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When I was a philosophy grad student in the ancient times at the U. of Virginia, some over-smart logician pointed out to me that voting is not rational, since a single vote is never decisive. It's all the other stuff that's rational: appearing to have voted, applying a sticker to your bumper, registering voters, making phone calls -- because all of that stuff has the potential to spread sufficiently to make a difference in the election, or perhaps in a future election or in other forms of civic engagement.
Next Tuesday, October 23rd, 9 p.m. ET, there will be a different sort of presidential debate. It'll be in Chicago, hosted by http://freeandequal.org and I'll be there in Chicago covering it for Al Jazeera. Six candidates have been invited to participate, and four have accepted: Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, Gary Johnson, and Virgil Goode. The moderator will be Larry King. You can submit questions here.
I know we've all thrilled to the body-language and tone analysis that has followed the debates between the guy who favors 12 more years in Afghanistan, imprisonment without trial, lower corporate tax rates, for-profit health insurance, assassinations, corporate trade pacts, imprisonment without trial, oil and coal and nuclear power, charter schools, a military budget outpacing the rest of the world combined, and an ongoing "war" on drugs, . . . and the other guy who favors all of those exact same things.
I know it's been tantalizing, in a grotesque I-can't-stop-staring sort of way, to watch debates that don't mention climate change or drone victims or poverty or the possibility of prosecuting mortgage fraud or torture or war, or the alternatives that exist to military spending and tax breaks for our oligarchs -- alternatives like free education, green energy, infrastructure, transportation, and housing.
Yes, yes, there are differences between Romney and Obama. But imagine if, when you'd finished cheering Obama for accusing Romney of opposing coal pollution (gotcha!), your brain had to wrap itself around a third candidate -- someone with a serious proposal to stop burning coal? Sure, Obama is less enthusiastic about massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare than Romney is, but imagine if the two of them had to answer to someone who spoke for the rest of us, pointed out the advantages of lifting the cap on payroll taxes so that the wealthy could start funding Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us, and advocated expanding Medicare to all who want it -- someone who swore not to allow any cuts -- even backdoor cuts -- to these successful programs?
A relatively small number of us have seen a facsimile of that kind of debate by watching the coverage on Democracy Now! But the non-corporate candidates have not had the same amount of time to speak as the two participating in the corporate-sponsored Debate Commission self-parody. Nor have the locked-out candidates been able to address the two moneyed candidates directly. And they've been asked the same alternate-universe questions asked by the corporate moderators: "What will you sacrifice on the altar of deficit reduction?" Et cetera.
I know. I know. Larry King is no Amy Goodman. But if Larry King is given good questions to ask, he'll ask them. And his approach of avoiding knowing anything before an interview actually works well for an audience -- if, as I hope, there is one -- that has never before heard of the Works Progress Administration and doesn't know that military spending lowers employment.
There should, in fact, be far more debate among the four candidates taking part than there is between the two media-approved gentlemen.
Jill Stein is a fantastic candidate. I've spoken with her a number of times during this campaign, and am more impressed each time. She stands with majority opinion against wars and waste and corporate welfare, for green energy, education, nonprofit health coverage, and full-employment. She tried to enter the corporate debate this past Tuesday and was arrested for her trouble. She was handcuffed to a chair for 8 hours, and if you hear how powerful and popular her proposals are you'll have a good guess as to why.
I'm hoping that Stein pushes Rocky Anderson a little on his limited acceptance of militarism. He's no Bush-Obama-Romney. He'd cut the military significantly (at least half the Pentagon's budget) and scale back the global cowboy killing, but that's a very low hurdle. Without a clear vision of why war is never acceptable, we won't move our nation and the world decisively away from it. That being said, I know Rocky and consider him a tremendous candidate with courage, integrity, and experience. He'd make an excellent president, especially if we had a Congress, and a media.
Gary Johnson will be the newest to me. He's a Libertarian and tends to agree with me by opposing every horrible thing governments do and to disagree with me by opposing every useful thing governments do. I'm eager to see that worldview go up against Stein and Anderson. I'm hoping for something more enlightening than the he-said / he-said squabbles between Romney and Obama in which we are asked to choose between someone who blames anti-U.S. sentiment on a stupid movie and someone who blames it on unfathomable ingratitude for our benevolent invasions and occupations. There's truth in Johnson's opposition to centralized national control of schools and many other things, just as there's truth in Stein's desire to provide schools with adequate funding currently wasted on prisons and highways and weapons.
