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Congress has fled town to avoid voting for or against a new war. Many of the big donors to Congressional campaigns would want Yes votes. Many voters would want No votes, if not immediately, then as soon as the panic induced by the beheading videos wears off, which could be within the next month. Better to just avoid displeasing anyone -- other than people who notice you running away.
The standard for legal-ish cosmopolitan respectability in the U.S. now has become getting five kings and dictators to say
their they're on your side as you start bombing a new country.
But the British Parliament is still at the level of believing an actual vote by a legislature is appropriate. Do Americans remember that their beloved founding fathers put war powers in the hands of the legislature because of the ugly history of royal wars in Britain? Times have changed.
But if we want to actually comply with the law, we have to admit that neither Parliament nor Congress has the power to legalize attacking Syria. This is because both the U.S. and the U.K. are parties to the United Nations Charter, which bans war with very narrow exceptions -- exceptions that have not been in any way met.
And if you want to get really serious about laws, the Kellogg-Briand Pact has never been repealed, the U.S. and U.K. are parties to it, and it bans all war without exception.
Now, you can interpret the Kellogg-Briand Pact to allow self-defense because the right to military self-defense, even when it's unlikely to actually work, is just so obvious to your way of thinking. And the U.N. Charter explicitly allows military self-defense. But here's the problem: There's nothing defensive about attacking Syria, and President Obama himself described it as "offense" in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC.
Another word for "offense" is aggression, which the Nuremberg tribunal called "essentially an evil thing . . . the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Asked about Congress's responsibilities on Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine (D., Va.) claimed that presidents could fight defensive wars without Congress but needed Congressional authorizations for offensive ones. In fact, offensive wars are not legal by any common understanding. Asked, then, about international law, at an event at the Center for American Progress, Kaine reportedly said that bombing Syria, as distinct from Iraq, was "complicated" and that he was not sure "how they would do that, perhaps using principles of self-defense or defending Iraq against other threats. I think we'll find out more about what the administration says about that after the UN General Assembly," he said.
Only in America. Only the White House gets to invent legal rationale for blatant crimes, with the law makers and enforcers prepared to accept the rationale before they hear it.
Prior to the U.N. meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote to the U.N. arguing that it is legal for the United States to attack Syria because it is legal for Iraq to defend itself. By this logic, if Canada experienced a violent rebellion, it would be legal for China to attack the United States.
It's fun to pretend that the rule of law doesn't matter to you because you have all the weapons. It's fun to take two-month vacations from Washington. Just don't count on everyone voting you back next year.
Signers listed at bottom
Over the last several decades, the Pentagon,conservative forces, and corporations have been systematically working to expand their presence in the K-12 learning environment and in public universities. The combined impact of the military, conservative think tanks and foundations, and of corporatization of our public educational systems has eroded the basic democratic concept of civilian public education. It is a trend that, if allowed to continue, will weaken the primacy of civilian rule and, ultimately, our country’s commitment to democratic ideals.
The signers of this statement believe it is urgent for all advocates of social justice, peace and the environment to recognize the dangerous nature of this problem and confront it with deliberate action.
THE THREAT TO CIVILIAN EDUCATION
The most aggressive outside effort to use the school system to teach an ideology with ominous long-term implications for society comes from the military establishment. Over the last two decades, with relatively little media coverage or public outcry, the Pentagon’s involvement in schools and students’ lives has grown exponentially. Now, for example:
- Every school day, at least half a million high school students attend Junior ROTC classes to receive instruction from retired officers who are handpicked by the Pentagon to teach its own version of history and civics. These students are assigned “ranks” and conditioned to believe that military and civilian values are similar, with the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is therefore a feature of good citizenship.
- Armed forces academies are being established in some public schools (Chicago now has eight), where all students are given a heavy dose of military culture and values.
- A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools. Examples are the Young Marines and Starbase programs, and military programs that sneak into schools under the cloak of Science / Technology / Engineering / Math (STEM) education.
- Military recruiters are trained to pursue “school ownership” as their goal (see: “Army School Recruiting Program Handbook”). Their frequent presence in classrooms, lunch areas and at assemblies has the effect of popularizing military values, soldiering and, ultimately, war.
- Since 2001, federal law has overridden civilian school autonomy and family privacy when it comes to releasing student contact information to the military. Additionally, each year thousands of schools allow the military to administer its entrance exam — the ASVAB — to 10th-12th graders, allowing recruiters to bypass laws protecting parental rights and the privacy of minors and gain access to personal information on hundreds of thousands of students.
