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Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
By David Swanson
An atheist's sermon on Luke 7: 36-50 delivered at Saint Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, Minn., on June 12, 2016.
Forgiveness is a universal need, among those of us who are not religious and among believers in every religion on earth. We must forgive each other our differences, and we must forgive much more difficult occurrences.
Some things we can forgive easily -- by which, of course, I mean eliminating resentment from our hearts, not granting an eternal reward. If someone kissed my feet and poured oil on them and begged me to forgive her, frankly, I would have a harder time forgiving the kisses and oil than forgiving her a life of prostitution -- which is, after all, not an act of cruelty toward me but the violation of a taboo into which she was likely compelled by hardship.
But to forgive men who were torturing and killing me on a cross? That I would be very unlikely to succeed at, especially as my nearing end -- in the absence of a crowd to influence -- might convince me of the pointlessness of making my last thought a magnanimous one. As long as I live, however, I intend to work on forgiveness.
If our culture truly developed the habit of forgiveness, it would dramatically improve our personal lives. It would also make wars impossible, which would further dramatically improve our personal lives. I think we have to forgive both those who we think have wronged us personally, and those whom our government has told us to hate, both at home and abroad.
I suspect I could find well over 100 million Christians in the United States who do not hate the men who crucified Jesus, but who do hate and would be highly offended at the idea of forgiving Adolf Hitler.
When John Kerry says that Bashar al Assad is Hitler, does that help you feel forgiving toward Assad? When Hillary Clinton says that Vladimir Putin is Hitler, does that help you relate to Putin as a human being? When ISIS cuts a man's throat with a knife, does your culture expect of you forgiveness or vengeance?
Forgiveness is not the only approach one can take to curing war fever, and not the one I usually try.
Usually the case that's made for a war involves specific lies that can be exposed, such as lies about who used chemical weapons in Syria or who shot down an airplane in Ukraine.
Usually there is a great deal of hypocrisy one can point to. Was Assad already Hitler when he was torturing people for the CIA, or did he become Hitler by defying the U.S. government? Was Putin already Hitler before he refused to join in the 2003 attack on Iraq? If a particular ruler who has fallen out of favor is Hitler, what about all the brutal dictators whom the United States is arming and supporting? Are they all Hitler too?
Usually there is aggression by the United States that can be pointed to. The U.S. has aimed to overthrow the Syrian government for years and avoided negotiations for the nonviolent removal of Assad in favor of a violent overthrow believed to be imminent year after year. The U.S. has pulled out of arms reduction treaties with Russia, expanded NATO to its border, facilitated a coup in Ukraine, launched war games along the Russian border, put ships in the Black and Baltic Seas, moved more nukes into Europe, begun talking about smaller, more "usable" nukes, and set up missile bases in Romania and (under construction) in Poland. Imagine if Russia had done these things in North America.
Usually one can point out that no matter how evil a foreign ruler is, a war will kill large numbers of people unfortunate enough to be ruled by him -- people who are innocent of his crimes.
But what if we tried the approach of forgiveness? Can one forgive ISIS its horrors? And would doing so result in free reign for more such horrors, or in their reduction or elimination?
The first question is easy. Yes, you can forgive ISIS its horrors. At least some people can. I feel no hatred toward ISIS. There are people who lost loved ones on 9/11 who quickly began advocating against any vengeful war. There are people who've lost loved ones to small-scale murder and opposed cruel punishment of the guilty party, even coming to know and care for the murderer. There are cultures that treat injustice as something in need of reconciliation rather than retribution.
Of course, the fact that others can do it doesn't mean that you can or should do it. But it's worth recognizing how right were those family members of 9/11 victims who opposed war. Now several hundred times as many people have been killed, and the hatred toward the United States that contributed to 9/11 has been multiplied accordingly. A global war on terrorism has predictably and indisputably increased terrorism.
If we take a deep breath and think seriously, we can also recognize that the resentment that calls out for forgiveness is not rational. Toddlers with guns kill more people in the United States than do foreign terrorists. But we don't hate toddlers. We don't bomb toddlers and whoever's near them. We don't think of toddlers as inherently evil or backward or belonging to the wrong religion. We forgive them instantly, without struggle. It's not their fault the guns were left lying around.
But is it the fault of ISIS that Iraq was destroyed? That Libya was thrown into chaos? That the region was flooded with U.S.-made weapons? That future ISIS leaders were tortured in U.S. camps? That life was made into a nightmare? Maybe not, but it was their fault they murdered people. They are adults. They know what they are doing.
Do they? Remember, Jesus said they did not. He said, forgive them for they know not what they do. How could they possibly know what they are doing when they do things like what they have done?
When U.S. officials retire and quickly blurt out that U.S. efforts are creating more enemies than they are killing, it becomes clear that attacking ISIS is counterproductive. It also becomes clear that at least some people engaged in it know that. But they also know what advances their careers, what provides for their families, what pleases their associates, and what benefits a certain sector of the U.S. economy. And they can always hold out hope that perhaps the next war will be the one that finally works. Do they really know what they do? How could they?
When President Obama sent a missile from a drone to blow up an American boy from Colorado named Abdulrahman al Awlaki, one should not imagine that his head or the heads of those seated too close to him remained on their bodies. That this boy wasn't killed with a knife shouldn't make his killing any more or less forgivable. We should desire no revenge against Barack Obama or John Brennan. But we should not limit our outraged demand for truth, restorative justice, and the replacement of murderous with peaceful public policies.
