The number one error, engaged in by the majority of people, is failing to be an activist. The world's going to hell, countless situations can be easily improved, lives can be saved, and most people just sit there and do nothing. Others actively work to make matters worse. So, if you're working for peace and justice, you're among the tiny minority that's pretty much got the big stuff right. If constructive criticism drives you into despair, please stop reading this article right now and just continue what you're doing with your life. You have my gratitude.
If you're open to hearing some suggestions, for whatever they may be worth (and yes, of course, this list of errors will exclude those that I am myself guilty and unaware of), read on:
1. ELECTIONISM. We need elections but do not now have them in the United States, not at the federal level. Working for election reforms is one of the most important things anyone can do. But taking time off from activism to focus on elections is the biggest waste of resources we engage in. Election reform will come through creative nonviolent activism, education, organizing, media, disruption, resistance, and protest. It won't come through elections. Registering voters is not activism. Creating automatic registration, as just done in Oregon, is activism. Please stifle your compulsion to ask me who I'm voting for. You don't ask me if I want to win the lottery. (I do, but I will not buy a ticket or devote my life to staring at one.)
2. OBAMANISM. As bad as taking a break from activism every election cycle, is thinking and acting like a voter and a campaigner rather than an activist every day of every year, cheerleading for a team of corrupt officials rather than for policies, reforms, and actions that you support. "The nationalist," said Orwell, "not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." Nationalism is a huge problem, and its language, which has peace activists using the word "we" in saying "We are bombing Afghanistan," may contribute to identification with crimes. But the problem of managing not to even hear about them applies to partisanship as well. If a Republican were picking men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays, you'd see protests.
3. TOKENISM. "Black people are dumb." "Muslims are violent." These are understood to be ignorant hate speech. But "Women make better presidents" is not frowned on quite so much, despite its exactly equal idiocy. The problem is not the demographic characteristics of the president. The problem is having a single individual with the powers of a god, in debt to sociopathic billionaires, in a system dominated by militarism and corruption. We won't change it with a female or gay or Latina corporatist warmonger.
4. STRATEGISM. Winning a first and a second and a third step down a path to peace or justice is not best achieved through the means that many activists think of as "strategic." If you tell someone that they should halt one war so that the military can be better prepared for other wars, you weaken your argument against the one war, and you provide an argument for future wars. If you oppose the weapons that don't work, you give legitimacy to the far worse weapons that do work. If you object to a gimmick that boosts weapons spending over a mandated limit by transferring funds from a war budget, you shouldn't do so in a way that suggests either budget is acceptable at all, or in a way that suggests war spending is preferable to non-war-spending or budget trickery. Pre-compromising doesn't get you a compromise result; it gets you incoherence and lack of believability. A young woman pointing out to Jeb Bush that his brother (and Hillary and a few hundred others) created ISIS does a lot more to move people against war than do the strategies coming out of DC peace groups. War is counterproductive on its own terms, immoral, illegal, and catastrophic. Its funding should be eliminated. Our job is to demand that. A small reduction is a first step toward our goal.
5. IMPOTENTISM. The most pervasive and powerful propaganda is that of powerlessness. Telling yourself and each other that you are powerless is no different than Judith Miller repeating CIA lies about WMDs. It's exactly as ridiculous and exactly as damaging. We are not powerless. We quite easily have an impact frequently and could quite easily have a much bigger one. Expecting fairness won't help. We have to work uphill, but it's perfectly doable. Being impatient won't help. We have to keep working however long it takes and however few help out. Self-flagellation won't help. The money is against you and money is powerful. It's not your fault you haven't saved the world, but it might be thanks to you that your grandchildren save it.
6. PAROCHIALISM. We have to form uncomfortably large coalitions, and we really don't want to. I'm not advocating what I critiqued above as strategism. Don't sell your soul. Don't promote destructive ideologies for short-term gain. But don't be scared of guilt-by-association. Be willing to stand with people on an issue whose views and actions you deeply oppose on other issues.
