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A George Will column this week, reviewing a book by Ken Hughes called Chasing Shadows, mentions almost in passing that presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon secretly sabotaged peace talks that appeared likely to end the war on Vietnam until he intervened. As a result, the war raged on and Nixon won election promising to end the war.
Will treats the matter as a technicality, citing the law against private diplomacy rather than the principle that one shouldn't undermine a government's attempts to halt an episode of mass-murder.
You'd almost have to already know what Will was referring to if you were going to pick up on the fact that Nixon secretly prevented peace while publicly pretending he had a peace plan. And you'd have to be independently aware that once Nixon got elected, he continued the war for years, the total carnage coming to include the deaths of 4 million Vietnamese plus hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and Laotians, with the deaths from bombs not previously exploded continuing on a major scale to this day, and, of course, the 58,000 Americans killed in the war who are listed on a wall in D.C. as if somehow more worthy than all the others.
Will is not the only one to acknowledge what Nixon did. The Smithsonian reported on Nixon's treason last year, on the occasion of new tapes of Lyndon Johnson being released. But the Smithsonian didn't call it treason; it treated the matter more as hard-nosed election strategizing. Ken Hughes himself published an article on the History News Network two years ago saying almost exactly what Will's column said this week. But the publication used the headline "LBJ Thought Nixon Committed Treason to Win the 1968 Election." Of course LBJ thought all kinds of things, sane and otherwise. The first two words of the headline ought to have been deleted.
The point is that it's now apparently become fashionable to acknowledge, but minimize, what Nixon did.
Will's focus is on Hughes' theory that Nixon's plan to break into or even firebomb the Brookings Institution was driven by his desire to recover evidence of his own treasonous sabotaging of peace, and that Watergate grew from Nixon's desire to coverup that horrendous crime. This differs from various theories as to what Nixon was so desperate to steal from Brookings (that he was after evidence that Kennedy murdered Diem, or evidence that LBJ halted the bombing of Vietnam just before the election to help Humphrey win, etc.) It certainly seems that Nixon had reasons for wanting files from Brookings that his staff did not share his views on the importance of. And covering up his own crimes was always a bigger motivation for Nixon than exposing someone else's. Nixon was after Daniel Ellsberg, not because Ellsberg had exposed Nixon's predecessors' high crimes and misdemeanors, but because Nixon feared what Ellsberg might have on him.
But Nixon's sabotaging of peace in 1968 has been known for many years. And that explanation of the Brookings incident has been written about for years, and written about in a context that doesn't bury the significance of the story. One need only turn to writings by Robert Parry (for example here, and in the book pictured on that page). Writes Parry:
"One of the Washington press corps' most misguided sayings – that 'the cover-up is worse than the crime' – derived from the failure to understand the full scope of Nixon’s crimes of state."
The way Parry tells the story might explain why the Washington Post prefers George Will's version:
"Rostow's 'The "X" Envelope,' which was finally opened in 1994 and is now largely declassified, reveals that Johnson had come to know a great deal about Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage from FBI wiretaps. In addition, tapes of presidential phone conversations, which were released in 2008, show Johnson complaining to key Republicans about the gambit and even confronting Nixon personally.
"In other words, the file that Nixon so desperately wanted to find was not primarily about how Johnson handled the 1968 bombing halt but rather how Nixon's campaign obstructed the peace talks by giving assurances to South Vietnamese leaders that Nixon would get them a better result.
"After becoming President, Nixon did extend and expand the conflict, much as South Vietnamese leaders had hoped. Ultimately, however, after more than 20,000 more Americans and possibly a million more Vietnamese had died, Nixon accepted a peace deal in 1972 similar to what Johnson was negotiating in 1968. After U.S. troops finally departed, the South Vietnamese government soon fell to the North and the Vietcong."
