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What Obama Did While You Were Watching Elections

Pass the popcorn! Wait till I tweet this! Did you see the look on his face?

Ain't elections exciting? We just can't get enough of them, which could be why we've stretched them out to a couple of years each, even though a small crowd of Super Delegates and a couple of state officials with computer skills could quite conceivably decide the whole thing anyway.

Through the course of this marvelous election thus far I've been trying to get any human being to ask any candidate to provide just the most very basic outline of the sort of budget they would propose if president, or at least some hint at the single item in the budget that takes up more than half of it. Do they think military spending should go up, go down, or stay right where it is?

Who knows! Aren't elections wonderful?

I'd even settle for the stupid "gotcha" question in which we find out if any of the candidates knows, even roughly, what percentage of the budget military spending is now.

Why is this topic, although seemingly central, scrupulously avoided?

  • The candidates all, more or less, agree.
  • None of the candidates brings it up.
  • Nobody in Congress, not even the "progressive" caucus, brings it up.
  • Nobody in the corporate media brings it up.
  • The corporate media outlets see war profiteers as customers who buy ads.
  • The corporate media outlets see war profiteers in the mirror as parts of their corporate families.
  • The fact that the military costs money conflicts with the basic premise of U.S. politics which is that one party wants to spend money on socialistic nonsense while the other party wants to stop spending money and build a bigger military.

Those seem like the obvious answers, but here's another. While you're being entertained by the election, President Obama is proposing a bigger military than ever. Not only is U.S. military spending extremely high by historical standards, but looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department's annual "Green Book" makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history.

Check out the new budget proposal from the President who distracted millions of people from horrendous Bush-Cheney actions with his "peace" talk as a candidate eight years ago. He wants to increase the base Do"D" budget, both the discretionary and the mandatory parts. He wants to increase the extra slush fund of unaccountable money for the Do"D" on top of that. This pot used to be named for wars, but wars have gotten so numerous and embarrassing that it's now called "Overseas Contingency Operations."

When it comes to nuclear weapons, Obama wants to increase spending, but when it comes to other miscellaneous extras for the military, he also wants to increase that. Military retirement spending, on the other hand, he'd like to see go up, while the Veterans Administration spending he proposes to raise. Money for fueling ISIS by fighting it, Obama wants raised by 50%. On increasing hostility with Russia through a military buildup on its border, Obama wants a 400% spending boost. In one analysis, military spending would jump from $997.2 billion this year to $1.04 trillion next year under this proposal.

That's a bit awkward, considering the shade it throws on any piddly little project that does make it into election debates and reporting. The smallest fraction of military spending could pay for the major projects that Senator Bernie Sanders will be endlessly attacked for proposing to raise taxes for.

It's also awkward for the whole Republican/Hillary discussion of how to become more militarized, unlike that pacifist in the White House.

And, of course, it's always awkward to point out that events just go on happening in the world rather than pausing out of respect for some inanity just uttered by Marco Rubio.

How to Counter Recruitment and De-Militarize Schools

U.S. military recruiters are teaching in public school classrooms, making presentations at school career days, coordinating with JROTC units in high schools and middle schools, volunteering as sports coaches and tutors and lunch buddies in high, middle, and elementary schools, showing up in humvees with $9,000 stereos, bringing fifth-graders to military bases for hands-on science instruction, and generally pursuing what they call "total market penetration" and "school ownership."

But counter-recruiters all over the United States are making their own presentations in schools, distributing their own information, picketing recruiting stations, and working through courts and legislatures to reduce military access to students and to prevent military testing or the sharing of test results with the military without students' permission. This struggle for hearts and minds has had major successes and could spread if more follow the counter-recruiters' example.

A new book by Scott Harding and Seth Kershner called Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools surveys the current counter-recruitment movement, its history, and its possible future. Included is a fairly wide range of tactics. Many involve one-on-one communication with potential recruits.

"Do you like fireworks?" a veteran of the latest war on Iraq may ask a student in a high school cafeteria. "Yes!" Well, replies Hart Viges, "you won't when you get back from war."

"I talked to this one kid," recalls veteran of the war on Vietnam John Henry, "and I said, 'Has anybody in your family been in the military?' And he said, 'My grandfather.'

"And we talked about him, about how he was short and he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and I said, 'Oh, what does he tell you about war?'

