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Culture and Society
Lee Camp in Cville
Popular comic Lee Camp is coming to town.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, February 21
WHERE: Main Street Annex at 219 Water Street, Charlottesville, VA
BUY TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the door, buy tickets now.
Show is for 18 and up only.
LEE CAMP's stand-up comedy has been featured on Comedy Central, ABC’s Good Morning America, Showtime’s The Green Room with Paul Provenza, Al-Jazeera America’s election night coverage, Current, the BCC’s Newsnight, E!, MTV, and Spike TV, and headlined over 500 college shows.
Lee has written for The Onion, Comedy Central, Comedy Central and the Huffington Post, and wrote the acclaimed essay collections Moment of Clarity: The Rantings Of A Stark Raving Sane Man, and Neither Sophisticated Nor Intelligent.
He hosts Redacted Tonight, on RT America, every Friday night at 8pm ET. His podcast and YouTube webseries, Moment Of Clarity, frequently breaks 100,000 online views each week.
BUY TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the door, buy tickets now.
What the U.S. government does openly is many times worse than anything it can be doing secretly, and yet the secrets fascinate us.
If you compare polling on majority views on most political topics with actual U.S. policy, there's little overlap. Scholars now produce reports finding that the United States is an oligarchy. Most people don't vote. Those who try to engage with U.S. politics get excited when the Democrats fall back into the minority and start pretending to favor popular policies again. People hope to find reflected bits of decency in official rhetoric during a two-year-long period of pretended governance that amounts to a public sales pitch and a private wink to the campaign funding overlords.
Our government openly subsidizes the destruction of our planet's climate, openly allows corporations to pay negative taxes, openly redistributes wealth upward, openly funds a military as costly as the rest of the globe's nations' combined, openly serves as the marketing firm for the U.S. weapons that make up much of that other half of the globe's armed forces, openly enacts corporate trade policies that ruin economies and the environment, openly denies us basic human services, openly prosecutes whistleblowers, openly restricts our civil liberties, openly murders large numbers of people with drone strikes. We can watch a police officer in New York choke a man to death on video and walk away without being prosecuted for any crime. We can watch the U.S. Congress take direction in promoting a new war from a foreign leader (tune in February 11 for the latest), and yet what goes on in secret obsesses us.
I don't mean the lies that have been exposed, the false excuses for wars, the miscalculations, the "misplacement" of billions of dollars. I mean the human drama. It's not enough to know that Obamacare is a grotesque and deadly monstrosity; we want to know about the insurance executives' roles in writing it. It's not enough to know that Iraq has been destroyed. We want to hear about the oil barons drawing up the plans with Dick Cheney. It's not enough to know that a tragic crime was used to launch catastrophic wars, we want to know whether the crime was staged. We want to know who was behind every assassination, and every powerful bit of propaganda. We want to know whether each CIA operation can be explained by evil or incompetence. We're like Mark Twain, who
said didn't really say, "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."
This is what I wonder in looking at Operation Merlin, over which Jeffrey Sterling is now on trial as a whistleblower. Whether giving nuclear weapons plans to Iran can be explained by incompetence that surpasses my understanding or must be explained by evil, the U.S. government is openly trying to incarcerate a whistleblower who did his legal duty. I just happen to have read a book by Donald Jeffries called Hidden History: An Expose of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-ups in American Politics. I've been thinking over dozens of alleged conspiracies from the killing of President Kennedy to the supposed forging of Obama's birth certificate. Some I think are real, others nonsense. The point is that I think there may be a hybrid solution. I may not have to choose incompetence or evil to explain the CIA giving nukes to Iran. I can choose incompetence combined with bureaucratic dysfunction combined with evil priorities.
If the CIA's top priority was nuclear disarmament, it wouldn't have tried, as it claims to have tried, to slow down an Iranian nuclear weapons program (if one existed, it didn't know) by giving Iran nuclear plans. The CIA officers involved testified in court that they knew their action risked proliferating nuclear weapons technology. That also means that if their top priority had been obeying the law, they wouldn't have created Operation Merlin. But if their top priority was being involved, appearing to be doing something important, and if they were risking an outcome that didn't much worry them, Operation Merlin is exactly what they would have done -- assuming gargantuan levels of incompetence. That is, if they didn't much care if Iran got nukes, if they in fact thought it would be a pretty cool excuse to start a war if Iran could be shown to be working on nukes, well then, why the heck not find the most outlandishly stupid and illegal way in which to try to slow Iran down -- a way that could very well speed Iran up?
