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Intersection of Mistakes With Misdeeds

On a pleasant spring day in December it's nice to drive past the endlessly under-construction intersection of Route 250 and McIntire Road in Charlottesville, Va., and realize that the darn thing must nearly be completed. It looks sturdy and attractive. There's a nice new bicycle path heading north from it. All must be right with the world.

This intersection has its own official website stating that it won't really be done until next summer -- a website that is otherwise about as helpful as healthcare.gov.

Here are my concerns.

This intersection was only required by the construction of a 2-mile-long unnecessary road leading out of it, a road aimed at taking traffic off other roads that will certainly fail in that quixotic mission. Construction of new houses along those other roads has outpaced the construction of the new road that will produce the traffic needed to fill it, as they always do.

The intersection is supposed to cost $33 million, and together with the 2-mile-long road a total of $67 million.

The increased traffic is predictably driving discussion of additional new intersections to receive it. Price tags for improving four intersections on nearby Route 29 have been discussed as ranging from $250 million to $350 million. An intersection many miles up Route 29 in Gainesville is under construction for a cost of $216 million. A ridiculous proposal for a whole new road to the west of Charlottesville has been stopped by public pressure but left $200 million lying around for people to find something to spend it on. The Virginia Department of Transportation has a six-year plan to spend $13 billion on transportation projects.

To put this madness into perspective, the World Food Program needs $413 million for Syrian refugees for the next six months and doesn't have it. That's the cost of a couple of pointless and counterproductive intersections.

About $11 billion per year would provide clean drinking water to every part of the world that lacks it. That's less than a certain collection of road construction projects in just one U.S. state.

About $30 billion per year would end starvation and hunger around the world. In the United States alone we spend about $80 billion per month on highway and road construction projects.

The problem is not just that we're paving the planet rather than saving lives. And it's not just that paving one's way out of traffic predictably generates more traffic. It's also that we're destroying the planet's climate in the process.

Oh, and we're also creating a motivation for endless wars over oil.

Speaking of wars, no intersection would be complete without a war memorial. As part of the construction of the $33 million intersection in Charlottesville, big improvements are being made to the Dogwood Veterans Memorial, a monument to the war on Vietnam that was built during that war in 1966.

That war killed some 4 million Vietnamese, and the people whose government killed them have absolutely no shame. In fact, they don't even know about it. Ask a German or a Japanese about their nations' greatest sins, and they'll cite you chapter and verse with grave remorse. Ask a U.S.-American how many people died in Vietnam and you'll get at best a blank stare.

So, as you speed through the new intersection admiring the blacktop and the war monument -- I'm sure there's something similar in your part of the country too --  give some thought to the general priorities they represent.

Silver Linings in Rolling Stone Rape Fiasco

Rolling Stone alleged a gang rape at UVA and now doubts its own report. I have no knowledge of the matter. Maybe the victim was completely honest. Maybe she was largely honest but too drunk, or just too traumatized, to remember which fraternity house she was in. Maybe she made it all up. I have no idea and hope a competent police department, rather than an incompetent magazine, tries to find out if possible.

Predictably enough, the internet is now being flooded with articles pointing out that even if one alleged rape victim is lying, many others are not.

The thing is, I believe a lot of people know that, and more might know it now, rather than fewer.

But it's possible they'll know it with a little more seriousness.

It's all too common to assert, absurdly, outrageously, and immorally that all alleged victims must be believed as a matter of principle. It's all too common to assume they are all lying. Neither position is a principle. Either is a preposterous bit of stupidity.

I think the more the matter is discussed, examined, and considered, the fewer people will hold either idiotic position.

So here are some possible silver linings:

Awareness that people lie about rape.

Awareness that people also tell the truth about rape, and that doing so is in some cases so notoriously difficult that a well-meaning journalist may bend over backwards to help.

Awareness that journalism can make a difference, and that it would make a bigger difference if done better. What if that were applied to military and corporate funding of universities, or the poor manner in which history is taught in our colleges, or the lives of UVA staff who work extra jobs and still need public support?

