David Swanson

Afghan judges accuse U.S. of war crimes

I recently sat down for 90 minutes to speak with six Afghan judges, all of them women, and an English-Dari interpreter, a man.  They spoke to me as individuals.  They aren’t preparing any investigations or indictments.  The relevance of their being judges is that they know the law.  They’ve studied international law, and they were visiting the United States to learn about our legal and political systems.  They believe the United States is guilty of war crimes.

I was the one who raised the subject.  I pointed to Italian convictions of CIA agents for kidnapping, Spanish investigations of U.S. officials for torture, etc., and asked what these judges’ views were on international law violations, universal jurisdiction, and what appear to be clear crimes committed by the United States in Afghanistan.

The first judge to reply spoke of the horrors of the Taliban, and of the initial gratitude for the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban 10 years ago.  But, she said, the mission changed to one of fighting terrorism, and through that “we lost all of our civil rights.”  She described U.S. troops kicking in doors of houses at night with women and girls asleep in their beds.  She described disappearances and accounts of torture.  What the United States and NATO are doing, seizing people, locking them up, disappearing them, and torturing them is clearly illegal and against international law, she said.  According to international treaties, she went on, when one country occupies another, the host country does not lose its sovereignty, and yet all decisions are now being made by the occupying country without any say by the Afghan government.

A second judge spoke up.  “Your Constitution speaks of freedom and a people’s government,” she said, “but the United States is running secret prisons, torturing, disappearing people, and locking people up for years with no due process.”  The behavior of the United States, she said, violates everything that she and her colleagues were being taught the United States stands for.  “It may seem trivial,” she continued, “but it affects our daily lives.”  If a member of the international occupying forces gets into a hit and run with their car, and you go to the base to complain, you are threatened.  They have total immunity from any rule of law, she explained.

She said that in a case involving an Australian, he was turned over to Afghan courts for a murder trial, because the military was not involved.  But with U.S. forces, she said, we have to rely on the U.S. court system, and we often hear about these people being acquitted.  The judge went on to make a broader point.  With the great cost to the United States in blood and treasure, she said, we ought to be grateful.  But the perception Afghans have of the U.S. forces, she explained, is of a group of arrogant occupiers who kick in doors.

The first judge to have spoken then joined back in, remarking that “the United States tells other countries how to be democratic and operate within a rule of law, but the United States as role model breaks every one of those things.”

A third judge expressed her agreement.  She said that she had witnessed helicopters coming and taking away all of the men in a compound, leaving the women and children screaming.  This is not war, she said, but if it is a police action then who authorized it?  There is no probable cause, she said.  None!  And the men are disappeared.

Judge number two broadened the discussion to the topic of the occupation itself, expressing her belief that the U.S. public was being kept in the dark about the real motivations behind the war.  Al Qaeda isn’t there and bin Laden is now dead, she pointed out.  People should be given some reason for this going on, she said.  I replied that actual motivations included the stationing of bases and weapons, a gas pipeline, profiteering, etc.  At that, the women all began nodding and talking. A fourth judge to speak up interjected that even a child in rural Afghanistan knew the truth of what I had said, that the Taliban was simply an excuse.

Then it was my turn to answer questions.  What does the average American think of war casualties?  Why is there so much militarism and patriotism in the United States?  Why is it that for centuries the United States has gone abroad to fight wars in other countries?  Do Americans know how the rest of the world sees their country?  Why do politicians choose policies that kill people?  I answered to the best of my ability.

And then, surprisingly perhaps — although this is quite common in speaking with Afghans, especially better-off urban Afghans — the discussion swung around to the judges’ concern that things might be dramatically worse if the United States were to leave before establishing stability.

I asked them whether, after 10 years, stability was increasing or decreasing.  They admitted that it was decreasing but proposed that a change in approach might reverse that.  The change in approach that at least one of them recommended was for the United States to get tough with Pakistan, which was to blame for the worst forces within Afghanistan.  The interpreter apologetically explained that Afghans blame Pakistan for everything just as every country, he said, blames some other country.  Yet it is certainly true that Pakistan has done great damage to Afghanistan for decades, with great assistance from the United States, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, not to mention the damage done by the Soviet Union.  This does not, of course, mean that a different U.S. approach to Pakistan would create a stable U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.  The Soviet occupation was destabilizing for the same reason the U.S. occupation is destabilizing: people hate being occupied.

Well, what would I do?  That’s what they wanted to know: what would I advise Obama?

I told them that I would announce that the military occupation was ending soon, that there would be no bases left behind and no weapons left behind, that I would immediately prosecute war crimes, that I would fund educational and civic and aid organizations run and controlled by Afghans, that I would facilitate open and honest elections, and that I would support any temporary international peace-keeping force favored by Afghans’ elected representatives.  As this was being translated, every one of the six judges began applauding and declaring things like “You speak from our hearts.”

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie”

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Years later: Human Rights Watch announces that Bush and Cheney tortured — what gives?

COMMENTARY
Statutes of limitations for torture not resulting in death have passed. The Department of Justice has refused to prosecute 99 of 101 cases of torture-to-death that it looked at. Obama has long since publicly told the DOJ not to prosecute the CIA for torture. Obama’s torture of Bradley Manning has been widely ignored. Rendition has been established as normal. Torturers have published confessional/bragging memoirs. Habeas corpus has been formally ended. The Bagram-Gitmo archipelago is here to stay. Torture continues in Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere. Assassinations have been established as the truly big new fashion. Harold Koh has replaced John Yoo as the Guy Who Will “Legalize” Anything. We’ve got more illegal wars going at once than ever before. Congress has practically dropped the pretense of a rule of law. The President can’t clear his throat without opposing “relitigating the past,” as if on the planet he comes from it is common to litigate the future. And Human Rights Watch has chosen this moment to announce that Bush and Cheney might just have been responsible for torture?

“(Washington, DC) – Overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration obliges President Barack Obama to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Obama administration has failed to meet US obligations under the Convention against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, Human Rights Watch said.”

Hey, thanks, Sherlock.  What was your first clue? 

I’m glad someone still cares.  But why not care a little faster?  This report ends by reviewing foreign efforts to step in where the U.S. justice system has failed, and U.S. efforts — successful thus far — to prevent that.

If Human Rights Watch turns against illegal wars someday, we can perhaps expect a review of the bombing of Libya several years after it ceases.  And we’ll be better off, I guess.  But why not speak up at the time? If Bush and Cheney belong in prison, why would it have been so unacceptably impolite to impeach them and remove them from office?

 

Debt is a crisis

COMMENTARY

What if the imminent banging of Uncle Sam’s skull into the looming debt ceiling isn’t a crisis, but the very concept of debt is?  The debt ceiling has been lifted numerous times without fanfare or fainting spells.  All we face this week is a fabricated opportunity to gut social programs and trusts under the guise of a phony crisis and a discourse constricted to exclude taxation of the wealthy or cuts to the war machine.

But what if more deficit spending isn’t a safe answer?  I am completely aware that those who want to ruin this country by defunding everything but Wall Street and wars are opposed to deficit spending.  I am familiar with the notion that the Great Depression required deficit spending in order to boost the real economy, after which the government’s books could be more readily put in order.  I don’t imagine that a nation is the same thing as a household or any such simpletonian hooey.  And yet…

A different sort of argument is made in this paper: http://www.monetary.org/yamaguchipaper.pdf

and on this website: http://www.monetary.org

Now, I’m no more an economist than a physicist or an astrologer, and am by no means clear which of those two comparisons is more apt.  But I know that when a small group of private gazillionaires unaccountable to public censure is freed to do what it wants, it usually tries to screw everyone else to its own benefit.  And I know that even more than the United States Senate, that description fits the Federal Reserve.  So, I don’t feel I need a theoretical calculation  to prove to me that a better chance at a decent monetary policy would come from bringing monetary decisions under something approaching public control. 

It’s also clear that deficits could be eliminated, even without progressive taxation, purely by reducing military spending to sane levels, a glaringly obvious point often avoided by both rightwing pseudo-spending hawks and liberal deficit defenders.

The paper linked above argues that the gold standard failed in the 1930s, the gold-dollar standard failed in 1971, and the dollar standard will fail, in all likelihood prior to either John Boehner or Barack Obama favoring a decrease in military spending.  Then there’s this:

“Even in the scenario of debt crisis due to the runaway accumulation of debt fails to be observed in the near future, still there exist some ethical reasons to stop accumulating debts.  First, it continues to create unfair income distribution in favor of creditors, that is, bankers and financial elite, causing inefficient allocation of resources and economic performances, and eventually social turmoil among the poor.  Second, obligatory payment of interest forces the indebted producers to continue incessant economic growth to the limit of environmental carrying capacity, which eventually leads to the collapse of environment.  In short, a debt money system is unsustainable as a macroeconomic system.”

