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Peace and War

Limits of Liberal War Opposition

Robert Reich's website is full of proposals for how to oppose plutocracy, raise the minimum wage, reverse the trend toward greater inequality of wealth, etc. His focus on domestic economic policy is done in the traditional bizarre manner of U.S. liberals in which virtually no mention is ever made of the 54% of the federal discretionary budget that gets dumped into militarism.

When such a commentator notices the problem of war, it's worth paying attention to exactly how far they're willing to go. Of course, they'll object to the financial cost of a potential war, while continuing to ignore the ten-times-greater cost of routine military spending. But where else does their rare war opposition fall short?

Well, here, to begin with: Reich's new post begins thus: "We appear to be moving ever closer toward a world war against the Islamic State." That helpless fatalism doesn't show up in his other commentary. We're not doomed to plutocracy, poverty, or corporate trade. But we're doomed to war. It's coming upon us like the weather, and we'll need to handle it as well as we can. And it will be a "world" affair even if it's principally the 4% of humanity in the United States with a military engaged in it.

"No sane person welcomes war," says Reich. "Yet if we do go to war against ISIS we must keep a watchful eye on 5 things." Nobody, inlcuding Reich as far as I know, ever says this about plutocracy, fascism, slavery, child abuse, rape, de-unionization. Imagine reading this: "No sane person welcomes massive gun violence and school shootings, yet if we're going to let all these children die for the gun makers' profits we must keep a watchful eye on 5 things." Who would say that? What could the 5 things possibly be? The only people who talk this way about climate destruction are those who believe it's already past the point of no return, beyond any possible human control. Why do U.S. liberals "oppose" war by pretending it's inevitable and then keeping an eye on certain aspects of its damage?

Reich must be aware that most of Europe is very reluctant to engage in another U.S. war, that proxies in the Middle East are almost impossible to come by, and that President Obama still insists on a limited war slowly worsening the situation. But I suspect that Reich, like many people, has seen so much "election" coverage that he thinks the United States is about to have a new president, and that it will be either a war-mad Republican or a war-mad Hillary Clinton. Yet, such a development is over a year away, making Reich's fatalism all the more outrageous.

Let's look at the five things we're suppose to keep an eye on.

"1. The burden of fighting the war must be widely shared among Americans. America’s current 'all-volunteer' army is comprised largely of lower-income men and women for whom army pay is the best option. 'We’re staring at the painful story of young people with fewer options bearing the greatest burden,' says Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project, whose study found low- and middle-income families supply far more Army recruits than families with incomes greater than $60,000 a year. That’s not fair. Moreover, when the vast majority of Americans depend on a small number of people to fight wars for us, the public stops feeling the toll such wars take. From World War II until the final days of the Vietnam War, in July 1973, nearly every young man in America faced the prospect of being drafted into the Army. Sure, many children of the rich found means to stay out of harm’s way. But the draft at least spread responsibility and heightened the public’s sensitivity to the human costs of war. If we go into a ground war against ISIS, we should seriously consider reinstating the draft."

This is madness. As a bank shot aimed at indirectly preventing war it's incredibly risky and uncertain. As a means of ameliorating war by making it more "fair," it grotesquely ignores the vast majority of victims, who will of course be the people living in the areas where the war is fought.

"2. We must not sacrifice our civil liberties. U.S. spy agencies no longer have authority they had in the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act to collect Americans’ phone and other records. The NSA must now gain court approval for such access. But in light of the Paris attacks, the FBI director and other leading U.S. law enforcement officials now say they need access to encrypted information on smartphones, personal and business records of suspected terrorists, and 'roving wiretaps' of suspects using multiple disposable cell phones. War can also lead to internment of suspects and suspensions of constitutional rights, as we’ve painfully witnessed. Donald Trump says he’d require American Muslims to register in a federal data base, and he refuses to rule out requiring all Muslims to carry special religious identification. "We’re going to have to do things that we never did before….we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” he adds. We must be vigilant that we maintain the freedoms we are fighting for."

This is delusional. The FBI needs to break through encryption but is kindly refraining from spying on anything unencrypted? The wars strip away civil liberties but are fought "for" them? There has not in fact been a war fought that did not remove liberties, and it seems highly unlikely that there could be. This has been clearly and accurately understood for centuries now.

"3. We must minimize the deaths of innocent civilians abroad. The bombing raids have already claimed a terrible civilian toll, contributing to a mass exodus of refugees. Last month the independent monitoring group Airwars said at least 459 civilians have died from coalition airstrikes in Syria over the past year. Other monitoring groups, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also claim significant civilian deaths. Some civilian casualties are unavoidable. But we must ensure they are minimized – and not just out of humanitarian concern. Every civilian death creates more enemies. And we must do our part to take in a fair portion of Syrian refugees."

