There just might be a big boost in government honesty soon, as both houses of Congress have now passed with two-thirds votes and sent to the states for ratification a potential 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution bearing the unofficial title "The Truth in Advertising Amendment." This is the text as passed by Congress:
Preamble: The first through tenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States are hereby repealed.
1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, apart from tax breaks for churches, and other than appropriate surveillance, entrapment, and drone strikes for members of any non-established religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof except where that exercise withholds taxes that fund war; or abridging the freedom of campaign bribery in any way or the freedom of speech from within adequate caged areas at an appropriate distance from potential listeners, unless that speech reveals wrongdoing by the government; or of the press cartel or of its right to propagandize for war; or the right of white people peaceably to assemble when not organizing a union, opposing a war, or protesting injustice, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, and to peaceably contemplate the Government's wisdom in ignoring any demands.
2. A well-armed world, being necessary to the profits of the weapons makers, the right of the people, police, government, and foreign nations to keep and bear any weapon they can afford to purchase, shall not be infringed, nor facts about the damage done be openly discussed.
3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be educated in the optional, unnecessary, counterproductive, uncontrollable, murderous, and trauma-inducing nature of war, nor any war veteran be quartered in any house without the proper funding or loan to purchase or rent that house in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4. The right of white people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated much, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, unless the Government deems it appropriate to collect any electronic or other communication, or to record or film any behavior, or to kidnap, imprison, torture, or murder any person.
5. No police officer shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger, in which cases fuggedaboutit; nor shall any white person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall any high-ranking official be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor any non-whistleblower be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, except as stipulated in section 4; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation, unless someone has smoked marijuana.
6. In all criminal prosecutions of extremely wealthy defendants, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty million dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the White House Office of Legal Counsel.
8. Excessive bail shall not be required of white people, nor excessive fines imposed on high-ranking officials, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted on non-whistleblowers, nor on anyone who has not been designated a military-aged male.
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, including the right to shop.
10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people, at the discretion of the President.
A powerful new film on what's wrong with the U.S. media is now being screened around the country. It's called Shadows of Liberty and you can set up a screening of it as part of an upcoming international week of actions for whistleblowers called Stand Up For Truth. Or you can buy the DVD or catch it on Link TV. (Here in Charlottesville I'll be speaking at the event, May 19, 7 p.m. at The Bridge.)
Judith Miller is on a rehabilitative book tour; the Washington Post recently reported that a victim of Baltimore police murder broke his own spine; and recently leaked emails from the State Department asked Sony to entertain us into proper war support. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner was just blocked, for now, but the existence of those mega-monopolies in their current form is at the root of the problem, according to Shadows of Liberty.
Allowing for-profit companies to decide what we learn about the world and our government, allowing those companies to consolidate into a tiny cartel controlling the formerly public airwaves, allowing them to be owned by much larger companies that rely on the government for weapons contracts, and allowing them to determine politicians' access to the public and to bribe politicians with "campaign contributions" -- this, in the analysis of Shadows of Liberty, this subservience of public space to private profit is what creates news that misinforms, that takes no interest in the poor, that propagandizes for wars, and that shuts out any journalist who steps out of line.
The film is not primarily analysis, but example. The first example is of Roberta Baskin's reports for CBS on Nike's labor abuses in Asia. CBS killed her big story in exchange for Nike paying CBS so much money that CBS agreed to have all of its "journalists" wear Nike logos during their olympics "coverage."
Another example from CBS in the film is the shooting down of TWA flight 800 by the U.S. Navy, a case of media cowardice and government intimidation, which I wrote about here. As Shadows of Liberty points out, CBS was at the time owned by Westinghouse which had big military contracts. As a for-profit business, there was no question where it would side between one good reporter and the Pentagon. (This is exactly why the owner of the Washington Post shouldn't be someone with much larger funding flowing in from the CIA.)
The New York Timesseemed impressed by an earlier film devoted entirely to the TWA flight 800 mass-killing. The Times favored a new investigation but lamented the supposed lack of any entity that could credibly perform an investigation. The U.S. government comes off as so untrustworthy in the film that it can't be trusted to re-investigate itself. So a leading newspaper, whose job it ought to be to investigate the government, feels at a loss for what to do without a government that can credibly and voluntarily perform the media's own job for it and hold itself accountable. Pathetic. If only Nike were offering to pay the New York Times to investigate the government!
Another example in the bad media highlight reel in Shadows of Liberty is the case of Gary Webb's reporting on the CIA and crack cocaine, also the subject of a recent movie. Another is, inevitably, the propaganda that launched the 2003 attack on Iraq. I just read an analysis of Judith Miller's role that blamed her principally for not correcting her "mistakes" when the lies were exposed. I disagree. I blame her principally for publishing claims that were ludicrous at the time and which she never would have published if made by any non-governmental entity or any of 199 of the 200 national governments on earth. Only the U.S. government gets that treatment from its U.S. media partners in crime -- and in fact only certain elements within the U.S. government. While Colin Powell lied to the world and much of the world laughed, but the U.S. media bowed down, his son pushed through yet more media consolidation. I agree with the recommendation of Shadows of Liberty to blame the media owners, but that doesn't subtract any blame from the employees.
To the credit of Shadows of Liberty it includes among the stories it tells some examples of complete media silence. The story of Sibel Edmonds, for example, was totally whited out by the U.S. mega-media, although not abroad. Another example would be Operation Merlin (the CIA's giving of nuclear plans to Iran), not to mention the extension of Operation Merlin to Iraq. Dan Ellsberg says in the film that a government official will tell the big newspapers to leave a story alone, and the other outlets will "follow the lead of silence."
The U.S. public airwaves were given to private companies in 1934 with big limits on monopolies later stripped out by Reagan and Clinton and the Congresses that worked with them. The 1996 Telecom Act signed by Clinton created the mega-monopolies that have destroyed local news and already guaranteed his wife a 2016 presidential nomination on the basis of the money she'll spend on TV ads.
The bad media's greatest hits are finding a miniature progressive echo-chamber but are not, in fact, isolated cases. Rather they are extreme examples that have taught lessons to countless other "journalists" who have sought to keep their jobs by never stepping out of line in the first place.
The problem with the corporate media is not particular incidents, but how it always reports on everything including the government (which always means well) and wars (there must always be more) and the economy (it must grow and enrich investors) and people (they are helpless and powerless). The particular story lines that do the most damage are not always inherently the worst. Rather, they are those that make it into the general corporate echo-chamber.
The Washington Post sometimes admits exactly what it does wrong but counts on most people never to notice, because such articles will not be repeated and discussed in all the papers and on all the shows.
According to Shadows of Liberty, 40-70% of "news" is based on ideas that come from corporate PR departments. Another good chunk, I suspect, comes from government PR departments. A plurality in the U.S. in the last poll I saw believed Iraq had benefitted from the war on Iraq and was grateful. A Gallup poll of 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. widely believed the be the greatest threat to peace on earth, but within the U.S., as a glaring result of nothing but ludicrous propaganda, Iran was deemed worthy of that honor.
