Flimflammery Exercise 6/26/13

On Thursday, June 20, I witnessed an exercise in either political flimflammery or political cowardice.  The occasion was the regular meeting of the Board of Directors of the 17th District Agricultural Association (introduced as the Nevada County Fair Board), and more specifically, the public hearing in regard to the contract with “Have Trunk Will Travel, Inc.”.

Board President Tom Browning began the public hearing by saying that, since there had been so much controversy around the already-signed contract, the Board wanted to give everyone a chance to be heard.  I must admit, he never did say that the Board members would really listen to what was being said.

And, quite a bit was said.  There were 41 speakers in all, out of a much larger gathering of people.  Ten of those speakers, including an owner and another spokesperson for “Have Trunk Will Travel”, advocated in favor of maintaining the contract.  The other 31 speakers, including persons of expertise in the subject area, animal rights advocates, community members, concerned parents and children, all advocated in favor of cancelling the contract.   The response to each speaker ranged from tepid applause for those who wanted to keep the contract, to wildly enthusiastic applause for those who wanted the contract cancelled.  And, when one speaker asked those who favored cancellation to stand, the vast majority of people present rose to their feet.

The arguments and concerns presented to support cancellation of the contract should have been sufficient to give an open-minded person pause — and should have been sufficent to cause the Board to at least have further discussion, before making a final decision.  Those arguments and concerns included safety issues (one speaker specifically directed a question to the Board asking what measures were in place, in the event of a runaway elephant — a question the Board left unanswered), elephant training methods, cruelty toward the elephants, endangered species issues, the fact (stated by persons on both sides of the issue) that “Have Trunk Will Travel” is first of all a business, not a charity or an educational organization, and the fact that numerous other counties and cities have been either cancelling their contracts with “Have Trunk Will Travel” or refusing to sign them in the first place.  Add to that the overwhelming presence in the room of a desire to see the contract cancelled, and one would have thought that some discussion in that direction would have been warranted.

However, once the President closed the public hearing, not a word was heard from any Board member, and the President declared that the contract would stand.  It was interesting, at that point, to watch the close interaction between the Board members and persons who had advocated in favor of the contract.  It appeared to this observer that the members of the Board had a much more intimate relationship with the company people than with the members of their own community.

Which brings me back to my earlier statement about flimflammery or cowardice.  Having watched the whole proceedings, I do not find it difficult to believe that, despite the Board President’s opening statement of wanting to hear all concerns, the Board had its mind firmly made up, and had no intention of changing it:  thus, the flimflammery.  It is possible, of course, that, in the face of commitments already made (both contractual and otherwise?), the Board members could not find within themselves the courage necessary to make an honest response to what the majority present was advocating.

That said, let me add a couple of thoughts of my own to the discussion.

Back in 1865, the United States outlawed slavery.  At the time that slavery was legal, some said that it benefitted those who were enslaved — it brought them “out of darkness” and into civilization and into Christianity, and that they were better off than had they stayed in their own countries.  Somewhat the same arguments are used now in relation to wild animals brought to this country from their own homes.  However, slavery is not limited to human beings.  Other creatures, including elephants, can be — and are — enslaved, as well.

I live in Sierra County, and know that many people from here have attended the Nevada County Fair.  Due to the actions of the Fair Board of Directors, I will be using whatever influence I have to encourage them not to do so this year.  If the Board will not stand up for the elephants, then others must.

Paul Guffin,  Downieville

Hearts and Minds 6/26/13

When hearts and minds are war-torn

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

The Taliban is finally making another try at initiating peace talks. Who is listening and who cares?

Afghans care. Their hearts are in pieces like the rubble that is strewn wherever the US-led NATO/Karzai forces have bombed from the air, or where the Taliban has crude-bombed, sometimes suicide-bombed, from the ground.

The Bush-installed Karzai government cares—and they don’t want it because the Taliban are sort of acting like a government-in-exile, replete with a new office in Doha, Qatar that sported a Taliban flag and a plaque identifying the building as the offices of the “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Whoops. Hamid Karzai wants it clear that these are just ragtag insurgents, not a government-in-exile. But both sides have a point. Karzai holds that, unlike the Taliban, his government is elected. The Taliban, who did indeed take power by military force—although the origin stories of the Taliban tell of liberation and defense of the vulnerable, making them popular in the early-to-mid 1990s and made recruiting easy for them, paving their way to power—ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until ousted by the US invasion in 2001 (and were heavily supported during their formation and rule by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, who were massively supported by the US), so in their eyes they are the government-in-exile. They see Karzai as the puppet government of the occupying military.

Underlying these deep differences are the age-old problems of the conflict industry, that is, those who benefit financially, politically, or militarily by the continuation of the war and so work to sabotage peace efforts. Those parties may be visible or shadowy and they may proclaim public support for peace or peace talks, but their actual work is to undermine any real peace. They are the war contractors, the business owners both in Afghanistan and elsewhere who profit handsomely from the ongoing war, the military leaders from all sides, and the politicians who stand to lose everything if peace breaks out. Indeed, says a Pakistani source who told Reuters on condition of anonymity, “there were many likely spoilers in the peace process who would want to maintain the status quo to continue to benefit from the war economy and the present chaotic conditions.”

