Set aside for a moment the morality of cheering for the killing of a human being — which despite the pilot’s prompting nobody on the plane did. In purely Realpolitik terms, killing foreign leaders whom we’ve previously supported has been an ongoing disaster.
Our killing of Saddam Hussein has been followed by years of war and hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths. Our attempts to kill Muammar Gadaffi have killed his children and grandchildren and will end no war if they eventually succeed. Our attempts to kill Osama bin Laden, including wars justified by that mission, have involved nearly a decade of senseless slaughter in Afghanistan and the rest of the ongoing global “generational” war that is consuming our nation.
The Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over for trial both before and after September 11, 2001. Instead our government opted for years of bloody warfare. And in the end, it was police action (investigation, a raid, and a summary execution) and not the warfare, that reportedly tracked bin Laden down in Pakistan. After capturing him, our government’s representatives did not hold him for trial. They killed him and carried away his dead body.
Killing will lead only to more killing. There will be no review of bin Laden’s alleged crimes, as a trial would have provided. There will be no review of earlier U.S. support for bin Laden. There will be no review of U.S. failures to prevent the September 11th attacks. Instead, there will be bitterness, hatred, and more violence, with the message being communicated to all sides that might makes right and murder is the way in which someone is, in President Obama’s words, brought to justice.
Nothing is actually resolved, nothing concluded, and nothing to be celebrated in taking away life. If we want something to celebrate here, we should celebrate the end of one of the pieces of war propaganda that has driven the past decade of brutality and death. But I’m not going to celebrate that until appropriate actions follow. Nothing makes for peace like ceasing to wage war. Now would be an ideal time to give that a try.
Our senseless wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya must be ended. Keeping bin Laden alive and threatening, assisted in keeping the war machine churning its bloody way through cities and flesh for years. No wonder President Bush was, as he said, not interested in tracking bin Laden down.
Ending the wars was our moral duty last week exactly as this week. But if the symbolism to be found in the removal of a key propaganda piece can be combined with the recent overwhelming U.S. support for ending the wars, to actually end the wars, then I’ll be ready — with clean hands and with no nasty gleam of revenge in my eye — to pop open the champagne.
But let’s return to the morality of cheering for the killing of a human being. A decade ago that would not have seemed as natural to a U.S. airline pilot. The automatic assumption would not have been that there could be no dissenters to that celebration. A decade ago torture was considered irredeemably evil. A decade ago we believed people should have fair trials before they are declared guilty or killed. A decade ago, if a president had announced his new power to assassinate Americans, at least a few people would have asked where in the world he got the power to assassinate non-Americans.
Is it too late to go back 10 years in time in some particular ways? As we put bin Laden behind us, can we put the degredation of our civil liberties and our representative government, and our honesty, accountability, and the rule of law behind us too? Can we recover the basic moral deceny that we used to at the very least pretend and aspire to?
Not while we’re dancing in the street to celebrate death.
Imagine the propaganda that the U.S. media could make of video footage of a foreign country where the primitive brutes are dancing in the streets to celebrate the murder of a tribal enemy. That is the propaganda we’ve just handed those who will view bin Laden as a martyr. When their revenge comes, we will know exactly what we are supposed to do: exact more revenge in turn to keep the cycle going.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but the blind people think that they still see. The world looks to them like a Hollywood adventure movie. In those stories, killing somone generally causes a happy ending. That misconception is responsible for piles and piles of corpses to which more will now be added.
As in any other U.S. city, things are looking up for Charlottesville, Va., job seekers who don’t mind helping to kill tons of people for no good reason. This week’s “community job fair” features some prominent members of the Charlottesville community whom we don’t usually think of as such.
When I travel the country, people often inform me that their town is a military-industrial town as if that were unusual. I always ask them if they can name a U.S. town that isn’t — in part because nobody has yet been able to, and in part because if someone ever does I might want to move there.
Once you weed through the predictable dead-end poverty-wage, fast-food, and box-store jobs at the job fair, much of what’s left is jobs that help kill people. Whether you support or oppose what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and 75 or so other countries, you’re probably not aware that the machinery behind it dominates the local economy here, just as in the rest of the United States. The “community” at the job fair is the community of death.
And let’s hope you’re lucky enough to support what the dozens of countries that U.S. corporations sell weapons to do with them. Would you be proud of having built weapons for Muammar Gadaffi and also of having built weapons for U.S. attacks on his military? Would you take pride in building engines of death for a so-called democracy and also for Saudi Arabia? It’s still a little known fact, but our biggest business is the machinery of death, not only because the U.S. military could be cut by 85% and still be the world’s largest, but also because the United States is far and away the leading seller of weapons to other countries. Often we end up arming additional countries to fend off countries we’ve armed. Often we end up at war with countries we’ve armed. Much of U.S. “foreign aid” is actually cash with which other nations are expected to purchase U.S.-made weaponry.
