Culture and Society

Jul
06

The Activist as a Young Girl

Tag: Book and Movie Reviews, Children, Culture and Society

Clare Hanrahan's memoir The Half Life of a Free Radical: Growing Up Irish Catholic in Jim Crow Memphis is a remarkable feat: part Jack Kerouac, part Dorothy Day, part Howard Zinn, and a bit of Forest Gump.

First and foremost this is an entertaining and irreverent tale of childhood and adolescence told with great humor, honesty, and empathy. But it's also told by someone who became a peace and justice and environmentalist activist in later life, someone able to look back on the poverty, racism, consumerism, militarism, sexism, and Catholicism of her youth with passion and perspective -- even appreciation for all the good that was mixed in with the bad. Hanrahan writes what in outline form would read like an endless tale of misfortune, and yet leaves you with the thought of how much riotous fun she and her eight siblings and other acquaintances had.

I know Clare, though I learned much more about her from this book, and I wouldn't risk changing her if I had a time machine and magical powers. But I still found myself wondering, as with most stories of most people in the United States and much of the world, how different Hanrahan's life would have been in a society with the decency to provide free college and free job training as needed, or a society that integrated civic activism into everyone's life, or a society in which peace activist careers were marketed on the level of military recruitment ads or even marketed at all so that they weren't so frequently found so late, or a society in which some of the best people didn't live below a taxable salary level so as not to pay taxes for wars.

Hanrahan gives us her family genealogy first, and by doing so teaches some U.S. history that echoes through the book and the years. So, she shows us the cruelty of Jim Crow, for example, through personal experiences as a white girl, but illuminates it with an understanding of its origins, and -- even more importantly -- an awareness of its latest incarnations today. She also contrasts what she knows of the history of Memphis with what she was taught in school in Memphis growing up.

Hanrahan tells her story largely in chronological order, with no lengthy flashbacks, but with numerous quick bits of foreshadowing. For example:

"Brother Tommy gouged his initials, TPH, with a pocket knife on that same bannister long before the American war in Viet Nam maimed his hand, stole his youth, poisoned him with Agent Orange, and eventually took his life and that of his twin brother Danny. The bannister was later knocked down by a speeding car that careened into the porch stopping just short of the front bedroom."

Tommy returned from Vietnam to a  hospital. "In my naiveté," Hanrahan writes,

"I rushed to my brother's bedside to embrace him. I may even have called him 'my hero' as I approached, expecting a hug. Lightning fast his good arm flailed out knocking me across the room and onto the floor. 'Wake up!' he said. 'Wake up you stupid bitch.' I can still hear those harsh words. Dazed and confused, I picked myself up and backed away. This was not the brother I had sent away with a patriotic poem, proudly recited before my senior class."

Hanrahan's two veteran brothers suffered in many ways, and failed to fit back into society in many ways, but it was the cruelty toward women that they came back from the war with that their sister Clare eventually found intolerable.

When Hanrahan left Memphis she saw a lot of the country and a bit of the world, including living off the grid on land and water, joining intentional communities and finding her way to a job writing for peace. She also protested for peace and spent six months behind bars. During the course of her ramblings, Hanrahan managed to be present at or part of an extraordinary number of crucial events and developments in recent U.S. history. Hanrahan became editor of Rural Southern Voice for Peace just in time for the first Gulf War and the awful wars that have followed.

Hanrahan found her way back to Memphis on numerous occasions, sometimes for funerals, but also to be part of activist efforts such as the successful campaign to preserve the band shell in Overton Park launched by one of her brothers. Hanrahan intersperses her memories with her dreams and poetry, adding emotional depth to an account of an extraordinary family in a struggling city that I've enjoyed visiting but would like to visit again with this book as a guide.

Jun
09

"Flag Day Has Been Canceled!"

Tag: Culture and Society, Peace and War

If that headline sounds a bit like "God Is Dead" to you, you just might be from the United States. Only what the people who live in this one country of the American hemisphere call "an American" carries that variety of flag passion. If, on the other hand, you find watching paint dry more engaging than the suspense of waiting for the next Flag Day, you just might be a candidate for citizen of the world.

In fact, I think Flag Day needs to be canceled. It's not a holiday that the government, much less the military, much less the rest of the United States, actually takes off work. It's rumored, in fact, that any socialistic interruption in work schedules would be offensive to the flag herself.

Jun
07

Beauty Contestants Now for World War, not World Peace

Tag: Culture and Society, Peace and War

Even within what Dr. King called the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, there used to be one constituency you could count on to speak up for world peace: beauty contestants.