"'That he still has nightmares.'

"And I said, 'And you are going in what branch of the service?'

"'Army.'

"'And you're going to pick what skill?'

"'Oh, I'm just going to go infantry.'

"You know ... your grandfather is telling you he's still got nightmares and that was 40 years ago. He's had nightmares for 40 years. Do you want to have nightmares for 40 years?"

Minds are changed. Young lives are saved -- those of the kids who do not sign up, or who back out before it's too late, and perhaps also the lives they would have contributed to ending had they entered the "service."

This sort of counter-recruitment work can have a quick payoff. Says Barbara Harris, who also organized the protests at NBC that supported this petition and got a pro-war program off the air, "The feedback I receive from [parents] is just incredibly heartwarming because [when] I speak to a parent and I see how I've helped them in some way, I feel so rewarded."

Other counter-recruitment work can take a bit longer and be a bit less personal but impact a larger number of lives. Some 10% to 15% of recruits get to the military via the ASVAB tests, which are administered in certain school districts, sometimes required, sometimes without informing students or parents that they are for the military, sometimes with the full results going to the military without any permission from students or parents. The number of states and school districts using and abusing the ASVAB is on the decline because of the work of counter-recruiters in passing legislation and changing policy.

U.S. culture is so heavily militarized, though, that in the absence of recruiters or counter-recruiters well-meaning teachers and guidance counselors will thoughtlessly promote the military to students. Some schools automatically enroll all students in JROTC. Some guidance counselors encourage students to substitute JROTC for gym class. Even Kindergarten teachers will invite in uniformed members of the military or promote the military unprompted in their school assignments. History teachers will show footage of Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day and talk in glorifying terms of the military without any need for direct contact from recruitment offices. I'm reminded of what Starbucks said when asked why it had a coffee shop at the torture / death camp in Guantanamo. Starbucks said that choosing not to would amount to making a political statement. Choosing to do so was just standard behavior.

Part of what keeps the military presence in the schools is the billion dollar budget of the military recruiters and other unfair powers of incumbency. For example, if a JROTC program is threatened, the instructors can order the students (or the children formerly known as students) to show up and testify at a school board meeting in favor of maintaining the program.

Much of what keeps recruitment working in our schools, however, is a different sort of power -- the power to lie and get away with it unchallenged. As Harding and Kershner document, recruiters routinely deceive students about the amount of time they're committing to be in the military, the possibility of changing their minds, the potential for free college as a reward, the availability of vocational training in the military, and the risks involved in joining the military.

Our society has become very serious about warning young people about safety in sex, driving, drinking, drugs, sports, and other activities. When it comes to joining the military, however, a survey of students found that none of them were told anything about the risks to themselves -- first and foremost suicide. They are also, as Harding and Kershner point out, told much about heroism, nothing about drudgery. I would add that they are not told about alternative forms of heroism outside of the military. I would further add that they are told nothing about the primarily non-U.S. victims of wars that are largely one-sided slaughters of civilians, nor about the moral injury and PTSD that can follow. And of course, they are told nothing about alternative career paths.

That is, they are told none of these things by recruiters. They are told some of them by counter-recruiters. Harding and Kershner mention AmeriCorps and City Year as alternatives to the military that counter-recruiters sometimes let students know about. An early start on an alternative career path is found by some students who sign on as counter-recruiters working to help guide their peers away from the military. Studies find that youth who engage in school activism suffer less alienation, set more ambitious goals, and improve academically.

Military recruitment climbs when the economy declines, and drops off when news of current wars increases. Those recruited tend to have lower family income, less-educated parents, and larger family size. It seems entirely possible to me that a legislative victory for counter-recruitment greater than any reform of ASVAB testing or access to school cafeterias would be for the United States to join those nations that make college free. Ironically, the most prominent politician promoting that idea, Senator Bernie Sanders, refuses to say he would pay for any of his plans by cutting the military, meaning that he must struggle uphill against passionate shouts of "Don't raise my taxes!" (even when 99% of people would not see their wallets shrink at all under his plans).

Free college would absolutely crush military recruitment. To what extent does this fact explain political opposition to free college? I don't know. But I can picture among the possible responses of the military a greater push to make citizenship a reward for immigrants who join the military, higher and higher signing bonuses, greater use of mercenaries both foreign and domestic, greater reliance on drones and other robots, and ever more arming of foreign proxy forces, but also quite likely a greater reluctance to launch and escalate and continue wars.

