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Talk Nation Radio: Eve Spangler on Israel/Palestine

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-eve-spangler-on-israelpalestine

Eve Spangler is a sociologist and a human and civil rights activist.  For the last decade, her work has focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict. We discuss her new book, Understanding Israel/Palestine: Race, Nation, and Human Rights in the Conflict.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
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and at
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War: Legal to Criminal and Back Again

Remarks in Chicago on the 87th anniversary of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, August 27, 2015.

Thank you very much for inviting me here and thank you to Kathy Kelly for everything she does and thank you to Frank Goetz and everyone involved in creating this essay contest and keeping it going. This contest is far and away the best thing that has come out of my book When the World Outlawed War.

I proposed making August 27th a holiday everywhere, and that hasn't yet happened, but it's begun. The city of St. Paul, Minnesota, has done it. Frank Kellogg, for whom the Kellogg-Briand Pact is named, was from there. A group in Albuquerque is holding an event today, as are groups in other cities today and in recent years. A Congress member has recognized the occasion in the Congressional Record.

But the responses offered to some of the essays from various readers and included in the booklet are typical, and their failings should not reflect poorly on the essays. Virtually everyone has no idea that there is a law on the books banning all war. And when a person finds out, he or she typically takes no more than a few minutes to dismiss the fact as meaningless. Read the responses to the essays. None of the responders who were dismissive considered the essays carefully or read additional sources; clearly none of them read a word of my book.

Any old excuse works to dismiss the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Even combinations of contradictory excuses work fine. But some of them are readily available. The most common is that the ban on war didn't work because there have been more wars since 1928. And therefore, supposedly, a treaty banning war is a bad idea, worse in fact than nothing at all; the proper idea that should have been tried is diplomatic negotiations or disarmament or ... pick your alternative.

Can you imagine someone recognizing that torture has continued since numerous legal bans on torture were put in place, and declaring that the anti-torture statute should be thrown out and something else be used instead, perhaps body cameras or proper training or whatever? Can you imagine that? Can you imagine someone, anyone, recognizing that drunk driving has outlasted bans on it and declaring that the law failed and should be overturned in favor of trying television commercials or breathalyzers-to-access-keys or whatever? Sheer lunacy, right? So, why isn't it sheer lunacy to dismiss a law banning war?

This is not like a ban on alcohol or drugs that causes their use to go underground and expand there with added bad side effects. War is extremely difficult to do in private. Attempts are made to hide various aspects of war, to be sure, and they always were, but war is always fundamentally public, and the U.S. public is saturated with promotion of its acceptance. Try finding a U.S. movie theater that is not currently showing any movies glorifying war.

A law banning war is no more or less than what it was intended to be, part of a package of procedures aimed at reducing and eliminating warfare. The Kellogg-Briand Pact is not in competition with diplomatic negotiations. It makes no sense to say "I'm against a ban on war and in favor of using diplomacy instead." The Peace Pact itself mandates pacific, that is, diplomatic, means for the settlement of every conflict. The Pact is not in opposition to disarmament but aimed at facilitating it.

The war prosecutions at the end of World War II in Germany and Japan were one-sided victor's justice, but they were the first prosecutions of the crime of war ever and were based on the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Since then, the heavily armed nations have not yet fought each other again, waging war only on the poor nations that were never deemed worthy of fair treatment even by the hypocritical governments that signed the pact 87 years ago. That failure of World War III to arrive yet may not last, may be attributable to the creation of nuclear bombs, and/or may be a matter of sheer luck. But if nobody had ever driven drunk again after the very first arrest for that crime, tossing the law out as worse than useless would look even weirder than would tossing it out while the roads are full of drunks.

So why do people so eagerly dismiss the Peace Pact almost immediately upon learning about it? I used to suppose this was just a question of laziness and acceptance of bad memes in heavy circulation. Now I think it is more a matter of belief in the inevitability, necessity, or beneficiality of war. And in many cases I think it may be a matter of personal investment in war, or of reluctance to think that the primary project of our society might be entirely and tremendously evil and also blatantly illegal. I think it can be disturbing to some people to contemplate the idea that the central project of the U.S. government, taking in 54% of federal discretionary spending, and dominating our entertainment and self-image, is a criminal enterprise.

Look at how people go along with Congress supposedly banning torture every couple of years even though it was totally banned before the torture spree that began under George W. Bush, and the new bans actually purport to open up loopholes for torture, just as the U.N. Charter does for war. The Washington Post actually came out and said, just as its old friend Richard Nixon would have said, that because Bush tortured it must have been legal. This is a common and comforting habit of thought. Because the United States wages wars, war must be legal.