THE THREAT TO PUBLIC EDUCATION
Efforts by groups outside the school system to inject conservatism and corporate values into the learning process have been going on for a number of years. In a recent example of right-wing educational intervention, The New York Times reported that tea party groups, using lesson plans and coloring books, have been pushing schools to “teach a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, where the federal government is a creeping and unwelcome presence in the lives of freedom-loving Americans.” (See:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/us/constitution-has-its-day-amid-a-struggle-for-its-spirit.html )
Corporations have been projecting their influence in schools with devices like Channel One, a closed-circuit TV program that broadcasts commercial content daily to captive student audiences in 8,000 schools. Some companies have succeeded in convincing schools to sign exclusive contracts for pizza, soft drinks and other products, with the goal of teaching early brand loyalty to children. A National Education Policy Center report issued in November 2011 documents the various ways in which business/school partnerships are harming children educationally by channeling student thinking “into a corporate-friendly track” and stunting their ability to think critically. (See: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2011 )
The development of this corporate-friendly track dovetails with a radical corporate agenda to dismantle America’s public education system. States across the country are slashing educational spending, outsourcing public teacher jobs, curbing collective-bargaining rights, and marginalizing teachers’ unions. There is a proliferation of charter and “cyber” schools that promote private sector involvement and a push toward for-profit schools where the compensation paid to private management companies is tied directly to student performance on standardized assessments. The cumulative effect is the creation of institutions that cultivate a simplistic ideology that merges consumerism with subservience. (See: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/michigan-privatize-public-education )
The corporatization of education via charter schools and the administration sector growth at universities is another troubling trend for public education. Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error ( http://www.npr.org/2013/09/27/225748846/diane-ravitch-rebukes-education-activists-reign-of-error ) and Henry A. Giroux’s newest book, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, ( http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22548-henry-giroux-beyond-neoliberal-miseducation ) give pointers to the doubtful role of corporate values in public education.
Why is this happening? Giroux notes that “Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it.”
There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Howard Zinn Education Project (https://zinnedproject.org ) and Rethinking Schools ( http://www.rethinkingschools.org ). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education and ( http://www.obligation.org ).
STOPPING THESE THREATS
There is reason to be hopeful about reversing this trend if we look, for example, at some of the successes in grassroots efforts to curb militarism in schools. In 2009, a coalition of high school students, parents and teachers in the very conservative, military-dominated city of San Diego succeeded in getting their elected school board to shut down JROTC firing ranges at eleven high schools. Two years later, the same coalition got the school board to pass a policy significantly limiting military recruiting in all of its schools. Though such initiatives are relatively few in number, similar victories have been won in other school districts and on the state level in Hawaii and Maryland.
There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Zinn Education Project (www.zinnedproject.org) and Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education/ and http://www.obligation.org/ ).
As promising and effective as these efforts are, they pale in comparison to the massive scale of what groups on the other side of the political spectrum are proactively doing in the educational environment to preserve the influence of conservatism, militarism and corporate power.
It is time for progressive organizations, foundations and media to confront this and become equally involved in the educational system. It is especially important that more organizations unite to oppose the growing intrusion of the Pentagon in K-12 schools and universities. Restoring the primacy of critical thinking and democratic values in our culture cannot be done without stopping the militarization and corporate takeover of public education.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO)
Historians Against the War
Faculty in political economy,
Evergreen State College
VVAW National Office
Professor, Retired, MIT
Project Great Futures,
Los Angeles, CA
Pax Christi USA Ambassador
of Peace, Naperville, IL
National Coalition to
Protect Student Privacy
It’s Our Economy
Northwest Suburban Peace
& Education Project,
Arlington Hts., IL
National Lawyers Guild
Military Law Task Force
Henry Armand Giroux
Director, West Surburban
Faith Based Peace Coalition,
Treasurer, United Teachers
of Los Angeles
Iraq Veterans Against
the War (IVAW)
New York City
Project on Youth and
Holy Cross College
Professor, Univ. of
California San Diego
National VFP President,
Montgomery County (MD)
UC Berkeley Ethnic
President, Metta Center
Against the War
Professor, San Diego
American Friends Service
AFSC 67 Sueños
Michael Parenti, Ph.D.
Author & lecturer
of On Earth Peace,
Stop Recruiting Kids
Peace and Social
New England Regional
War Resisters League
Chair, Fox Valley Citizens
for Peace & Justice,
World Beyond War
San Pedro Neighbors for
Peace & Justice,
San Pedro, CA
Veterans for Peace
St. Louis, MO
Veterans for Peace
Against the War
Allies), New York City
Colonel Ann Wright,
Retired U.S. Army/
Author of Occupy
this Book: Mickey Z.
