Skipping the Speech for All the Wrong Reasons

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to hear that Congress members will skip Netanyahu’s speech no matter what reason they offer. Here are some of them:

It’s too close to Netanyahu’s election. (That doesn’t persuade me. If we had fair, open, publicly funded, un-gerrymandered, verifiably counted elections, then “politics” wouldn’t be a dirty word and we would want politicians to show themselves doing things to try to please us before, during, and after elections. I want them acting that way now, even with our broken system. I don’t want the U.S. interfering in Israeli elections, but allowing a speech is hardly the same as backing coups in Ukraine and Venezuela or giving Israel billions of dollars worth of weapons every year.)

The Speaker didn’t ask the President. (This is likely the big reason that Democrats are promising to skip the speech. I’m actually amazed more of them haven’t made that promise. Netanyahu seemed to me to miss the extent to which the United States has become a term-limited monarchy. Congress typically wants to pass the buck on wars to the President. The President typically controls one of the two parties quite tightly. But do I actually care that Congress didn’t consult the President? Hell no! Imagine if, during the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq, Congress had offered a joint-session microphone to El Baradei or Sarkozy or Putin or, indeed, Hussein to denounce all the bogus claims about WMDs in Iraq? Would you have been outraged by the impoliteness toward President Bush or delighted that a million people might not get killed for no damn reason?)

These kinds of reasons do have a practical weakness: they lead to calls for postponing the speech, rather than canceling it. Some other reasons have more serious flaws.

The speech damages bipartisan U.S. support for Israel. (Really? A slim minority of the President’s party skips the speech for a laundry list of lame excuses and suddenly the United States is going to stop providing all the free weapons and vetoing every attempt at legal accountability for the crimes of the Israeli government? And that would be a bad thing if it actually happened?)

The speech hurts the critical effort of negotiations to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. (This is the worst of the bad reasons. It pushes the false idea that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and threatening to use it. It plays right into Netanyahu’s fantasies of poor helpless nuclear Israel the victim of Iranian aggression. In reality, Iran has not attacked another nation in modern history. If only Israel or the United States could say as much!)

As I said, I’m glad anyone’s skipping the speech for any reason. But I find it deeply disturbing that an enormously important and deeply moral reason to skip the speech is obvious and known to every member of Congress, and while most are acting against it, those acting in accordance with it refuse to articulate it. The reason is this: Netanyahu is coming to spread war propaganda. He told Congress lies about Iraq in 2002 and pushed for a U.S. war. He has been lying, according to leaks this week of his own spies’ information and according to the understanding of the U.S. “intelligence” services, about Iran. It is illegal to spread war propaganda under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. Congress is struggling to keep up with the wars President Obama is continuing, launching, and risking. Here’s one war Obama seems not to want, and Congress is bringing in a foreign leader with a record of war lies to give them their marching orders. Meanwhile, an agency of that same foreign government, AIPAC, is holding its big lobby meeting in Washington.

Now, it is true that nuclear energy facilities create dangerous targets. Those drones flying around French nuclear plants scare the hell out of me. And it is true that nuclear energy places its possessor a short step away from nuclear weaponry. Which is why the U.S. should stop spreading nuclear energy to countries that have no need of it, and why the U.S. should never have given nuclear bomb plans to Iran or sentenced Jeffrey Sterling to prison for allegedly revealing that act. But you can’t accomplish good by using horrific mass murder to avoid horrific mass murder — and that’s what Israeli-U.S. aggression toward Iran means. Stirring up a new cold war with Russia in Syria and Ukraine is dangerous enough without throwing Iran into the mix. But even a war that confined itself to Iran would be horrifying.

Imagine if we had one Congress member who would say, “I’m skipping the speech because I’m opposed to killing Iranians.” I know we have lots of constituents who like to think that their progressive Congress member secretly thinks that. But I’ll believe it when I hear it said.

 

Did Berkeley Just Save Us From Drones or Target Us With Drones?

Cities and states across the United States have been taking various actions against drones, while the federal government rolls ahead with project fill the skies.

Robert L. Meola has been working for years now to get Berkeley to catch up with other localities and claim its usual spot at the forefront of movements to pass good resolutions on major issues. Now Berkeley has acted and Meola says “This is NOT what I/we asked for.”

Here’s what they asked for:

Establishing a Two Year Moratorium on Drones in Berkeley
From: Peace and Justice Commission
Recommendation: Adopt a Resolution adopting a two year moratorium on drones in Berkeley.
Financial Implications: Unknown

And what they got:

Action: 11 speakers. M/S/C (Bates/Maio) to: 1) adopt a one-year moratorium on the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or “drones” by the Berkeley Police Department, 2) ask the Council to develop a policy for police use of drones, and 3) to authorize the use of drones by the Berkeley Fire Department for disaster response purposes. Vote: Ayes – Maio, Moore, Anderson, Arreguin, Capitelli, Wengraf, Bates; Noes – Droste; Abstain – Worthington.

Meola responds:

“They adopted a ONE year moratorium on POLICE use of drones. The police have not been interested in getting a drone, according to the last official word from the chief. But they AUTHORIZED use by the Fire Department, who also has not asked to have a drone. And if they get one, will it ONLY be used by the Fire Dept. for disaster response purposes??–Maybe. And they say they will develop a policy for Police USE of drones. How nice of them. We have asked for NO DRONES, NO POLICE USE OF DRONES, and their moratorium entails coming up with a policy for POLICE USE OF DRONES while they still haven’t tackled the issues around a comprehensive drone policy for Berkeley. I spoke. Others spoke. The ACLU spoke. The Mayor is slick. He started out saying two years and ended up with one. They had a whole list of exceptions that got exchanged for this crappy policy.