There have been times in the past in parts of this country when imagining that Native Americans had rights to land, or that enslaved people had the right to be free, or that women were as human as men, were unthinkable thoughts. If pressed, people would dismiss those ideas with any excuse that came to hand. We live in a society that invests more heavily in war than in anything else and does so as a matter of routine. A case brought by an Iraqi woman is now being appealed in the 9th Circuit seeking to hold U.S. officials responsible under the laws of Nuremberg for the war on Iraq that was launched in 2003. Legally the case is a sure win. Culturally it's unthinkable. Imagine the precedent that would be set for millions of victims in dozens of countries! Without a major change in our culture, the case doesn't stand a chance. The change needed in our culture is not a legal change, but a decision to abide by existing laws that are, in our current culture, literally unbelievable and unknowable, even if clearly and concisely written and publicly available and acknowledged.

Japan has a similar situation. The Prime Minister has reinterpreted these words based on the Kellogg-Briand Pact and found in the Japanese Constitution: "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes ... [L]and, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." The Prime Minister has reinterpreted those words to mean "Japan shall maintain a military and wage wars anywhere on earth." Japan doesn't need to fix its Constitution but to abide by its clear language -- just as the United States could probably stop bestowing human rights on corporations by simply reading the word "people" in the U.S. Constitution to mean "people."

I don't think I would let the common dismissal of the Kellogg-Briand Pact as worthless by people who five minutes earlier never knew it existed bother me were so many people not dying of war or had I written a tweet instead of a book. If I had just written on Twitter in 140 characters or fewer that a treaty banning war is the law of the land, how could I protest when someone dismissed it on the basis of some factoid they'd picked up, such as that Monsieur Briand, for whom the treaty is named along with Kellogg, wanted a treaty with which to force the U.S. to join in French wars? Of course that's true, which is why the work of activists to persuade Kellogg to persuade Briand to expand the treaty to all nations, effectively eliminating its function as a commitment to France in particular, was a model of genius and dedication worth writing a book about instead of a tweet.

I wrote the book When the World Outlawed War not just to defend the importance of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but primarily to celebrate the movement that brought it into being and to revive that movement, which understood that it then had, and which still has, a long way to go. This was a movement that envisioned the elimination of war as a step building on the elimination of blood feuds and dueling and slavery and torture and executions. It was going to require disarmament, and the creation of global institutions, and above all the development of new cultural norms. It was toward that latter end, toward the purpose of stigmatizing war as something illicit and undesirable, that the Outlawry movement sought to outlaw war.

The biggest news story of 1928, bigger at the time even than Charles Lindbergh's flight of 1927 which contributed to its success in a manner completely unrelated to Lindbergh's fascist beliefs, was the signing of the Peace Pact in Paris on August 27th. Was anyone naive enough to believe that the project of ending war was well on its way to success? How could they not have been? Some people are naive about everything that ever happens. Millions upon millions of Americans believe that each new war is going to finally be the one that brings peace, or that Donald Trump has all the answers, or that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will bring us freedom and prosperity. Michele Bachmann supports the Iran agreement because she says it will end the world and bring back Jesus. (That is no reason, by the way, for us not to support the Iran agreement.) The less that critical thinking is taught and developed, and the less that history is taught and understood, the wider a field of action naiveté has to work in, but naiveté is always present in every event, just as is obsessive pessimism. Moses or some of his observers may have thought he would end murder with a commandment, and how many thousands of years later is it that the United States has begun taking up the idea that police officers shouldn't kill black people? And yet nobody suggests tossing out laws against murder.

And the people who made Kellogg-Briand happen, who were not named Kellogg or Briand, were far from naive. They expected a generations-long struggle and would be amazed, bewildered, and heartbroken by our failure to continue the struggle and by our rejection of their work on the grounds that it hasn't succeeded yet.

There is also, by the way, a new and insidious rejection of peace work that pokes its way into the responses to the essays and into most events like this one these days, and I fear that it may be growing rapidly. This is the phenomenon that I call Pinkerism, the rejection of peace activism on the basis of the belief that war is going away on its own. There are two problems with this idea. One is that if war were going away, that would almost certainly be in large part because of the work of people opposing it and striving to replace it with peaceful institutions. Second, war isn't going away. U.S. academics make a case for war vanishing that rests on a foundation of fraud. They redefine U.S. wars as something other than wars. They measure casualties against global population, thus avoiding the fact that recent wars have been as bad for the populations involved as any wars of the past. They shift the topic to the decline of other types of violence.

Those declines of other types of violence, including the death penalty in U.S. states, should be celebrated and held up as models for what can be done with war. But it's not yet being done with war, and war is not going to do it by itself without a great deal of effort and sacrifice by us and by many other people.

I'm glad that people in St. Paul are remembering Frank Kellogg, but the story of late 1920s peace activism is a great model for activism precisely because Kellogg was opposed to the whole idea such a short time before he was enthusiastically working for it. He was brought around by a public campaign initiated by a Chicago lawyer and activist named Salmon Oliver Levinson, whose grave rests unnoticed in Oak Woods Cemetery, and whose 100,000 papers sit unread at the University of Chicago.

