A petition to the President and the Attorney General has just been posted by several organizations, including one I work for, asking that the Department of Justice stop threatening New York Times reporter James Risen with prison if he refuses to reveal a confidential source.
This story, among other stunning features, I think, threatens to expose an unknown known of the highest magnitude -- by which I mean, not something lying outside Donald Rumsfeld's imagination, but something that everyone paying attention has known all about for years but which would explode the brains of most consumers of corporate media if they ever heard about it.
Here's a great summary of the matter at the Progressive. The focus there and in the petition is on the threat to freedom of the press. But read this offhand bit of the explanation carefully:
"The information concerns a source for a chapter in Risen’s terrific 2006 book, 'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.' That chapter dealt with a scheme to give the Iranians faulty blueprints for a nuclear weapon."
Not only is the Justice Department (universally understood to take its orders from the White House) trying to pressure a reporter to reveal a source, but it's trying to pressure a reporter to reveal a source who told him that the United States gave Iran plans for building a nuclear bomb.
Imagine if the general public had a clue that this had happened!
Rather than reporter, I should probably be saying author. And I should stop attaching the insulting modifier "New York Times" in front of "reporter". Because this was a story published in a book. The same book included several interesting stories that I don't think ever made it into major media outlets.
One exception was a story about NSA mass-surveillance. The New York Times had sat on that story for over a year and explained that failure as a desire not to inform the public of what its government was up to prior to an election (the 2004 election). When the book came out, the New York Times finally reported the story. But if the Times or other outlets have informed the public that the CIA gave Iran nuke plans, I've missed it. This shocker certainly has not been extensively covered.
The genius plan was to give Iran nuclear bomb plans with some little portion altered. But reportedly it was quite clear to scientists -- yes, even in Iran they have scientists -- which bit had been altered.
The result was not the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb program. As Gareth Porter's new book documents in detail, Iran has never had a nuclear bomb program, and we've simply been lied to about that fact for 35 years.
But, here's the point: if your Uncle Homer knew the sort of moron stunts the CIA was engaged in with a nation marketed for 35 years as a force of evil, the result would out-do by far the outrage heard last summer when Obama and Kerry proposed joining a war in Syria on the side of al Qaeda (which everyone had been told was Evil Inc. up to that moment).
Don't Obama and Holder risk bringing more attention to this lunacy by prosecuting James Risen? Can they really trust the Press Corpse (sic) to bury the substance of the story?
More to the point: Will we let them? Please sign the petition to the President and the Attorney General.
A new book called Mainstreaming Torture argues that torture has been with us for a long time and remains with us and has been mainstreamed and increased in acceptability in the years since Bush and Cheney left office. We speak with the author, Rebecca Gordon. She teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. Previous publications include Letters From Nicaragua and Cruel and Usual: How Welfare “Reform” Punishes Poor People. She is an editor of WarTimes/Tiempo de guerras, which seeks to bring a race, class, and gender perspective to issues of war and peace.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
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I'm looking forward to speaking on Saturday, May 10, at the United We Stand Festival in Los Angeles (and at an earlier event) where dozens of speakers and musicians will be standing together against such evils as: "the PATRIOT Act, NDAA, NSA, war on drugs, drones, ... war, GMO, ... central banks, corporatism," and in favor of "Internet freedom, election reform, honest media/music/art, education/student leadership, the environment, ...."
This is nice timing, with Vermont having just become the first state to call for a Constitutional Convention to strip legalized bribery out of U.S. politics, and with the U.S. Senate planning a vote on a Constitutional amendment to allow Congress to limit said bribery. Sixteen states have urged Congress to act, which remains a quixotic pursuit. Even more disturbing than Congressional dithering is the failure of each of those 16 states to tack on a few words to do what Vermont has done and create a work-around should Congress members choose not to bite the greasy hand that feeds them. Think about what must motivate that failure to add a call for a Constitutional Convention.
