I'm not sure if there's been a better written book published yet this year than Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard and How the West Was Checkmated, but I'm confident there's not been a more important one. With some 17,000 nuclear bombs in the world, the United States and Russia have about 16,000 of them. The United States is aggressively flirting with World War III, the people of the United States have not the foggiest notion of how or why, and authors Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong explain it all quite clearly. Go ahead and tell me there's nothing you're now spending your time on that's less important than this.
This book may very well be the best written one I've read this year. It puts all the relevant facts -- those I knew and many I didn't -- together concisely and with perfect organization. It does it with an informed worldview. It leaves me nothing to complain about at all, which is almost unheard of in my book reviews. I find it refreshing to encounter writers so well-informed who also grasp the significance of their information.
Nearly half the book is used to set the context for recent events in Ukraine. It's useful to understand the end of the cold war, the irrational hatred of Russia that pervades elite U.S. thinking, and the patterns of behavior that are replaying themselves now at higher volume. Stirring up fanatical fighters in Afghanistan and Chechnya and Georgia, and targeting Ukraine for similar use: this is a context CNN won't provide. The partnership of the neocons (in arming and provoking violence in Libya) with the humanitarian warriors (in riding to the rescue for regime change): this is a precedent and a model that NPR won't mention. The U.S. promise not to expand NATO, the U.S. expansion of NATO to 12 new countries right up to the border of Russia, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and pursuit of "missile defense" -- this is background that Fox News would never deem significant. U.S. support for the rule of criminal oligarchs willing to sell off Russian resources, and Russian resistance to those schemes -- such accounts are almost incomprehensible if you've consumed too much U.S. "news," but are explained and documented well by Baldwin and Heartsong.
This book includes excellent background on the use and abuse of Gene Sharp and the color revolutions instigated by the U.S. government. A silver lining may be found, I think, in the value of nonviolent action recognized by all involved -- whether for good or ill. The same lesson can be found (for good this time) in the civilian resistance to Ukrainian troops in the spring of 2014, and the refusal of (some) troops to attack civilians.
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine II in 2013-2014 are recounted well, including detailed chronology. It's truly remarkable how much has been publicly reported that remains buried. Western leaders met repeatedly in 2012 and 2013 to plot the fate of Ukraine. Neo-Nazis from Ukraine were sent to Poland to train for a coup. NGOs operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev organized trainings for coup participants. On November 24, 2013, three days after Ukraine refused an IMF deal, including refusing to sever ties to Russia, protesters in Kiev began to clash with police. The protesters used violence, destroying buildings and monuments, and tossing Molotov cocktails, but President Obama warned the Ukrainian government not to respond with force. (Contrast that with the treatment of the Occupy movement, or the shooting on Capitol Hill of the woman who made an unacceptable U-turn in her car with her baby.)
U.S.-funded groups organized a Ukrainian opposition, funded a new TV channel, and promoted regime change. The U.S. State Department spent some $5 billion. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who handpicked the new leaders, openly brought cookies to protesters. When those protesters violently overthrew the government in February 2014, the United States immediately declared the coup government legitimate. That new government banned major political parties, and attacked, tortured, and murdered their members. The new government included neo-Nazis and would soon include officials imported from the United States. The new government banned the Russian language -- the first language of many Ukrainian citizens. Russian war memorials were destroyed. Russian-speaking populations were attacked and murdered.
Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine, had its own parliament, had been part of Russia from 1783 until 1954, had publicly voted for close ties to Russia in 1991, 1994, and 2008, and its parliament had voted to rejoin Russia in 2008. On March 16, 2014, 82% of Crimeans took part in a referendum, and 96% of them voted to rejoin Russia. This nonviolent, bloodless, democratic, and legal action, in no violation of a Ukrainian constitution that had been shredded by a violent coup, was immediately denounced in the West as a Russian "invasion" of Crimea.
Novorossiyans, too, sought independence and were attacked by the new Ukrainian military the day after John Brennan visited Kiev and ordered that crime. I know that the Fairfax County Police who have kept me and my friends away from John Brennan's house in Virginia have had no clue what hell he was unleashing on helpless people thousands of miles away. But that ignorance is at least as disturbing as informed malice would be. Civilians were attacked by jets and helicopters for months in the worst killing in Europe since World War II. Russian President Putin repeatedly pressed for peace, a ceasefire, negotiations. A ceasefire finally came on September 5, 2014.
Remarkably, contrary to what we've all been told, Russia didn't invade Ukraine any of the numerous times we were told that it had just done so. We've graduated from mythical weapons of mass destruction, through mythical threats to Libyan civilians, and false accusation of chemical weapons use in Syria, to false accusations of launching invasions that were never launched. The "evidence" of the invasion(s) was carefully left devoid of location or any verifiable detail, but has all been decidedly debunked anyway.
The downing of the MH17 airplane was blamed on Russia with no evidence. The U.S. has information on what happened but won't release it. Russia released what it had, and the evidence, in agreement with eye-witnesses on the ground, and in agreement with an air-traffic controller at the time, is that the plane was shot down by one or more other planes. "Evidence" that Russia shot the plane down with a missile has been exposed as sloppy forgeries. The vapor trail that a missile would have left was reported by not a single witness.