The Tonight Show regularly asks people if they can name a senator and then if they can name some cartoon character, etc., showing that people know stupid stuff. Ha ha. But that's how the corporate media shapes people, and clearly the U.S. government doesn't object enough to do anything about it. If nobody knows your name, they won't be protesting you anytime soon. And there's never any need to worry about being reelected.
Shadows of Liberty is long on problem and short on solution, but its value is in exposing people to an understanding of the problem. And the solution offered is just right, as far as it goes. The solution offered is to keep the internet open and use it. I agree. And one of the ways in which we ought to use it is to popularize foreign reporting on the United States that outdoes domestic reporting. If media tends to report well only on nations in which it is not based, and yet it's all equally accessible online, we need to start finding and reading the media about our country produced in others. In the process, perhaps we can develop some sense of caring what 95% of humanity thinks about this 5%. And in that process perhaps we can weaken nationalism just a bit.
Independent media is the solution proposed, not public media, and not a restoration of the corporate media to its earlier not-quite-so-awful form. The shrinking of newsrooms is to be lamented, of course, but perhaps the recruitment of foreign news rooms and independent bloggers can mitigate that loss in a way that imploring the monopolists to do better won't achieve. I think that part of the solution is creating better independent media, but part of it is finding, reading, appreciating, and using independent and foreign media. And part of that shift in attitude should be dropping the absurd idea of "objectivity," understood as point-of-viewlessness. Another part should be redefining our reality to exist without the blessing of the corporate media, so that we can be inspired to build activist movements whether or not they are on corporate TV. This includes, of course, persuading independent media to invest in stories that are ignored by corporations, not just focus on retelling in a better way the stories the corporations tell wrong.
Independent media has long been the most bang we could get for a buck donated to a useful cause. The next year-and-a-half is a real opportunity, because a completely broken U.S. election system expects hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning people to be given to candidates to give to the TV networks to whom we gave our airwaves. What if we withheld some of that money and built up our own media and activism structures? And why think of the two (media and activism) as separate? I think the jury is still out on The Intercept as new independent media, but it's already far superior to the Washington Post.
No independent media will be perfect. I wish Shadows of Liberty didn't glorify the American revolution to sounds of cannon fire. Later we hear President Reagan calling the Contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers" while the film shows dead bodies -- as if the American revolution produced none of those. But the point that free press, as theoretically provided by the first amendment, is critical to self-governance is right on. The first step in creating freedom of the press is publicly identifying its absence and the causes.
Yes, Bernie Sanders would be a far superior president to Hillary Clinton.
That requires a bit of elaboration. Something I just scraped off my shoe would be a far superior president to Hillary Clinton, but Sanders would actually be good in a whole lot of ways. He has numerous imperfections, but the contrast with Clinton is like day to night.
I'd rather have him running than not.
But please do not give him or Hillary or the wonderful Jill Stein or any other candidate a dime or a moment of your life. Instead, join the movement that's in the streets of Baltimore opposing police murder, that's in the halls of the United Nations pushing to abolish nukes, that's blocking mountaintop removal, divesting from Israel, advancing renewable energy, and struggling to create fair elections through steps like automatic registration in Oregon, and pushing legislation to provide free media, match small donors, give each voter a tax credit to contribute, or take the power to establish plutocracy away from the Supreme Court.
I'm not against elections. I think we should have one some day. At the presidential level we do not currently have elections. That office is not up for election; it is up for sale.
The point is not that we should abandon all hope or that when the going gets tough we should just give up. The point is that there is a huge opportunity here. Hillary Clinton expects to bring in billions (with a B) in bribery for her campaign (primary and general). To begin to compete with Hillary, Sanders would have to bring in a big chunk of that, at least some hundreds of millions of dollars.
For that kind of money we could create a television network dedicated to peace and justice and democracy from here on out. Or we could open a counter-recruiting office next-door to every military recruitment office in the United States. Or we could organize and bus people in for the largest and longest march on Washington against racism, militarism, extreme materialism, and the corruption of our elections ever seen, complete with food supplies and bail funds for as long as it takes. Instead of a march for nothing, how about an occupation for no more Bushes or Clintons or anyone like them?
The complete breakdown of the presidential election system is made obvious to some by the pairing of another Clinton against another Bush. Sanders muddies that clear picture, but only if you imagine he actually has a chance. On that basis, some will now propose to take a year away from policy-based principled activism, after which, the thinking will go, what's another half a year for hold-your-nose lesserevilist Clinton campaigning? And, please understand, by entering the Democratic primaries, Sanders has committed to supporting the Democratic Party nominee and to encouraging his supporters to support her.
Activism gave women the right to vote. Activism got kids out of factories. Activism got the Navy out of Vieques. Activism won the last civil rights movement. Activism has always been the driving force for change. Two years of "registering voters" busy work out of every four years, and the reliance on corrupt figures that it creates, drains away our activism. It was activism that forced President Bush in 2008 to end the war on Iraq as of 2011 in a treaty signed by himself and Iraqi President Maliki. It was the antiwar uproar of the Bush years that led Congress members to think twice about voting for a new war in 2013 and has left them incapable of formally supporting the new war in Iraq that President Obama launched in 2014 despite the feelings of any number of people who believed that voting for him was somehow a significant act.
I worked as press secretary for Dennis Kucinich for president in 2004. I watched him make all the right points and win the most standing ovations in debates with the other Democrats. The reports the next day tended to mention him in the last paragraph as having also been there. And if you asked people in the room cheering for him they'd say "Yeah, I'd vote for him if he had a chance." And inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, I'd rage at them: "Imagine the chance he'd have if all you morons weren't bowing down to your televisions? Why show up and act as if you have an independent brain if you're just going to do what your television told you to do?"
So, here I am in the role of "that jerk" telling Bernie Sanders fanatics that it's hopeless -- a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom if ever there was one. But we have limited time, energy, and money. I don't think saving the planet is hopeless. I just think the best place to put our resources is into uncorrupted, principled, policy-driven, nonviolent, creative activism -- including the activism needed to create fair, open, verifiable elections.
Sure, we now have the internet in a slightly larger way than a decade ago. Sure, a few more people are disgusted enough with Clinton without yet being disgusted with the whole broken system. Sanders is coming to speak in a very small church in my town next week and I'll probably go listen. Any tiny influence the corporate media will allow him on the conversation, so much the better. Maybe with only two Democrats running they'll be forced to allow him a few seconds here and there. Maybe he'll point out that a corrupt corporate hack who voted for the war on Iraq was unacceptable last time and should be again. And yet, she'll be accepted.
The price has been rising. The media has been worsening. Sanders will be skillfully marginalized and mocked. Hillary will avoid debating him. And the election will place either a Democratic or a Republican catastrophe in the White House. Not because I have some sort of wisdom due to having been around a few years. Not because I'm in a bad mood. But because the media monopolies that Clinton's husband facilitated have demonstrably grown more powerful than ever, and elections have grown more corrupted by money -- Just ask Hillary who pretends to oppose it.
