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Michigan's First Congressional District is cold enough to freeze spit. Half of it is disconnected from the rest of Michigan and tacked onto the top of Wisconsin. A bit of it is further north than that, but rumored to be inhabited nonetheless.
In the recent Congressional elections, incumbent Republican Congressman Dan Benishek was reelected to his third term with 52 percent of the votes. Benishek is a climate-change denier and committed to limiting himself to three terms, a pair of positions that may end up working well together.
Benishek's predecessor in Congress was a Democrat, and a Democrat took 45 percent of the vote this year. Will that Democrat run again in 2016? Some would argue that if he does it should be from prison. Before he ran for office, Jerry Cannon ran the U.S. death camp at Guantanamo and, according to a witness, was personally responsible for ordering torture.
Green Party candidate Ellis Boal took 1 percent of the vote in Michigan's First, after apparently failing to interest corporate media outlets in his campaign, and by his own account failing utterly to interest them in what he managed to learn about Cannon, who also "served" in the war in Iraq.
Now, Congress is jam-packed with members of both major parties who have effectively condoned and covered up torture for years. Both parties have elected numerous veterans of recent wars who have participated in killing in wars that they themselves, in some cases, denounce as misguided. And we've read about the Bush White House overseeing torture in real time from afar. But it still breaks new ground for the party of the President who has claimed to be trying to close Guantanamo for six years to put up as a candidate a man who ran the place, and a man whose role in torture was not entirely from his air-conditioned office.
I would also venture to say that it breaks new media ground for the news outlets covering the recent election nationally and locally in Michigan's First District to not only miss this story but actively refuse to cover it when Boal held it in their faces and screamed. "Despite many attempts," Boal says, "I have been unable to interest any media in it, save for a small newspaper in Traverse City (near me) which gave it cursory attention."
Boal sent out an offer to any reporter willing to take an interest: "I located a witness, a former detainee now cleared and back home in Bosnia, who can testify of an instance of torture visited on him in early 2004, ordered and supervised by Cannon. I can put you in touch with him through his attorney. The details of the incident are here. . . . Without success I tried to make it a campaign issue."
Jerry Cannon, according to both Wikipedia and his own website, first "served" in the war that killed three to four million Vietnamese. He was commander of the Joint Detention Operations Group Joint Task Force Guantanamo from 2003 to 2004. He was Deputy Commanding General responsible for developing Iraqi police forces in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, and U.S. Forces-Iraq Provost Marshal General and Deputy Commanding General for Detention Operations in Iraq from 2010 to 2011. Boy, everything this guy touches turns out golden!
Boal has collected evidence of torture during Cannon's time at Guantanamo, from the Red Cross, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the U.S. Senate, and public reports including in the New York Times, here.
Boal focuses on Mustafa Ait Idir, a former prisoner of Guantanamo who, like most, has been widely written about, and who, like most, has been found innocent of any wrong-doing and been released (in November 2008 after years of wrongful imprisonment).
Mustafa Ait Idir says that soldiers at Guantanamo threw him down on rocks and jumped on him, causing injuries including a broken finger, dislocated knuckles, and half his face paralyzed; they sprayed chemicals in his face, squeezed his testicles, and slammed his head on the floor and jumped on him. They bent his fingers back to cause pain, and broke one of them in the process. They stuck his head in a toilet and flushed it. They stuck a hose in his mouth and forced water down his throat. They refused him medical attention.
Boal communicated with Idir through Idir's lawyer, and Idir identified Cannon from photos and a video as the man who had threatened him with punishment if he did not hand over his pants. (Prisoners who believed they needed pants in order to pray were being stripped of their pants as a means of humiliation and abuse.) Idir refused to give up his pants unless he could have them back to wear for praying. Consequently, he was "enhanced interrogated."
Torture and complicity in torture are felonies under U.S. law, a fact that the entire U.S. political establishment has gone to great lengths to obscure.
I shared the information above with Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, and she replied:
"Torture is a 'non-partisan' practice in this country. It's beyond disgraceful that the Democratic Party would run Jerry Cannon for Congress. Sadly, while most (but clearly not all!) Dems have repudiated torture in words, their deeds have been more ambiguous. Five years after President Obama took office, the prison at Guantánamo remains open, and torture continues there. The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture has yet to be released. (Perhaps lame duck senator Mark Udall will be persuaded to read the whole thing into the Congressional Record, as some of us are hoping.) We have yet to get a full accounting, not only of the CIA's activities, but of all U.S. torture in the 'war on terror.' Equally important, President Obama made it clear at the beginning of his first term that no one would be held accountable for torture. 'Nothing will be gained,' he said 'by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.' But we know this is not true. When high government officials know that they can torture with impunity, torture will continue."
Noting Cannon's resume post-Guantanamo, Gordon said, "Under the al-Maliki government, the Iraqi police force, and in particular the detention centers operated by the Iraqi Special Police Commandos, routinely abused members of Iraq's Sunni communities, thereby further inflaming the political and social enmity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. When the so-called Islamic State began operating in Iraq, they found willing collaborators in Sunni communities whose members had been tortured by the al-Maliki government's police. When Jerry Cannon went to Guantánamo, he went as an Army reservist. In civilian life he was Sheriff of Kalkaska County in Michigan. Cannon's abusive practices and contemptuous attitudes towards detainees did not originate in Guantánamo. He brought them with him from the United States. Similarly, in civilian life, the members of the reservist unit responsible for the famous outrages at Abu Ghraib were prison guards from West Virginia. Their ringleader, Specialist Charles Graner, famously wrote home to friends about his activities at Abu Ghraib, 'The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, "I love to make a grown man piss himself."' In fact, if you want to find torture hidden in plain sight, look no farther than the jails and prisons of this country."