At the local community job fair you can get a job “researching biological and chemical weapons,” an enterprise that necessarily involves creating such weapons. Here’s your new employer:
Battelle Memorial Institute
1001 Research Park Blvd., Suite 400
Charlottesville, VA 22911
Or you can become a cog in one of the largest weapons makers on the planet at:
995 Research Park Blvd., Suite 400
Charlottesville, VA 22911
Here you could be proud of also working for one of the top violators of U.S. laws where fines of $845.7 million for 33 instances of misconduct since 1995 is just a cost of doing business. Check out #21 in that list of instances: failing to pay employees. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Other Cville area employers that would be delighted to hire you (and maybe even pay you) to help kill include Teksystems, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Pragmatics, Wiser, and no doubt others with fat Pentagon contracts. Lots of employers are recruiting here from Northern Virginia and elsewhere as well, such as Concurrent Technologies Corporation, Ogsystems, the Defense Logistics Agency, and BAE Systems. Here are a few of the products you could take pride in creating at that last one.
BAE is also another top criminal among government contractors. I don’t mean that these companies are participating in illegal wars. I mean that they are lying to the government about whether its weapons work, and engaging in other colorful abuses. For example, BAE has had the bad habit of bribing Saudi Arabian dictators to buy its killing machines.
Also on the list of employers at the community job fair is the Virginia Army National Guard, which is of course now an international outfit guarding nothing but attacking quite a few things. Then there’s the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, recruiting employees to work in a government that consists primarily of a massive military.
This jobs fair is no rarity. Check out the endless list of military jobs in Charlottesville on the Washington Post website. Then, just for laughs, search for a nonviolent career, and compare the results. Where does all the money for these military jobs come from? From your good old federal government, which is pouring it in quite generously. Here’s a resource that shows 161 military contractors in Cville sucking down $919,914,918 through 2,737 contracts from the federal government from 2000 to 2010. And the trend is quite cheerful:
In 2005 there were 263 contracts for $53,824,125.
In 2006, 423 contracts for $94,526,855.
In 2007, 345 contracts for $121,250,093.
In 2008, 396 contracts for $115,243,243.
In 2009, 321 contracts for $108,881,509.
In 2010, 325 contracts for $121,506,296.
Where’s the recession?
And for a mere $24.98 the above website will sell you the details on all the contracts.
Or you can find most of them for free here on a site that gives 2008 info for Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District on all government contracts. Here are the “Top 5 Contracting Agencies Purchasing from Contractor(s)”:
Defense Logistics Agency $65,361,602
Department of Homeland Security $48,612,379
Defense Information Systems Agency $25,073,111
And here are the “Top 10 Contractors”:
GLOBAL FLEET SALES, INC $236,506,666
NORTHROP GRUMMAN CORP. $62,771,743
FOSTER FUELS INC $60,156,180
HEWLETT-PACKARD CO. $47,931,248
WALSH GROUP LTD THE $41,000,000
CACI INTERNATIONAL INC $24,977,432
GENERAL DYNAMICS CORP. $14,712,119
ASHBURY INTERNATIONAL GROUP $13,857,589
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY $11,830,439
PRAGMATICS INC $7,225,556
Probably CACI should instill the most pride in members of our “community,” given its expert role in torturing bad information out of people.
Again, when you look at the trend for all government contracts for the whole congressional district (which are of course dominated by the military), the trend seems happy:
2003 – $669,272
2004 – $23,889,653
2005 – $27,542,909
2006 – $93,417,440
2007 – $426,605,143
2008 – $649,814,845
This explains the apparent impossibility of getting Congressman Goode/Perriello/Hurt to oppose any wars. Aside from “campaign contributions,” they are influenced by the absurd notion that backing wars creates local jobs.
It does create jobs. It’s our biggest industry. It’s a government jobs program on a massive scale that we don’t label “socialism” solely because it has the saving virtue of killing millions of human beings. But the fact is that spending the same public dollars on almost anything other than the military would produce more jobs and better paying jobs, and without all the horrible side-effects.
Where does the government get all the money to waste on a type of expenditure that is worse for the economy even than nothing, produces fewer jobs than cutting taxes? It takes over half of our income taxes to waste on the military industrial complex. This beast is not so complex after all, but rather simple. Its sole source of income is you and me. Nationally, here are the military contracts for the first two months of this year:
And you thought there was a budget crisis!
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris has signed onto the following draft resolution, to be voted on at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in June in Baltimore:
CALLING ON CONGRESS TO REDIRECT MILITARY SPENDING TO DOMESTIC PRIORITIES
WHEREAS, the severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to re-examine our national spending priorities; and
WHEREAS, an inordinate level of military expenditure is being made by the U.S. federal government for warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan; and
WHEREAS, the people of the United States are collectively paying approximately $126 billion dollars per year to wage such warfare; and
WHEREAS, this warfare creates great and unnecessary harm to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and to the U.S. military personnel and their families.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to oppose all legislation that provides further funding of U.S. warfare and military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to take immediate action to terminate funding of these military operations; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.
That would be a start. With two-thirds of Americans wanting out of those two wars, this is not really a test of leadership so much as a test of whether mayors can still rhetorically represent people whom Congress refuses to substantively represent. But even were Congress to listen to the public or the mayors or common sense and end those wars, the base military budget is several times bigger than this war budget. And Charlottesville will remain a military town until we change our country’s basic structure.