Awareness that inactive, tv-viewing, partying students can get active about something and make a difference. What if they were to notice climate change or mass incarceration or the fact that college is free in some countries that fight fewer wars?

Awareness that one incident is not a trend, and that treating it as such is unfair to all involved.

Awareness that many rapes are never reported.

Awareness that men have spent many years in prison before being cleared of false rape charges.

Awareness that people claiming rape should be treated with kindness, consideration, understanding, and professional support, not because there is a certain high percentage chance they are telling the truth, but because they are people. Period.

Awareness that people accused of rape should be treated with kindness, consideration, understanding, and professional support, not because they could be innocent, but because they are people. Period.

Awareness that labeling people or institutions innocent or guilty, in combination with anger and vengeance, leads to blinding prejudices that make a mockery of the right to a trial and the wisdom meant to be instilled by a well-rounded education.

Awareness of all of the following:

Rape victims are victims of traumatic violence.

Someone making a false accusation may be a victim of an earlier, unreported assault, or of a traumatic or humiliating non-criminal experience, but is in any case troubled and in need of understanding.

Victims of false accusation can find the damage traumatic and lasting.

Someone accurately accused of rape is clearly a very troubled person in need of help he will not get from "correctional officers" or "inmates."

Collectively, UVA needs restorative justice, truth and reconciliation, open discussion of rapes real, fictional, and disputed.

Individually, victims and assailants need restorative justice. Those guilty need to be brought to understand and regret their victims' pain and suffering, and to work to make it up to them to the extent possible. Victims need to be brought to understand that they are not to blame, that their community supports them, and that those responsible are sorry for what they've done. None of that comes out of an ancient British system of adversarial justice, an unprecedented epidemic of U.S. mass incarceration, or journalism that doesn't bother to get more than one side of a story.

Watch Schooling the World, Stop Schooling the World

It's becoming slightly more common in the Western industrialized world to propose radical cultural change away from consumerism and environmental destruction. It's not hard to find people making the case that in fact nothing else can save us.

But we should have one eye on what our governments and billionaires are doing to educate the rest of the world with the way of thinking that we are beginning to question.

What if the United States were to radically reform and abandon its role as leading destroyer of the environment and leading maker of war in the world, and we were to discover that U.S.- and Western-funded institutions had in the mean time created billions of teenagers around the globe intent on each becoming Bill Gates?

The remarkable film Schooling the World brings this warning. It is not an overly simplistic or dreamy argument. It is not a rejection of the accomplishments of Western medicine or a pitch for adopting polytheistic beliefs. But the film documents that the same practice that "educated" thousands of young Native Americans into second-class U.S. citizens through forced boarding schools is running its course in India and around the world.

Young people are being educated out of kindness and cooperation, and into greed and consumerism, out of connections to family and culture and history, and into a deep sense of inferiority of the sort created in the U.S. by the separate-but-equal educational system of Jim Crow. People whose families lived happily and sustainably are being taken away from their villages to struggle in cities, the majority of them labeled as failures by the schools created to "help" them -- many of them cruelly introduced to a modern invention called poverty.

Eliminated in the process are languages -- referred to in the film as ecosystems of the mind -- and all the wealth of knowledge they contain. Also eliminated: actual ecosystems, those that once included humans, and those simply damaged by heightened consumption rampaging around the globe. Young people are not taught to care for local resources as their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were.

And much of this is done with the best of intentions. Well-meaning Westerners, from philanthropic tourists to World Bank executives, believe that their culture -- that of industrial extraction, competition, and consumption -- is good and inevitable. Therefore they believe it helpful to impose an education in it on everyone on earth, most easily accomplished on young people.

But is a young person's removal from a sustainable healthy life rich in community and tradition, and their arrival in a sweatshop in a crowded slum, as good for them as it looks in the economic statistics that quantify it as an increase in wealth?

And can we see our way out of this trap while screaming hysterically about the glories of "American exceptionalism"? Will we have to lose that stupid arrogance first? And by the time we've done that, will every African nation have its own Fox News?

