A unique conference is planned in Charlottesville, Va., featuring the latest technologies for the practice of large-scale killing. The Daily Progress tells us that,
"to allow participants to speak more freely about potentially sensitive topics, the conference is closed to the media and open only to registered participants."
Well I should think so! Registered participants? How does one get registered for such a thing?
"From a local perspective, this industry is really growing in Charlottesville," says one expert, speaking with great objectivity, as if this growth were a matter of complete moral indifference.
Exactly how many people will be there?
"About 225 people are expected to attend the inaugural event, which is attracting government, business and academic leaders, said conference chairwoman and organizer Joan Bienvenue, who is also the director of the UVa Applied Research Institute."
Wait, what? The University of Virginia has an "applied research institute" for applying research to the practice of mass murder?
Is there no shame left in any institution?
"Sen. Timothy M. Kaine and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-4th, are also scheduled to give key speeches at the conference."
I guess that answers my question.
And where exactly will this blood-soaked confab take place?
"Located in Albemarle County, Rivanna Station is a sub-installation of the Army's Fort Belvoir. The local base employs mostly civilians and houses operations of the National Ground Intelligence Center, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency."
The National Ground Intelligence Center, previously downtown in what became the SNL Financial building, is now north of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia has built a "research park" next door, where this conference will be held. The NGIC famously played an utterly shameless role in marketing the war on Iraq that took at least a half a million lives and destroyed that nation.
When the experts at the Department of Energy 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, and when the State Department's people also refused to reach the "correct" conclusion, a couple of guys at the NGIC 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. NGIC also hired a company called MZM to assist with war lies for a good chunk of change. MZM then gave a well-paid job to NGIC's deputy director Bill Rich Jr, and for good measure Bill Rich III too. MZM was far and away the top "contributor" to former Congressman Virgil Goode's campaigns, and he got them a big contract in Martinsville before they went down in the Duke Cunningham scandal. Rich then picked up a job with a company called Sparta, which, like MZM, was conveniently located in the UVA Research Park.
Local want ads in Charlottesville offer jobs "researching biological and chemical weapons" at Battelle Memorial Institute (located in the UVA Research Park). As you may know, researching such weapons is rarely if ever done without producing or at least possessing them. Other jobs are available producing all kinds of weaponry for all kinds of governments at Northrop Grumman. Then there's Teksystems, Pragmatics, Wiser, and many others with fat Pentagon contracts.
From 2000 to 2010, 161 military contractors in Charlottesville pulled in $919,914,918 through 2,737 contracts from the federal government. Over $8 million of that went to Mr. Jefferson's university, and three-quarters of that to the Darden Business School. And the trend is ever upward. The 161 contractors are found in various industries other than higher education, including nautical system and instrument manufacturing; blind and shade manufacturing; printed circuit assembly; real estate appraisers; engineering services; recreational sports centers; research and development in biotechnology; new car dealers; internet publishing; petroleum merchant wholesalers; and a 2006 contract with Pig Daddy's BBQ.
Have we at long last no sense of decency? War has taken 200 million lives in the past 100 years, costs the world $2 trillion a year and the United States half of that. It is the top destroyer of our natural environment and undergirds all the removal of our civil liberties and the creation of mass surveillance. Military spending produces fewer jobs that other government spending or even tax cuts. Numerous top officials say it produces more enemies than it kills.
And who does it kill? Over 90% are civilians of all ages. Over 90% are on one side of conflicts between wealthy and poor countries. These one-sided slaughters leave behind devastated nations: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. A poll of 65 nations found the U.S. most widely viewed as the greatest threat to peace. For 3% of what the United States spends on a program of killing that endangers us, impoverishes us, and erodes our way of life, starvation could be eliminated worldwide. It wouldn't take much to become the most beloved nation rather than the most feared.
And wouldn't it be nice to live in a society where our top public program didn't have to be kept hush-hush to protect "sensitive topics"?
The most patriotic Fourth of July celebration I've ever been to was not in Washington, D.C., but at a little lake in Virginia. We were picnicking on the shore of the lake along with about 75 not very close friends and family. This was a few years ago. I must have been 8 years old.