Now anything is technically possible. But considering the scandals already known about Hillary Clinton, what sort of new one could make a difference? None that I can even imagine. She could suffer some unfortunate sudden illness or accident, but in that unlikely and undesirable scenario, the media would hand the election to the Republican, even blame Sanders for Clinton's illness or death. You think I'm kidding? The Washington Post just suggested that a victim of Baltimore Police murder broke his own spine.
There's no need for any hard feelings at all among those who mean well. You think the smartest strategy is raising funds for Bernie, we can still be the best of friends. I just happen to disagree. The real question is not whether the next President will be a walking disaster, but what sort of popular movement will have been developed to resist it.
"What a horrible idea! Leave this magnificent place as nature made it!" — Mikell Werder
"NO! NO! NO! Leave our natural wonder ALONE!" — cathy blaivas
RootsAction.org has posted a lot of petitions, but most have not gathered 30,000 signatures in the first day. This one's off to an enthusiastic start and includes comments like these.
"The Grand Canyon is a world treasure; leave it alone!" — Carol & David Moudry
"Developing the Grand Canyon would be and is one of the worst ideas ever!!! Where will this money grubbing desire stop?" — Joseph Gleason
What has people so upset? One of the most deservedly celebrated natural wonders in North America is also among the most endangered. Plans for uranium mining, a tourist tram line, and massive "development" threaten the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. So we're going to deliver this petition to the U.S. Forest Service.
A mining company, Energy Fuels Resources, is seeking to reopen the Canyon Mine uranium mine near the south rim of the Grand Canyon and sink an additional 1,200 feet of shaft to reach ore. A proposed 1.6-mile tramway would take tourists from new commercial developments on the canyon's rim to the canyon's floor. The nearby town of Tusayan, Ariz., is proposing a mega-development that the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has called one of the greatest threats in the park's 96-year history. The Stilo Development Group, based in Italy, would build in Kaibab National Forest, and profit from, 2,000 homes, 3 million square feet of commercial space, a spa, a dude ranch, and even a water slide -- with no source of water identified. Porca miseria, cosa farete, amici nostri italiani?!
People are taking this very seriously:
"This leaves me speechless. What has become of America? If we allow even the Grand Canyon to become a sacrifice zone for profit, maybe America isn't worth saving. I have visited the Grand Canyon, and it is magnificent. Let's keep it that way." — Lucia Dutton
"It boggles the mind that anyone would even consider developing this unparalleled resource. This is only shameless profiteering." — Rod Danner
It boggles the mind because even as we go merrily about rendering the earth uninhabitable, we expect the Grand Canyon to remain unharmed. Instead it could exist for millions of years with human-made touristy crap clinging all over it. There may be few if any people to see it, but we still know it will be that way, and it upsets people. I mean, what if our grandchildren survive and have to look at it? So, we're asking the Forest Service to reject the town's special use permit.
Numerous petition signers are denouncing greed:
"What hideous, short-sighted proposals. Must every natural wonder be peed-upon by developers/profit making interests? Hearing of this makes me sick at heart, especially since commercial interests get their way so much of the time in the U.S. where nothing is sacred except for the dollar. The uranium mine proposal is equally appalling. What is the end use of this uranium …for another Fukushima? …for depleted uranium in missiles and bullets (which cause birth defects, cancer, immunity problems as in Iraq). These development ideas are not meant to serve the public; they are for individual short-term-profit...where everything and everybody is for sale. Do not sell out the Grand Canyon." — Kathy Hamilton
"This whole area is known to the world as a beautiful wonder which would be protected forever by any other nation. The Forest Service is our only hope for protection of our treasured Grand Canyon here in the US, as corporate greed has overrun our very government! PLEASE PROTECT IT!" — Dorothy Richmond
People who've seen other spots ruined want this one spared:
"Really? you want to spoil that beautiful place? Just came back from Phoenix and that has been over built and ruined with only fountains and Wisconsin style grass to replace the beauty of the desert. Please leave the Grand Canyon alone." — Joan Ouellette
"The Grand Canyon is too important to sell off. It is irreplaceable, and the kind of development under consideration will destroy this Natural Wonder forever. Doesn't the Grand Canyon belong to all of us? Doesn't the Grand Canyon belong to Future Generations? Is there nothing more important than profits anymore? Do not sell what belongs to ME. Do not sell what belongs to YOU. Do not sell what belongs to OUR FUTURE. Thank you." — marcus white
"Anyone asking the Hopis about these plans?" — Lynne Lee
A number of commenters appeal to enlightened capitalism:
"Please do not allow any construction whatsoever in or near the glorious Grand Canyon, which is not only a national treasure but a treasure for the entire planet - worth so much more than any amount of uranium or additional tourist dollars! Indeed, many tourists will avoid an over-exploited Grand." — Judi Avery
"The fact that it is unspoiled by development is the major attraction. This is just more pandering to corporations if development and mining is allowed." — Marshall A. Boyler
Some ask the Forest Service to do its job:
"I had the impression that this was set aside to be preserved for future generations, not EXPLOITED/destroyed by this one. DO YOUR JOB." — jon cooper
Some ask those involved to find their lost souls:
"The natural world does not exist for human plunder and commercial profit. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could visit the canyon and completely miss its beauty and sacredness. Anyone who can stand on the edge of this awesome site and scheme about how to make money has truly lost his/her soul." — Wallace Schultz
Reading Nick Turse's new book, Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, raises the question of whether black lives in Africa matter to the U.S. military any more than black lives in the United States matter to the police lately trained and armed by that military.
Turse scouts out the still little told tale of U.S. military expansion into Africa over the past 14 years, and primarily over the past 6 years. Five to eight thousand U.S. troops plus mercenaries are training, arming, and fighting alongside and against African militaries and rebel groups in nearly every nation in Africa. Major land and water routes to bring in the U.S. armaments, and all the accouterments of bases housing U.S. troops, have been established to avoid the local suspicions created by building and improving airports. And yet, the U.S. military has proceeded to acquire local agreements to make use of 29 international airports and gotten to work building and improving runways at a number of them.
The U.S. militarization of Africa includes airstrikes and commando raids in Libya; "black ops" missions and drone murders in Somalia; a proxy war in Mali; secretive actions in Chad; anti-piracy operations that result in increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea; wide-ranging drone operations out of bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger, and the Seychelles; "special" operations out of bases in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; CIA bungling in Somalia; over a dozen joint training exercises a year; arming and training of soldiers in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya; a "joint special operations" operation in Burkina Faso; base construction aimed at accommodating future "surges" of troops; legions of mercenary spies; the expansion of a former French foreign legion base in Djibouti and joint war-making with France in Mali (Turse must be reminded of that other wonderfully successful U.S. takeover of French colonialism known as the war on Vietnam).