The mystery of where torture came from turns out to be no mystery at all. It came from the prison industrial complex. And it's now been so mainstreamed that it's no bar to running for public office. But here's another mystery: Why is President Obama going to such lengths to cover up his predecessor's torture, including insisting on redactions in the Senate report on CIA torture that even Senator Dianne Feinstein claims not to want censored? Surely it's not because of all the gratitude Obama's receiving from former President Bush or his supporters! Actually, it's no mystery at all. As Gordon points out: the torture is ongoing.
President Elect Obama made very clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike." In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoned a media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policy would lead one to expect.
In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney said that Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reported that the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.
As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation and during occupation 3.0. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).
"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?" Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.
Those retaining some sense of decency are currently urging the Obama administration to go easy in its punishment of a nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding, who in fact insisted on being "who we are."
By John Grant
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A controversial government contractor once again finds itself in hot water, or in this case, melting glacier water.
TransCanada chose Environmental Resources Management Group (ERM) as one of its contractors to conduct the environmental impact statement for Keystone XL on behalf of the U.S. State Department. ERM Group also happens to have green-lighted a gold mining project in central Asia that is now melting glaciers.
ERM Group has a penchant for rubber-stamping projects that have had tragic environmental and public health legacies. For example, ERM formerly worked on behalf of the tobacco industry to pitch the safety of its deadly product.
A January 2014 study about Keystone XL's climate change impacts published in the journal Nature Climate Change paints a drastically different picture than ERM Group's Keystone XL tar sands study.
The Kumtor Gold Mine, owned by Centerra Gold/Cameco Corporation, was provided a stamp of approval from ERM Group in October 2012. Similar to the TransCanada arrangement with the State Department on Keystone XL, Centerra served as the funder of the report evaluating its own project.
"The mine sits at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, in the Tien Shan mountain range and among some of Kyrgyzstan's - and the region's - most important glaciers," explained an October 28 story published in Asia Times.
"Centerra Gold has consistently dismissed as untrue that operations at Kumtor have had negative implications for the glaciers, which are reportedly melting with observable speed due to years of dumping rock tailings onto the ice sheet. The Canadian company has backed its position with expert evaluations from consultancies such as Environmental Resources Management."
A case can be made that democracy worked in this month's U.S. midterm elections, while representative democracy failed miserably.
On ballot initiatives all across the country, people in so-called red and blue states voted for raising the minimum wage, banning fracking, funding schools, taxing millionaires and billionaires, legalizing marijuana, reducing prison sentences, providing paid sick leave, and imposing background checks on gun purchases.
Want smaller government? I think we've found a worthy replacement. Let people govern themselves. They do a fine, fine job of it.
Imagine if candidates or a political party pushed for restoring a decent value to the minimum wage, banning fracking, and the whole rest of that agenda. I bet some people would vote for such candidates. And I mean even with the gerrymandering, the suppression and intimidation, the unverifiable voting machines, the disgusting negative advertising, the even more disgusting media coverage, and the legalized bribery system in all its glory, you would still see more people turn out to vote and to vote for progressive candidates -- if there were progressive candidates on the ballot and in the media in the same way that the current crop of Democrats and Republicans are.
But the candidates would have to be believable. People would have to get the sense that there were things the candidates cared about and would work their hardest for, that they couldn't be bought off with dollars or favors or rewards from a party leadership. The fact is that busy overworked and under-informed voters and potential voters primarily want to reject the current broken system. With nobody proposing to make the system better, those proposing to make it even worse attract support away from those proposing to muddle along more or less in the same dreary mess with a grumbled complaint or two. And, yes, every single candidate looked unworthy of voting for to the majority of potential voters. They stayed home.
Early indications are that neither the new Republican Congress nor the Democratic minority (nor President Obama) will be pushing for national legislation on the model of what voters just passed in ballot initiatives.
On the contrary, the Republican Congress expects to find a willing partner in President Obama for a conservative agenda that only a minority of Americans support. The White House and Republicans are talking up the NAFTA-on-steroids Trans-Pacific Partnership that nobody campaigned on.
Obama apparently will delay until January a vote on the war he's already intensifying in Iraq and Syria. His FCC is pushing for the elimination of internet neutrality. (Obama himself just spoke again in support of net neutrality, but whether actions follow words is always a big question.) The new Congress will be pushing for the tar sands pipeline that Obama has for years refused to stop.
Obama's surveillance state will have a willing partner, as will his agenda of burying information on the crimes of his predecessor.
And if you expect Congressional Democrats to push back strongly in support of middle class and working class Americans, you see something in them that many voters don't.
After the last midterms, the Occupy movement and related resistance movements began germinating. What sort of independent popular pressure will be brought to bear now? One place to start is by saying no to Republibama government.
Bush Family, Inner Circle at Center of Lawsuits vs. Denton, TX Fracking Ban<p>On November 4, <a href="http://www.desmogblog.com/
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
George P. Bush; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
On November 4, Denton, Texas, became the first city in the state to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") when 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the initiative. It did so in the heart of the Barnett Shale basin, where George Mitchell — the "father of fracking" — drilled the first sample wells for his company Mitchell Energy.
As promised by the oil and gas industry and by Texas Railroad Commission commissioner David Porter, the vote was met with immediate legal backlash. Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) filed lawsuits in Texas courts within roughly 12 hours of the vote taking place, the latest actions in the aggressive months-long campaign by the industry and the Texas state government to fend off the ban.