Parry even puts Nixon's action in the context of a pattern of actions that includes Ronald Reagan's election following sabotage of President Carter's hostage negotiations with Iran. Parry has written as well about LBJ's failure to expose Nixon as part of a pattern of Democratic Party spinelessness. There's President Clinton's failure to pursue Iran-Contra, Al Gore's failure to protest a Supreme Court coup, John Kerry's failure to protest apparent election fraud in Ohio, etc.
A less partisan and less contemporary context might include Nixon's phony pro-peace election campaign with those of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and other presidents elected to stay out of wars that they promptly jumped into. And that pattern might include candidate Obama's innumerable campaign-rally promises to end the war in Iraq, which as president he kept going for years, attempted to prolong further, and has begun trying to restart now that an opportunity has presented itself -- meanwhile having tripled troop levels in Afghanistan, attacked Libya, created a new kind of war with drones in multiple nations, and pushed the U.S. military into a greater and more active presence in numerous African and Asian countries.
It's almost universally maintained by those who have expressed any opinion on the matter that if the public had known about Nixon's treason while he was president, all hell would have broken loose. Are we really such idiots that we've now slipped into routinely acknowledging the truth of the matter but raising no hell whatsoever? Do we really care so much about personalities and vengeance that Nixon's crime means nothing if Nixon is dead? Isn't the need to end wars and spying and government secrets, to make diplomacy public and nonviolent, a need that presses itself fiercely upon us regardless of how many decades it will take before we learn every offensive thing our current top officials are up to?
A new film called Wisconsin Rising is screening around the country, the subject, of course, being the activism surrounding the mass occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol in 2011. I recommend attending a planned screening or setting up a new one, and discussing the film collectively upon its conclusion. For all the flaws in Wisconsin's activism in 2011 and since, other states haven't even come close -- most have a great deal to learn.
The film tells a story of one state, where, long ago, many workers' rights originated or found early support, and where, many years later, threats to workers' rights, wages, and benefits, and to what those workers produce including education in public schools, were aggressively initiated by the state's right-wing governor, Scott Walker.
The joy and inspiration created by the public resistance to that threat were intense. The occupation, the singing, the marching, the creative props and protests, the donations for pizza from around the world, the parades, the rallies, the concerts, the firefighters and police officers spared in the legislation but choosing to join with the rest of the public anyway, the growing crowds, the growing awareness of the power of nonviolent action, the legislators bringing their desks out onto the grass to meet with constituents in the cold snow or fleeing the state to deny the governor a quorum, Fox News propaganda showing a violent rally supposedly in Wisconsin but with palm trees in the background, the Wisconsinites hauling plastic palm trees to the capitol, the high school students joining the occupation on behalf of their teachers, Governor Walker unable to step outdoors without protest -- all of this energy and activity is accurately conveyed in Wisconsin Rising. For over three weeks, Wisconsin's capitol was occupied, and the reminders of it are still frequently visible there.
The Wisconsin legislature rammed through its horrendous legislation despite the public opposition. The film does not hide that awful defeat. But the same would have happened had there been no opposition. The question is whether the opposition did any good and whether it could conceivably have succeeded had wiser decisions been made -- and whether power was tapped that could be enlarged still further. I think the answer to all of these questions is yes.
In the film we see people withdrawing their money from a bank that funds candidates like Walker. That can and should continue.
We see a choice made to withdraw energy from protests and demonstrations and nonviolent resistance and camps and marches and a general strike, in order to put all of that energy into recall elections. The lessons of all of those labor songs sung at all of those rallies are not followed. Instead, an effort is made to pretend that the system works and that slightly better personalities in positions of corrupt power will solve everything. Massive popular energy went into a contest where it could not compete with massive money.
What might have happened instead? Energy could have stayed with the occupation, drawing inspiration from and giving inspiration to activism around the United States and the world. I remember Michael Moore pointing out at the Wisconsin occupation that 400 people in the United States had as much money as half the country, and pundits compelled to note that that was true. An education campaign about the division and concentration of wealth would have been time better spent. Creative means of keeping working people's wealth with working people, rather than handing it over to Wall Street, would have been wiser use of euphoric enthusiasm.