Talk Nation Radio: George Vradenburg on How Alzheimer's Is Killing Us

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-george

George Vradenburg is the Chairman and Co-Founder of http://USAgainstAlzheimers.org We discuss the new report finding Alzheimer's to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. We also ask Vradenburg whether perhaps a little money could move from the military to Alzheimer's research. Listen for the answer. Vradenburg is a member of the Private Sector Senior Advisory Committee, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Department of Homeland Security, and of the Council on Foreign Relations, and of the Economic Club of Washington.

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.

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Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
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Misplaced Lessons of Tahrir

I still want Dirty Wars to win the Oscar, but The Square is a documentary worth serious discussion as we hit the three-year point since the famous occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo that overthrew Mubarak -- in particular because a lot of people seem to get a lot of the lessons wrong.

I suppose some people will leave Dirty Wars imagining that we need clean wars, whatever those would be.  But too many people seem to be drawing from The Square lessons they brought with them to it, including these: Thou shalt have a leader; thou shalt work within a major political party; thou shalt have an identifiable group of individuals ready to take power.  I don't think following these commandments would have easily changed the past three years in Egypt; I don't think they're where Egyptians should be heading; and I'm even more confident they're blind alleys in the United States -- where they serve as supposed remedies for the supposed failings of Occupy.

Many lessons that might be drawn from The Square seem right to me.  Did the people leave the square too early? Hell yes.  Was the movement divided when the Muslim Brotherhood sought to claim victory exclusively for itself and not for all of the people of Egypt? Of course it was.  Let that be a lesson to us indeed.  We agree, virtually all of us in the U.S., on a lot of needed reforms.  We're all getting collectively screwed.  But we divide ourselves over stupid petty stuff, irrelevant stuff, secondary stuff -- cultural issues, ideologies, superficial identities, and -- yes -- big-name leaders (think how many opponents of militarism and Big Brother you could agree with if they weren't "Ron Paulers").  Preferring one tyrant to another because of their religion or race is not a flaw the Egyptians have a monopoly on (think of all the Christian support for Bush and African-American support for Obama). 

Was trusting the military a horrible idea? No. It wasn't a horrible idea.  It was the most catastrophically stupendously stupid notion ever to enter a human skull.  Militaries don't support people.  People support militaries through their useful and exploited labor.  Costa Rica had to disband its military to stop having coups.  When a military exists, appealing to the humanity of its individual members is wise indeed.  But expecting the military as a whole to be democratic to the point of handing over power before it's compelled to do so is decidedly foolish.  None of which is to say the Egyptians have had much choice or that their project is yet completed.  Between them and us the question of which group is learning faster is no contest at all.

Do the people of Egypt need a Constitution rather than a pharaoh? Yes, absolutely. Does the Occupy movement need demands? Yes, of course it does.  Must we all create an ongoing culture of nonviolent action? Yes, sir-ee.  While The Square doesn't explicitly make the point, would better nonviolent discipline help? Undoubtedly.  Is the key lesson to never give up? Indeed.  All of these lessons should soak in deep.

But other points are less clear, in both The Square and common discussions of Egyptian revolution.  Tahrir Square didn't begin in 2011, and neither did the Muslim Brotherhood.  The foundations for the popular movement and for the religious party were laid over a period of years.  Foundations are being laid for nonviolent revolution in other places now. 

Did the Egyptians fail? And did they fail because they are great protesters but bad democrats who should be condescended to by enlightened Americans?  No.  First, it isn't over.  Second, the United States has a failed system of government itself, as 80-90 percent of the people here have been telling pollsters for years.  Third, although I caught only one very quick little hint at it in The Square, the major financial and military backer of the brutal, corrupt regimes in Egypt -- before Tahrir and since -- is the United States government.  To the extent that Egyptians have failed they've failed with our help.  And whether we're unaware of the billions of dollars of our grandchildren's unearned wages that we give to Egyptian thugs to assault the Egyptian people every year, or aware and unable to do anything about it -- either way, our democracy hardly shines out as a model for the world.