7. LOCALISM. It's far more satisfying to find peace in your heart or sustainability in your backyard than to take on the military industrial complex. But if the earth dies, so will you. There are local and hyper-local angles that contribute to the greater cause. Cities and states can change nations. But individual action alone is not enough. Even small group action aimed too near is not enough. If everybody with solar panels on their roofs had put half the money into a movement to create public solar arrays, we'd have them.
8. FREUDISM. In a popular, simplistic notion of nonviolent communication, one never persuades anyone through rational argument. This is a claim, by the way, that comes out of an ideology supposedly dedicated to respecting people and their "needs." Apparently among those needs is not the need for a good reason to believe something. It would of course be equally simplistic to assert that all one ever needs are facts, or to ignore the age-old wisdom that it is hard to get someone to believe something they are paid not to. But when I tell people that college is free in other countries, their jaws drop, and it's not 30 seconds before they're saying it should be that way in the U.S. When I talk to non-self-selected groups about ending war, the majority say at the end that they have been moved toward believing that war can and should be ended. Facts are not enough, but they are one of the main things the corporate media deprives us of, and one of the key components of activism. They do nothing to help us see another's point of view if we're unwilling to look. They do nothing to alleviate high levels of fear. But it would be a mistake for us to become inversions of Edward Bernays working to manipulate people in a kinder, gentler manner.
9. FETISHISM. Here's a little secret. The people who speak the viewpoints that serve big money are not smarter, wittier, pithier, or better at framing a topic. They're on the air because they speak the viewpoints that serve big money. They may be more eloquent than you. They may be less so. But trying to think and sound like them in general is a quite risky proposition and completely unnecessary. There is nothing we need more than better media and better use of existing media by its readers, listeners, and viewers. There is no smarter place to invest as activists. But what we lack is not spokespeople. What we lack is microphones.
10. PINKERISM. "But haven't you heard? War is going away on its own? I heard it from someone who read a review of a book by Steven Pinker." War is not going to go away on its own. It is not even going away with our help. But it could go away if we really get our act together.
Rania Khalek discusses her reports on Baltimore police training in Israel, Israel targeting children with drone strikes, and Israeli officials openly advocating genocide. Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass. She is a regular contributer at The Electronic Intifada, where she sits on the editorial board. Her work has also appeared at Truthout, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Salon, AlterNet and more. You can follow her work at her website raniakhalek.com and on twitter at @RaniaKhalek. She also cohosts a podcast called “Unauthorized Disclosure."
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Katrina vanden Heuvel says there's an emerging populist agenda. Of course populist agendas tend to emerge in times of demobilization for election distraction -- that is to say, in moments when huge political party and NGO resources are being dumped into focusing attention on a distant election instead of on the crises and work at hand. Witness all the efforts to get Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, to oppose the TPP.
And of course the agendas don't actually emerge. There's nothing new about them. Millions of us have favored a living wage and free education and breaking up the banking monopolies for years. The point of having such ideas "emerge" is to create reservoirs of patience for not getting them and not even demanding them, but rather diverting one's interest into cheerleading for future saviors who will later treat campaign promises like, well, campaign promises.
But what interests me about what's "emerging" is what's missing from it, even in the rhetoric. Vanden Heuvel links to six reports or platform statements. Each deals with economics, the public budget, spending and investment priorities. Virtually absent from them all, by some coincidence, is any mention of military spending, despite its taking up a majority of the discretionary spending budget every year, and despite its swallowing far more wealth than goes to the billionaires who are so rightly upbraided for hoarding it so immorally.
Five of the six populist agendas propose nothing related to military spending. It might as well not exist. One of them includes as number 11 of its 12 points: "We should reduce military budgets and properly support humanitarian programs."
Was that so hard? It used to be the norm in Democratic Party platform promises. Where has it gone
too to? The other five organizations will not attack the sixth with sharp critiques for including this, of course. Their preferred tactic is silence.
The new normal seems to be PEP. Usually PEP means Progressive Except for Palestine (we all know people who are generally against murdering babies but not when Israel does it). But I'm using PEP to mean Populist Except for the Pentagon.