I sent an op-ed on Levinson to the Tribune which declined to print it, as did the Sun. The Daily Herald ended up printing it. The Tribune did find room a couple of weeks ago to print a column wishing that a hurricane like Katrina would hit Chicago, creating enough chaos and devastation to allow the swift destruction of Chicago's public school system. An easier method of wrecking the school system might be just to force all the students to read the Chicago Tribune.

This is part of what I wrote: S.O. Levinson was a lawyer who believed that courts handled interpersonal disputes better than dueling had done before it was banned. He wanted to outlaw war as a means of handling international disputes. Until 1928, launching a war had always been perfectly legal. Levinson wanted to outlaw all war. "Suppose," he wrote, "it had then been urged that only 'aggressive dueling' should be outlawed and that 'defensive dueling' be left intact."

I should add that the analogy may be imperfect in an important way. National governments banned dueling and handed out punishments for it. There's no global government punishing nations that make war. But dueling didn't die out until the culture rejected it. The law was not enough. And part of the cultural shift against war certainly needs to include the creation and reformation of global institutions that reward peacemaking and punish war-making, as in fact such institutions already do punish war-making by poor nations acting against the agenda of the West.

Levinson and the movement of Outlawrists whom he gathered around him, including well-known Chicagoan Jane Addams, believed that making war a crime would begin to stigmatize it and facilitate demilitarization. They pursued as well the creation of international laws and systems of arbitration and alternative means of handling conflicts. Outlawing war was to be the first step in a lengthy process of actually ending that peculiar institution.

The Outlawry movement was launched with Levinson's article proposing it in The New Republic magazine on March 7, 1918, and took a decade to achieve the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The task of ending war is ongoing, and the Pact is a tool that might still help. This treaty commits nations to resolving their disputes through peaceful means alone. The U.S. State Department's website lists it as still in effect, as does the Department of Defense Law of War Manual published in June 2015.

The frenzy of organizing and activism that created the peace pact was massive. Find me an organization that's been around since the 1920s and I'll find you an organization on record in support of abolishing war. That includes the American Legion, the National League of Women Voters, and the National Association of Parents and Teachers. By 1928 the demand to outlaw war was irresistible, and Kellogg who had recently mocked and cursed peace activists, began following their lead and telling his wife he might be in for a Nobel Peace Prize.

On August 27, 1928, in Paris, the flags of Germany and the Soviet Union newly flew along many others, as the scene played out that is described in the song "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." The papers the men were signing really did say they would never fight again. The Outlawrists persuaded the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty without any formal reservations.

The U.N. Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945, so its 70th anniversary is approaching. Its potential is still unfulfilled. It has been used to advance and to impede the cause of peace. We need a rededication to its goal of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war. But we should be clear about how much weaker the U.N. Charter is than the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Whereas the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbids all war, the U.N. Charter opens up the possibility of a legal war. While most wars do not meet the narrow qualifications of being defensive or U.N.-authorized, many wars are marketed as if they meet those qualifications, and many people are fooled. After 70 years isn't it time for the United Nations to cease authorizing wars and to make clear to the world that attacks on distant nations are not defensive?

The U.N. Charter echoes the Kellogg-Briand Pact with these words: "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." But the Charter also creates those loopholes for war, and we are supposed to imagine that because the Charter authorizes the use of war to prevent war it is better than a total ban on war, it is more serious, it is enforceable, it has -- in a revealing phrase -- teeth. The fact that the U.N. Charter has been failing to eliminate war for 70 years isn't held up as grounds for rejecting the U.N. Charter. Rather, the U.N. project of opposing bad wars with good wars is imagined as an eternal on-going project that only the naive would suppose might be completed some day. As long as the grass grows or water runs, as long as the Israeli Palestinian peace process holds conferences, as long as the Non-proliferation Treaty is pushed in the faces of non-nuclear nations by permanent nuclear powers that violate it, the United Nations will go on authorizing the protection of Libyans or others by the world's dominant war makers who will go on immediately creating hell on earth in Libya or elsewhere. This is how people think of the United Nations.

There are two relatively recent twists on this on-going disaster, I think. One is the looming catastrophe of climate change that sets a time limit that we may have already surpassed but that certainly isn't lengthy on our on-going waste of resources on war and its intense environmental destruction. Eliminating war has to have an end date and it has to be fairly soon, or war and the earth on which we wage it will eliminate us. We cannot go into the climate-induced crisis we are headed into with war on the shelf as an avialable option. We'll never survive it.

The second is that the logic of the United Nations as permanent maker of war to end all war has been stretched far beyond the norm by both the evolution of the doctrine of "responsibility to protect" and by the creation of the so-called global war on terror and the commission of drone wars by President Obama.

