Public Policy

TPPA c2331
Feb
08

Don't Give a Damn About the TPP? You're Going to Wish It Gave a Damn About You.

Tag: Public Policy

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune

Try this at home. Dress up corporate. Stand on a corner with a clipboard. Hover a drone with a video camera nearby. Ask passersby:

1. Who's in the Super Bowl?

2. Who should be president next year?

3. What was just signed in New Zealand that, if ratified, will let corporations overturn U.S. laws, speed up the destruction of the environment, outsource jobs, encourage slavery, eliminate food safety standards, make medicine cost even more, censor and restrict the internet, impede reform of Wall Street, and make those 20 people who own as much as half the country even richer at your expense?

This is a clear-cut case where Meatloaf is just wrong. Two out of three really is bad.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and others who had seen all or part of the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, used to say that just making it public would stop it dead. But that depends on a number of factors, I think. The TPP has now been made public. Twelve nations have just gone ahead and signed it. And their hope is to see their governments ratify it during the next two years.

The destruction wreaked by NAFTA can be seen in thousands of hollowed out towns across the United States, if you trust the bridges to get you there and are willing to risk drinking the water. But public discussion of NAFTA's impact is not a popular topic in the corporate media, consolidated post-NAFTA and worsened ever since.

The 1993 corporate media debate over whether or not to create NAFTA looks bizarre to us today. You can go back and watch Vice President Al Gore (pro-NAFTA) debate wealthy crank Ross Perot (anti-NAFTA) on television. That such a thing existed is crazy enough to contemplate in this anti-democratic day and age. But then watch Perot make the debate about the damage NAFTA was going to do to the people of Mexico. You know as well as I do what the universal response to that line of reasoning would be today across the political spectrum of media-approved voices. Say it aloud with me: Who the hell cares what happens to Mexicans!

In fact, the TPP is almost entirely ignored and avoided. When it's mentioned it's as something our authoritarian government knows better how to handle than we do. Its defenders, including President Barack Obama, present it as a way to jab a finger in China's eye. Its opponents argue that it attacks U.S. sovereignty and benefits foreign nations. What, if anything, it does to Vietnamese workers, for example, is just not registering, and the idea of a U.S. billionaire in 2016 bringing that to public attention as a moral concern would get you mocked as a dreamer faster than Hillary Clinton changes positions when a check book is opened.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas and other post-NAFTA corporate deals have been stopped by public pressure, and the TPP can be as well. What is it up against?

First, the text of the thing reads like a stack of phone books filled with this sort of gripping drama:

"Article 14.1: Definitions -- For the purposes of this Chapter: computing facilities means computer servers and storage devices for processing or storing information for commercial use; covered person 1 means: (a) a covered investment as defined in Article 9.1 ... "

I know you can't wait to find out what happens next, but I suspect there's a section somewhere criminalizing quoting too much of the document. The problem is not just dryness, but also vacuity. We sometimes imagine that politicians save their vague platitudes for speeches and then pack concise substantive and enforceable policies into actual legislation. Not true. The TPP is a pile of substantive policies scattered into an enormous pile of meaningless blather, with no color coding to tell you which is which.

There are people with expertise who will decode it for you, but there is not room for them in corporate news reporting, given the possibility that Ben Carson might say something stupid soon. Even the massive , nonviolent resistance in New Zealand in the face of preemptive arrests and intimidation, and demonstrations all over the United States, doesn't seem to make good news copy when a lineup of monsters want to announce their support for torturing people.

How dare I call them monsters? Well, exactly. Election distraction doesn't just distract. It also divides and conquers. Donald Trump actually opposes the TPP, but his fans will consider me evil for objecting to his racism. Bernie Sanders credibly opposes the TPP, unlike Hillary Clinton, but to mention that is to bring down thunder on your head from both Clinton and Jill Stein backers.