An effort might also have been made to build even wider state-level solidarity by recognizing the state of Wisconsin, like the other 49 U.S. states, as a victim of a federal budget gone off the deep end of plutocratic plunder and militarism. The federal government does not support education or any other human need, at home or abroad, in remotely the way that it could if it curtailed spending on war preparations, giveaways to corporations and billionaires, or both. What if Wisconsin were to convert from weapons to peaceful industries, tax major federal tax evaders at the state level instead, and call for a Constitutional Convention to recriminalize bribery? What if the money Wisconsinites dump into elections went into setting up and supporting independent media outlets in Wisconsin instead?
What if three enjoyable, energizing, inspiring weeks of effort wasn't seen as a record long action, but as the opening preview of much longer struggles? What if the pressure were to build back up, and a different direction were chosen this time, the direction of nonviolent resistance rather than naive compliance? Wisconsin, at least, has done its warm ups. Most states are still in the locker room.
Keane Bhatt is an activist and writer who has organized a campaign to close Human Rights Watch's revolving door with the U.S. government. Sign this petition.
Read this background:
Nobel Peace Laureates to HRW: Close Your Revolving Door to U.S. Government
Keane Bhatt: The Hypocrisy of Human Rights Watch
Chase Madar: Hawks for Humanity
More Than 100 Latin America Experts Question HRW's Venezuela Report
Nobel Peace Laureates Slam Human Rights Watch's Refusal to Cut Ties to U.S. Government
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I'm looking forward to speaking on Saturday, May 10, at the United We Stand Festival in Los Angeles (and at an earlier event) where dozens of speakers and musicians will be standing together against such evils as: "the PATRIOT Act, NDAA, NSA, war on drugs, drones, ... war, GMO, ... central banks, corporatism," and in favor of "Internet freedom, election reform, honest media/music/art, education/student leadership, the environment, ...."
This is nice timing, with Vermont having just become the first state to call for a Constitutional Convention to strip legalized bribery out of U.S. politics, and with the U.S. Senate planning a vote on a Constitutional amendment to allow Congress to limit said bribery. Sixteen states have urged Congress to act, which remains a quixotic pursuit. Even more disturbing than Congressional dithering is the failure of each of those 16 states to tack on a few words to do what Vermont has done and create a work-around should Congress members choose not to bite the greasy hand that feeds them. Think about what must motivate that failure to add a call for a Constitutional Convention.
There's also the problem that should Congress and the states ever pass an amendment allowing Congress to limit campaign "contributions," Congress would still have to take the additional step of actually doing so. And you can guess as well as I can what Congress considers a reasonable limitation -- just look at the minimal limitations that Congress was imposing before the Supreme Court outrageously attacked those limits in Citizens United and McCutcheon, after which the impeachment of some justices, or the legislative removal of some powers from the Supreme Court would have made more sense than accepting that the Constitution needed changing.
The Constitution was not intended to give rights to corporations or to equate bribery with the protected act of free speech. But it's going to take a massive movement of public pressure to compel our government to read or rewrite the Constitution well. So, perhaps we're just as well off rewriting it. And that opens up all sorts of possibilities, most of which can't possibly be worse than what we've got now. We could end the presidential system, the Supreme Court's unaccountability, gerrymandering, corporate monopolies -- including of communications media -- and the pretended legality of war. We could create a guaranteed income and mandate environmental sustainability.
But without even diving that deeply into creating a better Constitution, we could add something like this:
<<The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
All elections for President and members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate shall be entirely publicly financed. No political contributions shall be permitted to any federal candidate, from any other source, including the candidate. No political expenditures shall be permitted in support of any federal candidate, or in opposition to any federal candidate, from any other source, including the candidate. The Congress shall, by statute, provide limitations on the amounts and timing of the expenditures of such public funds and provide criminal penalties for any violation of this section.