Baldwin and Heartsong close with the case that U.S. actions have backfired, that in fact whether the people of the United States have any idea what is going on or not, the power brokers in Washington have Second Amendmented themselves in the foot. Sanctions against Russia have made Putin as popular at home as George W. Bush was after he'd managed to exist as president while planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The same sanctions have strengthened Russia by turning it toward its own production and toward alliances with non-Western nations. Ukraine has suffered, and Europe suffers from a cut-off of Russian gas, while Russia makes deals with Turkey, Iran, and China. Evicting a Russian base from Crimea seems more hopeless now than before this madness began. Russia is leading the way as more nations abandon the U.S. dollar. Retaliatory sanctions from Russia are hurting the West. Far from isolated, Russia is working with the BRICS nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other alliances. Far from impoverished, Russia is buying up gold while the U.S. sinks into debt and is increasingly viewed by the world as a rogue player, and resented by Europe for depriving Europe of Russian trade.
This story begins in the irrationality of collective trauma coming out of the holocaust of World War II and of blind hatred for Russia. It must end with the same irrationality. If U.S. desperation leads to war with Russia in Ukraine or elsewhere along the Russian border where NATO is engaging in various war games and exercises, there may be no more human stories ever told or heard.
The Guardian on Monday made public a CIA document allowing the agency's director to "approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research."
At Guantanamo, the CIA gave huge doses of the terror-inducing drug mefloquine to prisoners without their consent, as well as the supposed truth serum scopolamine. Former Guantanamo guard Joseph Hickman has documented the CIA's torturing people, sometimes to death, and can find no explanation other than research:
"[Why] were men of little or no value kept under these conditions, and even repeatedly interrogated, months or years after they'd been taken into custody? Even if they'd had any intelligence when they came in, what relevance would it have years later? . . . One answer seemed to lie in the description that Major Generals [Michael] Dunlavey and [Geoffrey] Miller both applied to Gitmo. They called it 'America's battle lab.'"
Non-consensual experimentation on institutionalized children and adults was common in the United States before, during, and even more so after the U.S. and its allies prosecuted Nazis for the practice in 1947, sentencing many to prison and seven to be hanged. The tribunal created the Nuremberg Code, standards for medical practice that were immediately ignored back home. Some American doctors considered it "a good code for barbarians."
The code begins: "Required is the voluntary, well-informed, understanding consent of the human subject in a full legal capacity." A similar requirement is included in the CIA's rules, but has not been followed, even as doctors have assisted with such torture techniques as waterboarding.
Thus far, the United States has never really accepted the Nuremberg Code. While the code was being created, the U.S. was giving people syphilis in Guatemala. It did the same at Tuskegee. Also during the Nuremberg trial, children at the Pennhurst school in southeastern Pennsylvania were given hepatitis-laced feces to eat.
Other sites of experimentation scandals have included the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn, the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, and Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. And, of course, the CIA's Project MKUltra (1953-1973) was a smorgasbord of human experimentation. Forced sterilizations of women in California prisons have not ended. Torture by Chicago police has for the first time just resulted in compensation for victims.
If we are, at long last, to put such contemptible behavior behind us, it will require breaking some bad habits.
Congress has busily re-banned torture a number of times in recent years. Now it must drop that charade and instead demand that the Attorney General enforce the anti-torture statute, which made torture a felony before George W. Bush ever became president.
It's good of John Oliver to denounce torture. And he's right to go after the lies told about torture in popular entertainment. But he's also spreading the false idea that it's legal. "We checked," he says, reporting that his crack team of investigators discovered that the only ban on torture is found in an executive order written by President Obama. This is dangerous nonsense. The U.S. was a party to the Anti-Torture Convention and had made torture a felony under the anti-torture statute and the war-crimes statute before George W. Bush ever became president.
Since then, Congress has repeatedly "banned" torture. But, just as the U.N. Charter's ban on war actually legalized certain wars, purporting to replace the total ban in the Kellogg-Briand Pact with a partial ban, these Congressional efforts (such as the Military Commissions Act of 2006) have actually legalized certain cases of torture, replacing (at least in everyone's mind) the total ban already existing in the U.S. Code and in a treaty to which the U.S. is party.
The latest "ban" proposal from Senator McCain and friends, would create exceptions in the form of those in the Army Field Manual, and advocates maintain that step number two would be to reform that manual. But if you skip both steps and acknowledge the existence of the anti-torture statute in the U.S. Code, you're done. The proper task is to press for its enforcement.
Oliver's mistake, like virtually everyone else's, is based on two myths. One, torture began with Bush. Two, torture ended with Bush. On the contrary, torture has been around in the United States and elsewhere for a very long time. So has the practice of banning it. Torture is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In fact, under international law, torture can never be legalized and is always banned.
Myth number two is also wrong. Torture has not ended and won't as long as it's not punished.
An attorney general can be questioned and threatened with impeachment until our laws are enforced. A new website created Monday let's you email Congress to demand that it do just that.
The Pentagon has just published 1,204 pages on how it thinks you can behave legally during a war. Looking through this "Law of War Manual" at various hot topics, one finds some atrocities excused as acceptable (cluster bombs, nuclear bombs) and others rejected as completely disallowed (torture) even when in reality they are routinely engaged in.