This same hybrid explanation applies to other mysteries as well, of course. If the U.S. government's top priority had been preventing a crime like 911, it would have stopped bombing and occupying Muslim nations, adopted an approach of cooperation and generosity with the world, and invested at least a wee bit of effort into preventing the crime, especially when the president was handed a memo warning about it and when his top advisor was shouting about the need. But if the people running the U.S. government didn't really give much of a damn about preventing such a crime, and if they in fact thought it would be just about the only way to get new wars started, well then, they would have done at least what we know them to have done and perhaps more that we could learn from a proper investigation. Part incompetent, part evil -- how evil, we don't know. But we don't need to conclude that the hijackers didn't exist or a missile hit the Pentagon or the World Trade Center was blown up from within to achieve a satisfactory explanation. All such things could coexist with this theory, but they're not needed.
What argues against such explanations of unknown government misdeeds is not the degree of evilness. Remember, we're talking about a government that has used 911 as an excuse to destroy whole countries and kill upwards of a million human beings. Blowing up a couple of buildings is perfectly acceptable to most people who would launch wars. The exception is anyone whose sincere nationalism actually makes them value U.S. lives while considering non-U.S. lives to be worthless. But, remember, we're talking about the U.S. government. They send U.S. troops off to kill and die in the process of slaughtering the foreigners. They allow millions in the U.S. to die for lack of basic services while they dump funding into war preparations. Dick Cheney contemplated a proposal to stage a shooting of U.S. troops disguised as Iranians. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Northwoods, which would have murdered Americans to frame Cuba. At question is not level of evil, but particular level of competent engagement in particular acts of evil.
Jeffries' book mixes a half century of well-documented crimes with pure speculation. I don't think the inclusion in a book of dubious conspiracies should hurt the inclusion of likely ones. If we aren't open to questioning everything, we'll miss lots of things. But it's simply not possible that every unusual plane crash over a period of decades has been an assassination. At least one or two of them must have been accidents. That Jeffries throws in completely random silliness, such as that Janet Reno was rumored to be gay (so what?) or that a couple killed on 911 had been married at the Vatican (gasp!), or that he thinks the Institute for Policy Studies is part of the elite establishment, doesn't mean that Lee Harvey Oswald actually killed Kennedy. I think we have to look at every case seriously and go where the evidence leads. I think that our approach should be: Distrust but verify. Begin with the assumption that the government is lying, and see if it can prove itself honest.
When I read that Karl Rove views religion as a useful tool for manipulating the gullible or that Bill Clinton had a seat on a jet known for providing sex with underage girls, I don't think such gossip is as significant as trade, energy, and war policies that will result in millions of deaths. But I don't think the public interest in such stories is completely beside the point either. "Whether important policy decisions are made at Bohemian Grove or not," writes Jeffries, "it is at the very least disturbing to know that our leaders are gathering together to worship a massive owl, dress in robes, and recite occult incantations." Is it? We just had a president who openly said God had told him to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. Who cares if he worships an owl, unless it was the owl who told him that? But it is disturbing because of the secrecy. Politicians who will pretend they want to end wars or tax billionaires whenever they're in the minority and in no danger of actually doing it are politicians with contempt for you and me; they are people who believe they are above us and can, like Henry V, make their own laws. Of course Michael Hastings' death could have been an accident, but to assume so, and to suggest that investigating it as a murder would be loony is to demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of history. Recently, with each new FBI terror plot foiled and celebrated, I've assumed it would be shown to have been a case of entrapment in which the FBI encouraged the crime before preventing it. In each case, I've been right. That doesn't mean that tomorrow the FBI won't capture a terrorist it had nothing to do with creating; it just means: Distrust but verify.
Distrusting may have started with Kennedy's assassination, even if the need for distrusting today can be advanced further through an honest retelling of Pearl Harbor, and myths of losing innocence ought by all rights to go back to the genocide of the Native Americans if not to the agricultural revolution. Hidden History is not where I think people should start reading about Kennedy (James Douglass's book might be better). But I learned new things about Kennedy from Hidden History and think we should all consider Jeffries' remark: "[O]nce I realized that the president of the United States could be killed in broad daylight, without a single high-ranking public official questioning what really happened, and without any supposed journalist having the slightest curiosity about the subject, I understood that anything was possible."
Jeffries' book roams chronologically through a long list of scandals. He briefly mentions numerous outrages that are not really in dispute: Northwoods, Tonkin, Mongoose, Mockingbird, MK-Ultra, Cointelpro, Fred Hampton, etc., etc. He focuses at greater length on a smaller number of possible conspiracies, providing good summaries of what's known about the killing of JFK and RFK in particular. On Chappaquiddick he's less convincing, on the October Surprise he's vague and truly bizarre (but could have been completely convincing as I think the evidence is well established). He strays into economics and politics and general corruption, speculates on AIDS, Vince Foster, Oklahoma City, etc. His sections on JFK Jr. and on the Anthrax scare are of interest, I think.