Margaret Flowers explained some TPP facts recently on the aptly named Real News Network. The entire document fails to mention climate change, she said. "This is a binding agreement," she points out, "whereas the agreement that was made in Paris, the climate treaty, is a voluntary agreement. So this actually supersedes that voluntary agreement." Corporations, she said, "under TPP, can sue governments if our laws interfere with their expected profits. So if we pass a law that basically provides protection of the environment in some way, maybe we ban fracking. That would be great. Or stop offshore drilling. A foreign company can then sue our government and say that that law interfered with their profits and sue us for loss of expected profits. Now, what this typically does and has done in the past is that it actually changes the country’s law, because rather than facing billions of dollars in fines, countries would just rather repeal those laws and not have to deal with that."

Flowers had this advice on what to do: "People will be particularly focused on their members of Congress during the break, February 14-21. So we really encourage people to get involved, to learn more about this. We need to stop this. And they can do that at FlushTheTPP.org."

We should notice that she said to pressure Congress. Here are the senators who voted for Fast Track, which means no debate or amendments on the TPP, and the House members who voted for Fast Track, as well as the four horses' asses of the TPP apocalypse.

Other good targets are President Obama and media executives. The wrong targets are presidential candidates. Organizations that have steadfastly resisted putting any resistance up to Obama for seven years have been heavily involved in pressuring people like Hillary Clinton who hold no public office and whose every campaign promise should be carefully ignored as not worth the breath that articulates it. Hillary Clinton's State Department helped create the TPP, and she consistently praised it, calling it the "gold standard," right up until she began claiming to "oppose" it without committing to stop it.

Some of us recall eight years ago when Clinton and Obama and all the Democratic primary candidates promised to fix NAFTA, except for Congressman Dennis Kucinich who promised to undo it entirely on his first day as president. Obama never lifted a finger to fulfill that promise, and neither has Clinton had a word to say about it. Bernie Sanders, like Dennis Kucinich, is actually credible, so electing him might actually make a difference on this issue. But spending the next 12 months as spectators to an election will be fatal.

We need principled, issue-based activism. You can start by signing this petition, and finish by shaming out of TPP support any office holder who doesn't want to be voted out of office.

Jan
16

Patrick Henry's Liberty and Obama's Climate Action

Tag: Public Policy

Mainstream acceptable heroes now and lasting long into the future have in common perfect understanding of what should be done, fraudulent pretenses of doing it, and calculating weakness as the true driver of their actions.

Exhibit one from nearby here in Virginia: Patrick Henry. Like Jesus, his story was written up third-hand decades later, with him gone from the earth. While his speeches usually warned of the need to keep the Native Americans on the run and the slaves in slavery (yes, that was part of what the revolution was for and what the Second Amendment was for), we've been handed down a hearsay composite memory of a speech without any such unpleasantries.

In this speech, Henry cries for war, and even in this age of recognizing the barbarous idiocy of choosing war, popular "progressive" history books depict Patrick Henry not as a war monger but as a fortune teller who simply looked into the future and recognized the "necessity" of starting a war earlier than did mere mortals -- or, for that matter, the Canadians who still haven't done it.

In this speech he supposedly stood as if in chains, depicted the U.S. colonial relationship to Britain as one of metaphorical slavery, liberated himself at the end, and declared that he would have liberty or death. But Patrick Henry was not a slave. He was an enslaver of men, women, and children. He opposed abolition and wanted a war to preserve the status quo in the name of "revolution" and "liberty."

How is it that we can respect such a man? Why, because he declared slavery to be evil and understood it as such. He just engaged in it, because, you know, Donald Trump forced him to or something. Here's Henry's actual explanation first-hand in a letter he wrote to a Quaker who was trying to persuade him to free his slaves:

"I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not -- I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct. I will so far pay my devoir to Virtue, as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and to lament my want of conformity to them. I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be afforded to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we can do, is to improve it, if It happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence of Slavery."