Beginning to wonder what the point is of writing out such a lengthy description of laws when someone could just read the laws themselves in less time, I notice that nowhere does this document strengthen any actual law, while in many places it weakens them. It picks and chooses which laws to mention and which to leave out or marginalize in footnotes. It stresses the supposed right to ignore any international law that a nation objected to while that law was being created. It incorporates into the whole scheme the idea of launching wars not only against nations, but against any other entities, and of launching wars in nations with those nations' approval. This paper is a sort of enormous signing statement appended retroactively to all existing laws, indicating which will be adhered to and which disregarded, while attempting to advertise a pattern of legal behavior by the U.S. military as a public relations correction to people's awareness of the actual pattern of lawlessness.
But I think the place to start is with the pretense that war itself is legal. This is what permits three-quarters of this document to exist, devoted as those sections are to proper legal conduct during a war. The Pentagon says that one must fight wars legally whether or not the wars are legal. That is, whether or not you have some legal justification for attacking a country, you must nonetheless meet completely vague standards of proportionality and so forth during the course of the attack -- or of the occupation. There's a large section on the legal conduct of occupations that breezes right past any question of the illegality of maintaining the occupation at all. Here's a typical passage about legal "proportionality": "Attacks using nuclear weapons must not be conducted when the expected incidental harm to civilians is excessive compared to the military advantage expected to be gained." How much "harm" to civilians from nuclear weapons would be "excessive"? The so-called law, once you accept war and then try to regulate its conduct, is in the eye of the sociopathic beholder; there's nothing empirical or enforceable about it.
The short section of this manual on what makes wars themselves legal is of particular interest, I think, because it -- in fact -- ends up admitting that they are not. It doesn't intend to make this point, however. In fact, it goes to every effort to suggest that legality is something murky, almost something aesthetic, laying out a number of "principles" to consider in deciding whether to begin a mass slaughter of human beings. Is a "competent authority" making the decision? Is the action "proportionate"? Have all peaceful alternatives been exhausted? That last one, actually, would ban every war the United States has ever launched, including all current ones, if the facts of each situation were dealt with honestly -- but when does that ever happen?
Eventually, the manual comes around to mentioning a law: the U.N. Charter. It gives this tiny part of its text the heading "Prohibition on Certain Uses of Force," but quotes the Charter: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." The "purposes" in Chapter I of the Charter are focused on the need "to maintain international peace."
And the manual notes: "Numerous other treaties also reflect these prohibitions on the threat or use of force." There's a footnote that reads as follows:
"See, e.g. , Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, art. 1, Sept. 2, 1947, 62 STAT.1681,1700 ('The High Contracting Parties formally condemn war and undertake in their international relations not to resort to the threat or the use of force in any manner inconsistent with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations or of this Treaty.'); Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, art. 1, Aug. 27, 1928, 46 STAT.2343, 2345-46 ('The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.')."
This footnote is the key to unraveling the entire 1,204 pages. It fudges its contents by lumping together two treaties and including only half of the key language of the second one. The first treaty it cites has holes in it, just like the U.N. Charter, and by virtue of reference to the U.N. Charter. The second treaty, the "Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy" -- more commonly known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact -- does not. Article I of the Peace Pact of Paris, the Pact of Kellogg and Briand, is quoted above. But Article II reads: "The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means."
This is a treaty, let us note, that remains in force, is listed as such on the U.S. State Department's website, and is acknowledged as such, as just noted, in the Pentagon's brand-new murder manual. It is a treaty that includes some very difficult-to-fudge words: "all" (disputes or conflicts), "whatever" (nature), "of whatever" (origin), "never" (be sought except by pacific means). "Pacific means" is not pacific ends. That is, one cannot claim to be pursuing peace through war and be in compliance with the Kellogg-Briand Pact. One is required to pursue whatever one is pursuing through peace. The Pentagon offers no justification for violating this treaty. None. It simply buries it in a footnote and omits half of its content. But that's an evasion, not a justification. The ban, it is worth repeating, is absolute. A war on Afghanistan is a non-pacific means. A murder by missile from a drone is a non-pacific means; one need not dive into obscurantist twaddle about how many drone strikes fit onto the head of a war.
A truly desperate debater could claim that a drone murder in Yemen is not a dispute between the United States and Yemen but between the two aligned governments and another group or individual. But this line of justification runs up against the most common line of argument produced in the White House and Justice Department, namely that drone murders are not murder because they are war. Once you claim that Kellogg-Briand allows wars on non-nations, you not only violate the entire purpose, intent, and past use of Kellogg-Briand (including at Nuremberg; it's not as if the Jews were a nation), but you legalize murder by any nation or non-nation (or local police department) that declares its murdering to be warmaking. It's worth remembering that the people of Yemen never approved U.S. drone murders in their country, and in fact were lied to for a long time by their own government that it was in fact their own government and not the U.S. doing it. The Yemeni government, in the person of a dictator, later fled to Saudi Arabia and asked Saudi Arabia to attack the people of Yemen with more U.S.-made weaponry. Can a dictator who has fled a country still legalize a war just by uttering the word "war"? I contend that an interpretation of a law that eliminates the very possibility of lawfulness is no interpretation at all.
So, understanding Kellogg-Briand as it was written, what good is it? Well, elsewhere, this same manual says, "[T]he fact that a State's domestic law does not provide for a penalty with respect to a violation of international law does not relieve a person from responsibility for that act under international law." In other words, the fact that violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact has not been made punishable under U.S. domestic law does nothing to exonerate an American who violates it, any American, that is, who launches or participates in a war. This was the clear intent of those who created this law. Yes, some, but not all, of the U.S. senators who ratified it, expressed their belief that self-defense would still justify warfare, but they did not add that or anything else as an official reservation to the treaty upon ratification -- false rumors to that effect notwithstanding.