Do the surveillance state and the proliferation of private cameras end these mysteries? Imagine Kennedy shot in Dallas today. The video footage would be voluminous, and it would be around the world on the internet before the blood dried. But imagine Abdulrahman al Awlaki's killing today. Much of the world doesn't have the same technology one could expect in Dallas. And imagine Eric Garner's killing today. We have the video, but we're told not to believe our lying eyes. What could end bad government -- as well as misplaced suspicions of bad government -- would be open government, including the elimination of secret agencies. And what could accomplish that would be if the public, including Jeffrey Sterling's jury, assumed that anything the CIA said was more than likely a lie.
Ted Rall, cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is America’s most widely-syndicated alternative editorial cartoonist. Twice the winner of the RFK Journalism Award and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rall’s cartoons and illustrations have appeared in Time, Newsweek, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice and hundreds of other publications and websites. He is a regular contributor to MAD magazine. He discusses the Charlie Hebdo killings, the state of cartooning, the state of our culture, and how to communicate messages when the press is not ideally free.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
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Yes, I know you love your children, as I love mine. That's not in doubt. But do you love mine and I yours? Because collectively there seems to be a problem. Ferguson may have awakened a few people to some of the ways in which our society discriminates against African Americans -- if "discriminates" is a word that can encompass murder. But when we allow the murder of young black people, is it possible that those people had two strikes against them, being both black and young?
Barry Spector's book Madness at the Gates of the City is one of the richest collections of insights and provocations I know of. It's a book that mines ancient mythology and indigenous customs for paths out of a culture of consumerism, isolation, sexual repression, fear of death, animosity and projection, and disrespect for the young and the old. One of the more disturbing habits of this book is that of identifying in current life the continuation of practices we think of as barbaric, including the sacrificing of children.
The Gulf War was launched on fictional tales of Iraqis removing babies from incubators. Children were sent off to recruiting offices to kill and die in order to put an end to imaginary killing and dying. But war is not the only area Spector looks at.
"No longer allowed to engage in literal child sacrifice," he writes -- excluding as exceptional, I suppose, cases like the man who threw his little girl off a bridge on Thursday in Florida -- "we do so through abuse, battery, negligence, rape and institutionalized helplessness. Girls eleven years old and younger make up thirty percent of rape victims, and juvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrators ninety-three percent of the time. A quarter of American children live in poverty; over a million of them are homeless."
A major theme of Spector's book is the lack of a suitable initiation ritual for adolescent men in our culture. He calls us adults the uninitiated. "How," he asks, can we "transform those raging hormones from anti-social expression into something positive? This cannot be stated too strongly: uninitiated men cause universal suffering. Either they burn with creativity or they burn everything down. This biological issue transcends debates over gender socialization. Although patriarchal conditioning legitimates and perpetuates it, their nature drives young men to violent excess. Rites of passage provide metaphor and symbol so that boys don't have to act their inner urges out."
But later in the book, Spector seems to suggest that we've actually understood this situation too well and exaggerated the idea. "When polled, adults estimate that juveniles are responsible for forty-three percent of violent crime. Sociologist Mike Males, however, reports that teenagers commit only thirteen percent of these crimes. Yet nearly half the states prosecute children as young as ten as if they were adults, and over fifty percent of adults favor executing teenage killers."
Sometimes we exonerate children after killing them, but how much do they benefit from that?
In reality baby boomers account for most drug addiction and crime, and most are of course white. But the punishment, just as for racial minorities, is meted out disproportionately. "American youths consistently receive prison sentences sixty percent longer than adults for the same crimes. When adults are the victims of sex crimes, sentences are tougher than when the victims are children; and parents who abuse their children receive shorter sentences than strangers do."
Not only are we collectively harder on kids than adults, just as on blacks than whites, but when we do focus on crimes against kids, Spector argues, we scapegoat priests or gays or single men, at the expense of addressing "unemployment, overcrowded schools, family disintegration or institutionalized violence. It is now virtually impossible for men to work in early education; they comprise only one of eleven elementary teachers."