The Land Office and TXOGA lawsuits, besides making similar legal arguments about state law preempting local law under the Texas Constitution, share something else in common: ties to former President George W. Bush and the Bush family at large.
In the Land Office legal case, though current land commissioner Jerry Patterson signed off on the lawsuit, he will soon depart from office. And George Prescott Bush — son of former Florida Governor and prospective 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — will take his place.
George P. Bush won his land commissioner race in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the vote. Given the cumbersome and lengthy nature of litigation in the U.S., it appears the Land Office case will have only just begun by the time Bush assumes the office.
The TXOGA legal complaint was filed by a powerful team of attorneys working at the firm Baker Botts, the international law firm named after the familial descendants of James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm.
Baker III served as chief-of-staff under both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and as a close advisor to President George W. Bush on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He gave George P. Bush a $10,000 donation for his campaign for his race for land commissioner.
Photo Credit: Texas Land Commission
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which exempts the oil and gas industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for fracking, is seen by critics as the legacy of ashes left behind by the George W. Bush Administration.
Yet almost a decade later, the two lawsuits filed against Denton show the Bush oil and gas legacy clearly lives on and stretches from the state where the fracking industry was born all the way to Iraq and back again.
Hot tub poll shows Republicans don’t like their politicians: Election Night Wasn’t a GOP Victory, It was a Democratic Rout
By Dave Lindorff
The sclerotic Democratic Party was trounced yet again yesterday, as Republicans outdid projections and appear to have taken at least seven Senate seats away from the Democrats, giving them control of the both houses of Congress.
By Harvey Wasserman
The GOP/corporate coup d’etat is nearly complete.
The Republicans now control the major media, the Supreme Court, the Congress and soon the presidency.
Think Jeb Bush in 2016.
All throughout America, right down to the local level, buried in a tsunami of cash and corruption, our public servants are being morphed into corporate operatives.
Our electoral apparatus is thoroughly compromised by oceans of dirty money, Jim Crow registration traps, rigged electronic voting machines, gerrymandering, corrupt secretaries of state.
The internet may be next. Above all, if there is one thing that could save us a shred of democracy, it’s preserving net neutrality. This fight could in fact outweigh all the others, and may be decided soon. Whatever depression you may now feel, shake it off to wage this battle. If we now lose the ability to freely communicate, we are in the deepest hole of all.
The roots of this corporate coup reach where they always do when empires collapse---useless, cancerous, debilitating, endless imperial war.
Lyndon Johnson lit the fuse in March, 1965. He had a chance to get us out of Vietnam. For many complex reasons---none of them sane---he escalated. He never recovered, and neither has our nation.
In 1967-8, an aroused generation marched for peace at the Pentagon, Chicago and elsewhere. We were accused of shattering the Democratic Party. But in fact we forced Johnson to negotiate a pre-election truce that might have saved the presidency for Hubert Humphrey.
As we all now know, that truce was treasonously sabotaged by Richard Nixon, in league with Henry Kissinger. LBJ knew what had been done, but said nothing. Had he trusted the American public with that knowledge, Nixon would have been gone long before Watergate, the war might have ended far sooner, the Democratic Party might still have meant something.
Instead, the party and the rest of us became prisoners of imperial war, captives of the corporations that profit from it.
From Watergate all we got was a punchless, corporate Jimmy Carter.
And from a dozen hellish years of Reagan-Bush, we got a showy, corporate Bill Clinton...and not a single substantial social reform. But the corporations got NAFTA, gutted social welfare, soaring college tuitions, abolition of New Deal safeguards against Wall Street greed, and much more.
They also got the death of the Fairness Doctrine from Reagan, and then a 1996 telecommunications act from Clinton that gave them full control of the major media. The age of Fox “News” was born in double-think.
Meanwhile Al Gore and John Kerry allowed the corporations to gut our electoral system. Gore won in 2000, saw the election stolen in Florida, and---like LBJ with Nixon’s treason---said not a word. It was absurdly easier to blame Ralph Nader for Gore’s blithe discard than to buckle down and fight for an election protection apparatus to preserve the vote so many had fought and died to win.
Kerry won in 2004, saw the election stolen in Ohio, and repeated Gore’s meek, mute skulk to oblivion. The Democrats let a corporate Jim Crow gut the registration process, deny millions of Americans their vote, install a national network of easily flippable electronic voting machines...and they said nothing.
Along the way the Supreme Court was handed to the corporations. Soon enough, they would open the floodgates.
But from the ashes of the Iraq war and the horrors of Bush 2, enough public power remained in 2008 to finally put an African-American in the White House. With his apparent opposition to the Iraq War, and loads of rhetoric about hope and change, Barak Obama won a mandate to heal the wounds inflicted by yet another Bush corporate presidency.
Obama expanded national medical coverage, and talked the talk of the global ecology and public good.
Then he sank us in the quicksand of Southwest Asia.
In analyzing this latest electoral debacle, our Orwellian corporate bloviators avoid like the plague any mention of corporate money or imperial war.
But like LBJ in Vietnam...Afghanistan and Obama’s other wars have gutted his presidency and all he might have been. They’ve drained our shrunken moral and financial resources. They’ve turned yet another Democratic harbinger of hope into feeble corporate cannon fodder. They’ve battered and alienated yet another generation of the progressive core.
Thus the GOP has been enthroned by a half-century of Democrats who’ve helped drag us into endless war, ignored our electoral rights and sold their souls---and the nation’s---to a zombie army of corporate operatives.
The money power has ruled this nation before. This time it means a whole new level of all-out war against social justice, our basic rights, our ability to live in harmony with our Mother Earth.