The United Nations, created to protect the world from war, is now widely thought of as having a responsibility to wage wars under the pretence that doing so protects someone from something worse. Governments, or at least the U.S. government, can now wage war by either declaring that they are protecting someone or (and numerous governments have now done this) by declaring that the group they are attacking is terrorist. A U.N. report on drone wars mentions rather casually that drones are making war the norm.

We are supposed to talk about so-called "war crimes" as a particular type, even a particularly bad type, of crimes. But they are thought of as the smaller elements of wars, not the crime of war itself. This is a pre-Kellogg-Briand mentality. War itself is widely seen as perfectly legal, but certain atrocities that typically constitute the bulk of the war are understood as illegal. In fact, war's legality is such that the worst crime possible can be legalized by declaring it to be part of a war. We've seen liberal professors testify before Congress that a drone killing is murder if it's not part of a war and just fine if it is part of a war, with the determination of whether it's part of the war being left up to the president ordering the murders. The small and personal scale of drone murders should be helping us recognize the wider killing of all wars as mass murder, not legalizing murder by associating it with war. To see where that leads, look no further than the militarized police on the streets of the United States who are far more likely to kill you than ISIS is.

I've seen a progressive activist express outrage that a judge would declare that the United States is at war in Afghanistan. Doing so apparently allows the United States to keep Afghans locked up in Guantanamo. And of course it's also a mar on the myth of Barack Obama ending wars. But the U.S. military is in Afghanistan killing people. Would we want a judge to declare that under those circumstances the U.S. is not at war in Afghanistan because the President says the war is officially over? Do we want someone who wages war to have the legal power to recategorize a war as an Overseas Contingency Genocide or whatever it's called? The United States is at war, but the war is not legal. Being illegal, it cannot legalize the additional crimes of kidnapping, imprisonment without charge, or torture. If it were legal it couldn't legalize those things either, but it's illegal, and we've been reduced to the point of wanting to pretend it isn't happening so that we can treat the so-called "war crimes" as crimes without coming up against the legal shield created by their being part of a wider operation of mass-murder.

What we need to revive from the 1920s is a moral movement against mass-murder. The illegality of the offense is a key part of the movement. But so is its immorality. Demanding equal participation in mass-murder for trans-gendered people misses the point. Insisting on a military in which female soldiers are not raped misses the point. Canceling particular fraudulent weapons contracts misses the point. We need to insist on an end to mass-state-murder. If diplomacy can be used with Iran why not with every other nation?

Instead war is now a protection for all lesser evils, an ongoing rolling shock doctrine. On September 11, 2001, I was working on trying to restore value to the minimum wage and was immediately told that nothing good could be done anymore because it was war time. When the CIA went after whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling for supposedly being the one to reveal that the CIA had given nuclear bomb plans to Iran, he appealed to civil rights groups for help. He was an African American who had accused the CIA of discrimination and now believed he was facing retaliation. None of the civil rights groups would go near. The civil liberties groups that address some of the lesser crimes of war will not oppose war itself, drone or otherwise. Environmental organizations that know the military is our single biggest polluter, will not mention its existence. A certain socialist candidate for president can't bring himself to say that the wars are wrong, rather he proposes that the benevolent democracy in Saudi Arabia take the lead in waging and footing the bill for the wars.

The Pentagon's new Law of War Manual which replaces its 1956 version, admits in a footnote that the Kellogg-Briand Pact is the law of the land, but proceeds to claim legality for war, for targeting civilians or journalists, for using nuclear weapons and napalm and herbicides and depleted uranium and cluster bombs and exploding hollow-point bullets, and of course for drone murders. A professor from not far from here, Francis Boyle, remarked that the document could have been written by Nazis.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff's new National Military Strategy is worth reading as well. It gives as its justification for militarism lies about four countries, beginning with Russia, which it accuses of "using force to achieve its goals," something the Pentagon would never do! Next it lies that Iran is "pursuing" nukes. Next it claims that North Korea's nukes will someday "threaten the U.S. homeland." Finally, it asserts that China is "adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region." The document admits that none of the four nations wants war with the United States. "Nonetheless," it says, "they each pose serious security concerns."

And serious security concerns, as we all know, are far worse than war, and spending $1 trillion a year on war is a small price to pay to handle those concerns. Eighty-seven years ago this would have seemed insanity. Luckily we have ways of bringing back the thinking of years gone by, because typically someone suffering from insanity doesn't have a way to enter into the mind of someone else who's viewing his insanity from the outside. We have that. We can go back to an era that imagined the ending of war and then carry that work forward with the goal of completing it.

Talk Nation Radio: Salt Rebellion in U.S. Colonies and Sailing Food from Maine to Boston

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-salt-rebellion-in-us-colonies-and-sailing-food-from-maine-to-boston

Why sail food from Maine to Boston, and what do salt and the British colonies in North America have in common with Gandhi's India?