How can we who live in a democracy help in a situation like this?

First, tell our President and our Secretary of State and our elected representatives that we expect the US to stick to the military exit plan, to accelerate it if possible, and to bring home or destroy all US military weapons and munitions as we leave. The US should ban itself from selling or giving any weapons to any party in the region. That is a proven losing strategy, again and again. It was a loser when we gave tons of weapons to the mujahedeen in the 1980s—weapons that then became the arsenals of the fighting Islamic forces that either launched the September 11 attacks or harbored those who did. It’s called blowback and it works well for US war profiteers. Ending their profit-taking is perhaps the most important peace step the American people can achieve by themselves, without the involvement of any foreign government. As long as American war corporations are allowed to sell their warmaking arsenals and ammunition either to the Pentagon to give away to Central Asian governments or to any of those governments (or any parties who trade with those governments and who can act as transshipment brokers), we are enabling the conflict industry that is killing innocent Afghans and enraging the survivors and crippling any efforts toward peace.

We, the American people, can take decisive steps to give Afghans more hope than they’ve had since 1979 if we outlaw the sale of the goods of war to the region, withdraw our own troops and weaponry, and convert funds that our Congress was going to take from the US taxpayers for making war and spend them instead on some combination of desperately needed humanitarian aid, US war-debt reduction, and US domestic expenses (education, environmental protection, and US infrastructure maintenance—all of which create far more jobs than the weapons industry ever did).

In short, what is good for peace for the people of Afghanistan is good for the well being of all Americans except for the extremely wealthy war profiteers. It’s time for them to stop controlling us.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.

 

Shouts In The Dark 6/26/13

Bahrain: Still Shouting in the Dark

By Matar Ebrahim Matar and Jeff Bachman

Matar Ebrahim Matar

Matar Ebrahim Matar

 

How many U.S. citizens know our government is arming the authoritarian regime of the
Bahraini royal family that uses wide-spread violence and torture to suppress its own people and crush a popular pro-democracy movement?

Nearly two-and-a-half years after a peaceful uprising began in Bahrain, mass human rights abuses and

Jeffrey Bachman

Jeffrey Bachman

torture are reaching new levels.  They are used as a tool to extract forced confessions from journalists, democracy leaders, and medical doctors on trumped up terrorism charges. For example, Nabeel Rajab, an activist and president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been arrested and imprisoned after merely appearing on Al Jazeera, despite assurances of his safety from Bahraini authorities.  Bahraini security forces carry out night raids and mass arrests, even fabricating outlandish charges such as “chanting against the king.”

According to U.S. officials, the decision to continue to support the royal family is based in ‘national security interests.’   Really? What of human security?  What best serves democracy and human rights?  Is it in the interests of the American people to be in bed with despotic regimes in the Middle East?  Will we ever learn our lesson after the Arab Spring?

Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, made a recent visit to Washington, D.C.   Not a word was mentioned in the U.S. press about his brutal suppression of his own people. Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, has been denied access to suspected victims of torture.

The government of the United States may not be directly participating in the violence and oppression against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain, but the U.S. actively supports the Bahraini monarchy with arms sales and the stationing of our 5th Naval Fleet off their coast, as a measure of protection for the royal family. Defense Department documents released to ProPublica, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that between February 2011 and February 2012, the U.S. sold Bahrain ammunition, communications technology, parts for combat vehicles, and military helicopters.

A gripping and graphic award-winning film “Shouting in the Dark,” documents these abuses and the U.S. role in supporting the repressive royal family (available for free viewing for free  http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/2011/08/201184144547798162.html ). In the film, a young Bahraini woman, her identity shielded for her protection, stated, “I feel really alone. Whether it was a democratic country or an authoritarian country, all of them acted the same when it came to us. I discovered my humanity is a subject of discussion. Should I be killed in the street or not be killed based on the interests of the United States or Saudi Arabia or other countries?”

A few months ago, the Crown Prince was promoted to First Deputy Prime Minister. The promotion of the Crown Prince, seen by some as a reformer, could provide an opening for change.  With this new position, sadly, the Crown Prince becomes even more responsible for the deteriorating human security in Bahrain, and has refused to admit that Bahrain is holding political prisoners, instead referring to them as criminals.

Leaders in the Bahraini pro-democracy movement have stated clearly that they are ready to engage in dialogue with the regime, as part of a process sponsored by regional and international powers. Is the U.S. is ready to use its influence to facilitate such engagement?  If not, why not?

 As the Crown Prince was departing Washington, D.C. (after an attempt to convince the Obama administration of his commitment to dialogue and reform), Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior arrested the leading member of the February 14 Youth Coalition which has been mostly peaceful in its protest but has finally issued a warning to foreign soldiers and fighters to leave Bahrain.

The U.S. must make a decision.  It can point to the promises of reform made by the Bahraini monarchy as justification for the presence of the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet off the coast and its continued support for the regime, or it can live up to its proclamations concerning democracy and human rights.  Our hypocrisy in Bahrain is on display for all the world to see.