“So, if no one is paying attention to the details, the propaganda sounds good: BERKELEY PASSES ONE YEAR MORATORIUM ON DRONES Wow! Groovy! Better maybe not to have done anything! Kriss Worthington abstained because this doesn’t sound better than doing nothing once you read the details of what they actually passed.

“They ignored all the good stuff in our recommendation re not using info obtained by a drone in state and federal criminal investigations without a valid warrant based on probable cause. They ignored asking the state to establish a two year moratorium.

“My time would be better spent organizing for Nonviolent Anarchist Revolution, don’t you think? Instead I am asking for them to make a law! And this is the result! HELP!

“No faith n the system, not even in Berkeley.

“LONG LIVE ANARCHY!”

Hey, Berkeley, your people sure seem to love you. I’ve received several emails today from random people in Berkeley on the theme of how useless your Police Review Commission is. And I live nowhere near Berkeley and hadn’t inquired.

Wouldn’t keeping killer spy robots out of the skies have been an easy way to do something positive?

Not a Bug Splat, Not Chattel

U.S. drone “pilots” refer to people they burn to death in places like Pakistan as “bug splat” because they look like bugs being squished to death on the pilots’ video monitors and because it’s easier to murder bugs than humans.

Hence the need for the brilliant artwork made visible to a drone (http://notabugsplat.com):

The human brain is a funny thing. Numerous human brains know that every human is a human, yet insist that various types of humans must be “humanized” before they can be recognized as humans. That is, even though you know someone must have a name and loved ones and favorite games and certain weaknesses and a couple of quirks that friends find endearing — because each and every Homo sapiens does have such things — you insist on being told what the details are, and only then readily admit that in fact this particular human is a human (and millions of others remain in doubt).

A drone killer must know that children have eyes and noses and mouths, hair and fingers. But this artwork presents it to the troubled brain of the humanization dependent observer.

And what if you want to know more about the humans inhabiting Pakistan? More than just a face in a photograph?

I recommend reading The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria. Rafia grew up in Pakistan and moved to the United States. She can tell you intimate details about life in Pakistan from a perspective you recognize.

Central to her story of migration and cultural change and political transformation is the life of her aunt whose husband chose to marry a second wife and move his first wife to the upstairs of the house. The status of women and of religion is put into sharp relief by this sorrowful account of deep personal injury and humiliation.

Yes, this is another case of religion serving to worsen people’s lives in ways that possibly used to make sense but have been dragged forward into the present only by the resistance of religion to rational change.

No, this is not a revelation that Pakistanis hate Americans because their religion tells them to. People who hate the U.S. government tend to object to the destruction and killing of the U.S. military.

And no, your religion, whatever it is, is not better than someone else’s. The problem is not the flavor of the religion, but the utilization of magical rules in guiding people’s lives — that is to say, adherence to rules that on their merits would be abandoned but that are maintained because the great Whatchamacallit decreed so in the Holy Days of Whichamawhoochee.

At least that’s one of many impressions I take away from the book. You may have others. It’s not a sad or contemptuous story but an enjoyable and educational one. And it’s complex enough to render useless any generalization about what “the Pakistanis” do or think at all. The people of Pakistan have many backgrounds and all sorts of unique outlooks and circumstances. They are, in fact, a lot like you, me, your neighbor, your uncle, and the woman who works in the grocery store — just with a smaller military than ours killing people in their names.

Not a Bug Splat, Not Chattel

U.S. drone “pilots” refer to people they burn to death in places like Pakistan as “bug splat” because they look like bugs being squished to death on the pilots’ video monitors and because it’s easier to murder bugs than humans.

Hence the need for the brilliant artwork made visible to a drone (http://notabugsplat.com):

The human brain is a funny thing. Numerous human brains know that every human is a human, yet insist that various types of humans must be “humanized” before they can be recognized as humans. That is, even though you know someone must have a name and loved ones and favorite games and certain weaknesses and a couple of quirks that friends find endearing — because each and every Homo sapiens does have such things — you insist on being told what the details are, and only then readily admit that in fact this particular human is a human (and millions of others remain in doubt).

A drone killer must know that children have eyes and noses and mouths, hair and fingers. But this artwork presents it to the troubled brain of the humanization dependent observer.

And what if you want to know more about the humans inhabiting Pakistan? More than just a face in a photograph?

I recommend reading The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria. Rafia grew up in Pakistan and moved to the United States. She can tell you intimate details about life in Pakistan from a perspective you recognize.

Central to her story of migration and cultural change and political transformation is the life of her aunt whose husband chose to marry a second wife and move his first wife to the upstairs of the house. The status of women and of religion is put into sharp relief by this sorrowful account of deep personal injury and humiliation.

Yes, this is another case of religion serving to worsen people’s lives in ways that possibly used to make sense but have been dragged forward into the present only by the resistance of religion to rational change.

No, this is not a revelation that Pakistanis hate Americans because their religion tells them to. People who hate the U.S. government tend to object to the destruction and killing of the U.S. military.

And no, your religion, whatever it is, is not better than someone else’s. The problem is not the flavor of the religion, but the utilization of magical rules in guiding people’s lives — that is to say, adherence to rules that on their merits would be abandoned but that are maintained because the great Whatchamacallit decreed so in the Holy Days of Whichamawhoochee.