A glance at Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya suggests the following score: Nonviolence 3, Violence 0. Wars are not just ugly and murderous; they do not work. Compare two weeks in Egypt with 10 years in Afghanistan. Wars are ineffective, immoral, illegal, economically disastrous, environmentally catastrophic, endangering of all of our lives through blowback and proliferation, and yet our community’s job base.
On September 16-18, 2011, in Charlottesville, a conference will be held called “The Military Industrial Complex at 50: On Moving Money from the Military to Human Needs.”
It can be done. It must be done. Get involved: http://micat50cville.org
How do you get politicians living off legalized bribery to criminalize bribery? How do you persuade the corporate media to report on the interests of flesh-and-blood, non-corporate people? How do you take over a political party when the only other one allowed to compete is worse? These are not koans, but actual problems with a single solution.
It might seem like there are a million solutions: pass state-level clean election laws, build independent media, build a new party, etc. But the fundamental answer is that when the deck is stacked against you, you insist on a new deck. Power, as Frederick Douglas told us, concedes nothing without a demand. We cannot legislate our way out of plutocracy. Instead, we the people must seize power.
The problem of seizing power for non-billionaires is the problem of the dying labor movement. To many, this looks like an unsolvable riddle as well. How do you pass the Employee Free Choice Act to legalize unionizing when you have no aggressive unions willing to pressure Congress to do so? And if Congress works for corporate masters, do we need to apply the pressure there instead? But making a scene in a corporate lobby doesn’t hurt a corporation in an era of shamelessness, and we can’t unelect CEOs.
What to do?
Joe Burns has an answer in his new book “Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America.” Burns argues that for the last 30 years, since 1980, the labor movement has sought ways to succeed without employing the fundamental tool required, and that employing that tool is a choice available to the labor movement and to all workers immediately without waiting for anyone’s approval.
From 1930 to 1980, unions created ever improving lives for millions of workers, improving our economy and our politics in the process. And they did it by striking. They would have found the idea of unions that did not strike unimaginable. Congress and the courts have stripped away unions’ power to effectively strike, but so has corporatist ideology. When the anti-union assault intensified in the 1980s, and ever since, the labor movement has responded in a completely new and completely hopeless manner. Rather than halting production, unions set up picket lines that merely watched scabs replace union workers. And when unions are able to negotiate contracts, they no longer seek to establish standardized wages for a whole industry, but negotiate a variety of standards even at a single corporation.
To survive and succeed, Burns argues, unions must use strikes to halt production and impose their demands; and those demands must be industry-wide. Unions must use secondary or solidarity strikes and boycotts in support of other striking workers. A solidarity boycott is far more effective than the extremely difficult consumer boycotts that well-meaning atomized citizens are always dreaming about. Compelling a store to stop selling a particular product is far easier than persuading consumers to not buy that product.
The central tool that must be revived is the strike that halts production and imposes a cost on an employer. A strike is not a public relations stunt, but a tool for shifting power from a few people to a great many. The era of the death of labor, the era we have been living in, is the era of the scab or replacement worker. Scabs were uncommon in the 1950s, spotted here and there in the 1960s and 1970s, and widespread from the 1980s forward.
In the absence of understanding the need to truly strike, the labor movement has tried everything else for the past 30 years: pretend strikes for publicity, working to the rule (slowing down in every permitted way), corporate campaigns pressuring employers from various angles, social unionism and coalition building outside of the house of labor, living wage campaigns, and organizing for the sake of organizing. These approaches have all had some defensive successes, but they all appear powerless to turn the ship around.
“[T]he idea that the labor movement can resolve its crisis simply by adding new members — without a powerful strike in place,” writes Burns, “actually constitutes one of the greatest theoretical impediments to union revival.” From 1995 to 2008, with unions focused on organizing the unorganized, the U.S. labor movement shrank from 9.4 million to 8.2 million members. The Service Employee International Union (SEIU)’s famous organizing success is in large part the takeover of other unions, that is of people already unionized, and in large part the bribing of politicians (through “campaign contributions” and other pressure) to allow the organizing of public home health-care workers. What’s left of the labor movement is, in fact, so concentrated in the public sphere, that unionized workers are being effectively attacked as living off the hard-earned pay of private tax-payers.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), so much a part of candidate Obama’s campaign, and now long forgotten, might not fix anything if passed, in Burns’ analysis. To succeed, the labor movement needs the sort of exponential growth it has had at certain moments in the past. Easier organizing alone would not persuade enough workers that joining a union is good for them. But persuading them that joining a union holds immediate advantages for them would revive labor with or without EFCA. And EFCA might make things worse. EFCA tries to legislate the right to quickly create new contracts, to avoid employer stalling. But it does this by subjecting workers to the decisions of arbitrators. Rather than empowering a class of arbitrators, the labor movement we had until 30 years ago would have considered the obvious solution to be empowering workers to compel the creation of contracts through the power of the production-halting strike.