The alternative proposed is a non-debt public money system.  If such a system really can maintain checks on limitless money-invention and spending, while avoiding the disasters of plutocracy and environmental collapse, dethroning “growth” and raising up the ideal of sustainable prosperity decoupled from international competition, why would we not consider it?  Why, after all, should we get together collectively as a government and invent money, but pay interest on that money to a gang of pirates who send their kids to summer camp on private jets while pursuing a prison and poorhouse economy for the rest of us? 

In this vision of a decent society, individuals and businesses could still go into debt.  We just wouldn’t be obliged to do so in order to eat or visit a hospital.  And the terms of loans would not be legislated to suit the wishes of the usurers.

I don’t know what Percy Bysshe Shelley would have thought of this, but he did write:

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many – they are few.’

_______________________________

Commentary: Balance the budget on the backs of billionaires

The wealthiest nation on earth is not actually obliged to starve our senior citizens.  We don’t need a military 670% more expensive than the next largest one on earth.  We don’t need to fund health insurance corporations instead of healthcare.  And we don’t need tax breaks for billionaires.  In fact, we don’t need billionaires.  That’s the message RootsAction is taking to Congress.

Forbes magazine has been listing the 400 wealthiest Americans every year since 1982. Thirteen billionaires appeared on the original Forbes list. Now all 400 rate billionaire status. These 400, collectively, possess more wealth than the poorer half of America’s population put together.  Sam Pizzigati explains how we got here.

The United States now has a level of inequality that shocks much of the world.  If Washington wants to balance its budget, it should do so on the backs of these 400 people, not the hundreds of millions of us who can’t afford it.  Tax these billionaires into non-billionaires, and Washington’s financial worries — and our economic worries — will be gone for generations to come.  The vast majority of us favor this approach.

Only 1 percent of us are millionaires, with an “m”.  Each billionaire has a thousand times that much money, or more.  Sixty-six percent of senators are millionaires, as are 41 percent of House members, but they aren’t billionaires.  They just work for them.

Last year a list was leaked of attendees of an important rightwing planning conference organized by Koch Industries.  This is an annual meeting at which the servants of plutocracy plot its further entrenchment.  Eleven members of this year’s Forbes 400 were on the list.  These are the hardcore plutocrats.  These are the people who personally take the time to destroy our political system for their own short-term gain — and that of their families if their aristocracy of wealth is allowed to continue.  These 11 people pay a fraction of the rate you pay on your income into Social Security and Medicare.  They have no need for Social Security or Medicare.  And they participate in a political movement that is trying to dismantle those programs.  Meet your masters, fellow Americans.

 

Philip Anschutz

Anschutz has $7.5 billion and got his start in oil and gas.  He remains a board member of the American Petroleum Institute (API) which President George W. Bush’s Energy Secretary credited for Bush’s decision to kill the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.  API’s president and leading members met in secret with Vice President Dick Cheney as an Energy Task Force planning the energy future of the United States and how to get their hands on the oil of Iraq.  API has more recently organized astroturf activism against any efforts to limit climate change. 

In spring 2009, Anschutz bought the rightwing Weekly Standard  from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and the rightwing Washington Examiner, despite reports that these have “little hope of making any money.”

Anschutz has funded Colorado’s 1992 Amendment 2, an anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative, and the Discovery Institute which promotes creationism, among other similar causes. In 2004, the Washington Post reported that he, his companies, and members of his family had given over a half a million dollars to Republican candidates and committees.  In 1987, Anschutz’s family foundation gave Focus on the Family founder James Dobson an award for his “contributions to the American Family.”

Anschutz is not always so generous.  In 2002, Anschutz gave $4.4 million to law schools and charities only when forced to as part of a deal in which New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer dropped a case charging Anschutz with making $1.5 billion in “unjust revenue.” 

Anschutz also sold $1 billion in Qwest shares before they tanked, but avoided the charges that stuck to Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio.  In recent months, however, Anschutz lost a case charging him with selling $375 million in oil company shares as part of a tax dodge.  The IRS wants $144 million.  Every little bit helps, right?  But Anschutz is appealing.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

Stephen Bechtel Jr., San Francisco, Calif.

Bechtel has $2.9 billion, and got rich by inheriting his money from his father.  Our top concern should clearly be encouraging that sort of initiative!

The Bechtel Corporation, now run by Stephen Jr.’s son, is one of the top recipients of funds from Washington and from state governments.  Bechtel has contracts at most U.S. nuclear weapons facilities.

Bechtel Corp. is also a leading violator of laws and regulations, including violations of nuclear safety regulations, water quality laws, radioactive waste policies, and asbestos emissions laws, not to mention having dug the Big Dig tunnel in Boston with such criminal incompetence that it collapsed.

Bechtel Corp. spends hundreds of thousands each year on lobbyists and hundreds of thousands more on funding political candidates’ campaigns.  George Schultz, former Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, and former Bechtel president and director, lobbied as a Bechtel board member in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

By sheer coincidence, Bechtel got the very first Iraq “reconstruction” contract for $680 million.  Bechtel’s performance was so scandalously bad that it had contracts in Iraq canceled and was early to pull out of Iraq entirely. 

Yet Stephen Bechtel, Jr., is still rolling around in mountains of your hard-earned dollars.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

Joseph Craft, Tulsa, Okla.

Craft has $1.9 billion and made it by helping a coal corporation, MAPCO, later renamed Alliance Resource Partners (ARP), pay lower taxes.  As CEO of this coal company, Craft advocates for coal as the solution to our energy needs.  ARP claims that coal is cheap, but of course that’s because the cost of the environmental and health and climate damage gets passed on to us.

ARP also believes that coal is in our best interests whether we like it or not.  When townships in Pennsylvania have banned mining, ARP has taken the towns to court. 

Following hundreds of citations for safety violations in 2010, the company’s Dotiki Mine in Kentucky collapsed, killing two miners.

According to Source Watch, Alliance Coal employees were among the biggest campaign donors in Kentucky’s recent state primary election.

Is this man making the world a better place?  Can we afford to have him sitting on $1.9 billion?

Balance the budget on his back!

 

Richard De Vos, Ada, Mich.

DeVos has $4.2 billion, which he made from Amway, a company that later became part of Alticor, and which is now run by his son.  Another of his sons was a Republican candidate for governor of Michigan in 2006.

Amway may be a legitimate way to make obscene amounts of money, but last year Amway agreed to pay $56 million to settle a class action suit alleging fraud, racketeering, and operating a pyramid scheme.

DeVos and Amway have been big funders of Republican campaigns for decades.  Amway and its sales force chipped in half the money that elected Amway distributor Sue Myrick of North Carolina to Congress in 1994.

In 1996, Amway tried to give $1.3 million to the funding of Republican infomercials but was forced to refrain by public uproar over campaign financing.

In 1997, a Republican Congress slipped a last-minute provision into a bill to give Amway a $19 million tax break.

During the 2004 elections, DeVos gave $2 million and Amway a total of $4 million to the Project for America Voter Fund, which spent almost $29 million supporting George W. Bush’s “reelection,” having found a way around campaign finance restrictions.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

Ken Griffin, Chicago, Ill.

Griffin has $2.3 billion and gets a special tax break for being a hedge fund manager, also known as a bankster.  He doesn’t produce anything other than money.

Before the collapse, Griffin praised shady practices that helped cause it:

“The market for credit derivatives has effectively created a huge new pool of risk-taking capital for our debt markets. By unbundling and trading credit risk without having to transfer the underlying asset, this market has introduced an entirely new and vital way of spreading risk. Credit derivatives, to use one example, let banks transfer risk from their portfolios, allowing them to create new loans.” — from a 2005 presentation to Goldman Sachs.

Griffin spreads what to you and I would seem like a lot of money around our electoral system, funding Republicans and Democrats alike, inlcuding Barack Obama – the current world record holder in money received from Wall Street.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

 

Diane Hendricks, Afton, Wis.

Hendricks is hoarding $2.2 billion.  She is the only woman on our list of 11 leading plutocrats.