No more. And the switch has produced no scandal. Last year, when Miss Italy said she wished she could live during World War II, survivors of that worst ever horror that humanity has inflicted on itself, and other people of normal intelligence in Italy, were scandalized.

But when a soon-to-be Miss USA recently praised the U.S. military as a member of it, as a participant in it, despite the world's view that the U.S. military is the greatest threat to peace in the world, the U.S. media adored this new development.

Jun
03

Lessons for Peace from Back in the USSR

Tag: Culture and Society, Peace and War, Political Ideas

In the early 1980s almost nobody from the United States traveled to the Soviet Union or vice versa. The Soviets wouldn't let anybody out, and good Americans were disinclined to visit the Evil Empire. But a woman in California named Sharon Tennison took the threat of nuclear war with the seriousness it deserved and still deserves. She got a group of friends together and asked the Russian consulate for permission to visit Russia, make friends, and learn.

Russia said fine. The U.S. government, in the form of the FBI and USAID, told them not to go, warned that they would not be permitted to move freely once there, and generally communicated that they, the U.S. government employees, had internalized their own propaganda. Tennison and company went anyway, had a wonderful experience, and spoke at events with slide shows upon their return, thus attracting many more people for the next trip.

Now it was Tennison's turn to brief the flabbergasted and ignorant U.S. government staff who had virtually no actual knowledge of Russia beyond what she gave them. This was back in the day when President Ronald "Is this a film or reality?" Reagan said that 20 million dead Americans would be acceptable in a war. Yet the so-called intelligence so-called community didn't know its assets from its elbows. War as a "last resort" was being considered without having considered literally any other resorts. Someone had to step in, and Sharon Tennison decided she'd try.

May
10

Talk Nation Radio: Jean Trounstine and Karter Reed on Murder, Juvenile Injustice, and Redemption

  https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-jean-trounstine-and-karter-reed-on-murder-juvenile-injustice-and-redemption

Jean Trounstine is the author of Boy With a Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner's Fight for Justice.

Karter Reed is the subject of and the author of the Epilogue to the book. He was convicted of murder as a child in an adult court, and was sent to adult prison.

Trounstine and Reed discuss Reed's story and U.S. policies on juvenile crime.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete athttp://TalkNationRadio.org

and athttps://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Mar
31

Front Line Scratches Surface of Saudi Arabian Squalor

Tag: Culture and Society

Watch the new Front Line show on Saudi Arabia. Any time (and there are not many) that a corporate U.S. media outlet (yes, that it what PBS is) covers crimes and abuses of a government that the U.S. government is not seeking to overthrow and is in fact propping up, applause is due.

This program shows us how Saudi Arabia shoots protesters, jails protesters and bloggers, tortures people into confessions, executes prisoners, mass-executes prisoners, publicly whips and executes prisoners with knives like ISIS only on a larger scale.

Mar
17

Secession, Trump, and the Avoidability of Civil War

Tag: Culture and Society, Peace and War

The Governor of California has joked about building a wall all the way around his state if Donald Trump becomes president of the other 49. Secession would not be a joke had it not been given an undeserved bad name. It would not have that bad name but for our universal acceptance of imperialism and of an overly simplistic history of the U.S. Civil War.

Slavery in the U.S. South was widespread through World War II, Jim Crow through the 1960s, mass incarceration through the current day, and bitterness over the Civil War for the foreseeable future. Had the U.S. avoided civil war through a compromise that restricted slavery to existing slave states, or even through a compromise that allowed its possible expansion, or through simply allowing states to secede without war, the net result might have been good or bad. A few things are certain. The bitterness over the war would not exist, the 700,000 killed and many more injured and the incredible destruction of burned cities and fields would not have happened, and war would not have been glorified during the childhoods of the generation that would launch global U.S. imperialism at the dawn of the 20th century.

Very likely, in addition, slavery would have ended more quickly and more thoroughly than it did. Of course, that cannot be stated with certainty. But a nation half-slave, half-free that sought to work through problems without war would have very likely ended slavery through some form of compensated emancipation fairly quickly, bringing up the rear in a global process of liberation. Two or more smaller nations that sought to avoid war would have very likely also put an end to slavery in the one or more nations maintaining it, in part because of international and economic forces and the absence of a fugitive slave law, but also because smaller nations, all else equal, have an easier time achieving democracy. If we had smaller nations on this continent now, or if we were to choose to in the future, we would see the ability of people to bring popular pressure to bear on the governments soar.