AFRICOM (Africa Command) is in fact headquartered in Germany with plans to be based at the giant new U.S. base built in Vicenza, Italy, against the will of the Vicentini. Important parts of AFRICOM's structure are in Sigonella, Sicily; Rota, Spain; Aruba; and Souda Bay, Greece -- all U.S. military outposts.
Recent U.S. military actions in Africa are mostly quiet interventions that stand a good chance of leading to enough chaos to be used as justifications for future public "interventions" in the form of larger wars that will be marketed without mention of their causation. Future famous evil forces that may one day be threatening U.S. homes with vague but scary Islamic and demonic threats in U.S. "news" reports are discussed in Turse's book now and are arising now in response to militarism rarely discussed in corporate U.S. news media.
AFRICOM is advancing with as much secrecy as it can, trying to maintain the pretense of self-governance by local government "partners," as well as to avoid the scrutiny of the world. So, it hasn't been invited by public demand. It isn't riding in to prevent some horror. There has been no public debate or decision by the U.S. public. Why, then, is the United States moving U.S. war making into Africa?
AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham explains the U.S. militarization of Africa as a response to the problems it may in the future manage to create: "The absolute imperative for the United States military is to protect America, Americans, and American interests [clearly something other than Americans]; in our case, in my case, to protect us from threats that may emerge from the African continent." Asked to identify such a threat in current existence, AFRICOM cannot do so, struggling instead to pretend that African rebels are part of al Qaeda because Osama bin Laden once praised them. During the course of AFRICOM's operations, violence has been expanding, insurgent groups proliferating, terrorism rising, and failed states multiplying -- and not by coincidence.
The reference to "American interests" may be a clue to real motivations. The word "profit" may have been accidentally omitted. In any case, the stated purposes are not working out very well.
The 2011 war on Libya led to war in Mali and anarchy in Libya. And less public operations have been no less disastrous. U.S.-backed war in Mali led to attacks in Algeria, Niger, and Libya. The U.S. response to greater violence in Libya has been still more violence. The U.S. embassy in Tunisia was attacked and burned. Congolese soldiers trained by the United States have mass raped women and girls, matching the atrocities committed by U.S.-trained Ethiopian soldiers. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has arisen. The Central African Republic has had a coup. The Great Lakes region has seen violence rise. South Sudan, which the United States helped to create, has fallen into civil war and humanitarian disaster. Et cetera. This is not entirely new. U.S. roles in instigating long wars in Congo, Sudan, and elsewhere predate the current Africa "pivot." African nations, like nations in the rest of the world, tend to believe the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth.
Turse reports that AFRICOM's spokesman Benjamin Benson used to claim the Gulf of Guinea as the sole supposed success story, until doing so became so untenable that he began claiming he'd never done so. Turse also reports that the Benghazi disaster, contrary to what common sense might suggest, became a basis for further expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa. When something's not working, try more of it! Says Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, "We will be in Africa for some time to come. There's lots more to do there."
Someone recently told me that China had threatened to cut of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's profits from casinos in China if he continued to fund Congress members who insisted on going to war with Iran. The alleged motivation for this was that China can better buy oil from Iran if Iran is not at war. True or not, this fits Turse's description of China's approach to Africa. The U.S. relies heavily on war making. China relies more on aid and funding. The U.S. creates a nation doomed to collapse (South Sudan) and China buys its oil. This of course raises an interesting question: Why can't the United States leave the world in peace and still, like China, make itself welcome through aid and assistance, and still, like China, buy up the fossil fuels with which to destroy life on earth by means other than warfare?
The other pressing question raised by the Obama government's militarization of Africa, of course, is: Can you imagine the ear-splitting everlasting biblical proportions of the outrage had a white Republican done this?
Graphic from TomDispatch.
Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment, a new book by Burt Neuborne, at first appears an unlikely work to serve much purpose today. Who wants to celebrate slave owner James Madison's view of freedom as embodied in a long outdated Constitution in desperate need of updating or rewriting? And who wants to hear it from a former legal director of the ACLU who just signed a petition supporting the hiring of Harold Koh, defender of drone murders and presidential wars of aggression, to teach human rights law at New York University, a petition by a bunch of stuffy corrupted professors countering the moral stand being taken by students?
But Neuborne's main thesis is not the worship of James Madison, and he merely suffers the same blindness to war as the rest of his society, believing, as he writes, that the world is "dependent on the anchor of American power" (whether the world wants it or not). While legalizing murder may not be a problem for Neuborne's view of the Constitution, legalizing bribery is. And that's where Madison's Music becomes useful. Each time the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of plutocracy it is ruling against precedents, common sense, basic decency, and a coherent and plausible reading of the Bill of Rights that reads the various amendments as aimed at strengthening democracy.
It's also ruling against a Constitution that nowhere gave it, the Supreme Court, any right to rule on any such things. While there is, sadly, no way to read the Supreme Court out of the Constitution, it can be quite easily understood as subject to the laws of Congress rather than vice versa. Not that today's Congress gets us any closer to democracy than does today's Supreme Court, but when our culture is ready for reform, the paths available will be numerous and each and every institution subject to reform or abolition.
The first amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Neuborne, to his credit, does not choose to read this as the ACLU does, namely as including a defense of bribery and private election spending.
Madison's original draft, severely edited by the Senate -- one of those institutions worthy of abolition, and one for which Madison himself was in part to blame -- began with protection of both religious and secular conscience. The final draft begins by forbidding the government from imposing religion, and then forbids it from prohibiting anyone's religion. The point is to establish, in an eighteenth century manner, the freedom of thought. From thought, one moves on to speech, and from ordinary speech one moves on to the press. Each of these is guaranteed freedom. Beyond speech and press, the trajectory of an idea in a democracy proceeds to mass action: the right to assemble; and beyond that there remains the right to petition the government.
As Neuborne points out, the first amendment depicts a functioning democracy; it doesn't simply list unrelated rights. Nor is freedom of speech the only real right it lists, with the other rights being simply particular instances of it. Rather, freedom of thought and press and assembly and petition are unique rights with their own purposes. But none of them are ends in themselves. The purpose of the whole array of rights is to shape a government and a society in which popular thought (at one time of wealthy white males, later expanded) has at least some significant impact on public policy. Currently, of course, it does not, and Neuborne puts much of the blame for that on the Supreme Court's choices over the centuries, well meaning and otherwise, in how to read the first amendment.
As Neuborne suggests, the right to petition the government has been neglected. Nothing goes to a vote in the House of so-called Representatives unless approved by the majority party leader. Forty-one senators representing a tiny sliver of the population can stop almost any bill in the Senate. A democratic understanding of the right of petition might allow the public to compel votes in Congress on matters of public interest. In fact, I think this understanding would not be a new one. Jefferson's Manual, which is part of the rules of the House, allows for petitions and memorials, which are often submitted to Congress by local and state governments and groups. And at least in the case of impeachment proceedings, it lists a petition and memorial (written statement of facts accompanying the petition) as one of the means of initiating impeachment proceedings. I know because thousands of us collected millions of signatures on petitions to begin the impeachment of President George W. Bush, the desirability of which also reached a majority in public opinion polls despite zero action or discussion in Washington. The public was unable to even compel a vote. Our grievances were not redressed.