Hendricks and her husband were business partners from 1982 until his death in 2007.  She then took over ABC Supply, which is the nation’s largest roofing, window, and siding wholesaler.

Last year, ABC Supply acquired its top competitor, Bradco Supply Co., a move that’s sure to help competition and benefit consumers.

Hendricks told Forbes in 2010: “We need Washington to stop putting new burdens on businesses. That’s the best way to encourage job creation.”

Burdens?

Balance the budget on her back!

 

 

Stanley Hubbard, St. Paul, Minn.

Hubbard has $1.9 billion.  He inherited his wealth, just like you would have done if you’d been a better capitalist. 

Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., owns television and radio stations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, and New Mexico.

As restrictions on media ownership are stripped away, corporations like Hubbard’s monopolize more outlets.  As this happens, a handful of Stanley Hubbards acquire the means to rewrite more laws, creating a vicious cycle.

Hubbard gave Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future (a Gingrich phrase before an Obama one) $100,000.

He funds lots of candidates, most of them Republican, including Michelle Bachmann.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

 

Charles Koch, Wichita, Kan.

Charles Koch has $22 billion, and his brother David another $22 billion, giving them fifth and sixth places in the list of grotesquely wealthy U.S. citizens.  Together they probably do more damage than the four people above them or the 394 people below them on the list.  All eleven billionaires in this collection have attended their annual rightwing retreats.

The Kochs’ father invented a way to turn heavy oil into gasoline.  The Kochs inherited a fortune, as all truly responsible people do.

Koch industries is invested in gas and oil pipelines and refineries, fertilizer, fibers and polymers, and chemicals.  In 2010, Koch Industries was named one of the United States’ top 10 air polluters by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute.

Charles cofounded the Cato Institute.  He is a board member and funder of the Mercatus Center.  He funds the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.  Koch Industries funds the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Charles Koch has said he’s been pleased by the Tea Party’s accomplishments.  The Kochs have given more than $100 million to rightwing groups since the 1980s. Their political action committee gives more to federal candidates than any other oil-and-gas PAC.

The Kochs also pressure their 50,000 employees to vote the “right” way, sending them letters warning of harm to their families, jobs, and country, if they don’t vote as the Kochs advise.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

David Koch, New York, NY

Like Charles Koch (see his entry), David Koch has $22 billion and got rich by inheriting a fortune.

If anything, David does more damage than Charles.  He founded and chairs the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, is a director of the Cato Institute, and serves as a trustee of the Reason Foundation.  Americans for Prosperity has spent $45 million on rightwing candidates.

David Koch himself was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980, running on promises to end Social Security, welfare, minimum wage standards, campaign spending limits, corporate taxation, the EPA, the SEC, and OSHA, among other things.

Here’s a blogger pretending to be David Koch gaining all kinds of access to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: audio.

Here’s an interview with the real David Koch: video.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

Kenneth Langone, Sands Point, NY

Langone has $1.3 billion.  He doesn’t work for a living, so taxing his income is not a real priority.  He makes money from investments.

Langone co-founded the ChoicePoint data-mining company whose subsidiary DBT Online, under a no-bid contract from Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, gave Florida a list of felons to remove from election rolls in 2000, including 8,000 mostly African-American and Latino names of people who were not actually felons.

Langone also co-founded top Bush contributor Home Depot, which picked up a $48 million tax break in a Bush-Cheney energy bill, and which saw one of its stores used as the setting for a Bush speech on the economy — which may have helped the speech, but certainly not the economy.

Langone chaired the New York Stock Exchange’s compensation committee and was forced to testify when Eliot Spitzer prosecuted Richard Grasso, the former chief of the Stock Exchange who had been given $187 million. Langone also attempted to purchase the New York Stock Exchange, a move that might have given him freer reign.

Balance the budget on his back!

 

Stephen Schwartzman, New York, NY

Schwartzman has $5.9 billion, every cent of it earned by others.  He doesn’t work; he invests.  Schwartzman served as Managing Director of Lehman Brothers.  Then he cofounded and became the CEO of the Blackstone Group. 

The Blackstone Group is partially owned by the American International Group (AIG) and by Kissinger Associates.  The Blackstone Group was Enron’s principle financial advisor for its restructuring.

Schwartzman raised $100,000 for Bush, his former Yale classmate, in 2004.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the JP Morgan Chase National Advisory Board.

Schwartzman gave $100 million to New York Public Library which has now named its main building after him.  Frank Rich commented:

“At the centennial gala, you couldn’t escape the paw print of Stephen Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group billionaire whose library gift had entitled him to blast his name on any stray expanse of marble on the 42nd Street building. Schwarzman is nothing if not a representative 21st-­century titan. His principal monument has been to himself­, namely a notorious over-the-top 60th-birthday party, exquisite in both its bad timing and bad taste, that he threw the year before the crash. (If you’re shelling out a million bucks for an entertainer, is Rod Stewart the best you can do?) He is perhaps most renowned of late for comparing Obama to Hitler because the administration dared propose taxing private-equity firms’ share of client profits at a rate higher than 15 percent. (He later apologized.)”

Balance the budget on his back!


Move the budget debate to one of those democracies we’re bombing into place

COMMENTARY

Imagine how radically different the current debate over the Giant Debt Ceiling Monster would look if we moved it to one of those nations we’re bombing into a democracy. Imagine us all still U.S. residents with the same views we have now, but imagine that our representatives in Washington, D.C., were obliged to give a damn what we thought.

Back on January 3rd, Americans expressed their first choice of action. While 3% chose to cut Social Security and 4% to cut Medicare, 20% said cut the military, and 61% said tax the rich. On January 14th, 52% said they would approve of cutting the military. Another poll, conducted January 15th to 19th, found 55% choosing to cut the military as their first choice (taxing the rich was not offered), while 21% said cut Medicare and 13% said cut Social Security.

In April, the Washington Post – ABC News found that 72% of Americans want to raise taxes on people with incomes over $250,000, while 42% say cut the military, 30% are willing to cut Medicaid, and 21% Medicare. Even Gallup says that 42% want to cut Homeland Security and 42% want to cut the military, while cutting Medicare and Social Security are at 38% and 34%.

Americans in certain swing states seem to agree:

 

Raise taxes on those with incomes over $250,000 a year
Ohio 72%
Missouri 67%
Montana 69%
Minnesota 71%

Don’t Cut Social Security
Ohio 80%
Missouri 76%
Montana 76%
Minnesota 72%

Don’t Cut Medicare
Ohio 76%
Missouri 77%
Montana 71%
Minnesota 69%

Don’t Cut Medicaid
Ohio 61%
Missouri 63%
Montana 59%
Minnesota 62%

Cutting the military doesn’t look like as solid a majority position as taxing the rich, until one looks a little more closely. According to Gallup, 22% say the United States spends too little on the military, but 39% say it spends too much, and remarkably — and delegitimizing at least six current wars — 57% say the United States should not attack another nation unless attacked first. In fact, only 25% of U.S. voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation. In reality, the United States spends about seven times the closest competitor (and almost none of it on anything truly defensive), a status that must have the support of significantly fewer than 25% of Americans. But fewer than that many Americans are aware of it.

When shown what the federal budget is and given the opportunity to change it, Americans significantly cut the military and tax the rich.

The problem with taxing the rich and cutting the military for the debt crisis debate is that if we were to do those things, there couldn’t be a debt crisis, because the debt would begin to be paid off.

So, dear international phone-hacking war-marketing media barons, please stop showing me how many Americans have been scared into opposing raising a debt ceiling. If you gave a damn what Americans wanted, you’d be looking at how we can raise the floor.

Try this little activity: How would you spend the federal budget?

Enter a percentage of the budget that you would spend on each category.  Make sure the total equals 100%.

Job training, mass transit, and a jobs program to build renewable energy infrastructure and mass transit:_____%

Management of public lands:_____%

Pollution control and Renewable energy research:_____%

Subsidies to small farmers:_____%

Elementary and secondary education, and higher education, and special education for students with disabilities:_____%

Medical research:_____%

Scientific research:_____%

NASA:_____%

Economic development aid to select foreign countries, medical aid to poor nations, and development aid to poor nations, the Peace Corps, and disaster relief abroad:_____%

State Department:_____%

United Nations, peacekeeping, weapons nonproliferation:_____%

Military and Homeland Security Department and Military “aid” to other nations:_____%

Current wars:_____%

Veterans’ benefits:_____%

Law enforcement and federal prisons:_____%

Housing for the poor and elderly:_____%

Paying off national debt:_____%

Airports and railroads and highways:_____%

Subsidies to big agriculture:_____%

______

Don’t scroll down till you’re finished!