The lake was packed with boats almost the way the Beltway gets packed with cars, but this fact wasn't slowing them down. The boats were mostly, if not all, decorated with red, white, and blue, and mostly, if not all, had motors and were using them. Predictably enough, every once in a while two boats would collide. It sounded like the end of a car crash, without the screeching before it.
The first time two boats crashed into each other, my Dad jumped into panic mode, ready to call 911, eager to coordinate a rescue, but my Uncle and some other grownups standing around waved him off. This was normal, they said. Everyone would be all right. "Are you sure?" asked my Dad. He seemed worried, but by about the third crash he didn't even look up.
It was about 90 degrees out in the bright sun of early afternoon when the fireworks started. There was a floating platform out in the lake, and a bunch of kids on it began setting off fireworks that were no doubt smaller than those on the National Mall but really didn't seem it. Some of the boats slowed down to watch, but watched from as close as immediately against the platform.
You should know that my Mom has always been horrified of fireworks. When they began going off in the daytime, she assumed something was wrong. And when it was kids, some of them younger than I, setting them off, she -- in her turn -- went into panic mode. She was quickly reassured by all around her that nothing was amiss. I'll admit I thought this was all pretty cool.
But when a little boy on the fireworks platform began screaming as if in horrible pain, I started to worry. The fireworks continued, uninterrupted, but there was a bunch of hurried movement, and a few minutes later a man carried a boy up the grass away from the lake, blood dripping from his arm, which was wrapped in what looked like an American flag. The kid had "just lost a pinky" everyone said, and had some "minor burns."
Not one to make a public fuss, my Mom spoke quietly to me, but more seriously than I can ever recall: "Don't ever go near fireworks. Do you understand?"
I said that I did, and it was actually true. I did.
Uncles and others were firing up grills when the fireworks finally stopped and the sound of boats motoring and crunching into each other returned. I was actually feeling hungry. Nobody had consumed anything yet, except soda or beer.
As soon as the smoke had all cleared from the sky, the air show began. There was a buzzing noise that drowned out all the boat motors. A shadow passed over our picnic table. A predator drone, flying very low and carrying two very visible Hellfire missiles, circled over the lake. Drunk guys started telling their girlfriends that the drone was going to blow some people up, so that when it turned toward us there was lots of screaming, followed by uproarious laughter.
Luckily, the drone finally left without firing. I wish it hadn't. Left, I mean. As soon as it was gone, all concentration seemed to focus on food preparation. I've never been much of a meat eater, and there appeared to be nothing but hot dogs and hamburgers. I asked one of my cousins if there were any veggie-dogs and he acted like I'd said something rude. "Only other thing is war meat," he said. Whatever that meant.
I found out soon enough. The man at the grill by our table shouted for everyone to listen up. He pulled a metal container, like a large curved lunchbox, out of a freezer. "Are you ready?" he asked. For what, I did not know, but everyone nodded. "One," he said. "Two. One. Two. Three. Four." And our whole table started singing the Star Spangled Banner, and I mean bad enough to make a dog cry in agony, which a couple of them did.
When the song was finally over, the man opened the metal container like he was opening a birthday present. People started asking, "What'd we get? What'd we get?" The man pulled a big red chunk of raw meat out with his hand and said, "Pakistani." And after a pause, "Again." He seemed a bit disappointed, but then quickly seemed overwhelmed with pleasure. "Pakistani!" "Pakistani!" our whole little bunch started shouting. Although how the chunk of flesh had actually been identified or recognized I couldn't tell.
"Pakistani!" "Pakistani!" Other tables were shouting it too. Word was passed up and down the picnic grounds, tables telling each other what they'd received. The tally seemed to include almost entirely Pakistani meat, with one or two Yemeni, a few Afghans, and a Libyan. But then a rumor spread that actually caused a hush. One table at the far end of the area, down around a curve in the lake, had apparently been so fortunate as to pull out a piece of "U.S. troop."