State and local governments shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for state or local public office or any state or local ballot measure.
The right of the individual U.S. citizen to vote and to directly elect all candidates by popular vote in all pertinent local, state, and federal elections shall not be violated. Citizens will be automatically registered to vote upon reaching the age of 18 or upon becoming citizens at an age above 18, and the right to vote shall not be taken away from them. Votes shall be recorded on paper ballots, which shall be publicly counted at the polling place. Election day shall be a national holiday.
Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.
During a designated campaign period of no longer than six months, free air time shall be provided in equal measure to all candidates for federal office on national, state, or district television and radio stations, provided that each candidate has, during the previous year, received the supporting signatures of at least five percent of their potential voting-age constituents. The same supporting signatures shall also place the candidate's name on the ballot and require their invitation to participate in any public debate among the candidates for the same office.>>
I'm confident that there are thousands of people who can draft this reform that well or better, that Congress will only scrape the surface (and that only if a Constitutional Convention is looming), that such a Convention actually happening would be a big step forward, and that people who are ready for serious change are starting to stand united: https://unitedwestandfest.com
Tim Carpenter seemed unstoppable. He was part of the WarIsACrime website from day 1, when its name was AfterDowningStreet. He was part of activism in this country from long before that. He was an organizer, a lobbyist, a rabble rouser, and a talker. The cell phone never left his ear, but that didn't prevent him talking to you in person, and getting in more words per minute -- and all of them right to the point -- than an auctioneer. His emails were shorter, often a few words, or a single word. Often that word was "Teamwork!" But they made up for brevity in the sheer number of them. If anyone could make the current U.S. system of government work by combining electioneering and lobbying with street demonstrations, it was going to be Tim -- and sometimes he did, sometimes he nudged things in the right direction. I came to the conclusion sometime back that the system needed far more radical repairs, and that the catalyst would have to come from outside of it. But if there were 2 or 3 or 4 more Tim Carpenters in this country, I'd be willing to reconsider. And if they were healthy, I'd be willing to bet the farm on them. Tim struggled with health issues that would have sidelined lesser souls, and did so without slowing down. It's hard to believe he really left us today, not just because of the presence he was, but because he seemed to have nine lives. Let's hope the movements he advanced for peace and justice prove as resilient, and that they can be carried on, in whatever form becomes most strategic, in his memory.
So the United States wants to buy hemp from the Ukraine. I suppose we should be happy. Anytime the U.S. government gives a country money that is not earmarked for weapons, we probably shouldn't too closely examine the unelected neo-liberals and neo-Nazis handling the cash. Nobody pays attention to the Saudi government or the oil, wars, and terrorism it provides in exchange for U.S. largesse.
Of course if the hemp buy is part of a larger package deal that impoverishes the Ukraine for the benefit of Western plutocrats, gets NATO's nose under the door, threatens Russia, and encourages the NED to hire the companies that name paint colors in hopes of finding unique names for all the revolutions it's going to plan next, we may want to oppose the whole package.
But isn't the precedent of connecting U.S. foreign policy in any way to a substance that benefits, rather than destroys, the environment of potentially great value? While buying hemp abroad might be a move against permitting the production of hemp at home, won't it just further fuel the argument that it's insane to make U.S. companies import a raw material that they could much more cheaply grow (while creating jobs, restoring soil, slowing climate change, and garnering some 478 other benefits of hemp)?
Or is insanity just not that big a concern? Jon Walker has a book out called After Legalization. And there's a book called Hemp Bound by Doug Fine. These guys are convinced that marijuana and hemp are both about to be legalized in the United States. One of their arguments is that doing so has majority support -- and support, they stress, from across the political spectrum (Fine can't quote anybody without emphasizing that the person is NOT A HIPPIE). "Since when do 80% of Americans agree on anything, as they do that the drug war is a failure?" asks Fine.