Why do we allow a system to continue that discrimintes against children? Are we oblivious, distracted, misguided, short-sighted, selfish? Spector suggests that we are in fact carrying on a long history. "There is considerable evidence of the literal killing of both illegitimate children (at least as late as the nineteenth century) and legitimate ones, especially girls, in Europe. As a result, there was a large imbalance of males over females well into the Middle Ages. Physical and sexual abuse was so common that most children born prior to the eighteenth century were what would today be termed 'battered children.' However, the medical syndrome itself didn't arise among doctors until 1962, when regular use of x-rays revealed widespread multiple fractures in the limbs of small children who were too young to complain verbally."
Spector also notes that of some 5,000 lynchings in the United States between 1880 and 1930, at least 40 percent were human sacrifice rituals, often carefully orchestrated, often with clergy presiding, usually on Sunday, the site chosen in advance and advertised in newspapers.
Greeks and Hebrews saw child sacrifice as part of the none-too-distant past, if not the present. Circumcision may be a remnant of this. Another may be an adult looking lovingly at a baby and remarking that they are "So cute I could eat them up." The idea of children as prey may date all the way back to an age when large predators frequently threatened humans. The fear of large predators may continue thousands of years after being relevant precisely because it is taught to children when they are very young. It might disappear from adult minds if it disappeared from children's stories. Depicting a foreign dictator as a wild beast in editorial cartoons might then just look stupid rather than frightening.
There is a popular trend in academia now of blurring the lines between types of violence, in order to claim that because child abuse or lynching is being reduced (if it is), so is war. That claim has been oversimplified and distorted. But Spector and experts he cites, and many others, believe that one way to make all varieties of violence, including war, less likely is to raise children lovingly and nonviolently. Such children do not tend to develop the thought patterns of the supporter of war.
Do we love our children? Of course we do. But why do less wealthy countries guarantee free education through college, parental leave time, vacation time, retirement, healthcare, etc., while we guarantee only war after war after war? There was, during the last cold war, a song by Sting called Russians that claimed there would be peace "if the Russians love their children too." It went without saying that the West loved its children, but apparently there was some slight doubt about the Russians.
I happened to see a video this week of young Russians dancing and singing in Moscow, in English, in a manner that I think Americans would love. I wonder if part of the answer isn't for us to love Russian children, and Russians to love American children, and all of us collectively -- in a larger sense of collectively -- to start systemically and structurally loving all children the way we personally cherish our very own.
Here's one basic place we might start. Only three nations have refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are Sudan, Somalia, and the United States of America, and two of those three are moving forward with ratification.
My fellow Americans, WTF?
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?
A note from David Swanson:
According to a book by George Williston called This Tribe of Mine: A Story of Anglo Saxon Viking Culture in America, the United States wages eternal war because of its cultural roots in the Germanic tribes that invaded, conquered, ethnically cleansed, or -- if you prefer -- liberated England before moving on to the slaughter of the Native Americans and then the Filipinos and Vietnamese and on down to the Iraqis. War advocate, former senator, and current presidential hopeful Jim Webb himself blames Scots-Irish American culture.
But most of medieval and ancient Europe engaged in war. How did Europe end up less violent than a place made violent by Europe? Williston points out that England spends dramatically less per capita on war than the United States does, yet he blames U.S. warmaking on English roots. And, of course, Scotland and Ireland are even further from U.S. militarism despite being closer to England and presumably to Scots-Irishness.
"We view the world through Viking eyes," writes Williston, "viewing those cultures that do not hoard wealth in the same fashion or make fine iron weapons as child-like and ripe for exploitation." Williston describes the passage of this culture down to us through the pilgrims, who came to Massachusetts and began killing -- and, quite frequently, beheading -- those less violent, acquisitive, or competitive than they.
Germans and French demonstrated greater respect for native peoples, Williston claims. But is that true? Including in Africa? Including in Auschwitz? Williston goes on to describe the United States taking over Spanish colonialism in the Philippines and French colonialism in Vietnam, without worrying too much about how Spain and France got there.
I'm convinced that a culture that favors war is necessary but not sufficient to make a population as warlike as the United States is now. All sorts of circumstances and opportunities are also necessary. And the culture is constantly evolving. Perhaps Williston would agree with me. His book doesn't make a clear argument and could really have been reduced to an essay if he'd left out the religion, the biology metaphors, the experiments proving telepathy or prayer, the long quotes of others, etc. Regardless, I think it's important to be clear that we can't blame our culture in the way that some choose to blame our genes. We have to blame the U.S. government, identify ourselves with humanity rather than a tribe, and work to abolish warmaking.