During his recent national security speech, Obama spoke of the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, and asked, “Is this who we are?”   We say resoundingly “no”!   Our nation is better than this.  We must not unconditionally support regimes that violate the rights of their citizens.

Students at American University are holding the Crown Prince accountable as an alum and donor with his $3 million contribution to their University for naming rights to the School of International Service atrium.  They have launched a letter writing campaignand petition they hope will spread.

American University students are willing to send a clear message that they stand with the Bahraini people and their democratic aspirations.  They ask our government do the same.

Matar Ebrahim Matar is a former Bahraini MP and Fellow at NED. For his role in Arab Spring, Mr. Matar was awarded the Leaders of Democracy Award by the Project on Middle East Democracy in 2011

Jeff Bachman is a professor of human rights at American University, with a focus in state responsibility for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

 

 

Whistle Blow on War 6/26/13

An appeal from Afghanistan to whistle-blow on war

by Dr. Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Recognition that as many as 95 million human beings were killed in World Wars I and II helped the people of the world understand that war is neither humane nor cost-effective. An awakened world hoped the United Nations could, as it says in the UN Charter, ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’.

The scourge of war in Afghanistan continues, with the United Nations reporting that more than 3,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and wounded in the first five months of this year, a fifth of whom were Afghan children. So, ordinary people should seize opportunities to tell the truth about war.

The 75,000 Afghan War Logs, which Bradley Manning gave Wikileaks to ‘help document the true cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan’, can help all of us evaluate whether the Afghan war is cost-effective, politically wise, or humane. Bradley Manning had also handed Wikileaks a video of the Farah/Granai massacre which occurred in May of 2009, in which 86 to 147 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in an airstrike.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers ask for the Farah/Granai massacre video to be released.

These records report the truths about war, and reveal an obsession among those few people in power to use war in achieving their goals. Bradley Manning said, “In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists…”

How many more documents revealing loss of innocent life are needed to determine that war should be banned, that it should not even be a last resort of ‘defense’?

All weapons, not only nuclear weapons, should be banned. A safe life and secure work environment without weapons is very possible even in Afghanistan.   Consider, for instance, that the Emergency Surgical Centres  in Afghanistan operate all their health facilities without armed protection and that Dr.  Ramazon Bashardost, the third-placed candidate in Afghanistan’s 2009 Presidential elections, has no armed bodyguards.

We human beings are capable of living together without war. Billions of human beings all over the world live daily without killing one another, even when dealing with the most troubled or difficult of family members.

We are capable of an impossible love.

We can establish global norms of resolving all our problems through understanding and dialogue, and exclude war from the negotiation table. To do so, we should exclude from the UN charter the use of war as a last resort because there are always other ways to struggle for peace, freedom, and justice.

Of course, accomplishing these actions hinges on us, on climate change citizens, Arab Spring citizens, Occupy citizens and the ‘awakening’ citizens of every country to free ourselves from the unequal dominance of corporate governments with their laws and weapons of self-interest.

They won’t free Bradley Manning. We need to free Bradley Manning.

They won’t support Edward Snowden. We need to support Edward Snowden.

They won’t free us. We need to free ourselves.

In Bradley Manning’s interior and better world, he is free! He testified, “I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan every day.”

Please take some time to listen to these ‘everyday’ tragedies in our land, in Afghanistan. We need to learn that killing, whether by the Taliban or the US/NATO forces, is not acceptable and cannot solve any problem. At this time, Bradley Manning needs us, and we need one another.

We want the governments and warring groups to be ashamed of their actions. Why should the world or any court of justice condemn and punish those who reveal truths?

Bradley has delivered truths which the world needs. We are against violence and killing by the Taliban and other Afghan war groups. We are also against violence and killing by the Afghan and U.S./NATO governments. Human beings were not born to abuse, betray or kill one another, but to learn to live together. We were not born to live selfishly, but to live for one another. If human beings want, we can live without war.

We are the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Abdul Ali, Faiz Ahmad, Abdulhai, Raz Mohammad, Basir Bita, Barath Khan, Ghulam Hussein, Dr. Hakim and others are the Afghan Peace Volunteers. This is distributed by Voices for Creative Nonviolence and PeaceVoice.

Abdul Ali, Faiz Ahmad, Abdulhai, Raz Mohammad, Basir Bita, Barath Khan, Ghulam Hussein, Dr. Hakim and others are the Afghan Peace Volunteers. This is distributed by Voices for Creative Nonviolence and PeaceVoice.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers in the video: “Thank you Bradley Manning”

From Afghanistan, the Afghan Peace Volunteers thank Bradley Manning

Abdul Ali

I wish to share the pain of those killed in the Farah massacre, so I request Wikileaks to release the video. Thank you, Bradley, for your courage and sense of human responsibility in passing on this video. I support you!

Faiz Ahmad

As a human being and an Afghan citizen, I want to know the truth so that such violent tragedies will never be repeated again. It will show us how much we need the way of non-violence.

Abdulhai

We need to learn that killing, whether by the Taliban or the US/NATO forces, is not acceptable and cannot solve any problem. At this time, Bradley Manning needs us, and we need one another.

