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He’s the best, but is he all we need?: The ‘Bern’ and the Internet

By Alfredo Lopez

 

Bernie Sanders' stunning success in the campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, highlighted by what is effectively a victory in the Iowa caucuses this past Monday, provokes serious thinking about what a Sanders presidency would look like.

Taking on Nukespeak

By Andrew Moss

In 1946, George Orwell decried the abuse of language in his classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” declaring famously that “it [language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Orwell reserved his sharpest criticism for corrupted political language, which he called the “defense of the indefensible,” and in the years that followed, others writers took up similar critiques of political discourse, adjusting their focus according to the circumstances of the time.

One particular critique has focused on the language of nuclear weapons, and I argue that this language should be of particular concern to us today. Called “Nukespeak” by its critics, it is a highly militarized discourse that obscures the moral consequences of our policies and actions. It is a language used by military officials, political leaders, and policy experts – as well as by journalists and citizens. The language creeps into our public discussions like an invasive species, casting shadows on the way we think about our collective present and future.

For example, in a recent New York Times article, “Smaller Bombs Adding Fuel to Nuclear Fear” two Times reporters, William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, describe the ongoing debate within the Obama administration regarding the so-called modernization of our nuclear arsenal, a transformation that would result in atomic bombs with greater accuracy and a capacity for their operators to increase or decrease the explosive capability of any single bomb. Proponents argue that modernizing the weapons will reduce the likelihood of their use by increasing their deterrence to would-be aggressors while critics claim that upgrading the bombs will make their use even more tempting to military commanders. The critics also cite the costs of the modernization program – up to $1 trillion if all the related elements are taken into account.

Throughout the article, Broad and Sanger frame these issues in the language of Nukespeak. In the following sentence, for example, they include two euphemisms: “And its yield, the bomb’s explosive force, can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.” The euphemisms, “yield” and “collateral damage,” erase the human presence – a voice, a face – from the equation of death. Though the authors do define the term “yield” as “explosive force,” the word’s presence in the text still unnerves with its contrast between benign meanings, i.e. a harvest or monetary profit, and the demonic sense of a lethal reaping. And the phrase “collateral damage” has long been recognized for its sheer mendacity, its omission of the unspeakable from any consideration.

The sentence also contains another feature of Nukespeak: an amoral fascination with deadly gadgetry. It is one thing for a person to dial down the thermostat of her home; it is another to “dial down” a payload of death. When I taught an undergraduate course on the literature of war and peace, my students and I studied in one of our units the literature of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We read President Truman’s announcement of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, exploring how Truman discussed the genesis of the new weapon and the scientific collaboration that went into making it “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.” At the same time, we read stories by Japanese writers who managed to survive the inferno and still continue to write. One such writer, Yoko Ota, has the narrator of her short story, “Fireflies,” return to Hiroshima seven years after the bomb and encounter a number of fellow survivors, including a young girl, Mitsuko, who had been horribly disfigured by the atomic explosion. Despite the disfigurement that makes her presence in public emotionally painful, Mitsuko displays an extraordinary resilience and a “desire to grow up faster and help people who’re having a hard time.”

The psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton has written that even within the nuclear shadow, we can find redemptive possibilities in the traditional “wisdom of the seer: the poet, painter, or peasant revolutionary, who, when the current world view failed, turned the kaleidoscope of his or her imagination until familiar things took on a wholly different pattern.” Lifton wrote those words in 1984, and since then the need for cooperation on a planetary scale has grown ever more urgent. Today, as before, it is the artist and seer who can recognize the human presence hidden behind the lying façade of Nukespeak. It is the artist and seer who can find the words to say: there is madness in this so-called rationality – and that, indeed, we have the capacity to find another way.

 Andrew Moss, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an emeritus professor at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he taught a course, “War and Peace in Literature,” for 10 years.

Did Oregon Militants At Least Save the Constitution?

The Oregon tragi-comedy has left one dead, one injured, six arrested, some guys in Michigan trying to fix a water system with their guns, and millions of Americans deprived of intelligent television content for weeks.

I know that people outside the Occupy movement, in particular those employed by CNN, had a hard time telling what we wanted, but I myself have had a hard time telling what the Nevadans and others in Oregon wanted.

They demanded justice on behalf of people who said they'd never wanted the help. They demanded a small government willing to do them big favors. They wanted a fight to the death but didn't want to hurt anyone.

Really, the clearest answer was that they wanted to save the Constitution.

But how? Which bit? From whom? When we in Occupy demanded taxation of billionaires and cuts to the military, the CNN employees grabbed their heads and moaned in pain, insisting that we must settle on One Single Demand or their brains would explode.

Well, the Constitution has seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. That's way too many for an effective peaceful gun battle.