In this regard, it can only help that people like Williston and Webb are asking what's wrong with U.S. culture. It can be shocking to an Israeli to learn that their day of independence is referred to by Palestinians as The Catastrophe (Nakba), and to learn why. Similarly, many U.S. school children might be startled to know that some native Americans referred to George Washington as The Destroyer of Villages (Caunotaucarius). It can be difficult to appreciate how peaceful native Americans were, how many tribes did not wage war, and how many waged war in a manner more properly thought of as "war games" considering the minimal level of killing. As Williston points out, there was nothing in the Americas to compare with the Hundred Years War or the Thirty Years War or any of the endless string of wars in Europe -- which of course are themselves significantly removed in level of killing from wars of more recent years.
Williston describes various cooperative and peaceful cultures: the Hopi, the Kogi, the Amish, the Ladakh. Indeed, we should be looking for inspiration wherever we can find it. But we shouldn't imagine that changing our cultural practices in our homes will stop the Pentagon being the Pentagon. Telepathy and prayer are as likely to work out as levitating the Pentagon in protest. What we need is a culture dedicated to the vigorous nonviolent pursuit of the abolition of war.
A serious case has been made repeatedly by unknown scholars and globally celebrated geniuses for well over a century that a likely step toward abolishing war would be instituting some form of global government. Yet the peace movement barely mentions the idea, and its advocates as often as not appear rather naive about Western imperialism; certainly they are not central to or well integrated into the peace movement or even, as far as I can tell, into peace studies academia. (Here's a link to one of the main advocacy groups for world government promoting a U.S. war on ISIS.)
All too often the case for world government is even made in this way: Global government would guarantee peace, while its absence guarantees war. The silliness of such assertions, I suspect, damages what may be an absolutely critical cause. Nobody knows what global government guarantees, because it's never been tried. And if national and local governments and every other large human institution are any guide, global government could bring a million different things depending on how it's done. The serious question should be whether there's a way to do it that would make peace more likely, without serious risk of backfiring, and whether pursuing such a course is a more likely path to peace than others.
Does the absence of world government guarantee war? I haven't seen any proof. Of 200 nations, 199 invest far less in war than the United States. Some have eliminated their militaries entirely. Costa Rica is not attacked because it lacks a military. The United States is attacked because of what its military does. Some nations go centuries without war, while others seemingly can't go more than half an election cycle. In their book One World Democracy, Jerry Tetalman and Byron Belitsos write that nations do not go to war because they are armed or inclined toward violence but because "they are hopelessly frustrated by the fact that they have no legislative or judicial forum in which their grievances can be heard and adjudicated."
Can you, dear reader, recall a time when the U.S. public had a grievance with a foreign country, lamented the absence of a global court to adjudicate it, and demanded that Congress declare and the Pentagon wage a war? How many pro-war marches have you been on, you lover of justice? When the Taliban offered to let a third country put Bin Laden on trial, was it the U.S. public that replied, "No way, we want a war," or was it the President? When the U.S. Vice President met with oil company executives to plan the occupation of Iraq, do you think any of them mentioned their frustration at the weakness of international law and arbitration? When the U.S. President in 2013 could not get Congress or the public to accept a new war on Syria and finally agreed to negotiate the removal of chemical weapons without war, why was war the first choice rather than the second? When advocates of world government claim that democracies don't wage war, or heavily armed nations are not more likely to wage war, or nations with cultures that celebrate war are not more likely to wage war, I think they hurt their cause.
When you start up a campaign to abolish the institution of war, you hear from all kinds of people who have the solution for you. And almost all of them have great ideas, but almost all of them think every other idea but their own is useless. So the solution is world government and nothing else, or a culture of peace and nothing else, or disarmament and nothing else, or ending racism and nothing else, or destroying capitalism and nothing else, or counter-recruitment and nothing else, or media reform and nothing else, or election campaign funding reform and nothing else, or creating peace in our hearts and radiating it outward and nothing else, etc. So those of us who find value in all of the above, have to encourage people to pick their favorite and get busy on it. But we also have to try to prioritize. So, again, the serious question is whether world government should be pursued and whether it should be a top priority or something that waits at the bottom of the list.
There are, of course, serious arguments that world government would make everything worse, that large government is inevitably dysfunctional and an absolutely large government would be dysfunctional absolutely. Serious, if vague, arguments have been made in favor of making our goal "anarcracy" rather than world democracy. These arguments are overwhelmed in volume by paranoid pronouncements like the ones in this typical email I received:
"War is a crime, yes agreed totally, but Man-made Global Warming is a complete scam. I know this to be a fact. Aurelio Peccei, co-founder of the Club of Rome, offered me a job as one of his PAs (my uncle, Sir Harry, later Lord Pilkington went to the first ever Bilderberg Conference in 1954, a year before he came a Director of the Bank of England and was a loyal member of the global corporate elite) and he told me that this was all a scheme to help frighten the world into accepting global governance on their terms. Be very careful, you are unwittingly playing their game.
