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The 16 Core Progressive Policies, Really?

Salvatore Babones' proposals in Sixteen for '16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America are not bad, assuming a progressive agenda can limit itself to one nation.

But these sorts of proposals tend to be -- and this one is no exception -- smart, compassionate takes on the topics that are in the corporate media. The topics that aren't already on your television also aren't in this book or others like it.

What should the U.S. public budget be? Is nearly double the 2001 level too much military spending, too little, or just right? Who knows. Babones doesn't say.

Why not consult someone on "the other 54% of the budget" that all such literature ignores (the military's 54% of discretionary spending, as calculated by the National Priorities Project)? Just a quick consultation with someone aware of the existence of the single largest public project of the United States would add something to all of these pseudo-electoral platforms.

Item number 14 in Babones' list is "Stop torturing, stop assassinating, and close down the NSA." He goes through the common pretense that Obama "banned torture," as if it weren't a felony that was simply going unpunished on Obama's orders. He follows this up with the usual pretense that the limited "ban" on torture opened up loopholes for torturing "legally." Babones does a bit better on drone murders. But what about manned-aircraft murders? Tank murders? Gun murders? What about war? Is war "progressive"? Who knows!

Should we, as the other 15 points propose, create jobs, build America's infrastructure, support public education, extend Medicare to everyone, raise taxes on top incomes, refinance social security, take down Wall Street, make it easy to join a union, set a living minimum wage, upgrade to 10-10-10, put an end to the prison state, pass a national abortion law, let people vote, suffer the refugee children, and save the earth? Of course, we should.

But if you're willing to end the prison state (and as the text expands on that, to end the militarization of local police) then you are willing to make significant change, and you are aware of the problem of militarization. So how does that little item that takes up 54% of the budget go AWOL from all of these projects?

If U.S. military spending were merely returned to 2001 levels, the savings of $213 billion per year could fund education, a new justice system, aid for refugees, an open and fair and verifiable election system, and the saving of the earth -- with a good bit of change left over.

Whence the nearly unanimous decision to avoid the topic? The Institute for Policy Studies, which published this book, does not ignore the topic elsewhere. Why does it not manage to infiltrate these progressive platforms? Perhaps peace is just not progressive.

Top 10 Activist Errors

The number one error, engaged in by the majority of people, is failing to be an activist. The world's going to hell, countless situations can be easily improved, lives can be saved, and most people just sit there and do nothing. Others actively work to make matters worse. So, if you're working for peace and justice, you're among the tiny minority that's pretty much got the big stuff right. If constructive criticism drives you into despair, please stop reading this article right now and just continue what you're doing with your life. You have my gratitude.

If you're open to hearing some suggestions, for whatever they may be worth (and yes, of course, this list of errors will exclude those that I am myself guilty and unaware of), read on:

1. ELECTIONISM. We need elections but do not now have them in the United States, not at the federal level. Working for election reforms is one of the most important things anyone can do. But taking time off from activism to focus on elections is the biggest waste of resources we engage in. Election reform will come through creative nonviolent activism, education, organizing, media, disruption, resistance, and protest. It won't come through elections. Registering voters is not activism. Creating automatic registration, as just done in Oregon, is activism. Please stifle your compulsion to ask me who I'm voting for. You don't ask me if I want to win the lottery. (I do, but I will not buy a ticket or devote my life to staring at one.)

2. OBAMANISM. As bad as taking a break from activism every election cycle, is thinking and acting like a voter and a campaigner rather than an activist every day of every year, cheerleading for a team of corrupt officials rather than for policies, reforms, and actions that you support. "The nationalist," said Orwell, "not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." Nationalism is a huge problem, and its language, which has peace activists using the word "we" in saying "We are bombing Afghanistan," may contribute to identification with crimes. But the problem of managing not to even hear about them applies to partisanship as well. If a Republican were picking men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays, you'd see protests.