______

Now compare what you did with what the White House projects for 2015:

SUSTAINABLE POLICIES
Job training, mass transit, and a jobs program to build renewable energy infrastructure and mass transit: 2%
Management of public lands: 1%
Pollution control and Renewable energy research: 1%
Subsidies to small farmers: 0%

EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
Elementary and secondary education, and higher education, and special education for students with disabilities: 4%
Medical research: 3%
Scientific research: 1%
Nasa: 1%

FRIENDLY FOREIGN RELATIONS
Economic development aid to select foreign countries, medical aid to poor nations, and development aid to poor nations, the Peace Corps, and disaster relief abroad: 3%
State Department: 1%
United Nations, peacekeeping, weapons nonproliferation: 0%

HOSTILE FOREIGN RELATIONS
Military and Homeland Security Department and military “aid” to other nations: 56%
Current wars: 4%
Veterans’ benefits: 11%

BASIC GOVERNANCE
Law enforcement and federal prisons: 2%
Housing for the poor and elderly: 3%
Paying off national debt: 0%

BIG AGRICULTURE AND BIG TRANSPORTATION
Airports and railroads and highways: 6%
Subsidies to big agriculture: 1%

Now imagine having taxation with representation.


Commentary: Murdoch has blood on his hands

COMMENTARY

Nailing Rupert Murdoch for his employees’ phone tapping or bribery would be a little like bringing down Al Capone for tax fraud, or George W. Bush for torture. I’d be glad to see it happen but there’d still be something perverse about it.

I remember how outraged Americans were in 2005 learning about our government’s warrantless spying, or for that matter how furious some of my compatriots become when a census form expects them to reveal how many bathrooms are in their home.

I’m entirely supportive of outrage. I just have larger crimes in mind. Specifically this:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
“Article 20
“1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”

The Fox News Channel is endless propaganda for war, and various other deadly policies. As Robin Beste points out:

Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers and TV channels have supported all the US-UK wars over the past 30 years, from Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war in 1982, through George Bush Senior and the first Gulf War in 1990-91, Bill Clinton’s war in Yugoslavia in 1999 and his undeclared war on Iraq in 1998, George W. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Tony Blair on his coat tails, and up to the present, with Barack Obama continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now adding Libya to his tally of seven wars.

In this video, Murdoch confesses to having used his media outlets to support the Iraq War and to having tried to shape public opinion in favor of the war. That is the very definition of propaganda for war.

The propaganda is, also by definition, part of the public record. Although that record speaks for itself, Murdoch has not been shy about adding his commentary. The week before the world’s largest anti-war protests ever and the United Nation’s rejection of the Iraq War in mid-February 2003, Murdoch told a reporter that in launching a war Bush was acting “morally” and “correctly” while Blair was “full of guts” and “extraordinarily courageous.” Murdoch promoted the looming war as a path to cheap oil and a healthy economy. He said he had no doubt that Bush would be “reelected” if he “won” the war and the U.S. economy stayed healthy. That’s not an idle statement from the owner of the television network responsible for baselessly prompting all of the other networks to call the 2000 election in Bush’s favor during a tight race in Florida that Bush actually lost.

Murdoch’s support for the Iraq War extended to producing support for that war from every one of his editors and talking heads. It would be interesting to know what Murdoch and Blair discussed in the days leading up to the war. But knowing that would add little, if anything, to the open-and-shut case against Murdoch as war propagandist. Murdoch had known the war was coming long before February 2003, and had long since put his media machine behind it.

Murdoch has been close to Blair and has now published his book — a book that Blair has had difficulty promoting in London thanks to the protest organizing of the Stop the War Coalition. Yet Murdoch allowed Mick Smith to publish the Downing Street Memos in his Sunday Times. Murdoch’s loyalty really seems to be to his wars, not his warmakers.

John Nichols describes three of those warmakers:

 

“When the war in Iraq began, the three international leaders who were most ardently committed to the project were US President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. On paper, they seemed like three very different political players: Bush was a bumbling and inexperienced son of a former president who mixed unwarranted bravado with born-again moralizing to hold together an increasingly conservative Republican Party; Blair was the urbane ‘modernizer’ who had transformed a once proudly socialist party into the centrist ‘New Labour’ project; Howard was the veteran political fixer who came up through the ranks of a coalition that mingled traditional conservatives and swashbuckling corporatists.

“But they had one thing in common. They were all favorites of Rupert Murdoch and his sprawling media empire, which began in Australia, extended to the ‘mother country’ of Britain and finally conquered the United States. Murdoch’s media outlets had helped all three secure electoral victories. And the Murdoch empire gave the Bush-Blair-Howard troika courage and coverage as preparations were made for the Iraq invasion. Murdoch-owned media outlets in the United States, Britain and Australia enthusiastically cheered on the rush to war and the news that it was a ‘Mission Accomplished.’”

Bribery is dirty stuff. So is sneaking a peak at the private messages of murder victims. But there’s something even dirtier: murder, murder on the largest scale, murder coldly calculated and played out from behind a desk, in other words: war.

Murdoch is a major crime boss being threatened with parking tickets.

I hope he’s brought down, but wish it were for the right reasons.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee chased Richard Nixon out of town for the wrong reasons. The full House impeached Bill Clinton for the wrong reasons. And the worst thing the U.S. government has done in recent years, just like the worst thing News Corp. has done in recent years, has not been spying on us.

It’s no secret what drove public anger at Nixon or what drives public anger at Murdoch. But, for the sake of historical precedent, it would be good for us to formally get it right.

Charge the man with selling wars!


U.S. House backs Forever War: Liveblogging the vote

COMMENTARY
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives backed eternal worldwide war and imprisonment powers for all future presidents, but blocked any ground troops in Libya (except for the ones already there, since the measure included no consequences for its violation).  The House also unanimously created a new national holiday to celebrate the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  It defunded the US Institute for Peace (saving the cost of 5 hours in Afghanistan).  And it required that all suspected foreign terrorists be tried by the military and not in courts (unless bullets are put in their heads first). 

All in a good day’s work. 

Here’s the play-by-play:

What each of the 152 amendments does: here.

May 26, Thursday, 10:01 a.m. Our state, separated from church, is praying to its Lord.
10:02 a.m. Our state just pledged allegiance to our military.

One minute speeches are underway on assorted random topics, sane and otherwise.

*****

What we can expect coming up today:

The Fund More Wars Act of 2012, also called “Defense Authorization Act” or H.R. 1540, was brought to the floor last night with over 150 amendments permitted for votes. Many were debated and voted up or down. Others were debated and the vote postponed.

Amendment #50 was debated last night and the vote postponed. This is an amendment to strip out of the bill language that would allow presidents virtually unlimited power to launch and continue wars and to imprison people, all without any involvement of the legislative or judicial branches of our government. This is current procedure, as exemplified by the Libya War and by many small secretive military operations. But this language would make it part of our laws, effectively eliminating the War Powers Act, albeit in stark conflict with the Constitution.

Many other amendments are of interest. Among those postponed for votes late last night are:

Amendment #61, which would prevent funds authorized in the Act from being used to deploy, establish, or maintain the presence of Members of the Armed Forces or private security contractors on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is to rescue a Member of the Armed Forces from imminent danger.

Amendment #60 which would reduce the amount of troops stationed in Europe to 30,000 and would cut overall end strength levels by 10,000 a year over the next five years.

Amendment #56 which would require U.S. ground troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving just those who are involved in small, targeted counter-terrorism operations. The amendment would further require the Secretary of Defense to submit a withdrawal plan to Congress within 60 days of enactment.

*****

10:19 Amendment #110 from Rep. Inslee debated and passed.

10:21 Amendment #111 under consideration. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (pictured at left) speaks as if “our troops are coming home” despite the fact that every amendment that would make that happen is almost guaranteed to fail and would have to get past the Senate and the President. The Amendment would create yet another national day to cheer for militarism, on top of Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Patriots Day, etc., we would now have a national holiday to celebrate in particular the glorious wars of Iraq and Afghanistan “and other” areas. The day would “honor” those who “served” in the armed services (apparently not mercenaries or contractors?). Jackson Lee showed images of their glorious performance. We don’t have to blame soldiers instead of politicians or favor abusing soldiers who have suffered enough in order to oppose this sick sort of celebration. How about a holiday for peace makers? Just one will do.