One of the huge advantages of global government would seem to be that it might globally address global warming. Yet the horror of global government is so great that people believe the droughts and tornados destroying the earth all around them are somehow a secret plot to trick us into setting up a world government.
A half-century ago the idea of world government was acceptable and popular. Now, when we hear about those days it's often in sinister tones focused on the worst motivations of the worst players at the time. Less common are accounts reminding us of a hopeful, well-meant, but unfinished project.
I think advocates for a world federation and global rule of law are onto an important idea that ought to be pursued immediately. Global warming leaves us little time for taking on other projects, but this is a project critical to addressing that crisis. And it's a project that I think can coexist with moving more power to provinces, localities, and individuals.
The bigger the Leviathan, claims Ian Morris, the less war there will be, as long as the Leviathan is the United States and it never stops waging wars. Advocates of world government tend to agree with the first part of that, and I think they're partially right. The rule of law helps to regulate behavior. But so do other factors. I think Scotland could leave the UK or Catalonia leave Spain, Quebec leave Canada, Vermont leave the United States without the chance of war increasing. On the contrary, I think some of these new countries would be advocates for peace. Were Texas to secede, that might be a different story. That is to say, habits of peace and cultures of peace necessary to allow a world federation might render such a federation less necessary -- still perhaps necessary, but less so. If the U.S. public demanded peace and cooperation and participation in the International Criminal Court, it would be ready to demand participation in a world federation, but peace might already have -- at least in great measure -- arrived.
Extreme national exceptionalism, which is not required by nationalism, is clearly a driver of war, hostility, and exploitation. President Obama recently said that he only wakes up in the morning because the United States is the one indispensible nation (don't ask what that makes the others). The theme of his speech was the need to start another war. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was once booed at a primary debate, not for opposing war, but for suggesting that the golden rule be applied to relations with foreign countries. Clearly we need to become world citizens in our minds as well as in written law.
Rudolf Gelsey recently sent me his book, Mending Our Broken World: A Path to Perpetual Peace, which led me on to Tetalman and Belitsos's book. I think these authors would benefit from the wisdom of the 1920s Outlawry movement, but I think they do an excellent job of recognizing the successes and failures of the United Nations, and proposing reforms or replacement. Should we be scared of an international rule of law? Tetalman and Belitsos reply:
"In truth, living under a system of war and anarchy with WMDs readily available for use on the field of battle -- that is the really frightening choice when it is compared with tyranny."
This is the key, I think. Continuing with the war system and with environmental destruction threaten the world. Far better to try a world with a government than to lose the world. Far better a system that tries to punish individual war makers than one that bombs entire nations.
How do we get there? Tetalman and Belitsos recommend abolishing the veto at the United Nations, expanding Security Council membership, creating a tax base for a U.N. that currently receives about 0.5 percent what the world invests in war, and giving up war powers in favor of U.N. policing. They also propose kicking out of the United Nations any nations not holding free elections, or violating international laws. Clearly that would have to be a requirement going forward and not enforced retroactively or you'd lose too many big members and spoil the whole plan.
The authors envision some transition period in which the U.N. uses war to prevent war, before arriving at the golden age of using only police. I'm inclined to believe that imagined step would have to be leapt over for this to work. The U.S./NATO/U.N. have been using war to rid the world of war for three-quarters of a century with a dismal record of failure. I suspect the authors are also wrong to propose expansion of the European Union as one way to get to a global federation. The European Union is the second greatest purveyor of violence on earth right now. Perhaps the BRICS or other non-aligned nations could begin this process better, which after all is going to require the United States either rising or sinking to humility unimaginable today.
Perhaps a federation can be established only on the question of war, or only on the question of nuclear disarmament, or climate preservation. The trouble, of course, is that the willingness of the dominant bullies to engage in one is as unlikely as, and intimately connected to, each of the others. What would make all of this more likely would be if we began talking about it, thinking about it, planning for it, dreaming it, or even just hearing the words when we sing John Lennon songs. The U.S. peace movement is currently drenched in nationalism, uses "we" to mean the U.S. military, and thinks of "global citizen" as a bit of silly childishness. That needs to change. And fast.