A U.S. Air Force officer recently said that a tool that would allow dropping food accurately to starving people in Syria would not be used for such a purely humanitarian operation because it costs $60,000. Yet the U.S. military is blowing through tens of billions of dollars on killing people there, and hundreds of billions of dollars every year on maintaining the ability to do the same all over the world. We've got CIA-trained troops in Syria fighting Pentagon-trained troops in Syria, and -- as a matter of principle -- we can't spend money on preventing starvation.
Imagine living in Iraq or Syria and reading that. Imagine reading the comments of Congress members who support militarism because it supposedly provides jobs. Imagine living under a constantly buzzing drone in Yemen, no longer allowing your children to go to school or to go outside the house at all.
Now imagine forgiving the United States government. Imagine bringing yourself to see what looks like massive evil as in fact bureaucratic mishaps, systemic momentum, partisan blindness, and manufactured unawareness. Could you, as an Iraqi, forgive? I've seen Iraqis do it.
We in the United States can forgive the Pentagon. Can we forgive ISIS? And if not, why not? Can we forgive Saudis who look and sound like, and who support, ISIS, but who our televisions tell us are good loyal allies? If so, is it because we haven't seen Saudi victims of beheading or because of what those victims look like? If not, is it because of what Saudis look like?
If forgiveness came naturally to us, if we could do it immediately for ISIS, and therefore instantly for the neighbor who makes too much noise or votes for the wrong candidate, then marketing campaigns for wars would not work. Neither would campaigns to pack more Americans into prisons.
Forgiveness would not eliminate conflict, but it would render conflicts civil and nonviolent -- exactly what the peace movement of the 1920s had in mind when it moved Frank Kellogg of St. Paul, Minnesota, to create the treaty that bans all war.
This afternoon at 2 p.m. we are going to be dedicating a peace pole here on the grounds of this church. With permanent war ever present in our culture, we badly need such physical reminders of peace. We need peace in ourselves and in our families. But we need to be wary of the attitude taken by a school board member in Virginia who said he'd support a celebration of peace as long as everyone understood he wasn't opposing any wars. We need reminders that peace begins with the abolition of war. I hope you'll join us.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Emails and documents obtained from Oklahoma State University (OSU) under the state's open records law depict an arrangement in which former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) donated his U.S. Senate papers to OSU, a public university, but still maintains full control of the papers and who gets permission to view them.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
America’s party-line corporate media: The Democratic Primary Race Has Been Called Before 15% of the Country Votes
By Dave Lindorff
Reading the papers and listening to the radio about the Democratic primary race, which is reaching its climax tomorrow in California, New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota, I’m having a powerful sense of deja vu harking back to my years living and working as a journalist in China in the 1990s.
By Jackie Smith and Alfredo Lopez
(The following article was co-written by Dr. Jackie Smith -- of the International Network of Scholar Activsts -- and TCBH member Alfredo Lopez. It is being published here and in other places.)
By David Swanson
NBC's Dateline program aired pro-drone propaganda this week and has posted the video online. Their so-called report purports to be "balanced" and "even-handed." In fact it misleadingly promotes an extremely destructive government program that millions of people would protest if they knew the actual facts of the matter.
Dateline introduces us to drones with the claim that drones have saved lives by "hitting terrorist targets." Unlike any negative statement about drones made in the course of this Dateline video, such positive statements are never immediately countered by somebody authoritative saying the opposite in a different vocabulary (such as "murdering human beings never convicted or even indicted for any crime" rather than "hitting terrorist targets"). Much less is any positive statement countered with actual facts. At the very end of the program we'll hear that during this "war on terrorism" terrorism has increased, but the causal connection recognized by numerous experts is brushed over. In fact numerous top officials involved in the U.S. drone program blurt out, the moment they retire, that it is generating more enemies than it is killing. Numerous such statements are publicly available, and such voices could have been included in this program.
Next Dateline shows us a drone pilot in Nevada in his car and "on his way to fight ISIS." In fact, U.S. drone pilots (who dress up as pilots and sit at a desk) blow people up in numerous countries, have (like their commanders) no idea who most of the people are whom they blow up, and have seen ISIS recruitment soar since the U.S. began bombing that organization which its earlier bombings and occupations and prison camps and torture and weapons sales were absolutely central to creating.
Dateline shows us footage of drones, but none of what they do -- only fuzzy videos selected by the Air Force in which we see no humans, no bodies, no body parts, and are just told that the people murdered were ISIS, which is supposed to make it moral and legal. Endless footage exists and is available, including of course from the Air Force, of the people blown to pieces by drones. Plenty of reporting explains that this type of warfare kills more innocent people than even other horrific types of warfare. But Dateline will instead eventually get around to focusing on phony critiques like "Is this too much like playing a video game?"
Key issue left unraised is secret financial deals: With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
By Dave Lindorff
When it comes to Hillary Clinton’s State Department email scandal, reporters -- and even her right-wing critics in the Republican Party -- are asking the wrong question.
A lesson here for Sanders?: 72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
By Dave Lindorff
A 72-year-old college professor named Alexander van der Bellen, running for president as the candidate of the leftist Austrian Green Party, a fringe party that had never been considered a serious contender in post-war Austrian politics, just won a narrow victory over Norbert Hofer, a right-wing candidate of the neo-fascist Freedom Party who had been favored to win.