Barack Obama, ender of the ongoing war on Afghanistan, closer of the open prison at Guantanamo, vanquisher of lawless imprisonment standards he legalized, opponent of cruelty and creator of mass drone murders, defender of the poor and champion of the TPP, empowerer of corporate health insurance in the name of health, Constitutional law scholar and wager of unauthorized wars, messenger of economic and racial justice whose presidency saw both worsen dramatically, bringer of transparency through record acts of retribution against whistleblowers, opener of borders via record deportations of children, Barack Obama will be remembered -- is already remembered as if he's finished his term -- as the creator of an agreement that saved the earth's climate.

In reality, Obama blocked serious efforts to protect the climate at Copenhagen and at Paris. He speeded up the process of permitting new pipelines during the Paris meeting. He approved all but one portion of the one pipeline most protested, while weaving a web of pipelines across the country. He brags about a reduction in the use of foreign oil, and people fail to hear the word "foreign" or its implication regarding non-foreign oil. The United States remains far and away per-capita the leading destroyer of the climate. If the United States behaved like the average nation, the climate crisis would vanish, replaced by decades of time in which to switch to sane sustainable practices. But Barack Obama and the United States are "leading the world" to climate salvation. Or so we will remember.

Except that, while you can pass down slavery and hatred of slavery, you cannot pass down climate destruction and hatred of climate destruction, because the climate won't let you. It will render your descendants' home uninhabitable.

Patrick Henry would not free enslaved people because of "the general inconvenience of living without them." Obama will not move away from fossil fuels because "Gas under two bucks a gallon ain't bad."

Weakness. Weakness. Weakness. Nothing more.

But weakness from people who understand their weakness, who are fully aware of it -- and so, we don't mind. It's idiots who don't know any better who bother us.

But should it be that way?

And aren't we all weak? What am I, a saint? Don't I eat non-vegan food for no other reason than that it tastes good? Don't I produce more trash than Colin Beavan ("no impact man")? Doesn't Obama use cheap gasoline as an applause line because lots of people and probably all Congress members will applaud it?

True enough. But I never asked to be a hero. Congress doesn't give me a standing ovation and proclaim me a savior of the climate while I throw away packaging from breakfast or continue to support massive subsidies to fossil fuel corporations. And of course I don't do the latter. On the contrary, I've protested it, been arrested and locked up over it, been banned from Capitol Hill for the good of the country over it.

Most people don't have the power to raise wages or build public transit or otherwise improve lives that see cheap gas as a good thing, or even a microphone from which to mention those possibilities. Can't we hold our heroes to a higher standard?

Or at least acknowledge that they are weak calculating schmucks hoping to blame us and "the times they live in" for their failures?

Jan
06

Iniquity, the 0.000006%, and Who Pays $300k to Hear Hillary

The United States' 20 wealthiest people (The 0.000006 Percent) now own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households. The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation's entire African-American population — plus more than a third of the Latino population — combined; more wealth combined than the bottom 61 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 194 million people or 70 million households.

These stats are from the Middle Ages and also from the Institute for Policy Studies which acknowledges that much wealth is hidden offshore and the reality is likely even worse.

What did those 20 wealthiest, most meritorious people do to deserve such disgusting riches? The group includes four Wal-Mart heirs, three Mars candy heirs, and two Koch brother heirs. They earned their wealth by being born to wealthy parents, just like some who want to work for them, such as Donald Trump. One politician is actually one of them: Michael Bloomberg.

These individuals could fund a total shift to clean energy or end starvation on earth or eradicate diseases. That they choose not to is murderous and shameful. It's not their sacred right. It's not cute. And it's not funny when one of them pretends to give his money away by giving it to himself.

The 0.000006 Percent has a tight grip on the media as well, with Jeff Bezos owning the Washington Post and Amazon, Sheldon Adelson buying newspapers, Mark Zuckerberg owning Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Google, Warren Buffet owning whole chains of newspapers, and again Bloomberg with Bloomberg News.