Striking does not require a union or majority support but is itself a tool of organizing and radicalizing, with a minority of leaders moving others to join in what they would not choose to do alone. Solidarity is the process as well as the product of a labor movement. And it is by building strikes with the power to halt entire sectors of the economy, not through bribes and emails and marches, that ordinary people gain power over their so-called representatives in government. “Imagine telling Samuel Gompers or Mother Jones or the Reuther brothers or Jimmy Hoffa that trade unions could exist without a strike. However, in the name of pragmatism,” Burns writes, “the ‘progressive’ trade unionists of today have fit themselves into a decaying structure. On a deeper level, they have abandoned the goal of creating the type of labor movement capable of transforming society.”
To turn this around, Burns suggests, we will have to change the way we think about workplaces. According to our courts, a man or woman can work for decades in a business and nonetheless have no legal interest in it, the legal interest belonging entirely to the employer. The employer can move the business to another country without violating a labor contract. The employer can sell out to another employer and eliminate a labor contract in the process. The employer can break a strike with scabs. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 might have looked good on paper, but its interpretation by courts and restriction by other legislation — notably the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 — have made clear its weaknesses. Labor has no choice left, Burns argues, but to repeal the NLRA by noncompliance.
There are recent examples to build on: the 1986 United Food and Commercial Workers Local P9 strike against Hormel in Austin, Minnesota; the 1989 Pittson Strike in West Virginia, in which workers used sit-ins and road blocking, as well as vandalism, to successfully resist concession demands; the 1995 lockout of workers at A.E. Staley and Company in Decatur, Illinois; the 2000 campaign to free the Charleston 5 in which a global strike in ports was organized to successfully oppose the prosecution of five picketers in South Carolina; the 2008 takeover of Republic Windows and Doors, in which workers in Chicago compelled an employer to pay them severance; and the 2011 pushback against union busting in Madison, Wisconsin.
The specific approaches used in a newly striking and solidarity-building labor movement will be invented as needed and vary with the circumstances. Burns proposes creating new start-up unions without the financial assets that are placed at risk in this country by exercising the international and human right to strike. Strike funds could be transferred to such “new unions created to protect old unions.” Employers have manipulated the law, creating new entities for ever purpose under the sun. Labor needs to become equally aggressive about finding the way to create its vision of a just society.
But one comment in Burns’ book will lead away from the crucial path he has pointed out. Burns writes: “In many ways, violent resistance was the only means available to unions of the 1930s to stop production, particularly in the face of aggressive management tactics.” We have 80 years of additional global experience that demonstrates the dangerous falsehood of this claim. Nonviolent tactics (which will, of course, often be met with violence from the other side) are more likely to succeed and to do so at less cost, building greater solidarity in the process.
A year ago BP began filling the Gulf of Mexico with oil.
Last week BP blocked a woman from entering its annual meeting.
Which will prove the bigger mistake?
BP may have chosen the right country to hit with the worst oil disaster in world history. If there’s any population that will take seeing its land and water destroyed for corporate profit lying down, it’s got to be us. We’re split between gratitude and indifference: should we thank BP or just stay out of its way?
BP may have chosen the right government to kick in the teeth. BP agreed to a $20 billion settlement that falls very far short of the damage. A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice is pretending to consider the possibility of charging BP with manslaughter for the deaths of 11 men in the explosion that started the gusher. Such a step wouldn’t scrape the surface of the death and destruction BP has created, but it would constitute such a radical reversal of President Obama’s doctrine of immunity for corporate crime that nobody really thinks it’s likely.
But BP (which stands for Belching Petroleum) has made one wrong move. BP has pissed off Diane Wilson.
To understand why this blunder could prove fatal, read Wilson’s newly published “Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth.” This is an hilariously entertaining book of an almost impossible sort.
For years I’ve met fulltime hardcore activists full of powerful and colorful stories that I thought I knew would die with them. Most people are tragically and frustratingly allergic to writing anything down. Wilson is an all-out activist, a Gulf Coast shrimper turned civil resister who has made herself a major thorn in the side of several multinational corporations. She’s part Forest Gump, part Erin Brokovich, part Daniel Berrigan, and she has put her stories down on paper. Her book is a guide to becoming a one-person justice movement.
Wilson has not only lived as a shrimper who experienced the arrival of the polluting chemical companies that would kill off the shrimp, but she has put that experience into context — and I mean context:
“I’ll admit right up front that I’m soft and foolish about the fishermen so I imagine now that our inability to see our own end back then was like that first Indian who saw the first Spanish ship. At first, he couldn’t see the ship. There was nothing in his life or the land where he lived that allowed him to imagine — let alone see — a Spanish galleon. But he could tell that the water moved different. So he did something that, probably, his granddaddy or daddy taught him. Or maybe it was his momma that taught him to watch the water carefully. So he saw how the water swirled and how the light hit the water with a charcoal blackness that he only saw at night. But it wasn’t night. It was broad daylight. Then he saw the ship! It probably took two days for that Indian to see the heavy bobbing ship that was fixing to change his life forever. Fishermen aren’t nearly as quick so it took us forty years to see the pipes and cement and metal towers and tanks and flares and fences and chemicals of every description that were coloring the very air we breathed. And, I say with every ounce of kindness that I possess because I love the fishermen, we were fools.”