Virus blinds public to health issues that really matter: Zika Hysteria Spreads Faster than Zika Itself
By Jess Guh, MD
Zika has been described as extraordinary in so many ways. But the only thing that’s really extraordinary about the whole thing is how incredibly dispassionate I am about it.
Ever since the foundation of the American Republic, there has been both praise for and suspicion of the role the press plays in U.S. political life. Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that, if it were left to him “to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And yet, Jefferson was also profoundly disturbed by the politically biased and inaccurate articles that he saw published in the press. As he told James Monroe: “My skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”
Jefferson’s ambivalence about the press becomes understandable when one considers the distorted reporting that has characterized the current campaign for the U.S. Presidency.
Takin’ it to the Street, and Pushing Bernie to Not Endorse Hillary and Instead Run as an Independent
By Dave Lindorff
The desire to punish for the joy of punishing, for revenge, or for racist or sadistic domination has always had certain difficulties hiding behind the pretense of punishing for protection from danger. Creating fear of (young, black, male) "super predators" was a propaganda tactic for politicians like Hillary Clinton that bore some similarity to the efforts by politicians like Hillary Clinton to create fear of Iraqi weapons that didn't exist. The latter was meant to hide U.S. aggression toward Iraq. The former was meant to hide mad, raging punitive vindictiveness that sought to put lots of people in cages for lots of time regardless of the damage done.
One of the difficulties that pretending to punish people for public safety has in hiding real motives for mass incarceration is that the people whom the punishers most want to lock up for the longest time (or execute) are generally the least likely people to commit another crime (even if guilty of the first one). A 2009 study cited in the remarkable new book, Boy With a Knife, found that those who had been incarcerated for homicide were the very least likely to commit any kind of crime. In California in 2011 almost 49% of prisoners released later returned to prison for new criminal convictions, but that figure was less than 1% for those released who had been convicted of murder.
Part of the explanation for this may be that those convicted of murder were kept longer in prison and that older people are less likely to murder than younger people. But many studies have also found that prison has the opposite effect of rehabilitation, that people who learn to survive in prison are learning how not to survive when released, and that being released with the label of "felon" and little to no assistance in finding employment or income makes rehabilitation less likely. But even the theory that age is a factor or a theory that prison actually rehabilitates people cuts against the theory of the "super predator," of the subhuman monster incapable of reform.
There's also overwhelming evidence that locking up children makes them more likely to commit crimes as adults. This is true in general, and most children who are locked up are locked up for minor, non-violent crimes, the sorts of crimes that tend to be repeated a lot more than murder does. Yet, the United States, now the only nation on earth that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would put an end to such practices, locks up children in adult prisons and tells itself this outrage is justified by the need to protect the public from what Hillary Clinton used to call "super predators." The U.S. tries about 250,000 children in adult courts each year, not because this serves the children or adults or society, but because of a general sense of hatred of and fear of those children. Wildly out of proportion to actual levels of crime, 62% of the children tried in adult courts are African American.
Boy With a Knife provides this context but principally tells the true account of a crime and its punishment. In 1993 in Massachusetts a white boy named Karter Reed fatally stabbed another boy. Nothing excuses that action anymore than anything excuses flying an airplane into the World Trade Center. But learning the events that led up to it explains it, just as learning what U.S. foreign policy was during the 1990s explains 9/11. Reed was denied a father by incarceration. Reed grew up in a culture of violence and danger. Reed believed, just like the Pentagon, that being armed with deadly weaponry would keep him safe. Reed panicked and lashed out, not bombing Libya but sticking a knife into another boy's stomach. He did so not imagining the boy would die. Nobody dies from such things on television, after all. He did so in a crowded school classroom full of adults there to break up a fight, adults who were guaranteed to witness his action and to apprehend him.
Karter was tried in adult court and sent away to adult prison following a trial in which he was falsely presented as a monster who had killed joyfully. Beyond the actual crime, which was indeed monstrous, Karter was prosecuted for supposedly being rebellious, anti-social, cool and calculating, enjoying murder and reveling in it -- all of which happened not to be true, but none of which had anything to do with the suffering of the victim, the victim's loved-ones, the witnesses, or the community. How many decades should be added to a child's sentence in hell for having smiled or for having broken trivial prison rules since being locked up pre-trial? How is restitution made or justice restored by locking a child in a cage until he's old?
The answer, it seems, is: with great difficulty and struggle and rarity. Karter Reed's story is one of redemption, of beating the odds, of rehabilitating himself despite prison, not because of it. It's one of the better stories from among the thousands of stories that we know so little of and that should not have to exist.
By David Swanson
Remarks prepared for April 14 eventin Bellingham, Wash.
I believe that people in the United States often tend to have a particular hatred for taxes for three reasons above all others, but that many are not entirely clear in their thinking about these reasons. They are:
1) Unlike in many other countries, in the United States you don't really get very much for your taxes, so they seem like theft rather than a fair exchange.
2) To a greater extent than in many countries, U.S. taxes are not fairly applied. Working people often end up paying more than some very wealthy non-working people, as well as more than some very wealthy non-working non-people, otherwise known as corporations.
3) U.S. taxes originated as means to pay for wars, which were meant to be temporary, but our government has created a system of permanent war and permanent taxes (the majority of which go every year to wars and preparations for wars). Even those who cheer for wars can be upset when they find out the price tag. And those who recognize wars as immoral, counter-productive, one-sided slaughters of human beings see the resources wasted on wars as adding to the disaster of militarism in a major way because of what could have been done with those resources instead.