Beset by a whole new level of global disaster, we have no choice but to find some completely new answers. Our survival depends on it.
It will take all our creative and activist juices. Nothing is clear except that it won’t be easy.
And that no matter which corporate party tries to lead us there, the path to the promised land does not go through the deadly quicksand of imperial war, empty rhetoric or corrupted elections.
HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is at www.solartopia.org, as is his SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH.
"Vote. It's the American thing to do!" read an email I received yesterday. Actually it's the just-about-anywhere-else thing to do. U.S. voters lead the world in staying home and not bothering.
There are three schools of thought as to why, all of which I think are largely correct.
1. They don't make it easy. Americans, in many cases, have to work long hours in unlivable cities, go through a hassle to register to vote, wait in long lines, produce photo IDs, and get past intimidation, scams, and fraudulent removal from voter rolls.
2. Americans are idiots. This explanation is not always thought through, but the U.S. public is constantly indoctrinated with a belief in its own powerlessness, informed that action will make no difference, and distracted from civic engagement by bread and circuses.
3. There's nobody on the ballot worth voting for. The districts have been gerrymandered. The media, the debates, and the ballot-access rules all favor the incumbent or, at best, the two corporate political parties. The candidates flooding the airwaves with often quite accurate negative advertisements about how awful their opponents are have been bribed to hold similarly awful positions by the extremely wealthy interests paying for the show. And your vote for the greater or lesser evil of the two similar candidates is often counted on a completely unverifiable machine. Why bother?
Well, one trick that candidates and parties have come up with to get more people into voting booths is the public initiative or referendum. If people can vote to make a direct decision on something they're passionate about, many of them will also go ahead and vote for the candidates whose platforms are infinitesimally closer to their own positions. Thus you have Democrats and Republicans supporting placing measures on the ballot that they believe will attract either more Democrats or more Republicans.
In 2004, Floridians put a minimum wage vote on the ballot, meant both to raise the minimum wage and to elect Democrats. But John Kerry opposed Florida's minimum wage initiative. Floridians (assuming, based totally on faith, that the count was accurate) rejected Kerry while, of course, passing the minimum wage. So, as a trick to win votes for candidates, this tool requires candidates who aren't bigger idiots than voters are. But as a positive development on its own, the referenda and initiatives on ballots around the country today offer good reason to vote in some places.
Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, San Francisco, and Oakland will almost certainly raise (that is restore lost value to) the minimum wage.
Alaska, Florida, Oregon, Washington, D.C.; Guam; South Portland, Maine; Lewiston, Maine; and lots of localities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Mexico will vote on various forms of marijuana legalization.
In 50 localities in Wisconsin and in countless others across the country, people will vote for funding for schools.
In Illinois, voters can vote to tax all income over $1 million an additional 3 percent to fund schools.
Localities in California, Ohio, and Texas will have the opportunity to ban fracking by popular vote.
In Washington state and elsewhere, voters can vote to impose background checks on gun purchases. Betting on passage, the gun companies are urging people (criminals in particular, I guess) to buy now before it's too late.
So, my recommendation is to check out what things, if any, rather than people, you have a chance to vote for. By all means, stop being an idiot who imagines activism is pointless. But don't jump to the conclusion that voting is one of the top priorities. Check whether there isn't perhaps something actually worth voting for, or a way to make there be such a thing next time.
Is it worse to put into Congress or the White House someone who wants to end wars and dismantle much of the military but also wants to abolish Social Security and Medicare and the Department of Education and several other departments they have trouble remembering the names of, OR someone who just wants to slightly trim all of those departments around the edges while waging countless wars all over the world in the name of every heretofore imagined human right other than the right not to get blown up with a missile?
Can dismantling the military without investing in diplomacy and aid and cooperative conflict resolution actually avoid wars? Can a country that continues waging wars at every opportunity actually avoid abolishing domestic services? I would hope that everyone would be willing to reject both libertarians and humanitarian-warriors even when it means rejecting both the Republican and the Democratic Parties. I would also hope that each of those parties would begin to recognize the danger they are in and change their ways.
Democrats should consider this: States within the United States are developing better and worse wages, labor standards, environmental standards, healthcare systems, schools, and civil liberties. The Washington Post is advising people on which foreign nations to go to college in for free -- nations that both tax wealth and invest between 0 and 4 percent of the U.S. level in militarism. A federal government that stopped putting a trillion dollars a year into wars and war preparations, with all the accompanying death, trauma, destruction, environmental damage, and loss of liberties, begins to look like a decent tradeoff for a federal government ending lots of other things it does, from its very minimal security net to massive investment in fossil fuels and highways. Of course it's still a horrible tradeoff, especially if you live in one of the more backward states, as I do. But it begins to look like less of a horrible tradeoff, I think, as we come to realize that representative democracy can work at the state and local levels, and the major crises of climate and war can only be solved at the global level, while the national government we have is too big to handle our local needs and is itself the leading opponent of peace and sustainability on earth.
With that in mind, consider a leading face of the Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton. She's openly corrupted by war profiteers. She was too corrupt to investigate Watergate. Wall Street Republicans back her, and she believes in "representing banks." She'd be willing to "obliterate" Iran. She laughed gleefully about killing Gadaffi and bringing Libya into the liberated state of hell it's now in, with violence having spilled into neighboring nations since. She threw her support and her vote behind attacking Iraq in 2003. She is a leading militarist and authoritarian who turned the State Department into a war-making machine pushing weapons and fracking on the world, and she supports the surveillance state. There's a strong feminist argument against her. The pull of superior domestic rhetoric is strong, but not everyone will see a candidate who backed a war that killed a million dark-skinned Iraqis as the anti-racist candidate.