10:31 Amendment #134 requires competition in military contracts (no No Bid contracts?) but must be pretty weak, as it passed without debate.

10:34 Amendment #141 addresses “behavioral healthcare” in the military. It passed without debate. Unsolicited advice: Stop training people to murder and putting them in danger. No cost. Small guvmint!

10:37 Amendment #148 addresses the crisis created by moving one tentacle of the U.S. Airforce bureaucracy to Alabama instead of Ohio. Rep Turner of Ohio offered the amendment. Rep. Martha Roby from Alabama shockingly made this an amendment with arguments on both sides, preferring quite unpredictably that this particular Office of Death by headquartered in Alabama. Roby was outraged that the Congress would dare to interfere in a decision made by Our Military, which we all know is the First Branch of Government.

*****

While this fight rages, let me provide a little more background on the Forever War law.

Obama has publicly opposed it through an Office of Management and Budget statement, but the popular belief that he has threatened to veto the whole bill if Section 1034 remains is quite a stretch. If this madness cannot be stopped in the House or Senate we should demand a veto, but we should not expect one.

The Republicans are trying to crown Obama king.

This is the worst legislation ever.

Here is Section 1034, which Amendment #50 would delete:

“Congress affirms that–
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who–
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.”

*****

10:49 The Ohio v Alabama saga has been postponed.

10:49 Amendment #152 is under consideration. We may not get a holiday for peace, but here’s a chance to defund the never-opposed-a-war U.S. Institute for Peace. The argument here, as on both sides of the Alabama v Ohio spat is financial. While we fund a military that could be cut by 85% and still be the world’s largest, we must not recklessly fund something called “Peace.” This amendment is pushed by Reps. Cravaack (pictured at left) and Chaffetz. Even Howard “warmonger” Berman is arguing against this stupid amendment. (However, if they defund the thing, I would like to see a bill introduced to donate that new giant dove-on-the-roof USIP building next to the Lincoln Memorial to the actual peace movement.) Chaffetz says the military (oh, and the State Department) IS our institute for peace. But he adds parenthetically that if those institutions are not “fighting for peace” then “maybe that’s a discussion we should have.” Rep. John Lewis, like Berman, is citing military commanders as the authorities on the need to keep the USIP around. “Give peace a chance!” Lewis implores. Cravaack says that he clearly wants peace the most because he’s proud of having been in the Navy, but the USIP must go. Rep. Woolsey is speaking well against this amendment. Cravaack now says that the USIP has been around since 1985 and we’ve still had wars. So get rid of it! But his partner already said the military is our force for peace. It’s been around since before 1985, and we still have wars. So get rid of the military! Rep. Keith Ellison calls Cravaack’s comment adsurd and ridiculous. Rep. Farr calls this a stupid amendment that sends a message to the world that we want more wars. The USIP costs the same as 5 hours of killing in Afghanistan, he points out.

11:01 The vote on killing the USI of Peace is delayed.

11:02 Amendment #55 – Rep. Jim McGovern proposes this amendment on Afghanistan. This is the very weakest conceivable sign of a congressional pulse. This is one of those amendments through which Congress would ask its executive to please come up with a plan of some sort, any sort, to get out of Afghanistan. This doesn’t cut off the funds or set an end date or anything of the sort. Nor does it impose any penalty on the President if he does not set a goal to get out. Nor does it prevent him setting the goal of getting out in 136 years. Nor does it address the fact that the President has repeatedly and publicly promised a significant start of a withdrawl this July and now backed off on that in the form of leaks from the military to the effect that 2.5 percent of forces (5,000 of 200,000 troops and contractors) will come home. The pointlessness and rhetorical nature of this amendment, its handing of decision-making power to the president, makes it the most likely remotely decent amendment to pass. But passing the Senate and the President is another matter. If by some miracle this passes the House, the Senate will reject it. If not, the President will veto or signing-statement it, without consequence. But I say Vote Yes. Without that, there’s no sign of a pulse. Congress is dead when even a rhetorical gesture in the direction of someday doing what two-thirds of Americans want now can’t be allowed. (McGovern pictured at above left.)

11:11 Rep. Mike Conaway says success is just around the corner in Afghanistan but fragile and reversible.  Rep. Randy Forbes says we must “win” in Afghanistan.  But this amendment is so weak that Rep. Steny Hoyer is now speaking in support of it.  Here’s the text of the bill that this amendment is based on.  It’s so weak that Rep. Nancy Pelosi is now speaking in support of it.  Pelosi just claimed that for 7 years Bush had no plan for Afghanistan, but Obama immediately had one and now has one, and therefore we should pass this amendment to require that Obama have a plan. 

11:32 Rep. Mac Thornberry says bringing troops home endangers them, and it’s important for the world and our enemies to not know whether we will stay in Afghanistan forever or not. (Thornberry is pictured at left.)

11:34 Vote on Amendment 55 postponed.

11:35 A lot of bad amendments brought up as a block, including, I think, these: 70, 74, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 97, 101, 102, 104, 105. Amendment #70 would make “direct use solar energy” count as a renewable resource for purposes of DOD getting 25% of its energy from such sources in 2025.  What is THAT about, “direct” as in the energy that keeps all materials from freezing each day??  Amendment 95 would move Troops to Teachers program from the Dept. of Education to the Dept. of “Defense.”  What could go wrong there?

11:48 That block of amendments passed.

11: 48 A new block of amendments is under consideration: 106, 107, 108, 109, 112, 114, 115, 116, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126.  My website mysteriously died around 12:05. Apparently #117 WAS included.  Rep. Barbara Lee spoke for it.  The block passed.  This is an amendment (117) to prevent permanent bases in Afghanistan and Iraq — a measure that has been repeatedly passed and ignored for years now. #108 has no teeth but suggests that congress members learn something about the culture, peoples, politics, history, and geography of places they make war on. #122 limits the $ spent on military music (much less hated than peace) to $200 million per year. 

12:06 A new block of amendments brought up for a vote: 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135, 137, 138, 139, 140, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147.  Amendment #132 would address NORTHCOM, the U.S. military in the United States, to work with state and local “authorities.”  Work on WHAT?!  Amendment #136 would let the Secretary of “Defense” “loan” “equipment” to other nations sort of like he’s already been doing with Libya?.  Amendment #139 would require the president to make up a list of places to consider bombing, er, excuse me, a list of “potential safe havens for al Qaeda”.

12:15 That block of amendments passed.

12:16 A new block of amendments: 18, 20, 84, 22, 23, 57, 72, 96, 150, 151, 149.  Amendment #18 modified, but the modification not read aloud. The block passed.

12:23 Oh gawd, McKeon says Gates is writing a book.

12:26 Now twenty amendments with votes postponed are each coming up for two-minute votes, following a 15-minute vote on Amendment #38 which would allow “pro-active defense” in all rules of engagement.  What could go wrong?  #38 passed. (Roll No. 354).

12:50 Now the votes on other amendments.

12:55 Rep. Chellie Pingree (pictured at left) just sent out an Email saying she will vote No on the overall bill.  She assumes Section 1034 is remaining in, although that vote is yet to come:

Soon I will cast my vote opposing the National Defense Authorization Act.  The vague language in this bill would give any president nearly unlimited power to use military force without Congressional approval against anyone deemed by him to be hostile toward the United States.  That’s too much of a blank check and I will oppose this bill when it came to the House floor.  If signed into law, this bill essentially allows the use of military force at any time, in any place, against anyone as long as the President claims it’s part of the war on terror.  President Obama has not asked for this new authority.  This bill also provides $15 billion in additional funding for the war in Afghanistan.  It is a war that costs $10 million an hour and has cost the lives of over fifteen hundred American men and women.  That is too high a price for a war that isn’t making America any safer.  We can’t afford the wars we have been fighting and now this new authority has the potential of creating an endless war that would put us further in debt. We need to focus on bringing our troops and the money we spend on war home, not expanding the use of military force.  We must choose a path forward that winds down our efforts in Afghanistan and brings our troops home.

12:56 Amendment #? failed. (Roll No. 355)

12:57 Amendment #42 is being voted on.  This would allow criminals (from GITMO) to be tried in courts. This failed. (Roll No. 356)

12:59 Amendment #43 is being voted on.  This would require all “foreign terrorists” to be tried by the military and not by courts. This passed! (Roll No. 357)

1:04 pm Amendment #47 is being voted on. This failed.  (Roll No. 358)

1:08 pm Amendment #48 is being voted on. This passed. (Roll No. 359)

1:12 pm Amendment #49 is being voted on.  This would create a national office for Cyberspace. This failed. (Roll No. 360)

1:15 HERE WE GO. Amendment #50 is being voted on now.