"This is a really sick joke!" my Dad said, turning to our table from my Mom, to whom he had apparently been talking and who was apparently crying. "This needs to end right now," my Dad said quite firmly and impressively. But people didn't respond the way I hoped. They just edged away from me and my parents. "What's the matter with you?" a woman asked. There was a lot of whispering. I heard the words "pacifist" and "socialist."
Then a big commotion in the parking lot up the hill took attention away. There were lights of numerous police cars. A crowd of people clumped closely together began drifting in our general direction, stopping at each picnic table for a moment or two before moving on. As they drew closer they took on the look of a celebrity encircled by body guards and swarmed by paparazzi. Then a strangely familiar voice was saying "Good afternoon! How are you all doing this fine day?"
And there was President Obama, grinning and shaking hands. Our crowd seemed delighted and respectful, but not at all surprised. However, one guy spoke up kind of loudly: "I hear we're not having any more wars next year, Mr. President."
Obama turned on him, not unlike that predator drone turning toward us, and with a somewhat similar reaction. "That's all right," he said. "That's all right. Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency. Let me be clear. The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it -- when our people are threatened, when our livelihood is at stake, or when the security of our allies is in danger."
The President grinned as though he were in possession of a wonderful secret. "Let me let you in on something," he said, almost whispering. "We've got troops permanently stationed in 175 countries. Our people can be threatened any time we want." He laughed and glanced around appreciating the knowing nods and smiles. "So, how's the meat?"
Renato M. Reyes, Jr. (pictured at right) is secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). He has been with the organization since 2001. He was also the founding chair of the youth group Anakbayan in 1998. He blogs here and was involved in protests when U.S. President Barack Obama recently visited the Philippines. I asked him about it.
Was Obama unwelcomed in the Philippines?
The PH government rolled out the red carpet for Obama. In the streets however, thousands marched to protest Obama’s PH visit. The protests were aimed at the unequal relations between the US and the Philippines, in particular, US military intervention and economic impositions such as the TPPA. The visit also coincided with the signing of a new agreement called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which would bring back US military facilities in the Philippines.
We had a two day protest, the first was a march near the Presidential Palace where we burned a giant effigy of Obama on a chariot and Aquino as his running dog. There were protests in different parts of the country as well. On the second day, we marched near the US embassy where we were met by a phalanx of policemen. The police used their shields and water cannons to disperse the protesters but we stood our ground. It was our indignation regarding the signing of the EDCA.
What agreement have the governments signed?
The EDCA is an agreement that allows US forces to use our PH facilities, to build their own facilities within these facilities and to preposition their equipment in PH territory. These facilities will function as bases where US forces can station troops as well as deploy troops and weapons systems such as armed drones. The EDCA is consistent with the US strategic rebalancing towards Asia, and is in furtherance of US economic and security interests in the region.
What do people of the Philippines think about it?
There are different opinions. Some welcome the EDCA thinking that it would help the Philippines against China’s incursions. They wrongly believe that the EDCA will result in the modernization of the PH armed forces. Those in the mass movement are very critical of the EDCA. Lawmakers from the Senate and Lower House have also raised serious objections. Two petitions have been filed before the PH supreme court questioning the EDCA. Lawyers, academicians, lawmakers, church people and activists have united to oppose the EDCA.
How is a dispute with China over some islands being used here?
The dispute with China is being exploited by the US to justify its permanent military presence in the Philippines. The US gives the false assurance that it would support the Philippines in the event of an armed attack by China. When Obama was confronted with this question during his PH visit, he avoided answering it and instead claimed that the US was interested in cooperating with China. The US is not likely going to war with the US due to the disputed areas in the West PH Sea. The US uses the Philippines as a footstool in Asia but would not come to the aid of the Philippines. The PH government meanwhile shows utter mendicancy and puppetry when it thinks that its sovereignty can be upheld through a foreign power.
I like to think of the Philippines, along with Ecuador, as a success story, a place that told the U.S. military to get out (in 1991) -- how did that happen and what has happened since? How is this connected to U.S. military presence back to 1898?
The Filipino people have a long history of resistance to US colonial occupation and neo-colonial domination. The resistance includes armed struggle against US colonialism and currently, neo-colonialism.