Well, let me count the ways. I've been referring for years to this fine collection of polls: http://YesMagazine.org/purpleagenda In fact, 80% in the U.S. believe their government is broken, and I suspect they do so in part because so often their government ignores the will of 80% of the country, be it on ceasing to threaten Iran, investing more in green energy or education, or holding bankers to the rule of law. Eighty percent and more usually support restoring money to the minimum wage, as it continues to plummet. Ninety percent want higher fuel efficiency standards. Eighty percent would ban weapons in space, enforce laws against torture, strengthen the United Nations, reduce the power and influence of big corporations, restore voting rights for ex-felons, create a justice system that does rehabilitation, allow immigrants to apply for citizenship, etc., etc. Never mind the countless sane and important policies supported by 75% or 68% or 52% -- which damn well ought to be enough once in a while but almost never is.
Walker says the difference is that pot doesn't have any enemies. Fine writes as if he expects no enemies either. And yet, Fine refers repeatedly to the great damage hemp will do to oil companies and even to the war machine. Now, I don't know to what extent there's truth behind the supposition that major corporate interests favored the banning of marijuana and hemp, as they had favored the banning of alcohol (they certainly benefitted from its being banned and remaining banned), but we know the oil companies killed public transit and the electric car and the Gulf of Mexico. These are not lightweights when it comes to amoral short-term struggles. And you can add to them the petrochemical, plastics, timber, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical drug companies, as well as the herbicide companies (hemp doesn't require any), the agribusinesses currently subsidized, and -- last but not least -- the urine testing, property seizure, police and prison industries -- including the prison guard unions. Oh and let's not neglect the State Department that wants to buy hemp from abroad as carrots for austerity schemes, and the foreign nations from whom the hemp is bought. Who in their right mind would put sanity up against that whole crowd? I'm not even counting people too ignorant to distinguish hemp from marijuana, or who think marijuana kills you, or whom Jesus told pot comes from the devil.
Of course, I hope we will legalize hemp immediately (I mean nationally, I'm aware of the steps many states are taking). It's just going to require a great deal of effort, I'm afraid.
Then there's another worry. Will marijuana and hemp be legalized but monopolized, corporatized, and Wal-Martized? Walker says pot won't be because nobody would buy it. Fine says the same of hemp, and that the U.S. should ban GMO hemp from the start, as Canada has done -- as if banning GMO anything in the U.S. were as easy as passing a billion-dollar subsidy for a space weapon that threatens Iran, weakens the U.N., makes us dumber, and damages the atmosphere. For hemp to sell, Fine writes, it has to keep a positive image that includes "a quest for world peace" -- which I take to mean more quoting Nobel laureates on packaging than funding the peace movement. But who's going to know it's GMO if labeling on such points is banned?
Legalization is entirely doable, and the pressures in its favor are indeed likely to grow, but it's going to require huge public pressure. Where books like Walker's and Fine's are most helpful is informing that little snippet of the public that reads books of the incredible benefits to be gained. Hemp is apparently the healthiest food on earth, both for feeding people and for feeding farm animals whom people eat or from which people eat the eggs or drink the milk. The same crop of hemp can, if all goes well, produce material stronger than steel or softer than cotton. And the same crop can, in theory, produce a third thing at the same time, from yet another part of the plant: fuel. You can build your tractor out of hemp, fuel it with hemp, and use it to harvest hemp -- hemp that is busy restoring your soil, preventing erosion, and surviving the drought and climate change. You can do this while eating and drinking hemp and wearing clothes made of hemp and washed with hemp in your house also made of hemp and lime -- a house that sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. (The list of products and benefits is endless. One that Fine cites is body armor, although how that fits into the quest for world peace is not clear.)
I'm not a fan of devoting acres needed for food production to fuel production, but a crop that produces both fuel and food (and building materials) -- if it really can do all that at once -- might alter the calculation. Biofuel aside, hemp has more than enough benefits to start investing in it right now, if sanity were on the table. Take the U.S. troops stationed in 175 countries and reduce that total by 5 countries per year. Instead, buy those countries' hemp AND invest billions in our own (hire the former troops to grow it). It's win-win-win, except for whichever profiteers have their interests in the wrong place. Watch out for them.