In the first phase of the 2016 Presidential election cycle, according to the New York Times, 158 wealthy donors provided half of all campaign contributions, 138 of them backing Republicans, 20 backing Democrats. No candidate can easily compete without huge amounts of money. And if you get it from small donors, as Bernie Sanders has done the most of, you'll be largely shut out of free media coverage, and belittled in the bit of coverage you're granted. The media coverage, the debate questions, and the topics discussed are determined by the interests of the wealthy in this national oligarchy.

Then there's the corrupt foundation money and speaking fees flowing into the Clinton family from wealthy sources in the U.S. and abroad. While most Americans are unable to sit through a full presidential debate, Wall Street, Big Pharma, and corporate technology interests have shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars supposedly just to hear Hillary or Bill Clinton speak.

According to a new report by Consortium News, Hillary Clinton took in $11.8 million in 51 speaking fees between January 2014 to May 2015. Bill Clinton delivered 53 paid speeches to bring in $13.3 million during that same period. That's over $25 million total, largely if not entirely from wealthy parties with a strong interest in influencing U.S. government policy.

This system of rewarding former politicians is one of the great corrupting forces in Washington, DC, but the revolving door that brings such politicians back into power makes it many times worse.

According to the Washington Post, since 1974 the Clintons have raised at least $3 billion, including at least $69 million just from the employees and PACs of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment firms.

According to the International Business Times, the Clintons' foundation took in money from foreign nations while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, nations such as Saudi Arabia for which she then waived restrictions on U.S. weapons sales. (Also on that list: Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.) I brought this up on a recent television program, and one of the other guests protested that I was not, at that moment, criticizing Donald Trump. But, even if we assume Trump is the worst person on earth, what has he done that is worse than taking a bribe to supply Saudi Arabia with the weapons that have since been used to slaughter children in Yemen? And what does Trump have to do with bribery? He's self-corrupted. He's in the race because of the financial barrier keeping decent people out. But he hasn't been bribed to act like a fascist.

The Wall Street Journal reports that during the same period, Bill Clinton was bringing in big speaking fees from companies, groups, and a foreign government with interests in influencing the U.S. State Department. Eight-digit donors to the Clintons' foundations include Saudi Arabia and Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. Seven digit donors include: Kuwait, Exxon Mobil, Friends of Saudi Arabia, James Murdoch (son of Rupert), Qatar, Boeing, Dow, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart and the United Arab Emirates. Those chipping in at least half a million include Bank of America, Chevron, Monsanto, Citigroup, and the Soros Foundation. And they don't even get a speech!

Sign this petition:We urge the Clintons to clear their corrupted image by donating their $25 million in recent lecture fees to organizations legitimately working for campaign finance reform, Wall Street reform, environmental protection, and peace.

Watch this video.

Dec
09

UVA Hires Dick Cheney / Pentagon Staffer Whose Failures Include Iraq and Mitt Romney

Tag: Public Policy

Eric Edelman is a former undersecretary at the Pentagon. He promotes higher military spending, an attack on Iran, and deployment of nuclear weapons to nations on Russia's border.

He pushed for war on Iraq and accused anyone opposed of "aiding enemies," including denouncing any sort of end date as "aiding enemies" not long before Bush and Maliki set an end date.

He pushed Obama for esclation in Afghanistan.

He's on the board of the pro-war "U.S. Institute of Peace."

He advised Mitt Romney how to become president, and Congress how to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran. He pushed all sorts of lies about Iran in the process.

Despite his advocacy for more wars all the time, Edelman seems to explain his string of disastrous decisions by explaining that people do dumb things during "war time." (video)

Here's a good summary of his work. some excerpts:

Eric S. Edelman, a former U.S. diplomat and adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, has supported a number of militarist policy initiatives. He is a founding board member of the Foreign Policy Initiative, an advocacy group founded in 2009 by neoconservative figures William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor widely regarded as a successor group to the Project for the New American Century. He also served as a key foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in 2012 and helped launch a new pressure group dedicated to pressing a hawkish GOP line in the 2016 presidential campaign.In 2014, Edelman joined the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) as a co-chair of its Iran Task Force, which has pushed a hard line on Iran's nuclear enrichment program. ...

