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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.

The Awesome Samaritan

And, behold, a certain debate moderator stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

And he said unto him, Thou hast made this stuff up. There thou goest again.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his ankles and wrists, gagged his mouth, threw him in the Humvee and brought him to a forward operating base.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out a box of $100 bills, and gave them to the commanding officer, and said unto him, Take care of him and take care of him real good, I assume he has not yet been permitted to sleep, and if he comes clean, if he proves himself a Christian, if he's never supported terrorism, if he can recite the U.S. Constitution, and if he understands that any children born unto him within the United States of America will never become citizens, then when I return we will welcome him into a refugee screening program over the next 18 months that I'm having put on hold for 10 years.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed great cowardice, brutality, and absolutely no pity on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Mayor of Roanoke Va. Shows Off Ignorance and Bigotry

This statement by the Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, surely takes the prize for government-sanctioned ignorance and bigotry in 2015.

Is he aware that comparing World War II participating armies to a group like ISIS is ridiculous, that World War II killed upwards of 50 million people, primarily through the activities of the largest, wealthiest militaries on earth?

Is he aware that the United States was forced to apologize for and pay reparations to the victims of the internment camps used against Japanese Americans?

Is he aware that the blatantly illegal and anti-democratic discrimination he is encouraging can easily lead to very ugly places?

If Mayor Bowers is waking up in a sweat fearful of Syrian toddlers, perhaps he shouldn't be Mayor of Roanoke. After all, one stands a much greater chance of dying at the hands of local police, health insurance companies, fast food restaurants, one's own automobile travel, environmental pollution, cigarette marketers, a lightning strike, a fall down the stairs, or accidentally bumping into the hard head of a mayor than as a result of admitting refugees.

The United States screens all refugees before they even come to the United States, while those refugees have no equal right to screen their future neighbors or mayors.

Between 1945 and 1952, the United States accepted 400,000 displaced persons from Nazi controlled areas of Europe, after having shamefully turned away Jewish refugees before the war.

Between 1970 and the fall of the U.S.S.R in 1991, the United States accepted over 200,000 Jews to the United States from the Soviet Union -- which had a slightly larger military force than ISIS.

The U.S. accepted 19,000 refugees from Iraq last year and 784,000 from around the world since Sept. 11, 2001.

The French understand that the attackers there were not refugees, and France has announced that it will take in 30,000 more refugees in need of help.

The ethnic, religious, and racial fear-mongering bigotry at work around the United States on this issue at the moment is ironic in the extreme, given what the central teachings of Christians were before they became "Keep Out the Muslims."

Forgive our politicians, world. They know not what they do.

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

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Why Allen Dulles Killed the Kennedys

By now there's not nearly as much disagreement regarding what happened to John and Robert Kennedy as major communications corporations would have you believe. While every researcher and author highlights different details, there isn't any serious disagreement among, say, Jim Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable, Howard Hunt's deathbed confession, and David Talbot's new The Devil's Chessboard.

Jon Schwarz says The Devil's Chessboard confirms that "your darkest suspicions about how the world operates are likely an underestimate. Yes, there is an amorphous group of unelected corporate lawyers, bankers, and intelligence and military officials who form an American 'deep state,' setting real limits on the rare politicians who ever try to get out of line."

For those of us who were already convinced of that up to our eyeballs, Talbot's book is still one of the best I've seen on the Dulles brothers and one of the best I've seen on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Where it differs from Douglass' book, I think, is not so much in the evidence it relates or the conclusions it draws, but in providing an additional motivation for the crime.

JFK and the Unspeakable depicts Kennedy as getting in the way of the violence that Allen Dulles and gang wished to engage in abroad. He wouldn't fight Cuba or the Soviet Union or Vietnam or East Germany or independence movements in Africa. He wanted disarmament and peace. He was talking cooperatively with Khrushchev, as Eisenhower had tried prior to the U2-shootdown sabotage. The CIA was overthrowing governments in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Vietnam, and around the world. Kennedy was getting in the way.

The Devil's Chessboard depicts Kennedy, in addition, as himself being the sort of leader the CIA was in the habit of overthrowing in those foreign capitals. Kennedy had made enemies of bankers and industrialists. He was working to shrink oil profits by closing tax loopholes, including the "oil depletion allowance." He was permitting the political left in Italy to participate in power, outraging the extreme right in Italy, the U.S., and the CIA. He aggressively went after steel corporations and prevented their price hikes. This was the sort of behavior that could get you overthrown if you lived in one of those countries with a U.S. embassy in it.