Of course, it's anything but an easy moral question whether 4 million people should be left enslaved another moment, or whether a nation should launch a war that might benefit them, though in the end it actually brought very limited and short-lived gains along with 700,000 killed and numerous disastrous results for decades to come. Not only are the results known only after the war, but the moral question has been invented after the war. Many in the North did not want a war to free slaves. A draft had to finally be created, as in the South as well, to compel people to kill and die. And those in power in Washington, including President-elect Lincoln, did not want war to free the slaves, only to prevent the expansion of slavery westward. When the South would not agree to restricting slavery to its current boundaries, Northern decision makers chose to launch a war over "union" -- preferring slaughter to permitting the South, or some part of it, to leave.

Mark Tooley has published a book called The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. It may remain a forgotten story for at least four reasons that leap out at me. First, Tooley adds in so much gossip-column fluff on clothes and parties and families and churches that it's almost physically impossible to make it through his book if you're looking only for what happened at the conference; this is truly a shame in a culture that already considers peace boring and war exciting. Second, Tooley concludes that the war was "inevitable" anyway, so why should you care? (And why did he give his book the title he did?) Third, Tooley almost completely overlooks the possibility that was most open to the North, namely allowing the South to leave in peace. Fourth, if you look into the details and consider how easily peace might have been chosen instead of war, you may feel a bit of discomfort in your mind. You may come up against the fact that many nations did end slavery without a civil war, and then have to start questioning whether in fact lots of other wars have also been "inevitable."

A strong case could be made that the peace conference was begun too late. Seven states had already seceded. A conference on peaceful secession before secession, or a conference on a slavery compromise before secession, would have been easier. Oh and, by the way, the entire topic of the conference was slavery, not some other vague cause of "states rights" or anything of the sort. Nonetheless, the conference had numerous chances to reach an agreement, and in the end did reach an agreement -- which Congress tossed aside in favor of war, and which Congress was assisted in tossing aside by some members of the peace conference who quickly badmouthed what they had done and opted for war. Among the latter was former U.S. President John Tyler who had chaired the peace conference before returning to Virginia and denouncing it.

Under consideration at the conference was not primarily slavery in the slave states, and certainly not ending it through compensated emancipation, as would be done in Washington, D.C., and numerous foreign countries. At issue was principally the expansion of slavery into the expanding western empire. Both sides insisted on imperial expansion to such an extent that it was truly beyond debate. If they'd been somehow made content with the current size of the country, that too could have resolved the dispute and averted war. So, in that peculiar sense, the Civil War was a war of empire. Delegates from both Northern and Southern states (quite a crowd of former senators and justices and the like) tended also to assume that their choices were either union or war, not peaceful division. A greater willingness to accept peaceful separation could also have averted war.

Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin sent no delegates. William Lloyd Garrison urged the desirability of war. Peace conference delegate Roger Baldwin of Connecticut advocated no compromise with slavery. Some Southern delegates urged no compromise with freedom, even while whining about threats to their own rights and comforts without a thought for those of the people enslaved in their states. The peace conference dragged on unpeacefully for 19 days, with Congress and the states holding their breath and holding off on actions.

Delegate Reverdy Johnson of Maryland made a case for compromise to both sides, urging the North to accept the deal of the old Missouri Compromise as preferable to the Dred Scott decision's ruling that slavery could spread north of latitude 36°30'. Southern delegates were intent on not just preserving slavery but expanding it westward. President-elect Lincoln met with the peace conference and made clear that he would never stand for that and would prefer war; he would leave slavery alone where it existed but never allow it to expand.

After all variety of proposals were heard and rejected, ultimately a compromise was reached by the peace conference that reinstated the Missouri Compromise, required a majority of slave-state senators to approve of new territory, prohibited Congressional interference with slavery, banned the importation of enslaved people from abroad, and affirmed fugitive slave laws but also allowed for compensation paid to an owner to make an escaped slave free. Arguably this final agreement and other proposals that were rejected all propped up slavery more than simply allowing secession would have. The Senate and House quickly took up the peace conference agreement and rejected it. This was a Congress now missing any representatives from eight states, another reason why acting sooner might have succeeded.