And the Constitution creates a big, distant, tax-raising government. Why wouldn't these guys get into shoot-outs for the Articles of Confederation? Weren't those more to their taste and only slightly more ancient and irrelevant than the Constitution?

No, they insisted that it was always the Constitution for which they were suffering along on donated snacks and anger. But which part? Surely not the First Amendment and its silly right to peaceably assemble.

The Second Amendment? But if you've been permitted to own piles of guns, can you really propose to get into a fight with those guns over your demand to be allowed to have those guns -- much less to have them for a well-regulated militia? Well-regulated militias remember to bring snacks.

The Third Amendment? No. It's a bit too awkward to take over buildings without the consent of the owner in order to Youtube to the death for the right never to have fighters move into anywhere without the consent of the owner.

And they didn't name any of these amendments. They named the Constitution.

Why? Here's an ancient and anti-democratic document produced by an elitist federal government that had redirected popular anger toward a foreign country. It condoned slavery and facilitated genocide and conquest through expansion to the west. As a contemporary document in 2016 it's an embarrassing vestige from a long-gone epoch. It provides no environmental protections, and no human protections -- no rights to any basic necessities of life.

But maybe that's part of the attraction. The Constitution may have been a step toward bigger government, but it was created in an age of much smaller government, of great resistance to any standing army, of no income taxes, of no draft, of no department of education, of no social safety net even on the miserable level of the 21st century United States.

The Constitution created a rather unrepresentative legislature, with a weak executive. It's been made almost completely unrepresentative, while its executive has been made virtually a king, and its Supreme Court has been given the power to rewrite the Constitution as it sees fit. 

The U.S. government and the U.S. nation bear little similarity to the U.S. Constitution or the land in which it was written. And the U.S. government of today is Kafkan in its frustrating coldness, incompetence, and almost complete corruption. Isn't that what it comes down to? The government taxes you, gives you almost nothing in return, and then spends all your money teaching you by example that the way to solve problems is to act tough, take a stand, move into a new territory and declare "mission accomplished" -- no need to really have a thought-out plan, just have lots and lots of weaponry and everything will be fine. The locals will welcome you as liberators.

Maybe the late militia should have called itself the Unknown Unknowns.

Lunacy trumps logic: Brash Trump Bashed for Bigotry in UK’s Parliament

By Linn Washington, Jr.

  

London -- In a rational world where the rules of arithmetic apply it just doesn’t add up to declare that 40,000 is mathematically more significant than 500,000.

Clinton now red-baiting Sanders: Desperation in Hillary Camp as Bernie Gains in Iowa and New Hampshire

By Dave Lindorff

 

Someone should have warned Hillary Clinton and the goon squad at the Democratic National Committee that old-fashioned red-baiting isn't going to cut it in today's United States. It's not the 1950s anymore and the Soviet Union and Comintern are ancient history.

Leaked EPA Document Showing Water Contamination Could Be Smoking Gun in Federal Lawsuit

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A PowerPoint presentation obtained from a source and published by DeSmog in August 2013 has made its way into a major hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") related legal case, which is set to go to trial soon in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. 

New Book Reveals Koch Brothers Paid Firm Run by Former NYPD Chief to Smear Journalist

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The just-published book "Dark Money," penned by New Yorker staff reporter Jane Mayer, reveals that the Koch Brothers hired the former commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) — and his daughter, a former FBI agent  to smear her as a "plagiarist" in the months after the release of her August 2010 bombshell article on the Kochs.

Rethinking Bernie Sanders: Attacking Wall Street and the Corrupt US Political System Makes Sanders a Genuine Revolutionary

By Dave Lindorff

 

            I admit I’ve been slow to warm up to the idea of supporting Bernie Sanders. Maybe it’s because I publicly backed Barack Obama in 2008 and quickly came to rue that decision after he took office.

 

Sanders campaign offers a historic opportunity: We Need a Mass Movement Demanding Real Social Security and Medicare for All

By Dave Lindorff

 

            The rising fortunes of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist US senator from Vermont, in the Democratic presidential primaries, provides a unique opportunity for organizing a new radical movement around key political goals including a national health care program for all Americans, not just the elderly and disabled, and a national retirement program that people can actually live on.

Is T-Mobile’s video app an attack on net neutrality?: Binge On, Opt In, Truth Out

By Alfredo Lopez

 

Last week, T-Mobile's CEO John Lagere pubicly asked the Electronic Frontier Foundation a straightforward question: "Who the f*** are you anyway, EFF? Why are you stirring up so much trouble and who pays you?"

Yellen has to raise rates: What’s Behind the Fed’s Decision to Raise Interest Rates in a Struggling Economy?

By Dave Lindorff

 

Much has been written over the past few weeks in the financial press and the business pages of general interest newspapers debating the wisdom of the decision in December by Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade.

