from the International Peace Operations Association to the International Stability Operations Association in response to criticism of being "too Orwellian" -- as if war brings stability any more than it brings peace.
Prince said that rather than funding peace he would focus on "protecting Christians who are being driven out of the Holy Land." He said this during the Q&A section with the filming of the show already stopped. Someone might have asked why people of a particular religion were of more value. But then we were at an event that never would have happened if the people whom Prince's company killed had belonged to that religion.
Real-time photo evidence of a cop planting evidence on his victim: Killer Cops like Officer Slager Must be Called to Account
By Dave Lindorff
NY Times covers up Washington’s monstrous evil: Hiding America’s War Crimes in Laos, While Reporting on the Grim Results
By Dave Lindorff
Credit where credit's due...but only where it's due: How Can Obama Claim the Alternative to a Nuclear Deal with Iran is War?
By Dave Lindorff
A kudo to President Obama. But just one.
If he manages to pull off an agreement with Iran on limiting that country's nuclear fuel enrichment program in the fact of determined resistance from Republicans, Neocons, the Israel Lobby and the warmongers in both the GOP and his own Democratic Party, he will have finally earned at least some small portion of the gold in his Nobel Peace medallion.
By Dave Lindorff
When I lived in China, there was a story going ‘round about a China Airlines flight in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had left the cockpit and then, on their return, found the door locked. They reportedly got a fire ax, and with the whole planeload of freaked out passengers watching, started wailing at the door. The co-pilot then turned, and seeing the panic developing, calmly drew the curtain across the aisle, hiding their work from view. The axe bashing continued until they broke the latch and got back to the controls.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America.
Had Gallup then conducted a poll on whether Gallup would ever ask that question again, I'm willing to bet large numbers would have said no. And thus far they would have been right. But Gallup managed to ask some other good questions, almost certainly by accident as well, in its end-of-2014 polling, revealing something else about the United States and militarism.
Curiously, Gallup's end-of-2014 polling managed to ask a lot more questions -- 32 instead of 6 and even squeezed in one on whether people wash their hands after using the bathroom -- so the threat-to-peace question wasn't dropped for lack of space.
In both the 2013 and the 2014 polling, the first question is whether people think the next year will be better than the last, the second whether their country's economy will do well, and the third whether the person is happy. This sort of fluff is odd, because Gallup advertises the polling with this quote from Dr. George H. Gallup: "If democracy is supposed to be based on the will of the people, then somebody should go out and find out what that will is." So, what policies do the people want? Who the hell can tell from this sort of questioning?
By question 4 of those questions made public, the 2013 and 2014 polls diverge. Here's what was asked in 2013:
- If there were no barrier to living in any country of the world, which country would you like to live in?
- If politicians were predominantly women, do you believe the world would in general be a better place, a worse place or no different?
- Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?
And that's it. There's nothing like Should your government invest more or less in militarism? or Should your government expand or reduce support for fossil fuels? or Does your government imprison too many or too few people? or Do you favor greater or less public investment in education? The questions Gallup asks are supposed to produce fluff. What happened is that the last question ended up producing a substantive response by accident. When the rest of the world declared the United States the greatest threat to peace (the people of the United States gave Iran that designation) it amounted to a recommendation to the U.S. government, namely that it stop launching so many wars.
We can't have that! Polling is supposed to be fun and diverting!
Here are the remaining questions from the end of 2014:
- Compared to this year, do you think that 2015 will be a more peaceful year freer of international dispute, remain the same or a troubled year with more international discord?
What a great polling question, if you don't want to learn anything! Any discord is equated with the opposite of peace, i.e. war, and people are asked for a baseless prediction, not a policy preference.
- If there were a war that involved [your country's name] would you be willing to fight for your country?
This reduces respondents from citizen sovereigns to cannon fodder. It's not "Should your country seek out more wars?" but "Would you be willing to commit murder on behalf of your country in an unspecified war for an unstated purpose?" And again, Gallup accidentally revealed something here, but let's come back to that after listing the rest of the questions (feel free to just skim the list).
- Do you feel that elections in [your country's name] are free and fair?
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: [your country's name] is ruled by the will of the people.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Democracy may have problems but it is the best system of government.
- Which of the following is more important to you: your continent, your nationality, your local county/state/province/city, your religion, your ethnic group, or none of these?
- Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: lack of political or religious freedom in their country?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: to join their family who are already in the country?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: fleeing persecution in their country?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: wanting a better life?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: escaping sexual or gender discrimination?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: escaping war or armed conflict?
- Overall do you think globalization is a good thing, bad thing, or neither good nor bad for the USA?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Judges?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Journalists?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Politicians?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Business people?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Military?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Healthcare workers?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Police?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Teachers?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Bankers?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Religious leaders?
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: We should not allow corrupt foreign politicians and business people to spend their proceeds from corruption in my country.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: The Government is effective at preventing corrupt politicians and business people from spending their proceeds from corruption in my country.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: The Government should require companies to publish the real names of their shareholders and owners.
- How strongly do you feel that your mobile device (including mobile phone and other hand held devices) enhances your quality of life?
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: Washing my hands with soap after going to the toilet is something I automatically do.
Now, something interesting might be gathered from any of these questions, even the soap one. It's interesting that in religiosity the United States resembles the places it wages war on, as opposed to the places its military is allied with which have virtually no use for religion. And the questions on corrupt investment and shareholder transparency almost seem like policy questions, although the predictably one-sided responses give them a dog-bites-man non-news quality.
Which Nations' Populations Are Most Accepting of More Wars?
This question is quite interesting because of the answers given around the world: "If there were a war that involved [your country's name] would you be willing to fight for your country?" Now, if your country were under attack or recently under attack or threatened with attack, that might, I suppose, lead you toward a yes answer. Or if you trusted your government not to launch offensive wars, that too -- I'm guessing -- might lead you toward a yes answer. But the United States routinely launches wars that, before long, a majority of its population says shouldn't have been launched. What percentage of Americans will nonetheless say they're theoretically willing to join in any war whatsoever?
Of course, the question is a bit vague. What if "a war that involved the United States" were taken to mean the actual United States and not the affairs of its government thousands of miles away? Or what if "fight for your country" were taken to mean "fight in actual defense of your actual country"? Obviously such interpretations would add to the yes answers. But such interpretations would require serious distance from reality; those aren't the kind of wars that are waged by the United States. And very clearly people who answered this survey in some other parts of the world tended not to use such an interpretation. Or even if they understood the question to involve an attack on their nation, they did not see war as a viable response worthy of their participation.
In Italy 68 percent of Italians polled said they would NOT fight for their country, while 20 percent said they would. In Germany 62 percent said they would not, while 18 percent said they would. In the Czech Republic, 64 percent would not fight for their country, while 23 percent would. In the Netherlands, 64 percent would not fight for their country, while 15 percent would. In Belgium, 56 percent would not, while 19 percent would. Even in the UK, 51 percent would not participate in a UK war, while 27 percent would. In France, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland, more people would refuse to be part of a war than would agree. The same goes for Australia and Canada. In Japan only 10 percent would fight for their country.
What about the United States? Despite waging the greatest number of most baseless and most costly wars, the United States manages 44 percent claiming a willingness to fight and 31 percent refusing. By no means is that the world record. Israel is at 66 percent ready to fight and 13 percent not. Afghanistan is at 76 to 20. Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Greece are all ready to fight with strong majorities. Argentina and Denmark have ties between those who would fight and those who would not.
But look at the incredible contrast in the two places I've lived, for example: the United States and Italy. Italians clearly view it as largely unacceptable to say you would participate in a war. The United States has 44 percent saying that despite the destruction of Iraq, despite the chaos brought to Libya, despite the misery added to Afghanistan's lot, despite the destabilization of Yemen, despite the costs even to the aggressor and despite the world believing the United States to be the greatest threat to peace on earth, those 44 percent at least feel obliged to claim they would participate in an unspecified war.
Are those 44 percent rushing to the recruitment offices to get trained up and be ready? Luckily, no. It's just a poll, and we all know how Brian Williams and Bill O'Reilly would have answered it, but even lies told in polls reflect cultural preferences. The fact is that there is a sizable minority in the United States that has never believed any of its recent wars were crimes or blunders, never questioned trillion dollar military spending, and never desired a world without war in it. Trying to explain that to people from the Netherlands can be like trying to explain why Americans don't want healthcare. The gap is wide, and I thank Gallup for accidentally revealing it.
Further study is needed to find the roots of the relative degrees of militarism revealed.
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 Alfredo Lopez
For many people reading this, there are at least two concepts that will offend.
By Dave Lindorff
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?