Yes, Kennedy wanted to eliminate or drastically weaken and rename the CIA. Yes he threw Dulles and some of his gang out the door. Yes he refused to launch World War III over Cuba or Berlin or anything else. Yes he had the generals and warmongers against him, but he also had Wall Street against him.

Of course "politicians who ever try to get out of line" are now, as then, but more effectively now, handled first by the media. If the media can stop them or some other maneuver can stop them (character assassination, blackmail, distraction, removal from power) then violence isn't required.

The fact that Kennedy resembled a coup target, not just a protector of other targets, would be bad news for someone like Senator Bernie Sanders if he ever got past the media, the "super delegates," and the sell-out organizations to seriously threaten to take the White House. A candidate who accepts the war machine to a great extent and resembles Kennedy not at all on questions of peace, but who takes on Wall Street with the passion it deserves, could place himself as much in the cross-hairs of the deep state as a Jeremy Corbyn who takes on both capital and killing.

Accounts of the escapades of Allen Dulles, and the dozen or more partners in crime whose names crop up beside his decade after decade, illustrate the power of a permanent plutocracy, but also the power of particular individuals to shape it. What if Allen Dulles and Winston Churchill and others like them hadn't worked to start the Cold War even before World War II was over? What if Dulles hadn't collaborated with Nazis and the U.S. military hadn't recruited and imported so many of them into its ranks? What if Dulles hadn't worked to hide information about the holocaust while it was underway? What if Dulles hadn't betrayed Roosevelt and Russia to make a separate U.S. peace with Germany in Italy?  What if Dulles hadn't begun sabotaging democracy in Europe immediately and empowering former Nazis in Germany? What if Dulles hadn't turned the CIA into a secret lawless army and death squad? What if Dulles hadn't worked to end Iran's democracy, or Guatemala's? What if Dulles' CIA hadn't developed torture, rendition, human experimentation, and murder as routine policies? What if Eisenhower had been permitted to talk with Khrushchev? What if Dulles hadn't tried to overthrow the President of France? What if Dulles had been "checked" or "balanced" ever so slightly by the media or Congress or the courts along the way?

These are tougher questions than "What if there had been no Lee Harvey Oswald?" The answer to that is, "There would have been another guy very similar to serve the same purpose, just as there had been in the earlier attempt on JFK in Chicago. But "What if there had been no Allen Dulles?" looms large enough to suggest the possible answer that we would all be better off, less militarized, less secretive, less xenophobic. And that suggests that the deep state is not uniform and not unstoppable. Talbot's powerful history is a contribution to the effort to stop it.

I hope Talbot speaks about his book in Virginia, after which he might stop saying that Williamsburg and the CIA's "farm" are in "Northern Virginia." Hasn't Northern Virginia got enough to be ashamed of without that?

The TPP: You, Me, Everyone Else, Against the Media

The proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a test of whether the people of the United States can communicate something critically important to each other that the major media corporations do not want communicated.

For years I've joined with others in quoting people like former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to the effect that if the text of the TPP were shown to the public, that would be the end of it, because it's just so awful.

But now that the text has finally been made public, certain questionable assumptions loom large, such as that the public will read the text of the TPP and understand it, or that someone will read the text of the TPP and tell the public what it says, and be believed.

The role of communicating what's wrong with the TPP cannot be left to the major corporate media. You can, for example, check out NPR, or Reuters, or the Washington Post, and come away completely uninspired by the importance of stopping the TPP, and generally unenlightened about what's in it. Articles with "Here Are the Details" headlines provide very few details, drop a few hints, and focus on "he said - she said" coverage of who likes the TPP and who doesn't rather than any credible communication of who is right and what the TPP actually has in it.

The full text was made available here, but the site is sometimes down for "maintenance" including outside the hours that it says it will be (and at least the main text of it can be searched here - the page states that the annexes cannot be searched but they show up in the results anyway). The text is also posted here in sections with lots of U.S. flags. The text is here or here in PDFs. Very helpful analysis by Public Citizen is here and here.