A bit more on these three points:
Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next and Steven Hill's Europe's Promise provide glimpses of what it must be like to pay taxes and receive something substantive in return. There are countries where, in exchange for your taxes, you receive guaranteed top-quality education from preschool through college, guaranteed comprehensive healthcare, up-to-date and relatively sustainable systems of parks, transportation, energy, and infrastructure, as well as laws guaranteeing paid parental leave and sick leave and vacation and retirement. These countries have better health, greater life-expectancy, smaller carbon footprints, higher happiness, and the freedoms and choices that come with not having to struggle for security all your life.
A governor of New York not long ago proposed spending a relatively paltry sum on college education for prisoners, to reduce recidivism, crime, and the greater expense of additional incarceration (and perhaps also to improve people's lives and those of their families and communities). The public threw such a fit that he withdrew the proposal. That would sound crazy in Europe, but in a country where most people have no easy way to go to college, a situation could have been created in which the simplest way to get to college would have been to commit a crime. Perhaps it was right to oppose that, but only if we instead create free college for all who want it.
The money now dodging taxes in Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming likely dwarfs that found in Panama. The wealthy do not pay payroll taxes on most of their income. They don't pay taxes, or pay outrageously low taxes, on wealth, on financial transactions, on estates, on what's hidden in shell companies, on what rolls in from work done by others. Corporate owners' rank and file employees sometimes pay higher tax rates than they do. This sort of injustice breeds deep resentment, and as we've all been trained to admire the skills of the wealthy (or the so-called "successful") no matter how they cheat, the resentment becomes focused primarily on the IRS.
If you hate taxes but dutifully cheer for wars, it's lucky you also oppose school funding sufficient to produce historical literacy. Taxes are a byproduct of wars. Were it not for wars and war propaganda, this country would have never begun paying taxes. If we were to end wars, and only if we were to end wars, we could consider ending taxes too.
Between 1789 and 1815, tariffs produced 90 percent of government revenue. But taxes were needed for wars, including wars against protesters of the taxes -- such as President Washington's quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion.
A property tax was put in place in 1789 in order to build up a Navy. More taxes were needed in 1798 because of the troublesome French. But taxation really got going with the War of 1812 and took many forms, sales taxes, land taxes, etc.
The income tax was brought to you courtesy of the Civil War. The North began an income tax in 1862, and the Confederacy in 1863, both of them progressive and graduated. The income tax and the inheritance tax were dropped by 1872, and big taxation did not come back until World War I and its accompanying propaganda campaign. The Great War included an income tax, an estate tax, a munitions tax, an excess profits tax, and other big taxes on corporations and luxuries. Some of these taxes vanished after the war, but the income tax didn't. However, most ordinary people were still not seriously touched by taxation, which drew heavily from the wealthy.
World War II, which has in this and many other ways never ended, changed all that. The income tax became mainstream. By the end of World War II over 90% of U.S. workers were filing tax returns and the income tax had become the single biggest source of government funding. It was called "the Victory Tax." In a Disney cartoon, the narrator warned Donald Duck that "It takes taxes to beat the Axis!" An Irving Berlin song was titled "I Paid My Income Tax Today." Among the lyrics: "You see those bombers in the sky? Rockefeller helped to build them, So did I!"
Lucky me! We've never stopped building the bombers or paying the taxes. But the U.S. government has slashed taxes on corporations and on the wealthy and borrowed heavily. Increasingly the burden to pay is on working people, and what's paid for is largely the ongoing permanent preparations for war. Currently about 54% of discretionary spending goes into militarism. Imagine if, during tax week debates and interviews, the media were to ask presidential candidates whether they think 54% is low, high, or just right. We'd learn what they think about basic spending priorities, and many TV viewers might learn for the first time what our government's current spending priorities are.
The typical U.S. debate between spending more money on the one hand, and spending less money while building a bigger military on the other, is at odds with the reality in which the military takes a majority of the money, and in which additional big chunks go toward making the United States #1 in prisons and highways and fracking, etc. We need a debate not just on how much money the government gets, but on where it gets it from and what it spends it on. There's a movement called the Global Day of Action on Military Spending that cites UN reports to the effect that the world each year is spending about $25 billion on life-saving assistance to those harmed by wars and natural disasters, but $1,776 billion on creating more wars.
We could radically transform for the better the lives of people in the United States and abroad, with money to spare, if we moved a fraction of the U.S. military budget to productive peaceful spending.
Hysterical Cold-War Style US Reporting as 2 Unarmed Russian Jets Buzz US Destroyer Sailing Near Russian Port
By Dave Lindorff
US news reports on an incident Tuesday in which two Russian jet fighters buzzed very close to a US destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the Baltic Sea, make it sound like a serious threat in which the US might have been justified in defending itself against a simulated attack on the high seas.
Nowhere in the reports in the US was it mentioned that the Cook was itself engaging in provocative behavior.
I'm going to start with a few brief opening remarks about what I think is the habit of thought that has made the United States #1 in the world in prisons and wars. And then I'll be glad to try to answer as many questions as you think of. These remarks will be published online at American Herald Tribune.