The Filipino people struggled for decades against the presence of US bases and were finally successful in 1991 when the PH senate rejected a new basing treaty. The US basing agreement was so lopsided in favor of the US and constituted an affront to our sovereignty. The treaty rejection was possible only because there was a strong mass movement that campaigned for several decades.
Are you working with people opposed to bases in Okinawa, Jeju Island, elsewhere?
We are in solidarity with the anti-bases groups in Okinawa, Jeju, Australia and Korea. We have joined actions in opposition to the construction of new bases as well as the abuses of the US troops. We are part of the Ban the Bases global network which shares information and conducts campaigns on bases issues.
I'm speaking with the Mayor of Nago City, Okinawaw, who was elected to stop a base and is coming to the United States to try to stop it. What would you like me to say to him?
To the people of Okinawa, we are in solidarity with you. Never give up the struggle to boot out foreign bases. A nation cannot be truly free if foreign troops continue to be stationed on its shores.
What would you like to say to the people of the United States?
To the American people, do not let your taxes be spent for war and occupation, for US bases and intervention. Please support the campaign to shut down these bases and to get the US troops out of Asia and other continents.
Philippines climate chief Naderev Yeb Sano made a plea to the world? Is that effort connected with the effort against bases? Do these movements work together?
I met Yeb Sano when we were in the university during the 90’s. His plea may not be directly related to the bases movement. However, there are many environmental groups campaigning against the bases, including for compensation for the environmental damage wrought by US forces in their former bases in Subic and Clark as well as the recent destruction of a part of the Tubbataha Reef.
You are a musician: How does that fit into your activism?
I’ve been playing music since I was seven. I play the piano, guitar, blues harp or harmonica and the ukulele. Music is another outlet where we can express ourselves and help amplify the message to a broader audience. We did a series of recording two years ago when a friend got arrested in a remote province. We called it Prison Sessions, and we did videos of our sessions. We used the recordings to raise awareness of the plight of political prisoners and imprisoned artists. My friend was eventually released after two years of detention. We now play during events…outside the jail of course.
The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action by Michael Nagler has just been published. We speak with the author. Nagler is founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. He cofounded the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at UC Berkeley, where he is professor emeritus of classics and comparative literature.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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Every juvenile prison must be immediately closed and all of its prisoners freed.
Oh. Oh. Oh! That sounds too drastic and simplistic and revolutionary.
We talk about being reformist or revolutionary as if it were a personality choice. Yet we also talk about being scientific, about being reality-based. Unlike reactionary climate-denying racist creationists we claim, most of us, to recognize such phenomena as climate change and to act on them (leave aside for the moment whether we're really acting appropriately on that one).
The science has long been crystal clear: juvenile prisons are worse than nothing. They increase rather than reducing crime. In our failure to abolish them, we -- and not the children we torture -- are the seemingly hopeless recidivists.
We spend in the United States $88,000 on average per year to lock a child up, compared to $10,652 to educate a child. We have over 66,000 children locked up, 87% of them boys, and our police arrest 2 million juveniles each year.
A recent longitudinal study of 35,000 young offenders found that those who are locked up are over twice as likely to be locked up as adults compared to those who committed similar offenses and came from similar backgrounds but were given an alternative penalty or were just not arrested. In some states over 80% of those locked up as kids will be convicted of later crimes. Studies have found that, more than family difficulties or gang membership or any other factor, the best predictor of criminality is whether someone has been imprisoned in what amount to factories for crime.
Well, but then, isn't the best predictor the initial commission of a crime that led to the initial incarceration? Actually, no. Eighty to 90% of teenagers in the United States commit illegal acts that could land them behind bars. Most of those put behind bars are put there for minor, nonviolent offenses. A third of all teenagers have even committed a somewhat serious crime, but most are never arrested, much less imprisoned. Almost all grow out of it.