"Miracle of American Oil": Continental Resources Courted Corporate Media to Sell Oil Exports

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A document published by the Public Relations Society of America, discovered by DeSmog, reveals that from the onset of its public relations campaign, the oil industry courted mainstream media reporters to help it sell the idea of lifting the ban on crude oil exports to the American public and policymakers.

Where will that money go?: The Zuckerberg Family Donation and a Legacy of Control

By Alfredo Lopez

 

When I was very young, my parents used to tell me why having "lots of toys" wasn't a good idea. "The more you have, the more you want," they would say. I didn't have many toys -- we were poor -- so the idea of possessions feeding greed didn't make much sense to me then.

US Journalists Duck the Big Climate Question: Can Capitalism and Mankind Both Survive?

By Dave Lindorff


             Scientists have for decades recognized climate change as an existential crisis facing mankind, but the US media, hamstrung by a self-inflicted obsession with presenting “both sides” of every story even when there is only one, have only begun recognizing its gravity. And a huge barrier still prevents climate change from being honestly reported.

Do Mass Killings Bother You?

We now know this. A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God's plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives -- men, women, and children.

I repeat: his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies.

Do such things bother you?

What if you learned that this young man's name was Brandon Bryant, and that he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and that he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? What if you learned that his religious leader was a Christian chaplain?

Do such things still bother you?

What if you learned that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are civilians? That the pilots "double-tap," meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them? That as a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help? That a drone pilot sent a missile into a group of children from which three children survived who recognized their dead brothers but had no idea that various pieces of flesh were what was left of their Mom and Dad and consequently cried out for those now gone-forever individuals?

Is this troubling?

What if President Obama's claim of few or no civilian deaths was proven false by well-documented reporting? And by the fact that most victims are targeted without even knowing their names?

What if a leading candidate for president in the past week were to both declare that the way to win a war is to start killing whole families, and stage a public Christian prayer session in order to win over a certain demographic of voters?

Is that bothering?

What if it became clear that police officers in the United States have been murdering people at a higher rate than drone pilots? Would you want to see police videos of their killings? Would you want to see drone videos of their killings? We have thus far gained limited access to the former and none to the latter.

What if it were discovered that gun murders in San Bernardino are almost routine. Would they all be equally tragic?

My point is not to cease caring about the tragedy that the television stations tell you to care about. I wish everyone would care 1,000 times more, and even better do something to take away the guns and the hatred and the culture of violence and the economic injustice and the alienation.

My point is that there are other tragedies that go unmentioned, including larger ones. And exploiting one tragedy to fuel hatred toward a large segment of the human population of earth is madness.

When Is Mass Killing an Act of "Terrorism"?

Editor's note: This was revised at 3:30 pm ET December 3, 2015

By Gar Smith / Berkeley Daily Planet

After at least 14 people were murdered and 17 wounded in San Bernardino by assailants armed with assault weapons, Assistant Director in Charge of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office David Bowditch told the press: "We do not know if this is a terrorist incident."

How can this NOT be an act of terror?

Here's how:

According to the U.S. Code (18 U.S.C. § 2331), it takes more than mass killing of unarmed citizens to constitute an act of terror. Under Federal law, "domestic terrorism" must "Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law" and meet three characteristics. First, an attack must appear "intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." The San Bernardino violence certainly qualifies on this point.

But now let's examine the other two requirements:

The slaughter of innocent civilians must also be intended to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" or designed to "affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping."

In other words, it's not enough to kill innocent Americans: the act has to be accompanied by an intent to "send a message" to Washington -- or Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, or Paris.

So the question becomes: Why would anyone wish to "influence the policy of a government"? Why would anyone want to "affect the conduct of a government"?

Most likely because that government has done something that has deeply angered the would-be attackers.

In other words, for an act of wanton slaughter to qualify as "terrorism" it has to be in retaliation for some provocative action or policy committed or imposed by a "government." It has to be an act of revenge. An act of retaliation.

So someone who murders people at a Planned Parenthood facility because of a twisted Christian conviction of "the sanctity of life" is not a terrorist.

Someone who storms into a crowded office after losing his job and opens fire on co-workers is not a terrorist.

Someone who plants a bomb in a mosque, church, or synagogue out of religious hatred is not a terrorist.

Someone who dons a hood and lynches a family out of racial hatred is not a terrorist.

The man who shot and killed a waitress in Wichita after she asked him to stop smoking is not a terrorist.

It's not terrorism unless a "government" is involved.

It's not terrorism unless a "government" feels it is being pressured to reconsider its policies.

It's not terrorism unless a "government" concludes that someone is attempting to "affect" its "conduct."