So a woman who had struggled to become a shrimper in a man’s world became an activist, a resister, a hunger-striker, and an aid to whistleblowers, not to mention an author. Wilson very rapidly developed into the kind of activist who will act immediately upon the wildest idea available. When Union Carbide / Dow was poisoning her corner of Texas, while shortchanging the victims of a disaster the company had caused in India, Wilson scaled a fence, climbed a tower, dropped a banner, and chained herself up. Wilson declared herself an unreasonable woman and announced the need for more of the same. Inevitably, she was involved in launching one of my favorite peace groups, CodePink.
One of Wilson’s more entertaining stories involves her sneaking into a fundraiser to protest then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Another is when she decides to sink her boat on top of an illegal discharge pipe, the Coast Guard tries to stop her, and a surprising ally takes her side.
Wilson’s book is part of her activism, exposing the crimes and lies of the corporations she has protested. Her repeated willingness to risk jail leads to some of the best whistleblowing in the book, as she describes the horrors of the Texas penal system:
“Shandra was six months pregnant at the time and her police file clearly stated that she was not to be picked up until after her delivery because Shandra had a rare uterine condition that was very problematic, especially in a jail cell. That mattered not a whit to the sheriff’s department. The sheriff was running a reelection campaign and outstanding warrants didn’t look good on the campaign trail so in the cell Shandra went. When Shandra started bleeding the guards said she was just trying to get out of jail or she just wanted drugs. Shandra had to ‘prove’ she was bleeding to the guard with a bloody pad. When her water broke and she went into labor in earnest, the nurse who answered the intercom button on the jailhouse wall (a button the inmates were told never to press) said Shandra was hallucinating and trying to get drugs so they guessed Shandra needed to go into isolation to learn her lesson — and stop bothering the guards. Shandra put up a fuss and the guard said Shandra was going the ‘hard way or the easy way’ and threatened to use the Taser gun on her. Fortunately an alarmed guard (yes, there are some) convinced Shandra to go into isolation, but once there, the baby started coming feetfirst. A breech birth. With a baby dangling to her knees, Shandra crawled sixty feet to a call button, pressed three times, and yelled that she was in labor. When the guards and nurse finally arrived, they rushed her to the hospital, but her baby died en route in the ambulance.”
The stories Wilson tells about Union Carbide and Dow and Formosa and BP are worse, far worse. The actions she takes to counter their crimes include single-handedly filling in for the government agencies — notably the EPA — that are supposed to enforce laws. Wilson generates media coverage of abuses, educates the public, attempts citizens arrests, and afflicts the comfortable when she can’t comfort the afflicted. After organizing a CodePink naked women’s protest of BP in Houston, she greeted one of its bought-off senators, Lisa Murkowski, in a Congressional hearing by pouring oil-looking syrup all over herself and denouncing BP’s destruction of the Gulf. Then Wilson managed to get back in, to another hearing the same week, to protest BP’s then-CEO Tony Hayward with black paint all over her.
As Wilson demanded Hayward’s arrest through the microphone of world media (and the end of his work running BP would be announced the next day, his departure from the company a month later), Wilson herself was the outlaw under our system of so-called justice. She faced criminal charges in Texas from which she was fleeing, and now in Washington, D.C., as well, but hopped a plane to Taiwan where she would present a Black Planet Award (for destroying part of the planet) to Formosa Plastics, the biggest corporation in Taiwan. The headlines all celebrated “The Woman Who Fights Formosa.”
The last line of Wilson’s book is “Now — where’s that Tony Hayward?”
She found him (or his company) last week, with another Black Planet Award, and despite being kept out of BP’s shareholders’ meeting, helped generate stories around the world about the oil that is still killing the Gulf of Mexico where once upon a time a woman could make a living with a shrimp boat.
The U.S. Justice Department, by the way, is interested in whether you think BP should be subject to the rule of law. Tell them:
President Obama’s speech on the deficit on Wednesday was a flop. He proposed to end no wars, make no serious cuts to the military, REDUCE corporate taxes, tax no estates or investments, raise no taxes on any billionaires, and give an unelected commission the power to slash Medicare.
Obama began by blaming tax cuts, wars, and healthcare:
[A]fter Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade. To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this: in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.
Notice that the possibility of ending wars got dropped from that last sentence. Obama then lumped the military (over half of discretionary spending) in with non-discretionary spending:
So here’s the truth. Around two-thirds of our budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security. Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20%. What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our other national priorities like education and clean energy; medical research and transportation; food safety and keeping our air and water clean.
I don’t think discretionary means what he thinks it means. The wars and the military are discretionary. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are not.
Half of Obama’s speech was dedicated to laying out the Republicans’ vision:
One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that. Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.
He detailed the Republicans’ plan. Then Obama, much more swiftly and vaguely, gave his own proposals. Step One: Cut everything and nothing from that 12%:
The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week – a step that will save us about $750 billion over twelve years. We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs I care about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs. We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We will invest in education and job training. We will do what we need to compete and we will win the future.
God forbid we shouldn’t win the future.
Step Two was worse. After early in his speech denouncing the idea of fixing waste and abuse as drastically insufficient, when it comes to the military, Obama proposes merely to fix waste and inefficiency. A pretty subtle distiniction, I’d say. Personally, I’d fix abuse before inefficiency, but whatever. He’s not ending any wars or following his deficit commission chair’s recommendation of major cuts and foreign base closures. Or at least he’s not mentioning any serious cuts in his big speech on the subject:
The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget. As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world. But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt. Just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense. Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again. We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.