During the course of the conference, some hints at another possible course were heard. General Winfield Scott said that dividing the country into four countries would be a "lesser evil" than war. Senator Salmon Chase of Ohio said, "The thing to be done is to let the South go." Former Massachusetts Governor George Boutwell said that the union should be kept free of slavery or not kept. (But he warned ominously that the South could try to annex Mexico and other land, and block the North's expansion to the Pacific. Again, it was all about empire.) Former New York Congressman Francis Granger raised the example of letting the South go as an act too cruel to be considered (so beneficial, apparently, was union with the North). George Summers of Virginia proposed a new nation of the border states, letting the Deep South and New England do their own things.

Victory, and thereby top praise in the history books, went to those who wanted war, including those who opposed slavery, those who demanded "union," and those who insisted on expanding slavery far and wide.

But when secession is proposed in the future, we should not be rash in rejecting it. If the North had let the South go way back when, both countries might be much better off today. If, after the Civil War, someone had been able to turn the clock back four years, the North might have been very willing to let the South go. The South might also have been very willing to give up slavery, or at least its expansion westward, without the insanity and horror of a war. Secession may be an improvement on what we've got now. There are only so many immigrants Canada is going to take.

War Memorial.indd
Mar
02

The War Monument to End All War Monuments

Tag: Culture and Society

“Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” –Orwell

The U.S. government has reached the bottom of the barrel. Having packed every square inch of the National Mall with monuments to every war they wanted to admit to, including the wars on Vietnam and Korea, and including the two world wars, our dear leaders have decided that another World War I monument is needed, and that it will be built in Pershing Park (named in 1981 for a World War I general by then already sufficiently forgotten).

That’s presumably not a reincarnated WWI vet on the bench above, but a young soldier inhaling the glory of past noble slaughters.

This new glorification of mass killing is supposed to be finished by Armistice Day 2018, or what we now know as the opposite of Armistice Day, namely Veterans Day. The symbolism is stark. At the century mark of the conclusion of the war to end all wars, a peace holiday that was transformed into a war holiday during the war on Korea will be celebrated by an empire intent on glorifying all past wars in order to keep having new ones.

A WWI memorial is the reductio ad absurdum of the argument for glorifying all wars. When Victor Berger pointed out that all WWI gave the United States was the flu and prohibition, it was too early to add WWII and the military industrial complex and the oppression of the Middle East that would be resented to this day to that list. But the U.S. public resoundingly agreed with him. Public disgust created the most peaceful period in U.S. history following the armistice. The U.S. government was compelled by popular action to take the lead in legally banning all war with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which is still on the books. Public demand also almost created a requirement for a public referendum before the United States could (illegally) launch a war — a step that might have radically changed the past 100 years.

Where’s a memorial to those who went to prison for speaking against the madness of the “Great War”? Where’s even the most basic information on how the war was sold, and how it was understood once it ended? Nothing of the sort is to be found on the website of the monument makers. Woodrow Wilson’s lies about the Lusitania and German atrocities in Belgium created the modern field of war propaganda and led to widespread doubt, misplaced as it turned out, of later tales of Nazi atrocities. But the people intent on memorializing wars once the wars are old enough to not mean anything mention none of that. In fact, they simply quote Wilson’s malarkey without comment, as if it bore some relationship to what actually happened. This would be like carving Colin Powell’s U.N. Speech onto an Iraq War memorial in 2103, which I’m sure has already been planned. Quoth Wilson:

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them…. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”

This was just after Wilson had won an election falsely promising peace, and immediately after the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Hines Page, sent a cable to Wilson on March 5, 1917, reading in part:

“The pressure of this approaching crisis, I am certain, has gone beyond the ability of the Morgan financial agency for the British and French governments. The financial necessities of the Allies are too great and urgent for any private agency to handle, for every such agency has to encounter business rivalries and sectional antagonism. It is not improbable that the only way of maintaining our present preeminent trade position and averting a panic is by declaring war on Germany.”

When peace had been made with Germany ending World War I, President Wilson and his allies punished the entire population of Germany, leading numerous wise observers to accurately predict World War II. Jane Addams, E.D. Morel, John Maynard Keynes, and others predicted that the harsh vindictiveness of the treaty would lead to a new war. They seem to have been right. Combined with other factors, including Western preference for Nazism over Communism, and a growing arms race, bitter resentment in Germany did lead to a new war. Ferdinand Foch claimed the treaty was too lenient on Germany and would therefore create a new war, which is of course also true if one considers the possibility of having completely destroyed Germany or something close to that. Woodrow Wilson predicted that failure of the United States to join the League of Nations would lead to a new war, but it is far from clear that joining the League would have prevented the war.

Oblivious, and honoring Wilson as the Obama of his day, our monument makers just quote what Wilson said rather than what he did: “It must be a peace without victory…Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last.” As devotees of our current president would say: at least he knew what he should have done, and that’s what matters.