No matter how long I debunk and refute and mock and condemn arguments for wars, I continue over and over again to conclude that I'm still giving advocates for war too much credit. How ever little I take seriously as rational ideas the notions that U.S. wars can be defensive or humanitarian or peace-keeping, it's always too much. Wars' supporters, in large part, do not themselves actually hold such beliefs. Rather they have a lust for war that must be examined outside of any question of utilitarian impact.
I'm referring here to the mental processes of both top officials deciding to wage war, and ordinary members of the U.S. public expressing their approval. Of course, the two are not identical. Motives of profit are hushed up, while phony motives such as waging wars in order to "support the troops" are manufactured for public consumption but never ever mentioned in the private emails of war makers. Nonetheless, there is great overlap in the thinking of all members of a culture, including the thinking of cynical politicians in a corrupt regime, and there are points on which virtually all politicians, from best to worst, agree without giving the matter any thought.
One part of the common lust for war is the desire to punish wrongdoers. This motivation overlaps with revenge when depicted as a response to some wrong done to "us." It overlaps with defensiveness when depicted as punishing some person, force, or group that constitutes a dangerous threat. It overlaps with the drives for power and domination when presented as punishing a challenger to the authority of the U.S. government, or of the U.S. government and the handful of oligarchs who constitute "the international community." But this drive to punish can be distinguished as an important motivation that often seems to underpin more superficial rationalizations.
Look at a typical "humanitarian" war, such as the war to rescue Libyan civilians from imminent slaughter in 2011 or the war to rescue mountaintop dwellers from ISIS in 2013 which is ongoing and escalating. In both cases, the humanitarian rationale was essentially false. Gadaffi did not threaten to massacre civilians. The U.S. did not try to rescue civilians from ISIS; some were rescued by Kurds, some had no interest in being rescued. In both the case of Libya and that of ISIS, war supporters piled all sorts of other rationales on top of the humanitarian one, many of these related to punishment, including punishment of ISIS for beheading U.S. citizens with knives. Old grievances, some of them based on dubious claims themselves, were dredged up against Qadaffi. TV host Ed Schultz, for example, suddenly developed a passion for punishing Qadaffi for crimes that as far as I know hadn't disturbed Schultz's sleep for years prior if ever. Americans who could have all fit on a single and readily available airplane supposedly needed to be saved from the ISIS menace by a bombing campaign that focused on an oil-rich area, not on the threatened mountaintop.
In both cases, also, the humanitarian excuse was quickly abandoned. The rescues were quickly forgotten as the U.S. entered into a war to quickly overthrow the Libyan government and a war to slowly "destroy ISIS." In both cases, few questions were raised about this switch, and to many it was not perceived as a switch. Once you rescue helpless innocents from an evil menace, punishing the evil menace is just a normal follow through like completing a golf swing over your shoulder. In this way of thinking, the humanitarian argument isn't seen as a deceitful way to get a war started but as a justification for continuing the war until the wrongdoers are properly punished.
Look at a typical "defensive" war by the United States, like the vicious aggression against Iraq in 2003. Mixed in with all the lies about the supposed threat from Iraq was plenty of talk about punishing Iraq for violating UN resolutions and for that common reason given for bombing the people of a foreign nation: the tyrant of Iraq had "killed his own people" -- using, as is common, U.S. weapons. Similarly, the Gulf War had been punishment for the invasion of Kuwait, and the war on Afghanistan has been 15 years and counting of punishment for 9/11 of people who for the most part had never heard of 9/11.
What makes me turn from factually correcting a rational belief that these wars are somehow defensive to lamenting an irrational desire to punish somebody regardless of the consequences is the fact that when the wars are exposed as counterproductive, many of their supporters go right on supporting them and talking about the need to punish those who do evil -- even if the punishment itself constitutes a greater evil. Numerous top officials in the U.S. military and so-called intelligence so-called community admit the day after they retire that the drone wars and occupations are counterproductive, that they are generating more enemies than they are killing. This fact is casually referred to as self-evident in editorials by the biggest U.S. newspapers and in reports by U.N. rapporteurs, but never ever as an argument for ending these policies.
The global war on terrorism is predictably and admittedly generating more terrorism, and its supporters just don't care. The world's most expensive military, with troops in the most places and engagement in the most wars, creates for itself the most resentment and blowback, and the solution of the true believers is even more militarism.
What is the purpose of a war that brings more war? One answer can be found in listening to ordinary war supporters who ask whether war opponents want to just "let them get away with it," and in the remarks of President Obama who claims to be murdering with drones only individuals who could not possibly be apprehended and prosecuted. But, in fact, none of his victims has even been indicted, many if not most of them could easily have been apprehended, and most have not even been identified by name. The point of throwing around the word "prosecution" in discussing the new kill policy, as in discussing the old imprison-without-trial-and-torture policy is to convey the idea that what is being done is punishment.
We find, in fact, the drive to punish in arguments for wars going back for centuries. The Mexicans had to be punished for invading the United States, whether they did so or not. The Spanish had to be punished for blowing up the Maine, whether they did so or not. King George had to be punished for his crimes, the South had to be punished for seceding, the Vietnamese had to be punished for Tonkin whether it happened or not, etc. An especially curious thing about the drive to punish, as we see in foreign and domestic policy alike, is that it seems to be largely satisfied entirely regardless of whether the correct person is punished. And if the right person is punished, that person's background is of little concern.
Was ISIS created by the invasion of Iraq and the arming of fighters in Syria? Who cares? Does the bombing of ISIS kill innocents and boost ISIS recruiting? Who cares? Was a murderer and rapist brutally abused as a child? Who cares? Does DNA prove that he didn't do it at all? As long as that evidence can be kept from the judge or jury, who really cares? The important thing is to punish somebody.