All four of these candidates will be less imperialistic than Obama or Romney, but not all of them will be less exceptionalistic. My former congressman Virgil Goode will bring the racism and the xenophobia full throttle. It's his answer to every question. I'd love to see one of the other candidates ask if Goode understands the history of U.S. wars generating immigration and U.S. capitalists demanding more immigration. Goode will try to play the Libertarian, but those of us in his district who kept asking him in vain to stop funding wars know different.
Of course, Goode was bumped out by Tom Perriello riding Obama's
'04 '08 coattails, and Perriello funded every war he could, only without any public opposition to speak of due to his being a Democrat. He lasted one term, and peace protests of his Republican successor Robert Hurt have been minimal since the wars are either now Obama's and therefore good or are imagined not to exist at all. This district in South-Central Virginia has been swept by the same wave of ignorance that is washing over the rest of the nation.
Not everything will be on the table on Tuesday. All four of these candidates, like virtually everyone else in the country (and even the New York Times now), will oppose some truly crazy ideas, like more years in Afghanistan. We leave those to the "good" and "bad" pair of often indistinguishable candidates that we so cherish our right to choose between.
I'm not asking anyone to think their way out of lesser-evil voting in swing states -- at least not anyone who truly understands and acts on the understanding that independent activism around policy changes is far more important than electoral campaigning for personality changes. But I do encourage watching this alternative debate. And if you watch it on Al Jazeera I promise not to devote my commentary to the candidates' body language and facial expressions.
Video Clip: Al Jazeera with David Swanson, Bruce Fein, on the War Monger Candidate Challenging the Other War Monger Candidate
A writer at the Atlantic named Conor Friedersdorf recently noted the level of evil many have been brought to support:
"Tell certain liberals and progressives that you can't bring yourself to vote for a candidate who opposes gay rights, or who doesn't believe in Darwinian evolution, and they'll nod along. Say that you'd never vote for a politician caught using the 'n'-word, even if you agreed with him on more policy issues than his opponent, and the vast majority of left-leaning Americans would understand. But these same people cannot conceive of how anyone can discern Mitt Romney's flaws, which I've chronicled in the course of the campaign, and still not vote for Obama. Don't they see that Obama's transgressions are worse than any I've mentioned? I don't see how anyone who confronts Obama's record with clear eyes can enthusiastically support him. I do understand how they might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly, but I'd have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers."
Not long ago, I attended a speech by Obama, along with thousands of his adoring cheerleaders formerly known as citizens. I asked him to stop killing people in Afghanistan, and the Secret Service asked me to leave. But, just now, I got a phone call from the local Obama office. They had my name because I'd picked up a ticket to attend the speech. The young woman wanted to know if I would come help phone other people. I asked if she was familiar with the president's kill list and his policy of killing men, women, and children with drones. She said she knew nothing about that but "respected my opinion." She hung up. Objecting to presidential murder is now an opinion, and willingness to be aware of its existence is an appendage to the opinion. If you don't object to presidential murder by Democrat, then you simply arrange not to know about it. Thus, in your opinion, it doesn't exist.
Some of my friends at this moment are in Pakistan apologizing to its government and its people for the endless murderous drone war fought there by our country. They're meeting with victims' families. They're speaking publicly in opposition to the crimes of our government. And my neighbors, living in some other universe, believe most fundamentally, not that one candidate will save us, not that the two parties are fundamentally opposed, not that a citizen's job is to vote, not that war is all right if it's meant well -- although they clearly believe all of those things -- but, most fundamentally, they believe that unpleasant facts should simply be avoided. So, in a spirit of afflicting the comfortable to comfort the afflicted, here are a few from recent days:
WAR IS A LIE
We know that in the past "defensive" wars have been intentionally launched by fraud or provocation. We know that many in our government want a war with Iran. We know that several years ago then-Vice President Dick Cheney proposed disguising U.S. ships as Iranian and attacking other U.S. ships with them. We know that then-President George W. Bush proposed disguising a plane as belonging to the United Nations, flying it low, and trying to get Iraq to shoot at it. We know that there was no Gulf of Tonkin incident, no evidence that Spain attacked the Maine, no doubt that the weapons and troops on board the Lusitania were public knowledge, no question that FDR worked hard to provoke an attack by Japan, and so on. And we know that Iran has not attacked another nation in centuries. So, it almost goes without saying that Washington warmongers are contemplating ways to get Iran to make the "first move." Assassinating scientists hasn't worked, blowing up buildings doesn't seem to do it, cyber-war isn't blossoming into real war, sanctions are not sanctioning armed resistance, and dubious accusations of Iranian terrorism aren't sticking. Exactly what do we have to do to get ourselves innocently attacked by the forces of evil?