Raz Mohammad

It should be clear to the people how, for profit and power, groups like the Taliban and the US/NATO forces, kill without accountability. We want the voices of the people, like that of Bradley Manning, to be heard. We especially want the voices of children to be heard, including the voices of children who have been killed. We want their voices to haunt us. We should give a prize of conscience to Bradley Manning.

Basir Bita

The transparency and conscience that Bradley Manning and Wikileaks seek is so desperately needed in Afghanistan, in the context of governments and power-mongers openly and secretly betraying the people every day.

Barath Khan

We ask for the video of the Farah strike to be published so that the world will know how governments and all warring groups involved in the Afghan conflict have strategies and policies which go against the people, which kill the people. We want the governments and warring groups to be ashamed of their actions. Why should the world or any court of justice condemn and punish those who reveal truths?

Ghulam Hussein

Bradley has delivered truths which the world needs. We are against violence and killing by the Taliban and other Afghan war groups. We are also against violence and killing by the Afghan and U.S./NATO governments. Human beings were not born to abuse, betray or kill one another, but to learn to live together. We were not born to live selfishly, but to live for one another. If human beings want, we can live without war.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers in the video: “Thank you Bradley Manning”

Our sleeping conscience, awake!

Truth is not subject to the baton of the courts.

We are the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

According to the 19th Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states the right to freedom of expression, we want Bradley Manning to be free!

Truth is like the sun that cannot always be hidden by the clouds.

Thank you Bradley Manning!

Beyond Secrets 6/19/13

Beyond Secrets

By Winslow MyersWinslowMyers

As lowly citizens trying to understand the enormous resources poured into the national security state, it may help to examine the “meta-thinking” behind the mass mining of “meta-data” from our telephones and e-mails.

Aside from debate about whether our government may be massively violating the 4thAmendment, we need to begin with compassion. It is not hard to see how fear and political necessity are among the engines driving the growth of the secrecy bureaucracy. There are bad actors out there, and a certain alertness is required to prevent them from doing their worst. Political leaders do not get elected by advocating love for enemies.

Thus President Obama cannot say aloud that the lives of children in Pakistan or Yemen are worth as much as the lives of his own daughters. That such evasions are politically necessary is one indication that our “meta-thinking” may be inadequate.

Our conception of national and international interest has not caught up with the advent of nuclear weapons and planetary ecological stresses. Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago has defined the term “offensive realism” as the only sensible stance a nation can take in the face of multiple existential threats. Because it cannot know the motivations of, say, the Chinese leadership, the United States must stay on the offensive militarily. And in fact the U.S. does project its forces—and listening devices—all around the world.

The Chinese leadership, or the Russian, or the Iranian, or the Israeli, are equally in thrall to “offensive realism”—what will be called “paranoid realism” once the planet passes through this dangerous but also opportune moment of history.

When the mutual fears of nations and even non-state actors motivate not only the acquisition of world-destructive weapons but the need for vast systems of data-analysis in order to watch and anticipate all the moves of the players, the general paranoia becomes as much the problem as the solution.

But there are forces at work in the world far larger that the supposed malign motivations of powerful nations. These forces can push all of us, in spite of our mutual fears, toward a renewed sense of compassion for ourselves as a species and a mutuality based in common survival goals—similar to the mutual superpower desire to end the Cold War after the Cuban crisis of 1962.

In this new understanding of common interest, the old “meta-thinking” that insists upon nations as exceptional, defensible systems has now become obsolete. Our present international paranoia is a current taking us downriver toward a waterfall. We can see this deadly drift in Syria today. For too long not only the U.S. but many nations have made a policy of selling arms to the enemies of their enemies. It will not work in Syria any better than it did in Afghanistan.

In order to dissolve the tensions of paranoia, experts and citizens alike need to understand our international predicament as a total system and build personal relationships across boundaries on the basis of this reality.

Though it has not yet sunk into the planetary group mind, our overall environmental challenge is the most obvious one that dissolves the illusion of nations possessing separate self-interests requiring an “offensive realist” response, including exceptionalist pretensions that the lives of “our” children are worth more than “theirs.”

The challenge of nuclear weapons, as Jonathan Schell has asserted, takes its place within the context of the environmental crisis. Computer models confirm that the detonation of only a small percentage of the world’s nuclear arsenals would throw enough soot into the upper atmosphere to shut down agriculture for a decade—in effect, a death-sentence for the planet. This alone renders all present nuclear strategy obsolete, as even that pitiless realist Dr. Kissinger has admitted.

Given the role of human error, or insufficiently safe design, in disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, or near-disasters like the Cuban Missile Crisis, in combination with the variety of forms that nuclear weapons have taken—nuclear missiles, mines, and artillery shells supervised by thousands of fallible humans—it defies all notions of common sense that the species can avoid forever the inadvertent or deliberate use of these weapons.

Disarmament then becomes a gradual, reciprocal process that depends upon a change of emphasis appropriate to the new paradigm: diplomatic and non-governmental initiatives based upon mutual assured survival, with continuing sensible alertness toward the ever-present possibility of the lethal combination of medieval mind-sets and weapons of mass destruction—making the sequestration of all nuclear materials an urgent priority.