The trouble is that the TPP is longer and more boring than a presidential debate, with each section prefaced by pages of definitions, acronyms, unenforceable rhetoric, references to other sections, etc. -- much of it apparently put there purely for obfuscation. So, here's an attempt to communicate what appear, based on trying to read the darn thing and reading the analyses of experts, to be some of the key points:

Under the TPP, corporations will be able to appeal the laws of nations to 3-member panels of arbitrators, with one arbitrator chosen by them and a second agreed to by both them and the nation whose laws they are seeking to overturn. See the chapter on "investment," for how this works. It means that a foreign oil or mining corporation, for example, could overrule a U.S. environmental law by appealing to 2 out of 3 corporate lawyers on a secret panel.

The TPP puts a large number of disastrous policies in place without waiting for corporate arbitration. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy would be required to approve any applications to export liquefied "natural" gas -- meaning more fracking, more destruction of the earth's climate, more profits for those who've been writing this treaty in secret for years, but not more sustainability, environmental protection, or even U.S. energy "independence."

The TPP would lower U.S. tariffs to zero while keeping Vietnam's, for example, in place, which -- along with no meaningful or enforceable labor standards -- will encourage U.S. corporations to move even more jobs abroad to low-wage and even slave labor. The Obama Administration reported on slavery in Malaysia, then altered Malaysia's ranking in order to allow its participation in the TPP. This race to the bottom would lower U.S. wages without encouraging better practices abroad.

"According to an initial analysis published in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. market access concessions alone will increase the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods and autos and auto parts by more than $55 billion dollars resulting in the loss of more than 330,000 jobs." --Public Citizen

The TPP could require the United States to import food that doesn't meet U.S. safety standards. Any U.S. food safety rule on pesticides, labeling, or additives that is higher than international standards could be challenged as an "illegal trade barrier."

The TPP would threaten provisions included in Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans' health programs to make medicines more affordable, as well as domestic patent and drug-pricing laws.

The TPP is broader and more encompassing than NAFTA, and weakens rather than strengthening NAFTA's weak protections for labor and the environment. Barack Obama campaigned on substantially reforming NAFTA in those regards. Instead, he's now proposing the worst of NAFTA on steroids.

What can be done?

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Are Republicans Evil?

Andrew Bard Schmookler's new book is called What We're Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World -- And How We Can Defeat It. I'll spare you some suspense; the evil force he has in mind is the Republican Party. Here's a video of a speech the author gave when he was running for Congress as a Democrat in a district gerrymandered Republican. As in the book, Schmookler calls out Republicans in the speech as promoting an unprecedented evil force in U.S. culture.

He has in mind wars, torture, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, promotion of plutocracy, defense of gun proliferation, widespread dishonesty, and the valuing of partisanship above all else. Republican cap-and-trade is denounced by Republicans as socialism. Corporate healthcare schemes developed by Republicans are attacked as death panels, once they're advanced by a Democrat.

Schmookler traces the problem to the joining of racism and corporatism in a single political party since the civil rights movement, to the growth of corporatism, and to the ability of affluent people working short hours to get into trouble. I find the last point unconvincing, as so many countries have greater economic security, shorter working hours, and less crazed rightwing politics than the United States.

In fact, I'm unconvinced by much of the book, including the conflation of general cultural trends with a political party. I don't accept the author's contention that the United States is more important than the rest of the world. I'm not persuaded by his demand for a "war" against the evil Republican force (even as his complaints with Republicans include their having turned politics into a "war" and their having waged actual wars). I find little value in all the mythologizing of the "founding fathers" and past actual wars. As for the endless Good-versus-Evil talk, if it gets some people off their butts I'm fine with it, but I'm more interested in the case for the evil of the Republicans that motivated this book than in the 90% of the book that consists of pondering the nature of "good" and "evil."

Are U.S. politics, culture, and the Republican party more evil than ever before? Or just more passionately partisan? Well, I don't know about ever before. This is a country built on slavery and genocide as mainstream acceptable institutions. But certainly the Republican Party has moved rightward in the past 40 years, and many have said, like Lincoln Chafee in the recent debate, that they didn't leave the party, it left them. Others have stuck with the party and left behind basic standards of decency, integrity, fairness, and toleration.

I give a lot more blame to major media outlets, which get the barest mention by Schmookler. I don't think blaming propagandized people is exactly blaming the victims, and Schmookler does point out that people choose to consume the worst media. But the Republican Party would be nothing without the media, the educational institutions, and the wider cultural trends that overlap with its agenda. Neither would the Democratic Party.