A wave of action is coming on April 4th, the date they killed MLK, the date Cindy Sheehan lost her son, the date cherry blossoms and resisters to fascism begin to show after an endless winter of many, many years. Take a look at https://waveofaction.org
Electing a different president six years ago was not a partial step, a failed attempt, a warm-up round. It was a halftime show of circus clowns and cheerleaders. The partial step, the failed attempt, the warm up, the ground work, the base of experience and training and testing was Occupy.
And what's happened since? We've learned more about how close Occupy came to shifting the balance. We've learned more about how scared the bankers and the warmongers and their servants in the unconstitutional police-state acronym crowd were (the FBI-DHS-CIA-NSA-SOBs). We've learned about the plans in Houston to murder Occupiers. We've learned about the infiltration, the instigation, the expropriation. We've looked back at the counterproductive results of tolerating a bit of violence on the side of justice and peace. We've marveled at the mistake of calling violence inclusiveness and tolerance. We've wondered at the humor, heroism, and effectiveness of nonviolent creative action.
The movement has grown, indoors, online, and off the radar. It's developed strategies for taking on debt and homelessness and war. Awareness has grown, education has spread, and ideas have sunk in. People now know that we can't lift up the poor without pulling down the plutocrats. It's understood that we can have democracy or billionaires, not both. The notion of shifting priorities is even making headway; behind the screaming of "no cuts!" and "less spending!" there's a steady, rising voice -- ebbing and flowing like the ocean -- insisting that we can move the money from the military and the oil corporations and the bankers to green energy and schools and trains and parks and actual aid to everyone on earth, with plenty of tax cuts to spare.
"The country is broke" is understood as a lie on the scale of "the Defense Department makes us safer" or "the marketplace benefits us all" or "this weather is part of normal cycles" or "the corporate media is independent of the government" or "the government is independent of the corporations."
When public pressure stopped missiles into Syria in September the educational work of years and years was paying off. When public pressure helped stop new sanctions and war momentum against Iran in February, a new pattern was developing. When Obama began this week at least pretending to turn against the NSA he'd been defending for months, a crack opened up in a wall of unaccountable abuses. Opportunities are opening up all around us. Students are taking on Israeli crimes. Towns are taking on fossil fuel fanaticism. Parents on taking on corporate-educationism.
A new Occupy should have crowds of DiFi masks (the one person Senator Dianne Feinstein objects to spying on). A new Occupy should hold joint events in the United States and Russia demanding peace from both governments, nuclear disarmament, and investment of those nuclear dollars in defense against real threats, like climate change, disease, and guns.
Things are not getting better. The earth is dying. Weapons sales are skyrocketing. Russia and China are being groomed as new enemies. Real healthcare reform remains almost incomprehensible to millions who need it. Pay Day loans are growing at the rate that prison terms for profiteers ought to be. But resistance to the downward slide is growing as well. Whistleblowers are appearing. Courage is catching and spreading. States are setting up conversion and transition plans. Obamahopium is wearing off without Hillareoin taking hold.
If there was ever a moment to put survival and well-being ahead of politeness and obedience, this is that moment. The weather is right. The climate is right. The experience is fresh, but the participants rested. April 4th is opening day. Will you throw out the first pitch in your town? Will you do it now? Will you re-occupy everything and never give it back? Find an event, create an event, or enliven an event near you or far from you: https://waveofaction.org
This is not for show this time. This is not to send a message. This is not to make a few friends. This is to make millions of friends. This is to change the course of our culture. This is the big leagues. Rest up. Get ready. Know your power.
I've been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves. Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.