And that's the prize we're after, right? A family blown up in the Middle East is just as dead, injured, traumatized, and homeless whether the perpetrators are near or far, in the air or at a computer terminal, born in the United States or on a Pacific island, right? Most counter-recruiters I know would agree with that 100%. But they believe, and with good reason, that the work of counter-recruitment scales back the war-making.

However, other concerns enter in as well, including the desire to protect particular students, and the desire to halt the racial or class disparity of recruitment that sometimes focuses disproportionately on poor or predominately racial minority schools. Legislatures that have been reluctant to restrict recruitment have done so when it was addressed as an issue of racial or class fairness.

Many counter-recruiters, Harding and Kershner report, "were careful to suggest the military serves a legitimate purpose in society and is an honorable vocation." In part, I think such talk is a strategy -- whether or not it's a wise one -- that believes direct opposition to war will close doors and empower adversaries, whereas talking about "student privacy" will allow people who oppose war to reach students with their information. But, of course, claiming that the military is a good thing while discouraging local kids from joining it rather stinks of NIMBYism: Get your cannon fodder, just Not In My Back Yard.

Some, though by no means all, and I suspect it's a small minority of counter-recruiters actually make a case against other types of peace activism. They describe what they do as "actually doing something," in contrast to marching at rallies or sitting in at Congressional offices, etc. I will grant them that my experience is atypical. I do media interviews. I mostly go to rallies that have invited me to speak. I get paid to do online antiwar organizing. I plan conferences. I write articles and op-eds and books. I have a sense of "doing something" that perhaps most people who attend an event or ask questions from an audience or sign an online petition just don't. I suspect a great many people find talking students away from the edge much more satisfying than getting arrested in front of a drone base, although plenty of wonderful people do both.

But there is, in my opinion, a pretty misguided analysis in the view of certain counter-recruiters who hold that getting tests out of schools is real, concrete, and meaningful, while filling the National Mall with antiwar banners is useless. In 2013 a proposal to bomb Syria looked very likely, but Congress members started worrying about being the guy who voted for another Iraq. (How's that working out for Hillary Clinton?) It was not primarily counter-recruiters who made the Iraq vote a badge of shame and political doom. Nor was it outreach to students that upheld the Iran nuclear agreement last year.

The division between types of peace activism is somewhat silly. People have been brought into counter-recruitment work at massive rallies, and students reached by counter-recruiters have later organized big protests. Recruitment includes hard to measure things like Super Bowl fly-overs and video games. So can counter-recruitment. Both counter-recruitment and other types of peace activism ebb and flow with wars, news reports, and partisanship. I'd like to see the two merged into massive rallies at recruiting stations. Harding and Kershner cite one example of a counter-recruiter suggesting that one such rally created new opposition to his work, but I would be surprised if it didn't also hurt recruitment. The authors cite other examples of well-publicized protests at recruitment offices having had a lasting effect of reducing recruitment there.

The fact is that no form of opposition to militarism is what it used to be. Harding and Kershner cite stunning examples of the mainstream nature of counter-recruitment in the 1970s, when it had the support of the National Organization for Women and the Congressional Black Caucus, and when prominent academics publicly urged guidance counselors to counter-recruit.

The strongest antiwar movement, I believe, would combine the strengths of counter-recruitment with those of lobbying, protesting, resisting, educating, divesting, publicizing, etc. It would be careful to build resistance to recruitment while educating the public about the one-sided nature of U.S. wars, countering the notion that a large percentage of the damage is done to the aggressor. When Harding and Kershner use the phrase in their book "In the absence of a hot war" to describe the current day, what should the people being killed by U.S. weaponry in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, etc., make of it?

We need a strategy that employs the skills of every kind of activist and targets the military machine at every possible weak point, but the strategy has to be to stop the killing, no matter who does it, and no matter if every person doing it survives.

Are you looking for a way to help? I recommend the examples in Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools. Go forth and do likewise.