If the minority of young people whose lives are ruined by prison were selected randomly, we might be a bit more likely to do something about it. Anyone who is a parent and finds out what happens in juvenile prisons must be highly unlikely to tolerate their continued existence unless convinced that only other people's children will be locked up. And in fact, it is highly disproportionately kids from poor neighborhoods and with darker skin who get locked up. A non-white child is far more likely to be arrested for the same act than a white child, far more likely to be charged and detained, far more likely to be sentenced to prison, and far more likely to be given a longer sentence.
In fact, the idea that sub-human monsters, of whatever race, must be made to suffer and must be kept away from the rest of us, is the leading candidate as a major explanation of the continuation of juvenile imprisonment. If the goal were preventing crime, the prisons are worse than nothing. We've tried alternatives within the prison system, and found that reforms help but can only go so far. We've tried alternatives outside of the prison system, and found them far superior in results. We've even seen states shut down lots of juvenile prisons, primarily because of the financial cost, and seen the benefits in cost savings, in the lives of young people, and in reduced crime rates. But other states don't follow suit, and the states making the cuts need only see a rise in revenue to begin rebuilding the torture palaces.
The lessons are of course obtainable from abroad as well. The U.S. locks kids up at a higher rate than any other nation. The next closest is South Africa, which locks up children at one-fifth the rate of the U.S. While the United States slowly, reluctantly, begins to stop throwing away packaging, it remains intent on throwing away people. For many who accept disproven ways of thinking, setting those 66,000 children free would make us less safe, just as cutting the military or disbanding it would endanger us all. These are powerful myths, but the evidence overwhelmingly disproves them. If our rural communities went back to farming food instead of prisoners, we would all be better off.
Much of what is routinely done to tens of thousands of youths in the United States would be illegal if done to prisoners of war. Torture in these houses of "correction" is the norm, not the exception. Isolation is the central abuse, combined with food deprivation, assault, rape, temperature extremes, deprivation of medical care, deprivation of education, sadistic exercises in humiliation, forced nudity, stress positions, piling on, attacks by dogs, and of course indefinite detention without criminal conviction. These practices have been transferred to international prisoners after becoming routine for U.S. prisoners, including juveniles. And, while much of the abuse comes from other prisoners, most of it is committed by guards -- or, excuse me, "correctional officers."
This disastrous system seems in dire need of reform, and the idea that it can be reformed is quite tempting. Children's bodies are dug up behind an institution in Florida. A judge in Pennsylvania gets caught taking bribes to send more kids to hell. A sexual assault scandal in Texas gets big enough to make the news. Kids hog-tied and left outside in freezing weather in Arkansas create some waves. But the scandals are everywhere. A review found only 8 states where there was not conclusive evidence of system-wide mistreatment. And the scandals have been there for a century and a half. The reforms have been needed and been worked on since day one. They are not what's needed. Children need love and companionship, safety and trust, respect and encouragement. They are even worse equipped to survive imprisonment than adults. Locked up kids commit suicide at a far higher rate than others, nearly rivaling that of war veterans. These facts are continually reconfirmed by new science, but they and the failure of juvenile prisons have been known practically since the invention of juvenile prisons.
Solitary confinement greatly increases suicide rates, and yet is used as a punishment for the offense of being suicidal. This is not a nifty contradiction to be examined in a master's thesis. Rather, it is part of a process that fundamentally destroys our young people, a process which we pretend improves them.
Or do we? Polls suggest that we, the public, in fact understand the madness of government child-abuse currently engaged in to the tune of $5 billion. The public prefers rehabilitation and treatment and is willing to pay higher taxes for those approaches, even though they actually cost less. We test this, prove it, and then don't act on it -- or at least our government doesn't act on it. Oregon tried an experiment in Deschutes County, giving the county the money it would have taken to lock kids up and requiring the county to pay the bill for any kid that did end up locked up. The county spent the money on prevention, neighborhood programs, community services. In a year, the number of children sent into the fortresses of misery and horror dropped by 72%.
Everything I've just claimed, and much more, is documented in a new book by Nell Bernstein called Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison. This book includes numerous personal stories, countless examples, endless studies, and all the evidence anyone claiming to base policy on reality would need to become a "radical" when it comes to the malfunctioning of juvenile prisons. Bernstein looks at the worst and the best of the institutions. The best remains far from good enough. The best remains worse than nothing at all. Improving the mass abuse of children is not pragmatic; it's immoral. It's like being in favor of the war on Libya because the war on Iraq was worse; doing so requires averting one's eyes from the state Libya is in.