The right of assembly has been confined in free-speech cages, the right of free press has been corporate-monopolized, and the right of free speech has been shriveled away in the right places and expanded in the wrong places.
I'm not convinced by those who argue against all limits on speech. Speech is, appropriately enough, not considered free when it comes to threats, blackmail, extortion, false statements causing harm, obscenity, "fighting words," commercial speech urging illegal action, or egregiously false and misleading commercial speech. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, "any propaganda for war" must be prohibited, a standard which, if enforced, would eliminate a big chunk of U.S. television viewing.
So, we must choose where to allow speech and where not to, and as Neuborne documents, this is currently done with zero respect for logic. Spending money to elect a plutocratic-friendly candidate is considered "pure speech," deserving of the highest protection, but contributing money to that candidate's campaign is "indirect speech," deserving of a bit less protection and therefore subject to limits. Meanwhile burning a draft card is merely "communicative conduct" and when a voter writes in a name as a protest vote that gets no protection at all and can be banned. The Supremes do not allow judges to hear cases in which one litigant is a major benefactor of the judge, yet allow elected officials to govern people who buy them their seats. Corporations get first amendment rights despite lacking the human dignity to qualify for the fifth amendment's right to remain silent; are we supposed to pretend corporations are human or not? The Court upheld an Indiana voter ID requirement despite understanding that it would disproportionately harm the poor and despite not a single case of voter fraud being found anywhere in Indiana. If the right to outspend anyone else and effectively buy a candidate an election is the highest form of protected speech, why is the right to vote the lowest? Why are long lines to vote in poor neighborhoods allowed? Why can districts be gerrymandered to guarantee election of a candidate or party? Why can a criminal conviction strip away the right to vote? Why can elections be designed to benefit a two-party duopoly rather than the voters?
Neuborne writes that, "the robust third-party culture of the nineteenth century rested on ease of ballot access and the ability to cross-endorse. The Supreme Court has wiped out both, leaving a Republicrat cartel that stifles new ideas that might threaten the status quo."
Neuborne suggests many of the usual, and very good, solutions: creating free media on our air waves, providing tax credits to effectively give every person money to spend on elections, matching small donations as New York City does, creating automatic registration as Oregon just did, creating an election day holiday. Neuborne proposes a duty to vote, allowing an opt-out -- I'd rather add an option to vote for "none of the above." But the real solution is a popular movement that compels one or more branches of our government to view its purpose as supporting democracy, not just bombing other countries in its name.
Which brings us to the primary thing our government does, which even its detractors among law professors approve, namely war. To his credit, Neuborne favors the right to conscientious objection, as well as the free-speech right of groups or individuals to teach nonviolent action techniques to groups labeled "terrorist." Yet he supports hiring as a teacher of so-called human rights law a man who used his law background to tell Congress it had no war powers, to legitimate a brutal and blatantly illegal attack on Libya that has left behind a possibly permanent catastrophe from which helpless people are fleeing by boat, and to sanction the practice of murdering men, women, and children in large numbers by missile from drone.
I would love to see the explanation from Professor Neuborne as to how it can be the government's right to murder him (and anyone near him) with a hellfire missile, while it is simultaneously his right to be secure in his person against unreasonable search and seizure, his right not to be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, his right to a speedy and public trial, his right to be informed of the accusation and to be confronted by the witnesses, his right to subpoena witnesses, his right to a trial by jury, and his right not to suffer cruel or unusual punishment.
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Remarks at Houston Peace and Justice Center Conference on April 25, 2015.
I hope to be brief enough to leave lots of time for questions after I talk.
I know that most of you are probably exceptions to what I'm about to say, because I suspect that most of you came here voluntarily. If you're here on duty for the FBI, raise your hand.
You may all be the exceptions, but most people in the United States have no idea of the suffering that war brings.
War brings suffering first through the wasting of some $2 trillion every year, roughly half of it by the U.S. government alone, but much of the weaponry purchased with the other $1 trillion, spent by other governments, is U.S.-made weaponry. Never mind what the money is spent on. It could be dumped in a hole and burned and we'd all be better off, but the most suffering is caused by what it's not spent on.
For tens of billions of dollars the world could end starvation, unclean drinking water, and various health problems; it could invest in green energy and sustainable agriculture and education in massive, undreamed of ways. Yet $2 trillion is wasted every year on a criminal enterprise without redeeming merit of any sort. To get a sense of the scale of the funding, all the accumulated student debt of former and current students in the United States is $1.3 trillion. The United States spends $1.3 trillion on militarism in a single year, and the same amount again the next year, and the next year. For tens of billions, college could be free. Whether the students who emerged would have learned to love the bomb would depend on how the funding was handled and other factors, but a tiny fraction of military spending would do it -- I'm referring to military spending across numerous departments of the government, and it has doubled or close to it during the Bush-Obama wars. Military spending is over half the money Congress spends each year. The recently proposed Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by 1%, which gives you an idea of the extreme limits of debate in U.S. politics, which I think Robert Jensen will be telling us more about. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut.
Now, it's hard to separate deaths due to disease and starvation, from the direct effects of warfare, with warfare creating refugee crises and destroying farms and so forth. It's also true that the financial resources to address human needs could be found in another place other than war, namely in the pockets of the greediest 400 people in the United States. Their hoarding of wealth, even those of them not principally funded by the war machine, can certainly be blamed as well when a child starves to death anywhere on earth. But blame is not a finite quantity. You can blame plutocracy or militarism, and niether one exculpates the other. Military spending could end starvation for the price of a small rounding error and is therefore culpable.
Most people, I think, also fail to understand that the suffering created by military spending is mostly created by routine war preparations by an empire ever planning for more wars, and much less by the wars themselves. We need to stop announcing how many schools we could have had instead of a particular war, because we could have had 10 times as many instead of the routine so-called non-war military spending during the same period. Or, better, we could have provided 10 times as many to the world rather than to one particular little country that is far from the worst off.
Most people also fail to understand that there is no up side to military spending, that it doesn't balance the slaughter of human beings with the creation of jobs. The same money, if spent on peaceful enterprises, would create more jobs and better paying jobs. Military spending is a drain on the economy of the aggressor.
The U.S. weapons industry is the leading arms dealer to the world, and it arms and props up dictatorships on a permanent basis. Who can calculate the suffering that causes? A former president of Egypt was just sentenced to prison for killing protesters, while the current president tortures them to death and gets a personal phone call from President Obama promising him more free weaponry -- billions of dollars worth for free every year, just as for Israel. And when Israel engages in one of its genocidal fits of bombing, the U.S. rushes more weaponry over to fill the armories. The Saudi war on Yemen is a proxy war, not between Iran and anyone but between the United States and the United States. U.S. weapons provided to support a brutal dictator in Yemen are blown up by U.S. weapons sold to a brutal dictator in Saudi Arabia who also uses them to prop up the U.S.-armed brutal dictator in Bahrain.