There are probably more innocent men and women in prison in the United States now than there were people in prison here total -- innocent and guilty -- 30 years ago, or than there are total people in prison (proportionately or as an absolute number) in most nations on earth.
I don't mean that people are locked up for actions that shouldn't be considered crimes, although they are. I don't mean that people are policed and indicted and prosecuted by a racist system that makes some people far more likely to end up in prison than other people guilty of the same actions, although that is true, just as it's also true that the justice system works better for the wealthy than for the poor. I am referring rather to men and women who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they simply did not commit. I'm not even counting Guantanamo or Bagram or immigrants' prisons. I'm talking about the prisons just up the road, full of people from just down the road.
I don't know whether wrongful convictions have increased as a percentage of convictions. What has indisputably increased is the number of convictions and the lengths of sentences. The prison population has skyrocketed. It's multiplied several fold. And it's done so during a political climate that has rewarded legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police for locking people up -- and not for preventing the conviction of innocents. This growth does not correlate in any way with an underlying growth in crime. Nor have U.S. wars multiplied as the result of greater lawlessness among dictators who've fallen out of favor in Washington.
At the same time, evidence has emerged of a pattern of wrongful convictions. This emerging evidence is largely the result of prosecutions during the 1980s, primarily for rape but also for murder, before DNA testing had come into its own, but when evidence (including semen and blood) was sometimes preserved. Other factors have contributed: messy murderers, rapists who didn't use condoms, advances in DNA science that helps to convict the guilty as well as to free the innocent, avenues for appeal that were in some ways wider before the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the heroic work of a relative handful of people.
An examination of the plea bargains and trials that put people behind bars ought to make clear to anyone that many of those convicted are innocent. But DNA exonerations have opened a lot of eyes to that fact. The trouble is that most convicts do not have anything that can be tested for DNA to prove their guilt or innocence. There are very likely hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the U.S. prison system. Are they innocent of everything? Are they saints? Of course not. They are innocent of the crimes for which they were punished. In the minds of many that doesn't matter. After all, they are poor, they are black, they have bad friends, they were in bad places. This is the thinking that supports bombing foreign nations. Did everyone in that foreign nation supposedly blow up an airplane decades ago? Of course not, but they are Muslim, they have dark skin, they hate us for our freedoms. If we're punishing them for the wrong crime, it all evens out because we're punishing them for some other crime or for their general criminal evilness.
Peter Enns has just published a book called Incarceration Nation that makes the case that punitiveness in U.S. public attitudes has played a huge role in the growth of mass incarceration. It may also have played a huge role in the growth of the permanent state of war. In absolute numbers and per-capita the United States dwarfs the rest of the world in war making and incarceration, and has seen huge growth in both in recent years. Enns cites studies finding that U.S. mass incarceration may actually increase rather than reduce crime. That finding has impacted U.S. debates on criminal punishment like a massive oak falling in a deserted forest. Nobody cares. What does it matter if mass incarceration increases crime? That's not the point. The point is to punish. And many are willing to be treated as criminals in airports, in banks, in schools, in their own neighborhoods, if it means that criminals are being severely punished. Many are willing to give the police the benefit of every doubt if racial and religious groups demonized by war propaganda are alleged to be a threat nearby.
Ending the U.S. system of counterproductive criminal punishment is as unthinkable in U.S. politics as ending the counterproductive "destroying of ISIS."
These ideas have to be unthinkable, because thinking about them could lead to radical change. Militarism and incarceration drain incredible resources from actually beneficial projects, they do horrendous damage to their victims and those victims' families, but also to prison guards, police, and members of the U.S. military. They increase racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence. They erode civil liberties. They destroy communities. They spread hatred and violence. They ruin lives. Their damage spreads for generations. Why is the United States tops in both of these evils? Are they connected?
Public opinion matters in any society. The United States is very far from democratic, but a cheap and easy way to gain electoral support while simultaneously pleasing ones funders has been to press policies labeled tough on crime and tough on terrorism. That these policies may increase crime and terrorism in comparison with other available and unconsidered options doesn't change this fact as long as people cry out for punishment at all costs. Careers in Washington, D.C., are not typically advanced by opposing wars. Prosecutors are not typically celebrated or rewarded for refraining from prosecuting the innocent. This problem is so universal as to go almost unnoticed.
I recently noticed a study by U.S. academics in the Journal of Peace Research, a study of whether the loss of lives or dollars increased or decreased U.S. public support for wars. The study only considered the loss of U.S. lives, even though the single biggest result of U.S. wars is the killing of foreigners. The possibility that the loss of non-U.S. lives could have any impact on U.S. support for wars was not deemed worthy even of consideration. The same could be said in many contexts for the prosecution of innocents in U.S. courts.
Scientists at Yale University who run experiments observing babies and toddlers claim that very, very young U.S. citizens exhibit a desire to see wrongdoers punished, even at a cost to themselves or others. These are, however, very young people who have been rapidly inhaling U.S. culture for months or years. And if we accept the unproven and perhaps unprovable claim that babies are somehow born with such desires, we still have to accept that 96% of humanity seems to set them aside in ways that people in the United States, when they grow older, do not.