At least that’s one of many impressions I take away from the book. You may have others. It’s not a sad or contemptuous story but an enjoyable and educational one. And it’s complex enough to render useless any generalization about what “the Pakistanis” do or think at all. The people of Pakistan have many backgrounds and all sorts of unique outlooks and circumstances. They are, in fact, a lot like you, me, your neighbor, your uncle, and the woman who works in the grocery store — just with a smaller military than ours killing people in their names.

No Weapons to Ukraine

No Weapons to Ukraine

An Open Letter to the U.S. Senate

Reject S. 452, “A bill to provide lethal weapons to the Government of Ukraine.”

Sign here: http://diy.rootsaction.org/petitions/no-weapons-to-ukraine

Why is this important?

The United States is the leading provider of weapons to the world, and the practice of providing weapons to countries in crisis has proven disastrous, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Expanding NATO to Russia’s border and arming Russia’s neighbors threatens something worse than disaster. The United States is toying with nuclear war.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt played significant roles in orchestrating the political crisis that led to a violent coup overthrowing Ukraine’s elected President. Nuland not only exclaimed “Fuck the EU!” on that recorded phone call, but she also seemed to decide on the new prime minister: “Yats is the guy.”

The Maidan protests were violently escalated by neo-Nazis and by snipers who opened fire on police. When Poland, Germany, and France negotiated a deal for the Maidan demands and an early election, neo-Nazis instead attacked the government and took over. The U.S. State Department immediately recognized the coup government, and Yatsenyuk was indeed installed as Prime Minister.

The people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede, and that — rather than the coup — has been labeled “aggression.” Ethnic Russians have been massacred by constant shelling from Kiev’s U.S.-NATO backed Army, while Russia has been denounced for “aggression” in the form of various unsubstantiated accusations, including the downing of Flight 17.

It’s important to recognize Western interests at work here other than peace and generosity. GMO outfits want the excellent farming soil in Ukraine. The U.S. and NATO want a “missile defense” base in Ukraine. Oil corporations want to drill for fracked gas in Ukraine. The U.S. and EU want to get their hands on Russia’s “largest supply of natural gas” on the planet.

We routinely recognize the financial corruption of the U.S. government in domestic policy making. We shouldn’t blind ourselves to it in matters of foreign policy. There may be a flag waving, but there is nuclear war looming, and that’s a bit more important.

Initial signers (organizations for identification):
David Swanson, World Beyond War.
Bruce Gagnon, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.
Nick Mottern, KnowDrones.com.
Tarak Kauff, Veterans For Peace.
Carolyn McCrady, Peace and Justice Can Win.
Medea Benjamin, Code Pink.
Gareth Porter.
Malachy Kilbride, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance.
Buzz Davis, WI Impeachment/Bring Our Troops Home Coalition.
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
Doug Rawlings, Veterans For Peace.
Diane Turco, Cape Codders for Peace and Justice.
Rich Greve, Peace Action Staten Island.
Kevin Zeese, Popular Resistance.
Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance.
Heinrich Buecker, Coop Anti-War Cafe Berlin.
Dud Hendrick.
Ellen Barfield, Veterans For Peace and War Resisters League.
Herbert Hoffman, Veterans For Peace.
Jean Athey, Peace Action Montgomery.
Kent Shifferd.
Matthew Hoh.
Bob Cushing, Pax Christi.
Bill Gilson, Veterans For Peace.
Michael Brenner, University of Pittsburgh.
Cindy Sheehan: Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.
Jodie Evans, Code Pink.
Judith Deutsch.
Jim Haber.
Elliott Adams.
Joe Lombardo and Marilyn Levin, UNAC co-coordinators.
David Hartsough, World Beyond War.
Mairead Maguire, Nobel peace laureate, Co founder peace people.
Koohan Paik, International Forum on Globalization.
Ellen Judd, University of Manitoba.
Nicolas Davies.
Rosalie Tyler Paul, PeaceWorks, Brunswick Maine.

Sign here: http://diy.rootsaction.org/petitions/no-weapons-to-ukraine

 

U.S. Army Claims to Be Full of Liars

“Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession” is the title of a new paper by Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras of the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. Its thesis: the U.S. Army is full of liars who habitually lie as part of a lying culture that has internalized and normalized lying to the point of unrecognizability.

Finally a claim from the Army I’m prepared to take seriously!

But the authors aren’t interested in the Army’s lying press releases or lying Congressional testimony or lying sound bytes promoting each new war, predicting imminent success, and identifying each dead adult or child as an evildoer. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the authors are in fact lying to themselves about the nature of the Army’s lying.

To hear them tell it, the Army’s lying problem could be the same as in any other institution. They don’t compare the Army to any other institutions, except to say that their analysis applies to the whole U.S. military, and the implication is that other institutions do not have it so bad. But the root of the problem, as they see it, is impossible demands placed on members of the military. To meet the impossible demands, people lie. And this — not the mission of mass murder — makes them “ethically numb.”

Members of the Army, we’re told, engage in “ethical fading,” using euphemisms and obscure phrases to disguise the immorality of what they are doing — namely overstating the supplies shipped or understating their own weight or some other “ethical” matter, not burning families to death in their homes with million-dollar missiles.