Republicans should consider this: Your star senator, Rand Paul, can be relied on to talk complete sense about the madness of war, right up until people get scared by beheading videos, and then he's in favor of the madness of war, if still so far short of all-out backing of war-on-the-world as to horrify the Washington Post. He has backed cancelling all foreign aid, except for military foreign "aid" up to $5 billion, mostly in free weapons for Israel. He used to favor serious cuts to military spending, but hasn't acted on that and now has John McCain's support as a good "centrist." He supports racist policies while hoping not to be seen doing so, and was against the Civil Rights Act before he was for it. He thinks kids should drive 10 miles to find a good school or get educated online.
Everyone should consider this: Candidates like the above two are so horrible, and end up moving ever closer to each other's positions, that the real choice is between them and someone decent. If the choice ever really arises between a libertarian who opposes war (many self-identified libertarians love war and are only against peaceful spending) and a humanitarian warrior with something to offer domestically (many humanitarian warriors don't have much of an upside elsewhere) it could shake up some people's blind partisanship. By why wait? Why not shake it up now? Why not start now investing energy in activism rather than elections, including activism to reform elections and how they are funded? Why not start now voting for candidates we don't have to hold our noses for? Six years into the Obama presidency, we have peace groups -- not all of them, thank goodness -- but we have peace groups putting everything into electing Democrats, after which they plan to oppose advocating for peace, instead backing limited war. It isn't the lesser-evil voting that kills us; it's the lesser-evil thinking that somehow never gets left behind in the voting booth.
I was lucky to attend a debate among the candidates for Congress from Virginia's Fifth District just before game 7 of the world series. This was the kind of event you can write about while drinking beer and yelling at a television with your family. In fact, I'm not sure there's any other way you could write about it.
Here are our choices for the House of Misrepresentatives:
The incumbent Robert Hurt, a fairly typically horrendous Republican, if a bit less of a warmonger than his Democratic predecessor, didn't make a fool of himself at all on Wednesday evening. On the contrary, he disgraced himself by not showing up. Of course, the debate was in the left-leaning corner of a district gerrymandered to keep him in Washington for life, barring a mass movement of a few thousand people for one of his opponents. He would have answered most of the evening's questions as badly or worse than anyone else there, and that's saying something. One of the questions, submitted by me on a 3x5 card, was this:
Roughly 53% of federal discretionary spending goes to militarism. How much should?
I doubt very much that Hurt would have answered the question clearly and directly had he been there.
Ken Hildebrandt, an Independent Green who spoke often if vaguely about cutting the military, answered my question by offering arguments that UFOs had visited Roswell. Asked about climate change, he argued that chem-trails from airplanes are manipulating our weather. Pretty much all the other questions he answered: "Hemp." Hildebrandt is a bit of a mixed bag. He wants progressive taxation but no gun laws. He wants single-payer health coverage but calls it "public option" and claims that life expectancy in the United States is in the 40s. (During the whole debate, neither the moderator nor any candidate ever corrected another's factual errors, and the opportunities were plentiful.) Hildebrandt wants to stop subsidizing Lockheed and Boeing, but has nothing to say on a lot of topics, seems to think the two men sitting next to him would be about as good in office as he would, runs for office every two years as a routine, has a wife running in the next district, and -- less peacefully than one might wish -- calls the incumbent a "monster."
Behind Curtain 2 is Paul Jones, a Libertarian. He said he'd cut military spending in half immediately, that it's not defensive. "Who's going to attack us?" he asks. "It's ludicrous! The reason they would attack us is that we're over there all the time. . . . Nobody ever wins a war." Not bad, huh? He wants to end the surveillance state too. Of course, you had to be there to hear him mumble it all. But here's the downside. He wants that $500,000,000,000 to all go into tax cuts. He also objects to the term "discretionary spending." It's all discretionary, he says, no matter what some politician says (such as in a law putting Social Security out of his government-shrinking reach). Also he'd like to cut most of the rest of the government too, including eliminating a bunch of departments -- although, unlike Rick Perry, he didn't attempt to name any of them. He also wants to pay off the debt, use the free market for healthcare (while assisting the poor) and get immigrants to start paying taxes (huh?). He claims no laws can keep guns from criminals or the mentally ill. He claims that India produces more greenhouse gases than the United States.
Last up is Democrat Lawrence Gaughan. He was the most professional, articulate presence. He said he agreed with the other two gentlemen a lot, but it wasn't clear what he meant. He said he agreed "100%" with Jones on military spending. So, does he want to cut it by 50% right away? Will he introduce a bill to do that? He criticized Hurt for supporting the new war in Iraq. He called the Pentagon a "Department of Offense." But he said repeatedly that he would cut $1 trillion in military spending, which obviously meant $1 trillion over some number of years, probably at best 10 years, which would mean $100 billion a year. He claimed that the Democratic Party opposes war. And he claimed that his pro-war predecessor Tom Perriello is working with President Obama to reduce overseas bases. (All of this with a very straight face.)
That combination of comments makes Gaughan by far the best Democratic or Republican candidate in this district in living memory, but a bit of a question mark in terms of follow through. Hildebrandt said he wouldn't have compromised on "public option." Gaughan said that he both favored "public option" (clearly meaning to say "single payer") and would have sought a "more bi-partisan solution." Wow. Gaughan is not even in DC yet and he's talking as if we're bothered by "gridlock" more than bad healthcare. He wants to tax corporations and billionaires. He mentions "the 1%" a lot. But he favors a "leaner, more efficient government." Hildebrandt mentioned publicly financed elections. Gaughan said he wanted to "get the money out of elections" without saying how. He wants immigrants to have a path to citizenship, and he wants to "tighten borders." He sees the top problem as the concentration of wealth and power, but he sees the root cause of that as low voter turnout (what?). He's for background checks on guns and recognizing the reality of climate change, but one doesn't sense a major push for radical transformation. He talks about saving the climate by creating a better America, not a better planet.