Signers listed at bottom
Over the last several decades, the Pentagon,conservative forces, and corporations have been systematically working to expand their presence in the K-12 learning environment and in public universities. The combined impact of the military, conservative think tanks and foundations, and of corporatization of our public educational systems has eroded the basic democratic concept of civilian public education. It is a trend that, if allowed to continue, will weaken the primacy of civilian rule and, ultimately, our country’s commitment to democratic ideals.
The signers of this statement believe it is urgent for all advocates of social justice, peace and the environment to recognize the dangerous nature of this problem and confront it with deliberate action.
THE THREAT TO CIVILIAN EDUCATION
The most aggressive outside effort to use the school system to teach an ideology with ominous long-term implications for society comes from the military establishment. Over the last two decades, with relatively little media coverage or public outcry, the Pentagon’s involvement in schools and students’ lives has grown exponentially. Now, for example:
- Every school day, at least half a million high school students attend Junior ROTC classes to receive instruction from retired officers who are handpicked by the Pentagon to teach its own version of history and civics. These students are assigned “ranks” and conditioned to believe that military and civilian values are similar, with the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is therefore a feature of good citizenship.
- Armed forces academies are being established in some public schools (Chicago now has eight), where all students are given a heavy dose of military culture and values.
- A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools. Examples are the Young Marines and Starbase programs, and military programs that sneak into schools under the cloak of Science / Technology / Engineering / Math (STEM) education.
- Military recruiters are trained to pursue “school ownership” as their goal (see: “Army School Recruiting Program Handbook”). Their frequent presence in classrooms, lunch areas and at assemblies has the effect of popularizing military values, soldiering and, ultimately, war.
- Since 2001, federal law has overridden civilian school autonomy and family privacy when it comes to releasing student contact information to the military. Additionally, each year thousands of schools allow the military to administer its entrance exam — the ASVAB — to 10th-12th graders, allowing recruiters to bypass laws protecting parental rights and the privacy of minors and gain access to personal information on hundreds of thousands of students.
THE THREAT TO PUBLIC EDUCATION
Efforts by groups outside the school system to inject conservatism and corporate values into the learning process have been going on for a number of years. In a recent example of right-wing educational intervention, The New York Times reported that tea party groups, using lesson plans and coloring books, have been pushing schools to “teach a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, where the federal government is a creeping and unwelcome presence in the lives of freedom-loving Americans.” (See:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/us/constitution-has-its-day-amid-a-struggle-for-its-spirit.html )
Corporations have been projecting their influence in schools with devices like Channel One, a closed-circuit TV program that broadcasts commercial content daily to captive student audiences in 8,000 schools. Some companies have succeeded in convincing schools to sign exclusive contracts for pizza, soft drinks and other products, with the goal of teaching early brand loyalty to children. A National Education Policy Center report issued in November 2011 documents the various ways in which business/school partnerships are harming children educationally by channeling student thinking “into a corporate-friendly track” and stunting their ability to think critically. (See: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2011 )
The development of this corporate-friendly track dovetails with a radical corporate agenda to dismantle America’s public education system. States across the country are slashing educational spending, outsourcing public teacher jobs, curbing collective-bargaining rights, and marginalizing teachers’ unions. There is a proliferation of charter and “cyber” schools that promote private sector involvement and a push toward for-profit schools where the compensation paid to private management companies is tied directly to student performance on standardized assessments. The cumulative effect is the creation of institutions that cultivate a simplistic ideology that merges consumerism with subservience. (See: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/michigan-privatize-public-education )
The corporatization of education via charter schools and the administration sector growth at universities is another troubling trend for public education. Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error ( http://www.npr.org/2013/09/27/225748846/diane-ravitch-rebukes-education-activists-reign-of-error ) and Henry A. Giroux’s newest book, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, ( http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22548-henry-giroux-beyond-neoliberal-miseducation ) give pointers to the doubtful role of corporate values in public education.
Why is this happening? Giroux notes that “Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it.”
There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Howard Zinn Education Project (https://zinnedproject.org ) and Rethinking Schools ( http://www.rethinkingschools.org ). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education and ( http://www.obligation.org ).
STOPPING THESE THREATS
There is reason to be hopeful about reversing this trend if we look, for example, at some of the successes in grassroots efforts to curb militarism in schools. In 2009, a coalition of high school students, parents and teachers in the very conservative, military-dominated city of San Diego succeeded in getting their elected school board to shut down JROTC firing ranges at eleven high schools. Two years later, the same coalition got the school board to pass a policy significantly limiting military recruiting in all of its schools. Though such initiatives are relatively few in number, similar victories have been won in other school districts and on the state level in Hawaii and Maryland.
There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Zinn Education Project (www.zinnedproject.org) and Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education/ and http://www.obligation.org/ ).