Minimize inevitable murders? Assist inevitably displaced families turned into refugees by the destruction of their homes? This is kinder gentler imperialism.

"4. We must not tolerate anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States. Already, leading Republican candidates are fanning the flames. Ben Carson says no Muslim should be president. Trump says 'thousands' of Arab-Americans cheered when the Twin Towers went down on 9/11 – a boldface lie. Ted Cruz wants to accept Christians refugees from Syrian [sic] but not Muslims. Jeb Bush says American assistance for refugees should focus on Christians. Marco Rubio wants to close down 'any place where radicals are being inspired,' including American mosques. It's outrageous that leading Republican candidates for president of the United States are fueling such hate. Such bigotry is not only morally odious. It also plays into the hands of ISIS."

Hmm. Can you name the last war that did not include the promotion of bigotry or xenophobia? By now xenophobia is so engrained that no U.S. columnist would propose a project that would kill U.S. citizens while "minimizing" such deaths, yet proposing such a fate for foreigners is deemed liberal and progressive.

"5. The war must be paid for with higher taxes on the rich. A week before the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Senate passed a $607 billion defense spending bill, with 93 senators in favor and 3 opposed (including Bernie Sanders). The House has already passed it, 370 to 58. Obama has said he’ll sign it. That defense appropriation is larded with pork for military contractors – including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history. Now Republicans are pushing for even more military spending.  We cannot let them use the war as a pretext to cut Social Security and Medicare, or programs for the poor. The war should be paid for the way we used to pay for wars – with higher taxes, especially on the wealthy. As we move toward war against ISIS, we must be vigilant – to fairly allocate the burdens of who’s called on to fight the war, to protect civil liberties, to protect innocent civilians abroad, to avoid hate and bigotry, and to fairly distribute the cost of paying for war. These aren’t just worthy aims. They are also the foundations of our nation’s strength."

Of course the wealthy should pay more taxes and everyone else less. That's true for taxes for parks or taxes for schools. It would also be true for taxes to pay for a project of blowing up coral reefs or a new initiative to drown kittens, but who would justify such things by properly funding them?

War, in fact, is worse than virtually anything else imaginable, including many things we absolutely reject in moral horror. War is mass murder, it brings with it brutality and a total degradation of morality, it is our top destroyer of the environment including the climate, it endangers rather than protecting -- just as bigotry plays into ISIS's hands, so does bombing ISIS. War -- and much more so, routine military spending -- kills primarily through the diversion of resources. A fraction of what is wasted could end starvation. I mean 3% of U.S. military spending could end starvation worldwide. Diseases could be wiped out. Energy systems could be made sustainable. The resources are that massive. Housing, education, and other rights could be guaranteed, in the United States and abroad.

Sure it's good for liberal commentators to point out some of war's downsides. But depicting them as acceptable and inevitable doesn't help.

So what should be done? Do I love ISIS, then? Is it my wish for us to all die? Et cetera.

I've been blogging my answers to that question for many months. I just asked Johan Galtung for his answer, and you can listen to him here.

Talk Nation Radio: Johan Galtung on ISIS and Alternative to War 

Johan Galtung is the founder of the discipline of peace studies. He founded the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959 and the Journal of Peace Research in 1964, and has helped found dozens of peace centers. He has taught peace studies at universities all over the world, and mediated hundreds of conflicts. He is author or coauthor of over 160 books, and is cited and discussed in many thousands. He is the founder of Transcend Peace University and Transcend International. See

Total run time: 29:00

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

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Chicago Restricts Drones: Who's Next?

Chicago media outlets are reporting that drones have been banned from most of Chicago's skies and cannot fly over you or your property without your permission. The text of the ordinance, however, makes exceptions for police that will require eternal vigilance.

Local legislative action around drones began in U.S. cities in early 2013 with the public demand for resolutions opposing foreign drone murders by the military and CIA (and related training in U.S. skies), combined with public concern about domestic U.S. police departments that had begun acquiring weaponized and surveillance drones. This quickly expanded to include concerns about private drones -- among other reasons, because surveillance footage from private drones could be acquired by governments. As near misses between drones and passenger aircraft began piling up, those issues of safety were added to the mix.

Chicago has now passed a modified version of an ordinance that forbids any drone "that is equipped with a firearm or other weapon" and any drone flown "with intent to use such small unmanned aircraft or anything attached to it to cause harm to persons or property." The new law also bans any drone flight "for the purpose of conducting surveillance, unless expressly permitted by law."