Step number three is worse still. Obama now goes after Medicare:
The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget. Here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer: their plan lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself. Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion. My approach would build on these reforms. We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments. We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market. We will work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid. We will change the way we pay for health care – not by procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results. And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services seniors need. Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional one trillion dollars in the decade after that. And if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.
Read that last sentence again. Independent of what? Of voters of course.
And step four makes a promise that Obama has previously made and broken:
The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code. In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.
Take THAT to the bank!
Or THIS if you’re a corporation:
“And as I called for in the State of the Union, we should reform our corporate tax code as well, to make our businesses and our economy more competitive.”
Here’s what Obama said in that State of the Union:
“So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.”
Bring on the change!
Most humans, it will surprise our newspapers to learn, are not U.S. citizens. World War II killed 100 times as many people as the U.S. Civil War, with World War I not far behind. U.S. wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq are among those that have killed far more human beings than the Civil War killed.
The South, we’re told, merely wanted to be independent; slavery had nothing to do with it. Of course, this is nonsense. The South wanted to be independent in order to maintain slavery.
The North, we’re told, merely wanted to free the slaves; power, empire, profit, and politics had nothing to do with it. Of course, this too is nonsense. The war was well underway before Lincoln “freed the slaves.” Actually he did not free those slaves whom he actually could free in the border states, but only those he could not free unless the North won the war. Freeing the slaves, like bringing democracy to Iraq or saving the Jews from Hitler, was a belated justification for a war that had other motivations. Adding that moral mission to the war helped keep European nations from backing the South and helped keep Northerners killing and dying in sufficient numbers.
Regardless of who said what when, the war did end slavery and was therefore justifiable. Or so we’re told. Yet, every other nation that ended slavery did so without a civil war. Similarly, we justify the American war for independence because it brought independence, even though Canada and countless other countries achieved independence without war. If we had used a war to create public schools, we would denounce critics of that war as opponents of education. To seriously justify a war, however, would require showing that anything it accomplished could not have been accomplished without all the killing, wounding, traumatizing, and destroying. What if the North had allowed the South to secede and repealed the fugitive slave law? What if an independent North had used trade, diplomacy, and morality to pressure the South to end slavery? Would slavery have lasted longer than the Civil War raged? If so, we are still talking, at best, about a war to hasten the end of slavery.
Even if the war was really launched for national power, to keep states together in a nation for the nation’s sake, we are all better off as a result. Or so we’re taught. But is it true? Most Americans believe that our system of representative government is badly broken, as of course it is. Our politicians are bought and sold, directed by corporate media outlets, and controlled by two political parties rather than the citizenry. One reason it’s difficult to bring public pressure to bear on elected officials is that our nation is too darn big. Most U.S. citizens can’t join a protest in their nation’s capital if they want to. A resistance movement in Wisconsin can’t very well spread to other key cities; they’re all hundreds or thousands of miles away. In the years that followed the “preservation of the union,” the United States completed its conquest of the continent and began building an overseas empire, driven in large part by pressure from the same interests that had profited from the Civil War.
Secession has as bad a name as socialism, but Wisconsin could secede, ban foreign (U.S.) money from its elections and create a government of, by, and for the people by next year. A seceded California could be one of the most pleasant nations to live in on earth. Vermont would have a civilized healthcare system already if not for Washington, D.C. Yes, the North helped end Jim Crow in the South, but the South did most of that on its own, and we all helped end Apartheid in South Africa without being South Africa. In the absence of viable representative government, we won’t do much else on a national scale that we can be proud of. We now, in the United States, imprison more people of African descent than were enslaved here at the time of the Civil War, and it is national policies, completely out of the control of the American people, that produce that mass incarceration.
Those who fought in the Civil War, regardless of the politics or results, were heroes. Or so we are told. But most of the men who killed and died were not the generals whose names we are taught. They were soldiers, lined up like cogs in a machine, killing and dying on command. The vast majority of them, as with soldiers on both sides of all wars prior to late-20th century conditioning, avoided killing if at all possible. Many simply reloaded their guns over and over again, fetched supplies for others, or lay in the dirt. Killing human beings does not come easily to most human beings, and many will avoid it — unless properly conditioned to brainlessly kill — even at risk to their own lives. To be sure, many killed and many who did not kill died or lost their limbs. There was much bravery and sacrifice and even noble intention. But it was all for a tragically pointless exercise in collective stupidity, lunacy, and horror. Reassuring as it is to put a pretty gloss on a tragedy like this, we would be better served by facing the facts and avoiding the next one.