Wars and arms races around the world are fueled by the United States, but the United States is also the leading direct user of war. And, again, I think most people do not understand the suffering inflicted. U.S. newspapers refer to the U.S. Civil War as the deadliest U.S. war. It killed some 750,000 people, or 2% of the population. Compare that to a million and a half killed out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or 2 million killed in Korea, or 4 million killed in Vietnam, or 3 million killed by war and sanctions in Iraq since 1991 -- 11% of the Iraqi population. Nobody knows these numbers, but even if they did, the lack of understanding would be intense because the United States still thinks of wars in the terms of the last war fought here, other than the wars of Native American genocide, namely the U.S. Civil War. Everyone still talks about so-called battlefields, while the wars are fought in people's cities, towns, and farms. Most people killed are on one side; most are civilian; as many are women and children and elderly as men. More are injured than killed. More are traumatized than injured. Huge areas are depopulated. Permanent refugee camps are created. Poisons unknown during the U.S. Civil War create permanent health crises and birth defect epidemics. Children unborn during wars die later when picking up cluster bombs. And urban societal structures of energy, health, transportation, and education, unknown in the 1860s, are devastated by war's destruction.
On January 26 of this year, Mohammed Tuaiman, age 13, of Marib, Yemen, became the third member of his family to be killed by a U.S. drone strike. The drone struck a car carrying Mohammed, his brother in law, Abdullah al-Zindani, and another man. Mohammed's older brother Maqded told the Guardian newspaper, "I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal. When we arrived we couldn't do anything. We couldn't move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car."
During the 20th century, not counting the lives that could have been saved with the same money, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous four centuries. The 21st century is in the running to dwarf that record, or indeed to shatter it through nuclear or environmental catastrophe.
Is there any imaginable way in which the most recent 200 million war deaths could have each been just? If 200 million men, women, and children are guilty of something deserving murder, then must we not all be? If even 10 percent of them are, then must we not all be?
On May 15, 2012, Ahmed Abdullah Awadh of Ja'ar, Yemen, was killed. "It was 9 am in the morning," said his neighbor. "I was at home with my son, Majed. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and we all ran out to see what happened. Everyone in the neighborhood came out. To our surprise, we find our sweet neighbor, Ahmed, a taxi driver, burned and in pieces. About 15 minutes later a second strike struck the same place. I survived but my 25 year old son, Majed was hit pretty hard. 50% of his body was burned. When we went to the only clinic we have here in Ja'ar, they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 a.m., Majed's heart stopped and he died."
According to former U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. military creates 10 new enemies for every innocent person it kills. But most of the people being killed are innocent, in the drone strikes, in the bombing campaigns, in the ground wars. Could that help explain why the U.S. loses every war? Why ISIS begs the U.S. to attack it and then watches its recruitment soar after the U.S. obliges? Why 65 nations polled at the end of 2013 almost all said the United States was the greatest threat to peace on earth? Imagine if Canada decides to continue down its current militarist path how many years it will have to work to generate anti-Canadian terrorist groups to match those the United States has germinated? Canada will have to shut down its schools and hospitals to invest in creating animosity abroad if it hopes to catch up at all.
If I weren't speaking to you exceptional people but to a typical group of Americans, I would be asked at the end how the U.S. might defend itself if it reduced its war preparations. Well, how do other nations do it? I don't mean who does France call on when it thinks Libya needs to be destroyed, the region thrown into chaos, thousands of desperate people left to risk their lives on rafts in the Mediterranean trying to escape post-liberation Libya. I mean, how does France defend itself from being conquered by evil foreign hordes? How does Costa Rica or Iceland or Japan or India? To match average military spending by all other nations, the United States would have to cut 95% of its military spending. And what does that extra 95% buy? It buys less safety, not more.
On January 23, 2012, an eight-year-old girl named Seena in Sanhan, Yemen, lost her father to a drone strike. "I want to play outside," she says. "But I can't dream of that ever happening anymore." Numerically, most victims of drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan are not those killed or injured, but those afraid to go outdoors. Families teach children at home rather than send them to school. But how do they teach them to live with the ongoing sense of horror created by the buzzing noise in the sky, the buzzing of an evil god that can obliterate their world at any moment and for no apparent reason? And how does forcing children to live that way "defend" the United States?
Exceptional as you all are, I doubt you can understand -- I certainly cannot understand -- what the weight of 190 million stories like Seena's feels like. Multiply that times 10 according to Stanley McChrystal. What does that feel like? During the war on Iraq of the last decade, U.S. commanders could plan operations that they expected to kill up to 30 innocent Iraqis. If they expected 31, then they had to get Donald Rumsfeld's approval -- which I dare suggest was something of a known known. U.S. deaths in that war amounted to about 0.3% of the death toll, and fittingly Iraqi deaths were valued by the U.S. government at 0.3% the dollar value of U.S. deaths. That is to say, the U.S. typically paid $0 to $5,000 dollars as compensation for an Iraqi life, while the State Department and Blackwater arrived at the figure of $15,000, but the lowest government value for a U.S. life was $5 million assigned by the Food and Drug Administration.
In Pakistan, the people terrorized by U.S. drones heard about the phrase that drone pilots in the United States use to refer to their murders. They call them "bug splat," because to them, on their video monitors, it looks like they are squishing bugs. So an artist created a giant image on a Pakistani farm, visible to drones above, of a young girl for a project called Not A Bug Splat.
Are we idiots? Do we not know that a girl thousands of miles away is a girl? Do we have to be told? Apparently we do. Our entire culture is permeated with the idea that humans must be "humanized" in order to be recognized as humans. When we see photos or hear personal stories with detail about a person or a group of people, when we learn someone's name and daily habits and little quirks and weaknesses, we declare, "Wow, that really humanizes them." Well, I'm sorry, but what the hell were they before they were humanized?
We have liberal law professors who believe that a drone murder that has been observed in close detail can remain in a state of legal limbo: if it's not part of a war then it's murder, but if it's part of a war then it's perfectly fine -- and whether it's part of a war is unknowable because President Obama claims his legal reasoning is officially secret even though we've already seen it. Even thought it blatantly makes no sense, we maintain the formal pretense that secretly it might.
Have any of you seen a movie called My Cousin Vinny? In it a woman screams at her boyfriend for worrying about what pair of pants to wear when he goes deer hunting. Her concern is for the life of the deer, not the pants of, if you can excuse the language, the SOB who shoots the deer. Here's a modified version of that little speech:
Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck whether the son of a bitch who shot you was part of a war or not?
I can't even say UN-authorized war because the U.S. no longer bothers with that.
I can't even say Congressionally authorized war because the president no longer bothers with that.