Sunni and Shia, Russians and Saudis, and, yes, Republicans and Democrats will look up someday from their narrow preoccupation with each other’s shortcomings to see bearing down upon them a planetary oneness of disaster, oceans that rise even as they become empty of fish, air that our children cannot breathe, diseases that travel from tropical to temperate zones on the wings of climate change. We’re all in this together, our survival utterly dependent upon what our “enemies” do and vice versa.

The secrets that governments hold close and that the disaffected strive to reveal contain at their heart a hollowness based in the illusory assumption of separation. Taking their cue from this pragmatic truth, the major religions can function at their best to strengthen connection (re-ligare, to tie back together), not to separate—on the basis of the deep common truth of our planetary oneness. Inverting the lines from Auden’s famous poem—“those to whom evil is done, do evil in return”—reconciliation, nonviolence, forgiveness, active initiatives to build trust and resilience on the basis of common goals, will cause those to whom good is done to respond in kind. Before it is too late, may it be so.

Winslow Myers is syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

 

Ultimate Cure 6/19/13

A Cure for War – With Limitations.

By Erin Niemela

Erin Niemela

Erin Niemela

Earlier this week I wrote an editorial proposing a 28th constitutional amendment to abolish war.  The NSA scandal, I argue, is tied to the more pervasive problem of violent foreign (and domestic) policy, and we’ll continue to see government abuses so long as war and inter-state military violence are the acceptable choices for conflict management.  David Swanson, author of the brilliant history, “When the World Outlawed War,” thoughtfully responded to my plea by urging us to recall and reignite the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, an existing international pact renouncing war signed and ratified by the US president and Senate.

 I agree with Mr. Swanson that any efforts to end war should point to existing law, and we agree that abolishing war is possible and necessary.  However, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is not without its limitations, and a fresh, people-driven constitutional amendment could both address those limitations and offer current, culturally relevant and legally dispositive reinforcement.

Among several oversights in Kellogg-Briand, acknowledged in Mr. Swanson’s book, the Outlawry Movement ignored war-making processes.  Renouncing war while neglecting to ban war-making and war-sustaining institutions only created paranoia and a subsequent arms race. An effective law, amendment, or treaty (or combination) would have to include the complete disintegration of war-preparation processes, including military recruitment, the armed forces, and weapons and ammunitions manufacturing. Otherwise, the old adage of the hammer and nail will continue to ring true.

Another limitation of Kellogg-Briand is its focus on “pacific means.”  Current definitions of “pacific” include “tending to peace” and “lessening conflict,” and provide a linguistic loophole for determined warmongers—by some twisted definitions a warhead slated to slaughter two million people can keep the ‘peace’. The Bush administration, for example, proposed its War on Terror partially on the grounds of liberating the oppressed – a “pacific” intention conceived through rhetorical gyrations by elites through corporate media.

“Pacific means” are currently embraced by U.N. peacekeeping troops.  “Blue Helmets” generally carry weapons and, when fired upon, may fire back, while the U.N. Security Council just unanimously authorized an unprecedented “intervention brigade” for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seriously pushing the limits on definitions of “peacekeeping.”  As such, all military violence could be considered ‘pacific’ when artfully and culturally framed. A new carefully constructed constitutional amendment would afford the opportunity to use language that bans all military violence, as well as violent conflict management means, regardless of claimed “pacific” means or intent.

 Kent Shifferd, peace historian and author of “From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years,” proposes a redefinition of war in his call for abolition, one that includes military violence of all forms.  With this I fully agree. Redefining war to include all military violence, as well as all violent conflict management matériel, will be necessary for an effective end to war.  My initial crude attempt at writing a 28th Amendment includes language that tries to encompass this point. Furthermore, a new amendment would allow space for including war-making processes and institutions, necessary for preventing arms races that essentially provoke and escalate violent conflict.

Mr. Swanson says he does not want to “dispute the advantages of banning war in the highest law, the Constitution,” but also suggests that the Kellogg-Briand Pact could essentially perform the same function as a constitutional amendment in il-legalizing war.  I disagree.  The Constitution is foundational literature on which we base our cultural identity, the sacred text of our civil religion, and a powerful purveyor of American collective values.  Adding a constitutional amendment developed and promoted by We the People in grassroots style would carry far more weight with future generations than an aging international treaty.  While treaties can be tucked away on page 454 of the U.S. State Department’s website, a grassroots movement culminating in a 28th Amendment would be impossible to politically ignore and virtually impossible to circumvent. The Constitution remains intensely resonant because it is culturally ever-present.

Ultimately, we need a law that not only bans war, but bans violent conflict management – even with purported pacific means and intentions – as well as war-making processes, preparations, and institutions.  If cultivated by a bottom-up, civil society movement, a 28th Amendment banning these violent human inventions would synch with and reinforce Kellogg-Briand, add the necessary weight of popular, current, culturally relevant consensus, and allow our already existing, nonviolent methods of conflict management and resolution to flourish.

Erin Niemela, independent journalist and Master’s candidate in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University, writes and produces video for PeaceVoice.