Talk Nation Radio: Elliott Adams on third party non-violent intervention in the West Bank

  https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-elliott-adams-on-third-party-non-violent-intervention-in-the-west-bank

Elliott Adams is a former Army paratrooper in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Alaska; and former National President of Veterans For Peace. He has conducted nonviolence and social movement trainings for organizations such as Fellowship Of Reconciliation, School Of Americas Watch, Peacemakers of Schoharie, Student Environmental Action Coalition, War Resisters League. He currently works with the Meta Peace Team and is co-chair of Creating a Culture of Peace. In 2014 and again in 2015 he spent several months as a member of Meta Peace Team using third party non-violent intervention in the West Bank, Palestine.

See http://metapeaceteam.org

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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Don't Give a Damn About the TPP? You're Going to Wish It Gave a Damn About You.

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune

Try this at home. Dress up corporate. Stand on a corner with a clipboard. Hover a drone with a video camera nearby. Ask passersby:

1. Who's in the Super Bowl?

2. Who should be president next year?

3. What was just signed in New Zealand that, if ratified, will let corporations overturn U.S. laws, speed up the destruction of the environment, outsource jobs, encourage slavery, eliminate food safety standards, make medicine cost even more, censor and restrict the internet, impede reform of Wall Street, and make those 20 people who own as much as half the country even richer at your expense?

This is a clear-cut case where Meatloaf is just wrong. Two out of three really is bad.

TPPA c2331

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and others who had seen all or part of the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, used to say that just making it public would stop it dead. But that depends on a number of factors, I think. The TPP has now been made public. Twelve nations have just gone ahead and signed it. And their hope is to see their governments ratify it during the next two years.

The destruction wreaked by NAFTA can be seen in thousands of hollowed out towns across the United States, if you trust the bridges to get you there and are willing to risk drinking the water. But public discussion of NAFTA's impact is not a popular topic in the corporate media, consolidated post-NAFTA and worsened ever since.

The 1993 corporate media debate over whether or not to create NAFTA looks bizarre to us today. You can go back and watch Vice President Al Gore (pro-NAFTA) debate wealthy crank Ross Perot (anti-NAFTA) on television. That such a thing existed is crazy enough to contemplate in this anti-democratic day and age. But then watch Perot make the debate about the damage NAFTA was going to do to the people of Mexico. You know as well as I do what the universal response to that line of reasoning would be today across the political spectrum of media-approved voices. Say it aloud with me: Who the hell cares what happens to Mexicans!

In fact, the TPP is almost entirely ignored and avoided. When it's mentioned it's as something our authoritarian government knows better how to handle than we do. Its defenders, including President Barack Obama, present it as a way to jab a finger in China's eye. Its opponents argue that it attacks U.S. sovereignty and benefits foreign nations. What, if anything, it does to Vietnamese workers, for example, is just not registering, and the idea of a U.S. billionaire in 2016 bringing that to public attention as a moral concern would get you mocked as a dreamer faster than Hillary Clinton changes positions when a check book is opened.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas and other post-NAFTA corporate deals have been stopped by public pressure, and the TPP can be as well. What is it up against?

First, the text of the thing reads like a stack of phone books filled with this sort of gripping drama:

"Article 14.1: Definitions -- For the purposes of this Chapter: computing facilities means computer servers and storage devices for processing or storing information for commercial use; covered person 1 means: (a) a covered investment as defined in Article 9.1 ... "

I know you can't wait to find out what happens next, but I suspect there's a section somewhere criminalizing quoting too much of the document. The problem is not just dryness, but also vacuity. We sometimes imagine that politicians save their vague platitudes for speeches and then pack concise substantive and enforceable policies into actual legislation. Not true. The TPP is a pile of substantive policies scattered into an enormous pile of meaningless blather, with no color coding to tell you which is which.

There are people with expertise who will decode it for you, but there is not room for them in corporate news reporting, given the possibility that Ben Carson might say something stupid soon. Even the massive , nonviolent resistance in New Zealand in the face of preemptive arrests and intimidation, and demonstrations all over the United States, doesn't seem to make good news copy when a lineup of monsters want to announce their support for torturing people.

How dare I call them monsters? Well, exactly. Election distraction doesn't just distract. It also divides and conquers. Donald Trump actually opposes the TPP, but his fans will consider me evil for objecting to his racism. Bernie Sanders credibly opposes the TPP, unlike Hillary Clinton, but to mention that is to bring down thunder on your head from both Clinton and Jill Stein backers.