I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent. I don't think the "because chickenhawks" dissent found, for example, in John Horgan's "The End of War" is sufficient. That is to say, just because a politician doesn't want to do the killing himself or herself doesn't mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn't heartless and calculating. Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.
But are they?
When I look at national politicians in the United States -- presidents and Congress members -- I can't identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other. They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences. They all make bad compromises. There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum. They all fund the largest killing machine in history. The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget. Some support wars on "humanitarian" and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way.
The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies. Or at least that's true much of the time on many issues. Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience. Senator Dianne Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it's turned against her. Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam. Weren't four million people killed there? Didn't many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones? Shouldn't we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder? In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable -- and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.
The spectrum of morality in our elected officials ranges from those who often indicate their concern and their desire to help if their own careers won't suffer in any way, to those who take tentative stands for peace or justice if their own family is impacted, to those who talk a good line and always act against it, and all the way over to those who don't even put up a pretense. But all of this is within a culture where we routinely discuss the supposed need to "humanize" humans. That is to say, we teach each other that foreigners are made more human when we see their photos and learn their names and stories and the stories of their loved ones in some trivial detail -- as if we are supposed to imagine that people don't have names or quirks or loved ones until we get a specific account of those things.
When it was revealed that a bunch of TV news guest experts on war were actually getting their talking points from the Pentagon, there was no way to watch the videos and distinguish the corrupt pundits from the truly independent ones. They all talked the same. The mercenary fraudsters fit right in. It's the same with any sociopaths in Congress. They may be there, but how could one possibly spot the difference?
Kall raises the question of why people enjoy watching shows about sociopaths such as "House of Cards," and speculates that people admire sociopaths' ability to stay calm in crises, to express confidence, to project charisma, and to dominate and manipulate others. That's probably right. And such shows spread sociopathy by example. But there's also the function such shows serve of explaining (accurately or not) why our government is so bad. There's also the joy of hoping against hope that Vice President Underwood will land in prison where so many of his real-life colleagues belong. But watch the real-life "journalists" playing themselves on fictional TV interviews in these shows. They clearly don't imagine themselves as having any value that can be lost by such charades. Watch the advertisements for which many TV shows are filler, and you'll see politicians routinely describing their opponents as behaving sociopathically.
Some experts believe sociopaths make the best CEOs of large corporations. Everybody else recognizes that the CEOs of large corporations are given incentives to behave immorally, regardless of whether it impacts them emotionally in a typical manner or not. Also encouraged to behave immorally are presidents and Congress members.
Well-designed governments encourage good behavior and bar against the potential for evil. They treat 100% -- not 2% or 10% or 80% -- of elected officials as potential psychopaths. Elections are made open and verifiable. Bribery is forbidden. Powers are checked and balanced. Abuses are exposed and punished. Secrecy is curtailed and openness required. War powers are placed in a legislature or the public, or war abolished. Standing armies are disbanded. Profiteering and other conflicts of interest are avoided. Adversarial journalism is encouraged. Our government, in contrast, treats every elected official as a saint capable of overcoming all kinds of bribery and pressure to misbehave, while our culture encourages them and the rest of us to be anything but.
Many agree that we should reform our government, but is something else needed to handle the threat of sociopaths, in public and private life alike? Kall wants sociopaths to be identified and prevented from doing damage. He wants them treated as alleged sex offenders are, despite the horrible failings of that approach and the much greater difficulty in identifying who is and who is not a sociopath. Kall goes further, suggesting sterilization. He writes that he would have happily shot and killed Nazis; and in the next breath lists billionaire Americans he considers parasites -- later reassuring us that he doesn't want to kill them.