 

We Can End War 6/19/13

For All Children Everywhere

by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

We can end war.

Please, before you read on, let those four words float in silence for half a minute until you actually hear them — until they come alive with meaning as insistent as a hatching egg. War is not inevitable, no matter how cluelessly enthusiastic the media may be to promote it, no matter how thoroughly it runs the global economy and dominates almost every government.

We can shut down this system of self-perpetuating violence and geopolitical chicken. We can dismantle the glory machine and redefine patriotism. We can curtail the most toxic enterprise on the planet. We can end war.

Oh, the audacity to say such a thing! Yet it amounts to no more than saying: We can evolve, individually and collectively. We can bring wisdom to conflict. We can reclaim the institutions that run our lives. We can look into the eyes of children, those we know and those we don’t know, and vow to protect them. We can start caring again about future generations and bring their well-being into our thoughts and plans.

I’ve been struggling most of my life to believe this and I know I cannot possibly believe it on my own. I’m thinking again of the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the global cry of “No!” that preceded it: the largest such cry in human history, millions of people around the world protesting the manmade hell that was coming. Then the invasion happened anyway. And the protests, rather than building in intensity, more or less disappeared.

One memory I have — an infinitesimal footnote, shortly after the shock-and-awe bombing campaign began — was walking the half mile from my house to a park on Lake Michigan, where there was supposed to be a rally. It was dusk and cold; there was a slight drizzle. The waves rolling into shore were enormous. The beach was empty. There was no rally. I felt such piercing hopelessness and defeat. The collective will of the antiwar movement had seemingly dissipated. All we had was shock and awe.

The first prerequisite for ending war, Judith Hand, an evolutionary biologist, writes in a proposal called “Moving From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Nonviolence: A Proposed Plan of Action To Shape History,” which she shared with me recently, is: the deeply held belief that achieving such a goal is possible, along with a plan of action.

I wrote a column two weeks ago about Hand’s ideas, which can be found in detail on her website, A Future Without War. First among much else, she makes a compelling case for the rationality of believing that ending war is possible, and I agree with her: This is the starting point. Paradoxically, not believing it — even if you oppose war bitterly — may be the prime cause of its perpetuation.

This reality is manifested for me in the way the mainstream media, with zero awareness, will speculate glibly about the nature of the “next war,” not knowing when or why or with whom it will occur, but certain that our multi-trillion-dollar weapons cache will be tapped again at some point in the not-so-distant future, because evil is out there beyond our borders: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela . . .

We can end war.

“How can we mount such a herculean effort?” Hand asks. “What follows is a speculative ‘how to’ for igniting a revolution. It is based on our shared concern for all children. To achieve our goal, a paradigm of our dominant cultures must change, viz., that war is inevitable, that dominating others using violence is part of our biology, and the best we can do is manage our inescapable wars to limit their damage. This untrue belief is the single biggest barrier to ending war.

“If we don’t believe ending war is possible, then we won’t expend the time, energy, and creativity to fashion a future without war.”

But now, as never before, it is time to embrace this possibility. “To date nonviolence movements were ‘before their time,’” she writes on her website. “Now they are poised to change history.”

This, she added in an email to me, is because of two key factors: “. . . we now have a great many powerful and influential women who can be partners with men in such a movement and this will be an important change in the ‘chemistry’ of an ending-war movement, and also (because) the global community has reached a critical mass of people who see war as insane, a barbaric practice rather than an honorable endeavor.”

Hand’s website and Proposed Plan of Action go into minute, pragmatic detail about taking advantage of this critical mass and organizing a global movement to shut down the war machine. To summarize broadly, what we need to do is unify the enormous global effort now underway to bring positive change to human society by creating an umbrella entity specifically focused on ending war. Organizations pursuing environmental justice, prison reform, nonviolent conflict resolution and thousands of other crucial causes could become stakeholders in such a unifying organization, giving credibility and power to its focused effort to challenge and dismantle war efforts around the planet.

“The good news,” she writes, “is that our basic biology also indicates that the means to unite vast numbers of people across boundaries of religion, nationality, politics and race is to build a movement on a shared universal. What better universal than the biologically based love that all people have for not only their children, but all children!”

She proposes a name for such an organization: For All Children Everywhere, or FACE. I told her: Count me in. I keep seeing the faces of children. They’re counting on us.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer, author of  Courage Grows Strong at the Wound and can be contacted at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

 

XRay Fish 6/19/13

Fishy Accounts of Health Risks from Poison Fukushima Tuna
by John LaForgejohn_laforge

On June 4th, 2013, London-based news source the Guardian reported, “Fukushima tuna safe to eat – study.”  The day before, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Scientists to eaters: Don’t freak out over Fukushima fish.” The San Diego Union-Tribune was emphatic: “Tuna Pose No Risk after Nuke Disaster,” and online, “Fukushima seafood radiation risk nil, study says.” TheBBC ran with, “Fukushima tuna pose little health risk.” And CNN declared, “Fukushima tuna study finds minuscule health risks.”