Having skipped past the heart of the matter -- the complete ban on war -- in footnote #208, the Pentagon's manual hurries on in this manner:
"The resort to force must have a legal basis in order not to violate these prohibitions. The legality of the use of force must be assessed in light of the particular facts and circumstances at issue."
But something that is banned cannot have a legal basis that allows it to not violate the ban. A further footnote (#209) adds that in the most egregious cases of aggressive wars, one should ignore legal standards in light of the uniqueness of the situation:
"See, e.g., William H. Taft IV, Legal Adviser, Department of State, & Todd F. Buchwald, Assistant Legal Adviser for Political-Military Affairs, Department of State, Preemption, Iraq, and International Law, 97 AJIL 557 (2003) ('In the end, each use of force must find legitimacy in the facts and circumstances that the state believes have made it necessary. Each should be judged not on abstract concepts, but on the particular events that gave rise to it.'); Daniel Webster, Letter to Mr. Fox, Apr. 24, 1841, reprinted in DANIEL WEBSTER,THE DIPLOMATIC AND OFFICIAL PAPERS OF DANIEL WEBSTER, WHILE SECRETARY OF STATE 105 (1848)('It is admitted that a just right of self-defense attaches always to nations as well as to individuals, and is equally necessary for the preservation of both. But the extent of this right is a question to be judged of by the circumstances of each particular case;')."
The manual goes on to list lots of rationales for launching wars. But the fact that legally there can be none has already been acknowledged. What we're dealing with here is a matter of culture, not of written law. The U.S. public has been so propagandized that the very idea of abolishing war is unthinkable, and so the fact that it has legally been done cannot be thought. And so it does not have to be refuted.
But what if we were to take the radical step of obeying the law as written? What, then, should be done? Well, according to this same manual,
"Each member of the armed services has a duty to: (1) comply with the law of war in good faith; and (2) refuse to comply with clearly illegal orders to commit violations of the law of war."
The manual quickly muddies up that legal clarity with this:
"[T]he obligation of individual service members to comply with the law of war in good faith is met when service members: (1) perform their duties as they have been trained and directed; and (2) apply the training on the law of war that they have received."
In other words, you can refuse to comply with unlawful orders by complying with whatever you are ordered. But the clarity of the actual law, once stated, can't really be undone. Nor can this, also from the new manual:
"State responsibility for violations of the law of war results in obligations to compensate other States for violations. . . . A State that is responsible for an internationally wrongful act is under an obligation to make full reparation for the injury caused by that act."
Compensating Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc., will not be cheap, but it is required by law and it will cost less than continuing the crime of war-making and preparations for more of the same.
Reading further in the manual, we find that, in fact, the Pentagon believes people like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and all of their subordinates, can be prosecuted for the wars they've launched under U.S. domestic law:
"The War Crimes Act authorizes the prosecution of individuals for certain war crimes if the victim or the perpetrator is either a U.S. national or a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, whether inside or outside the United States. Under this statute, an individual may be prosecuted for conduct: . . . prohibited by Article . . . 25 . . . of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907 . . . "
Here's Article 25:
"The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited."
How many of the houses that U.S. missiles and bombs (from drones and otherwise) have been hitting have been defended? Not all, certainly. Not most, I suspect.
But this is a silly way to go after a part of the overarching crime of war, even if it is the largest part of that crime. When the U.S. prosecuted Nazis at the end of World War II, it did so on the basis of the Kellogg-Briand Pact and an understanding that each smaller component action was criminal because the whole of the war (on the losing side) was criminal. Robert Jackson and others expressed the hypocritical sentiment at the time that the U.S. should fall under the same standard in future years.
What more prevalent tradition is there in the United States than striving to live up to past hypocritical but eloquent statements on justice and equality? Perhaps we should try that in the case of the greatest evil there is.
Presidential elections should be limited to as short a time period as possible and are generally the biggest drain and distraction going. I have two excuses for looking into Jeb Bush. One is that I've been collecting the evidence that Hillary cannot be a lesser evil than any living human, and campaigning for No More Bushes or Clintons. The other is that I only read Jeb Bush: Outed because I've long liked the author, Stephen Goldstein.
People such as Molly Ivins and James Moore gave the U.S. lots of warning, from the wisdom of Texans, before the Supreme Court falsified the 2000 election results in what will always be falsely remembered as the American public electing George W. Bush president. Here comes Goldstein from Florida to warn us about Jeb. I don't see any reason why knowing about Jeb should make us take any interest in the election, as Hillary is just as bad. But I still see a problem with not knowing -- when it's all so easily known.
I'm also not sure Jeb won't end up making it all clear on his own. At the moment he's running around praising the U.S. war on Iraq (the last one, not the new one), antagonizing the president of Russia, and proposing public shaming for unwed mothers.
Yet the corporate press is complicit in the baseless idea that Jeb Bush is someone worth paying any attention to at all. It knows it was complicit in George's stolen election in which Jeb was complicit. It knows of the efforts it has gone to over the decades to uphold the acceptability of all the crimes of the brother, the father, the grandfather, and the great grandfather (Walker). The press has a lot invested in the pretense that Jeb Bush matters.