Gaughan said he wasn't taking money from the Democratic Party in Washington. That makes him different from Perriello, who proved very obedient to his "leaders." No doubt the DCCC isn't offering money because they don't think any Democrat has a chance in VA-05. If we were to elect Gaughan, he might not lead Congress toward peace and justice, but he'd come a lot closer to actually meriting the praise that liberal groups gave Perriello, and he just might be answerable to the people who elected him rather than the party that didn't buy his ticket to Washington. A liberal Democratic Party elections group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, is basing its national elect-Democrats work out of Charlottesville, but none of the candidates they're backing are from Virginia.
By Erin Niemela
The 2014 general elections are around the corner and candidates are walking political tightropes in hopes of earning our votes. But, what if candidates had to earn the votes of all the people whose lives would be directly impacted by their appointment?
Imagine the speech Sen. Lindsey Graham would need to give the citizens of Syria in order to earn their votes, particularly those who spent a year dutifully working nonviolently for democratic transformation in the face of brutal repression only to see their efforts quickly degrade with every US arms transfer. Graham was one of the first US politicians to openly endorse arming Syrian rebel factions. He’s now endorsing an American commitment of 10,000 boots-on-the-ground in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIL, because the airstrikes that have killed more than a dozen civilians and sent hundreds of thousands more refugees to Turkey aren’t helping enough.
This is our 13th year of war in Afghanistan. What if Afghan citizens were allowed to vote? Would candidates address the 77 percent of Afghans who said they fear encountering international forces, as recorded in the December 2013 Asia Foundation survey, “Afghanistan in 2013: A Survey of the Afghan People.” Would it be enough for Afghans that candidates addressed their top national and local concern – insecurity – while ignoring close second and third concerns – unemployment and corruption? It’s difficult to imagine how our candidates might appeal to the 68 percent of Afghan respondents who would be afraid to participate in a peaceful demonstration – for fear of foreign forces.
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism of the holy name of liberty of democracy?” Mahatma Gandhi asked this question in his 1942 text “Non-Violence in Peace and War.” Perhaps it’s time to direct this question to our democratically elected politicians who enact the violent foreign policies that bring suffering into the lives of everyday people abroad.
If our government continues to authorize and implement violence against global citizens in our name, on our behalf, through claims of democracy, then it is our duty to vote on their behalf.
But, let’s not confine ourselves to representative democracy. Our representatives get the gigs with votes, but also with major obligations, as reported by the New York Times on Oct. 10, 2014, to the secret donors paying for more than half of fancy general election advertisements. What’s in order is some good old-fashioned direct democracy; our government’s misconduct around the world must be met with civil resistance at every opportunity.
Majority rule should never trump human rights. Citizens in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq don’t get to vote, but they certainly feel the full weight of any results. It’s our obligation to the disenfranchised recipients of violent US foreign policies to use our supreme powers of disruption and disobedience to degrade every sector and institution until justice is served – for democracy’s sake.
Brad Friedman is the investigative blogger, journalist, broadcaster, trouble-maker and muckraker from BradBlog.com. He is a regular contributor to Salon.com and elsewhere; host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's BradCast and the nationally-syndicated Green News Report with co-host Desi Doyen. We discuss war and peace, the environment and its destruction, and voting and everything done to prevent it. As Michael Moore says: It's a comedy!
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Freedom’s just another word: US Launches Wars and Backs Coups in the Name of Democracy, but Won’t Back Real Democracy Activists
By Dave Lindorff
The US claims to be supporting democracy from Ukraine to Cuba, and from Somalia to Iraq, often by bombing the alleged opposition, or by supporting proxy wars and subversion. But one place where real democracy activists are battling against the forces of repression they are curiously getting no backing from the United States: Hong Kong.
By Michael Caddell
North Jefferson County, Kansas -- The Sept. 6, 2014 Kansas State Fair debates in Hutchinson, with a maximum arena crowd of 2500, had satellite trucks linked to MSNBC, CNN and reporters from as far away as New York. Certainly proof something was happening in Kansas, but for too many in the state that “something” remains unknown.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
A DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Kristina Moore, the Senate staffer listed as the author of U.S. Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) "green billionaire's club" report published by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on July 30, has career roots tracing back to the Koch Brothers' right-wing machine.
Democracy...going, going gone: Leaving Brennan as CIA Director Means the Triumph of Secret Government
By Dave Lindorff
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says that John Brennan, the director of the CIA who has finally admitted that he lied when he angrily and repeatedly insisted that the agency did not spy on staff members of the Senate committee charged with oversight US intelligence agencies, “has a lot of work to do,” before she can forgive him for lying to and spying on her committee.
As Israel continues its unspeakable brutality, violating not only international law but basic human decency by targeting children, hospitals, mosques and private residences, its many outrages are being widely publicized, thanks to social media. One can access YouTube and see Israeli soldiers using Palestinian children as human shields. Facebook is awash with pictures of bloody, dismembered, dead children, victims of ‘the most moral army in the world’. Twitter is filled with links, all showing not only the horrors that Israel is inflicting, but the many worldwide demonstrations supporting Palestine. Numerous large such demonstrations have been held in Israel itself.