A century and a half after this madness burst forth, the United States has established a permanent military and permanent war time, with military bases in over 100 other countries, multiple major wars, and numerous small-scale secretive wars underway. Our weapons industry, born out of the Civil War, is our biggest industry, the world’s biggest arms supplier, and the source for the armaments used by many of the nations we fight our modern wars against. The civil liberties, the right to habeas corpus, everything that Lincoln temporarily stripped away for the War Between the States, also known — quite accurately — as the War of Northern Aggression, has now been stripped away for good by Justice Department lawyers and prostituted pundits pointing to Lincoln’s example. The legacy of the Civil War has been death, destruction, the erosion of democracy, and the propaganda that produces more of the same. Enough is enough. Let’s get our history right. Let’s glorify those years in our past during which we did not all try to kill each other.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Afghanistan is full of wonderful people and could be a really terrific place to live. But first my government back home in the United States would have to stop murdering civilians over here.
I can’t join in antiwar rallies over here, where I would be happy to speak against the crimes of my own government, because it’s not considered safe for foreigners, especially Americans, to go near such scenes. Why? Well, imagine if this were happening in the United States and a citizen of the nation responsible were to come visiting:
The United States has made clear its intention to continue and escalate this behavior.
On the first of March two U.S. helicopters hunted down and slaughtered, one-by-one, nine young boys gathering firewood.
Recently released photographs show U.S. soldiers posing with the corpses of people they’ve killed for sport.
Just this Monday troops reportedly killed an innocent shopkeeper.
Dear Afghanistan, I would love to stay and apologize, but I must be going. I hope to see you in better times, to drink your tea, ski your mountains, and marvel at your people in a future era of peace, Inshallah.
DUBAI, UAE — I was on my way to Afghanistan and have delayed the final leg of the trip a day to see whether being American is compatible with not getting blown up. The problem seems to be that, in addition to the U.S. military occupying the country for almost a decade and routinely murdering random innocent people, some bigoted jerk in Florida is creating a big stink about how much he hates Islam and enjoys burning copies of the Koran.
The Koran-burning preacher claims that he’s just burned a book, not killed anyone. Of course, nothing excuses those who actually engage in killing, no matter what inspired their rage. But the preacher hasn’t just burned a book. He’s preached hatred. He’s added deep insult to injury. The results were predictable, or at the very least are predictable now, while he shows no sign of relenting.
I’m trying to visit Afghanistan for friendship and peace, at the invitation of American and Afghan nonviolent peace activists — the trip organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. I flew to Dubai from Washington on a huge plane. A significant percentage of the passengers were U.S. military or mercenaries, headed to Afghanistan or Western Asia (the “Middle East”) for war and a paycheck, many of them at great cost to their family life — being separated for long periods from spouses and kids back home. Our flight was probably less a “civilian” form of transport than the Lusitania. Yet, thankfully, nobody shot us down as we flew over a number of countries notable for the absence of any “no fly” zone.
The flight took over a day, began in the dark, saw daylight come and go, and landed in the dark. I slept part way, woke up, flipped on the flight-path map and noticed we were just over Nuremberg. If I could pick one place for words not to have been spoken in hypocritical pretense, that would be it. We headed further east than I’d been before, over the Czech Republic, just north of Vienna, into Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, over the Black Sea, and Turkey. We passed just east of Syria as we headed south over Iraq, down between the Tigris and Euphrates, and down the Persian Gulf, past Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Reports that the United States agreed to let Saudi Arabia attack the people of Bahrain in order to gain its support for a “humanitarian” bombing mission in Libya, take hypocrisy to new heights. One has to wonder whether Americans would stand for so many anti-humanitarian missions were the people involved not Muslims.
I read a couple of books on the plane, one being Joshua Foust’s “Afghan Journal: Selections from Registan.net,” a book of recent blog posts by a U.S. military contractor from my home town of Charlottesville, Va. Foust is a good dissector of the military’s ongoing state of SNAFU, but his solution is to do wars better, not to end them. He dreams of “counter-insurgency” someday working, while I dream of the U.S. military someday leaving other people’s countries. I believe my dream to be far less extravagant than Foust’s.
Foust blames bureaucracy, or what is commonly called “big government,” for the failure of what cannot work. It is not the number of fobbits (permanent bureaucratic residents of Forward Operating Bases) that is leading to eternal failure; it’s the fact that the bases are in a country that does not want them and will not tolerate them. The most that a more COINy (counter-insurgency, winning hearts and minds) approach could achieve would be awareness of the futility, if not the immorality, of the war by more members of the U.S. military.
Foust also wants the prevention of U.S. military casualties downgraded from top-priority to a secondary concern, with the accomplishment of some sort of mission being made the primary objective of the war. But there is no reason to believe this would accomplish anything. At best it would persuade Americans to stop the war. At worst it would kill more people on both sides without ending the occupation.
Foust thinks the United States should get out of Kunar and Nuristan, but only because those areas are too hard to control. He describes Christian missionaries going to work there and says he’s half-inclined to join them. This is someone offering advice on the conduct of the war who clearly sees nothing wrong with going into people’s territory in order to change their religion to a different one. In fact, this seems consistent with his, and the U.S. military’s, desire for a smarter COIN war. He wants to get to know the locals in order to change them, control them, and accomplish the mission (whatever that is). This is different from wanting to discover what people want even if what they want is to be left alone.