3. TOKENISM. "Black people are dumb." "Muslims are violent." These are understood to be ignorant hate speech. But "Women make better presidents" is not frowned on quite so much, despite its exactly equal idiocy. The problem is not the demographic characteristics of the president. The problem is having a single individual with the powers of a god, in debt to sociopathic billionaires, in a system dominated by militarism and corruption. We won't change it with a female or gay or Latina corporatist warmonger.

4. STRATEGISM. Winning a first and a second and a third step down a path to peace or justice is not best achieved through the means that many activists think of as "strategic." If you tell someone that they should halt one war so that the military can be better prepared for other wars, you weaken your argument against the one war, and you provide an argument for future wars. If you oppose the weapons that don't work, you give legitimacy to the far worse weapons that do work. If you object to a gimmick that boosts weapons spending over a mandated limit by transferring funds from a war budget, you shouldn't do so in a way that suggests either budget is acceptable at all, or in a way that suggests war spending is preferable to non-war-spending or budget trickery. Pre-compromising doesn't get you a compromise result; it gets you incoherence and lack of believability. A young woman pointing out to Jeb Bush that his brother (and Hillary and a few hundred others) created ISIS does a lot more to move people against war than do the strategies coming out of DC peace groups. War is counterproductive on its own terms, immoral, illegal, and catastrophic. Its funding should be eliminated. Our job is to demand that. A small reduction is a first step toward our goal.

5. IMPOTENTISM. The most pervasive and powerful propaganda is that of powerlessness. Telling yourself and each other that you are powerless is no different than Judith Miller repeating CIA lies about WMDs. It's exactly as ridiculous and exactly as damaging. We are not powerless. We quite easily have an impact frequently and could quite easily have a much bigger one. Expecting fairness won't help. We have to work uphill, but it's perfectly doable. Being impatient won't help. We have to keep working however long it takes and however few help out. Self-flagellation won't help. The money is against you and money is powerful. It's not your fault you haven't saved the world, but it might be thanks to you that your grandchildren save it.

6. PAROCHIALISM. We have to form uncomfortably large coalitions, and we really don't want to. I'm not advocating what I critiqued above as strategism. Don't sell your soul. Don't promote destructive ideologies for short-term gain. But don't be scared of guilt-by-association. Be willing to stand with people on an issue whose views and actions you deeply oppose on other issues.

7. LOCALISM. It's far more satisfying to find peace in your heart or sustainability in your backyard than to take on the military industrial complex. But if the earth dies, so will you. There are local and hyper-local angles that contribute to the greater cause. Cities and states can change nations. But individual action alone is not enough. Even small group action aimed too near is not enough. If everybody with solar panels on their roofs had put half the money into a movement to create public solar arrays, we'd have them.

8. FREUDISM. In a popular, simplistic notion of nonviolent communication, one never persuades anyone through rational argument. This is a claim, by the way, that comes out of an ideology supposedly dedicated to respecting people and their "needs." Apparently among those needs is not the need for a good reason to believe something. It would of course be equally simplistic to assert that all one ever needs are facts, or to ignore the age-old wisdom that it is hard to get someone to believe something they are paid not to. But when I tell people that college is free in other countries, their jaws drop, and it's not 30 seconds before they're saying it should be that way in the U.S. When I talk to non-self-selected groups about ending war, the majority say at the end that they have been moved toward believing that war can and should be ended. Facts are not enough, but they are one of the main things the corporate media deprives us of, and one of the key components of activism. They do nothing to help us see another's point of view if we're unwilling to look. They do nothing to alleviate high levels of fear. But it would be a mistake for us to become inversions of Edward Bernays working to manipulate people in a kinder, gentler manner.

9. FETISHISM. Here's a little secret. The people who speak the viewpoints that serve big money are not smarter, wittier, pithier, or better at framing a topic. They're on the air because they speak the viewpoints that serve big money. They may be more eloquent than you. They may be less so. But trying to think and sound like them in general is a quite risky proposition and completely unnecessary. There is nothing we need more than better media and better use of existing media by its readers, listeners, and viewers. There is no smarter place to invest as activists. But what we lack is not spokespeople. What we lack is microphones.