I also think Schmookler misses some major trends that have very little to do with partisanship. One is the planet's destruction as a process that has advanced over the decades and centuries. We haven't become more destructive so much as we have become more numerous and -- even more so -- we're simply living in a time that must face up to many years of past destructive behavior. Similarly, many white Americans have not exactly become more racist, they're simply living in an age in which the demographics of the United States are turning them into a minority -- something their pre-existing racism views as a problem.

Then there's war, which has so permeated our culture that Schmookler praises real and metaphorical wars even while lamenting both real and metaphorical wars. He dislikes torture, not murder. He's upset by Republican wars, but Obama's drone murders don't cause any concern. The toxic impact of war on U.S. culture, including in a rise of mass-shootings, is not considered. We have a country very well trained in despising other groups, through its collective disvaluing of 96% of humanity (something Schmookler promotes in his Introduction). We have racism and violence and the erosion of civil liberties imported from distant U.S. wars, and we're not supposed to see that trend as contributing to current evil?

I think part of the trouble in seeing the evil of militarism is that it's bipartisan. It brings peace and harmony to the halls of Congress. When we imagine that bickering in Washington is a more serious problem than, say, the death of the oceans or the slaughter of Yemeni children, that little item known as military spending that eats up over half of Congressional spending every year, has to be set aside as an exception to the important trend of partisan conflict.

Are Schmookler and the millions who agree with him right that the Republicans are evil, while the Democrats are good but weak? Up to a point perhaps. I think the author's desire for the United States to "lead" the world is part of the problem. I think it's just dumb to claim that U.S. torture programs are unprecedented or a political party in the United States opposing science is unprecedented. I think it's simplistic to claim the Republicans are always wrong and the Democrats always right. What about when partisanship overcomes even militarism and Republicans oppose President Obama's proposed bombing of Syria (in 2013)? I think it's a straw man to argue that the two parties aren't working together in a pretense of opposing each other. Democrats don't pretend to more populist and progressive positions as part of a Republican plot, but in order to please voters (and themselves) while actually serving funders and insiders.

I think the danger, although Schmookler does not intend this, in literally urging us to think like Star Wars movies in terms of good and evil forces, and in claiming that an evil force started the war on Iraq, is that we miss individual agency. Bush started that war. Many helped. Chafee, for example, didn't. If we blame a force we may end up blaming millions of people who call themselves Republicans, many of whom could be talked out of supporting the next war in 30-minutes of television-free conversation.

I think the value in screaming at the top of one's voice for 250 pages that there is a serious goddamned threat, and it isn't coming from Iran or Russia but from the rightwing madness of Washington, D.C., can hardly be overstated. If calls to metaphorical arms to rise up and denounce Good Americanism before it's too late might move you to become active in working for peace, justice, and moral decency, then please read this book.

Why I Oppose the Genocide Prevention Act

Only a non-patriot or someone with a bit of respect for the Bill of Rights would have opposed the Patriot Act.

Only a child-hater or someone with a bit of respect for public education would have opposed the No Child Left Behind Act.

And only a genocide-supporter or someone who's fed up with endless aggressive foreign wars would oppose the forthcoming Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act from Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Names can be deceiving, even when supporters of bills and of those bills' names have the best of intentions. Who wouldn't like to prevent genocide and atrocities, after all? I'm of the opinion that I support many measures that would help to do just that.

When the Pope told Congress to end the arms trade, and they gave him a standing ovation, I didn't begin holding my breath for them to actually act on those words. But I've long advocated it. The United States supplies more weapons to the world than anyone else, including three-quarters of the weapons to the Middle East and three-quarters of the weapons to poor countries (actually 79% in both cases in the most recent reports from the Congressional Research Service; it may be higher now). I'm in favor of cutting off the arms trade globally, and the United States could lead that effort by example and by treaty agreement.

Most genocides are the products of wars. The Rwandan genocide followed years of U.S.-supported war-making, and was permitted by President Bill Clinton because he favored the rise to power of Paul Kagame. Policies aimed at preventing that genocide would have included refraining from backing the Ugandan war, refraining from supporting the assassin of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, providing actual humanitarian aid, and -- in a crisis -- providing peaceworkers. Never was there a need for the bombs that have fallen in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere on the grounds that we must not again fail to bomb Rwanda.