The identification process is not clear cut. Sociopathy seems to be something of a matter of degree, with some small degree reaching all of us. We allowed our government to destroy Iraq, killing some million people and making millions more refugees, and we talk about that war in terms of how many Americans were killed and how many dollars it cost, as if Iraq doesn't matter at all. Or we talk about the military investment that will generate more wars as if it were a jobs program. That behavior looks like sociopathy to others.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the quintessential non-sociopath on Capitol Hill, the one member who voted against launching the past dozen years of wars. But I was once in a room with her and other progressive members of Congress, relatively early in the Bush-Cheney rampage, proposing that impeachment be begun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed opening an effort to impeach Vice President Cheney. Excitement gripped us. For an instant a few of us could imagine Congress pushing back against the lawlessness that has rolled on unimpeded to this day. And then Congresswoman Lee spoke up and said nobody had better do anything without getting approval from John Conyers. And that was that. Not sociopathy. But not pure principled morality either.
Studying the phenomenon of extreme cases at the other end of the spectrum from Rep. Lee is certainly desirable. What makes John McCain or Hillary Clinton tick? How could Dick Cheney contemplate ordering Americans to attack each other in the Straight of Hormuz in order to blame it on Iran and start a war? How could George W. Bush laugh off his lies about Iraq and claim it didn't matter? How could he proudly declare he would waterboard people again if given the chance? How could Barack Obama go to Copenhagen and intentionally and maliciously block any serious agreement to confront climate change? How could he pretend to know that Gadaffi was going to slaughter Benghazians or that Assad used chemical weapons, when evidence has emerged that he couldn't possibly have known any such things?
But if there have always been sociopaths everywhere, why are some societies doing more evil than others? Has the 95% of humanity that is currently investing dramatically less in war than the United States, identified and controlled its sociopaths? Or have they, rather, created less evil paths to power and influence? If a sociopath wants power and influence, why not give him or her a system in which good behavior is rewarded? In 1928 Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, who cared not a damn for peace, worked night and day for the peace treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact because he saw rewards in that direction and told his wife he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Had power lain in the direction of war-making, that's the direction Kellogg would have headed. If sociopaths make great propagandists, why not train better critical thinkers to see through the lies? Mentally healthy or not, our Congress members are holding off on bombing Syria or Iran because we've rejected the idea that doing so would improve things.
There is a danger, I think, in focusing on sociopaths' existence as the problem, of developing a cure as bad as the disease. Identifying a group of people to be targeted for discrimination, eugenics, imprisonment, or death seems like the habit of a culture that is itself more of a problem than are the genes of a small minority within it likely to be. What kind of a culture would produce such an idea? A sick one, I believe.
I agree with Kall that billionaires can be identified and their billions re-claimed. Excellent proposal! But not every immoral decider is a billionaire. Nor do I find it likely that every politician who promotes some evil practice can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath. Wouldn't it be easier to identify evil politicians by their evil deeds? What would be gained by identifying them instead as the sort of people likely to do something evil, and giving that category of people a scientific name? If an elected official fails to protect the environment, fails to advance peace and justice, fails to deal honestly and fairly with the people, he or she should be held accountable. If recognizing that such a person's emotions may not be functioning like ours helps us to reach them with our demands, terrific. But if it prevents us from reaching their emotions in a way that we might have, and from communicating our views more widely in the process, then it's hurting the cause of justice.
It's not as if we can't recognize the sociopaths coming. Molly Ivins warned us about Bush. He lost his election. Twice. Many of us warned about Obama. Twice. But Bush wasn't born destined to engage in extraordinary renditions. Obama wasn't born destined to drone-kill children on Tuesdays. Our entire system moves in that direction. Bush and Obama should be prosecuted and imprisoned, along with many of their colleagues -- as a step toward fixing the system. But their bodies shouldn't be studied for clues about whom to sterilize. Only a political culture already itself sterilized would think that was the solution.
We discuss this article: "Ukraine: the Enemy of Your Enemy is Not Always Your Friend," with its author Zoltan Grossman. Dr. Zoltán Grossman is a political-cultural geographer who teaches at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, focusing on topics of interethnic conflict and cooperation. He has taught courses on Central and Eastern Europe, and is a son of Hungarian immigrants. His faculty website is http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz and email is email@example.com
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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