There's also the problem that should Congress and the states ever pass an amendment allowing Congress to limit campaign "contributions," Congress would still have to take the additional step of actually doing so. And you can guess as well as I can what Congress considers a reasonable limitation -- just look at the minimal limitations that Congress was imposing before the Supreme Court outrageously attacked those limits in Citizens United and McCutcheon, after which the impeachment of some justices, or the legislative removal of some powers from the Supreme Court would have made more sense than accepting that the Constitution needed changing.
The Constitution was not intended to give rights to corporations or to equate bribery with the protected act of free speech. But it's going to take a massive movement of public pressure to compel our government to read or rewrite the Constitution well. So, perhaps we're just as well off rewriting it. And that opens up all sorts of possibilities, most of which can't possibly be worse than what we've got now. We could end the presidential system, the Supreme Court's unaccountability, gerrymandering, corporate monopolies -- including of communications media -- and the pretended legality of war. We could create a guaranteed income and mandate environmental sustainability.
But without even diving that deeply into creating a better Constitution, we could add something like this:
<<The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
All elections for President and members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate shall be entirely publicly financed. No political contributions shall be permitted to any federal candidate, from any other source, including the candidate. No political expenditures shall be permitted in support of any federal candidate, or in opposition to any federal candidate, from any other source, including the candidate. The Congress shall, by statute, provide limitations on the amounts and timing of the expenditures of such public funds and provide criminal penalties for any violation of this section.
State and local governments shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for state or local public office or any state or local ballot measure.
The right of the individual U.S. citizen to vote and to directly elect all candidates by popular vote in all pertinent local, state, and federal elections shall not be violated. Citizens will be automatically registered to vote upon reaching the age of 18 or upon becoming citizens at an age above 18, and the right to vote shall not be taken away from them. Votes shall be recorded on paper ballots, which shall be publicly counted at the polling place. Election day shall be a national holiday.
Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.
During a designated campaign period of no longer than six months, free air time shall be provided in equal measure to all candidates for federal office on national, state, or district television and radio stations, provided that each candidate has, during the previous year, received the supporting signatures of at least five percent of their potential voting-age constituents. The same supporting signatures shall also place the candidate's name on the ballot and require their invitation to participate in any public debate among the candidates for the same office.>>
I'm confident that there are thousands of people who can draft this reform that well or better, that Congress will only scrape the surface (and that only if a Constitutional Convention is looming), that such a Convention actually happening would be a big step forward, and that people who are ready for serious change are starting to stand united: https://unitedwestandfest.com
U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa and Japan-U.S. Relationship: A Discussion with Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine, Member of the Japanese House of Representatives (Okinawa) Denny Tamaki and other experts, facilitated by journalist David Swanson.
When: May 20, 6pm - 8pm
Where: Busboys and Poets, (14th & V) 2021 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
Sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1440683952839158
Seventy years after WWII, Okinawa, one of the fiercest battlegrounds of the Pacific War (1941-45), continues to be occupied by U.S. military bases, mostly marine bases, posing threats to the safety, health, and life of people and the environment. Despite firm opposition by the majority of the people of Okinawa, U.S. and Japanese governments are forcing through their plan to build yet another marine airbase with a military port, with massive reclamation that is likely to cause damage to the endangered bio-diverse environment of the Northeastern shore of Okinawa. Mayor Susumu Inamine of Nago City, where the planned military base construction site is, was first elected in 2010 and re-elected this January, both on the platform of opposing the new base. Please join Mayor Inamine and a panel of experts to think together about the U.S. citizens’ responsibility to bring justice and democracy back to Okinawa.
Sponsored by Busboys and Poets and the New Diplomacy Initiative.
Inquiry: Busboys and Poets, phone: 202-387-7638
New Diplomacy Initiative, email@example.com
Endorsed by WarIsACrime.org, RootsAction.org, Code Pink, Peace Action.
The U.S. public is not longing for a U.S. war in Ukraine.
Seven percent want military options considered (poll by McClatchy-Marist, April 7-10), up from six percent a bit earlier (Pew, March 20-23), or 12 percent for U.S. ground troops and 17 percent for air strikes (CNN, March 7-9).