So terrorism (under the definition of Federal law) is not about dead civilians. It is all about a government maintaining its unhampered ability to impose sanctions, topple elected leaders, impose puppet regimes, and cross sovereign borders -- to engage in occupations and brutal foreign wars that claim thousands of innocent civilian lives -- without fear of being "influenced" or "affected."

This definition is a comfort to the National Rifle Association. Under the FBI's definition, angry and/or mentally unstable, white racist males who take it upon themselves to mass-murder family members and strangers, cannot be called "terrorists." The NRA cannot be accused of advocating the arming of potential "terrorists."

Unless, of course, your name is Cliven Bundy.

In April 2014, Nevada cattle rancher Bundy took issue with the Federal government's claim that he owed $1.2 million in unpaid fees for grazing his 500 cows on federal land.

Bundy definitely intended to "influence" and "affect" the government's "conduct" and he was willing to resort to armed violence to do so. Along with 400 armed supporters of a "citizens' militia," Bundy stared down the agents of the Bureau of Land Management. And Washington blinked.

Fortunately, no shots were fired.

In Bundy's case, the mere threat of terrorism (Note: it is a crime to point an armed weapons at a federal officer) appears to have won out. As The Guardian noted on June 1, 2015, more than a year since the headline-making confrontation, Bundy "has not seen a single federal official or vehicle on his 600,000-acre property, which sprawls 80 miles north of Las Vegas, and feels no pressure to pay a cent of the $1.2m."

If Bundy's showdown had resulted in bloodshed, he would have been labeled a "terrorist" under the definition of the US Code. But it is unlikely that we would be hearing the NRA placing that label on Bundy and his armed militia.

As America becomes increasingly plagued by the trauma of mass shootings, it is important to recognize where the real threats lie. When we hear the word "terrorists," we are supposed to think of people with foreign names, unfamiliar religions and ancient grudges. But, according to a study by The Guardian, Americans are 58 times more likely to be killed by police bullets than by a terrorist's bomb. (And, even Fox News admits the chances of an American being killed by a Christian conservative right-wing extremist are seven times greater than the odds of being killed by a Muslim jihadist.)

Gar Smith is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth.

Do War Makers Believe Their Own Propaganda?

Back in 2010 I wrote a book called War Is A Lie. Five years later, after having just prepared the second edition of that book to come out next spring, I came across another book published on a very similar theme in 2010 called Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War, by Richard E. Rubenstein.

Rubenstein, as you can tell already, is much more polite than I. His book is very well done and I'd recommend it to anyone, but perhaps especially to the crowd that finds sarcasm more offensive than bombs. (I'm trying to get everyone except that crowd to read my book!)

Pick up Rubenstein's book if you want to read his elaboration on this list of reasons why people are brought around to supporting wars: 1. It's self-defense; 2. The enemy is evil; 3. Not fighting will make us weak, humiliated, dishonored; 4. Patriotism; 5. Humanitarian duty; 6. Exceptionalism; 7. It's a last resort.

Well done. But I think Rubenstein's respect for war advocates (and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, as I think we must respect everyone if we are to understand them) leads him toward a focus on how much they believe their own propaganda. The answer to whether they do believe their own propaganda is, of course -- and I assume Rubenstein would agree -- yes and no. They believe some of it, somewhat, some of the time, and they try hard to believe a bit more of it. But how much? Where do you put the emphasis?

Rubenstein begins by defending, not the chief war marketers in Washington, but their supporters around the United States. "We agree to put ourselves in harm's way," he writes, "because we are convinced that the sacrifice is justified, not just because we have been stampeded into okaying war by devious leaders, scaremongering propagandists, or our own blood lust."

Now, of course, most war supporters never put themselves within 10,000 miles of harm's way, but certainly they believe a war is noble and just, either because the evil Muslims must be eradicated, or because the poor oppressed peoples must be liberated and rescued, or some combination. It is to the credit of war supporters that increasingly they have to believe wars are acts of philanthropy before they'll support them. But why do they believe such bunk? They're sold it by the propagandists, of course. Yes, scaremongering propagandists. In 2014 many people supported a war they had opposed in 2013, as a direct result of watching and hearing about beheading videos, not as a result of hearing a more coherent moral justification. In fact the story made even less sense in 2014 and involved either switching sides or taking both sides in the same war that had been pitched unsuccessfully the year before.