If you don't want to take the time to watch the video of Bernie Sanders' 12 proposals, here's his list:
1. major investment in infrastructure
2. reverse climate change
3. new economic models, no more huge tax breaks to corporations, but support for worker-owned coops
4. Employee Free Choice Act (remember that?)
5. make minimum wage a living wage
6. pay equity for women
7. end NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China
8. affordable college
9. break up the Wall Street banks
10. Medicare for all - single payer healthcare
11. expand Social Security
12. progressive taxation
All wonderful stuff. Some of it quite courageous outside-the-acceptable stuff. But what do you spend on reversing climate change? And do you also keep spending on the single biggest contributor to climate change, namely the military? What do you invest in infrastructure? It's not as though Sanders doesn't know about the trade-offs. In between listing items 1 and 2, he blames "the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq" for costing $3 trillion. He says he wants infrastructure instead of wars. But routine "base" military spending is $1.3 trillion or so each and every year. It's been far more in recent years than all the recent wars, and it generates the wars as Eisenhower warned it would. It also erodes the economy, as the studies of U-Mass Amherst document. The same dollars moved to infrastructure would produce many more jobs and better paying ones. Why not propose moving some money? Why not include it in the list of proposals?
In Sanders' case, I think he's partly a true believer in militarism. He wants good wars instead of bad wars (whatever that means) despite the belief in "good wars" requiring ongoing military spending. And partly, I think, he comes at it from a deep habit of "supporting" the troops and veterans for both sincere and calculating reasons. He's also a PEP in the Palestine sense.
But people will be thrilled just to hear Sanders mention "the bad Bush-Cheney war," when their standard is set by such war hawks as Hillary Clinton, whose love for war, rather than some collective fit of amnesia, explains the absence of the military from most of the emerging populist agendas.
We should be clear that this degeneration of the Democratic Party platform does not represent a shift in public attitudes, but rather an increase in the corruption of the political system. No polls support this. Many campaign funders do.
Some Americans have heard of New York Times reporter and book author James Risen and his refusal to expose a source. But, because most reports on that matter scrupulously avoided the subject of what it was Risen had reported, relatively few people can tell you. In fact, Risen reported (in a book, as the New York Times obeyed a government request to keep it quiet) that back in the year 2000 the CIA gave nuclear weapons plans to Iran. Flaws had been introduced into the plans, with the stated intention of slowing down an Iranian nuclear weapons program if one existed. Risen's reporting that the flaws were glaringly obvious, including to the former-Russian asset assigned to deliver the plans to Iran, made the scheme look even worse than it at first sounds.
Jeffery Sterling, a CIA handler of the former-Russian asset, was convicted earlier this year of being Risen's source. He was convicted on the basis of the sort of circumstantial evidence known as "meta-data" that the NSA maintains we're not supposed to worry about, but which an appeals court on Thursday ruled the bulk collection of unconstitutional. Sterling is expected to be sentenced Monday to a lengthy prison term.
During the course of Sterling's trial, the CIA itself made public a bigger story than the one it pinned on Sterling. The CIA revealed, unintentionally no doubt, that just after the nuclear weapons plans had been dropped off for the Iranians, the CIA had proposed to the same asset that he next approach the Iraqi government for the same purpose. The CIA revealed this by entering into evidence this cable:
Mr. S., also known as Bob S., was and is a CIA officer. M is short for Merlin which is code for the former Russian and also the name of the operation (Operation Merlin). The cable refers to a more adventurous extension of the operation to somewhere other than Iran. The name for this other location begins with a vowel, because it follows the indefinite article "AN."
Look closely at the text of the cable. The letters line up in vertical columns as well as the usual horizontal rows. It's a grid. The missing word on the seventh line begins with a vowel and has five letters. It can be IRAQI or OMANI.
Keep reading. The missing word on the tenth line has four letters. It is either IRAQ or OMAN.
There follows a discussion of a meeting place, which is likely not in Iraq (or Oman).
Read to the last line. There the missing word has six letters. It can be IRAQIS or OMANIS.