Edelman has been a vociferous critic of Obama administration's foreign policy, claiming that President Obama has an "ideological aversion to American power" ...In a Boston Globe op-ed coauthored with fellow Romney advisers Meghan O'Sullivan and Eliot Cohen shortly before the election, Edelman argued: "Because of the last four years, we face a world in which our enemies do not fear us ...In early 2013, Edelman and other Romney campaign alums joined to form the "John Hay Initiative."[7] The aim of the group is to influence potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates. Its more than 150 members include prominent militarists such as Eliot Cohen, Michael Chertoff, and former Sen. Norm Coleman. Mitt Romney himself is on the group's advisory council.[8]In August 2015, Bloomberg View reported that members of the John Hay Initiative were playing a key role shaping the foreign policy agendas of most of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates. ...The article added: "For the party itself, the group's omnipresence behind the scenes is shaping a hawkish, right-of-Hillary-Clinton foreign policy agenda that is quickly becoming the established position of the party hopefuls going into 2016."[10]In September 2014, Edelman argued in a Washington Post op-ed written with Michele Flournoy, a former Obama administration undersecretary of defense for policy and noted "liberal hawk," that military spending should be increased ... that "the U.S. military must be able to deter or stop aggression in multiple theaters, not just one, even when engaged in a large-scale war."[11] ...

In a Weekly Standardcommentary, Edelman called for the United States "to dispatch a military needs assessment team to identify crucial shortfalls in the Ukrainian military and to lay the basis for urgent and longer-term military assistance programs on a bilateral U.S.-Ukraine basis."[16]Edelman has also pushed for greater involvement of NATO in Ukraine, ...

Edelman has also taken a hawkish line on Iran. In January 2011, Edelman co-wrote, with two CSBA colleagues, an article for Foreign Affairs titled "The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran: The Limits of Containment." The article argued that the United States should pursue an approach "that brings diplomacy and sanctions, clandestine action, and the threat of military force into alignment." ...

Edelman also supported U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war over the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in 2013. Edelman linked the issue to the U.S. standoff with Iran, arguing if the United States does not "enforce the WMD norm in Syria," Iran would "not put too much stock in the threat of the use of force if they don't negotiate an end to their nuclear weapons program."[31] ...The Turkish columnist Ibrahim Karagul described Edelman as "probably the least-liked and trusted American ambassador in Turkish history." ...

Edelman served under then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney during the administration of George H.W. Bush. At that time, he became part of a "shop" within the Pentagon that was set up by Cheney "to think about American foreign policy after the Cold War, at the grand strategic level," wrote Nicholas Lehman in the New Yorker.[40]The work of this shop, which was headed by Paul Wolfowitz, eventually led to the crafting of the 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance, a document that was meant to serve as a post-Cold War framework for U.S. military strategy. 

Here's the news from the 19th most militarized university in the 1st most militarized nation: 

Ambassador Eric S. Edelman Appointed James R. Schlesinger Distinguished Professor at the Miller Center

A, Dec. 9, 2015 – Eric S. Edelman, a veteran diplomat and policy adviser during both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations, has been appointed as the next James R. Schlesinger Distinguished Professor at the Miller Center for public policy at the University of Virginia.