Then come the exceptions: "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person who is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration . . . ." And: "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency in accordance with Section 15 of the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, codified at 725 ILCS 167/1 et seq., or its successor provision."

That Illinois law allows police to use drones whenever they claim there is "a high risk of a terrorist attack" or they obtain a 45-day warrant from a court, or they decide they don't have time to bother obtaining a warrant and must act swiftly "to prevent imminent harm to life or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence," or they're attempting to locate a missing person but not undertaking a criminal investigation, or they're solely doing crime scene or traffic crash scene photography (with a warrant if on private property), or there is a disaster or public health emergency (which need not have been formally declared).

None of that explicitly allows weaponized drones for police, except in so far as the word "terrorist" is generally taken to allow just about anything. So, does Chicago's ban on weaponized drones remain intact for police? I'm pessimistic. I don't think the ban on entering the sky over private property or flying at night or flying drunk or any of the other bans survive for police. The law says "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency. . . ."

How police drone use works out, I think, depends entirely on how the state law is interpreted and enforced. Who will monitor police drone use? Who will punish violations? The new Chicago ordinance includes penalties: "Any person who violates this section or any rule promulgated thereunder shall be fined not less than $500.00 nor more than $5,000.00 for each offense, or may be incarcerated for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both. Each day that a violation continues shall constitute a separate and distinct offense." But that sounds like a penalty for an individual, not a government agency.

I'm afraid what has been created is a policy of restricting drone use by individuals in Chicago, without effectively restricting it by the entities most likely to violate rights, intimidate, restrict ability to exercise free speech or assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances, and to use unjustifiable force.

This question is far from settled. Chicago is only one city. Other cities and states could choose to clearly ban weaponized drones, and to ban police surveillance drones under a clear system of supervision, oversight, and accountability.

5 Things to Do About ISIS, or Can an American Without a Gun "Do Something"?

Toward the end of altering our idea of what counts as "doing something," I offer this composite representation of numerous media interviews I've done.  

Interviewer: So you'd stop the planes and the drones and the bombs and the special forces. You've said lots about what you wouldn't do, but can you say what you would do?

Me: Sure, I believe the United States government should propose and attempt to negotiate and at the same time unilaterally begin a ceasefire. When President Kennedy asked the Soviet Union to agree to a ban on nuclear tests, he announced that the United States was itself going ahead and halting them. Negotiating is helped through leadership by example. For the United States to stop engaging or assisting in live fire would give huge momentum to a ceasefire negotiation.

Interviewer: So, again, you would stop firing, but what would you do instead?

Me: The United States ought to propose and work to negotiate and unilaterally begin an arms embargo. I say the United States because I live there and because the majority of the weapons in the Middle East originate in the United States. U.S. participation alone in an arms embargo would end the majority of arms provision to Western Asia. Ceasing to rush Saudi Arabia more weapons would do more good than writing a report on that kingdom's atrocities, for example. An arms embargo should be developed to include every nation in the region and be expanded into disarmament -- first and foremost of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (yes, including Israel's). The United States has the leverage to accomplish this, but not while working against it -- as it now vigorously does.

Interviewer: Yet again, here's something you don't want to do: provide arms. But is there something that you do want to do?

Me: Other than creating peace and a WMD-free Middle East? Yes, I'm glad you asked. I'd like to see the U.S. government launch a massive program of reparations and aid to the people of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Pakistan, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, and the entire rest of the region. (Please, please, please take my word for it that I am not listing every single nation purely in order to save time, and not because I hate some of them or any such insanity.) This no-strings-attached program should include food aid, medical aid, infrastructure, green energy, peace workers, human shields, communications technology for popular use of social media, environmental cleanup, and cultural and educational exchanges. And it should be paid for (note that it does have to be paid for and therefore should count as the very essence of a capitalist "doing something") through a modest reduction in U.S. militarism -- in fact, converting U.S. military facilities in the Middle East into green energy and cultural institutions, and handing them over to the residents.

Interviewer: I hate to have to keep asking the same question, but, again, what is it that you would do about ISIS? If you oppose war, do you support police action? What is something, anything at all for goodness sake, that you would dooooooooo?

Me: Well, in addition to halting violence, negotiating disarmament, and investing on a scale and with a level of respectful generosity to bump the Marshall Plan right out of the history books, I would begin efforts to deprive ISIS of funding and weaponry. A general halt to arms shipments would, of course, already help. Ending the air strikes that are ISIS's biggest recruitment tool would help. But Saudi Arabia and other regional powers have to be brought around to cutting off the funding to ISIS. That would not be nearly as difficult to do if the U.S. government ceased thinking of Saudi Arabia as a valued weapons customer and stopped bowing down to its every demand.