Polling is similar on U.S. desire for a war with Iran, or for U.S. military involvement in Syria. Many more Americans believe in ghosts and UFOs, according to the polls, than believe that these would be good wars.
The U.S. public never got behind the war on Libya, and for years a majority has said that the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan never should have been launched.
The search for a good war is beginning to look as futile as the search for the mythical city of El Dorado. And yet that search remains our top public project.
The U.S. military swallows 55.2 percent of federal discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. Televised U.S. sporting events thank members of the military for watching from 175 nations. U.S. aircraft carriers patrol the world's seas. U.S. drones buzz the skies of nations thousands of miles from our shores.
No other nation spends remotely comparable funds on militarism, and much of what the United States buys has no defensive purpose -- unless "defense" is understood as deterrence or preemption or, indeed, aggression. As the world's number one supplier of weapons to other nations, ours may be said to extend its search for a good war beyond its own affairs as well.
A 2006 National Intelligence Estimate found that U.S. wars were generating anti-U.S. sentiment. Former military officials, including Stanley McChrystal, say drone strikes are producing more enemies than they are killing. A WIN/Gallup poll of 65 nations at the end of 2013 found the U.S. far ahead of any other as the nation people believed was the greatest threat to peace in the world.
It is the ethics of a coward to believe that safety justifies all, but of a fool to commit immoral acts that actually endanger oneself. And what is more immoral than modern wars, with deaths and injuries so massive, so one-sided, and so heavily civilian?
Military spending produces fewer jobs than spending on education or infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people, according to studies by the Political Economy Research Institute. It is the ethics of a sociopath to justify killing for economic gain, but of a fool to do so for economic loss.
The military is our top consumer of petroleum and creator of superfund sites, in addition to being the hole into which we sink the funds that could address the real danger of climate change.
War justifies secrecy and the erosion of liberties: warrantless surveillance, lawless imprisonment, torture, and assassination, even as wars are marketed as defending "freedom."
And of course the maintenance of nuclear and other weapons for war risks intentional or accidental catastrophe.
The downsides to war, even for an aggressor nation with overwhelming fire power, are voluminous. The upside would seem to be that if we keep fighting wars, one of them might turn out to be a good one.
But ask people to name a good war, and most will go back 73 years to World War II. A few will express badly misinformed views about Yugoslavia or Rwanda, but most will focus right in on Adolf Hitler. Think about that. Our top public project for the past three-quarters of a century has to go back that far to find a popular example of its use.
We live in a vastly changed world, and public opinion reflects that. The power of nonviolent action to resist tyranny and injustice is dramatically more realized, as is understanding of nonviolent conflict resolution and wise conflict avoidance.
Winston Churchill called World War II "the Unnecessary War" claiming that "there was never a war more easy to stop." That war would not have happened without World War I, which nobody claims was itself unavoidable.
Just as the U.S. sells weapons to abusive nations today and prioritizes militarism over aid to refugees, Western nations helped fund the rise of the Nazis and refused to accept Jewish refugees. There are ways to prevent situations from ever reaching the point of war.
Or rather there would be if we weren't so invested in the military industrial complex of whose "total influence" President Dwight Eisenhower warned.
David Swanson's books include War No More: The Case for Abolition and projects include WorldBeyondWar.org.
The film, The Unbelievers, now playing in theaters, documents a world tour of speaking events by a pair of scientists opposed to theism: biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. They take the refreshing approach that tolerating nonsensical beliefs establishes damaging habits of thought, and that therefore nonsense like religion should not be continued. They're also quite optimistic that it won't be.
And when you watch these guys speaking to large crowds and selling millions of books, it's possible to imagine that they're right. In their view we are surrounded by closet atheists, including many politicians. So, the advance of atheism could involve coming out as much as coming around.
Belief is a muddled concept. I believe I'm typing these words. I believe the earth revolves around the sun. Everyone is, in this sense, primarily a believer. I also "believe in" my team, my family, humanity, loyalty, honesty. That is, I place confidence and trust in things, devote myself to principles, wish people well, and am sometimes optimistic about something.