In case it matters to anyone, Goldstein lays out the record from Florida: giant giveaways to corporations and cronies, a pension fund invested in Enron, average wages plummeting, services for the elderly slashed, a drug plan that failed to reach 97.5% of the population, a high-school graduation rate that fell to the worst in the United States, anti-environmentalists appointed to boards, commissions, and judgeships, a mad power-grab rewriting of the state constitution to allow public funding of religion, welfare for Arthur Anderson while it evaded taxes, the opening of religion-run prisons ("I can't think of a better place to reflect on the awesome love of our Lord Jesus," quoth he), a crazed power grab to allow the governor to appoint all judges and the whole state university board of regents, and the repeated, undemocratic, blocking of public decisions expressed through referenda -- including killing public preschool by underfunding it.
One might think the Florida record was of limited value, as the number one thing the federal government does is make war, and Florida merely harbors terrorists who kill Cubans. But in fact Jeb Bush is not just a proven crony-crapitalist which pretty well guarantees wars (just like Hillary), but he was also a signer of the June 1997 Statement of Principles of the Project for the New American Century, along with Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Libby, Cheney, and the rest of the same crowd he still keeps with him. Jeb is not clinging to Dubya's warmongering record out of family loyalty. Jeb was pushing for those policies some 20 years ago and was only not part of his brother's disastrous regime because of the Florida gig and perhaps a bit of family disloyalty or political calculation.
But is anyone really ignorant of this? We're dealing with a Bush, and a Jeb for that matter. We're dealing with a system in which the most servile sycophants before corporate power are praised in the press as the most skilled money raisers, but nobody is entirely fooled and a majority of people ignore the single largest ad campaign of the year (and more) and refuse to vote at all.
Goldstein clearly leans Democratic Party, and his lesser-evil argument against Jeb rests primarily on speculation as to the sort of person he would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court, combined with speculation about the sort of person a Democrat might appoint. It's a guessing game that cannot alter the fact that either Jeb or Hillary would run the war machine into apocalyptic crises and the natural environment into collapse. Still, as far as deck-chair rearranging goes it's as good a game as any.
The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber is an engaging riff on the theme of bureaucracy and the BS people think about it.
"De-regulation," of finances, Graeber points out, creates more rules, paperwork, and bureaucrats, apparently because what happens is not the equivalent of firing a bunch of factory safety inspectors, but rather the employment of enough bureaucrats to redirect control of wealth from mid-sized companies to giant conglomerates. Yet, just as people imagine criminals to be mostly black or violent, or war to be philanthropic or necessary, or estate taxes to be about family farms, or voter fraud to be impacting elections, or elections to have any value that could possibly be hurt by voter fraud, or a minimum wage to eliminate jobs, or corporate trade agreements to not eliminate jobs, or guns to make us safer, or prisons to "correct" something, or wealth to trickle down, or small-time foreign thugs to constitute a graver threat than a McDonald's diet, what matters is a fiction well told, not any facts.
Career advancement in a bureaucracy, Graeber writes, is based not so much on merit as on the loyalty exhibited by a willingness to pretend that it's based on merit. If you play along with the collective delusion, you're rewarded.
"Globalization" is not about tearing down borders, but rather trapping people behind militarized borders within which public supports can be denied and workers can be compelled to work for little or nothing -- in other words, a species of bureaucratization. The effort to create a truly borderless and fair world is known as "anti-globalization."
The "free market" means heavier bureaucracy, and an expansion of those areas of life that come under the control of state violence. This was the story of Russia's transition from state to private economics, Graeber writes: more bureaucrats, not fewer.
When police bring law and order, we picture them turning a violent situation non-violent. In fact, they are not involved in most violent crime, and mostly show up to nonviolent situations which they turn violent. You have a much higher chance of being killed by police than by the terrorists they are now mostly imagined as combatting.
When someone tells you to be "realistic" about such supposed fantasies as peace or justice, they are not telling you to recognize how things are, as they and you may imagine they are, but rather they are telling you to acknowledge the violence by which the state can impose its will no matter how stupidly it might choose to do so. "Real" in this usage comes from the Spanish real meaning royal or belonging to the king, not the Latin res or thing. It is the royal usage that created such phrases as "real property" or "real estate." The point is not that a house truly exists, but that the king ultimately owns it. To "be realistic" about violence simply means to be violent about violence. After all, we all know violence exists; some of us choose not to multiply it.
Cutting taxes on "job creators" doesn't create any jobs, just the reverse. With more wealth, they do things like taking their pay in stock options, and then using extra money that could have gone into new hires or raises or research for stock buybacks. The result is a weaker economy inhabited by people convinced it's both a stronger economy and an inevitable economy against which one need not waste any energy struggling for change.
Why don't we have robots doing our factory work and house work? Why don't we have useful technological advances on the scale of previous eras? Graeber writes that the most immediate reason is that 95% of robotics funding has gone through the Pentagon which has no interest in such matters and is more interested in destructive inventions like killer drones.
In addition, robots are understood as job killers rather than time savers because we offer no one a guaranteed income even if they don't need to work. We begin with the requirement that everyone work no matter what, and then figure out stuff they can do to fulfill that requirement -- such as trying all day to get us to switch from one giant phone company to another.
Another problem is innovative corporate culture that kills innovation by investing in only sure things, requiring everyone to invest time in PR, and multiplying bureaucracy.
People are told to cling to the American freedom of private health insurance companies as an act of rebellion against government bureaucracy, even as the insurance corporations create vastly more bureaucracy, paperwork, sickness, and death.