In this local TV news interview (video), we see Virginia Fifth District Democratic nominee for Congress Lawrence Gaughan say, "We need to get back to the Constitution on the issue of war, and I will never authorize the executive to use force when there is no direct or imminent threat to our national security here on our soil."
I'm not aware of a stronger statement from any candidate for Congress.
Virginia's Fifth District is currently misrepresented by Republican Robert Hurt who on Thursday voted against blocking funds for a new war on Iraq:
Prior to Hurt, VA-05 was misrepresented by Democrat Tom Perriello, an enthusiastic warmonger who recently moved to the State Department from the Center for American Progress, which is advocating for missile strikes on Iraq.
Prior to Perriello, this district was embarrassed and disgraced by Democrat turned Republican Virgil Goode.
When people voted for Perriello (and Obama) in 2008, many blindly followed a party line, and many fantasized that they were electing an anti-war representative.
Many imagined Hurt was hopeless in this regard, although he did prove willing in the end to oppose missile strikes into Syria.
Now, as it happens, there appears to be an opportunity to vote for someone who is actually running on an antiwar platform, not just a platform of being from a different party than Bush and Cheney. And what a platform!
It's quite common to say you'll only back wars when "U.S. national interests are at stake" or when the U.S. is threatened, but those phrases can usually be defined to mean anything at all, including U.S. troops halfway around the globe getting into a shoot out. That's not what Gaughan has said. He has said there must be a threat to the United States in the United States. That's a rejection of at least the past 70 years of U.S. war making.
It's also common to claim that one will take a decent position against wars if asked by the President. That's not what Gaughan has said. He has said that he will abide by the Constitution, which does not allow presidents to make wars, and that he will not permit the executive to wage wars except under the narrow circumstances described.
We're not going to find better than this around here for a long, long time to come, and I doubt anybody can find better elsewhere in the country.
I therefore suggest that wherever you live, you consider supporting putting this man in Congress.
By Dave Lindorff
The rat, among mammals, is one of the most successful animals on the planet. Cunning, ruthless, competitive and above all adaptable -- it is able to change its habits quickly as needed to accommodate the situation it finds itself in.
When it comes to foreign policy, the US government is filled with rats.
The media is awash with information about a potential presidential run by Hillary Clinton. She has the overwhelming support of Democrats, unparalleled name-recognition, and the assurance of more money for her campaign than either candidate had in the historically-expensive Obama-Romney match-up of 2012. Her credentials – mastermind of her husband’s comeback campaign for Governor of Arkansas, former first lady, former senator from a heavily populated state, presidential candidate, former Secretary of State – look very impressive, if one doesn’t look too closely. However, it is high time one did so.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there's an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry's push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") plays the same game.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there's an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry's push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") plays the same game.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Photo Credit: Getty Images
In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine's citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.
People from Yemen and Pakistan and elsewhere have told me, and have testified in the U.S. Congress, that they have a hard time convincing their neighbors that everyone in the United States doesn't hate them. There are buzzing killer robots flying over their houses night and day and every now and then blowing a bunch of people up with a missile with very little rhyme or reason that anyone nearby can decipher. They don't know where to go or not go, what to do or not do, to be safe or keep their children safe. Their children have instinctively taken to crouching and covering their heads just like U.S. children in the 1950s were taught to do as supposed protection from Soviet nuclear weapons.
The good news is that, of course, we don't all hate Yemenis or Pakistanis or Somalis or Afghans or Libyans or any of the other people who might suspect us of it. The bad news -- and the news that I'm afraid would be almost incomprehensible to many millions of people around the world -- is that most of us have only the vaguest idea where any of those countries are, some of us don't know that they ARE countries at all, and we pay far greater attention to our sports and our pets than to whom exactly our government is killing this Tuesday.
This obliviousness comes into sharpest relief perhaps when we elect the officials who are legally called on to decide on our wars. The extent to which Congress has handed war making over to presidents is also brought out by observing Congressional elections. It is not at all uncommon for U.S. Congressional candidates' platforms to entirely ignore all questions of war and peace, and to win support from either Democrats or Republicans despite this omission -- despite, in particular, taking no position on the area funded by 57% of the dollars they will vote on if elected, namely wars and war preparations.
Here in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District, a man named Lawrence Gaughan recently announced as a Democratic candidate for Congress. I'd never heard of him, so I took a look at the "Issues" section of his website. Not only WAS there such a section (some candidates campaign purely on their biography without taking positions on anything), but Gaughan's site had clear forthright statements on a number of important issues. He backed labor unions despite their virtual nonexistence in his district. He admitted the existence of climate change. He backed Eisenhower era tax rates (!!). And his statements made commitments: "I will not vote for any tax cuts for those making over 250,000 dollars a year." "I support the Dream Act." "I would vote for any legislation that would bring back jobs in construction, manufacturing and production." Either this guy had real principles or he was just too new for anyone to have explained to him how to make his promises vague enough not to commit himself to any specific actions.