  Ambassador Edelman, currently Hertog Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, retired as a Career Minister from the U.S. Foreign Service on May 1, 2009.  He is also Distinguished Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and was a senior associate of the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University from 2009-2013. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace.     Edelman has served in senior positions at the Departments of State and Defense as well as the White House, where he led organizations providing analysis, strategy, policy development, security services, trade advocacy, public outreach, citizen services, and congressional relations. As the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (August, 2005-January 2009), he oversaw strategy development as DoD’s senior policy official with global responsibility for bilateral defense relations, war plans, special operations forces, homeland defense, missile defense, nuclear weapons and arms control policies, counter-proliferation, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, arms sales, and defense trade controls.     “It’s a special honor and pleasure for me to welcome Ambassador Edelman to the Miller Center," said William Antholis, Director and CEO. “He is widely respected in both parties as one of the leading career diplomats of his generation, and I had the great fortune to work with Eric and learn from him. I’m delighted that my colleagues and UVA students will also have that opportunity. Secretary Schlesinger would have been proud."     Edelman served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republics of Finland and Turkey in the Clinton and Bush Administrations and was Principal Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs. In other assignments he has been Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, special assistant to Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Robert Kimmitt and special assistant to Secretary of State George Shultz.     He has been awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, and several Department of State Superior Honor Awards. In January, 2011 he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Government.   Edelman holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and earned his Ph.D. in U.S. diplomatic history at Yale University.   As the Schlesinger Professor over the next 12 months, Edelman will participate in Miller Center conferences; engage with faculty and students across the University of Virginia at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the Law School, and the History and Politics Departments; contribute to the First Year project and other Miller Center publications; and appear on the Center’s signature public affairs television interview program, American Forum.   The University of Virginia established the James R. Schlesinger Distinguished Professorship at the Miller Center in 2007 to bring public servants of great distinction to the University. Mr. Schlesinger served as Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy, in addition to holding leadership roles with the Central Intelligence Agency, Atomic Energy Agency, and numerous other government bodies during a distinguished career in public service.   Building on Schlesinger’s interest in strategic matters, the Schlesinger Professorship provides a unique opportunity for public servants who have experience with foreign policy and national security to participate as visiting faculty in programs at the Miller Center and engage with students at the University, as well as possibly draft memoirs or reflections with the Miller Center’s research support.
Dec
08

In Fantasyland Your Neighbors Live in, More War Is a Smart Idea

Tag: Peace and War, Public Policy, War Is A Lie

People in the United States want tighter gun laws within the United States. They probably can't be, and certainly aren't being, polled on the U.S. role as top weapons supplier to the world. You can't poll people on something they've never heard of.

People in the United States want more done to protect the environment. They have no clue that their government is politely destroying all hope for future human life at a nice conference in Paris. They've never heard that the U.S. military is the single biggest destroyer of the environment. These are topics you can't poll on.

People in the United States believe that ISIS is present within the United States trying to kill them. You can't poll them on what to do in the actual universe, because they're living in that one. In their la-la land they say the United States should wage more war on ISIS.

Even in an alternative universe in which ISIS members from Honduras have snuck Ebola into Planned Parenthood clinics, waging war on ISIS makes no sense. The war and the accompanying bigotry and hatred are the greatest gift ISIS could ask for. And it did ask for them. And the United States has obliged, helping ISIS's recruitment soar. Blowback isn't reduced by escalating. You can't use terrorism to eliminate terrorism.

But here's where the important delusions come in. More than a matter of immediate facts, good Americans suffer from a twisted worldview in which blowback is spontaneously generated by irrational subhuman urges in lesser races and religious groups, wars waged abroad by the United States don't hurt anyone -- other than evil beasts, the war on Iraq benefited Iraq, and wars can be made even better than normal by making them multicultural feminist environmentalist Geneva-Conventionized local efforts with dark-skinned inhabitants doing the dying but the United States doing the deciding.

Let's try a little context.

It is no more "defensive" now than it was in 2003 or any other year to bomb people's homes thousands of miles from your shores.

It is not an act of generosity -- except to the weapons makers -- to kill huge numbers of people for no good reason.

War is not a last resort, and imagining it is while cheering and pushing for it, is self-delusional in a very basic way, no matter how poorly informed you are.

As your World War II myths can probably be removed only with invasive surgery, just look at the past 70 years and find a war that worked on its own terms, that didn't produce more harm than it halted.

The politicians who lie to you about everything other than war, and the media that tries to bias you in disastrous directions on everything other than war, both do the exact same thing when it comes to war.