Margaret Flowers explained some TPP facts recently on the aptly named Real News Network. The entire document fails to mention climate change, she said. "This is a binding agreement," she points out, "whereas the agreement that was made in Paris, the climate treaty, is a voluntary agreement. So this actually supersedes that voluntary agreement." Corporations, she said, "under TPP, can sue governments if our laws interfere with their expected profits. So if we pass a law that basically provides protection of the environment in some way, maybe we ban fracking. That would be great. Or stop offshore drilling. A foreign company can then sue our government and say that that law interfered with their profits and sue us for loss of expected profits. Now, what this typically does and has done in the past is that it actually changes the country’s law, because rather than facing billions of dollars in fines, countries would just rather repeal those laws and not have to deal with that."

Flowers had this advice on what to do: "People will be particularly focused on their members of Congress during the break, February 14-21. So we really encourage people to get involved, to learn more about this. We need to stop this. And they can do that at FlushTheTPP.org."

We should notice that she said to pressure Congress. Here are the senators who voted for Fast Track, which means no debate or amendments on the TPP, and the House members who voted for Fast Track, as well as the four horses' asses of the TPP apocalypse.

Other good targets are President Obama and media executives. The wrong targets are presidential candidates. Organizations that have steadfastly resisted putting any resistance up to Obama for seven years have been heavily involved in pressuring people like Hillary Clinton who hold no public office and whose every campaign promise should be carefully ignored as not worth the breath that articulates it. Hillary Clinton's State Department helped create the TPP, and she consistently praised it, calling it the "gold standard," right up until she began claiming to "oppose" it without committing to stop it.

Some of us recall eight years ago when Clinton and Obama and all the Democratic primary candidates promised to fix NAFTA, except for Congressman Dennis Kucinich who promised to undo it entirely on his first day as president. Obama never lifted a finger to fulfill that promise, and neither has Clinton had a word to say about it. Bernie Sanders, like Dennis Kucinich, is actually credible, so electing him might actually make a difference on this issue. But spending the next 12 months as spectators to an election will be fatal.

We need principled, issue-based activism. You can start by signing this petition, and finish by shaming out of TPP support any office holder who doesn't want to be voted out of office.

The Super Bowl Promotes War

By David Swanson, teleSUR

The military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL.

Super Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL. The U.S. military has been dumping millions of our dollars, part of a recruitment and advertising budget that's in the billions, into paying the NFL to publicly display love for soldiers and weaponry.

Of course, the NFL may in fact really truly love the military, just as it may love the singers it permits to sing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but it makes them pay for the privilege too. And why shouldn't the military pay the football league to hype its heroism? It pays damn near everybody else. At $2.8 billion a year on recruiting some 240,000 "volunteers," that's roughly $11,600 per recruit. That's not, of course, the trillion with a T kind of spending it takes to run the military for a year; that's just the spending to gently persuade each "volunteer" to join up. The biggest military "service" ad buyer in the sports world is the National Guard. The ads often depict humanitarian rescue missions. Recruiters often tell tall tales of "non-deployment" positions followed by free college. But it seems to me that the $11,600 would have gone a long way toward paying for a year in college! And, in fact, people who have that money for college are far less likely to be recruited.

Despite showing zero interest in signing up for wars, and despite the permanent presence of wars to sign up for, 44 percent of U.S. Americans tell the Gallup polling company that they "would" fight in a war, yet don't. That's at least 100 million new recruits. Luckily for them and the world, telling a pollster something doesn't require follow through, but it might suggest why football fans tolerate and even celebrate military national anthems and troop-hyping hoopla at every turn. They think of themselves as willing warriors who just happen to be too busy at the moment. As they identify with their NFL team, making remarks such as "We just scored," while firmly seated on their most precious assets, football fans also identify with their team on the imagined battlefield of war.

The NFL website says: "For decades the NFL and the military have had a close relationship at the Super Bowl, the most watched program year-to-year throughout the United States. In front of more than 160 million viewers, the NFL salutes the military with a unique array of in-game celebrations including the presentation of colors, on-field guests, pre-game ceremonies and stadium flyovers. During Super Bowl XLIX week [last year], the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project invited veterans to attend the Salute to Service: Officiating 101 Clinic at NFL Experience Engineered by GMC [double payment? ka-ching!] in Arizona. ..."