The circumstantial evidence for choosing Iraq over Oman as the second target for Operation Merlin is far more weighty than what was used to convict Jeffrey Sterling of informing the public of the first target. Oman has never been alleged publicly by anyone of having or pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Oman has never been known to be a target of U.S. military action. Iraq in 2000 had been the target of multiple CIA-backed coup attempts. Iraq's weaponry was a top focus of the CIA. Within two years, claims about Iraqi weaponry would be used by the CIA to support the U.S. attack on Iraq that would come in March 2003.
The 2002-2003 claims by then-President George W. Bush and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that a smoking gun could come from Iraq in the form of a mushroom cloud take on a different light when we learn that some short time earlier the CIA had proposed to give Iraq nuclear weapons plans as part of a program that Condoleezza Rice personally persuaded the New York Times not to reveal.
In 1995, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel had informed U.S. and British intelligence officers that "all weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed." Yet, on October 2, 2002, President Bush said, "The regime has the scientists and facilities to build nuclear weapons, and is seeking the materials needed to do so." This was a claim he would also put in a letter to Congress and in his 2003 State of the Union Address.
Vice President Dick Cheney went so far as to claim, on March 16, 2003, on Meet The Press, "And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
There was no evidence for this, of course, and pretended evidence was carefully manufactured, including forged documents purporting to show that Iraq was trying to buy uranium, and an incorrect analysis of aluminum tubes that had to be carefully sought out after all the usual experts refused to provide the desired answer.
"We do know that there have been shipments going . . . into Iraq . . . of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tools [sic] that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," said Condoleezza Rice on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer on September 8, 2002.
When the experts at the Departments of Energy, State, and Defense refused to say that aluminum tubes in Iraq were for nuclear facilities, because they knew they could not possibly be and were almost certainly for rockets, a couple of guys at the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center near Charlottesville, Va., were happy to oblige. Their names were George Norris and Robert Campus, and they received "performance awards" (cash) for the service. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell used Norris' and Campus' claims in his U.N. speech despite the warning of his own staff that they weren't true.
The U.S. government has never engaged in any such efforts to falsely portray Oman as pursuing nuclear weapons.
Did the CIA follow through with Merlin and actually give anything to the Iraqi government? Did it provide nuclear weapons plans as with Iran? Did it provide nuclear weapons parts, as originally conceived for Iran but not followed through on?
We don't know. But we know that the CIA continued paying "Merlin" and his wife for some service. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, "altogether, the CIA paid the Merlins roughly $413,223.67 over the 7 years after James Risen supposedly ruined Merlin's usefulness as an asset." For all we know, we taxpayers are still funding the Merlin household.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
Kathy Kelly is just out of prison, where she'd been sent for nonviolently opposing drone murders.
An appeals court has just overturned convictions for Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Gregory Boertje-Obed, imprisoned for entering and protesting a nuclear weapons site at Oak Ridge, Tenn., three years ago. Resentencing on lesser charges, and quite possibly immediate release, is expected.
Amazingly, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the government failed to prove that the activists intended to "injure the national defense." (Maybe Venezuela, accused by President Obama of being a threat to the same, should appeal to the Sixth Circuit!)
The U.S. government has just dropped charges against eight members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance who nonviolently protested the U.S. military's environmental destruction with a march from the EPA to the Pentagon this past Earth Day.
"It can only be speculated why the charges were dismissed," said NCNR. "The eight activists were charged with 'Failure to Comply With a Lawful Order' and were scheduled to appear for trial on June 4 at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA. The group was well prepared to challenge the charge and to speak some truth to power in the courtroom. Perhaps the U.S. attorney recognized that the defendants at the Pentagon were simply exercising their constitutionally-protected right to speak out against our government's wrong-headed policies. Or possibly he agreed with the defendants' messages."
In recent months there have been absurd indictments and sentences. But there have also been surprising acquittals and the dismissal of charges.
Freedom isn't free, it's won by continued protests of wars.
Now to free all the other prisoners!
John Kiriakou, just out of prison, writes about his experience here.