1:18 It looks like it’s going to fail.

1:20 It failed 187-234.  I’ll post the names ASAP. (Roll No. 361)

The argument now is that the godawful House had a close vote, the President opposes the measure and has kindof-sortof threatened a veto.  We have a week or so to go after Senators on this.

The HOUSE SUPPORTS FOREVER WAR.  This undoes Article I of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the War Powers Act.  This shreds the Declaration of Independence and creates single-individual rule over matters of war and justice.  I wonder if your newspaper or television will even mention it.

1:23 Amendment #? failed. (Roll No. 362)

1:23 Amendment #54 is being voted on. This failed.  (Roll No. 363)

1:28 Amendment #56 is being voted on.  This would withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan. This failed, but got 183 Yay votes if I heard correctly. (Roll No. 364).

1:31 An amendment from Rep. Polis is being voted on. Presumably this is Amendment #60 which would cut US troops in Europe to 30,000.  This failed and got only 96 Yay votes. (Roll No. 365)

1:35 Now a vote is being held on Conyers’ amendment #61 to block the use of foreign ground forces in Libya (something already done by the UN resolution that according to the US Dept of Justice justifies the war). 

Damn!  This passed with only 5 Nay votes.  Now what do they do when it’s violated or signing-statemented? (Roll No. 366)

1:39 Amendment #62 is being voted on. It passed. (Roll No. 367)

1:43 Amendment #63 is being voted on. Failed. (Roll No. 368)

1:46 pm Amendment #64. Failed. (Roll No. 369)

ca. 1:50 Amendment #111 (the new national holiday “debated” above) passed unanimously. (Roll No. 370)

1:57 pm Amendment #148 passed. Ohio v Alabama continues. (Roll No. 371)

1:57 Amendment #152 is being voted on. It passed. (Roll No. 372)

2:01 pm Last comes the McGovern amendment debated above that would ask the President for a plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. This failed by a very close vote. (Roll No. 373)

Tell the House now to vote No on the overall bill.  Tell the Senate to remove Section 1034 and to reject the whole bill.

Call toll-free 1-888-231-9276.

The “Defense Authorization” bill now before Congress pours $118 billion into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dumps another $553 billion into the military, impedes nuclear disarmament, expands nuclear energy use, funds “missile defense” in California, revives a jet engine program the Pentagon doesn’t even want, discriminates against gays and lesbians, and prevents transfers out of Guantanamo.

But HR 1540 is the worst bill that ever stood a chance of passing Congress because of Section 1034.  This section gives presidents from here on out virtually limitless power to make wars and to lock people in prison.  This is the biggest change to our federal government since we created a federal government.  This undoes the War Powers Act, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.  And President Obama says he doesn’t want these powers.

On Thursday, in a very close vote, the House defeated an amendment that would have removed Section 1034.  Next week the Senate must do so.

CONTACT YOUR TWO SENATORS NOW to oppose Section 1034.

Call toll-free 1-888-231-9276.

Or with toll 202-224-3121.

This world and the world without war

The New York Times published an op-ed on May 7th by a professor here in Charlottesville, Va., arguing that celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden is actually a good thing, because in so celebrating we are building solidarity with those we view as part of our exclusive group. Implicit in this argument is that we can do no better. Bonding over our common hatred of an outsider is better than no bonding at all, and therefore we should rebrand such hatred as altruism. Or so says psychology professor Jonathan Haidt. 

And why? Why was putting the Nazis on trial rather than simply putting bullets in their heads not just an unusual occurrence but a physiological impossibility, something that did not occur because it could not have? Why? Because professor Haidt has read some research on ants, bees, and termites. 

Now, you may object that most nations don’t make war, that millions of Americans donate to foreign aid, that even our wars have to be sold to us as humanitarian campaigns for the good of the people we’re bombing, and that — in fact — millions of us were disgusted by the sadistic pleasure taken in killing bin Laden. None of that will prove that bees and termites can care about other bees and termites that they’ve never heard of who live on the other side of the earth. And there you have it. Science substitutes for stupidity as the basis for fatalism.

Would religion serve us better here than science? After all, Jesus recommended loving foreigners and enemies. Would his followers declare such things impossible, just as a psychology professor wishing he could be a physicist would? I’m afraid so. 

spoke on a panel on April 30th with, among other wonderful speakers, two authors I’ve known and greatly admired for some time, Chris Hedges and Paul Chappell. We spoke in favor of peace to a church full of mostly religious peace activists, but lurking beneath our broad agreement was a point of philosophical difference. Hedges believes that eradicating war is a pipe dream and that, in fact, some wars are worth supporting. Chappell believes that we can make warfare a thing of the past — not that we necessarily will, but that we can if we choose to and work for it. Chappell sees no wars worthy of support.

Hedges writes with unusual honesty, directness, passion, and erudition. In disagreeing with anything in his books I’m uncomfortably aware of messing around with masterpieces. We all need Hedges’ willingness to push us face-to-face with the horrors we try to look away from. If we do not radically alter the behavior of our governments and large institutions and corporations, our poisoning of the natural environment will make human civilization impossible and human life unlikely. It is too late to avoid a major shift in that direction, and there is no indication we are about to do what would be necessary to avert complete destruction. The U.S. empire is beyond any control through the usual channels of voting and lobbying, and appears bent on following its path of mass murder and exploitation until it collapses. 

It is decidedly more useful to hear these well established but generally avoided facts than to hear that we need to buy efficient light bulbs and vote for Democrats. 

But Hedges argues for more than uncomfortable facts. He guarantees doom: “The economy and the inability to stop the wars will alone be enough to bring us down. There is no escape now from our imperial overstretch.” Hedges argues for a view of human nature, for a depiction of humanity that honestly faces some people’s ugliness and then declares that ugliness universal and irremovable. Hedges approvingly quotes Primo Levi writing about a Nazi collaborator: “[W]e are all mirrored in Rumkowski, his ambiguity is ours, it is our second nature, we hybrids molded from clay and spirit.” There are themes here that Hedges returns to time and again. Evil and cowardly behavior that is uncomfortable to face is part of our “nature,” unavoidably a permanent part of all of us; and the other part is not goodness or courage, but absolute perfection, here rendered as “spirit.” Hedges quotes Joseph Conrad as well. 

“Conrad saw enough of the world as a sea captain to know the irredeemable corruption of humanity . . . . Conrad rejected all formulas or schemes for the moral improvement of the human condition. Political institutions, he said, ‘whether contrived by the wisdom of the few or the ignorance of the many, are incapable of securing the happiness of mankind.’ He wrote that ‘international fraternity may be an object to strive for . . . but that illusion imposes by its size alone. Franchement, what would you think of an attempt to promote fraternity amongst people living in the same street, I don’t even mention two neighboring streets?’ He bluntly told the pacifist Bertrand Russell, who saw humankind’s future in the rise of international socialism, that it was ‘the sort of thing to which I cannot attach any definite meaning. I have never been able to find in any man’s book or any man’s talk anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.’”

The problem for Conrad is not that the world is inhabited by humans rather than chimps or dolphins or lions or squirrels, or even ants, bees, and termites. The problem is that the world is inhabited by humans rather than by God. Because humans are not perfect, they are doomed to be imperfect, and they are doomed to be permanently approximately as imperfect as the worst humans you happen to have come into contact with. This style of thought appears to have roots in religion, but Jesus’ proposal that we love our enemies, including foreigners like the Good Samaritan, seems to carry no weight. We should try to follow Jesus’ proposal, but the idea that we might actually be capable of it is apparently viewed as a pretty fantasy. The fact that Europe — the source of a world war that Conrad lived to see and an even worse one that he didn’t — has now united to the point where a war within Europe is unthinkable is presumably outweighed by the fact that Europeans still make war on non-Europeans.

Hedges has more bad news: “The historian Will Durant calculated that there have been only twenty-nine years in all of human history during which a war was not underway somewhere. Rather than being aberrations, war and tyranny expose a side of human nature masked by the often unacknowledged constraints that glue society together. Our cultivated conventions and little lies of civility lull us into a refined and idealistic view of ourselves.”