10. PINKERISM. "But haven't you heard? War is going away on its own? I heard it from someone who read a review of a book by Steven Pinker." War is not going to go away on its own. It is not even going away with our help. But it could go away if we really get our act together.

Talk Nation Radio: Rania Khalek on U.S. Police Training in Israel and Israelis Advocating Genocide

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-rania-khalek-on-us-police-training-in-israel-and-israelis-advocating-genocide

Rania Khalek discusses her reports on Baltimore police training in Israel, Israel targeting children with drone strikes, and Israeli officials openly advocating genocide. Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass. She is a regular contributer at The Electronic Intifada, where she sits on the editorial board. Her work has also appeared at Truthout, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Salon, AlterNet and more. You can follow her work at her website raniakhalek.com and on twitter at @RaniaKhalek. She also cohosts a podcast called “Unauthorized Disclosure."

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Populist Except for Pentagon

Katrina vanden Heuvel says there's an emerging populist agenda. Of course populist agendas tend to emerge in times of demobilization for election distraction -- that is to say, in moments when huge political party and NGO resources are being dumped into focusing attention on a distant election instead of on the crises and work at hand. Witness all the efforts to get Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, to oppose the TPP.

And of course the agendas don't actually emerge. There's nothing new about them. Millions of us have favored a living wage and free education and breaking up the banking monopolies for years. The point of having such ideas "emerge" is to create reservoirs of patience for not getting them and not even demanding them, but rather diverting one's interest into cheerleading for future saviors who will later treat campaign promises like, well, campaign promises.

But what interests me about what's "emerging" is what's missing from it, even in the rhetoric. Vanden Heuvel links to six reports or platform statements. Each deals with economics, the public budget, spending and investment priorities. Virtually absent from them all, by some coincidence, is any mention of military spending, despite its taking up a majority of the discretionary spending budget every year, and despite its swallowing far more wealth than goes to the billionaires who are so rightly upbraided for hoarding it so immorally.

Five of the six populist agendas propose nothing related to military spending. It might as well not exist. One of them includes as number 11 of its 12 points: "We should reduce military budgets and properly support humanitarian programs."

Was that so hard? It used to be the norm in Democratic Party platform promises. Where has it gone too to? The other five organizations will not attack the sixth with sharp critiques for including this, of course. Their preferred tactic is silence.

The new normal seems to be PEP. Usually PEP means Progressive Except for Palestine (we all know people who are generally against murdering babies but not when Israel does it). But I'm using PEP to mean Populist Except for the Pentagon.

If you don't want to take the time to watch the video of Bernie Sanders' 12 proposals, here's his list:

1. major investment in infrastructure
2. reverse climate change
3. new economic models, no more huge tax breaks to corporations, but support for worker-owned coops
4. Employee Free Choice Act (remember that?)
5. make minimum wage a living wage
6. pay equity for women
7. end NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China
8. affordable college
9. break up the Wall Street banks
10. Medicare for all - single payer healthcare
11. expand Social Security
12. progressive taxation

All wonderful stuff. Some of it quite courageous outside-the-acceptable stuff. But what do you spend on reversing climate change? And do you also keep spending on the single biggest contributor to climate change, namely the military? What do you invest in infrastructure? It's not as though Sanders doesn't know about the trade-offs. In between listing items 1 and 2, he blames "the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq" for costing $3 trillion. He says he wants infrastructure instead of wars. But routine "base" military spending is $1.3 trillion or so each and every year. It's been far more in recent years than all the recent wars, and it generates the wars as Eisenhower warned it would. It also erodes the economy, as the studies of U-Mass Amherst document. The same dollars moved to infrastructure would produce many more jobs and better paying ones. Why not propose moving some money? Why not include it in the list of proposals?