It’s Our Economy
Award-winning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff has been raking the journalistic muck now for 40 years. A regular columnist for Counterpunch, he has also written for BusinessWeek, the Nation, Extra!, Treasury & Risk, and Rolling Stone. Lindorff is the founder of ThisCantBeHappening.net
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President Obama is bombing the opposite side in Syria from the side he swore we needed to attack one year ago, and those pleased by this declare that he is "doing something."
U.S. polls suggest that the same people recognize that this something will make the U.S. more likely to be attacked and nonetheless favor this action. This is unthinking fear produced by slick beheading videos for audiences too distracted to notice that the Iraqi government, Saudi government and numerous other U.S. friends and allies behead. And are we to imagine that when Obama kills a 16 year old American and the 6 kids near him his head remains intact? Should we pretend that the people being killed by U.S. missiles right now aren't losing their heads?
This action is illegal under the UN Charter, Kellogg-Briand Pact, and U.S. Constitution. This action is immoral as it fuels violence that needs to be reduced. This action is knowingly, maddeningly counterproductive, guaranteed to build hostility to the United States, which is already so hated that ISIS openly advocates for a U.S. attack on it. This action by this White House is what ISIS wants and what weapons makers want. It is not what the people of Syria or Iraq or the world want. It further shreds the rule of law while dumping gasoline on a fire of U.S. creation.
What's needed is, contrary to what your television suggests, not to "do nothing" or love beheadings. What's needed is an arms embargo. The U.S. ships 79% of the weapons shipped to the Middle East, not counting the weapons of the U.S. military. An arms embargo could be 79% successful with just one country participating, and others could certainly be brought to do so.
What's needed is actual aid on a massive scale, restitution to the people of the region for the crimes of the U.S. government. An aid program sufficient to make the United States beloved rather than hated would cost a lot less money than the missiles and bombs for which price seems to be no concern at all.
What's needed is diplomacy. The U.S. government is happy to talk with Syria or Iran or Russia when the object is war. Why can it not talk to them when the object is peace?
Our Constitutional scholar Nobel peace laureate no-dumb-wars end-the-mindset president will be protested today at the White House and at his appearance in New York, and should be protested everywhere he goes.
Congress members should not know a moment's peace, but should be taught that cowardice is not a campaign strategy. None who voted for weapons to Syria should be returned to Washington next year.
War as a first resort, as our biggest public program, as the be all and end all of U.S. foreign policy is a form of insanity that has no redeeming feature. War is our top destroyer of the natural environment, of the economy, of civil liberties, of self-governance, and of morality. This is a case of a doctor trying to cure the world while suffering from a deadly and highly infectious disease that in his own mind is the epitome of health.
You can't cure war fever with more war. You can only get to peace through peace.
Stop the bombing.
There will be a protest of the new war at 10 a.m. Tuesday in front of the White House. Some thoughts on the context of this latest decision to bomb yet another country are below.
Following a screening of Phil Donahue's film Body of War in Washington, D.C., on Monday, during which the United States began illegally bombing Syria, Donahue engaged in an interesting exchange with one of those audience members who asks a question and a dozen follow-up questions.
Donahue had belittled drone pilots as sitting at desks with cups of coffee. This member of the audience shouted out that that was unfair, that drone pilots were often engaged in perfectly legitimate murders, and that drone pilots were serving their country just the same as the U.S. Army veteran who is the focus of the film.
The film and its director treat this Army veteran as having honorably served a worthy cause even while describing the war as unjustified and a horrible decision. So, if a ground troop in an immoral illegal war is to be thanked and honored, not just respected and sympathized with, why not thank and honor drone pilots?
Donahue's response to this sort of logic was that the drone pilot is less brave.
At the end of an exchange on that theme, Donahue reached a conclusion that ranked various types of troops based on their levels of bravery, and possibly also of suffering. That last point ran into trouble, as the questioner pointed out the PTSD rates among drone pilots who do in fact sometimes see their victims more than do troops who are physically closer to the action.
But bravery remained standing at the end of the discussion as a contributor to the level of morality.
In my view, this is madness, as Bill Maher lost his job for pointing out. Nobody was braver or more immoral than the 911 terrorists. Bravery in a good cause is admirable. Bravery in an indifferent cause is aesthetically nice, but morally indifferent. And bravery in an evil cause is evil. I made this case to Donahue after the event, and he said that he actually agreed with me.
The idea that bravery redeems participation in evil is war-thinking. Participation in evil can be understood and sympathized with but not redeemed.
Another audience member on Monday evening pointed out something useful about U.S. polling: Americans believe that bombing Syria will make attacks on the United States more likely (indeed, experts agree and history seems to solidly confirm it) and at the very same time, Americans believe that Syria should be bombed.