All too typically, however, when I scrolled through the "Issues," I noticed a gap. I sent this note off to the candidate's staff:
"Your candidate has some of the best and clearest positions on domestic issues that I've seen, and dramatically superior to Congressman Hurt's, but judging by his website as it stands today he seems to have no position on foreign policy whatsoever, or even on that 57% of discretionary spending that, according to the National Priorities Project, goes to militarism. For people who support domestic social justice AND peace in the world in this district, we are put in a bind by our history. Congressman Perriello voted for every war dollar he could, and has made a career of pushing for new wars since leaving office. Congressman Hurt is a disaster on other issues but listened to us and took a stand against missile strikes on Syria. He even listened to us on lawless imprisonment and voted against a "Defense" Authorization Act on one occasion. Helpful as it is to know what Lawrence Gaughan thinks of 43% of the budget, some of us are really going to have to know what he thinks of the larger part. Would he cut military spending? Would he oppose new wars? Does he oppose drone strikes? Would he repeal the authorization to use military force of '01 and that of '03? Would he support economic conversion to peaceful industries on the model now set up in Connecticut? Would he advance a foreign policy of diplomacy, cooperation, actual aid, and nonviolent conflict resolution? Are there any foreign bases he would close? Does he think having U.S. troops in 175 nations is too many, too few, or just right? Does he support joining the ICC? Thanks for your time!"
A couple of days later, Gaughan called me on the phone. We talked for a while about foreign policies, wars, peace, militarism, the economic advantages of converting to peaceful industries, the danger of handing war powers over to presidents. He said he opposed wars. He said he wanted to take on the influence of the military industrial complex. He didn't seem particularly well informed, but he seemed to be coming from a fairly good place or to at least be willing to get there.
He proposed allowing military veterans to never pay any taxes. That's not exactly the sort of resistance to militarism that President Kennedy had in mind when he wrote that wars would continue until the conscientious objector has the honor and prestige of the soldier. Gaughan offered no tax cuts for conscientious objectors. Still, he said he'd get some good statements on foreign policy added to his website right away. He also said he'd be willing to debate the other candidates, including the incumbent, on foreign relations, should peace groups create such a forum and invite him.
Lo and behold, the next day, this appeared on Gaughan's website:
"We have strayed from our constitution when it comes to the defense of our nation and declaration of war. I was opposed to the war in Iraq for many reasons. The enormous price paid by our brave men and women as well as the huge financial debt that we incurred was not necessary. Republicans in Congress continue to defer those costs on our military personnel and our veterans through the sequester and other austerity measures.
"Not withstanding the government shutdown, the Republican budget proposals that my opponent, Robert Hurt, has voted for over the past three years, have forced the Pentagon into reductions that have taken a tremendous toll on enlisted personnel right here in our district. These political policies are also causing reductions to TriCare, active duty health benefits, and to retired military pensions. As the greatest nation on earth, it is unacceptable that we have homeless veterans or military families who struggle to pay the bills.
"We owe so much to the men and women who serve. Instead of laying off soldiers and cutting funding for the VA, we could begin by eliminating the ongoing fraud by military contractors. Fraud committed by dozens of irresponsible military industry corporations have cost taxpayers more than $1.1 trillion. Eliminating this fraud would offset most of the estimated $1.2 trillion in policy savings required over the next decade in order to realize the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction without 'gutting our military'. Furthermore, as a component of tax reform, there should be a tax exemption status for veterans written into the tax code."
His topic, all too typically -- people around the world should understand -- is not how to relate to the 95% of humanity that is not in the United States, but how to treat "The Military."
His first sentence echoes our discussion of the past three-quarters century of undeclared wars, but doesn't spell it out. Will he oppose wars that lack a Congressional declaration or not?
He picks one past war to oppose without stating his position on future wars. He describes the costs of a war that killed some million Iraqis and destroyed a nation as all being paid by the U.S. and its soldiers.
He blames the sequester agreement on only one of the two parties that agreed to it, and buys into the myth that it has resulted in cuts to the military. (True, Democrats in the Senate recently put up a token effort to fund veterans' needs and were blocked by Republicans.) Gaughan claims that we owe "so much" to members of the military who "serve." What exactly do we owe them? Can he name something that we owe them? He doesn't want soldiers to be "laid off," as if employing them is a make-work jobs program.
In my view we owe veterans housing, healthcare, education, a clean environment, and a healthy society because they are human beings -- and we owe it equally to every other human being. But we shouldn't pretend that the military's so-called "service" isn't making us hated around the world. We shouldn't try to produce more veterans as if there were something noble about murdering people.
Gaughan almost closes on an up note. He acknowledges fraud by military contractors. He even calls them "military," rather than using the misleading term "defense." But then he makes clear that he doesn't want to cut the military. He wants to create efficiency to avoid cuts while saving money.
Would he repeal authorizations to use military force? Who knows. Would he back future wars? Who can tell? Does he believe U.S. troops should be in 175 nations? Perhaps. But if they were in 182 would he then think 182 was the right number? Does he favor allowing presidents to murder people with missiles from drones or by any other means? Does he think antagonizing Russia and China and Iran should remain the focus of U.S. foreign policy? Does he want the occupation of Afghanistan ended? Who knows.
He brought up a Department of Peace on our phone call, but it didn't make the website yet. One can hope that Gaughan's website is a work in progress. There's certainly a chance he'll become a far better candidate and Congress member than this district has had in a long time.
But this, dear world, is more or less how the world's largest-ever killing machine operates. It turns its eyes away from the machine's work and, if pushed, debates the care of the machine itself -- maintaining more or less complete obliviousness to the horrors the machine produces in those far away places where you live and die.
By Bud Alcock
Panchimalco, El Salvador-- Thirty years ago, on a miserably hot and humid July day in 1983, I went to Washington DC with my wife and two-year-old son in his stroller. We were there with tens of thousands to protest US involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Last month, I became re-acquainted with the political struggle of El Salvador as a member of an international delegation to observe the first round of their presidential election on February 2nd.
Criticizing repression of protest abroad, practicing it at home: What if Americans Demanded the Ouster of This Government?
By Dave Lindorff
Ukraine’s new rulers, in one of their first acts, have disbanded that country’s riot police.