Genocidal actions, and similarly murderous actions that don't fit the genocide definition, occur around the world and are recognized by the United States as genocide or unacceptable, or not, based on the standing of the guilty party with the U.S. government. Saudi Arabia is, of course, not committing genocide in Yemen where it is bombing children with U.S. bombs. But the slightest pretext is sufficient to suggest that Gadaffi or Putin is threatening genocide. And, of course, the United States' own decades-long slaughter of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere cannot be genocide because the United States is doing it.

Global standards should be maintained by global bodies, but even I would not complain about the U.S. government appointing itself genocide preventer if it (1) ceased engaging in genocide, (2) ceased providing weapons of mass murder, and (3) engaged in only non-violent attempts to prevent genocide -- that is to say, genocide-free genocide prevention. What we know about Senator Cardin's bill, in addition to its sponsorship by a reliable war-supporter like Cardin, suggests that one of the tools to be used against "genocide" would be the tool that dominates the U.S. government's budget and bureaucracy whenever it is included, namely the military.

"The Act will make it national policy:

"1. to prevent mass atrocities and genocide as both a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility;"

Why both? Why isn't a moral responsibility good enough? Why did the Department of Justice argue for the legality of bombing Libya on the ridiculous grounds that the safety of the United States was endangered by not doing so? Why throw "national security" into a list of reasons to try to prevent mass-murder in some distant land? Why? Because it becomes an excuse, even a quasi-legal justification, for war.

"2. to mitigate the threats to United States security by preventing the root causes of insecurity, including masses of civilians being slaughtered, refugees flowing across borders, and violence wreaking havoc on regional stability and livelihood;"

But to do this, the United States would have to stop slaughtering masses of civilians and overthrowing governments, rather than use the disasters created by its own or others' war-making as a justification for more war-making. And what the hell happened to "moral responsibility"? By point #2 it's already so long forgotten that we're supposed to object to masses of civilians being slaughtered purely because that is somehow a "threat to United States security." Of course, in reality mass slaughter tends to generate anti-U.S. violence when the U.S. does the slaughtering, not otherwise.

"3. to enhance its capacity to prevent and address mass atrocities and violent conflict as part of its humanitarian and strategic interests;"

Terms begin to blur, edges fade. Now it's not just "genocide" that justifies more war-making, but even "violent conflict." And it's not just preventing it, but "addressing" it. And how does the world's greatest purveyor of violence tend to "address" "violent conflict"? If you don't know that one yet, Senator Cardin would like to invite you to move to Maryland and vote for him.

Something else snuck in here as well. In addition to "humanitarian interests," the United States can act on its "strategic interests," which are of course not the interests of the U.S. public but the interests of, for example, the oil companies that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was so concerned for when she pushed for bombing Libya, as seen in the emails that we're supposed to be upset about for something other than their content.

"4. to work to create a government-wide strategy to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities:
A. by strengthening diplomatic, early warning, and conflict prevention and mitigation capacities;
B. by improving the use of foreign assistance to respond early and effectively to address the root causes and drivers of violence;
C. by supporting international atrocities prevention, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding mechanisms; and
D. by supporting local civil society, including peacebuilders, human rights defenders, and others who are working to help prevent and respond to atrocities; and"

"Government-wide"? Let's recall which bit of the government sucks down 54% of federal discretionary spending. Sub-points A through D look excellent, of course, or would were this not the U.S. government and all of the U.S. government we're talking about.

"5. to employ a variety of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral means to respond to international conflicts and mass atrocities, by placing a high priority on timely, preventive diplomatic efforts and exercising a leadership role in promoting international efforts to end crises peacefully."

If that sort of language were sincere, Cardin could demonstrate it and win me over by simply adding:

6. This will all be done nonviolently.


6. Nothing in this act is intended to suggest the privilege to violate either the United Nations Charter or the Kellogg-Briand Pact as these treaties are part of the Supreme Law of the Land under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

A harmless little addition like that would win me right over.

U.S. Government Decides Voting Is Less Important Than a Military Draft

I know what you're thinking. There is no draft. There hasn't been a draft in decades. They'd let entire Central American nations immigrate, pay recruits six-figure salaries, and let robots fly the drones before they'd create a draft. Crackpot Congress members only bring up a draft as a supposed bank-shot maneuver for ending all the damn wars. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Your government has nonetheless decided that registering men for a possible draft (whether they like it or not, and even though nobody believes there will ever be a draft) is far more important than allowing them to register to vote.

And not just the U.S. government, but most of the 50 state governments have chosen this priority.