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha, and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Occupy Radio, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network. She tours nationally speaking and educating in nonviolent civil resistance. Her essays on social justice movements appear in Truthout and Popular Resistance. See http://riverasun.com

Marada Cook is a food entrepreneur who can be found at Crown O'Maine Organic Cooperative, Northern Girl, and Fiddler's Green Farm.

Read Rivera Sun's article "Maine Sail Freight Revives: A Salty History of Revolution, Independence."

Find the Maine Sail Freight at http://thegreenhorns.net

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

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

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Talk Nation Radio: Aspen Baker on Abortion and Being Pro-Voice

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-aspen-baker-on-abortion-and-being-pro-voice

Aspen Baker is the author of Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, and spokesperson for Exhale. She discusses how to transform discussions of abortion. Her website is http://aspenbaker.com

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

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

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

How Can This Still Be Happening in Our World?

How does war impact people who believe in it?

What does it do to people who live through it?

How does it feel to begin to doubt it?

SanctuaryThePlay.com

This play is a flood of sensations streaming out of the madness of militarism half-aware of itself.

"I'm going to create a Sanctuary, a place inside myself first where I tell the truth," says a character toward the end, as if telling the truth to others openly would be a difficult, second step to someday follow telling the truth to oneself.

For how many people is that true?

How many of them might it help to hear someone else tell the truth in a room of someone elses listening and appreciating?

Watch this:

Talk Nation Radio: Kayaks and Soap vs. Big Oil and Trash

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-kayaks-and-soap-vs-big-oil-and-trash

Bill Moyer is cofounder and executive director of the Backbone Campaign. He discussed the kayaktivists who have taken to the water in Seattle to oppose Shell's planned artic drilling. See http://backbonecampaign.org

Diane Wittner is the Baltimore-based owner of a new zero waste, all natural, locally-based cleaning powder business Echotopia LLC. She also discusses the campaign to stop the largest trash incinerator in the U.S. from being built in Baltimore. See http://www.echotopia.org and http://chesapeakecitizens.org And Joseph Brodsky's poem "New Life" is here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/04/26/new-life

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

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

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Que Pasa, New York?

The Nation magazine recently republished an old column by Jean Paul Sartre in which he described the myths he had been told about Americans by American culture, and compared those with what he observed. He was supposed to see eternal happiness, but instead, as he wandered around New York, he saw "the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes." "[A]nd we know," he wrote, "that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people."

Sartre was once described as one of the last great writers willing to expound at length on a subject without bothering to learn anything about it. As a frequent practitioner of the same practice which is far from dead, whether it's done greatly or not, I think something can be said in Sartre's defense. Of course he could not accurately detect astonished good faith based on faces, and of course he had confused New York with the United States. But he could recognize human beings, and he knew some things that were true of just about every human being he'd known. Based on that, he could consider carefully the possibility that American propaganda accurately depicted real people, and he could reject the idea. In fact, he could conclude:

"Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life."

Sartre could have discovered that about the United States without leaving France, as he discovered most things. It's possible there's still something to it.

I used to live in New York and now just visit, recently quite a number of times. I was also recently in Cuba where I had a hard time convincing one man I spoke with that any U.S. street had potholes. The representation of life in New York is often not that of what I see: third-world infrastructure, trains so slow you expect the mayor will have kept a campaign promise by the time you ever get somewhere, medieval inequality of wealth, racial segregation surrounded by inter-racial advertisements, environmentalism with hardly a hint of the natural world in sight, an unnatural world so unremittingly ugly that the beauty of its human inhabitants stands out.

And of course the people and their incredible mix of cultures and personalities have next to nothing to do with the world they live in, and in fact notice it less and less the longer they've been in it -- hearing the cacophony of noise pollution only through its absence when having left the city. In New York one finds friendliness, neighborliness, the shattering and the upholding and the skewing of every stereotype. And, I think, despite the endless dissatisfaction of a consumerist society, one finds here a certain satisfaction not always present elsewhere in the United States and born of a belief in lying at the center of the universe.

Being Pro-Voice

The abortion debates is the last place I would have looked for inspiration in methods of handling the major political and social problems of the world. Politically I've always thought of abortion -- the topic of abortion, that is -- as part of a fraud. A so-called democracy is limited to two political parties, both of which serve corporate monopolies, both of which invest primarily in war preparations, both of which cavalierly sacrifice the future habitability of the planet as well as the immediate survival of numerous species, both of which advance income inequality, both of which strip away our civil liberties -- and yet, the two of which are depicted as diametrically opposed, supposedly offering us a world of difference at the polling place. And how is this done? Easy, one of them is pro- and the other anti- abortion! I can't count how many people have listed everything they oppose about a presidential candidate and then begged me to vote for that same candidate in order to determine the abortion issue in the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Aspen Baker's book, Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, comes as a pleasant surprise. To begin with, this book causes me to recognize another reason I've had a distaste for the abortion debate. I don't mean that there's not really any clearly desirable position to take on it; I already realized that. I mean that the abortion debate is exceptionally simplistic, dishonestly so. And the reason for this, brought out I think by Baker, is that people who have abortions do not talk about them. There is such a stigma attached to it, that the experience of having an abortion, including the decision making process gone through, including the days and years after the abortion, including the impact on other people involved, is basically unknown. And that vacuum is filled by slogans dedicated toward legislative ends.