But then there is the notion of "believing in" the existence of imaginary beings or places or events, in contrast to simply "believing" that something exists, precisely because we don't believe it, the evidence being all against it. We see death and "believe in" eternal life. We see a world with no god and "believe in" a god. In this sense we should all be unbelievers. And once we are, then, as the film suggests, atheism will become unnecessary, because theism will be as unthinkable as belief in the ancient gods of Rome.
One person in the film says that Romans used to call Christians atheists for refusing to believe in all the gods, and so an atheist today is someone who just believes in 1 fewer god than a Christian does. True. And an atheist can place irrational belief in other things. But an unbeliever in the sense I've described above is someone who strives to reject wishful thinking. Such an unbeliever can be a good, caring, strong, admirable person. Or such an unbeliever can be a greedy, arrogant, destructive jerk. But the effort to be honest in understanding the way things are is itself admirable and important.
The criticism of atheism that this atheist or that atheist is flawed in this way or that way hardly hits home -- as if we don't have religious role models and religious mass-murderers. Another criticism is that atheism lacks "meaning" or "awe" or "mystery." The film counters this line of thinking fairly well. The protagonists argue that being able to create your own meaning in life is better than having to find it in a religion. And both of them are in awe of the wonders of the universe, which they consider to be revealing itself as ever more remarkable with each new advance in scientific understanding.
The choice the film presents between religion and science is not beyond questioning, however. Many of us are not much attracted to science. While astrophysics and evolution may be particularly relevant to debunking the myths that religions create, a great many people -- including myself -- don't want to be scientists. And of course a great many theists are scientists, so that being scientific most of the time hardly seems to prevent being theistic too. I don't think theism/science is the only contrast that should be presented. What about theism/active-political-engagement-to-improve-the-real-world? What about theism/care-for-humanity-and-species-and-ecologies-beyond-just-humanity? What about theism/history? Theism/art?
Some of us believe that science, in combination with greed and arrogance, has a lot to answer for, that there is in fact a danger in prioritizing learning more, regardless of the risks. I would prefer that nuclear energy and weaponry had not been figured out, at least not yet. I would prefer that the science behind the consumption of fossil fuels had never occurred to anybody. To its credit, The Unbelievers suggests that global-warming denial is part and parcel of reality denial, of the sloppy sort of wishful thinking that Dawkins and Krauss are opposed to. Beyond that, the film has disappointingly little to say about the advantages of atheism, beyond its just being right -- which, in fact, may not be a higher value for a every member of our species than being sustainable.
When you listen to global warming deniers, they'll tell you that arrogance is the problem: the arrogance of believing that mere humans can impact the earth. But reality-based global warming commentators blame the arrogance of believing that humans can expect nothing to go wrong as they plow ahead recklessly disregarding their enormous impacts on ecosystems they've barely begun to comprehend. We're all against arrogance, and we're all a bit arrogant, I'm afraid. So the imperative to base our understanding of things on evidence rather than pleasant fantasies is indeed crucially decisive. I just wish we wouldn't get carried away with the notion that knowing ever more is more important than living with more wisdom and kindness.
Imagine if China were stationing large numbers of troops in the United States. Imagine that most of them were based in a small rural county in Mississippi. Imagine -- this shouldn't be hard -- that their presence was problematic, that nations they threatened in Latin America resented the United States' hospitality, and that the communities around the bases resented the noise and pollution and drinking and raping of local girls.
Now imagine a proposal by the Chinese government, with support from the federal government in Washington, to build another big new base in that same corner of Mississippi. Imagine the governor of Mississippi supported the base, but just before his reelection pretended to oppose it, and after being reelected went back to supporting it. Imagine that the mayor of the town where the base would be built made opposition to it the entire focus of his reelection campaign and won, with exit polls showing that voters overwhelmingly agreed with him. And imagine that the mayor meant it.
Where would your sympathies lie? Would you want anyone in China to hear what that mayor had to say?