Burning Down the House should be taught in our schools. Maybe free young people would find the power to speak up on behalf of their imprisoned fellows, if they knew. Maybe parents, if sufficiently intent on discarding both sadism and racism, would act if they heard it from their children.
There is a hurdle to be overcome, however, higher than the false belief that injustice only happens to those who deserve it, or the corruption of our misrepresentative government by profiteers, or the cooption of the corporate media by the government. The hurdle is this: everything that's wrong with prisons for children is also wrong with prisons for adults. If we stop thinking about imprisoned children the way that we must think in order to allow their imprisonment, we'll be in danger of ceasing to think about imprisoned adults the way we must to allow their imprisonment. Are we willing to risk that danger? I certainly hope so.
When you feel the world is going to hell
Remember hell's just a story we tell
Just a fear we release into the air
And then pretend to find it there
Like Iranian nukes, Iraq's WMDs,
Or Manuel Noriega in his evil underwear.
(It's OK. You had to be there.)
All right, you say, not hell but disaster,
Catastrophe here on earth.
Again, I tell you, a paranoid fantasizer
Centuries ago gave birth
To the notion that stars control our fate.
Dis-Aster. Bad-Star. I suspect
In reality, it was something they ate.
I'm missing the point, you scream.
There's such a thing as bad results.
There's such a thing as being too late.
And that is all that you -- quite clearly and simply -- mean.
And still, I maintain, we're all living in a dream
Refusing the possibility to see
That the emperor has no sustainability
We're not so powerless, after all,
Any creatures who can uninvent hell and
Put the stars back in their places
Could -- even just a few of them could --
Even just a couple of them should --
Even just your solitary voice would
Start us on a path to save this precious little ball.
No human being wants to be ruled by their people's murderers. Forgiveness through restorative justice may be possible, but being ruled by murderers is asking for too much.
Yet, that seems to be the Hobson's choice behind the Afghan presidential election, which is into its run-off between Dr. Abdullah / Mohaqiq's team and Dr. Ashraf Ghani / General Dostum's team, neither team having won more than 50% of balloted votes in the first round.
Both teams have members who are warlords accused of human rights abuses, as reported by the New York Times, including Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's running mate, Mohammed Mohaqiq, and General Dostum, who is Dr. Ashraf Ghani's vice-presidential candidate.
General Dostum, allegedly on the CIA's payroll in the past, apologized for his past war crimes when he registered as Dr. Ashraf Ghani's vice-presidential candidate. One of those crimes is the Dasht-e-Leili massacre which occurred in the fall of 2001. New York Times and Newsweek investigations alleged that hundreds or even thousands of surrendering pro-Taliban prisoners died of thirst, hunger and gunshots when they were stuffed into shipping containers for transport to an Afghan prison.
Both presidential hopefuls in the run-off elections on June 14th have already vowed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which President Obama mentioned in his surprise visit to Bagram Air Base in Kabul, not even bothering to visit President Karzai who declined to visit him at Bagram.
Article 7 of the Bilateral Security Agreement, states that, "Afghanistan hereby authorizes United States forces to control entry to agreed facilities and areas that have been provided for United States forces' exclusive use…" and also that "Afghanistan shall provide all agreed facilities and areas without charge to United States forces."
Article 13 includes this: "Afghanistan ... agrees that the United States shall have the exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over such persons in respect of any criminal or civil offenses committed in the territory of Afghanistan."
It is understandable that President Karzai isn't willing to sign the agreement. It may leave a disastrous legacy.
I asked an activist who has been working in Afghanistan for ten years what he thought about the run-off in Afghanistan's elections. "Many Afghans, and people all over the world, are getting more and more cynical about elections," he told me. "And they should be, because how did our psyche become conditioned to accept that by electing corrupt, selfish, proud, wealthy and violent elites every four or five years, our ordinary lives will be changed? Our planet is exasperatingly unequal and militarized. To place in power the ones who continue this status quo is bizarre."