One result of keeping abortion shameful and secret is isolation and suffering for those who have abortions. One goal of creating telephone talk-lines and websites and media coverage, as Baker's group Exhale has done, is to bring human friendship and compassion to people isolated by politics and treated as political tools by two opposing groups. Now, if you are fervently dedicated to the "pro-life" or "pro-choice" position, then the emotional state of women who have abortions may seem secondary, and how it's addressed may seem worth judging primarily in terms of how it advances or impedes another goal. But what if, without hurting your pro-choice or pro-life goal, a pro-voice approach began to create a little reconciliation between the two camps, and what if that began to create some new goals?

I began reading this book skeptically. I found myself asking why a book-length account of the value of telling specific stories didn't instead just tell a few of those stories. Eventually it did, at least in excerpt form. And what happened around those stories began to seem important as well. Exhale created greeting cards for people who'd had abortions, something now also done for queer and poor families and single moms. Creating understanding and acceptance of women who've had abortions, regardless of your view of abortion, is a valuable contribution to a discussion, a negotiation. Do you view abortion as murder? Well, murderers too should be treated as human beings, and some day we may advance our understanding that far as well.

Baker claims to have influenced the discourse so much that conservative groups have reduced their talk about "postabortive women" and "postabortion syndrome," choosing, Baker writes, to speak about "healing from grief and loss, rather than seeking forgiveness for a sin." And organizations have arisen to help women that include both pro-choice and pro-life staff people. In fact, Baker writes, most Americans are both pro-choice and pro-life. When Exhale advised an MTV program featuring three women's stories, the result was positive reviews both from serious feminists and from Fox News commentators. "It was not a cavalier decision she made," commented one Fox News host on one of the women featured by the MTV show, noting in effect that the woman's experience resembled reality more than common caricature.

What if we all read stories like these? What if the conversation became an open one? We should, I think, all have enough confidence in our political agendas to believe they would succeed in the light of day with full information. And in fact they might. The horrendously bad aspects of abortion could be made known in a real and credible way -- much more persuasive than pro-life myths. The overwhelming moral justifications for abortion in many cases, could be more widely understood.

And what if those who shout from one side or the other then began talking with each other?

And what if reading the stories of women struggling through difficulties resulted in some political awareness of the extent and nature of those difficulties and how they impact each other? Women lacking access to good education, jobs, income security, healthcare, and so on (part of only a small fraction of the stories, which really come in infinite variety -- though perhaps a larger fraction among the stories that never reach the internet)  -- those are women in need of more than just common human decency. But common human decency sure is a good place to start.

The Decline and Fall of the United States

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--Robert Frost

After a speech I gave this past weekend, a young woman asked me whether a failure by the United States to properly surround and intimidate China might result in instability. I explained why I thought the opposite was true. Imagine if China had military bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the United States and ships in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Would you feel stabilized? Or might you feel something else?

The U.S. empire can continue to see itself as a force for good, doing things that would be unacceptable for anyone else but never to be questioned when performed by the global cop -- that is, it can go on not seeing itself at all, expanding, over-reaching, and collapsing from within. Or it can recognize what it's about, shift priorities, scale back militarism, reverse the concentration of wealth and power, invest in green energy and human needs, and undo the empire a bit sooner but far more beneficially. Collapse is not inevitable. Collapse or redirection is inevitable, and thus far the U.S. government is choosing the path toward the former.

Let's look at a few of the indicators.

FAILING DEMOCRACY

The United States bombs nations in the name of democracy, yet has one of the least democratic and least functioning of the states calling themselves democracies. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout among wealthy, and lower even than many poor, countries. An election is looming for next year with leading contenders from two aristocratic dynasties. The United States does not use national public initiatives or referenda in the way that some countries do, so its low voter turnout (with over 60% of eligible voters choosing not to vote in 2014) matters all the more. The U.S. democracy is also less democratic than other wealthy democracies in terms of its internal functioning, with a single individual able to launch wars.

Low public participation is not the result of satisfaction so much as recognition of corruption, combined with antidemocratic barriers to participating. For years now 75% to 85% of the U.S. public has been saying its government is broken. And clearly a big part of that understanding is related to the system of legalized bribery that funds elections. Approval of Congress has been under 20% and sometimes under 10% for years now. Confidence in Congress is at 7% and falling quickly.