Sometimes in the United States we forget that there are heavily armed employees of our government permanently stationed in most nations on earth. Sometimes when we remember, we imagine that the other nations must appreciate it. We turn away from the public uproar in the Philippines as the U.S. military tries to return troops to those islands from which they were driven by public pressure. We avoid knowing what anti-U.S. terrorists say motivates them, as if by merely knowing what they say we would be approving of their violence. We manage not to know of the heroic nonviolent struggle underway on Jeju Island, South Korea, as residents try to stop the construction of a new base for the U.S. Navy. We live on oblivious to the massive nonviolent resistance of the people of Vicenza, Italy, who for years voted and demonstrated and lobbied and protested a huge new U.S. Army base that has gone right ahead regardless.
Mayor Susumu Inamine of Nago City, Okinawa, (population 61,000) is headed to the United States, where he may have to do a bit of afflicting the comfortable as he tries to comfort the afflicted back home. Okinawa Prefecture has hosted major U.S. military bases for 68 years. Over 73% of the U.S. troop presence in Japan is concentrated in Okinawa, which makes up a mere 0.6% of the Japanese land area. As a result of public protest, one base is being closed -- the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The U.S. government wants a new Marine base in Nago City. The people of Nago City do not.
Inamine was first elected as mayor of Nago City in January 2010 promising to block the new base. He was reelected this past January 19th still promising to block the base. The Japanese government had worked hard to defeat him, but exit polls showed 68% of voters opposing the base, and 27% in favor of it. In February U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy visited Okinawa, where she met with the Governor but declined to meet with the mayor.
That's all right. The Mayor can meet with the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Congress. He'll be in Washington, D.C. in mid-May, where he hopes to appeal directly to the U.S. government and the U.S. public. He'll speak at an open, public event at Busboys and Poets restaurant at 14th and V Streets at 6:00 p.m. on May 20th.
A great summary of the situation in Okinawa can be found in this statement: "International Scholars, Peace Advocates and Artists Condemn Agreement To Build New U.S. Marine Base in Okinawa." An excerpt:
"Not unlike the 20th century U.S. Civil Rights struggle, Okinawans have non-violently pressed for the end to their military colonization. They tried to stop live-fire military drills that threatened their lives by entering the exercise zone in protest; they formed human chains around military bases to express their opposition; and about a hundred thousand people, one tenth of the population have turned out periodically for massive demonstrations. Octogenarians initiated the campaign to prevent the construction of the Henoko base with a sit-in that has been continuing for years. The prefectural assembly passed resolutions to oppose the Henoko base plan. In January 2013, leaders of all the 41 municipalities of Okinawa signed the petition to the government to remove the newly deployed MV-22 Osprey from Futenma base and to give up the plan to build a replacement base in Okinawa."
Here's an organization working to support the will of the public of Okinawa on this issue.
And here's a video worth watching:
Michael Nagler has just published The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action, a quick book to read and a long one to digest, a book that's rich in a way that people of a very different inclination bizarrely imagine Sun Tzu's to be. That is, rather than a collection of misguided platitudes, this book proposes what still remains a radically different way of thinking, a habit of living that is not in our air. In fact, Nagler's first piece of advice is to avoid the airwaves, turn off the television, opt out of the relentless normalization of violence.
We don't need the art of war applied to a peace movement. We need the art of satyagraha applied to the movement for a peaceful, just, free, and sustainable world. This means we have to stop trying to defeat the Military Industrial Complex (how's that been working out?) and start working to replace it and to convert the people who make up its parts to new behaviors that are better for them as well as for us.
It can seem out of place to shift from a discussion of the world's largest military to personal interactions. Surely giving John Kerry a complete personality transplant would leave in place corrupt elections, war profiteering, complicit media outlets, and the assumption held by legions of career bureaucrats that war is the way to peace.
No doubt, but only by learning to think and live nonviolence can we build an activist movement with the greatest potential to transform our structures of government. Nagler's examples highlight the importance of knowing what is negotiable, what should be compromised, and what must not be; what is substantive and what symbolic; when a movement is ready to escalate its nonviolence and when it is too soon or too late; and when (always?) not to tack on new demands in the middle of a campaign.