All of this unethicalness, the authors maintain, can create hypocritical leaders who hide billions in the “Overseas Contingency Operations” slush fund or cover up sex scandals. Really? Immorality enters an institution of mass murder that routinely deceives the public and much of the government from the bottom up? Excessive demands on troops creates a culture of lying than infects the good generals at the top? Are you kidding me? No, of course you aren’t. You’re lying to yourselves.

Soldiers realize pretty quickly that they’re not benefitting the people of Iraq or Afghanistan or whatever country they’re terrorizing. They understand that the entire mission is a lie. They learn to lie about their own actions, to plant “drop weapons,” to invent justifications, to provide support for their commanders’ efforts to believe their own lies.

Matthew Hoh, a State Department whistleblower, said today: “The culture of lying that is endemic and systemic in the Army, as found by researchers with the Army War College, finds its expression in America’s pointless wars, a one trillion dollar-a-year, pork-filled and inauditable national security budget, chronic veteran suicides, an expanded and more globally robust international terrorist movement, and untold suffering of millions of people and political chaos throughout the Greater Middle East perpetuated by our war policies.

“However, listening to our military leaders, and the politicians who adore and deify them rather than oversee them, America’s wars and its military have been a great patriotic success. This report is not a surprise for those of us who have worn the uniform, nor should it be surprising to those who have watched and paid attention with a modicum of critical and independent thought to our wars these past thirteen plus years. The wars are failures, but careers must prosper, budgets must increase and popular narratives and myths of American military success must endure, so the culture of lying becomes a necessity for our Army at a great physical, mental and moral cost to our Nation.”

In other words, War Is A Lie.

The Key That Is the Saudi Kingdom

Was the United States compelled to attack Afghanistan and Iraq by the events of September 11, 2001?

saudi

A key to answering that rather enormous question may lie in the secrets that the U.S. government is keeping about Saudi Arabia.

Some have long claimed that what looked like a crime on 9/11 was actually an act of war necessitating the response that has brought violence to an entire region and to this day has U.S. troops killing and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Could diplomacy and the rule of law have been used instead? Could suspects have been brought to trial? Could terrorism have been reduced rather than increased? The argument for those possibilities is strengthened by the fact that the United States has not chosen to attack Saudi Arabia, whose government is probably the region’s leading beheader and leading funder of violence.

But what does Saudi Arabia have to do with 9/11? Well, every account of the hijackers has most of them as Saudi. And there are 28 pages of a 9/11 Commission report that President George W. Bush ordered classified 13 years ago.

Senate Intelligence Committee former chair Bob Graham calls Saudi Arabia “a co-conspirator in 911,” and insists that the 28 pages back up that claim and should be made public.

Philip Zelikow, chair of the 9/11 Commission, has noted the “likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to Al Qaeda.”

Zacarias Moussaoui, a former al Qaeda member, has claimed that prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family were major donors to al Qaeda in the late 1990s and that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One using a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Al Qaeda donors, according to Moussaoui, included Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many of the country’s leading clerics.

Bombing and invading Iraq has been a horrible policy. Supporting and arming Saudi Arabia is a horrible policy. Confirming Saudi Arabia’s role in funding al Qaeda should not become an excuse to bomb Saudi Arabia (of which there’s no danger) or for bigotry against Americans of Saudi origin (for which there’s no justification).

Rather, confirming that the Saudi government allowed and quite possibly participated in funneling money to al Qaeda should wake everyone up to the fact that wars are optional, not necessary. It might also help us question Saudi pressure on the U.S. government to attack new places: Syria and Iran. And it might increase support for cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia — a government that takes no second place to ISIS in brutality.

I’ve often heard that if we could prove that there weren’t really any hijackers on 9/11 all support for wars would vanish. One of many hurdles I’m unable to leap to arrive at that position is this one: Why would you invent hijackers to justify a war on Iraq but make the hijackers almost all be Saudi?

However, I think there’s a variation that works. If you could prove that Saudi Arabia had more to do with 9/11 than Afghanistan (which had very little to do with it) or Iraq (which had nothing to do with it), then you could point out the U.S. government’s incredible but very real restraint as it chooses peace with Saudi Arabia. Then a fundamental point would become obvious: War is not something the U.S. government is forced into, but something it chooses.

That’s the key, because if it can choose war with Iran or Syria or Russia, it can also choose peace.

Addiction Is Not Addictive

Whether someone becomes addicted to drugs has much more to do with their childhood and their quality of life than with the drug they use or with anything in their genes. This is one of the more startling of the many revelations in the best book I’ve read yet this year: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

We’ve all been handed a myth. The myth goes like this: Certain drugs are so powerful that if you use them enough they will take over. They will drive you to continue using them. It turns out this is mostly false. Only 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers can stop smoking using a nicotine patch that provides the same drug. Of people who have tried crack in their lives, only 3 percent have used it in the past month and only 20 percent were ever addicted. U.S. hospitals prescribe extremely powerful opiates for pain every day, and often for long periods of time, without producing addiction. When Vancouver blocked all heroin from entering the city so successfully that the “heroin” being sold had zero actual heroin in it, the addicts’ behavior didn’t change. Some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin, leading to terror among those anticipating their return home; but when they got home 95 percent of them within a year simply stopped. (So did the Vietnamese water buffalo population, which had started eating opium during the war.) The others soldiers had been addicts before they went and/or shared the trait most common to all addicts, including gambling addicts: an unstable or traumatic childhood.