Pat Tillman, still promoted on the NFL website, and eponym of the Pat Tillman Foundation, is of course the one NFL player who gave up a giant football contract to join the military. What the Foundation won't tell you is that Tillman, as is quite common, ceased believing what the ads and recruiters had told him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American. The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the "enemy." Clearly the military wants a connection to football and is willing to lie as well as to pay for it. The Pat Tillman Foundation mis-uses a dead man's name to play on and prey on the mutual interest of football and the military in being connected to each other.

Those on whom the military's advertising succeeds will not typically die from friendly fire. Nor will they die from enemy fire. The number one killer of members of the U.S. military, reported yet again for another year this week, is suicide. And that's not even counting later suicides by veterans. Every TV pundit and presidential debate moderator, and perhaps even a Super Bowl 50 announcer or two, tends to talk about the military's answer for ISIS. What is its answer for people being stupidly ordered into such horrific hell that they won't want to live anymore?

It's in the ads

At least as big a focus of the Super Bowl as the game itself is the advertising. One particularly disturbing ad planned for Super Bowl 50 is an ad for a war video game. The U.S. military has long funded war video games and viewed them as recruiting tools. In this ad Arnold Schwarzenegger shows what fun it is to shoot people and blow up buildings on the game, while outside of the game people are tackling him more or less as in a football game. Nothing here is remotely warlike in a realistic sense. For that I recommend playing with PTSD Action Man instead. But it does advance the equation of sport with war -- something both the NFL and the military clearly desire.

An ad last year from Northrop Grumman, which has its own "Military Bowl," was no less disturbing. Two years ago an ad that appeared to be for the military until the final seconds turned out to be for Jeeps. There was another ad that year for Budweiser beer with which one commentator found legal concerns:

"First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot 'suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment' of any 'non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise. ... Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."

Two serious issues with this. One: the military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL. Two: despite my deep-seated opposition to the very existence of an institution of mass murder, and my clear understanding of what it wants out of advertisements (whether by itself or by a car or beer company), I can't help getting sucked into the emotion. The technique of this sort of propaganda (here's another ad) is very high level. The rising music. The facial expressions. The gestures. The build up of tension. The outpouring of simulated love. You'd have to be a monster not to fall for this poison. And it permeates the world of millions of wonderful young people who deserve better.

It's in the stadium

If you get past the commercials, there's the problem of the stadium for Super Bowl 50, unlike most stadiums for most sports events, being conspicuously "protected" by the military and militarized police, including with military helicopters and jets that will shoot down any drones and "intercept" any planes. Ruining the pretense that this is actually for the purpose of protecting anyone, military jets will show off by flying over the stadium, as in past years, when they have even done it over stadiums covered by domes.

The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers of the Super Bowl. That the military's purpose is to kill and destroy, that it's recent major wars have eventually been opposed as bad decisions from the start by a majority of Americans, just doesn't enter into it. On the contrary, the military publicly questions whether it should be associating with a sports league whose players hit their wives and girlfriends too much.

My point is not that assault is acceptable, but that murder isn't. The progressive view of the Super Bowl in the United States will question the racism directed at a black quarterback, the concussions of a violent sport that damages the brains of too many of its players (and perhaps even the recruitment of new players from the far reaches of the empire to take their place), sexist treatment of cheerleaders or women in commercials, and perhaps even the disgusting materialism of some of the commercials. But not the militarism. The announcers will thank "the troops" for watching from "over 175 countries" and nobody will pause, set down their beer and dead animal flesh and ask whether 174 countries might not be enough to have U.S. troops in right now.

The idea that the Super Bowl promotes is that war is more or less like football, only better. I was happy to help get a TV show canceled that turned war into a reality game. There is still some resistance to that idea that can be tapped in the U.S. public. But I suspect it is eroding.

The NFL doesn't just want the military's (our) money. It wants the patriotism, the nationalism, the fervent blind loyalty, the unthinking passion, the personal identification, a love for the players to match love of troops -- and with similar willingness to throw them under a bus.

The military doesn't just want the sheer numbers of viewers attracted to the Super Bowl. It wants wars imagined as sporting events between teams, rather than horrific crimes perpetrated on people in their homes and villages. It wants us thinking of Afghanistan not as a 15-year disaster, murder-spree, and counter-productive SNAFU, but as a competition gone into double quadruple overtime despite the visiting team being down 84 points and attempting an impossible comeback. The military wants chants of "USA!" that fill a stadium. It wants role models and heroes and local connections to potential recruits. It wants kids who can't make it to the pros in football or another sport to think they've got the inside track to something even better and more meaningful.