Tiananmen Square should have been abandoned and other tactics pursued, Nagler believes. Holding the square was symbolic. When protesters took over the Ecuadorean Congress in 2000 one of their leaders was elected president. Why? Nagler points out that the Congress was a place of power, not just a symbol; the activists were strong enough to take power, not just ask for it; and the occupation was part of a larger campaign that preceded and followed it.
Nagler has a lot of praise and hope for the Occupy movement, but also draws examples of failure from there. When a group of churches in one city offered to join with Occupy if everyone would stop cursing, Occupiers refused. Dumb decision. Not only is the point not to get to do every little thing we want, but we are not engaging in a struggle for power -- rather, in a learning process and a process of building relationships, even with those we are organizing to challenge -- and certainly with those who want to help us if we'll refrain from cussing. It can even be helpful, Nagler documents, to be accomodating to those we are challenging, when such steps are taken in friendship rather than subservience.
We are after the welfare of all parties, Nagler writes. Even those we want removed from office? Even those we want prosecuted for crimes? Is there restorative justice that can make an official who has launched a war see his or her removal from office and sanctioning as advantageous? Maybe. Maybe not. But seeking to remove people from office in order to uphold the rule of law and end injustices is very different from acting out of vengeance.
We should not seek out victories over others, Nager advises. But doesn't the organizing of activists require informing the deeply victory-dependent of every partial success achieved? Maybe. But a victory need not be over someone; it can be with someone. Oil barons have grandchildren who will enjoy a livable planet as much as the rest of us.
Nagler outlines obstructive and constructive actions, citing Gandhi's efforts in India and the first Intifada as examples of combining the two. The Landless Worker Movement in Brazil uses constructive nonviolence, while the Arab Spring used obstructive. Ideally, Nagler thinks, a movement should begin with constructive projects and then add obstruction. The Occupy Movement has gone in the opposite direction, developing aid for storm victims and banking victims after protests were driven out of public squares. The potential for change, Nagler believes, lies in the possibility of Occupy or another movement combining the two approaches.
Nagler's sequential steps in a nonviolent action campaign include: 1. Conflict Resolution, 2. Satyagraha, 3. The Ultimate Sacrifice.
I imagine Nagler would agree with me that what we need as much as peaceful behavior by our government is Conflict Avoidance. So much is done to generate conflicts that need not be. U.S. troops in 175 countries, and drones in some of the remaining few, are known to generate hostility; yet that hostility is used to justify the stationing of more troops. While it's important to realize we'll never rid the world of conflict, I'm sure we could come a lot closer if we tried.
But Nagler is outlining a plan for a popular campaign, not for the State Department. His three stages are a guide for how we ought to be outlining our future course of action. Step 0.5, then, is not Conflict Avoidance but Infiltration of Corporate Media or Development of Alternative Means to Communicate. Or so it occurs to me. I'll host Nagler on Talk Nation Radio soon, so send questions I should ask him to david at davidswanson dot org.
Nagler sees growing success and even greater potential for nonviolent action done wisely and strategically, and points out the extent to which violence remains the default approach of our government. And the case Nagler makes is made strong and credible by his extensive knowledge of nonviolent campaigns engaged in around the world over the past several decades. Nagler looks helpfully at successes, failures, and partial successes to draw out the lessons we need moving forward. I'm tempted to write a review of this book nearly as long as or even longer than the book itself, but believe it might be most helpful simply to say this:
Trust me. Buy this book. Carry it with you.
The author of Brazil's Dance With the Devil, Dave Zirin, must love sports, as I do, as billions of us do, or he wouldn't keep writing about where sports have gone wrong. But, wow, have they gone wrong!