The latest stage in the U.S. war on Iraq is called Operation Inherent Resolve. Eager to maintain some pretense of relevance, Congress is constantly debating whether to debate whether to "authorize" this ongoing war, which Obama says will go on just the same with or without their feckless chattering. And somehow we're supposed to hear the name "Operation Inherent Resolve" and not burst out laughing at the sort of idiots who would think we were the sort of idiots who would like that name.
Unless of course we are.
But but but but what would you do about ISIS? That's the question, right? A group of rebels created by the previous U.S. war on Iraq kills some people in the style used on a much grander scale by U.S.-backed governments in places like Saudi Arabia, and suddenly it's my job to explain how to destroy ISIS using the same tools that created it? I wouldn't have created it in the first place. Like you, I protested the war that destroyed Iraq before it even began, and before it even began the first time in 1990. And now I have to choose yet more war or nothing, because the range of debate has been limited to another knowingly hopeless U.S. ground war or a knowingly hopeless U.S. air war with ground troops momentarily assigned as enemies of an enemy, albeit not of other enemies?
The Middle East is armed by the United States. The region explodes in death and destruction using weapons 80-90 percent of which come from the United States. The first step is to stop arming the Middle East. The second is to negotiate an arms embargo. The third is to stop propping up brutal dictators. The fourth is to provide humanitarian aid and diplomacy, peaceworkers, human shields, journalists, video cameras, green energy, doctors, agriculture. All of those steps could be launched on Monday. The urgency of the crisis demands it, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
We need a shift from war to peace. This is why preventing the bombing of Syria in 2013 was a short-lived victory. Instead of taking an approach of peace, the CIA sent in arms and trainers and bided its time until better propaganda could be found.
Now, there are lots of things we can do. We can work on transition to peaceful industries at the local, state, and federal levels. We can build up democratic institutions, workplaces, and credit unions that divest from war and offer jobs to those considering the military or mercenary company careers. We can educate, protect, encourage peaceful alternatives, engage in cultural and educational and economic exchanges.
We can build a movement for the abolition of war like the one we are building at WorldBeyondWar.org where people in 112 countries have signed a statement supporting the ending of all war, and I hope you will too.
But one thing in particular that we can do, and related to my current topic, is that we can convey the reality of the human suffering created by war.
Until a video surfaced recently of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering a man named Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
We can also search for stories and photographs and promote awareness of them to new audiences. The stories I've mentioned today, and more, are found at SupportYemen.org
We can find stories closer to home as well. The suffering of U.S. troops and mercenaries and their families is more than enough to shatter any heart with even the faintest beat in it. But there's an educational shortcoming. When we only tell the stories of U.S. troops, people imagine that they make up some significant portion of the victims, even half, even a majority. And people imagine that the other victims are also mostly troops and mercenaries. These are dangerous misconceptions that leave the U.S. population offering some significant degree of support for wars that the rest of the world sees as one-sided slaughters.
And, of course, encouraging Americans to think that they should only care about American lives is the root of the problem. It also merges subtly into cheerleading for the military, which merges imperceptibly into cheerleading for the wars.
We need a culture that opposes war and celebrates nonviolent action, peace, the rule of law, and sustainable practices that resist militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.
Yes, yes, yes, of course the presidents and congress members and generals get more blame than the rank and file. Yes, of course, everyone is redeemable, everyone remains human, every troop is a potential resister, whistleblower, and peace activist. But there is nothing accomplished by internalizing "support the troops" propaganda. Nobody says they oppose the death penalty but "support" the guy who flips the switch. Nobody says they oppose mass incarceration but "support" the prison guards. Why should they have to? What would that mean? Our failure to "support the prison guards" is not interpreted as some sort of treasonous plan to harm the prison guards. Why would it be? And, by the way, please go to RootsAction.org to email your state legislators to try to protect prisoners in Texas from dying of extreme heat and other inhumane conditions. You won't be failing to support the prison guards.
I live in Virginia, which probably does more for war than any other U.S. state. But on Thursday I got an email from Francis Boyle who wrote the Biological Weapons Act and who tends to notice when it's being violated. He was alerting people to a notice that the National Biocontainment Laboratories at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, as well as at Boston University, is, in his words, "aerosolizing BSL4 Biowarfare Agents—a telltale sign of offensive biowarfare work for delivery as a weapon by air to human beings." Now, I know that every corner of the United States is packed full of places to protest the military, but Galveston suddenly seems like an especially important one to me.
Another might be Ellington Airport from which I understand drone pilots have been killing people in Afghanistan. If there aren't protests of that yet, there are people in New York, Nevada, California, Virginia, etc., who can help. KnowDrones has been running TV ads in some of these places asking pilots to refuse to fly.
Another thing we can do is to stop celebrating war holidays and instead celebrate peace ones. We have a calendar of peace holidays at WorldBeyondWar.org. Today, for example, is the day on which, in 1974, the Carnation Revolution ended military rule in Portugal. Almost no shots were fired, and crowds of people stuck carnations into the muzzles of rifles and onto the uniforms of soldiers. There are in fact suitable holidays for peace every day of the year, just as there are for war. It's up to us which we choose to mark.
Four years ago Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee created a new holiday that I'm pleased to say I've never heard of anyone celebrating. This is the law as passed:
"The President shall designate a day entitled a National Day of Honor to celebrate members of the Armed Forces who are returning from deployment in support of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat areas."
Catchy, isn't it?
Did the president designate such a day? Just once or annually? I have no idea. But this is part of what the Congresswoman said in proposing it:
"Today I rise . . . to ask support for an amendment that can bring all of us together, the designation of a national day of honor to celebrate the members of the Armed Services who will be returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and other combat areas. This national day of honor would recognize the enormous sacrifice and invaluable service that those phenomenal men and women have undertaken to protect our freedom and share the gift of democracy in other parts of the world. How many of us have stopped to say 'thank you' to a soldier walking alone in an airport. . . . "
Now, the alternative to this is not the apocryphal spitting on troops. The alternative to this is to grow out of a barbaric culture that continues to recruit and train and send off more troops, albeit in such insufficient numbers for the Pentagon that mercenaries and robots are coming to dominate. The alternative is to honestly recognize that even if you say "freedom" and "troops" in the same breath the fact remains unaltered that we lose our freedoms with every passing year of war. The alternative is to join the rest of the earth in recognizing the grotesqueness of pretending that the U.S. military has brought democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan or to the unnamed "other combat areas" that our great democracy does not always afford us the right to even know the names of.
Do not thank a soldier in an airport. If you're able to sit down and speak with a soldier, tell them that you know of veterans who suffer horribly, that you'd like to help, that if they ever want to consider a different career there may be a way to make that change. Give them your number or one for a GI Rights Hotline. And you can say more or less the same thing to the TSA agents in the airport as well of course.
Much more importantly is for us to figure out how we can say to the people of the many places the U.S. military makes war: we are sorry, we are with you, we are working to end it.
PAINTING BY FARIBA ABEDIN.
Chris Woods' excellent new book is called Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars. The title comes from a claim that then-President George W. Bush made for drone wars. The book actually tells a story of gradual injustice. The path from a U.S. government that condemned as criminal the type of murder that drones are used for to one that treats such killings as perfectly legal and routine has been a very gradual and completely extra-legal process.