Interviewer: Stop the funding. Stop the arming. This all sounds nice. And you keep saying it over and over again. But I'm going to ask you one last time to say what you would do instead, and what weaponry you would use exactly to do it.

Me: I would use the weapon that eliminates enemies by turning them into something other than enemies. I would embrace the ideology that ISIS works against. It doesn't oppose U.S. militarism. It feeds off it. ISIS opposes humanism. I would welcome refugees without limit. I would make the United States a part of the global community on an equal and cooperative basis, joining without reservations the International Criminal Court, and existing treaties on the rights of the child, land mines, cluster bombs, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, weapons in space, rights of migrant workers, arms trade, protection from disappearances, rights of people with disabilities, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I would work to reform the United Nations beginning by unilaterally foreswearing use of the veto. I would announce a policy of ceasing to prop up or to overthrow foreign dictators. I would announce plans to support nonviolence, democracy, and sustainability at home and abroad, leading by example -- including in the area of disarmament. Reforming U.S. democracy by removing the system of legalized bribery and the whole list of needed reforms would set an example and also allow more democratic policies. I would shift our officially propogated sympathies from We Are All France to We Are All the World. To imagine that any of these steps is unrelated to ISIS is to misunderstand the power of propaganda, image, and the communication of respectful goodwill or arrogant disdain.

Interviewer: Well, we've run out of time, and yet you still won't tell me anything you would do. Sadly, that leaves us obliged to support an assault on ISIS, as much as we dislike war.

Russian Media

Watch me criticize Russia on Russian media (7 minutes in). Imagine US media allowing such talk about US!

Talk Nation Radio: Husain Abdulla on Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 

Husain Abdulla, originally from Bahrain, is the founder and Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. As Executive Director, Husain leads the organization’s efforts to ensure that U.S. policies support the democracy and human rights movement in Bahrain. Husain also works closely with members of the Bahraini-American community to ensure that their voices are heard by U.S. government officials and the broader American public. In 2012, the Government of Bahrain revoked Husain's Bahraini citizenship in retaliation for his peaceful advocacy for the respect for human rights in his home country. Husain holds a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from the University of West Florida and a BA in Political Science and Mathematics from the University of South Alabama. See

Total run time: 29:00

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

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Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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Bernie Sanders Mentioned the Military Budget

If U.S. President were not a mythical position but a serious job, the job interview would include asking the candidates their basic plans of action. This would start with, "What will you encourage Congress to spend a couple of trillion dollars on each year?"

At the moment, about half of federal discretionary spending is spent on one thing, militarism. A basic budget proposal from each candidate would tell us whether they think military spending should go up or down. Some of the Republicans have blurted out that they want it increased. Marco Rubio has lamented a failure to spend $100 billion more, suggesting that he would push for that increase. Rand Paul has denounced that idea, suggesting that he'd maintain or reduce military spending. But none of them has actually laid out a proposed budget in even the roughest terms.

The Democrats have avoided the subject even more. When forced to talk about the military, Senator Bernie Sanders has talked about waste and audits but left us completely in the dark as to what level he thinks spending should be. This is odd, because he talks about creating significant new spending all the time, for things like free college. But he never proposes to pay for such projects by pinching a bit from the military; he always proposes to tax billionaires -- which is always criticized by the media as severely and nonsensically as a proposal to cut the military would be.

CBS hosted a debate this weekend, and I thank them for actually posting a full transcript and a full video that can be fast-forwarded. This allows an interested person to not actually watch the god-awful thing, but to read it and watch the bits that the transcriber marked "unintelligible" or the bits that require particular attention.

Here are a few segments worth paying attention to:

SANDERS: "I think we have a disagreement. And-- the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq, if you look at history, John, you will find that regime change-- whether it was in the early '50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile or whether it was overthrowing the government [of] Guatemala way back when-- these invasions, these-- these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I'm a little bit more conservative than the secretary."

That's new and useful. If the U.S. were to stop overthrowing governments, most of the U.S. military could be dismantled. Here's where Sanders finally mentions the military budget:

SANDERS: "Let me pick up an issue that-- a very important issue that we have not yet discussed. This nation is the most powerful military in the world. We're spending over $600 billion a year on the military. [He means just in the Department of so-called Defense alone, not counting Homeland Security, State, Energy, etc.] And yet significantly less than 10% of that money is used to be fighting international terrorism. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons. I think we need major reform in the military making it more cost effective but also focusing on the real crisis that faces us. The Cold War is over and our focus has got to be on intelligence, increased manpower, fighting international terrorism."