Two years ago you didn't want to join a war on Syria on the side of al Qaeda, but you didn't want to be bothered to really stop it, end the provision of arms and trainers, pull the CIA out, permit the world to negotiate peace. Now you want to join a war on Syria on the side of al Qaeda while simultaneously joining it on the side against al Qaeda under the new name ISIS.

Why? Because ISIS is evil, so evil you can't talk to them.

ISIS is a large and growing number of people. Do you intend to murder them all? Do you have any idea of the global storm of hatred and vengeance that doing so would unleash on the United States including from people within the United States who can't be kept out by some idiotic walls? Because if you don't intend to murder them all, but only some of them (generating more of them than you kill), then you're going to have to talk with those who survive.

I'm not even asking you to talk to them. I'm asking you to stop making matters worse. Stop bombing. Stop shooting. Stop flooding the region with weapons. Stop supporting governments that fund ISIS. Protect people at risk with actual defensive protection if needed, but don't use them as excuses for escalated war. Send in aid and peaceworkers. Let professionals at conflict resolution speak to ISIS. Go back to television and shopping. Just stop telling pollsters you want more war.

Nov
24

Limits of Liberal War Opposition

Tag: Peace and War, Political Ideas, Public Policy

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.

Oct
23

Veto Corleone Already in White House

Tag: Peace and War, Public Budgets, Public Policy

President Barack Obama has vetoed a military authorization bill. Why would he do such a thing?

Was it because dumping $612 billion into a criminal enterprise just finally struck him as too grotesque?

Nope.

Was it because he grew ashamed of holding the record for highest average annual military spending since World War II, not even counting Der Homeland Security Department or military spending by the State Department, the Energy Department, the Veterans Administration, interest on debt, etc.?

Nope. That would be crazy in a world where pretense is everything and the media has got everyone believing that military spending has gone down.

Was it because the disastrous war on Afghanistan gets more funding?

Nope.

The disastrous war on Iraq and Syria?

Nope.

The monstrous drone wars murdering 1 vaguely identified person for every 9 innocents slaughtered?

You kidding?

Oh, I've got it. Was it because building newer, bigger, and smaller more "usable" nuclear weapons is just too insane?

Um, nope. Nice guess, though.

Well what was it?

One reason that the President provided in his veto statement was that the bill doesn't allow him to "close" Guantanamo by moving it -- remember that prison still full of people whom he, the President, chooses to keep there despite their having been cleared for release?

Another reason: Obama wants more money in the standard budget and less in his slush fund for the War on the Middle East, which he renamed Overseas Contingency Operations. Obama's language suggests that he wants the base budget increased by more than he wants the slush fund reduced by. The slush fund got a piddley little $38 billion in the vetoed bill. Yet the standard budget is deemed so deficient by Obama that, according to him, it "threatens the readiness and capabilities of our military and fails to provide the support our men and women in uniform deserve." For real? Can you name a man or woman in uniform who would receive a dime if you jumped the funding of the most expensive military in the history of the known universe by another $100 billion? The President also complains that the bill he's vetoed did not allow him to "slow growth in compensation."

Another reason: Obama is worried that if you leave limits in place on military spending in the "Defense" Department, that will mean too little military spending in other departments as well: "The decision reflected in this bill to circumvent rather than reverse sequestration further harms our national security by locking in unacceptable funding cuts for crucial national security activities carried out by non-defense agencies."

Hope and Change, people! Here's a full list of the areas in which Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed disagreement with President Obama's preferences on military spending:

 

 

 

 

 

##

Oct
22

Living With Racism in the USA

Tag: Media, Public Policy, Race Relations

I thought Deepa Iyer's new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, would be about positive and jarring cultural contributions from immigrants, how their literature, music, myths, cooking, clothing, and cultural practices are merging with and influencing wider U.S. culture. I think that would be a good book. Maybe someone's written it.

This, too, is a good book, and I recommend it. But it is mostly about the all-too-familiar story of post-911 prejudice, racism, violence, and police profiling and abuse, with a particular focus on South Asians. As an opponent of murder in any form, my first response to this topic is usually: Take the guns away! Hatred doesn't kill people -- hatred in people with guns kills people! But of course I'd love to take the hatred away as well and get the gun deaths down to accidents, suicides, and non-hate crimes.