A Christmas Eve truce along the front of World War I is not our true inner nature breaking free from the constraints that governments have imposed on us. Rather, our participation in war (whether by traditional or poverty draft) reveals our true selves and exposes as fraudulent all that time and effort we spend being nice to and loving each other. Never mind that there have been zero years in all of human history during which peace was not underway in numerous places, and zero years in most of human prehistory during which peace was not underway everywhere. Never mind how new and unusual war is. Never mind that our vision imposes warlikeness on others, that the walls of Jericho were actually built for flooding, that the alleged war wounds of prehistoric humans are actually the marks of the teeth that preyed on them, that we have prevented conflicts becoming wars, banned weapons, and been obliged to threaten and bribe nations into “coalitions of the willing” to wage wars. Billions of humans have lived their lives from birth to old age without war. Societies have lived for generation after generation without war. But the important thing is that wars happen, wars can be thrilling, and as non-angels we are all potentially susceptible to that call of the wild. That we are all potentially susceptible to the allures of peace too is much less important.

Or so this line of thinking seems to go. By proving that some people do evil things and that all people could do them, it is imagined we have proved that people cannot grow progressively kinder, more generous, or more courageous than they are right now. That societies have made such progress and then reversed it again, that history is not a steady upward climb but a constant bettering and worsening of patterns of human behavior, does not in reality prove that a particular problem we have in this time and place, or even one that all humans have suffered from in all known times and places, cannot be solved. 

This question is not just academic. Once you accept that war is inevitable, you eliminate the possibility of working to end it. You can work only to end particular wars. You also weaken the argument for using nonviolence in actual defense. If you are doomed to make war by your nature, then defensive wars are the ones to make, and when an occasion arises for a defensive war, talk of nonviolent alternatives is simply misguided.

Here’s Hedges: “Wars may have to be fought to ensure survival, but they are always tragic.” And again: “There are times — World War II and the Serb assault on Bosnia would be examples — when a population is pushed into a war.” Hedges also includes on that list, Libya, where he supported “intervention.” The response to claims of humanitarian war, such as in my response to the Libya war, often comes in two parts. One involves all the things we could have done differently in the weeks, months, years, and decades preceding a war. The other involves alternative actions in the moment of crisis. Believers in the inevitability of war are generally resistant to both. Ultimately, Nazi Germany was not the result of bad decisions made for decades, including the collective punishment that ended the previous war, foreign investment in the Nazis as preferable to the communists, and so forth. Ultimately, for believers in human-war-nature, the Nazis were a bursting forth of a permanent part of our true selves, and sooner or later the truth will out. 

Hedges acknowledges that the United States and Europe have done everything wrong in North Africa for years. And he now opposes the continuation of the war in Libya that he supported the launch of. But the fact that our governments are now bombing schools for disabled children, brushing off truce offers, and dishonestly telling diplomats that the Libyan army uses Viagra for mass rape were, in rough form, predictable developments. That the Libya war will likely cost more lives in the end than its most fervent initial supporters claimed it would save just carries less force in a worldview that holds war to be something we will never shake free from. And that worldview helps to maintain our massive militaries even if some of its adherents favor military reductions.

Paul Chappell takes a different view of things. He’s a U.S. veteran of the current Iraq War. But he believes war can be made archaic. Chappell thinks the fact that wars are now marketed as humanitarian is a sign of significant progress. The wars are still waged, but they are not sold as purely attacks on evil others. Chappell cites the erosion of racism as another sign of serious progress in our culture. He points to the fact that women now do what men used to claim was not in women’s “nature.” Half our species has radically changed its “nature,” as of course our whole species changes all the time. Chappell sees no reason we cannot choose to do away with war.

Chappell argues that cooperation, love, and sacrifice for friends and loved ones were more necessary for human survival as our species evolved than hatred or violence, that the flight instinct is much stronger in us than the fight instinct, and that human courage — even courage in wars — is based on love. In defensive wars, protection of loved ones motivates warriors. In aggressive wars, it’s love of one’s fellow soldiers. But the common desire of soldiers, Chappell writes, is to frighten off the enemy rather than kill. As bears roar to avoid a fight, soldiers intimidate in any way they can. At the time of Napoleon, arrows killed far more effectively than guns, but the noise of guns made them the weapon of choice. Hatred, Chappell argues, is unpleasant, albeit sometimes less unpleasant than other undesirable frames of mind. And because it is unpleasant, it is not “human nature.”

Of course, as humans evolved they were necessarily violent, at least toward other animals, even if that violence was organized cooperatively with other humans. In fact, that organization provides the basic structure for war. And, while love is more pleasant than hatred, so is gorging more pleasant than rationing, napping more pleasant than working, and so on. That something is unpleasant does not guarantee that it is undesirable. In the end, appeals to “human nature” as inherently peaceful won’t persuade anyone who’s read enough Jean-Paul Sartre or Richard Rorty to conclude that “human nature” is simply whatever humans choose to make it, for better or worse. While Hedges’ notion of human nature includes war and Chappell’s doesn’t, Chappell would be well served by dropping such talk. It is when we admit that there is no “human nature” that we will be best able to resist claims that various undesirable features of our culture are simply here to stay.

Chappell does not believe that peace is inevitable, only possible. He offers examples from the past of states of affairs that, like war, seemed permanent and unavoidable, focusing above all on slavery. Chappell argues, accurately I think, that the end of slavery began with the spread of the idea that it was “human nature” to be free. This being the case, the beginning of the end of war can be the proliferation of the idea that humans are essentially peaceful. This strikes me as quite plausible, and as a course of education that probably cannot hurt, even if dropping the belief in the “essential nature” of us would be wiser. If we do not soon begin thinking more creatively and independently we will cease to have a “nature” by ceasing to exist. On that point at least, Chris Hedges may agree. 

When I do a google news search for “humanize,” I find “Quilt helps humanize toll of AIDS,” and “Harborcreek man’s web show aims to humanize NFL players,” and “Google Hires CNET Reporter to ‘Humanize’ Trends Data,” and “At U-M commencement, Rick Snyder tries to humanize his cause, but protesters do the same,” and so forth. But did anyone, even the scientists, even the psychology professors, even the theologian commentators, believe that AIDS victims were not human, or that NFL players were not human, that data about humans was not data about humans? Here’s how that Snyder article begins: 

“In politically polarizing environments, if you can humanize yourself, you’ve got the upper hand. That’s what Gov. Rick Snyder — who is facing a wave of criticism over his proposed budget cuts, education policies and government reform — tried to accomplish this morning when he delivered the University of Michigan’s spring commencement address. But Snyder’s opponents are trying to do the same thing for their cause — and it’s unclear which side will carry more credibility in the eyes of voters.”

But did anyone really believe that Snyder was an alien or a machine or a bee or a termite? Did anyone doubt that he’d had a mommy and a daddy and a childhood? And if we suddenly realize that Snyder is a human being, should we then favor slashing education spending because he tells us to? Does anyone doubt that Iraqis and Afghans are human beings? Is there any dispute that Osama bin Laden was a human being? 

We’re not idiots. We’re just being trained to act like we are. 

We’re conditioned by our society to imagine that some people are not people at all. Thus, Iraqi refugees do not make good human interest stories. We treat some people with total indifference. Others we are trained to treat with vengeance. Doing so may not be ideal, we are told, but it is at the very least “understandable.” It’s “natural.” It’s a part of our “nature.” 

This is pure nonsense. Vengeance is taught, just as kindness is taught. And we are perfectly capable of acting against undesirable emotions when we choose to.

Choosing to satisfy every lustful, greedy, or hateful desire is not generally condoned as “understandable.” Our culture preaches against careless sex, not to mention robbery and murder. But when it comes to our biggest collective policy decisions, we claim that destroying the natural environment or celebrating the extrajudicial killing of an alleged mass murderer is “understandable” or even “altruistic.” We’re almost forbidden to think a quite obvious truth: 

We can do better.

Osama Bin Lynched

COMMENTARY

I’m going to give this speech tonight to a crowd of drunk young people.  If I’m not back by morning, ask around if there have been any “Islamic burials.”

About 10 years ago a bunch of psychotic killers crashed planes into buildings.  A tall skinny guy who took credit said he was protesting the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and US support for Israel’s war on Palestinians.  That wasn’t exactly going to hold up in a court of law as a justification for mass-murder.  But the U.S. government had already, before 9-11, turned down offers from the Taliban to put bin Laden on trial in a third country, and it turned those offers down again. 