A leader would have divided the Tahrir movement or the Occupy movement.  That we don't think of ourselves as having leaders is a function of the corporate media giving no microphones to people who favor major improvements to the world.  Ironically, just like coverage of New York Police Department brutality, this helps us to build a stronger movement.  That is to say, it helps us in so far as it allows a movement not focused on a leader.  Yes, we'd be much stronger with major media coverage, but the possible development of leaders recognized and named as such would be a downside.  And a successful movement behind a leader would only be able to put that leader into power if it succeeded far beyond where Egypt arrived in 2011 -- and it would only be able to get that leader back out of power again if it succeeded even further.

Is the lesson of Tahrir that Occupiers should back candidates in the Democratic Party?  Is an organized party that can challenge the Muslim Brotherhood or the Democrats the answer?  Not within a corrupt system it isn't.  When our goal is not a better regime but something approaching democracy, then what's needed is the nonviolent imposition of democracy on whatever individuals are in power, and the development of a culture of eternal vigilance to maintain it.  You can't elect your way out of a system of corrupt elections.  You can't impose a group of populist leaders on a government by coup d'etat and then write a democratic constitution afterwards. 

No, that is not what happened in the United States, and not just because the old government got on ships and sailed away, but because the Constitution was fundamentally anti-democratic.  The United States has gained democracy through nonviolent movements of public pressure, imposed reforms, amendments, court rulings, and the changing of the culture.  Reforms are needed more badly than ever now, and whether they're imposed at the federal level or through the states or through secession, they must come through popular nonviolent pressure, as bullets and ballots are virtually helpless here.

The lesson I take away from The Square is that we must prevent the operation of business as usual until the institution itself, not its face, is fixed.  We can put up giant posters of a black man followed by a white woman followed by some other demographic symbol, but the posters will still be on the walls of prisons, barracks, and homeless shelters, unless we fix the structure of things.  That means:

  • Rights for people, and for the natural environment, not for corporations.
  • Spending money on elections is not a human right of free speech.
  • Elections entirely publicly financed.
  • The right to vote, to have time off work to vote, and to vote on a paper ballot publicly counted at the polling place.
  • Free air time, ballot access, and debate participation to all candidates who have collected sufficient signatures of potential constituents.
  • A citizens branch and public initiative power by signature collection.
  • The application of criminal laws to authorities who commit crimes or abuse their office.
  • Mandatory impeachment and recall votes for officials facing prosecution.
  • The right to a decent income, housing, healthcare, education, peace, a healthy environment, and freedom from debt.
  • The rights of the natural environment to continue and thrive.
  • The institution of minimum and maximum wages and a ban on extreme wealth.
  • Demilitarization.
  • Dismantling of the prison industry.

Give me all of that or give me death.  Take your bullshit rhetoric about "liberty" and name a square after it.

Talk Nation Radio: After the Legalization of Marijuana

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/after-the-legalization-of

Jon Walker is a writer and a senior policy analyst at FireDogLake.com and the author of the new book After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy in America. We look into his crystal ball.

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://davidswanson.org/talknationradio

Talk Nation Radio: Lisa Simeone on How the TSA Trains Us in Complete Obedience

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-lisa-simeone

Listen to this show and you may not think of air travel the same way again. Lisa Simeone runs the civil liberties watchdog site TSA News Blog, where she and her writers keep track of the abuses of the Transportation Security Administration.  Simeone has been working in public radio and print for 30 years. She has hosted NPR's All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and Performance Today, also the independent documentary series Soundprint. She's written book reviews and op-eds for the Baltimore Sun and now writes on a variety of subjects for Style Magazine. In 2011, she was fired by Soundprint and blacklisted by NPR for her involvement in the Occupy movement. She managed to hang on to two radio gigs and continues her lifelong political activism.

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://davidswanson.org/talknationradio

Talk Nation Radio: 72 Cities Demand Clean Air Act Be Enforced to Protect Climate

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-72-cities

Rose Braz is the Climate Campaign Director for the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute.  The Clean Air Cities campaign has thus far organized 72 cities, large and small, across the United States, to pass resolutions demanding that the EPA make full use of the Clean Air Act to cut the greenhouse gas pollution that is drastically changing the earth's climate. See http://CleanAirCities.org

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download or get embed code 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!

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