I admit some uncertainty as to how we can identify a gun murder as free of hate. Here's how Iyer describes hate crimes:

"Hate violence affects everyone in America. A hate crime affects not only the person being targeted but the entire community to which that person belongs. Acts of hate violence can disrupt and affect even those who do not belong [to] the community being directly targeted, as we witnessed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where non-Sikhs also experienced fear and anxiety in the wake of the massacre."

Of course, that sounds almost identical to the effects of a non-hate school shooting. A value to be found in distinguishing crimes motivated by, for example, hatred of Muslims, lies in the consequent ability to report on and know how widespread that phenomenon is. Does badmouthing Muslims encourage shooting them? Does shooting them encourage discriminating against them? We cannot study and address these matters if we don't identify them. And of course, fearing being shot for living in a country whose government has been purchased by the NRA, is not exactly the same as fearing being shot for being a Muslim and living in a country whose government has been purchased by the NRA. Hatred of part of your identity can make you want to hide that identity and/or resent the suggestion that you should do so and/or internalize the idea of inferiority, etc.

On the other hand, hate crimes laws don't just produce data. Neither do they do anything to reduce racism or other bigotry or to address underlying insecurities and grievances. What they do, as Iyer points out, is increase long sentences in the U.S. mass incarceration system.

Much of the work that Iyer describes being undertaken by community groups in support of abused minorities and crime victims involves attempting to tweak the flood of sewage spewing forth from the corporate media. She urges reporters not to talk about non-Muslim people having been mistaken for Muslims when they've been attacked. Her reason is that this could be taken to imply that it's all right to attack Muslims. That sounds crazy, but of course she is right that that could happen. Why, then, does locking people up for additional years or decades because they killed while racist not risk implying that it's OK to kill while not racist? It seems no more crazy.

The permanent U.S. war on the Middle East has fed the streams of both private and police hate crimes, and that war has trained many to believe that, in fact, it is OK to kill only while believing in racism and bigotry. Members of the military cannot avoid thinking that, while killing was wrong all through their childhood, something has suddenly made it acceptable when they are ordered to engage in it. For many the dehumanizing tactic that allows them to obey their orders is racism. Such racism at home, Iyer argues, enables the United States to keep going to war.

And what about the endless FBI frame-ups, the profiling, the deportations, and all the racist abuse by "law enforcement" -- why aren't these hate crimes? Don't they set examples and influence the broader culture? If someone in Germany proposes immigration policies resembling those of the United States they are immediately denounced for racism and hatred.

Iyer's book is full of heart-wrenching stories of raging racist hatred and violence, and the suffering it creates. She also proposes some good ideas rarely heard about in the corporate media, including reparations for the victims of post-911 state bigotry, on the model of reparations for the victims of the Japanese-American internment camps.

What really breaks my heart in reading so many accounts of the sort of nastiness that has just helped lead that young man whose school clock project was labeled a bomb to leave the United States for someplace less hostile, is the focus of the corrective work on trying to influence the corporate media. We all know how awful the corporate media is, how little it is turned into a force for good, and what minor partial tweaks are proclaimed as victories by activists.

We need a communications system that ceases to condone hatred or violence, that includes all voices in its communications, and that condemns cruelty -- whether public or private -- without exception.

Oct
20

Talk Nation Radio: Laurence Shoup on the Power of the Council on Foreign Relations

Tag: Public Policy, Talk Nation Radio

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-laurence-shoup-on-the-power-of-the-council-on-foreign-relations 

Laurence H. Shoup has taught U.S. history at the university level and has been a historical consultant on California history for over 30 years, authoring or co-authoring over 200 reports for a variety of clients. His new book which we discuss is Wall Street's Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014. Among his past books is Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy. Find Shoup at http://rulersandrebels.com

Total run time: 29:00

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

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