A local TV station in Charlottesville reported on my planned trip to Afghanistan, and one of the comments posted on its website urged Christian missionaries to stop hassling Americans and go over to Afghanistan to convert the Muslims. It occurs to me that I am not on a trip from a secular place to a religious one, but from a mostly religious place to another mostly religious (if very different) place. Former celebrities in the United States associate Islam with homosexuality, which they condemn. Current presidential candidates in the United States associate Islam with atheism, which they condemn. Can this have nothing to do with the arrogant colonial approach the U.S. military takes toward the Afghan people?
Foust is a good critic of that eternally failing approach. He thinks locally chosen leaders would bring more peace and prosperity in Helmand Province than U.S. puppets. But what makes him think peace and prosperity are the goals of the U.S. government? They clearly are not at home; why would Afghanistan be any different? Of course, a mission is going to look grossly incompetent if you’ve accepted propaganda about what the goals are. Foust thinks the U.S. plan is to leave Afghanistan someday. He thinks it would make obvious sense for Iran to oppose the Taliban but support the US occupation. And his vision of how long this madness will continue is apparent in the fact that he believes U.S. mistakes have lost Helmand for “at least another generation.” I expect the graveyard of empires will have done its work by then.
The most encouraging section of Foust’s book, I found, was about Kapisa, a model of success in the Afghan war, or something like that, despite repeated failures. Encouraging is that success there runs up against nonviolent resistance in the form of public protest, not violent attacks. That’s the approach I hope to learn about if I make my way to Afghanistan in the next day or so. With the forests destroyed, migratory birds reportedly do not visit Afghanistan anymore, but airplanes do. The airplanes, however, are full of mercenaries. In the meantime, here I sit, near Erik Prince’s new home.
The trip from Dubai to Afghanistan is probably similar to an elevator trip from a penthouse to the street in Manhattan, or perhaps from a private luxury space station to the depths of hell. If I could bring a little fraction of the wealth in which Dubai is rolling on the plane with me and let Afghans — not foreigners — put it to use as they saw fit, I’m guessing more would be accomplished than any kinder and gentler war strategy will ever produce.
Johan Galtung, sometimes called the father of peace studies, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and the refusal of Egyptian soldiers to attack civilians. His prediction of the collapse of the US empire in 2020 appears to be on schedule. So, it was noteworthy when he predicted on Tuesday at the University of Virginia that the war in Libya would last 20 years. If, however, NATO and the opposition were to kill Gadaffi, he said, the fighting could go on for more than 20 years.
This prediction came the day after Obama gave one of those speeches, like his speeches on Gitmo or Iraq, where he persuades you that something is already over without actually making that claim. How can the war (excuse me, humanitarian intervention) in Libya be over and have 20 years left to go?
Galtung argues that predictions of quick success in Libya depend on an ignorance of history and a reduction of broad social forces to the caricature of a single person. There are five forces at work in the Arab Revolution, Galtung argues: opposition to dictatorship (demand for civil rights), opposition to inequality and poverty (demand for economic rights), opposition to the U.S. and Israeli empires, the revolt of the youth, and the revolt of women. When a government is on the wrong side of all five forces, Galtung claims, it is doomed.
Egypt scores a negative 5; its government imposed/imposes dictatorship and inequality, supports the rule of the two empires, and suppresses youth and women. Tunisia, because of advances in women’s rights, scores a negative 4. To explain why Libya only scores a negative 3, Galtung goes back to 1915 when Arabs revolted against the Ottoman Empire with the aid of France, the UK, and Russia. France took over Lebanon and Syria. The UK took over Iraq and Palestine. The next revolt came in the 1950s and 1960s against the French and the British. This revolt was led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and then by Gadaffi. The United States became Israel’s patron and developed the current empire. Gadaffi gained the reputation of an opponent of the U.S. and Israeli, as well as French and British and Italian empires. In Galtung’s analysis, such a reputation lasts forever.
So, Gadaffi’s government gains points for holding an aura of anti-imperialism and for relatively little inequality. Similarly, Galtung gives the governments of Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia negative fives but suggests that Syria and Iran score better on the basis of past resistance to empire.
The opposition in Libya, according to Galtung, stands for the West. France, Italy, the UK, and the US are likely to invest huge sums in that opposition. On Monday Obama promised to transfer $33 billion in seized Libyan assets to “the people” of Libya; that means the opposition. What’s underway, Galtung says, is a civil war, not a no-fly zone protecting civilians. And killing Gadaffi would make him a martyr.
This analysis fits with some facts that aren’t paid enough attention to, I believe. Nonviolent campaigns against tyranny succeed more often than violent ones. Nonviolent campaigns succeed more often when violence is used against them. Too much violence can destroy them, but it takes more than is commonly imagined. Gadaffi’s military is not primarily foreign mercenaries. Prior to U.S. involvement, military forces were defecting to the rebel side; now one doesn’t hear of that happening. The leader of the rebels is a CIA creation. Going back to the U.S. liberation of Cuba and the Philippines, the U.S. military has stepped in to “help” dozens of countries and overstayed its welcome every single time without exception.
Galtung doesn’t predict that the United States will be at war in Libya for 20 years. He expects Western Europe to take over the poisonous role of empire from the current global power. China, he believes, even if it were powerful enough to step into that role, is not stupid enough to do so.