Don't take it from me, look at the numbers. If you're male and you get a driver's license in any of these places, you're signed up automatically with, or you're given the option to sign up automatically with, or -- in most cases -- you're required to sign up with the Selective Service System: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.

Also Maryland enacted driver's license legislation in 2002, but has not yet implemented it.

This is a work in progress. Some states have yet to climb on board. It's a bit of extra work for state and federal governments, but the technology is pretty simple, and they clearly consider it worth the effort to spread awareness that all men might have to kill on behalf of some war crazed president or Congress, and that -- as the SSS website says -- "It's What a Man's Got to Do. It's quick, it's easy, it's the Law."

Actually it's against any number of laws, including protections of conscientious objectors (you're not offered any choice of that when the process is automated), and including obviously the laws against war -- the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the U.N. Charter.

But what does this have to do with voting? Ruining Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or Yemen in the name of "democracy" isn't exactly about voting in the United States, is it?

Well here's the deal. Two states -- two (2), count 'em, TWO -- have just made voter registration as easy as 39 states make draft registration. Those two states make it optional. If you don't want to register to vote when you get a driver's license, you can opt out. So, that's different. And it works for women as well as men. So, that's different, and simpler. And there's no need to interact with the federal government, so that, too, is different and easier. But otherwise it's the same deal. The state division of motor vehicles is identifying you for a driver's license or ID through a more rigorous process than is usually used to register voters. After doing that, it's hardly any extra work to simply consider you registered to vote as well.

Only two states have done this. If you'd like to see which two they are, or if you'd like to click a button to email your state legislators and governor about doing the same, click here.

Now, the federal government doesn't do driver's licenses, but it does do Social Security numbers, and it and many other institutions rely on Social Security numbers as a reliable means of identification. There is no reason that a person possessing a Social Security number cannot be considered eligible to vote. (Making sure that the 8 people who try to drive around voting in more than one state get caught would be identical to how that's done now.) The federal government chooses not to do this. Forty-eight state governments plus various occupied territories choose not to do this, even though it would be far easier than draft registration and even though its connection to actual democracy is much more straightforward.

At least half the country is pretty well disgusted with both of the two big political parties and all of their elected members. And most members of the U.S. House of Representatives are gerrymandered and sponsored into their seats more or less for life or until promotion to the lobbying league. But the general theory holds, nonetheless, that higher voter turnout is better for Democrats than Republicans. The two states that have acted so far have done so with Democratic legislatures and governors. But many Democratic states have not acted yet, and the benefits of acting would be very much to small-d democracy.

With more voters, candidates would have to appeal to more people, including more poor people. More candidates might gain traction. The range of debate would be widened. It would also become easier to place public initiatives on the ballot through the process of gathering the signatures of registered voters. Political polling would more accurately reflect public sentiments, because pollsters would have more registered voters to poll.

In addition, each state government would save the expense of the existing ridiculous system of "registering" people it already knows and has identified. This would free up time and energy and money for other things. "Let's get [people] on the rolls automatically and put all the resources and energy we've put into voter registration into voter education," says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

It wouldn't be just state governments doing that. Every election season, thousands of volunteers for political parties and candidates across the country spend endless hours registering people to vote. They think of this as useful work. Many even think of it as "activism." Let's imagine that work were eliminated. What could those thousands of volunteers do instead? They could educate and organize around the issues and policies they care about. What a gift to democracy that would be! Better than any bloody foreign quagmire I can imagine!

Talk Nation Radio: Karl Grossman: Nuclear Radiation Is Good For You, and Other Tall Tales 

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

Grossman discusses a proposed change in policy by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would permit nuclear radiation on the grounds that it is safe or even good for us. Submit your comment here:!docketDetail;D=NRC-2015-0057

Or write to Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, Attention:Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff. Docket ID. Needed to be noted on any letter is the code NRC-2015-0057.

Some articles by Grossman:
Radiation Is Good for You, and Other Tall Tales of the Nuclear Industry
The Nuclear Cult
Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission
Nuclear Power/Nuclear Weapons
Embracing Nuclear Power Like a Religion
Money is the Real Green Power: The Hoax of Eco-Friendly Nuclear Energy
Nuclear Power Through the Fukushima Perspective
Nuclear Power Can Never Be Made Safe
The Perils of Nuclear-Powered Space Flights

Total run time: 29:00

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

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