When peace came, Wilson kept U.S. troops in Russia to fight the Soviets, despite earlier claims that U.S. troops were in Russia in order to defeat Germany and intercept supplies bound for Germany. Senator Hiram Johnson (P-CA) had famously said of the launching of the war: “The first casualty when war comes, is truth.” He now had something to say about the failure to end the war when the peace treaty had been signed. Johnson denounced the ongoing fighting in Russia and quoted from the Chicago Tribune when it claimed that the goal was to help Europe collect Russia’s debt.

The monument website displays a tasteful selection of WWI posters. No “mad brute” depiction of Germans as apes. No Jesus siting down his rifle for God. And the role of WWI in generating the permanent propaganda of patriotic war normalization is thoughtlessly hyped: The “Star Spangled Banner” became a national song to be played at sporting events during World War I, thus reviving, a century after the War of 1812, another pointless war that got the United States nothing but death, disease, and a burned capital.

I need to thank Sam Husseini to alerting me to the fact that the WWI monument people held a press conference, which he attended, at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Here’s audio of what they told him when he raised concerns. Rather than discuss what in the world the point of the war could have been, it seems that the monument makers predictably enough talked about the “brotherhood” of the troops. But when Sam asked whether that brotherhood extended across nationalities, as it did during the Christmas Truce, they responded by talking about the greatness of the United States. Here’s an excerpt:

“And looking at photographs from Vietnam and there’s themes that you see … from WWI of the way people support each other and the way conflict changes everybody. But this is a really interesting opportunity because it is that starting point for the United States. . . .

“Does that sense of brotherhood transcend nationality?”

“Well, yeah, I mean you ask me what’s the factor here . It’s not a glorification of war that we’re dealing with here, it’s ultimately a glorification of humanity and the coming together of all these different races for the United States. So, in the compositions there’s not a single figure that’s alienated, every single figure is interconnected with the rest. These are touching the other figures or they’re looking at each other. There’s no sense of isolationism or aloneness. That’s much more of a modern concept. So going back to the idea that there’s this sense of unity in the universe, this sense of order. And that’s what the relief was about….”

“My question was is this brotherhood constrained by nationality and you seem to be saying that it is.”

“No, I’m not saying that.”

So, apparently in the new version of World War I the military and the nation had already been integrated, and the civil rights movement wouldn’t be needed, and nobody was being lynched? I actually wouldn’t object to a historically accurate monument to racial harmony and diversity. If that’s what these guys think they’re building, I say: build it! Just leave out World War I, OK?

The winning monument design was apparently called “The Weight of Sacrifice.” It’s a temple to human sacrifice. The trick will be to get people in the 21st century to believe that the human sacrifice was for some good purpose — and that it could be again.  Never underestimate the power of propaganda.

The military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL.
Feb
07

The Super Bowl Promotes War

Tag: Culture and Society, Media, Peace and War

By David Swanson, teleSUR

Super Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL. The U.S. military has been dumping millions of our dollars, part of a recruitment and advertising budget that's in the billions, into paying the NFL to publicly display love for soldiers and weaponry.

Of course, the NFL may in fact really truly love the military, just as it may love the singers it permits to sing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but it makes them pay for the privilege too. And why shouldn't the military pay the football league to hype its heroism? It pays damn near everybody else. At $2.8 billion a year on recruiting some 240,000 "volunteers," that's roughly $11,600 per recruit. That's not, of course, the trillion with a T kind of spending it takes to run the military for a year; that's just the spending to gently persuade each "volunteer" to join up. The biggest military "service" ad buyer in the sports world is the National Guard. The ads often depict humanitarian rescue missions. Recruiters often tell tall tales of "non-deployment" positions followed by free college. But it seems to me that the $11,600 would have gone a long way toward paying for a year in college! And, in fact, people who have that money for college are far less likely to be recruited.

Despite showing zero interest in signing up for wars, and despite the permanent presence of wars to sign up for, 44 percent of U.S. Americans tell the Gallup polling company that they "would" fight in a war, yet don't. That's at least 100 million new recruits. Luckily for them and the world, telling a pollster something doesn't require follow through, but it might suggest why football fans tolerate and even celebrate military national anthems and troop-hyping hoopla at every turn. They think of themselves as willing warriors who just happen to be too busy at the moment. As they identify with their NFL team, making remarks such as "We just scored," while firmly seated on their most precious assets, football fans also identify with their team on the imagined battlefield of war.

