Culture and Society

Nov
18

Born on Home Plate

Remember the satirical "Billionaires for Bush" protesters? Around this time in 2008 I asked them to become Oligarchs for Obama, and they refused. But I predict Tycoons for Trump will be born this month. Inequality, like war and climate destruction, has its face now.

Chuck Collins' book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good, presents the problem of inequality as well as any I've seen. Collins was born into wealth, gave it away, but still refers to himself as one of the wealthy, perhaps because of all the lasting privileges wealth brought him. Collins sites other examples, as well, of the wealthy putting their wealth to better use than hoarding.

Collins explains how a lot of philanthropy is, however, counterproductive, benefitting those least in need of it. He argues for a popular movement to create progressive taxation and progressive restraints on income. But he also makes a case for appealing to one percenters for solidarity, rather than demonizing them -- apparently because this has proven to work better but also because it's too late for anything else. Wealth has been so concentrated that without defections at the top it will never be truly shared again.

Oct
28

Disobey or Die

Back in the winter of 1982, Air Florida flight 90 took off from National Airport. The first officer noticed dangerous readings on some instruments and pointed them out to the captain. The captain told him he was wrong, and he accepted the captain's authority. He did nothing. Thirty seconds later the plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge. Everyone on board died except for four passengers rescued out of the icy river.

Oct
04

Talk Nation Radio: Samantha Nutt on the Harm of Weapons Dealing and Investment

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-samantha-nutt-on-the-harm-of-weapons-dealing-and-investment

Samantha Nutt is an award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author and acclaimed public speaker. A medical doctor and a founder of the renowned international humanitarian organization War Child, Dr. Nutt has worked with children and their families at the frontline of many of the world’s major crises – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan.

Dr. Nutt is a respected authority for many of North America's leading media outlets. In November 2015, Dr. Nutt spoke at TED Talks Live “War & Peace” at The Town Hall Theater in New York, which aired on PBS on May 30, 2016. Dr. Nutt’s TED Talk can be viewed on TED.com:

http://www.ted.com/talks/samantha_nutt_the_real_harm_of_the_global_arms_trade

Dr. Nutt’s critically-acclaimed debut book, entitled Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid, was released by McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (a division of Random House) in October 2011 and was a #1 national bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. 

For more information, see www.warchildusa.org or www.samanthanutt.com

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 when I'm able to get the audioport website to work, which is not this week.

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

Sep
27

Talk Nation Radio: Benjamin Madley on the California Indian Catastrophe

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-benjamin-madley-on-the-california-indian-catastrophe

Benjamin Madley is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is also chair of American Indian Studies. He discusses his new book, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can usually download from Audioport, but I couldn't get the sample rate to be acceptable to the website this week, as the show was recorded elsewhere.

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

Sep
19

The African American History Missing from the Smithsonian

Tag: Culture and Society, Media, Peace and War

The new corporate-funded African-American History museum in Washington, D.C., built on the former site of Camp Democracy and all sorts of protests and festivals, is getting a great deal of purely positive press before its doors have opened.

This press and the museum's own website suggest that the museum covers slavery, Jim Crow, racism, sports, and entertainment, but doesn't step out of the mold set by the Smithsonian when it celebrated the Enola Gay or began letting war profiteers fund and shape the exhibits in the Air and Space Museum or in the American History Museum, which has gone out of its way to glorify war.

The New York Times informs us about the new museum: "Above ground, the museum departs from the chronological narrative to examine African-American achievements in fields like music, art, sports and the military. Visitors can tour these brighter third-floor and fourth-floor themed Culture and Community galleries without venturing into the harsher history sections below."

Get it? War is part of a well-rounded liberal life alongside music and sports, unlike those "harsh" bits of history. The new museum's website promotes "Military" as a category of exhibit item. Click it and you'll find 162 things including smiling portraits of soldiers in uniforms, medals, letters, hats, binoculars, propaganda posters, etc. If you search the site for "Peace" you find one photo of an unidentified man wearing a peace sign necklace and one photo of unidentified men holding up a giant peace sign.

We know that Marin Luther King Jr. is to be found in the new museum, but we don't know if he's the corporate-approved Martin Luther King Jr. who opposed racism but never noticed war. We know that Muhammad Ali shows up in the sports section along with his head-gear and gloves. We don't know if his reasons for refusing the Vietnam War draft are included.

African Americans have been a major part of resistance to war, especially from the Korean War through the nomination of Barack Obama for president. Some of this history is told by Kimberley Phillips who will be speaking in Washington, D.C., as the museum opens, but speaking at a conference at American University called No War 2016.

Does the Smithsonian touch on African-American resistance to wars on Africa or the growth of Africom? Also speaking at No War 2016 will be Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo. Is the story his group tells in the film Crisis in the Congo told by the Smithsonian? Also speaking on a panel on racism and war at No War 2016 will be Bill Fletcher Jr. and Darakshan Raja. Where is their wisdom at the Smithsonian? Where is any history of the ties between a racist foreign policy and domestic racism? What is the relationship between racism and war propaganda? I wouldn't enter the new museum holding your breath until you find that exhibit.

What public service is being offered by a museum that celebrates the Tuskeegee Airmen but thus far has given no public indication that it will explore the significance of the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment? Bombing foreigners who engage in human experimentation makes a better story than just bombing foreigners while engaging in human experimentation. The story can be told with the flaws of segregation, later remedied or in the process of quickly being repaired. There is value in that story. It's not without its merits. But it is fundamentally false and may just get us all killed.