Most people (90 percent according to the U.N.) who use drugs never get addicted, no matter what the drug, and most who do get addicted can lead normal lives if the drug is available to them; and if the drug is available to them, they will gradually stop using it.

But, wait just a minute. Scientists have proven that drugs are addictive, haven’t they?

Well, a rat in a cage with absolutely nothing else in its life will choose to consume huge quantities of drugs. So if you can make your life resemble that of a rat in a cage, the scientists will be vindicated. But if you give a rat a natural place to live with other rats to do happy things with, the rat will ignore a tempting pile of “addictive” drugs.

And so will you. And so will most people. Or you’ll use it in moderation. Before the War on Drugs began in 1914 (a U.S. substitute for World War I?), people bought bottles of morphine syrup, and wine and soft drinks laced with cocaine. Most never got addicted, and three-quarters of addicts held steady respectable jobs.

Is there a lesson here about not trusting scientists? Should we throw out all evidence of climate chaos? Should we dump all our vaccines into Boston Harbor? Actually, no. There’s a lesson here as old as history: follow the money. Drug research is funded by a federal government that censors its own reports when they come to the same conclusions as Chasing the Scream, a government that funds only research that leaves its myths in place. Climate deniers and vaccine deniers should be listened to. We should always have open minds. But thus far they don’t seem to be pushing better science that can’t find funding. Rather, they’re trying to replace current beliefs with beliefs that have less basis behind them. Reforming our thinking on addiction actually requires looking at the evidence being produced by dissident scientists and reformist governments, and it’s pretty overwhelming.

So where does this leave our attitudes toward addicts? First we were supposed to condemn them. Then we were supposed to excuse them for having a bad gene. Now we’re supposed to feel sorry for them because they have horrors they cannot face, and in most cases have had them since childhood? There’s a tendency to view the “gene” explanation as the solider excuse. If 100 people drink alcohol and one of them has a gene that makes him unable to ever stop, it’s hard to blame him for that. How could he have known? But what about this situation: Of 100 people, one of them has been suffering in agony for years, in part as a result of never having experienced love as a baby. That one person later becomes addicted to a drug, but that addiction is only a symptom of the real problem. Now, of course, it is utterly perverse to be inquiring into someone’s brain chemistry or background before we determine whether or not to show them compassion. But I have a bit of compassion even for people who cannot resist such nonsense, and so I appeal to them now: Shouldn’t we be kind to people who suffer from childhood trauma? Especially when prison makes their problem worse?

But what if we were to carry this beyond addiction to other undesirable behaviors? There are other books presenting similarly strong cases that violence, including sexual violence, and including suicide, have in very large part similar origins to those Hari finds for addiction. Of course violence must be prevented, not indulged. But it can best be reduced by improving people’s lives, especially their young lives but importantly also their current lives. Bit by bit, as we have stopped discarding people of various races, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities as worthless, as we begin to accept that addiction is a temporary and non-threatening behavior rather than the permanent state of a lesser creature known as “the addict,” we may move on to discarding other theories of permanence and genetic determination, including those related to violent criminals. Someday we may even outgrow the idea that war or greed or the automobile is the inevitable outcome of our genes.

Somehow blaming everything on drugs, just like taking drugs, seems much easier.

Watch Johann Hari on Democracy Now.

He’ll soon be on Talk Nation Radio, so send me questions I should ask him, but read the book first.

It’s the Blind Partisanship

Why did the peace movement grow large around 2003-2006 and shrink around 2008-2010? Military spending, troop levels abroad, and number of wars engaged in can explain the growth but not the shrinkage. Those factors hardly changed between the high point and the low point of peace activism.

Was pulling troops out of Iraq and sending them in huge numbers into Afghanistan a move the public favored? There’s not much evidence for the second half of that, and it was never a demand of the peace movement at its height. Did the wars become more legal, more honest, more internationally accepted? Hardly. The United States escalated in Afghanistan and remained in Iraq as other nations ended their minor roles in those wars. The U.S. president began taking drone wars into a number of other countries with no domestic or international authorization at all, as he would later do with Libya, and then back into Iraq again (which Congress is considering possibly deliberating on whether to debate retroactively “authorizing”).

The earlier period saw obvious lies about weapons in Iraq. The latter saw obvious lies about “success” in Iraq and imminent “success” in Afghanistan, not to mention the precision nature of drone “strikes,” followed by lies about threats to civilians in Libya, chemical attacks in Syria, Russian invasions in Ukraine, and existential danger from ISIS and Russia.

Was the difference a matter of sheer exhaustion, then? Peace activists could perhaps only keep going for so long? Actually, no, activists moved to other issues more than they dropped out, and those who dropped out disproportionately had something in common: loyalty to the Democratic Party. I don’t know this because I’ve chatted with a few people unscientifically selected as most likely to agree with whatever I say. I know it because I’ve just read a new book called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 by Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas who have spent years studying this question using careful surveys of large numbers of activists. Their book begins with 93 pages of scholarly theoretical framework before getting to the data. You want careful examination of the influence of partisanship on activism? This is it.

“The 2006 elections and their immediate aftermath were the high point for party-movement synergy,” write Heaney and Rojas. “At exactly the time when antiwar voices were most well poised to exert pressure on Congress, movement leaders stopped sponsoring lobby days. The size of antiwar protests declined. From 2007 to 2009, the largest antiwar rallies shrank from hundreds of thousands of people to thousands, and then to only hundreds.”

What explains this?