Instead, the U.S. president said he had no interest in bin Laden, but proceeded to encourage Americans to be afraid of their own shadows.  He used that fear to help launch a war without end.  We’ve now had nine and a half years of pointless horrific murderous war in Afghanistan and eight years of the same in Iraq, plus a drone war in Pakistan, a new war in Libya, and smaller wars and special military operations in dozens of other countries. 

We watched foreign-looking people on television dancing in the streets and celebrating the crimes of 9-11 and we thought how evil and barbaric they must be.  Knowing nothing about the decades our government had spent exploiting and occupying their countries, toppling their democratic leaders, and kicking in their doors, we assumed that these subhuman monsters were celebrating the killing of Americans because they just happened to dislike us or because their stupid religion told them to. 

Of course, we used to have lynch mobs in this country.  Ask the freedom riders who left for the Deep South 50 years ago today.  But we had outgrown that.  We were not driven by blind vengeance.  We were civilized.  The reason we locked up far more people in prison than any other country and killed some of them was a purely rational calculation dealing with prevention, deterrence, and restitution.  We weren’t monsters.  We didn’t torture or cut people’s heads off.

But those beasts that we started locking up in Guantanamo: they were a different story.  They clearly could not be reasoned with.  They had to be tied up like animals just to control them.  Our government wouldn’t do that to people if it didn’t have to, so clearly it had to.  To think otherwise would be inappropriate, disloyal, disobedient.  It was best to think what we were told to think, and if most of those people in Guantanamo turned out to be innocent, well at least they weren’t real people like us.

And so we gave up 800 years of civil rights.  We tore up the Magna Carta.  Because people should have the right to a trial only when the government doesn’t tell us they are guilty.  We gave up our opposition to torture.  We abandoned our trepidation regarding aggressive wars.  We sat silent as President Obama declared his right to assassinate Americans and threw a whistleblower, naked, into a 6′ x 12′ cell in Virginia.  We asked Congress to obey the president and the media to cheer for our team.  And we watched lots of movies.

The cool thing about movies is that torture works.  Completely unlike reality, the torture victim always tells the truth in movies.  And killing people works great too.  It doesn’t disturb the killer at all or have any nasty side effects.  People backing the same cause as the victim never appear as the credits are rolling.  Happily ever after is what comes from killing people.  The best thing for us to do, unless we’re busy shopping, is to cheer and scream like deranged maniacs whose team just won the Super Bowl.

And so, after 10 years of shredding the rule of law, hiring mercenary armies, invading helpless unarmed countries, causing the deaths of over a million people, and learning to love torture, all of this warfare did absolutely nothing to locate Osama bin Laden, who was hiding near the capital of a country to which we had decided to allow nuclear bombs and to give billions of dollars. We fought a war in Iraq on the pretense that Iraq was giving bin Laden nukes, while bin Laden was hiding out in a nuclear nation and almost certainly with the knowledge of that nation’s military.  Pakistan is now on call should Saudi Arabia need any troops to kill its own people, the United States having heeded bin Laden’s demand and pulled its troops out to deploy them elsewhere in the region — a region in which our government supports and arms dictators until they are nonviolently overthrown or, as in Libya, a rebel force led by a CIA stooge can be backed instead.  Only massive ignorance can continue to ask “Why do they hate us?”

And so, after nearly a decade, our government bothered to look for bin Laden, found him, and murdered him.  But what choice did they have?  A truly fair trial would always involve the risk of acquittal.  A semi-fair trial would have risked bringing up undesirable topics, such as the US failure to prevent 9-11, our decades’ old support for bin Laden, bin Laden’s evasion of the US in 2001 and ever since, bin Laden’s reasons for 9-11, and the question of precedent.  If we gave bin Laden a semi-fair trial, how would we explain denying one to so many other people?  And a truly unfair military trial would have made the United States look even worse.  As a CIA guy told me on the radio yesterday: killing him was “cleaner.”

Who else used to talk about killing people in terms of cleanliness, I forget?  But that’s what we do now.  We don’t try people as we tried the Nazis.  We don’t lock people up and torture them.  We kill them.  It’s cleaner.  And then we dance in the streets cheering for the killing.  But killing Saddam Hussein didn’t bring peace.  Killing Muammar Gadaffi will not bring peace any more than killing his children and grandchildren has.  Killing Osama bin Laden will bring no peace and is no justice.  Nonviolently overthrowing the governments of Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen points us in a better direction, albeit one we can’t picture from Hollywood movies in our heads.

When I wrote two days ago along the lines that I’ve just been speaking, objecting to the celebration of anyone’s murder, I received more positive responses by email than I’ve seen in a very long time, if ever.  My article was posted on more websites and translated into more languages than I’ve seen in a long time, too.  Veterans for Peace endorsed it as a statement of their organization.  There are those who understand that life is not a movie, that the leading cause of US deaths in Afghanistan is suicide, that we cannot continue in this drunken fantasy without destroying everything and everyone we care about.

Enough is enough.

End the war without end.

Bring the troops and contractors and mercenaries home.

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie” 

http://warisalie.org

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White House Website Lying About Your Taxes

COMMENTARY

The White House has a handy website to mislead you about your tax dollars at http://www.whitehouse.gov/taxreceiptPDF

It claims that only 26.3% goes to “National Defense”. This is similar to the claim in the 1040EZ US income tax form booklet (see pages 36-37). Here are those two pages in a PDF. There the claim is that the U.S. government only spends 22% of its money on “National defense, veterans, and foreign affairs.” The form admits that you could leave out the “foreign affairs” part and still be at 21%. 

The White House website claims to calculate both veterans’ expenses and foreign affairs separately and still put “defense” alone at 26.3%. 

However, take a look now at the  pie chart created by the War Resisters League, which shows 51% of the budget going to the military. 

21% and 26.3% and 51% aren’t even close to each other.  This is not “good enough for government work.”  This is our money.  What gives?

Well, the White House website and the income tax form play a number of dirty tricks on us.  The income tax form lumps Social Security and Medicare into the budget even though they are not funded with income taxes and are not discretionary spending.  Take that money out, and the 1040EZ now tells us that the military makes up 32% of national public spending.  But the White House website claims to be dealing just with income tax when it puts military spending at a mere 26.3%.

The tax form says it’s using FY2009 numbers, while the White House says it’s dealing with FY 2010, as does the pie chart.  But the numbers haven’t changed THAT much.  The tax form and the pie chart are including veterans costs.  Adding those in on the White House website gets us to 30.4%.  That’s a little bit more honest a number, but still a long ways from 51%.

To review, the 2009 tax form puts military and veterans spending at 32%, the 2010 White House website at 30.4%, and the 2010 War Resisters chart at 51%.  Something still needs to be explained.

Part of the explanation is surely that a chunk of federal spending is payment of interest on debt, and most of that debt (80% according to the War Resisters League) is for past military expenses.  Both the tax form and the White House website lump all debt together as something separate from the military.  Applying the WRL calculation to the numbers on the White House website would bring its actual total military spending to 36.3%.  That’s a good bit more than the 26.3% any casual reader of the White House website will come away thinking goes to the military.  But it remains far short of 51%.

I can’t tell from the posted explanations, but very likely a couple of things are happening.  First, we spend a great deal on military operations through departments other than the “Department of Defense.”  The State Department hires mercenaries.  The Energy Department builds nukes.  There’s a whole new department called “Homeland Security.”  The CIA apparently has enough cash sloshing around that the President can secretly authorize it to arm a force in Libya sufficiently to take on another force we helped arm in Libya.  The bulk of our “foreign aid” consists of giving weapons (or cash with which to buy U.S. weapons) to countries we may one day fight wars against.  The War Resisters League seems to be trying to calculate all of these things.  The White House probably isn’t.

Second, even though the year 2010 has already happened, when its budget was originally laid out, it didn’t include a “supplemental” (off the books) spending bill for wars.  This is a nifty little gimmick the Obamabots inherited from the Bushies after having campaigned against it.  I would be less than shocked if the supplemental was still being left out of the White House numbers as if it had never happened.

In addition, there is a fundamental problem of honesty on the White House website and in the income tax booklet.  Both refer to the military as “defense,” while most of the expense has absolutely nothing to do with defense.  We build weapons for which no enemy exists.  We build bases halfway around the globe.  And the Justice Department justifies wars, such as the latest one in Libya, without even trying to claim there is anything defensive about it.

We are not spending 26% on defense.  We are spending 51% on the military.

Learn more and act more: http://defundwar.org

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David Swanson is author of “War is a Lie”