Still, the author of the book Just Babies is onto something. He cites the phenomenon of internet lynch mobs. A video of a woman putting a cat in a dumpster can result in death threats. The exoneration of a man who witnessed a vicious crime and did not prevent it has led to widespread efforts to ruin his life. People not involved in these incidents in any way, hear about them and organize ways to cause punishment. That inclination to punish, to lynch, to "bring to justice," is also an inclination that has helped kill millions of people in the Middle East in recent decades and helped ruin millions of lives at the hands of the U.S. police and prison system.
If I'm right about this, then we could help reduce and end wars and reduce and eliminate incarceration by eliminating or radically reducing and reforming the desire to punish wrongdoers for the sake of that punishment, for the Schadenfreude, the punishment for punishment's sake. And we might be able to advance that cause by developing restorative justice at home and abroad.
I recommend Rebecca Gordon's new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. But I don't want to see Bush or Obama or Rumsfeld or Hillary Clinton suffer. I want to see understanding of their crimes developed, repetition of their crimes deterred, restitution for their crimes attempted, remorse and reconciliation advanced. In urging yet another people's tribunal without the power to punish, Gordon urges the importance of making reparations and accomplishing public acknowledgment. The first such tribunal I testified at regarding Bush-Cheney war crimes was in January 2006, over a decade ago. The trick will clearly be to do one and simultaneously purchase a television network. The important point here, however, is that the desire for truth and reconciliation without punishment is not uncommon. Even in the United States there are many cases of murder victims' families opposing excessive punishment of those convicted of the murder. And there are families of 9/11 victims who have opposed from the start using 9/11 as an excuse for wars.
One year ago today Baltimore police murdered Freddie Gray, and many believed that because the police had done it, it was punishment -- for something. When people protested, police were brought in from all over the area, including police who had been trained in occupying enemy territory in Israel, police with weapons given them by the U.S. military, police trained by the federal government to think of themselves as at war with the public rather than serving the public.
The people of the city of Baltimore gave the federal government in taxes last year $606 million just for the Department of so-called Defense, not counting wars, not counting so-called Homeland Security, not counting nukes in the Department of Energy or Mercenaries in the Department of State or veterans care or debt on past spending. The people of Baltimore handed over further millions to pay for those things, possibly $1 billion in all. And another billion this year, and another the next. It's not clear what the people of Baltimore get for that beyond chaos, disaster and hatred of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, a militarized police force, the damage to U.S. troops from Baltimore, the erosion of our civil rights, the destruction of our natural environment, and the lack of funding for human needs.
Activist groups seem to be making these connections with events titled things like "From Ferguson to Palestine." A group in Los Angeles called Fight for the Soul of Our Cities is planning a march and rally on April 22nd against the militarization of police. There's a huge opportunity available if opponents of war and incarceration recognize that they are up against the same forces, the same mental habits, the same propaganda, the same corruption. If we can build a bigger movement, we can achieve bigger goals. But if we build that movement around the desire to punish the latest warmonger or police chief we may be shooting ourselves in the foot. We may get farther in the long run if we build a movement around a vision of a world without wars, prisons, or poverty -- and without the desire to punish people.
At a post-screening discussion where I questioned the director of Eye in the Sky about the disconnect between his drone-kill movie and reality, he launched into a bunch of thought-experiment stuff of the sort I've tried to avoid since finishing my master's in philosophy. Mostly I've avoided hanging out with torture supporters.
If this were a philosophy paper I would now tell you that I am going to show that consequentialism is the most useful ethical framework. Then I would show you that. Then I would tell you I'd just shown you that. And the annoyingness would be only beginning. Luckily, I'm out of school and have told you my central concern in the headline.
Consequentialism, the idea that we should base our actions on the good or bad of the expected consequences, has always been very troubling to philosophy professors, possibly because of some of these reasons:
> It leaves ethics up to humans without any sort of pseudo-divine guidance.
> It means otherwise brilliant people like Immanuel Kant were quite wrong.
> Concluding that consequentialism is the way to go would eliminate the entire academic discipline of debating what is the way to go.
Clinton has a delegate lead thanks to 6 Deep South states: The Democratic Convention Pledged Delegates Story Nobody Talks About
By Dave Lindorff
Bernie Sanders is behind Hillary Clinton in the number of pledged delegates he has amassed over the course of just under two and a half weeks of primaries and caucuses. Her advantage in pledged delegates has fallen over the last month and a half from a high point of just over 300 to a current 213.
The problem’s that Clinton IS qualified for president: Is Bernie’s ‘Political Revolution’ the Real Thing or a Pathetic Joke?
By Dave Lindorff
Bernie Sanders had a shining moment last week at a massive rally in Philadelphia at the Temple University Liacouras Sports Center. The high point came when he mentioned that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had implied that he was “not qualified” to be president -- a charge that she has continued to make in a tense campaign for the April 19 Democratic primary in New York state.
Something’s happening in the presidential race: Clinton’s Crumbling, Bernie’s Surging ‘Political Revolution’ is in the Air
By Dave Lindorff
Philadelphia -- Something “YUGE” is happening in the Democratic presidential campaign, and perhaps in the broader American body politic. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but like that feeling of your neck hairs rising off your skin as a big thunderstorm approaches, you know it’s big and it’s coming.
By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
Last week Donald Trump suggested something Bernie Sanders would never dare: getting rid of NATO. I took some time to read people's comments and tweets online about it, and a huge number seemed to believe that NATO and the U.S. military have been performing a service for Europe, and that it's time for Europe to pay its own bills. But will someone explain to me what the service is?