In Sanders' case, I think he's partly a true believer in militarism. He wants good wars instead of bad wars (whatever that means) despite the belief in "good wars" requiring ongoing military spending. And partly, I think, he comes at it from a deep habit of "supporting" the troops and veterans for both sincere and calculating reasons. He's also a PEP in the Palestine sense.

But people will be thrilled just to hear Sanders mention "the bad Bush-Cheney war," when their standard is set by such war hawks as Hillary Clinton, whose love for war, rather than some collective fit of amnesia, explains the absence of the military from most of the emerging populist agendas.

We should be clear that this degeneration of the Democratic Party platform does not represent a shift in public attitudes, but rather an increase in the corruption of the political system. No polls support this. Many campaign funders do.

Fast Track the Good Stuff

The U.S. Senate has been very concerned not to let peace with Iran slip into place too easily, even while a new war in Iraq and Syria proceeds without the formal pretense of Congress "authorizing" or rejecting it.

Both houses of Congress are interested in ramming through the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) on a fast track. The fast track procedure of rushing things through Congress or creating them without Congress seems to be reserved for the least popular ideas our government produces.

What if, instead, a fast track were set up for those items favored by a vast majority of the public, or required for the future habitability of the planet, but which meet resistance from campaign funders, lobbyists, and the corporate media?

Of course I'd rather have clean elections and a publicly accountable Congress if we can't have public initiatives and direct democracy. But in the absence of such utopias, why not use extreme anti-democratic measures to ram through the things people want rather than the things we'd protest if we found out about them? Why not slip one past the plutocrats rather than slipping one past the people? Why not go with voice votes, no debate, and no time to read the details on measures to demilitarize and protect the planet rather than on "trade" agreements that empower corporate lawyers to overturn laws?

I recently read this in an email newsletter from peace advocate Michael Nagler: "The other day I went to test-drive an electric car. When we got through some of the technicalities and were waiting for a red light the salesperson coming with me said, 'So what do you do?' Here it comes, I thought: 'I work with a nonprofit; (gulp, and) we're promoting nonviolence.' After a reflective pause she said quietly, 'Thank you.'"

I've often had that same experience, but increasingly I eagerly reply: "I work on abolishing war." That's what I replied recently in a sandwich shop here in Charlottesville called Baggby's. I didn't get a "thank you," but I got a question as to whether I had known Jack Kidd. I had never heard of Jack Kidd, but Jack Kidd, a retired two-star Air Force general who lived in Charlottesville, had been in Baggby's in the past debating the need to abolish war with some other bigwig general who favored keeping war and militarism going.

So, I read Kidd's book, Prevent War: A New Strategy for America. Of course, I think we need a strategy for earth, not for the United States, if we are going to end war. Kidd, who died in 2013, believed in 2000, when the book was published, that only the United States could lead the way toward peace, that the United States had always meant well, that war could be used to end war, and all sorts of things I can't bring myself to take seriously. And yet, believing everything he still believed, after "waking up" in the early 1980s, as he describes it, Kidd came to recognize the insanity of failing to work for the abolition of war.

This was a man who had bombed German cities in World War II; who believed he'd survived a particularly difficult mission during which he'd shot down lots of German planes, because he'd prayed to God who'd answered his prayer; who'd flown secret nuclear attack plans from Washington to Korea during the Korean war; who'd "served" as Chief of the Joint War Plans Branch and worked on plans for World War III; who believed in the Gulf of Tonkin attack; who had obeyed orders to knowingly fly his plane through nuclear clouds moments after bomb tests -- as self-human experimentation; and yet . . . and yet! And yet Jack Kidd organized retired U.S. and Soviet generals to work for disarmament at the height of the Cold War.

Kidd's book contains numerous proposals to move us away from war. One of them is to fast track disarmament agreements. For that idea alone, his book is worth reading. It's also worth giving to the most hard-core war supporters as a sort of a gentle nudge. It's also worth asking, I think, why Charlottesville has no memorial to this former General who's layed out a plan for peace when it has so many to those whose only accomplishment was losing the U.S. Civil War.