Drone murders started in October 2001 and, typically enough, the first strike murdered the wrong people. The blame game involved a struggle for control among the Air Force, CENTCOM, and the CIA. The absurdity of the struggle might be brought out by modifying the "Imagine you're a deer" speech in the movie My Cousin Vinny: Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck which agency the son of a bitch who shot you was working for?
Yet much more attention has gone into which agency does what than into how best to pretend it's all legal. CIA team leaders began getting orders to kill rather than capture, and so they did. As of course did the Air Force and the Army. This was novel when it came to the murder of specific, named individuals as opposed to large numbers of unnamed enemies. According to Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the late 1990s, "There was a sense that the White House did not want to put clearly on paper anything that would be seen as authorization to assassinate, but instead preferred more of a wink-and-nod to killing bin Laden."
In the early months of Bush-Cheney, the Air Force and CIA were each struggling to impose the drone murder program on the other. Neither wanted to end up in a heap of trouble for something so illegal. After September 11, Bush told Tenet the CIA could go ahead and murder people without asking for his permission each time. One model for this was Israel's targeted murder program, which the U.S. government denounced as illegal up until 9-11-2001. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was the lead author of an April 2001 U.S. government report that said Israel should cease and desist, and criticized its operation as failing to distinguish protests from terrorism.
How did the U.S. government get from there to a "Homeland Security Department" that trains local police to consider protesters to be terrorists? The answer is: gradually and fundamentally through a change in behavior and culture rather than through legislation or court ruling. By late 2002, the U.S. State Department was being questioned in a press conference as to why it condemned Israeli murders but not similar U.S. murders. Why the double standard? The State Department had no answer whatsoever, and simply stopped criticizing Israel. The U.S. government kept quiet for years, however, about the fact that some of the people it was murdering were U.S. citizens. The groundwork had not yet been prepared sufficiently for the public to swallow that.
Some three-quarters of U.S. drone strikes have been in supposed battlefields. As one weapon among many in an existing war, armed drones have been deemed legal by lawyers and human rights groups across the full spectrum of the tiny percentage of humanity whose governments are engaged in the drone murders -- plus the "United Nations" that serves those governments. What makes the wars legal is never explained, but this sleight of hand was a foot in the door for the acceptance of drone murders. It was only when the drones killed people in other countries where there was no war underway, that any lawyers -- including some of the 750 who've recently signed a petition in support of allowing Harold Koh (who justified drone murders for the State Department) to teach so-called human rights law at New York University -- saw any need to concoct justifications. The UN never authorized the wars on Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya, not that it actually could do so under the Kellogg Briand Pact, and yet the illegal wars were taken as legalizing the bulk of the drone murders. From there, just a little liberal sophistry could "legalize" the rest.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's Asma Jahangir declared non-war drone murders to be murder at the end of 2002. UN investigator (and law partner of Tony Blair's wife) Ben Emmerson noted that in the U.S. view, war could now travel around the world to wherever bad guys went, thus making drone murders anywhere only as illegal as other wars, the legality of which nobody gave a damn about. In fact, the CIA's view, as explained to Congress by CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass in 2013, was that treaties and customary international law could be violated at will, while only domestic U.S. law need be complied with. (And, of course, domestic U.S. laws against murder in the United States might resemble domestic Pakistani or Yemeni laws against murder in Pakistan or Yemen, but resemblance is not identity, and only the U.S. laws matter.)
The growing acceptance of drone murders among Western imperialist lawyers led to all the usual attempts to tweak the crime around the edges: proportionality, careful targeting, etc. But "proportionality" is always in the eye of the killer. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, along with various innocent people, when Stanley McChrystal declared it "proportionate" to blow up a whole house to murder one man. Was it? Was it not? There is no actual answer. Declaring murders "proportionate" is just rhetoric that lawyers have told politicians and generals to apply to human slaughter. In one drone strike in 2006, the CIA killed some 80 innocent people, most of them children. Ben Emmerson expressed mild displeasure. But the question of "proportionality" wasn't raised, because it wasn't helpful rhetoric in that case. During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. commanders could plan operations in which they expected to kill up to 30 innocent people, but if they expected 31 they needed to get Donald Rumsfeld to sign off on it. That's the sort of legal standard that drone murders fit into just fine, especially once any "military aged male" was redefined as an enemy. The CIA even counts innocent women and children as enemies, according to the New York Times.
As drone murders rapidly spread during the Bush-Cheney years (later to absolutely explode during the Obama years) the rank and file enjoyed sharing the videos around. Commanders tried to halt the practice. Then they began releasing select videos while keeping all the others strictly hidden.
As the practice of murdering people with drones in nations where mass-murder hadn't been somehow sanctioned by the banner of "war" became routine, human rights groups like Amnesty International began stating clearly that the United States was violating the law. But over the years, that clear language faded, replaced by doubt and uncertainty. Nowadays, human rights groups document numerous cases of drone murders of innocents and then declare them possibly illegal depending on whether or not they are part of a war, with the question of whether murders in a given country are part of a war having been opened up as a possibility, and with the answer resting at the discretion of the government launching the drones.
By the end of the Bush-Cheney years, the CIA's rules were supposedly changed from launching murderous drone strikes whenever they had a 90% chance of "success" to whenever they had a 50% chance. And how was this measured? It was in fact eliminated by the practice of "signature strikes" in which people are murdered without actually knowing who they are at all. Britain, for its part, cleared the way for murdering its citizens by stripping them of their citizenship as needed.
All of this went on in official secrecy, meaning it was known to anyone who cared to know, but it wasn't supposed to be talked about. The longest serving member of Germany's oversight committee admitted that Western governments were depending largely on the media to find out what their spies and militaries were doing.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize in the White House took drone murders to a whole new level, destabilizing nations like Yemen, and targeting innocents in new ways, including by targeting the rescuers just arrived at the bloody scene of an earlier strike. Blow back against the U.S. picked up, as well as blow back against local populations by groups claiming to be acting in retaliation for U.S. drone murders. The damage drones did in places like Libya during the 2011 U.S.-NATO overthrow was not seen as a reason to step back, but as grounds for yet more drone killing. Growing chaos in Yemen, predicted by observers pointing to the counterproductive effects of the drones strikes, was claimed as a success by Obama. Drone pilots were now committing suicide and suffering moral stress in large numbers, but there was no turning back. A 90% majority in Yemen's National Dialogue wanted armed drones criminalized, but the U.S. State Department wanted the world's nations to buy drones too.
Rather than ending or scaling back the drone-murder program, the Obama White House began publicly defending it and advertising the President's role in authorizing the murders. Or at least that was the course after Harold Koh and gang figured out how exactly they wanted to pretend to "legalize" murder. Even Ben Emmerson says it took them so long because they hadn't yet figured out what excuses to use. Will the dozens of nations now acquiring armed drones need any excuse at all?