We don't notice bureaucracy, Graeber believes, because it has mushroomed. The average American will spend 6 months of their life waiting for stoplights to change and some larger length of time filling out forms.
We don't notice bureaucracy, think we despise it, and secretly love it, Graeber thinks -- love it because it is the enemy of unpredictable and improvisational play, which we've been conditioned to believe is dangerous. Of course, the opposite is true.
The preceding is a sampling of Graber's book and my thoughts on it, not a summary. I urge you to dive into it yourself. It's a book that intentionally raises many large questions. A couple of small ones stand out as flaws, however: 1) Why in the world does the author keep his money in Bank of America? 2) Why does he imagine that the "War on Terror" has ended? The whole point of a war on terror is that it's not endable, as terror can never be eliminated. Nor of course can it be outdone in terrorizing by anything moreso than war.
Democratic-Party-based activist groups are urging each other to praise and support Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat, Connecticut) for laying out a better-than-average foreign policy and setting up a website at http://chanceforpeace.org.
Murphy's position would be considered militarist in the extreme outside of the United States, but advocates point out how much worse most other U.S. senators' are.
This is in the context, of course, of Democratic activists having failed to nominate Elizabeth Warren for President (despite her awful foreign policy), cheering for Bernie Sanders (despite his virtual avoidance of the whole topic of militarism; urging proper budgetary procedures but not morally decent reductions or restraint), and pretty well ignoring Lincoln Chaffee (the only candidate for president from either mega-party to thus far mention peace or military budget cutting, but who seems, as a former Republican, to just be in with the wrong clique).
Murphy has attempted to block any funding for any major new U.S. ground war in Iraq. That's certainly better than nothing, although an air war or a proxy war or a secret and limited and illegal war can be just as deadly and destructive. Murphy and two other Democratic senators have laid out their vision here.
They begin thus: "[T]errorist groups such as Islamic State (also called ISIS) and al Qaeda present a grave threat to U.S. national security." Now, this is obvious nonsense that has been admitted to be obvious nonsense by the U.S. "intelligence" agencies, who say ISIS is no threat. Our Senate heroes are in agreement on the ISIS threat, rather, with this former Navy SEAL who also wants every mosque on earth attacked.
Their next claim is just as dangerous and false: "Traditional powers such as Russia and China are challenging international norms and pushing the boundaries of their influence." WHAT? This from members of a government building bases and deploying weapons and troops to the borders of those two countries, spending vastly more on militarism than the pair of them combined, and facilitating a coup in Ukraine that could yet kick off WWIII.
Then our three senators distinguish themselves from their most rightwing colleagues. They recognize climate change as a problem. They advocate something other than only militarism, something they call non-kinetic statecraft, which seems to by a synonym for non-lethal actions. Then they lay out eight proposals.
First, a Marshall plan. This should be a warning (along with the actual history of the Marshall Plan) to peace activists against using the term themselves. These senators understand it as including "military protection" and aid aimed at bringing countries "under the American banner." Of course any humanitarian aid, in any combination with propaganda and political sabotage, may be preferable to purely "kinetic" killing, but there's a reason the USAID is distrusted, and these guys don't seem to get it. The version of this proposal on Murphy's own website reads: "Military spending shouldn’t be 10 times our foreign aid budget. We need a new Marshall Plan for at risk regions." But military spending is some $1.2 trillion a year, while foreign aid is $23 billion. So, military spending also shouldn't be 52 times the foreign aid budget. And, one might ask, "at risk" of what?
Second, coalitions of the killing.
Third, exit strategies before entering new slaughters.
Fourth, plans for post-killing politics.
These are tweaks to militarism, not a redirection.
Ideas five, six, and eight are where praise is really warranted. First, look at idea seven: "How can the United States preach economic empowerment overseas if millions of Americans feel economically hopeless? If Washington is to maintain credible U.S. global leadership, the United States need significant new investments in infrastructure and education, and new policies to address the stagnant incomes and rising costs that are crippling too many American families." Since when does the United States preach or seriously act on such proposals for the poor nations of earth? Why would it be hypocritical for a rich nation to help a poor nation? Shouldn't the U.S. help both its own and the world by cutting military spending and giveaways to billionaires and, for the first time, really investing in people seriously both at home and abroad? How is the U.S. engaging in global leadership? And who asked it to?
Now, these proposals deserve our attention:
"Fifth, we believe that covert actions such as mass surveillance and large-scale CIA lethal operations must be constrained." The version on Murphy's website hints at something a little stronger: "It's time to reign in the massive covert operations and intelligence apparatus that has emerged since 9-11. Mass surveillance and drone strikes, unchecked, steal moral authority from America." What is an appropriately small-scale CIA lethal ("kinetic"?) operation? What's involved in "checking" a drone strike? When you dig into this, there's nothing concrete there, but there's the hinting at it.
"Sixth, we believe that the United States should practice what it preaches regarding civil and human rights, and defend its values internationally. . . . Actions abroad that are illegal under U.S. law and out of step with American values, such as torture, must be prohibited." Of course, torture is already prohibited, as is any other action that is illegal under U.S. law (and also international law, incidentally) -- that's what it means for something to be illegal: it's prohibited. Congress doesn't need to keep prohibiting it time and again. The version on Murphy's own website is better: "We need to practice what we preach on international human rights. No more secret detention centers. A categorical rejection of torture." Since torture is illegal, a rejection of it would seem to suggest enforcing the laws against it through prosecutions. And "no more" secret prisons would seem to suggest similar enforcement of a complete ban. These points are the closest to concrete proposals and should be pursued. There is no reason Congress cannot interrogate, impeach, and try any attorney general failing to enforce the law.