The United States dragged NATO into a -- thus far -- over-14-year-long war on the people of Afghanistan that has turned a country in poor shape into hell on earth, compounding the damage inflicted by U.S. (and Soviet) policies since the 1970s.
The United States dragged European nations into a disastrous war in Iraq in 2003, without NATO. But when Belgium allowed a prosecution of U.S. commander in Iraq Tommy Franks to move forward, Donald Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels. Franks' apparent crimes suddenly became part of a noble and legal humanitarian effort.
The United States and France used NATO to destroy Libya in 2011 and proliferate weapons across the region. The United States and Turkey have been compounding the chaos by generating reasons for NATO to exist in Syria. And perhaps NATO headquarters views the wars that created ISIS, and the U.S. support for Al Qaeda in Syria in just those terms. But to an ordinary observer, a war on terrorism that continues to increase terrorism has a fundamental flaw.
Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer says the more the U.S. fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism. U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, says blowing people up with missiles is generating more blowback, not less. The CIA's own report says drone killing is counterproductive. Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence, says the same. Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts: "We're seeing that blowback. If you're trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you're going to upset people even if they're not targeted." Dozens of just retired top officials agree.
So, it seems, does much of the public in Europe, which turns out protests of NATO meetings, as well as wars, of a size rarely seen in the United States. When the U.S. military builds new bases in Italy, the protests are so huge they've toppled local and national governments. It was a vote of the House of Commons in London not to bomb Syria in 2013 that helped reverse President Obama's decision to do so. To tell the people of Europe that they must start taking responsibility to pay a greater share of the bill for killing Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, and Syrians, and for generating the blowback that sets off bombs in their train stations and airports, and for creating the refugee crises they face might prove just a step too far into the realm of delusion.
Thinking this way requires blowback denial, the Trumpian belief that Muslims do evil things because they are Muslims. The U.S. government knows better. George W. Bush's own Pentagon concluded that nobody hated us "for our freedoms" but rather they hated bombs and occupying armies, and free weapons and support for Israel's wars. One wishes it were needless to say that such motivations don't excuse acts of murder, but knowledge of such motivations puts additional blood on the hands of those continuing to generate them while engaging in blowback denial.
Climate denial is not so very different. Just as every anti-western terrorist says they're outraged by the bombs and bases and armies and buzzing drones, every scientific study says unnecessary and wasteful human activities (first among them: war making) are pushing the earth's ecosystem toward collapse. Yet billions of people fail to shut every thing down until basic policies are altered. And many fail to do anything at all to resist environmental devastation, by means of denying to themselves that it is real.
Clearly, the human species evolved to favor relatively short-term localized thinking. While more Americans are killed by dumb accidents, pollution, or toddlers with guns than by foreign terrorists with knives, the latter danger dominates all public policy thinking. While the earth is at severe risk of environmental or nuclear holocaust, the weather looks nice outside today and all the bears and leopards seem to have long since been killed off, so what's your worry?
When humans killed off those animals millennia ago, they replaced them with gods. Now humans pray to those gods rather than thinking. Now they wish for what they'd like and call it a prediction. Now they vote for hope and change and call it progress. And this habit of wishful thinking may be at the root of the greatest threats to end us all.
Hot time in the old town of Philly in July?: Washington, Alaska and Hawaii Blowout Wins Boost Sanders Nomination Odds
By Dave Lindorff
Stolen primary in Arizona?: Questioning Hillary’s Tuesday Primary Win Amid Widespread Evidence of Voter Suppression in Phoenix
By Dave Lindorff
It sure looks like there was some voter fraud committed in the Democratic primary in Arizona on Tuesday.
By John Grant
Since the coup, Honduras has become one of the most dangerous places in the world.
Why I won’t be voting for Hillary in November: A Neolib Posing as a Progressive vs. a Reality TV Star Posing as a Fascist
By Dave Lindorff
I won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton if she wins the Democratic Party nomination for president, and I won’t heed Bernie Sanders if, as he has vowed to do, he calls on his supporters to “come together” after the convention, should he lose, to support Clinton and prevent Donald Trump or another Republican from becoming president.
Sanders to keep campaigning: Decrying Clinton’s Wall Street and Oil Industry Bribes, Bernie Soldiers On
Profile in lack of courage: Sen. Warren has Betrayed the Cause the Put Her in the Senate and Once Made Her a Hero to Millions
By Dave Lindorff
Sen. Elizabeth Warren just had a chance to turn the tide in this rigged Democratic primary season last Tuesday, and she ran away from it.
DNC defection: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Surprise Endorsement Gives Sanders a Chance to Change the Whole Primary Game
By Dave Lindorff
Just as the media, in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s landslide win in South Carolina’s Democratic primary Saturday, are predictably writing the obituary for Bernie Sanders’ upstart and uphill campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has handed him an opportunity to jolt the American people awake.
I’m just sayin’... Who Cares About Democratic Primary Results in South Carolina -- a State Democrats Will Lose in November?
By Dave Lindorff
I'll be the first to admit I'm no pollster or even political scientist, but when I read that Bernie Sanders is going to be crushed by Hillary Clinton in Saturday's primary in South Carolina, the state that fired the opening shots in the Civil War and that only last year took down a Confederate battle flag in front of the capitol building, I have to shake my head at the absurdity of it.