“Our explanation centers on the shifting partisan alignments favoring the Democratic Party. We observe demobilization not in response to a policy victory, but in response to a party victory. The rising power of the Democratic Party may have convinced many antiwar activists that the war issue would be dealt with satisfactorily.”

Is that what happened? The authors, in fact, have found strong evidence for these conclusions:

“Partisan identification tends to be stronger and longer-lasting than movement identification.”

“While the Democratic Party was able to leverage antiwar sentiments effectively in promoting its own electoral success, the antiwar movement itself ultimately suffered organizationally from its ties to the Democratic Party.”

“[T]he parties agree more on the substance of policy than their political rhetoric suggests.”

“Overall, the findings offer strong support for the partisan identification theory as a way of understanding the mobilization of grassroots activists. Partisan identification fueled the growth of the antiwar movement during the Bush years but then trimmed the grass roots in the Obama era.”

“Antiwar leaders crafted partisan frames to help get people into the streets. UFPJ’s use of the slogan ‘The World Says No to the Bush Agenda,’ for the protest outside the 2004 Republican National Convention is a classic example of this strategy in operation.”

“The bad news for the antiwar movement was that activists were more likely to favor their Democratic identities over their antiwar identities. Especially once Obama became president, there were too many good reasons to be a Democrat. The country had its first African American in the Oval Office, an important symbolic outcome after centuries of struggle for racial equality. The Democratic majority in Washington – which was nearly a supermajority – meant that comprehensive health care reform would stand a real chance for the first time in fifteen years. Thus, many former antiwar activists shifted their attention to other issues on the progressive agenda.”

Heaney and Rojas and their surveys were features of antiwar events for years. Here are hypotheses they tested and found support for:

“h4.1. Partisan frames were more effective in drawing participants to the antiwar movement the greater the unity of Republican control in Washington, D.C. Partisan frames were less effective in drawing participants to the antiwar movement the greater the unity of Democratic control in Washington, D.C.

“h4.2. The participation of self-identified Democrats in the antiwar movement was more likely to be motivated by partisan frames than was participation of non-Democrats in the antiwar movement.

“h4.3. Self-identified Democrats were more likely to reduce their participation in the antiwar movement over time than were non-Democrats.”

“h4.4. The more salient an individual’s identification with social movements, the more likely that she or he maintained participation in the antiwar movement over time.

“h4.5. The more salient an individual’s identification with the Democratic Party, the less likely she or he was to participate in the antiwar movement at all.

“h4.6 In cases of conflict, individuals participating in the antiwar movement were more likely to maintain their party loyalties than their movement loyalties.

“h4.7. Self-identified Democratic activists were more likely than non-Democrats to view wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as being managed well by the Obama administration.

“h4.8. After the election of President Obama, self-identified Democrats were more likely to shift their attention to nonwar issues than were non-Democrats.”

Heaney and Rojas fend off some likely straw men:

“We do not claim that partisanship entirely explains the decline of the antiwar movement,” they write. “There is no doubt that a long list of factors played a role. Activists were frustrated by a lack of policy success, meager resources, intramovement conflicts, and more. Many activists burned out from too many years of traveling to protests. Yet our analysis validates a very important role for partisanship in the decline. If partisan identities were not a contributing factor to the movement’s decline, then we would not have observed differences between Democrats and non-Democrats in their behavior vis-à-vis the movement.”

Now to quibbling. Heaney and Rojas, I think, fail to place the decisions that doomed the anti-Republican war movement quite early enough or to adequately distinguish the extent to which partisan organizations engaged in purely anti-Republican war activism even during the height of the movement. “[M]any of UFPJ’s members no longer wanted to focus on antiwar opposition once a Democrat was in the White House,” they write. In fact, I remember the big drop-off (whether driven by popular interest or funders or executive decisions) coming in 2007 as Democrats took more interest in electing a president than in opposing wars or building peace.

“While MoveOn formally continued to hold antiwar positions after Obama’s election,” write Heaney and Rojas, “it threw its weight behind health care organizing, rather than antiwar mobilizations.” They add: “Neither MoveOn nor its members suddenly became ‘prowar’ in 2009. Instead, their issue priorities shifted with the rise of a new administration. With so many of its members identified with the Democratic Party, it was unlikely that MoveOn would maintain an agenda that was counter to the party’s trajectory. Democratic identities outweighed antiwar identities within MoveOn, so, one of the leading players of the antiwar movement from 2003 to 2008 moved on to a different agenda.”

But in fact, well before 2008, MoveOn was organizing antiwar events in the districts of prowar Republicans and not in the districts of prowar Democrats. In March 2007, shortly after the Democrats took power in Congress I wrote this analysis of MoveOn’s refusal to lobby for peace as it had in years gone by:

“The Congress that was elected to end the war just voted to fund the war. Congresswoman Barbara Lee was not permitted to offer for a vote her amendment, which would have funded a withdrawal instead of the war. Groups that supported Lee’s plan and opposed Pelosi’s included United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, US Labor Against the War, After Downing Street, Democrats.com, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, and disgruntled former members of MoveOn.org.

“True Majority was a late addition to the list. The organization polled its members. Did they favor the Pelosi bill to fund the war but include various toothless restrictions on it, or did they favor the Lee plan to use the power of the purse to end the war by the end of the year? Needless to say, True Majority’s membership favored the Lee plan.