The Israel Lobby to the rescue! Patrick Clawson, Director of Research at the Washington Institute Of Near East Policy, blurted out the following on video this week:
"Crisis initiation is really tough. And it's very hard for me to see how the United States president can get us to war with Iran. . . . The traditional way America gets to war is what would be best for U.S. interests. Some people might think that Mr. Roosevelt wanted to get us into World War II . . . . You may recall, we had to wait for Pearl Harbor. Some people might think Mr. Wilson wanted to get us into World War I. You may recall that he had to wait for the Lusitania episode. Some people might think that Mr. Johnson wanted to send troops to Vietnam. You may recall he had to wait for the Gulf of Tonkin episode. We didn't go to war with Spain until the Maine exploded. And Mr. Lincoln did not feel he could call out the federal army until Fort Sumter was attacked, which is why he ordered the commander at Fort Sumter to do exactly that thing which the South Carolinians had said would cause an attack. So, if in fact the Iranians aren't going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war. . . . I mentioned that explosion on August 17th. We could step up the pressure. I mean, look people, Iranian submarines periodically go down. Someday one of them might not come up. Who would know why? [LAUGHTER FROM AUDIENCE] . . . . We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier."
This is serious advocacy for manufacturing a "defensive" and "humanitarian" war. This is not a war critic or a Yes Men prankster. The position of most elected officials in Washington, including the President, fits well with this. That position includes the ultimatum that Iran must cease doing what U.S. National Intelligence Estimates say it is not doing, namely building nuclear weapons. The goal at the bottom of all of this is war. The purpose of the war is not related to any of the excuses for it. The purpose is something else entirely. But it's ugly, so it's easier not to look.
We often forget that war is the worst thing there is. Hence our government's shift in policy back to outsourcing a lot of the torture and insourcing the "cleaner" approach of assassination without torture. Hence, also, our common fantasy that war can be used to solve a problem that is somehow worse than war.
We also forget that torturing people can be crueler than experimenting on them. Torture has been given an acceptance in the United States during the past decade that "human experimentation" has not. So, we are still capable of a bit of shock when a story comes out like this one: During the 1950s and 1960s the U.S. Army sprayed zinc cadmium sulfide, apparently including radioactive particles, in poor neighborhoods in St. Louis and other cities, to test the results on the people who unknowingly breathed it.
At the end of World War II, the U.S. military's Operation Paperclip brought nearly 500 Nazi scientists to the United States to work on U.S. weaponry. Many view their influence on the nascent military industrial complex as critical to its sadistic and sociopathic tendencies ever since. In fairness to the Nazis, it's possible that they simply fit in well, serving the military of a nation with a long history of genocide, slavery, torture, and public deception.
I came across a member of Veterans For Peace this week who's been struggling many years as a result of experimental vaccines and drugs given to hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers during the Gulf War. We also learned this week that every prisoner in the Guantanamo death camp has been given experimental drugs without their knowledge or at least without their consent.
And then there's this: "Congressional Probe Reveals Cover-Up of 'Auschwitz-Like' Conditions at US-Funded Afghan Hospital":
"A congressional investigation has revealed a top U.S. general in Afghanistan sought to stall an investigation into abuse at a U.S.-funded hospital in Kabul that kept patients in, quote, 'Auschwitz-like' conditions. Army whistleblowers revealed photographs taken in 2010 which show severely neglected, starving patients at Dawood Hospital, considered the crown jewel of the Afghan medical system, where the country's military personnel are treated. The photos show severely emaciated patients, some suffering from gangrene and maggot-infested wounds. For TV viewers of Democracy Now!, please be warned: these images are extremely graphic and may be disturbing."