As promising and effective as these efforts are, they pale in comparison to the massive scale of what groups on the other side of the political spectrum are proactively doing in the educational environment to preserve the influence of conservatism, militarism and corporate power.
It is time for progressive organizations, foundations and media to confront this and become equally involved in the educational system. It is especially important that more organizations unite to oppose the growing intrusion of the Pentagon in K-12 schools and universities. Restoring the primacy of critical thinking and democratic values in our culture cannot be done without stopping the militarization and corporate takeover of public education.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO)
Historians Against the War
Faculty in political economy,
Evergreen State College
VVAW National Office
Professor, Retired, MIT
Project Great Futures,
Los Angeles, CA
Pax Christi USA Ambassador
of Peace, Naperville, IL
National Coalition to
Protect Student Privacy
It’s Our Economy
Northwest Suburban Peace
& Education Project,
Arlington Hts., IL
National Lawyers Guild
Military Law Task Force
Henry Armand Giroux
Director, West Surburban
Faith Based Peace Coalition,
Treasurer, United Teachers
of Los Angeles
Iraq Veterans Against
the War (IVAW)
New York City
Project on Youth and
Holy Cross College
Professor, Univ. of
California San Diego
National VFP President,
Montgomery County (MD)
UC Berkeley Ethnic
President, Metta Center
Against the War
Professor, San Diego
American Friends Service
AFSC 67 Sueños
Michael Parenti, Ph.D.
Author & lecturer
of On Earth Peace,
Stop Recruiting Kids
Peace and Social
New England Regional
War Resisters League
Chair, Fox Valley Citizens
for Peace & Justice,
World Beyond War
San Pedro Neighbors for
Peace & Justice,
San Pedro, CA
Veterans for Peace
St. Louis, MO
Veterans for Peace
Against the War
Allies), New York City
Colonel Ann Wright,
Retired U.S. Army/
Author of Occupy
this Book: Mickey Z.
It’s Our Economy
There's little dispute among social scientists that most of our major public programs are counter-productive on their own terms. There is also little analysis of this phenomenon as a pattern in need of an explanation and a solution.
Prisons are supposedly intended to reduce crime, but instead increase it. Young people who when they commit crimes are arrested and punished become much more likely to commit crimes as adults than are those young people who when they commit crimes are just left alone.
Fixing public schools by requiring endless test-preparation and testing is ruining public schools. Kids are emerging with less education than before the fix. Parents are sending their kids to private schools or charter schools or homeschooling them or even pulling them out of school for a few months during the worst of the test-preparation binging.
Free trade policies are supposed to enrich us. Trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are supposed to enrich us. We keep trying them and they keep impoverishing us.
War preparations are supposed to enrich us, but impoverish us instead. War is supposed to protect us, but generates enemies. Or war is supposed to benefit some far away place, but leaves it in ruins. Is more war the answer?
When a road gets crowded, we enlarge it or build another road. The traffic responds by enlarging to fill the new roads. So we cut funds for trains in order to build yet more roads.
We're several times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. So, we give police officers weapons of war to make us safe.
We're making the earth's climate unlivable by consuming fossil fuels. So we ramp up the consumption of fossil fuels.
Guns are supposed to protect us, but the more we spread the guns around the more we get killed intentionally and accidentally with guns.
What causes us to pursue counterproductive programs and policies? And why does it seem that the bigger the program is the more we pursue its counterproductive agenda? Well, let's look at the above list again and ask who benefits.
We've made prisons into a for-profit industry and an economic rescue program for depressed rural areas. Enormous profits are being made from children who abandon public schools; from the point of view of those profiteers there's every reason to fix schools in a manner that actually makes them horrible. Corporate trade pacts and tax exemptions for billionaires don't impoverish everyone, just us non-billionaires. Some people get rich from road construction. Weapons companies don't mind when one war leads to three more (especially if they're arming all sides), or when police pick up used weaponry that can then be replaced. Oil and coal profiteers aren't focused on the inhabitability of the earth. Gun manufacturers aren't worried about how many people die so much as how many guns are sold.
What keeps us from seeing this as a pattern is the myth that we live in a democracy in which decisions are made by majority opinion. In reality, majority opinion is badly distorted by anti-democratic news media and largely ignored by anti-democratic officials.
Major public pressure will be needed to change this situation, to strip corporations of power, ban bribery, provide free media and public financing of elections, and create a democratic communications system.
We should begin by dropping the pretense that we're rationally testing policies and adjusting them as we go. No, the whole thing is broken. Experiments keep failing upward with no end in sight. Enough is enough. Let's change direction.