So which is it? Does that sushi or canned tuna pose a minuscule risk, just a little one, or is it safe? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a report online May 30, 2013 that garnered these vastly disparate headlines. The NAS team studied measurements of cesium-137 and cesium-134 in Bluefin tuna caught off the California coast. The cesium was dumped or leaked as liquids into and deposited as gaseous fallout on the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima’s three catastrophic reactor meltdowns. The poisoned tuna swam 5,000 miles to our West Coast.

It is clear from the report that the Union-Tribune and the Guardian grossly “mis-headlined” the NAS’s findings. The tuna had an estimated 7.7 nano-sieverts [the sievert is a standard measure of the biological impacts of radiation] per 7-ounce serving. Since no radiation exposure of any kind is “safe,” headlines writers declaring the risk is “nil” and the tuna “safe” had not done the slightest bit of digging.

A simple internet search of agency web sites illustrates the fact that every US government agency that regulates radiation exposures, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Energy, Transportation and Health and Human Services Departments and the National Academy of Sciences itself, agrees that there is “no safe dose.” The National Council on Radiation Protection says, “[E]very increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.”  In addition to noting that “radiation is a carcinogen,” the American Nuclear Society warns, “It may also cause other adverse health effects, including genetic defects in the children of exposed parents or mental retardation in the children of mothers exposed during pregnancy.”

The headline writers seem not even to have read the contents of their own stories, since theUnion-Tribune report says, “the amount doesn’t represent a significant health risk.” Translating this low risk message into none at all or one that’s “nil” is extremely misleading and negligent at best. In the middle of the Guardian article, Nicholas Fisher, the lead US author of the study from Stony Brook University in New York says not that the tuna is safe, but that, “I wouldn’t necessarily encourage them to eat these fish — they can eat something else!”

The BBC article said a person eating a 200-gram meal of tuna would receive a radiation “dose equivalent” from cesium of less than eight nano-sieverts. “This is about a thousand times less than the dose someone would receive from a typical dental X-ray.” This comparison and others made to jet airplane rides and the effects of cosmic rays are shockingly deceptive and bogus, like comparing apples to tire irons. This is because external, single-shot exposures like medical and dental X-rays do not lodge in internal tissues, as does ingested or inhaled cesium. Internal radiation emitters deliver a chronic, ongoing exposure and bombard surrounding tissues where they can smash apart DNA again and again. Think of the difference between warming yourself before a glowing wood fire, and popping a hot coal into your mouth.

The BBC went as far as to say that the 200g portion would produce a dose of “roughly five micro-sieverts, which carries an increased probability of developing a fatal cancer of about two in 10 million.” If everyone on earth eats that single lunch, the “nil” effect translates to 1,600 cancer deaths. It’s a limited to be sure, but it’s a powerful little nothing if you’re the one with the cancer.

Another significant fault of the lazy reporting is that radiation exposure effects women, children, infants and people with immune dysfunction far more seriously than “reference man,” the hypothetical 20 to 30 year old “Caucasian male” used in most radiation protection regulations, including those designed to protect the general public. Its use is scientifically outrageous since the vast majority of people fall outside the definition. Most news accounts also neglected to mention that radiation’s effects are cumulative and irreversible and that the poisoned tuna risk has to be considered in conjunction with medical X-rays, tracer isotopes in medicine, dental X-rays, whole-body airport X-ray scanners, high-dose medical CT scans, food irradiation and a hundred other incidental sources.

In northeast Japan, the sale of rockfish and greenling has been banned because of cesium contamination. Reuters said May 31, 2013 that while some fish there contain cesium levels allowed by the government (100 Bequerels-per-kilo or less), fish that live near the sea-floor, like cod, halibut and sole, often test for fantastic levels of cesium.

One Japanese fisherman, 80-year-old Shohei Yaoita, who opposes Japan’s plan to dump more cesium into the sea told Reuters something we all might recall: “They say it’s safe, but they had always told us that the nuclear power is safe too.”


John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, edits its quarterly newsletter, and writes for 
PeaceVoice.

Imagine Being #1 6/19/13

Imagine If We Were Number One

By Laura Finley

lfinley

No, not number one in military spending (which we are). Not number one in incarceration rates (which we are as well). What if, instead of these things, the U.S. became hyper-focused on becoming the most peaceful nation on earth?

The recently released 2013 Global Peace Index (GPI) placed the U.S.100th out of 162 countries. That’s not so spectacular. The GPI, which is endorsed by a number of Nobel Peace laureates, eminent individuals, and renowned academics, considers factors related to both negative peace, that is, the absence of violent conflict, and positive peace, or characteristics of just and humane societies, like ample housing, access to education, lack of poverty, healthcare, and gender equality.  The GPI’s Positive Peace Index measures attitudes, institutions and structures that either promote or prohibit a peaceful environment.

The 2013 GPI noted that, since the 2008, 110 countries have become less peaceful. The U.S is one of these. The U.S scores particularly poorly in regards to its high prison and jail population, its large and active military, the number of conflicts it is engaged in overseas and the number of combat deaths, its heavy weapons capacity and ease of access to small arms. The U.S. rates moderately on measures related to gender equality, education, and infant mortality.