Talk Nation Radio: Karen Dolan on the Criminalization of Poverty

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-karen-dolan-on-the-criminalization-of-poverty

Karen Dolan is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and directs the Criminalization of Poverty project there. She also is a member of the team at the Economic Hardship Reporting project. Her public scholarship and activism is focused on domestic poverty and local democracy/empowerment. Karen's latest publication is The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty: PDF.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

I Just Asked Erik Prince To Stop Bribing Politicians

"It's bad enough to be creating more profit incentive for war," I told former head of Blackwater Erik Prince, "but you recycle part of the profits as bribes for more war in the form of so-called campaign contributions. You yourself have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates. The three of you," I said, referring to Prince, another guest, and the host of a television show that had just finished filming and was taking questions from the audience, "you seem to agree that we need either mercenaries or a draft, ignoring the option of not having these wars, which kill so many people, make us less safe, drain the economy, destroy the natural environment, and erode our civil liberties, with no upside. But this systemic pressure has been created for more war. Will you, Erik Prince, commit to not spending war profits on elections?"

Prince had hardly been asked a serious question during the past hour of filming, but that of course did not mean he would answer one. The point was to raise the topic and put it in the minds of the people sitting and applauding him. Prince tried to answer by talking about how much the F-35 fighter jet costs, continuing the hour-long pretense that if you oppose mercenaries you favor the rest of the military. I cut him off and told him to answer the question. So he said that he was no longer working with the U.S. government but with other governments around the world. Does that mean he'll stop bribing the U.S. government? Does that mean he doesn't bribe other governments? He didn't say.

The event was held at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, which has a long, long tradition of inviting war makers and war advocates, but has never that I know of asked an opponent of the institution of war to speak. The show, minus the question and answer portion, will air on television on May 3rd. The host, Doug Blackmon, asked challenging questions like, "Do you think contractors should receive medals like other soldiers?" The day before the event he'd emailed me this comment:

"We've featured a lot of people over the past two years, with a lot of objections to the war-making of the United States—as well as a lot of objections to mass incarceration, police violence, and other terrible manifestations of our society. We also have heard from people who would disagree with you—but had nothing to do with making war. In any case, this will be a vigorous dialogue tomorrow. It may not cover everything you would cover if you were organizing the same program, but it's a completely appropriate way for us to explore these hugely important and controversial issues, and to hear two sides in a meaningful way."

At the end of the event I asked him whether Prince would have been invited to speak had most of the people Blackwater killed been Americans. Blackmon refused to answer.

The other guest was Ann Hagedorn, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security. Her book is not bad, but from the first moments of the event it became crystal clear why Prince had agreed to take part. The subject of drones wasn't broached, but there was a lot of droning, and ummming, and slow and deliberate prefacing of . . . nothing. I could have clicked the audio on my little electronic device to have it read sections of Hagedorn's book and made a better debate than she made in person. This was frustrating, of course, because the well-spoken Erik Prince needed somebody to reply to the outrages he was uttering. In an attempt to figure out where, if anywhere, Hagedorn was coming from, or perhaps to expose her as a commie peacenik, a member of the audience asked after the show whether, if mercenaries were eliminated, Hagedorn would move on to opposing the standard military. This was actually a good question, because most of Hagedorn's critique of mercenaries, even more so at the event than in the book, was of their differences from other soldiers. But she didn't answer the question. She said that she was a reporter who had no opinions or positions. Inspiring!

Hagedorn's book is not a bad primer for people just discovering that the U.S. military hires mercenary companies. In Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, she writes, the use of mercenaries and other contractors climbed -- under Obama/Clinton direction -- to the point where there were 10 for every 1 troop, 18 for every 1 state department personnel, and 100 for every 1 USAID worker. She criticizes the lack of accountability for what this huge number of people do. She admits that the majority of deaths in these wars are civilians. I say "admits" because at the show taping she claimed that if Americans knew about the deaths of U.S. mercenaries they would then have a good sense of the deaths in the wars. She points out the fear mongering done by mercenary companies as well as governments to gin up business. She writes that of 195 Blackwater shootings between 2005 and 2007 in 84% Blackwater shot first and left the scene. She even quotes someone proposing we have fewer wars and cites the example of South Africa banning mercenaries.