Bizarre, yet disturbingly familiar.
From June 6 to 9, the peace movement from around the world will gather in Sarajevo. See http://PeaceEventSarajevo2014.eu We speak with one of the planners of this event, Reiner Braun.
Reiner Braun is based in Berlin, Germany. He is the Executive Director of Scientists for Peace and Sustainability and the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility. Since 2004 Reiner Braun has been working for various projects related to the Einstein year at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and for the Max Planck Society. Since 2006 he has been the Executive Director of the German branch and since 2012 of the full International Association Of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms. He is project manager of the Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (or Federation of German Scientists), the German Pugwash group. And since Septmber 2013 he has been Co-president of the International Peace Bureau and one of the speakers of the German peace mouvement.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Michael Arria's new book Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC is a nice summary of how a liberal corporate or liberal partisan television network falls short -- something of an update from Jeff Cohen's Cable News Confidential and the bad old days when MSNBC dumped Cohen and Phil Donahue for being anti-war. It turns out the good new days of MSNBC-gone-liberal are seriously flawed as well.
The flaws do a disservice to a large section of the population, many majority perspectives, and large numbers of people whose opinions would improve if their information did.
Yes, of course, it's nice to have a 24/7 channel that everybody receives making fun of Republicans. But the Comedy Channel (Comedy Central) does that too. The comedy fake news shows also make fun of Democrats and anyone else they can identify; they build cynicism and disgust without offering any better course of action than a mass Rally-for-Nothing to give people too smart to attend other rallies a chance to rally ironically.
But what does MSNBC offer? Beyond its mocking of Republicans, it gives a significant pass to Democrats, resulting in dishonest presentations of facts and a proposed course of action that's doomed to fail. There are many exceptions, of course, and MSNBC easily soars over the low bar of producing more honest and useful commentary than CNN or Fox. In fact, a book that collected the highlights of MSNBC would be quite interesting as well. It would feature a good bit of Chris Hayes, of honesty about climate, even a bit of reckoning with Israel. (In fact, I make no claim to know what all it would include, which is why I'd find it useful.) Such a collection might encourage networks, including MSNBC, to realize what can be done without the sky falling. But the lowlights, and the lines of limitation that are not crossed without corporate penalty are crucial and are the focus of Arria's book.
MSNBC gives voice to one side in a series of narrow debates, the side previously represented by the likes of Alan Colmes. But the change is basically one to a larger microphone, rather than to a wider range of opinion. The debate remains framed within the same limitations. A prime example is war and militarism. MSNBC is in favor of wars with a different wrapper, rather than of eliminating wars from U.S. foreign policy.
Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Chris Hayes (not at first, but he came around), and other MSNBC voices were all in favor of bombing Libya, and as far as I know are not particularly focused on the horrendous results.
Maddow declares Iran a dictatorship, and dates that dictatorship to 1979, never 1953. She's lied that Ahmadinejad was known for publicly defending Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons." And she grotesquely distorts the history of Palestine and Israel, claiming that Israel innocently declared independence and was attacked the next day by five nations. As Obama pushed for missile strikes on Syria, Maddow did a story on how many nations she believed a President John McCain would have attacked.
Ezra Klein finally turned against the war on Iraq, years too late, because "the odds were high we couldn't do it right" -- using "we" in the usual way for a media outlet that identifies with the government, and maintaining the important pretense that attacking foreign nations can be done correctly or incorrectly.
Touré defended the drone murder of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki. Martin Bashir insisted that a guest not doubt the integrity of "a senior military officer." Adam Serwer demanded that "service members" all be "supported" "unconditionally."
Are these unfairly handpicked examples of military-worship on MSNBC? I doubt it. When Chris Hayes questioned whether every dead U.S. soldier is necessarily a hero, he was then apparently faced with the choice of taking a stand and losing his job or doing what he did instead: apologize for the outburst of honesty. Cenk Uygur, in contrast, took a stand for critical coverage of the Obama administration and was fired by MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who told him, "We're insiders. We're the establishment."