NOTHING MORE EVIL
Here's what I'm trying to get at. If you try to think of something more evil than what we are now doing, you'll fail. Name your evil: destroying the earth's climate? President Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen to single-handedly derail any process for protecting the earth's atmosphere. The only way in which to fantasize about greater evil is quantitative, not qualitative. We could drop more bombs. We could starve more children. We could experiment on more prisoners. In fact, this is what Lesser Evilism amounts to. A Lesser Evilist today is not choosing less evil policies, but the same policies in what he or she hopes will be lesser amounts.
That might be a rational calculation within a polling place. But living it prior to and after an election, apologizing and cheering for one of two teams, as if self-governance were a spectator sport, is nothing other than complicity in the most hideous forms of cruelty and murder. That complicity is insidious. Evil begins to look like something else, because the Lesser Evilist, within his or her own mind, comes to view the Lesser Evil forces as good, if not glorious, if not saintly.
Why would I even ask that question? I've been trying (with virtually no success) to get everyone to drop the election obsession and focus on activism designed around policy changes, not personality changes. I want those policy changes to include stripping presidents of imperial powers. I don't see as much difference between the two available choices as most people; I see each as a different shade of disaster. I don't get distressed by the thought of people "spoiling" an election by voting for a legitimately good candidate like Jill Stein. Besides, won't Romney lose by a landslide if he doesn't tape his mouth shut during the coming weeks? And yet . . .
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" The answer is, of course: heartlessly, callously, sociopathically, from a state of denial and chosen blindness. The answer is fundamentally the same as what would allow John Kerry to give the speech he gave at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Kerry is, of course, the same loser who eight years ago wanted to be elected on the strength of not being George W. Bush but who said he would have voted for the war on Iraq even if he had mustered up the few brain cells necessary to realize there were no weapons of mass destruction there. Kerry just would have fought the war "effectively," he said.
Now Kerry says this:
Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine spoke prior to Obama's speech on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va. He had praise for anyone signing up to go to war in Afghanistan. "We can still put our positive thumbprint on that nation," he said, to wild cheers. Imagine the competition among the world's nations to get our thumbprint next! Imagine what it costs to get our assprint.
"So, who are you voting for?" an Obama follower asked me prior to the event. I was holding posters with 12 friends and handing out hundreds of flyers that looked like Obama material until you read them. (PDF).
The posters objected to the tripling of weapons sales to foreign dictators last year, Obama's willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare, the kill list, imprisonment without trial, warrantless spying, corporate trade agreements, the continued so-called "Bush" tax cuts, the war on Afghanistan, the drone wars, the increased military budget, the murder of Tariq Aziz and of Abdulrahman al Awlaki, the weak auto efficiency standards in the news that day, the refusal to prosecute torturers, Obama's sabotaging of agreements to counter global warming, etc.
"So, who are you going to vote for?"
"Well," I said, "you know, you can vote for someone good like Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson, or you can vote for Obama, but today is not election day. If you vote for the lesser evil candidate on election day, that's great. Knock yourself out. But that does not begin to produce an argument for being his apologist and cheerleader throughout the year. If you push the culture and the government in a better direction, both evil candidates will get a little less evil. One guy wants to trash Social Security, and the other guy brags about his willingness to make huge compromises with that agenda -- that is, to partially trash Social Security. So, is your job to demand that not a dime be cut (regardless of how you vote), or is your job to cheer for the partially trash it guy, thereby guaranteeing that he and the other guy both get even worse?"
"Yeah, I see, but I'm trying to understand who you think we should vote for."
"Let me try again. Take Obama's kill list for . . . "
"President Obama keeps a list of the people he wants to kill. It was a frontpage New York Times story three months ago that made a lot of news but was carefully avoided by Democrats even more assiduously than you would have sought it out and trumpeted your outrage were the president a Republican. Anyway, take the kill list, which includes Americans and non-Americans, adults and children. Is it your job to ignore it, to celebrate it, or to protest it? I don't mean your job as a voter, but your job as a citizen. What are you supposed to do in such a case?"
"Well what's the alternative?"
"The alternative to murdering people? Well, I don't know how to put this. The alternative is essentially not murdering people."
"No, what's the alternative to Obama? Isn't the other guy worse?"
"Let me try again. You'll grant me that women didn't vote themselves the right to vote. Will you go along with that? They didn't get the right to vote by voting for it?"
"And the civil rights movement didn't end the sit ins and marches and endorse Democrats and pack events like this one to cheer loudly? That wouldn't have worked as well and wouldn't have been required in order for those activists to be serious activists, right? We don't accuse Martin Luther King of not being a serious activist because he didn't endorse candidates, right? And if you'd asked him what the alternative was to your candidate, would you be shocked if he had replied that the alternative was educating, organizing, mobilizing, and engaging in nonviolent resistance to evil?"