Hagedorn notes Obama and Clinton's flip to support mercenaries beginning in 2009, and their use of them to extend the occupation of Iraq in 2011 while "ending" it. Hillary Clinton, she writes, also pushed shipping companies to hire mercenaries to fend off pirates. The United Nations, too, is using mercenaries. The U.S. border with Mexico is being armed with mercenaries. Immigrants are being handled by mercenaries. U.S. police are being trained by mercenaries (with horrible results).

But Hagedorn is big on patriotism and the supposed democratic public institution of war (which would never survive a Ludlow Amendment creating a public vote on wars). When she called war an inherently public operation on Wednesday, Prince ignored any hint that private war creates more wars and simply pointed to the long history of mercenaries and to examples of other operations that have been privatized.

Blackmon began Wednesday's show by asking Prince about the sentencing of four of his former employees to prison on Monday. Part of Prince's defense was that "We've asked for cameras. . . . The State Department denied them." This is bizarre because he never asserted that anything other than the intentional murder of civilians would have been filmed had there been cameras. He also claimed that his killers could not get a jury of their peers among civilians 7,000 miles away. So, does he want crimes committed in Iraq to be prosecuted in Iraq then?

Hagedorn explicitly refused to discuss the details of the Nissour Square Massacre but did point out that it was the sort of thing that boosted recruitment of forces against the U.S. military/mercenaries.

Blackmon asked if mercenaries had been scapegoated for an overall disaster, but Hagedorn said no, that that made no sense if you considered the scale of the mercenary involvement. Prince said that during the war on Vietnam peace activists went after troops and now they go after mercenaries. "Nature hates a vacuum," he argued, suggesting apparently that Congressional contracts are produced by "nature." Prince also pointed to the murder of Miriam Carey by the U.S. Capitol Police as if one inexcusable killing justifies others. "There was no hue and cry," over that killing he lied, but imagine the uproar if it had been poor little old mercenaries who had done it. Of course, most killings of civilians by mercenaries in distant U.S. wars produce in fact no hue or cry at all back home.

I should note that Prince claims his mercenaries are (were) not mercenaries because they were U.S. military veterans. What that changes he never explained. Instead he calls them "volunteers" despite paying them. Asked about financial interests in keeping wars going, he said what was needed was oversight, but not from Washington, from empowering the people at the front. Whatever that meant. Prince advocated a smaller military budget, and Hagedorn said that smaller overall budgets always mean more for mercenaries.

Repeatedly Prince claimed to be fighting evil people "who want to destroy the Western world, you know, our way of life." He claimed that mercenaries could be hired to destroy ISIS, no problem! He also claimed that what's going on in the Middle East is an age-old Sunni-Shia conflict that the United States can only tweak around the edges (through such steps, I suppose, as destroying ISIS). That each war creates more problems to be addressed with more wars, that ISIS would never have existed without the 2003 invasion, didn't come up (except through my comments during the Q&A).

One questioner suggested that "if war were the path to peace we'd sure have peace by now," and Prince claimed to be for peace. So Hagedorn asked him, a-t l-e-n-g-t-h, to fund the peace movement (even though she has no opinions as a Journalist), and he declined, suggesting that the mercenary industry association should do it. That's an association, by the way, that changed its name from the International Peace Operations Association to the International Stability Operations Association in response to criticism of being "too Orwellian" -- as if war brings stability any more than it brings peace.

Prince said that rather than funding peace he would focus on "protecting Christians who are being driven out of the Holy Land." He said this during the Q&A section with the filming of the show already stopped. Someone might have asked why people of a particular religion were of more value. But then we were at an event that never would have happened if the people whom Prince's company killed had belonged to that religion.