Was Hayes right to apologize in order to maintain his voice on the air, a voice that's better than some of the other ones? I don't have a strong opinion on that question. My interest here is in pointing out, along with Arria, that a voice willing to question whether every hired killer in every popular and unpopular and illegal war is without question a hero is not permitted on MSNBC.
When I say that the best of MSNBC is its coverage of Republicans, I don't mean to give a blanket endorsement to all such coverage. The over-obsession with the right wing gives prominence to much that would better be treated with silence -- silence that instead is reserved for the left.
MSNBC follows the lead of the party and politicians it has given its loyalty to. And it doesn't just follow their lead. MSNBC has hired Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, among others who can bring the Obama line straight to the viewers of a network that has more than once debated whether Obama should be added to Mount Rushmore. "My President Obama? Is he your President too?" Ed Schultz demanded of a guest while insisting that Libya be bombed as Obama desired.
Schultz even ignorantly claimed that Obama couldn't have been elected if he'd campaigned on increasing troops in Afghanistan -- as of course Obama had very prominently done. But think about Schultz's defense of Obama, rather than his ignorance of basic facts. Schultz is claiming that Obama lied about ending a war in order to get elected, and then escalated the war once in office. That's the good Obama of Schultz's imagination. That's Obama on the model of Wilson and Roosevelt. There's a reason Bill Clinton calls MSNBC "our version of Fox."
I said MSNBC promotes a program of action that Comedy Central does not. But its program of action is not principled issue-based nonviolent engagement; it's voting for one political party as a path to progress. Anything else is unrealistic, MSNBC ridiculously maintains. Melissa Harris-Perry claims that supporting Obama despite any failings is "realist." She says that critics of Obama from the left are, in fact, not just unrealistic but racist. She dismissed the Chicago teachers' strike and proposed that they solve their problems by voting in public elections. She also insisted that Edward Snowden should have worked within the system. How realistic is that, exactly?
The MSNBC worldview generally pretends that everything was good in 1999 and easily can be again. Says Rachel Maddow: "I'm in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-Era Republican Party platform." So, maybe a bit earlier than 1999.
The perspective that MSNBC believes its viewers hold, and which it relentlessly instructs them to hold was exemplified by a recent comment that Chris Hayes made to Glenn Greenwald: "People feel they have to choose between Barack Obama and Glenn Greenwald and there are millions of people in this country who are like if that is a choice I choose Barack Obama." Hayes then gave reasons to choose Obama. No doubt Hayes believes he was simply articulating the spontaneously generated view of the masses, of which a good organizer must be aware for better or worse. But he never suggested the slightest critique of the way of thinking that he was in fact modeling on national TV. He demanded that Greenwald alter his "tone" to accommodate such a idiotic perspective, but he never hinted at the possibility that people might alter their idiocy, that they might stop choosing between personalities and deal with facts, that they might vote for politicians and simultaneously critique their failings, that they might view elected officials as representatives rather than deities.
Of course, Hayes wasn't just referring to the unknown unwashed masses when he claimed that millions of people place loyalty to a president above their duty to know what their government is doing and hold it accountable for its abuses; he was referring to his colleagues and the official policy of his employer. And that is the limit of a partisan, corporate, insider media outlet of any flavor.
Now, we have alternatives, including Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, Dennis Trainor, the RealNews.com, RT, Youtube, etc., and the written word. We may manage to replace MSNBC or circumvent it. We may manage to come up with media outlet(s) that will produce an Occupy movement and sustain it. But I think it's an open question whether improving MSNBC would actually be bad for its profitability. For years, TV executives seemed to believe that creating a Democratic Fox would not succeed as well as creating a second lesser Fox. They eventually proved themselves wrong. Now, they are clearly convinced that creating an independent populist challenge to a government that 80% of the country believes is broken wouldn't succeed outside of Comedy Central.
It's possible they're wrong. It's possible that going where the majority is on corporate trade pacts and single-payer healthcare and wars would increase viewership. It's possible that access to such viewers would attract politicians and advertisers as well or nearly as well as softball interviews and corporate friendly views. We'll never know unless someone gives it a try.