A willingness to endanger one's self and family and neighbors and millions of people in order to be tough is an irrational and apparently macho position.
This culture of machismo is not without humanity, but that humanity is horribly misinformed. We're not told by the big corporate media about the 95% of deaths in U.S. wars that are the deaths of non-Americans.
The brilliant Peter Kuznick pointed out at Monday's event that as states require women to watch movies about fetuses before having abortions, they could require people to watch Body of War before wars. I wish they would. It's a powerful movie. But there's been no Ludlow Amendment and people don't get to vote on wars. And we're now being sold a war on the claim that it won't kill Americans. If we don't acquire the knowledge that wars also kill non-Americans and that non-Americans matter, we'll be susceptible to manipulation into the idea that a war is a character choice, a matter of expressing and demonstrating bravery.
Following discussion of the film on Monday, we heard stories of bravery in noble causes from five whistleblowers who had put their lives and welfare at risk to advance peace, justice, public safety, the rule of law, and honest government. Their names are Jesselyn Radack, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Thomas Drake, William Binney, and Kirk Wiebe. They talked about morality, not machismo. Here's video of them in Baltimore on Sunday.
A sixth speaker on the topic of speaking out was Phil Donahue, who lost his job at MSNBC for dissenting from war fever in 2003. He heartily denounced the dishonesty and sycophancy of corporate media on Monday. He also came back to the topic of bravery, rightly pointing to the five panelists next to him as the highest examples of moral courage.
Now there's a useful phrase:moral courage. Let's celebrate only that kind.
I spoke at an event Monday morning at American U. at which I asked people to raise their hands if they thought war was good for us and character building, or if they thought some wars were necessary, or if they thought all war was unjustified. The crowd was roughly evenly split between the last two choices. Not a single person accepted the notion (popular 100 years back) that war is good for us. But this unscientific poll was conducted in a room of peace studies students and opponents of war. What would the whole U.S. public say?
After the event I spoke with Medea Benjamin about the just-begun bombing campaign, and she remarked, "This is exactly what ISIL wants. They're trying to get the U.S. involved in a war. There are already U.S. troops in combat and this will mean more. We shouldn't fall into the trap of another immoral and unwinnable war."
Medea and I will be protesting this new war at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in front of the White House along with National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. We encourage you to join us or to demonstrate locally. Your Congress members and Senators have fled Washington in order to pretend the blood is not on their hands. Take your message of peace to them where they can be found.
Finally, somebody commenting on the state of Iraq thinks George W. Bush got something right. Turns out it's ISIS. In the new hour-long ISIS-produced film about how nice it is to die for ISIS -- Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun -- Bush is quoted: "You are with us or against us." Video shows him saying "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." A graphic in the upper corner of the screen reads: "Bush spoke the truth, although he's a liar."
What truth does ISIS think Bush spoke? The Manichean truth that there are two groups of people on earth with nothing in common between them and a shared dedication to annihilate each other. Of course, the notion that they have nothing in common is delusional. They have almost everything in common: their belief in violence, their monotheism, their stupidity, their desire for a U.S. war in the Middle East.
"In the face of the dark wave of the crusader force..." begins the ISIS movie.
"This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while," said Bush.
ISIS shows Obama as well as Bush and denounces both as liars, including rejecting Obama's lie that he won't send combat troops to Iraq. As even a number of U.S. Senators and Congress Members have pointed out, the 1600 troops he's already sent are trained and equipped for nothing other than combat, and a pilot in a plane is engaged in combat.
But ISIS wants more. This film is not aimed at provoking the United States the way the beheading films were. It's far too long and boring for Americans to watch.
(Why did ISIS make a full-length movie? Because they couldn't find an editor.)
This film is aimed at recruiting fighters. ISIS claims to be fighting the United States, to have long been the core of the resistance to the United States, and to be defeating troops armed with U.S. weapons. (ISIS never mentions that its own "beloved" weapons come from various infidels, including the U.S.) Here's the ISIS pitch to recruits:
Join us in fighting the evil empire. If you die you'll go to paradise. The afterlife is far longer and more important than this life. "Unshakable faith" is the "most effective weapon of war." Come join "Allah's soldiers" and experience courage, excitement, vengeance, adrenaline, the thrill of victory, and martyrdom. Never mind that our movie is so boring, the fighting is really fun, and Allah is guiding our RPGs!