The NFL website says: "For decades the NFL and the military have had a close relationship at the Super Bowl, the most watched program year-to-year throughout the United States. In front of more than 160 million viewers, the NFL salutes the military with a unique array of in-game celebrations including the presentation of colors, on-field guests, pre-game ceremonies and stadium flyovers. During Super Bowl XLIX week [last year], the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project invited veterans to attend the Salute to Service: Officiating 101 Clinic at NFL Experience Engineered by GMC [double payment? ka-ching!] in Arizona. ..."

Pat Tillman, still promoted on the NFL website, and eponym of the Pat Tillman Foundation, is of course the one NFL player who gave up a giant football contract to join the military. What the Foundation won't tell you is that Tillman, as is quite common, ceased believing what the ads and recruiters had told him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American. The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the "enemy." Clearly the military wants a connection to football and is willing to lie as well as to pay for it. The Pat Tillman Foundation mis-uses a dead man's name to play on and prey on the mutual interest of football and the military in being connected to each other.

Those on whom the military's advertising succeeds will not typically die from friendly fire. Nor will they die from enemy fire. The number one killer of members of the U.S. military, reported yet again for another year this week, is suicide. And that's not even counting later suicides by veterans. Every TV pundit and presidential debate moderator, and perhaps even a Super Bowl 50 announcer or two, tends to talk about the military's answer for ISIS. What is its answer for people being stupidly ordered into such horrific hell that they won't want to live anymore?

It's in the ads

At least as big a focus of the Super Bowl as the game itself is the advertising. One particularly disturbing ad planned for Super Bowl 50 is an ad for a war video game. The U.S. military has long funded war video games and viewed them as recruiting tools. In this ad Arnold Schwarzenegger shows what fun it is to shoot people and blow up buildings on the game, while outside of the game people are tackling him more or less as in a football game. Nothing here is remotely warlike in a realistic sense. For that I recommend playing with PTSD Action Man instead. But it does advance the equation of sport with war -- something both the NFL and the military clearly desire.

An ad last year from Northrop Grumman, which has its own "Military Bowl," was no less disturbing. Two years ago an ad that appeared to be for the military until the final seconds turned out to be for Jeeps. There was another ad that year for Budweiser beer with which one commentator found legal concerns:

"First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot 'suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment' of any 'non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise. ... Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."

Two serious issues with this. One: the military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL. Two: despite my deep-seated opposition to the very existence of an institution of mass murder, and my clear understanding of what it wants out of advertisements (whether by itself or by a car or beer company), I can't help getting sucked into the emotion. The technique of this sort of propaganda (here's another ad) is very high level. The rising music. The facial expressions. The gestures. The build up of tension. The outpouring of simulated love. You'd have to be a monster not to fall for this poison. And it permeates the world of millions of wonderful young people who deserve better.

It's in the stadium

If you get past the commercials, there's the problem of the stadium for Super Bowl 50, unlike most stadiums for most sports events, being conspicuously "protected" by the military and militarized police, including with military helicopters and jets that will shoot down any drones and "intercept" any planes. Ruining the pretense that this is actually for the purpose of protecting anyone, military jets will show off by flying over the stadium, as in past years, when they have even done it over stadiums covered by domes.

The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers of the Super Bowl. That the military's purpose is to kill and destroy, that it's recent major wars have eventually been opposed as bad decisions from the start by a majority of Americans, just doesn't enter into it. On the contrary, the military publicly questions whether it should be associating with a sports league whose players hit their wives and girlfriends too much.

My point is not that assault is acceptable, but that murder isn't. The progressive view of the Super Bowl in the United States will question the racism directed at a black quarterback, the concussions of a violent sport that damages the brains of too many of its players (and perhaps even the recruitment of new players from the far reaches of the empire to take their place), sexist treatment of cheerleaders or women in commercials, and perhaps even the disgusting materialism of some of the commercials. But not the militarism. The announcers will thank "the troops" for watching from "over 175 countries" and nobody will pause, set down their beer and dead animal flesh and ask whether 174 countries might not be enough to have U.S. troops in right now.

The idea that the Super Bowl promotes is that war is more or less like football, only better. I was happy to help get a TV show canceled that turned war into a reality game. There is still some resistance to that idea that can be tapped in the U.S. public. But I suspect it is eroding.

The NFL doesn't just want the military's (our) money. It wants the patriotism, the nationalism, the fervent blind loyalty, the unthinking passion, the personal identification, a love for the players to match love of troops -- and with similar willingness to throw them under a bus.