Recently a man, expecting to lose his job at the very least, landed a little bicycle-helicopter at the U.S. Capitol to try to deliver requests to clean the money out of elections. He cited as his motivation the "collapse of this country." Another man showed up at the U.S. Capitol with a sign reading "Tax the 1%" and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Polls suggest those are not the only two people who see the problem -- and, it should be noted, the solution.

Of course, the U.S. "democracy" operates in greater and greater secrecy with ever greater powers of surveillance. The World Justice Project ranks the United States below many other nations in these categories: Publicized laws and government data; Right to information; Civic participation; and Complaint mechanisms.

The U.S. government is currently working on ratifying, in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which empowers corporations to overturn laws enacted by the U.S. government.

WEALTH CONCENTRATION

A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations.

The core of the U.S. sales pitch to itself is that, for all its flaws it provides freedom and opportunity. In fact, it trails most European countries in economic mobility, self-assessment of wellbeing, and ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, according to Gallup, 2014.

DEGRADING INFRASTRUCTURE

The United States contains 4.5 percent of the world’s population and spends 42 percent of the world's health care expenses, and yet Americans are less healthy than the residents of nearly every other wealthy nation and a few poor ones as well. The U.S. ranks 36th in life expectancy and 47th in preventing infant mortality.

The U.S. spends more on criminal justice and has more crime, and more gun deaths than most countries, rich or poor. That includes shootings by U.S. police that kill about 1,000 per year, compared to single digits in various Western nations.

The U.S. comes in 57th in employment, stands against the trend of the world by providing no guarantee of paid parental leave or vacation, and trails in education by various measures. The United States, however, leads the way in putting students into debt for their education to the tune of $1.3 trillion, part of a wider problem of personal debt.

The United States is #1 in debt to other countries, including governmental debt, although #3 per capita. As others have pointed out, the U.S. is declining in terms of exports, and the power of the dollar and its use as currency for the globe are in doubt.

DROP IN POPULAR OPINION ABROAD

In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America. In fact, the United States is less generous with aid but more profligate with bombs and missiles than other countries and trails generally in how it treats the rest of the world.

The United States leads the way in environmental destruction, trailing only China in carbon dioxide emissions but almost tripling China's emissions when measured per capita.

The second U.S.-backed dictator in Yemen in the past few years has now fled to Saudi Arabia and requested the bombing of his own country with U.S. weapons, a country in chaos in significant part because a U.S. drone war has given popular support to violent opposition to the U.S. and its servants.

ISIS produced a 60-minute film depicting itself as the leading enemy of the U.S. and essentially asking the U.S. to attack it. The U.S. did and its recruitment soared.

The United States is favored by brutal governments in Egypt and around the region, but not by popular support.

MILITARISM FOR ITS OWN SAKE

The United States is far and away the leading selling seller and giver of weapons to the world; the leading spender on its own military, with expenses having skyrocketed to now about $1.3 trillion per year, roughly equivalent to the rest of the world put together; the leading occupier of the world with troops in almost every other country; and the leading participant in and instigator of wars.

The United States is also, far and away, the leader in incarceration, with more people and a higher percentage of people locked up than in any other time or place, and with even more people on parole and probation and under the control of the prison system. More African-Americans are locked up than were slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. The U.S. is likely the first and only place on earth where the majority of sexual assault victims are male.

Civil liberties are eroding rapidly. Surveillance is expanding dramatically. And all in the name of war without end. But the wars are endless defeats, generating enemies rather than any advantage. The wars empower and create enemies, enrich nations engaged in nonviolent investment, and empower the war profiteers to push for more wars. The propaganda for the wars fails to boost military enlistment at home, so the U.S. government turns to mercenaries (creating additional pressure for more wars) and to drones. But the drones boost the creation of hatred and enemies exponentially, generating blowback that sooner or later will include blowback by means of drones -- which the U.S. war profiteers are marketing around the globe.

RESISTANCE GROWING

Resistance to empire does not come only in the form of a replacement empire. It can take the form of violent and nonviolent resistance to militarism, economic resistance to exploitation, and collective agreement to improve the world. When Iran urges India, China, and Russia to oppose NATO's expansion, it is not necessarily dreaming of global empire or even of cold war, but certainly of resistance to NATO. When bankers suggest the Yuan will replace the dollar, that need not mean that China will duplicate the Pentagon.

The current U.S. trajectory threatens to collapse not just the United States but the world in one or both of two ways: nuclear or environmental apocalypse. Green energy models and antimilitarism constitute resistance to this path. The model of Costa Rica with no military, 100% renewable energy, and ranked at the top in happiness is a form of resistance too. At the end of 2014, Gallup of course did not dare ask again what nation was the greatest threat to peace but did ask if people would ever fight in a war. In many nations large majorities said No, never.