Brazil is set to host the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016. In preparation Brazil is evicting 200,000 people from their homes, eliminating poor neighborhoods, defunding public services, investing in a militarized police and surveillance state, using slave and prison labor to build outrageous stadiums unlikely to be filled more than once, and "improving" a famous old stadium (the world's largest for 50 years) by removing over half the capacity in favor of luxury seats. Meanwhile, popular protests and graffiti carry the message: "We want 'FIFA standard' hospitals and schools!" not to mention this one:
(FIFA = Fédération Internationale de Football Association, aka Soccer Profiteers International)
Brazil is just the latest in a string of nations that have chosen the glory of hosting mega sports events like the Olympics and World Cup despite the drawbacks. And Zirin makes a case that nations' governments don't see the drawbacks as drawbacks at all, that in fact they are the actual motivation. "Countries don't want these mega-events in spite of the threats to public welfare, addled construction projects, and repression they bring, but because of them." Just as a storm or a war can be used as an excuse to strip away rights and concentrate wealth, so can the storm of sporting events that, coincidentally or not, have their origins in the preparation of nations for warmaking.
Zirin notes that the modern Olympics were launched by a group of European aristocrats and generals who favored nationalism and war -- led by Pierre de Coubertin who believed sport was "an indirect preparation for war." "In sports," he said, "all the same qualities flourish which serve for warfare: indifference toward one's well being, courage, readiness for the unforeseen." The trappings of the Olympic celebration as we know it, however -- the opening ceremonies, marching athletes, Olympic torch run, etc., -- were created by the Nazis' propaganda office for the 1936 games. The World Cup, on the other hand, began in 1934 in Mussolini's Italy with a tournament rigged to guarantee an Italian win.
More worrisome than what sports prepare athletes for is what they may prepare fans for. There are great similarities between rooting for a sports team, especially a national sports team, and rooting for a national military. "As soon as the question of prestige arises," wrote George Orwell, whom Zirin quotes, "as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused." And there is prestige not just in "your" team winning, but in "your" nation hosting the grand event. Zirin spoke with people in Brazil who were of mixed minds, opposing the injustices the Olympics bring but still glad the Olympics was coming to Brazil. Zirin also quotes Brazilian politicians who seem to share the goal of national prestige.
At some point the prestige and the profits and the corruption and the commercialism seem to take over the athletics. "[T]he Olympics aren't about sport any more than the Iraq war was about democracy," Zirin writes. "The Olympics are not about athletes. And they're definitely not about bringing together the 'community of nations.' They are a neoliberal Trojan horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties."
And yet ... And yet ... the damn thing still is about sports, no matter what else it's about, no matter what alternative venues for sports are possible or imaginable. The fact remains that there are great athletes engaged in great sporting activities in the Olympics and the World Cup. The attraction of the circus is still real, even when we know it's at the expense of bread, rather than accompanying bread. And dangerous as the circus may be for the patriotic and militarist minded -- just as a sip of beer might be dangerous to an alcoholic -- one has the darndest time trying to find anything wrong with one's own appreciation for sports; at least I do.
The Olympics are also decidedly less militaristic -- or at least overtly militaristic -- than U.S. sports like football, baseball, and basketball, with their endless glorification of the U.S. military. "Thank you to our service men and women watching in 175 countries and keeping us safe." The Olympics is also one of the few times that people in the U.S. see people from other countries on their televisions without wars being involved.
Zirin's portrait of Brazil leaves me with similarly mixed sentiments. His research is impressive. He describes a rich and complex history. Despite all the corruption and cruelty, I can't help being attracted to a nation that won its independence without a war, abolished slavery without a war, reduces poverty by giving poor people money, denounces U.S. drone murders at the U.N., joins with Turkey to propose an agreement between the United States and Iran, joins with Russia, India, and China to resist U.S. imperialism; and on the same day this year that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed ending the open internet, Brazil created the world's first internet bill of rights. For a deeply flawed place, there's a lot to like.
It's also hard to resist a group of people that pushes back against the outrages being imposed on it. When a bunch of houses in a poor Brazilian neighborhood were slated for demolition, an artist took photos of the residents, blew them up, and pasted them on the walls of the houses, finally shaming the government into letting the houses stand. That approach to injustice, much like the Pakistani artists' recent placement of an enormous photo of a drone victim in a field for U.S. drone pilots to see, has huge potential.
Now, the question is how to display the Olympics' victims to enough Olympics fans around the world so that no new nation will be able to accept this monster on the terms it has been imposing.