Of course, ISIS is mistaken. God does not have time to be guiding their RPGs when he's busy making sure the football team that prays the loudest wins each game. And of course Obama has told us that "No religion condones the killing of innocents," forgetting that all the religions of Moses contain this teaching: "Kill every male among the little ones and Kill every woman that has known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves" -- forgetting in fact that all of these religions have violent and peaceful traditions but venerate as holy ancient texts from a barbaric age and teach as essential the idea that there is another magical world that matters more than this one whose climate we are destroying. Sing it, soldiers!
Here's the ISIS pitch to the U.S. government:
We will accept only victory or death, just like Patrick Henry, and we will fight you. Fighting you builds our movement because people hate you so much after the past decades of your attacks. We have no doubt that you are stupid enough to fight us if we keep insulting you.
Here's their pitch to opponents:
Oppose us, and we will make you dig your own grave on camera, because we are so courageous and brave that we wear masks to hide out faces and shoot anybody we don't know how to talk to.
Here's their pitch to Hollywood:
We've got dramatic potential. Sure, make us the bad guys, but put us on the silver screen. We're not as slick and convincing as a White House video news release aired by an "independent" media outlet, but we're way more dramatic. We only have a narrator, no actual characters, but we're still more entertaining than C-Span, and the weapons makers are going to absolutely love us -- just check with them about funding. Then die, you faithless dogs.
This is not a radical idea. A nonviolent protest march expressing popular opinion should be allowed to march to the place it is protesting. The idea that insisting on that constitutes something radical or extremist bewilders me. The New York Times refers to "protest or terror groups" as a category of people, but has a protest group ever engaged in terrorizing and has a terrorist ever joined a protest? Would protesting the United Nations at the United Nations somehow be an act of violence, perhaps purely because it would be an act of disobedience? You've got to be kidding me.
I'm in favor of mixed-use protests, not just urban developments. Don't just let the conservative marchers know about opportunities for more direct protest, but get them involved. Take a safe march to a resistance action, where its size will keep it safe and its members will be energized. Let the crowd demonstrate within sight and sound of the people it is petitioning for a redress of grievances, and let those who are ready join in disruptive protest actions.
Of course turning left in order to go where needed makes a nice metaphor for what our whole culture must do if it is to cease destroying the earth's climate. Paul Krugman figured out this week that green energy pays for itself, but he seems to imagine that therefore it will be created, as if the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel profiteers just doesn't exist. We need to turn so far left that we abandon such naiveté, stop yammering about transition fuels, abandon all talk of "peak oil" as if existing oil isn't sufficient to kill us all, and forswear all pointless pursuit of the political "center."
Naomi Klein's new book does a much better job of identifying the corrupting influence of profiteers. She also points out that the sooner we act to slow down climate change the less radical our actions will need to be. The longer we wait to take meaningful action, the more drastic our actions will have to be when we finally do something. Green energy, Klein's book makes clear for anyone who was unaware, is not failing in a marketplace. It is being killed by political corruption, loan conditions, corporate trade agreements, penalties and disincentives, and the subsidies given to the fossil fuel corporations.
Klein notes that activist movements around trade and climate have, oddly, progressed while virtually ignoring each other. Klein comes closer than most environmentalists to not ignoring another big question, that of war. The military is the elephant in the room in terms of both economics and climate destruction, but is largely ignored by activists and the broader public.
In a common delusion, the government tells the truth about war, and war is worth giving up freedoms for, but scientists lie about the climate and do so in order to (somehow) attack our freedoms. In other words, the fears of bureaucrats and of limits to plutocracy are strong but perhaps not as strong as the fear of terrorists. And the fear of bureaucrats is augmented by a fear of being insignificant, because when nuclear energy or geo-engineering is proposed as a solution, those who like those ideas also see their recognition of the climate crisis increase.
When Klein mentions the military, she first proposes that the weapons companies pay their fair share toward climate protection, and then proposes (along with a bunch of other good ideas) cutting the military by 25% -- while calling that proposal "the toughest sell." The U.S. military budget has doubled in the past decade. The idea that it can't be seriously cut is ridiculous. It is not a question of selling the idea to the public. Go back and look at the public's preferred solutions to the supposed financial crisis in Congress a few years back. The problem is in the corruption of the U.S. government.
Elsewhere Klein says that large public sector expenditures will be needed to save the climate, but surely not as large as the military. So why talk about increasing, rather than changing, expenditures? And then again, elsewhere, Klein says what we need is "wartime levels of spending," even though base military spending is about 10 times as much as war spending. Klein also cites a study suggesting that $1.9 trillion a year, or exactly what the planet now spends on war preparations, would solve the climate and various other crises and human needs.
Congress members have skipped town in order to avoid voting on war. You can find them in their districts. November 6th will be the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The two movements named in this holiday should be combined and our actions should escalate. A slight left turn won't be enough to save us.