The military doesn't just want the sheer numbers of viewers attracted to the Super Bowl. It wants wars imagined as sporting events between teams, rather than horrific crimes perpetrated on people in their homes and villages. It wants us thinking of Afghanistan not as a 15-year disaster, murder-spree, and counter-productive SNAFU, but as a competition gone into double quadruple overtime despite the visiting team being down 84 points and attempting an impossible comeback. The military wants chants of "USA!" that fill a stadium. It wants role models and heroes and local connections to potential recruits. It wants kids who can't make it to the pros in football or another sport to think they've got the inside track to something even better and more meaningful.

I really wish they did.

Feb
05

Bankers, Preachers, and Fear of President Sanders

Tag: Culture and Society, Elections

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new war in Libya, more war in Syria, permanent war in Afghanistan, climate change crashing over the cliff -- these and other immediate disasters are pursued with one hand, while the magician's other hand distracts us with caucuses, primaries, and super bowls. Remember when insiders said the TPP would die the moment it was made public? Well, what if it was made public during an election season? Bread and circuses, even in Rome, weren't designed to make the people happy but to keep them pacified while all the real energy and treasure went into destroying Carthage and filling the vomitoria of the oligarchs. And it's easier for a good team to make it into the super bowl than for a truly good candidate to make it into corporate election reporting. I deny none of that. And yet ...

The 2015-2016 presidential election has, by some measures, already accomplished more than all the previous elections in my lifetime put together. And it's scaring some of the right people.

If you had claimed in 1969 that it would be possible for presidential candidates in the United States to reject religion before they could reject permanent worldwide military empire, you'd have been laughed right out of the Age of Aquarius.

If you'd prognosticated in 1999 that an independent socialist focused like a laser beam on taxing billionaires and busting up some of their most profitable scams (not to mention taxing many of the rest of us) could grab the lead in a Democratic primary campaign against a Clinton with no intern scandals, you'd have been triangulated right out of your career as you knew it.

And if you'd predicted in 2014 that a candidate virtually ignored by the consolidated corporate media, as consolidated under the Clinton Telecom Act, would surge in the polls, you'd have garnered as much respect as those guys in The Big Short did when they claimed to know more than the high priests of Wall Street.

Bernie Sanders, for all of his dramatic shortcomings, is a phenomenon created by a perfect storm of institutional failure -- by Hillary Clinton's coronation constructed of cards just waiting for someone to suggest that millions of outraged winds breathe on it. Sanders is 6 years older and generations more advanced than his Democratic Party rival.

 

God Is Dead

"What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" --Friedrich Nietzsche

Sanders' website calls him "secular" and "not particularly religious." His answers to a religion question during a CNN "town hall" this week were typical. A member of the audience asked about religion and race, and Sanders answered only about race. Then the moderator asked again about religion. And this was Sanders' answer, I swear to ... -- well, I just swear:

"It's a guiding principle in my life. Absolutely it is. You know, everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings. I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children that are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can't afford their prescription drugs, you know what? That impacts you, that impacts me, and I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, 'It doesn't matter to me. I got it. I don't care about other people.' So, my spirituality is that we are all in this together, and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That is my very strong spiritual feeling."

It's also my very strong non-spiritual feeling. But that was a typical Bernie answer, one he's given many times, typical even in its focus on only 4% of humanity and on only a particular type of homeless people. Some states, by the way, are making huge strides toward ending the shame of homelessness for veterans, so that soon all homeless people in the United States may be people who have never been part of a mass-murder operation. I point this out not to oppose it. Better more people with homes, no matter how it's done! And I point it out not to quibble with Sanders' statement of generosity and humanism, but to suggest that part of how Sanders slipped a completely irreligious answer past an audience that asked a religious question is that Sanders identified himself with the true U.S. religion, the religion that will be front and center and in the jet noise overhead at the super bowl -- the religion of war, the religion of national exceptionalism. Who can forget Ron Paul being booed in a primary debate for applying the golden rule to non-Americans?

When Sanders is asked explicitly if he "believes in God," he also answers, "What my spirituality is about is that we're all in this together." Exactly what my non-spirituality is about. I think it's safe to assume he'll never be asked if he believes in death (which television sponsors would be pleased by that topic?), so "God" is the question he'll get, and he won't be required to answer it. New Hampshire is the least religious state in the country, but the country as a whole has also moved against religion and even more so against "organized religion." Some of us always preferred the organized part (the community, the music, etc.) to the religion, but the larger trend here is a rejection of elite institutions telling us how to run our lives while demonstrably running the world into the ground. And who has more to answer for in that regard than God?