Rubenstein argues, rightly I think, that support for war arises not just out of a proximate incident (the Gulf of Tonkin fraud, the babies out of incubators fraud, the Spanish sinking the Maine fraud, etc.) but also out of a broader narrative that depicts an enemy as evil and threatening or an ally as in need. The famous WMD of 2003 really did exist in many countries, including the United States, but belief in the evil of Iraq meant not only that WMD were unacceptable there but also that Iraq itself was unacceptable whether or not the WMD existed. Bush was asked after the invasion why he'd made the claims he'd made about weapons, and he replied, "What's the difference?" Saddam Hussein was evil, he said. End of story. Rubenstein is right, I think, that we should look at the underlying motivations, such as the belief in Iraq's evil rather than in the WMDs. But the underlying motivation is even uglier than the surface justification, especially when the belief is that the whole nation is evil. And recognizing the underlying motivation allows us to understand, for example, Colin Powell's use of fabricated dialogue and false information in his UN presentation as dishonest. He didn't believe his own propaganda; he wanted to keep his job.

According to Rubenstein, Bush and Cheney "clearly believed their own public statements." Bush, remember, proposed to Tony Blair that they paint a U.S. plane with UN colors, fly it low, and try to get it shot. He then walked out to the press, with Blair, and said he was trying to avoid war. But he no doubt did partially believe some of his statements, and he shared with much of the U.S. public the idea that war is an acceptable tool of foreign policy. He shared in widespread xenophobia, bigotry, and belief in the redemptive power of mass murder. He shared faith in war technology. He shared the desire to disbelieve in the causation of anti-U.S. sentiment by past U.S. actions. In those senses, we cannot say that a propagandist reversed the public's beliefs. People were manipulated by the multiplication of the terror of 9/11 into months of terrorizing in the media. They were deprived of basic facts by their schools and newspapers. But to suggest actual honesty on the part of war makers is going too far.

Rubenstein maintains that President William McKinley was persuaded to annex the Philippines by "the same humanitarian ideology that convinced ordinary Americans to support the war." Really? Because McKinley not only said the poor little brown Filipinos couldn't govern themselves, but also said that it would be bad "business" to let Germany or France have the Philippines. Rubenstein himself notes that "if the acerbic Mr. Twain were still with us, he would very likely suggest that the reason we did not intervene in Rwanda in 1994 was because there was no profit in it." Setting aside the damaging U.S. intervention of the previous three years in Uganda and its backing of the assassin that it saw profit in allowing to take power through its "inaction" in Rwanda, this is exactly right. Humanitarian motivations are found where profit lies (Syria) and not where it doesn't, or where it lies on the side of mass killing (Yemen). That doesn't mean the humanitarian beliefs aren't somewhat believed, and more so by the public than by the propagandists, but it does call their purity into question.

Rubenstein describes the Cold War thus: "While fulminating against Communist dictatorships, American leaders supported brutal pro-Western dictatorships in scores of Third World nations. This is sometimes considered hypocrisy, but it really represented a misguided form of sincerity. Backing anti-democratic elites reflected the conviction that if the enemy is wholly evil, one must use 'all means necessary' to defeat him." Of course a lot of people believed that. They also believed that if the Soviet Union ever collapsed, U.S. imperialism and backing for nasty anti-communist dictators would come to a screeching halt. They were proved 100% wrong in their analysis. The Soviet threat was replaced by the terrorism threat, and the behavior remained virtually unchanged. And it remained virtually unchanged even before the terrorism threat could be properly developed -- although it of course has never been developed into anything resembling the Soviet Union. In addition, if you accept Rubenstein's notion of sincere belief in the greater good of doing evil in the Cold War, you still have to acknowledge that the evil done included massive piles of lies, dishonesty, misrepresentations, secrecy, deception, and completely disingenuous horseshit, all in the name of stopping the commies. Calling lying (about the Gulf of Tonkin or the missile gap or the Contras or whatever) "really ... sincerity" leaves one wondering what insincerity would look like and what an example would be of someone lying without any belief that something justified it.

Rubenstein himself doesn't seem to be lying about anything, even when he seems to have the facts wildly wrong, as when he says the most of America's wars have been victorious (huh?). And his analysis of how wars start and how peace activism can end them is very useful. He includes on his to-do list at #5 "Demand that war advocates declare their interests." That is absolutely crucial only because those war advocates do not believe their own propaganda. They believe in their own greed and their own careers.

Talk Nation Radio: Peter Werbe on Radical Independent Media

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-peter-werbe-on-radical-independent-media 

Peter Werbe is a radio host in Detroit. He discusses his long involvement with The Fifth Estate, which has been publishing radical ideas for 50 years now. See:
http://peterwerbe.com
http://fifthestate.org

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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A half century of US hospital bombings: Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar

By Dave Lindorff

 

“US forces would never intentionally strike a hospital.”

       -- US Commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell

 

Where’s the truth, and how can you find it?: The US Corporate Media are Essentially Propaganda Organs of the US Government


By Dave Lindorff

 

            Are the American corporate media largely propaganda organs, or news organizations?

 

5 Things to Do About ISIS, or Can an American Without a Gun "Do Something"?

Toward the end of altering our idea of what counts as "doing something," I offer this composite representation of numerous media interviews I've done.  