Sep
19

The Great Dismal World Outside the Swamp

Tag: Culture and Society

The Smithsonian magazine recently published an article about the Great Dismal Swamp. I picked up the book that the article is based on, but the article does a better job of telling the story; I don't recommend the book.

The Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina appears to have been a place where African, European, and Native Americans found refuge from slavery, indenture, and genocide -- and not just momentary refuge, but permanent settlement that lasted for centuries with little interaction with the outside world -- but also little written record or record of any kind.

Daniel O. Sayers has been digging into the ground of the Great Dismal Swamp since 2003 and bringing out tiny specks of evidence. His conclusion that "some of the most successful and transformative social radicals of the modern era have gone unnoticed and unrecognized for centuries," is based on one very brief second-hand comment that people worked together and treated each other well in the Swamp, plus a good deal of circular reasoning: Because a small group separated from modern enterprise would likely behave as most small groups do and would lack modern enterprise, or because a group of African-Americans would likely rely on some African traditions, Sayers can conclude that the Swamp dwellers lived more communally than did those on the outside.

Sep
15

Who Killed the People of California? Should Kaepernick Protest His Uniform?

Tag: Civil Rights, Culture and Society, Peace and War

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been given much deserved credit for protesting racism by sitting out the Star Spangled Banner, which not only glorifies war (which everyone, including Kaepernick is totally cool with) but also includes racism in an unsung verse and was written by a racist slave owner whose earlier version had included anti-Muslim bigotry. As long as we're opening our eyes to unpleasant history hiding in plain sight, it's worth asking why the 49ers is not a team name that everyone associates with genocide. Why isn't Kaepernick protesting his uniform?

Of course, protesting one injustice is worthy of infinite thanks, and I don't actually expect anyone who speaks out on one thing to also protest everything else. But I've just read a terrific new book that I suspect unearths a history that most Californians are largely unaware of. The book is An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873, by Benjamin Madley, from Yale University Press. I doubt I've seen a better researched and documented book on anything ever. While the book maintains an engaging chronological account, and while there is plenty of uncertainty in the records used, the 198 pages of appendices listing particular killings, and the 73 pages of notes back up an overwhelming case of genocide by the UN's legal definition.

Sep
10

Snowden: Best Film of the Year

Tag: Art, Culture and Society, Political Ideas

Snowden is the most entertaining, informing, and important film you are likely to see this year.

It's the true story of an awakening. It traces the path of Edward Snowden's career in the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and at various contractors thereof. It also traces the path of Edward Snowden's agonizingly slow awakening to the possibility that the U.S. government might sometimes be wrong, corrupt, or criminal. And of course the film takes us through Snowden's courageous and principled act of whistleblowing.

We see in the film countless colleagues of Snowden's who knew much of what he knew and did not blow the whistle. We see a few help him and others appreciate him. But they themselves do nothing. Snowden is one of the exceptions. Other exceptions who preceded him and show up in the film include William Binney, Ed Loomis, Kirk Wiebe, and Thomas Drake. Most people are not like these men. Most people obey illegal orders without ever making a peep.

Aug
29

Arms Dealing Is Subject of Hollywood Comedy

Tag: Culture and Society

I recall five years ago listening to an arms dealer on NPR respond to a question of what he would do if the war on Afghanistan were actually ended. He said he hoped there could be a big long war in Libya. And he laughed. And the "journalist" laughed. It was arms dealing as comedy.

The new Hollywood movie War Dogs is a comic biopic or a biographical crime war comedy-drama film but always described as some sort of comedy. The image above is of an ad for the film that one hopes is intended as funny, because otherwise it would be even worse than it is. The website it points you to purports to be an introduction to how you, too, can get stinking rich as a war profiteer. Then it shows youtube trailers of the movie, which appears to be all about sex, music, violence, punchlines, and arms dealing.

If you watch the movie itself, it starts out denouncing war as having nothing to do with what the propaganda suggests, as being all about weapons profiteering. But the rest of the movie shows almost nothing of war. Never is a single victim of all the weaponry that is bought and sold shown or even mentioned. Instead, we're given a version of The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street where the particular financial scam is selling weapons rather than repackaging mortgages.

Perhaps the early scenes of the movie touch momentarily on the hypocrisy of profiteering on war while denying even to oneself that one supports the wars. But these scenes also depict a society in which the only way a young person can earn a decent living is by selling weapons. It's a familiar tale from stories of drug dealing as the only route to significant wealth. But here the drug is weaponry, and the addict is the U.S. government.

And it's true that the (based on a true) story depicted in the film ends up in disaster. But we never see the slightest hint at how arming people to commit mass murder might harm anyone, any more than Wall Street crime movies introduce you to people made homeless by Wall Street scams. The moral lesson of War Dogs seems to be: Abide by proper bureaucratic procedures, buy the instruments of death from approved nations, maintain propriety and transparency in death dealing, and you'll get only slightly less stinking rich than these clowns did.

The cultural lesson, especially of the advertising, seems to be that joking about war profiteering is funny, cool, and edgy. Joking about cruelty to non-human animals would not be so acceptable in movie promotions. The industry of mass murder for human beings has become background noise in the era of permawar. All jokes about it will be labeled ironic, but the fact that it is an acceptable topic for joking says something very troubling about our culture.

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