"Finally, we believe climate change presents an immediate threat to the world, and the United States must invest time, money, and global political capital to address this crisis." And from Murphy's website: "Climate change is a national security threat. Combating this threat should be interwoven into every aspect of American foreign policy." This could mean a couple of very useful things: 1) A major effort to cease subsidizing fossil fuels and begin investing in renewables at home and abroad. 2) If a war will increase climate change -- as any war will -- it cannot be launched. Now, that I'd cheer for.
Vincent Bugliosi, generally noted as the prosecutor of Charles Manson and author of Helter Skelter, is dead.
Vince had a remarkable skill as a prosecutor and a public speaker. He could be very persuasive. He could set aside everything but the most critical piece of information and then hammer at that piece like a sculptor. In doing so he could reach a wide audience in a persuasive manner without unnecessarily putting anyone off.
Bugliosi fit the profile of a whistleblower. He had long been part of the establishment. He prosecuted criminals. He wrote best-selling books defending insider opinion, claiming Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, O.J. Simpson was guilty, etc. He believed that before George W. Bush no president had ever lied about a war. He believed the U.S. government generally meant well. He considered agnosticism wiser than atheism, because who knows, there could be a god, how can you prove there isn't? He considered revenge an enlightened emotion. In other words, Bugliosi was a reluctant radical.
He had written a condemnation of the Supreme Court's selection of George W. Bush for the White House. How was he to know that speaking further truth about that same individual would meet a brick wall of bipartisan contempt? He didn't know. He was used to being on television when he published a new book. He was used to glowing reviews, or at least reviews, in major newspapers. But most major newspapers didn't mention Bugliosi's book on prosecuting Bush for the war on Iraq until Bugliosi died this week. The New York Times had run an article on the lack of coverage, but not provided any coverage.
Bugliosi was shut out by corporate power when he suggested prosecuting a president for launching a war (and laid out a powerful legal argument for doing so). It was, in his view, a very mainstream American argument against a brand new horror never seen on the face of the earth before. He said not a word about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who had been murdered; it wasn't part of his legal case on which he focused like a laser. He argued for the prosecution of Bush for the murder of U.S. troops sent to Iraq and killed there. Bugliosi explained:
"A robber, for instance, was convicted of first degree murder under the felony-murder rule where, as he was leaving the store in which he had robbed the owner, he told the owner not to say a word or he'd be harmed, and fired into the ceiling to scare the owner. The shot, after two or three ricochets, pierced the head of the owner, killing him. In fact, the felony-murder rule applies even where the defendant is not the killer! There have been cases where the proprietor of the store fired at a robber, missed him and hit and killed a customer. And the robber was convicted of first degree murder of the customer."
Legally, it's unusual. Morally, it's grotesque. Effectively, it would have ended U.S. wars, prevented the creation of ISIS, left Honduras and Ukraine with their elected governments, kept new bases out of the Philippines, Japan, Guam, Australia, and two dozen African Nations, allowed Libya to live, allowed recovery to begin in Afghanistan, prevented the drone wars that President Obama created in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, and the subsequent Saudi destruction of Yemen, halted shipments of U.S. weapons to Israel, Egypt, and countless Clinton-donor nations, quite possibly spared Gaza two serious attacks, and conceivably have created the momentum to prosecute torture and other lesser crimes rather than continuing the charade of re-banning it over and over.
But none of that was to be. Bugliosi was abandoned by the Democrats who didn't want Bush prosecuted. Bugliosi was forsaken by the corporate media that didn't want war questioned. Bugliosi was ostracized by his own people: prosecutors. He asked for one prosecutor in any place in the U.S. from which a U.S. troop had been sent to Iraq to die. He volunteered to assist that prosecutor for free. Not a single one could be found willing to even try.
But Vince made new friends, used alternative media, spoke to peace groups, created a best-seller without any help from corporate media, and produced an independent film about the process. He was a man who had, no doubt, long found anger useful in his work, and I think he began to grow a little more angry all the time. I don't think he stopped believing in the founding fathers, the American way, or the value of the "good" wars. But he acquired a little bitterness. He lashed out at people who protested torture, when war was what needed protesting.
And he had a point there. He always had a point. He was perhaps the most skilled person alive at having a point, and now he's gone. And now his powerful voice is only in that film and that book and the amateur videos filmed at countless events. He has our gratitude and respect. He will be deeply missed in a way that thousands of authors and prosecutors sitting right now on their plump posteriors will never be.
Senator McCain and friends have a new push on to once again ban torture (except for exceptions in the Army Field Manual) that is being presented as an effort to preempt future Republican presidents' torturing. This reinforces two false beliefs. One is that torture is not ongoing today under President Peace Prize. The other is that torture wasn't banned before George W. Bush was ever selected by the Supreme Court.