Interviewer: So you'd stop the planes and the drones and the bombs and the special forces. You've said lots about what you wouldn't do, but can you say what you would do?

Me: Sure, I believe the United States government should propose and attempt to negotiate and at the same time unilaterally begin a ceasefire. When President Kennedy asked the Soviet Union to agree to a ban on nuclear tests, he announced that the United States was itself going ahead and halting them. Negotiating is helped through leadership by example. For the United States to stop engaging or assisting in live fire would give huge momentum to a ceasefire negotiation.

Interviewer: So, again, you would stop firing, but what would you do instead?

Me: The United States ought to propose and work to negotiate and unilaterally begin an arms embargo. I say the United States because I live there and because the majority of the weapons in the Middle East originate in the United States. U.S. participation alone in an arms embargo would end the majority of arms provision to Western Asia. Ceasing to rush Saudi Arabia more weapons would do more good than writing a report on that kingdom's atrocities, for example. An arms embargo should be developed to include every nation in the region and be expanded into disarmament -- first and foremost of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (yes, including Israel's). The United States has the leverage to accomplish this, but not while working against it -- as it now vigorously does.

Interviewer: Yet again, here's something you don't want to do: provide arms. But is there something that you do want to do?

Me: Other than creating peace and a WMD-free Middle East? Yes, I'm glad you asked. I'd like to see the U.S. government launch a massive program of reparations and aid to the people of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Pakistan, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, and the entire rest of the region. (Please, please, please take my word for it that I am not listing every single nation purely in order to save time, and not because I hate some of them or any such insanity.) This no-strings-attached program should include food aid, medical aid, infrastructure, green energy, peace workers, human shields, communications technology for popular use of social media, environmental cleanup, and cultural and educational exchanges. And it should be paid for (note that it does have to be paid for and therefore should count as the very essence of a capitalist "doing something") through a modest reduction in U.S. militarism -- in fact, converting U.S. military facilities in the Middle East into green energy and cultural institutions, and handing them over to the residents.

Interviewer: I hate to have to keep asking the same question, but, again, what is it that you would do about ISIS? If you oppose war, do you support police action? What is something, anything at all for goodness sake, that you would dooooooooo?

Me: Well, in addition to halting violence, negotiating disarmament, and investing on a scale and with a level of respectful generosity to bump the Marshall Plan right out of the history books, I would begin efforts to deprive ISIS of funding and weaponry. A general halt to arms shipments would, of course, already help. Ending the air strikes that are ISIS's biggest recruitment tool would help. But Saudi Arabia and other regional powers have to be brought around to cutting off the funding to ISIS. That would not be nearly as difficult to do if the U.S. government ceased thinking of Saudi Arabia as a valued weapons customer and stopped bowing down to its every demand.

Interviewer: Stop the funding. Stop the arming. This all sounds nice. And you keep saying it over and over again. But I'm going to ask you one last time to say what you would do instead, and what weaponry you would use exactly to do it.

Me: I would use the weapon that eliminates enemies by turning them into something other than enemies. I would embrace the ideology that ISIS works against. It doesn't oppose U.S. militarism. It feeds off it. ISIS opposes humanism. I would welcome refugees without limit. I would make the United States a part of the global community on an equal and cooperative basis, joining without reservations the International Criminal Court, and existing treaties on the rights of the child, land mines, cluster bombs, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, weapons in space, rights of migrant workers, arms trade, protection from disappearances, rights of people with disabilities, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I would work to reform the United Nations beginning by unilaterally foreswearing use of the veto. I would announce a policy of ceasing to prop up or to overthrow foreign dictators. I would announce plans to support nonviolence, democracy, and sustainability at home and abroad, leading by example -- including in the area of disarmament. Reforming U.S. democracy by removing the system of legalized bribery and the whole list of needed reforms would set an example and also allow more democratic policies. I would shift our officially propogated sympathies from We Are All France to We Are All the World. To imagine that any of these steps is unrelated to ISIS is to misunderstand the power of propaganda, image, and the communication of respectful goodwill or arrogant disdain.

Interviewer: Well, we've run out of time, and yet you still won't tell me anything you would do. Sadly, that leaves us obliged to support an assault on ISIS, as much as we dislike war.

Warmongers & Peacemongers: Learning How Not to Rule the World

By John Grant

 

[Al Qaeda’s] strategic objective has always been ... the overthrow of the House of Saud. In pursuing that regional goal, however, it has been drawn into a worldwide conflict with American power.

The proof is in the proofs: US Spy Sats See Everything, Except when the Government Says They Didn’t

By Dave Lindorff

 

            There is something fishy going on in the way the US is talking about civilian plane crashes that are in some way linked, or said to be linked to Russia.