The United States is growing isolated in its support for the institution of war. Last year 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations declared that they would never use war. U.S. support for Israeli wars has left it virtually alone and up against a growing campaign for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. The United States is increasingly understood as rogue, as it remains the lone or nearly lone holdout on the treaty on the rights of the child, the land mines treaty, the covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights, the International Criminal Court, etc.

Latin American nations are standing up to the United States. Some have kicked out its bases and ceased sending students to the School of the Americas. People are protesting at US bases in Italy, South Korea, England, and at US Embassies in Philippines, Czech Republic, Ukraine. German courts are hearing charges that it is illegally participating in US drone wars. Pakistani courts have indicted top CIA officials.

EXCEPTIONALISM ON THE ROPES

The idea of American exceptionalism is not a serious claim so much as an attitude among the U.S. public. While the U.S. trails other nations in various measures of health, happiness, education, sustainable energy, economic security, life expectancy, civil liberties, democratic representation, and peace, and while it sets new records for militarism, incarceration, surveillance, and secrecy, many Americans think of it as so exceptional as to excuse all sorts of actions that are unacceptable in others. Increasingly this requires willful self-deception. Increasingly the self-deception is failing.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death he wasn't warning us. He was warning our parents and grandparents. We're the dead.

Can we be revived?

To End Government Spying, Stop Buying Stuff

The thrust of Robert Scheer's new book, They Know Everything About You, is that the U.S. government's mass surveillance and permanent storage of everything you do on the internet is piggybacking on Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, AOL, Yahoo, and other companies that suck up and permanently store every scrap of information about you that they can lay their virtual hands on -- and that this data mining is driven primarily by the profit to be gained from carefully targeted advertising.

In other words, corporations' desire to place the ideal piece of consumer crap under your nose has facilitated the government's ability to intimidate and preempt activism, and to prosecute and convict on the basis of impressively technical circumstantial evidence. This is unfair in at least two ways. First, and most obviously, it is a gross violation of our rights, an assault on self-governance, a move toward totalitarianism. Facebook is openly running experiments manipulating users' emotions. The Pentagon is buying similar studies from the same academics of how to prevent activist movements -- studies that equate peace activism with violent terrorism. Google is deciding which news you should see and hiring the head of DARPA to head its own private DARPA. The owner of the Washington Post has a much larger investment in providing Amazon's services to U.S. spy agencies. Privatized spy agency contractors (a gift of the Bill Clinton presidency) are hacking into computers around the world with hostile intent and with zero public authorization. The Chamber of Commerce apparently has a free pass to target its critics with hacking and smears and traps set with false leaks. Reporter Michael Hastings dies mysteriously when investigating government tech contractors, and Barrett Brown lands in prison just for linking to embarrassing information. All of this is beginning to be understood and resented. Scheer's book is a great primer on much of it.

Second, and perhaps less obviously, it strikes me as unfair that people like me who have never ever, not even once, clicked on an advertisement or bought anything displayed to me in an advertisement on any of my electronic devices, have to have every move we make surveilled, just because the rest of you are tolerating advertising, clicking on advertising, heeding the commands of advertising, and buying shit. I've had to show up at a nonviolent peaceful protest of war and have the New York Police Department officials make clear to me that they had been reading my email earlier that day, because you thought that some shiny new product you had absolutely no need of was adorable. Does this seem fair? Does it seem like a wise setting of priorities? When politicians urge shopping as civic duty, shouldn't we hear in that not only the maintenance of a perverse economic system but also the development of a surveillance state the Soviets never dreamed of, driven by profit, and co-opted by a government that has merged with Silicon Valley until nobody can tell where one stops and the other begins?

According to Scheer the internet has persuaded people that privacy is the same thing as anonymity, and that visibility is far more valuable, as well as that corporate surveillance is of no concern and completely unlike government surveillance. Edward Snowden's revelations, Scheer writes, exposed corporate complicity with government surveillance, threatening corporations' reputations with their customers. But reform proposals that Scheer cites, such as requiring a new click on an "AGREE" button each time a company sells data on you to a third party, have not been created. The European "right to be forgotten" -- that is to have undesired information about oneself removed from the internet -- is not heard of in the United States, and to my mind is in sharp opposition to U.S. belief in the impossibility of redemption, the inherent good or evil of each person from birth to death, and the guilt of anyone accused of wrong doing.

Scheer quotes Lee Tien, attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, "There are no personal solutions to this; there is nothing we can do individually." I assume this is based on the reasonable expectation that you won't all stop buying stuff. But imagine the time and savings and security you would have if you did stop buying stuff. What harm would it do? You don't even have to stop buying stuff. Just stop buying anything that's advertised. Buy non-advertised goods. Consider that your civic duty.