I really wish they did.

Bankers, Preachers, and Fear of President Sanders

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new war in Libya, more war in Syria, permanent war in Afghanistan, climate change crashing over the cliff -- these and other immediate disasters are pursued with one hand, while the magician's other hand distracts us with caucuses, primaries, and super bowls. Remember when insiders said the TPP would die the moment it was made public? Well, what if it was made public during an election season? Bread and circuses, even in Rome, weren't designed to make the people happy but to keep them pacified while all the real energy and treasure went into destroying Carthage and filling the vomitoria of the oligarchs. And it's easier for a good team to make it into the super bowl than for a truly good candidate to make it into corporate election reporting. I deny none of that. And yet ...

The 2015-2016 presidential election has, by some measures, already accomplished more than all the previous elections in my lifetime put together. And it's scaring some of the right people.

If you had claimed in 1969 that it would be possible for presidential candidates in the United States to reject religion before they could reject permanent worldwide military empire, you'd have been laughed right out of the Age of Aquarius.

If you'd prognosticated in 1999 that an independent socialist focused like a laser beam on taxing billionaires and busting up some of their most profitable scams (not to mention taxing many of the rest of us) could grab the lead in a Democratic primary campaign against a Clinton with no intern scandals, you'd have been triangulated right out of your career as you knew it.

And if you'd predicted in 2014 that a candidate virtually ignored by the consolidated corporate media, as consolidated under the Clinton Telecom Act, would surge in the polls, you'd have garnered as much respect as those guys in The Big Short did when they claimed to know more than the high priests of Wall Street.

Bernie Sanders, for all of his dramatic shortcomings, is a phenomenon created by a perfect storm of institutional failure -- by Hillary Clinton's coronation constructed of cards just waiting for someone to suggest that millions of outraged winds breathe on it. Sanders is 6 years older and generations more advanced than his Democratic Party rival.

 

God Is Dead

"What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" --Friedrich Nietzsche

Sanders' website calls him "secular" and "not particularly religious." His answers to a religion question during a CNN "town hall" this week were typical. A member of the audience asked about religion and race, and Sanders answered only about race. Then the moderator asked again about religion. And this was Sanders' answer, I swear to ... -- well, I just swear:

"It's a guiding principle in my life. Absolutely it is. You know, everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings. I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children that are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can't afford their prescription drugs, you know what? That impacts you, that impacts me, and I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, 'It doesn't matter to me. I got it. I don't care about other people.' So, my spirituality is that we are all in this together, and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That is my very strong spiritual feeling."

It's also my very strong non-spiritual feeling. But that was a typical Bernie answer, one he's given many times, typical even in its focus on only 4% of humanity and on only a particular type of homeless people. Some states, by the way, are making huge strides toward ending the shame of homelessness for veterans, so that soon all homeless people in the United States may be people who have never been part of a mass-murder operation. I point this out not to oppose it. Better more people with homes, no matter how it's done! And I point it out not to quibble with Sanders' statement of generosity and humanism, but to suggest that part of how Sanders slipped a completely irreligious answer past an audience that asked a religious question is that Sanders identified himself with the true U.S. religion, the religion that will be front and center and in the jet noise overhead at the super bowl -- the religion of war, the religion of national exceptionalism. Who can forget Ron Paul being booed in a primary debate for applying the golden rule to non-Americans?

When Sanders is asked explicitly if he "believes in God," he also answers, "What my spirituality is about is that we're all in this together." Exactly what my non-spirituality is about. I think it's safe to assume he'll never be asked if he believes in death (which television sponsors would be pleased by that topic?), so "God" is the question he'll get, and he won't be required to answer it. New Hampshire is the least religious state in the country, but the country as a whole has also moved against religion and even more so against "organized religion." Some of us always preferred the organized part (the community, the music, etc.) to the religion, but the larger trend here is a rejection of elite institutions telling us how to run our lives while demonstrably running the world into the ground. And who has more to answer for in that regard than God?