 

Don't Put Killers on Cereal Boxes

Online petition campaigns were launched this week to stop Wal-Mart from selling Israeli soldier Halloween costumes and to get Wheaties cereal to start putting U.S. soldiers on its cereal boxes -- boxes known for featuring photos of outstanding athletes.

The two campaigns have no relation to each other. Wheaties has not, to my knowledge, indicated the slightest interest in doing what the petition asks it to do.

I'd like Wal-Mart and every other store to stop selling all (not just Israeli) military and every other sort of armed, killer costume, including science-fiction futuristic Star Wars and any other. Sure, it's a particular problem that the U.S. government gives Israel billions of dollars in free weapons every year with which to attack civilians, and that presidential candidates in the United States behave as if they're campaigning to represent Israel. But if you oppose celebrating murder, including organized state-sanctioned uniformed murder, then you oppose everything that normalizes and encourages it.

So, of course, I also oppose glorifying "our troops" on cereal boxes. For one thing, it conflates the idea of an athlete with the idea of a soldier (which I use here as shorthand for sailor, Marine, airman, drone pilot, mercenary, special force, etc., etc.). An athlete doesn't kill anyone, maim anyone, turn anyone's house to rubble, traumatize any children, overthrow anyone's government, throw any regions of the world into chaos, produce radical violent groups that hate my country, drain the public treasury of $1,000,000,000,000 a year, justify the stripping away of civil liberties in the name of wars for freedom, devastate the natural environment, drop napalm or white phosphorus, use DU, imprison people without charge, torture, or send missiles into weddings and hospitals killing one vaguely-identified victim for every 10 people murdered. An athlete plays sports.

Note that I'm also not proposing that we put troops on cereal boxes with devil horns inked onto their heads, blaming them for the faults of the whole society into which they were born. Sure, I blame them. Sure, I'd rather celebrate conscientious objectors. But there is an almost universal delusion in our culture which holds that when you blame someone for something, you exonerate everyone else. So, although it makes not the slightest sense, people interpret blaming a soldier for participating in a war as un-blaming the presidents, Congress members, propagandists, profiteers, and everyone else who helped make that war happen. In reality, blame is a limitless quantity, and everyone gets some, including me. But in the fantasyland we live in, you can't go around blaming anyone for something done by many people, unless you are allowed a paragraph of explanation. And, besides, I'd start with all the presidents, Congress members, etc., as war criminals before reaching any rank-and-file in the list of candidates for cereal box condemnation.

Also, "our troops," are simply not our troops, not collectively. Many of us vote against, petition against, demonstrate against, write against, and organize against the use and the expansion and the existence of the military. One wishes it were needless to say, but this does not suggest some sort of hatred for the individuals who are soldiers, the majority of whom say that economic option limitations was one big factor in their joining up, and many of whom believe what they are told about doing good for the places they invade. Nor of course does opposition to militarism imply some sort of twisted support for the militarism of some other nation or group. Imagine disliking soccer and consequently being denounced for supporting some other soccer team. Opposing war is the same way -- it actually means opposing war, not routing for the "team" opposed by someone else.

"Team" is a horrible metaphor for a military. The military can involve lots of teamwork, but it has been a century now since a war involved two teams competing on a battlefield. In World War II and ever since, wars have been fought in people's towns, and the majority of the victims have been civilians not signed up on any team. When groups like Veterans For Peace speak out against further participation in war, on the grounds that war is the unjustifiable, counter-productive slaughter of men, women, and children, they do so out of love for soldiers and potential future soldiers. Of course, many other veterans do not share that belief, or do not voice it aloud or publicly if they do. Perhaps not unrelated is the fact that the leading cause of death of U.S. soldiers sent into recent and current wars is suicide. What more profound statement that something is amiss could be made than that? What could I possibly say to even approach it?

Here's the text of the petition in favor of putting troops on cereal boxes:

"The Wheaties Box is an iconic image in America. It celebrates our best, our brightest, and those achieving high honors on the athletic field. Isn't it time to honor another set of American heroes? Our troops who served their country and gave their all, deserve the same honor as our great athletes."

In fact our brightest and most creative intellects are not honored at all on Wheaties. Neither are our firemen and women, our emergency crews, our environmentalists, our teachers, our children, our poets, our diplomats, our farmers, our artists, our actors and actresses. No. It's just athletes. If you think troops deserve an honor, clearly it is not, in fact, the same as athletes. And what of those of us who agree with President Kennedy ("War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today") -- Should we get our heroes on cereal boxes, too?

"Imagine the national pride of seeing a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor on the Wheaties box. General Mills, proud maker of Wheaties, can make this a new tradition. Next to the sacrifice these heroes and their families have made, it's a small honor. But in our celebrity-obsessed culture, it can be a new tradition we all can be proud to share."