"So, you're not going to vote for anybody?"
"I'm not sure I'm being very clear here. 70% of the country wants the war in Afghanistan ended. Neither candidate is willing to end it. Obama pretends he's ending it. Romney doesn't mention it. Should 70% of the country keep quiet while large numbers of people are killed? Or should we approach both branches of our government, the two parties, with our just and moral demand until we're satisfied -- regardless of who we're going to vote for?"
"Well, you can have your opinion about Afghanistan, but that's no reason to character assassinate the President."
"Seventy percent of the country is character assassinating the president by wanting to get out of Afghanistan? Or only if you mention it out loud? How do you character assassinate someone? Did you catch the part where I pointed out that Obama actually assassinates people?"
Three of us went into the event. I had tickets, which were free and which the campaign could barely give away, while back in 2007 Obama had sold out the same venue. We didn't go in so as to spend hours in the hot sun just to hear an Obama speech like the one he'd given the day before in another town which we could have watched on Youtube. Thousands of people did that. We went in to disturb the war.
We wanted to shout. But what could we shout? We were only three. We were not near the front. (I recommend taking 10 to the front of one of these events if you can. You'll own the place.) We would have to be loud and clear. We couldn't mention the kill list which would be like mentioning UFOs to these people. We couldn't mention Social Security because they pretend Obama's not threatening it. We couldn't mention peace because people would think it was a pro-Obama chant. We decided to say this: Get out of Afghanistan! End the sanctions on Iran!
Here's how the Washington Post's blog reported on that:
"Protesters drown out Obama
"Posted by Amy Gardner on August 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm
"CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — An outdoor political rally erupted into a moment of chaos as protesters drowned out President Obama’s speech at a downtown amphitheater here — and then the rest of the crowd drowned out the protesters. It was unclear what the protesters were saying, but several members of the crowd said a few minutes later that they heard 'Get out of Afghanistan!' The shouts prompted a flurry of Secret Service activity, and they also prompted an enthusiastic crowd of more than 7,000 to shut down the protesters with two cacophonous chants: 'Four more years!' and 'O-ba-ma!' Obama couldn't continue for a long moment, but when the noise finally died down, he said: 'I couldn’t hear what those young people had to say, but that's good that they got involved.' To the rest of the crowd, he said: 'Don't just chant! Vote!'"
Obama was pretending the crowd was all young people. He'd tried to speak at the University of Virginia which had turned him down, but he gave his speech as if he were there. The crowd didn't shout us down till we'd run out of breath. They were not nearly as fast as Republicans are with their "U-S-A! U-S-A!" In fact, they seemed tremendously proud of themselves when they managed to discover that they could yell "O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!" Voting, in the pretense of those in power, constitutes more activism than chanting or any other activity. Don't just hold teach-ins, vote! Don't just occupy the square, vote! Don't just risk your life to expose injustice, vote! If Bradley Manning had just voted, that would have been the last full measure of devotion.
As to the flurry of Secret Service activity, an Obama campaign guy started standing next to us, and a mean possibly drunk guy started shoving and threatening us. After various additional disruptions of the war (not the peace) by us, the Obama guy called the local police over who asked us to leave, and asked for our names, etc., to tell them to the Secret Service. The police had earlier refused numerous requests by the Obama staff and volunteers to evict our poster demonstration. The police had mentioned freedom of speech. The local media, as well as the police, were surprisingly decent. The Obama campaigners, on the other hand, would have exiled us all to Gitmo if they'd been able, and if they weren't suffering under the misconception that it's been closed.
The acceptance speech of the Republican candidate for U.S. president in 1924 would have made a dramatic improvement on President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of 2009. The 1924 speech was given by the incumbent president who would go on to win reelection and to act on his rhetorical commitments. His name was Calvin Coolidge.
According to the Huffington Post, "President Barack Obama's reelection campaign and Democratic political groups have been eager for Romney to pick Ryan, the architect of plans to slash government spending and overhaul entitlement programs that Democrats believe are political losers." ABC agrees: "The selection of Ryan as running mate makes it far more likely that Medicare, Social Security, and dramatic spending cuts will be as central to the campaign conversation this