“MoveOn polled its membership without including the Lee alternative, offering a choice of only Pelosi’s plan or nothing. Amazingly, Eli Pariser of MoveOn has admitted that the reason MoveOn did this was because they knew that their members would favor the Lee amendment.”

Heaney and Rojas, however, emphasize popular will as the decisive factor:

“Did the movement decline because individual antiwar activists stopped showing up at public demonstrations? Or was the absence of organizational leadership the culprit? Our evidence suggests that the declining magnitude of antiwar protests during the 2007–2008 period was in large part, if not entirely, due to decreased interest among individual activists. If anything, the major organizations and coalitions intensified their mobilization efforts in 2007–2008, reflecting their access to financial and human resources accumulated over the past few years. The institutionalized movement persisted in its opposition in 2007–2008, even in the face of declining interest among its mass constituency. Still, decisions by organizational leaders had a greater hand in the movement’s decline in 2009–2010 than they had in the earlier period.”

I’m not convinced. I have no doubt that public sentiment, and in particular political partisanship, was hugely important. But organizations that have been corrupted by closeness to power don’t advertise their shifts in position. They “poll” their members and declare themselves “member-run.” The most common comment on antiwar conference calls in 2008 was “People are too busy with the election.” Were they? Some were, some weren’t. The question wasn’t really tested. The most common comment on antiwar conference calls in 2009 was “It’s too early to be seen as protesting Obama.” Was it? That wasn’t tested either, but it seems easier to answer in retrospect. We’re more ready to say that in fact we shouldn’t have hacked our own legs off at the knees and transformed into a collective Nobel Committee handing out magical prizes. We should have demanded peace if we thought it likely, and we should have demanded peace if we thought it unlikely. In fact, Obama supporters frequently quoted him telling us to go out there and make him do it, even while advocating against going out there and making him do it. The fact that we’d already gone relatively silent in 2007-2008 tends to get forgotten.

Heaney and Rojas deal in actual views of numerous actual people. So there are no imaginary master plots of deception involved. The idea is not that everyone who turned out to march in February 2003 was actually indifferent to war but using the war as an excuse to protest Bush. Rather, protesting both war and Bush were desirable to many. Then, Heaney and Rojas, argue, protesting war became less important than demanding healthcare.

I think a couple of points are worth adding some emphasis on, however, that may darken the picture slightly. When the Democrats took Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, it became necessary in protesting war to protest Democrats. That, in fact, was a worse fate in a lot of people’s minds than accepting war. Democratic politicians do not typically try to be antiwar. They just work to be seen as less pro-war than Republicans (although many exceptions don’t even do that). In addition, Democratic politicians pretend to favor things when they are out of power. In 2005 and early 2006, numerous Democrats in Congress were making commitments to end the war in Iraq. But by 2007, with the majority and the chairmanships in the House, 81 Representatives felt obliged to sign a letter committing to not fund more war just prior to, almost all of them, voting to fund more war. The activists who let them get away with that before moving onto healthcare were organized by groups that took direction from those very Democrats. They were forbidden to have signs reading “Single Payer” at their rallies or to advocate for anything not already in the legislation. It was a completely inverted relationship with public servants telling constituents what to demand of them. And now, with the Democrats back in the minority, they’re starting to make noises about favoring progressive taxation and all sorts of things they stayed away from while in the majority.

Is all of this inevitable? I’m afraid the scholarly apparatus of scientistic studies tends to suggest it. Here are Heaney and Rojas: “The greater the size of the party in the street, the more likely a movement is to evolve toward using institutionally based political tactics. The smaller the size of the party in the street, the less likely a movement is to evolve toward using institutionally based political tactics.” In other words, if you start to build numbers of people involved, they will move into lobbying and electioneering rather than nonviolent resistance or creative communication. Given that inevitability, the one thing that might seem unnecessary would be urging movements to make that turn voluntarily. Yet Heaney and Rojas have this advice for Occupy:

“A first step for the Occupy movement might be to recognize that many of its supporters and potential supporters identify with the Democratic Party. By taking such a strong stand against the Democratic Party, Occupy cuts itself off from a key part of its support base. Instead, the movement might look for ways to recognize and incorporate the intersectional identity of ‘Occupy Democrats.’ A second step might be to inaugurate some institutional structures within Occupy. These structures might help to raise funds, employ staff, and regularize communication with Occupy supporters. While this suggestion is somewhat counter to the nonhierarchical ethos of Occupy, some minimal level of organization may be necessary to make any systematic progress toward the movement’s long-term policy goals. A third step might be to forge alliances with genuine allies in the progressive community. While it may be that alliances with the Democrats and MoveOn are untenable, perhaps Occupy could partner with the Green Party and other political organizations whose agendas are not incommensurate with Occupy’s vision.”

Weighing against that advice is evidence in this very book that a mere generation back the laws of movement politics were different:

“Public opinion was polarized according to party to a much greater degree during the 2000s than was the case during the Vietnam War era (Hetherington 2009, p. 442). Polarization was highly consequential in the formation of public opinion on the war. As Gary Jacobson (2010, p. 31) notes, ‘the Iraq war has divided the American public along party lines far more than any other US military action since the advent of scientific polling back in the 1930s.’ Americans often took their cues about how to make sense of developments in Iraq from their partisan identifications (Gelpi 2010). We argue that, as a result, the rhythms of the antiwar movement after 9/11 were driven by partisanship much more than was the case during the Vietnam antiwar movement.”