It's just not true that we would all be proud. Some of us would deem it fascistic. Of course, we could just choose not to buy that cereal, while Anderson Cooper and anyone else who despises conscientious objectors could just not buy any cereal box honoring that tradition. But this petition is not proposing to force Wheaties to honor soldiers, just recommending it. Well, I'm just recommending against it.

"General Mills, we are asking you to please add servicemembers [sic] who have been honored for their distinct service and heroism, to your rotation of those recognized on the Wheaties Box. We don't do enough to honor those who served, especially those people who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield. And while an image on a box of cereal may not seem like much, it's a gesture that says so much about what we value. It's the type of gesture we need to see happen more often. We hope General Mills will show us that these men and women are worth recognizing on their iconic brand. Please sign and share the petition telling General Mills to place our honored heroes from the military on their Wheaties box."

The U.S. military spends a fortune in public tax dollars advertising itself on race cars and in ceremonies at football games, and so on. Were Wheaties to pick up on this idea and profit from it by making the military pay, that would be bad enough. Doing it for free would be worse. But I don't think the military would pay for it. The military advertises the generic faceless troop, not an actual specific soldier. Many veterans are essentially abandoned by the military, denied healthcare, left homeless, and -- again -- in many cases doomed to suicide.

During the war on Vietnam, recipients of medals of honor, angrily threw them back, rejecting what they had been part of. Any actual specific war hero could do that. And then where would Wheaties be?

Once in recent years the military tried to honor a particular flesh-and-blood soldier, and at the same time to merge its image with that of athletes. The soldier's name was Pat Tillman. He had been a football star and had famously given up a multi-million dollar football contract in order to join the military and do his patriotic duty to protect the country from evil terrorists. He was the most famous actual troop in the U.S. military, and television pundit Ann Coulter called him "an American original virtuous, pure, and masculine like only an American male can be."

Except that he came to no longer believe the stories that had led him to enlist, and Ann Coulter stopped praising him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American.

The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the enemy. They would no doubt have also approved his photo for a Wheaties box.

And then where would the Wheaties thank-a-warrior campaign have been when the truth about Tillman's death and the truth about Tillman's views came out? I say: Wheaties, do not risk it. The Pentagon has not risked it since Tillman. Its generals (McChrystal, Petraeus) inevitably attract the spotlights and inevitably disgrace themselves. No rank-and-file troops are put forward as "icons." They're just used to justify massive spending "for the troops" that goes to weapons profiteers and not to one single troop.

The thought of blood just doesn't go with breakfast cereal, Wheaties, and even the thought that this proposal came from somewhere in this country is enough to make me slightly nauseated.

* Thanks to D Nunns for calling the Wheaties thing to my attention.


Speaking Events

2016

 

March 24, Boone, NC.

 

March 25, Asheville, NC
Battery Park Apartments, 1 Battle Square, rooftop room, noon - 2 p.m.
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War Is A Lie: Second Edition
Published April 5, 2016
Tour begins here:

April 11, Washington, DC, 6:30-8:00 p.m. at Busboys and Poets at 5th and K Streets.
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April 12, Baltimore, MD, 7:30 p.m. at Red Emma's.
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April 14, Bellingham, WA, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.
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April 15, Seattle, WA
Town Hall Seattle
1119 Eighth Ave (8th and Seneca) 
Seattle, WA 98101
7:30pm
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April 16 Portland, OR

 

April 24, Oneonta, NY at Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta.
5:30 discussion with students.
7:00 talk and Q&A with everyone.
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May 28, San Francisco, CA
11 a.m. to 1 p.m., David Swanson interviewed by Daniel Ellsberg, at San Francisco Main Public Library, 100 Larkin Street.
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May 28, Marin County, CA
4 to 6 p.m., David Swanson in conversation with Norman Solomon, at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA
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May 29, Oakland, CA
3 to 4 p.m., David Swanson interviewed by Cindy Sheehan, at Diesel: A Bookstore, 5433 College Avenue at Kales (near Manila), Oakland, CA
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May 29, Berkeley, CA
7:30 to 9 p.m., David Swanson and Cindy Sheehan at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, sponsored by the Social Justice Committee and Cynthia Papermaster, 1606 Bonita Ave. (at Cedar), Berkeley, CA
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May 30, Fresno, CA
2 to 4 p.m., David Swanson and Cindy Sheehan at a Peace Fresno event

 


June 11 St. Paul, MN, 6 p.m. at Macalester Plymouth Church Social Hall 1658 Lincoln, St. Paul, MN.
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June 12 Minneapolis, MN, 9 and 11 a.m. at St. Joan's 4533 3rd Ave So, Minneapolis, MN, plus peace pole dedication at 2 p.m.
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Other Events Here.

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