Rejecting organized religion while proclaiming an individual "spirituality" may be all that is needed, and that is tremendous news. That Sanders has done this while professing an ideology of generosity and solidarity, and winning applause for that, is even better news. Studies find that lack of religion can correlate with greater generosity, as certainly seems to be the case with the Scandinavian societies Sanders points to as models. (Seventeen percent of Swedes, as compared to 65% of U.S. Americans, say religion is "important".)

A majority in the United States say they wouldn't vote for an atheist, but for many atheism, like gender, race, sexual preference, and other identifiers is now a matter of self-identification. Someone must choose to call themselves an atheist. Just having no use for theism doesn't qualify them. The media also seems to have no direct interest in attacking candidates on religion. Nobody pays them to do that. And it doesn't show a lot of potential as a weapon. Donald Trump is seen as the least religious candidate in the field, and some of the most religious voters say they support him and just don't care. In addition, Sanders is a supporter of religious freedom, tolerance, and even tax exemptions. He doesn't fit the mold of the bigoted atheist who finds Islam dangerously more religious than Christianity. The media is also no big fan of Ted Cruz, who's on a Dubya-like mission from God. All of these factors seem to have made it possible to run for president of the United States on a platform of pure enlightenment humanism. I didn't think I'd live to see that.

 

Most Dangerous Man on Wall Street

Hillary Clinton friend and funder and CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein seems to view Bernie Sanders as President Richard Nixon characterized Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and as President Barack Obama seems to view WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as the most dangerous person in the United States. Sanders' sin, in Blankfein's view, is failure to worship the almighty dollar.

Blankfein is fully aware that his endorsing a candidate would hurt that candidate, but seems not to have thought through the possibility that opposing a candidate might help them. Reportedly, Blankfein suggested this week that "Sanders' attacks on the 'billionaire class' and bankers could be dangerous. 'It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,' Blankfein said."

It sounds like the 1% has a case of 99% envy. Misery loves company, but fear demands it. Think about what Blankfein is claiming. One of the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, who has long said explicitly that the Democratic Party should represent banks, has taken $675,000 (or about $5,000 per minute) to give three speeches to Blankfein's company, in which she reportedly reassured them they had nothing to worry about (despite widely known crimes that wrecked the economy of the United States and other nations). Public demands to even see what Clinton told Goldman Sachs have thus far gone unanswered and unechoed in the media, except by Ralph Nader. On Clinton Blankfein has no comment and sees nothing unusual. This is normal, standard, and unquestionable behavior.

But Bernie Sanders proposes to enforce laws, laws against financial trickery, laws against cheating on taxes, laws against monopolization, laws against market manipulation, and new taxes on unearned wealth. Well, this is unacceptable and in fact "dangerous"! It's extreme madness is what it is, according to Blankfein, who depicts Sanders' position as fanatical: "It's a liability to say I'm going to compromise, I'm going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you'll never compromise. It's just incredible. It's a moment in history." That it is.

Here's how Bill Clinton reportedly viewed popular resentment of bankers in 2014: "You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again." Of course, nobody had proposed killing bankers. Many had proposed enforcing laws. But that's how bankers view such a proposal, through the lens of fear. They are probably not alone. Sanders is proposing to end fracking and various other disastrous industries, while investing in new ones. He promises to block the TPP, which Clinton -- long a big supporter of it -- merely claims to "oppose" without committing to actually prevent. Sanders wants to tax the very wealthiest, including the 20 individuals who own as much as half the country. He wants to break up monopolies, including on Wall Street, and perhaps in the media -- which is already clearly shaken by the fact that he's advanced in the polls without them.

Health insurance executives can't be feeling too much better than banksters, unless they're wise enough to see the bigger picture. I waited on hold for 30 minutes this week to try to fix the latest SNAFU with my Obamacare, and then a really helpful woman answered who promised she'd fix it. I asked her if she could also back Bernie Sanders to put an end to the industry she worked for. She said yes, indeed.

The wiser minds in the plutocracy should follow that example. Nobody's out to hurt you, only to help you share your hoarded loot with those who worked for it. Your life will be different, but not necessarily worse. It might even be happier.

The more hopelessly greedy minds in much of the U.S. plutocracy, right about now, will start wishing they'd been prescient enough to go into weapons making and war profiteering, that sacred realm that Sanders' spirituality dares not threaten.