The upside here is that Sanders pointed out the military price-tag -- and perhaps the idea of reducing or eliminating the nukes. The downside is that he didn't suggest cutting militarism. He didn't suggest moving money away from militarism. He only proposed to move money, from place to place, within the field of militarism. When asked later about taxing people to pay for college, Sanders failed to mention cutting military spending.

Wanting "cost-effective" military spending, of course, means getting good killing power for your buck. Sanders wants to kill; he just wants to spend as little on it as possible. Whether he ultimately wants military spending reduced, increased, or kept at its current level we just don't know. He talks up foreign evils and the need to fight them enough that one could as reasonably guess he wants an increase as a decrease. But one way in which Sanders wants to be "cost-effective" is by getting other nations to fight wars. Since most of these other nations are armed largely with U.S. weapons, he may also think this is good for business:

"The-- the secretary's obviously right. It is enormously complicated. But here's something that I believe we have to do is we put together an international coalition. And that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, all of these nations, they're gonna just have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are gonna have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam. And those countries who are opposed to Islam, they are gonna have to get deeply involved in a way that is not the case today. We should be supportive of that effort. So should the UK, so should France. But those Muslim countries are gonna have to lead the efforts. They are not doing it now."

Elsewhere in the debate he said the U.S. should "lead." Here he wants the "Muslim nations" that "are opposed to Islam" to "get their hands dirty." Saudi Arabia is slaughtering children in Yemen with U.S. weapons, beheading children at home, funding the terrorists Bernie wants it to take the lead in destroying, and shipping poison to the world in the form of oil that will render Saudi Arabia uninhabitable this century. That's not "dirty" enough?

The potential plus side of Sanders always saying he wants someone else to fight wars, even if he doesn't understand who would fight on which side, is that it suggests he might not want the U.S. to fight as many wars. If you contrast that with Hillary Clinton's eagerness to be the toughest militarist on the planet, Bernie wins. If you contrast it with a sane sustainable foreign policy, he loses. If you try to figure out what he actually wants to do in any sort of detail, you clearly have not understood what the point of these horrible debates is.

Non-French War Deaths Matter

We are all France. Apparently. Though we are never all Lebanon or Syria or Iraq for some reason. Or a long, long list of additional places.

We are led to believe that U.S. wars are not tolerated and cheered because of the color or culture of the people being bombed and occupied. But let a relatively tiny number of people be murdered in a white, Christian, Western-European land, with a pro-war government, and suddenly sympathy is the order of the day.

"This is not just an attack on the French people, it is an attack on human decency and all things that we hold dear," says U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. I'm not sure I hold ALL the same things dear as the senator, but for the most part I think he's exactly right and that sympathy damn well ought to be the order of the day following a horrific mass killing in France.

I just think the same should apply to everywhere else on earth as well. The majority of deaths in all recent wars are civilian. The majority of civilians are not hard to sympathize with once superficial barriers are overcome. Yet, the U.S. media never seems to declare deaths in Yemen or Pakistan or Palestine to be attacks on our common humanity.

I included "pro-war government" as a qualification above, because I can recall a time, way back in 2003, when I was the one shouting "We are all France," and pro-war advocates in the United States were demonizing France for its refusal to support a looming and guaranteed to be catastrophic and counterproductive U.S. war. France sympathized with U.S. deaths on 911, but counseled sanity, decency, and honesty in response. The U.S. told France to go to hell and renamed french fries in Congressional office buildings.

Now, 14 years into a global war on terror that reliably produces more terror, France is an enthusiastic invader, plunderer, bomber, and propagator of hateful bigotry. France also sells billions of dollars of weaponry to lovely little bastions of equality and liberty like Saudi Arabia, carefully ignoring Saudis' funding of anti-Western terrorist groups.

When U.S. militarism failed to prevent 911, I actually thought that would mean reduced militarism. When a Russian plane was recently blown up, I think I imagined for a split second that Russia would learn its lesson and stop repeating U.S. mistakes. When people were just killed in France, I didn't have any time to fantasize about France coming to its senses, because a "socialist" president was already doing his Dubya-on-the-rubble imitation:

"To all those who have seen these awful things," said François Hollande, "I want to say we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow."

The video doesn't look like Bush, and the French word combat does not necessarily mean war just because the Washington Post says it does. It can mean fight in some other sense. But what other sense exactly, I'm not sure. Prosecuting anyone responsible would of course make perfect sense, but a criminal justice system ought not to be pitiless. It's a war that ought to be pitiless. And it's a war that will guarantee more attacks. And it's a war that France has begun.

"It is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners," said Albert Camus.

Please go back to thinking, France.

We do love you and wish you well and are deeply sorry for U.S. influence against your better tendencies.