Now, I am not proposing that we can turn back time. I have enough respect for laws of physics to discount that alternative. Heaney and Rojas cite the youth of the Vietnam-era movement as one possible factor weighing against partisanship. Clearly a draft is not the only possible way to involve youth in a movement. The contrast between war making nations with student debt and peaceful nations with free education is one possible lever. Another is education in exactly the field Heaney and Rojas have mastered. Surely if everyone in the country read this book its conclusions would be thereby rendered wildly wrong — and in a good way. If people recognize that their partisanship is hurting the causes they support, they will surely begin to question in. I’d like to see research similar to Party in the Street but focused on those who move away from partisanship: what enables them to do that?

Born at War

Foreword to America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying (available in Kindle version free this week.)

One of the ways in which we commonly handicap our own struggles to reform the bad practices of the U.S. government is by imagining those practices to be degenerative developments taking us away from a purer and nobler past. As Gary Brumback shows in this book, the United States grew out of the idea that (in Thomas Paine’s phrase) it was “common sense” to launch a war to settle political differences, a war that in turn set the new nation free to launch a series of wars against the indigenous people of the continent, followed quickly by a ceaseless string of wars waged in near and far-flung corners of the globe.

This deeply moral, highly readable, and urgently necessary book, which provides a wealth of new information even to a reader like myself who writes on similar topics, takes us from the birth of the United States to the Barack Obama presidency. Brumback documents George Washington’s role as first warrior in chief and first chief spy, and traces that legacy through some 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. military wars/interventions since, operations that have killed some 20 million to 30 million foreign civilians just in the years after World War II, and that have killed more than two and a half million U.S. soldiers over nearly two and a half centuries.

Brumback’s argument is not for “just wars” or more competent spying but for a shift away from these practices. War destroys the natural environment, wastes trillions of dollars, and has no upside. All militarism and spying cost the U.S. government well over $1 trillion a year and rising. In exchange for this investment, which at least matches if it does not exceed the rest of the world combined, the United States leads wealthy nations in inequality, unemployment, food insecurity, life expectancy, prison population, homelessness, and other measures of what all the militarism is supposedly protecting: a way of life.

We’ve been trained to think of war preparations — and the wars that result from being so incredibly prepared for wars — as necessary if regrettable. What if, however, in the long view that this book allows us, war turns out to be counterproductive on its own terms? What if war endangers those who wage it rather than protecting them? Imagine, for a moment, how many countries Canada would have to invade and occupy before it could successfully generate anti-Canadian terrorist networks to rival the hatred and resentment currently organized against the United States.

Brumback goes further, documenting that spying is as useless and counterproductive on its own terms as war is. Most secrets sought and maintained by the U.S. government have literally no strategic value even in terms of the militarist thinking that drives the spying. The CIA straddles the space between keystone cop performances of handing nuclear plans to Iran or grounding flights because a con artist claims to see secret terrorist messages in television broadcasts, and the deadly anti-democratic destruction of overthrowing governments and murdering innocent people with drone strikes. In a “free market” competition, the CIA or the Pentagon would lose out to an agency that did literally nothing, much less to a department that worked toward peace, justice, and stability through nonviolent means.

So, what drives what has come to look like war for the sake of war and spying for the sake of spying? Brumback proposes the useful term “badvantages” to categorize features of U.S. society that are not necessarily “roots” or “causes” of war but which facilitate war when found in combination. This section of the book provides an excellent outline of the military industrial spying congressional complex and analysis of how it functions. Greed, obedience, and banal immorality play central roles. As I write these words, the U.S. Congress is missing in action, having fled Washington in order to allow a new war to begin without holding a vote on whether or not to authorize it. Weapons stocks are at record heights on Wall Street, and a financial advisor on National Public Radio was just heard recommending investing in weaponry.

Banksters come in for a healthy dose of criticism as a badvantage, as do the think tanks that just can’t stop thinking about tanks. Also exposed to the light in these pages are front groups for war interests, war supporters in religion and especially in education, patriotic festivals, news media, Hollywood, war toys, the domestic U.S. gun industry, academia, and — last but not least — people who do nothing, or “accessories after the fact.” That’s a lot of badvantages to be overcome.

Often, of course, it is after the fact — after the launching of a new war — that people come around to opposing it. For 70 years somewhere upwards of 90 percent of Americans who argue that war can be just or necessary have gone primarily to World War II as evidence for their claim. Never mind that World War II is unimaginable without World War I which nobody thinks was necessary. Never mind the support that Wall Street and the U.S. State Department gave to the Nazis for years leading up to the crisis. For 70 years people have imagined that, like World War II, some new war might be a good one. This hope has lasted for weeks or months and then faded. For most of the duration of the 2003-2011 U.S.-led war on Iraq, a U.S. majority said it should never have been started. In this sense, it is “accessories before the fact” who are hurting us the most.

Brumback envisions another way of addressing ourselves to the world, in which we would lose the idea that War #14,001 might finally be the good one that fulfills the promises of World War I and trails peace and prosperity behind its bombs and poisons. He also recommends a comprehensive series of steps to move us in that direction. This book is worth whatever you paid for it for its concluding sections alone. The creation of a Citizens Assembly is, I think, exactly the way to go, although I’m not so sure it should be national. An assembly composed of citizens of the world has potential, I believe. In either case, building such a structure is project number one. We do not need a better Obama, a change of face in a position that corrupts absolutely. We need a better Occupy, a bigger broader bolder movement that finally resorts to the most powerful tool in our arsenal: nonviolence.

 

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.