Rejecting organized religion while proclaiming an individual "spirituality" may be all that is needed, and that is tremendous news. That Sanders has done this while professing an ideology of generosity and solidarity, and winning applause for that, is even better news. Studies find that lack of religion can correlate with greater generosity, as certainly seems to be the case with the Scandinavian societies Sanders points to as models. (Seventeen percent of Swedes, as compared to 65% of U.S. Americans, say religion is "important".)

A majority in the United States say they wouldn't vote for an atheist, but for many atheism, like gender, race, sexual preference, and other identifiers is now a matter of self-identification. Someone must choose to call themselves an atheist. Just having no use for theism doesn't qualify them. The media also seems to have no direct interest in attacking candidates on religion. Nobody pays them to do that. And it doesn't show a lot of potential as a weapon. Donald Trump is seen as the least religious candidate in the field, and some of the most religious voters say they support him and just don't care. In addition, Sanders is a supporter of religious freedom, tolerance, and even tax exemptions. He doesn't fit the mold of the bigoted atheist who finds Islam dangerously more religious than Christianity. The media is also no big fan of Ted Cruz, who's on a Dubya-like mission from God. All of these factors seem to have made it possible to run for president of the United States on a platform of pure enlightenment humanism. I didn't think I'd live to see that.

 

Most Dangerous Man on Wall Street

Hillary Clinton friend and funder and CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein seems to view Bernie Sanders as President Richard Nixon characterized Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and as President Barack Obama seems to view WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as the most dangerous person in the United States. Sanders' sin, in Blankfein's view, is failure to worship the almighty dollar.

Blankfein is fully aware that his endorsing a candidate would hurt that candidate, but seems not to have thought through the possibility that opposing a candidate might help them. Reportedly, Blankfein suggested this week that "Sanders' attacks on the 'billionaire class' and bankers could be dangerous. 'It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,' Blankfein said."

It sounds like the 1% has a case of 99% envy. Misery loves company, but fear demands it. Think about what Blankfein is claiming. One of the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, who has long said explicitly that the Democratic Party should represent banks, has taken $675,000 (or about $5,000 per minute) to give three speeches to Blankfein's company, in which she reportedly reassured them they had nothing to worry about (despite widely known crimes that wrecked the economy of the United States and other nations). Public demands to even see what Clinton told Goldman Sachs have thus far gone unanswered and unechoed in the media, except by Ralph Nader. On Clinton Blankfein has no comment and sees nothing unusual. This is normal, standard, and unquestionable behavior.

But Bernie Sanders proposes to enforce laws, laws against financial trickery, laws against cheating on taxes, laws against monopolization, laws against market manipulation, and new taxes on unearned wealth. Well, this is unacceptable and in fact "dangerous"! It's extreme madness is what it is, according to Blankfein, who depicts Sanders' position as fanatical: "It's a liability to say I'm going to compromise, I'm going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you'll never compromise. It's just incredible. It's a moment in history." That it is.

Here's how Bill Clinton reportedly viewed popular resentment of bankers in 2014: "You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again." Of course, nobody had proposed killing bankers. Many had proposed enforcing laws. But that's how bankers view such a proposal, through the lens of fear. They are probably not alone. Sanders is proposing to end fracking and various other disastrous industries, while investing in new ones. He promises to block the TPP, which Clinton -- long a big supporter of it -- merely claims to "oppose" without committing to actually prevent. Sanders wants to tax the very wealthiest, including the 20 individuals who own as much as half the country. He wants to break up monopolies, including on Wall Street, and perhaps in the media -- which is already clearly shaken by the fact that he's advanced in the polls without them.

Health insurance executives can't be feeling too much better than banksters, unless they're wise enough to see the bigger picture. I waited on hold for 30 minutes this week to try to fix the latest SNAFU with my Obamacare, and then a really helpful woman answered who promised she'd fix it. I asked her if she could also back Bernie Sanders to put an end to the industry she worked for. She said yes, indeed.

The wiser minds in the plutocracy should follow that example. Nobody's out to hurt you, only to help you share your hoarded loot with those who worked for it. Your life will be different, but not necessarily worse. It might even be happier.

The more hopelessly greedy minds in much of the U.S. plutocracy, right about now, will start wishing they'd been prescient enough to go into weapons making and war profiteering, that sacred realm that Sanders' spirituality dares not threaten.

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