Last December, Senator Ron Wyden had a petition up at MoveOn.org that read "Right now, torture is banned because of President Obama's executive order. It's time for Congress to pass a law banning torture, by all agencies, so that a future president can never revoke the ban." This is the same mythology being pushed by McCain yet again. Wyden went on to explain:
"We live in a dangerous world. But when CIA operatives and contractors torture terrorist suspects, it doesn't make us safer -- and it doesn't work. The recent CIA torture report made that abundantly clear. Right now, the federal law that bans torture only applies to the U.S. military -- not our intelligence agencies. President Obama's executive order barring all agencies from using torture could be reversed, even in secret, by a future president. That's why it's critical that Congress act swiftly to pass a law barring all agencies of the U.S. government, and contractors acting on our behalf, from engaging in torture. Without legislation, the door on torture is still open. It's time for Congress to slam that door shut once and for all."
Why in the world would anybody object to this unless they supported torture? Well, let me explain.
Torture and complicity in torture were felonies under U.S. law before George W. Bush moved into the White House, under both the torture statute and the war crimes statute. Nothing has fundamentally changed about that, other than the blatant lack of enforcement for several years running. Nothing in those two sections of the U.S. code limits the law to members of the U.S. military or excludes employees or contractors or subcontractors of so-called intelligence agencies. I emailed a dozen legal experts about that claim in the above petition. Michael Ratner replied "I don’t see where they get that from." Kevin Zeese said simply "They're wrong." If anyone replies to me with any explanation, I'll post it as an update at the top of this article on davidswanson.org -- where I can be contacted if you have an explanation.
For the past several years, the U.S. Congress, White House, Justice Department, and media have gone out of their way to ignore the existence of U.S. laws banning torture. When silence hasn't worked, the primary technique has been proposing over and over and over again to ban torture, as if it were not already banned. In fact, Congress has followed through and banned it a number of times, and done so with new exceptions that by some interpretations have in fact weakened the war crimes statute. This is my best guess where the nonsense about applying only to "intelligence agencies" comes from: laws like the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that claimed to pick and choose which types of torture to ban for whom.
When President Obama took President Bush's place he produced an executive order purporting to ban torture (again), even while publicly telling the Justice Department not to enforce any existing laws. But an executive order, as Wyden seems to recognize, is not a law. Neither can it ban torture, nor can it give legal weight to the pretense that torture wasn't already banned. In fact the order itself states: "Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441 . . . ."
Senator Wyden said he would introduce yet another bill to "ban torture." Here's how the Washington Post was spinning, and explaining, that:
"Torture is already illegal, but Wyden notes that protections can be strengthened. To oversimplify, the U.S. is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in which participating states agreed to outlaw intentionally inflicting severe pain for specific purposes. The Bush administration obviously found a (supposedly) legal route around that."
In other words, because it was done by a president, it was legal -- the worldview of the Post's old buddy Richard Nixon.
"After the Abu Graib revelations, John McCain helped pass a 2005 amendment that would restrict the military from using specific brutal interrogation tactics — those not in the Army Field Manual. (This didn’t preclude intel services from using these techniques, which might explain why CIA director John Brennan felt free to say the other day that future policymakers might revert to using them). In 2008, Congress passed a measure specifically applying those restrictions to intelligence services, too, but then-President Bush vetoed it. Senator Wyden would revive a version of that 2008 bill as a starting point, with the goal of codifying in law President Obama's executive order banning the use of those specific techniques for all government employees, those in intelligence services included."
But let's back up a minute. When a president violates a law, that president -- at least once out of office -- should be prosecuted for violating the law. The law can't be declared void because it was violated. Loopholes can't be created for the CIA. Reliance on the Army Field Manual can't sneak into law the loopholes built into that document. Presidents can't order and un-order things illegal. Here's how the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson responded to the release of the Senate's report summary:
"The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the U.S. Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability. International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the U.S. Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes. As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes."
Now, one could try to spin the endless re-banning of torture as part of the process of enforcing an international treaty that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. But banning a practice going forward, even when you ban it better, or ban it more emphatically for the 8th time, does absolutely nothing to fulfill the legal obligation to prosecute those crimes already committed. And here we are dealing with crimes openly confessed to by past officials who assert that they would "do it again" -- crimes that resulted in deaths, thus eliminating any attempt at an argument that statutes of limitations have run out.
Here's a different sort of petition that we've set up at RootsAction.org along with Witness Against Torture and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: " We call on President Obama to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce our laws, and to immediately appoint a special prosecutor. As torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, we call on any willing court system in the world to enforce our laws if our own courts will not do so."
The purpose of such a petition is not vengeance or partisanship or a fetish with history. The purpose is to end torture, which is not done by looking forward or even by pardoning the crimes, as the ACLU has proposed -- to its credit recognizing that the crimes exist. That should be a first step for anyone confused by the endless drumbeat to "ban torture."
In the years I've been voting at Key Recreation Center on Market Street the procedure has changed as a result of popular mythology. Despite no known problem of people voting under false identity, one must now display an ID and tell the polling place attendant the name and address on it. This fixes a nonexistent problem called voter fraud.
Bill Moyer is cofounder and executive director of the Backbone Campaign. He discussed the kayaktivists who have taken to the water in Seattle to oppose Shell's planned artic drilling. See http://backbonecampaign.org
Diane Wittner is the Baltimore-based owner of a new zero waste, all natural, locally-based cleaning powder business Echotopia LLC. She also discusses the campaign to stop the largest trash incinerator in the U.S. from being built in Baltimore. See http://www.echotopia.org and http://chesapeakecitizens.org And Joseph Brodsky's poem "New Life" is here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/04/26/new-life
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
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