This failure to commit to peace is a global catastrophe, and a costly one at that. The GPI report, available at www.visionofhumanity.org, calculates the total economic impact of containing violence to have been $9.46 trillion in 2012.  According to the report, cutting the cost of violence in half would be enough to repay all the debts of the developing world, provide for European financial stability, and fully fund the Millennium Development Goals.

So, what does it take to get to the top, to be a “peace” country? The top ten of the GPI is dominated by small Nordic countries, although New Zealand, Canada and Japan are included as well. Despite being far different geographically and in its population, the U.S can perhaps draw a thing or two from these countries. Difficult economic times notwithstanding, Iceland is number one for its low crime rates, its minimal military, and its resistance to getting involved in global violent conflict. In general, the high peace countries tend to have, among other qualities, more equitable distribution of resources, greater trust between citizens, and more social cohesion. They invest in health and education and seek alternatives to retributive justice.  In essence, nations that score high on positive peace tend also to be high on the overall GPI.

Perhaps the most important goal for the U.S. is to reduce the size, expenditure, and use of its military.  It is this militarism that is the underlying cause of the country’s poor ranking. Yet 57% of President Obama’s proposed 2014 budget is devoted to military. Not a step in the right direction.  All the more reason, however, for anyone who wants peace to remain vocal and vigilant. How about if we try to be number one at something else for a change.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Knock Out Their Eyes 6/12/13

Missiles over Istanbul? Or just knock-out-their-eyes tear gas?

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

So, now that the Turkish government, under the fiats of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip “Facebook is the worst menace to society” Erdogan, is running down nonviolent protesters andshooting tear gas cannisters into their heads and permanently blinding them, should we ask John McCain what to do? Or John Kerry? These are some of the leaders of the conservatives and liberals who want to ramp up the US military aid and action in Syria because Bashar al-Assad is violent against violent insurgents and anyone else affiliated with them or nearby when his Syrian military strikes.

Oh–that’s right, Turkey is in NATO. We can’t really bomb them. We, in fact, provide them with their bombs. I’m sure we can expect more reports from yet another Muslim country in which pro-democracy demonstrators are hit with weapons marked “Made in the USA.”

Just leave it alone. The world of Islam should be answerable to the entire world, not to the US alone and not to some rogue coalition or military alliance unduly influenced by the US. Does the world of Islam need meddling from the outside? Yes, if the reformed UN comes to believe it. What is justified in the name of Islam–beheadings, stonings, ad nauseam–is as ghastly as what is justified in the name of the national interest–or the humanitarian fig leaf–of the US, at least when done by the US military. Even Islamic scholars who claim that they understand nonviolence sometimes do not. An example is Zeki Saritoprak, who authored a journal article in Muslim World in 2005 that first claims that Mohammed was nonviolent and never had a single act of violence attributed to him, and, just two sentences later, notes that the Prophet did ‘defend himself.’ Well, it’s one or the other, Dr. Saritoprak, not both.

A pax on both their houses. The US and NATO should be answerable to the entire world, not just to themselves. Like Assad, Obama and his spokespeople for drones justify killing children by noting the violence of the individuals who were the nominal targets of the strikes–which are made against them or anyone nearby. The inescapable illogic and illegality of these claims should, at some point, challenge us all to help think about how to convert our war system to a peace system.

We should be spending some serious funding on this research into improved sanctions, people power, de-escalation best practices, crowdsourcing early warning, grievance satisfaction, win-win negotiation, and other nonviolent enforcement alternatives. Humanitarian war is oxymoronic, and our solutions are not the military, even though that is by far our biggest investment. It is good money after bad and we have spent ourselves silly, a bit like the cigaret companies of the 1950s and 60s. We have a successful propaganda machine for a product–violence–that has caused and spread a cancer throughout our body politic. We will either learn to fix these problems from a broad-based, racially, religiously, and generally diverse societal democratic effort or we will see the ‘solutions’ imposed yet again by the elites so used to getting the benefits while we get the costs.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings directs PeaceVoice.

 

Addiction to War 6/12/13

An American Awakening to the Addiction of War

by Erin Niemela

Erin Niemela

Erin Niemela

The recent NSA revelations of widespread surveillance on American citizens should be cause for intense protest.  Surely it will be, as a day of nationwide mass action to restore the Fourth Amendment has been planned for the fourth of July. But any awake American can see that PRISM is only one sock on a long line of dirty laundry. The list of U.S. government abuses and failures to protect stretches far and wide, an alphabet soup of depravity: PRISM, NDAA, CISPA, SOPA, Patriot Act, the Monsanto Protection Act, drones, secret kill lists, Guantanamo Bay, DNA tests, Abu Ghraib, Afghan Massacre, Keystone, Tar Sands, Hanford. I’m certain you’ll think of more.

While PRISM and the rest of the gang are individually sordid, when combined they are the track marks of a far more pervasive, widespread, life-wasting problem. One that has systematically attacked not just the Fourth Amendment, but also the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and 10th. No matter how hard we advocate for the Fourth Amendment now, others will fall so long as this substance burns through the veins of the Republic.

This is your government on war.

An unnatural, synthesized invention, war courses through Congress, city halls and the Oval Office.  Paranoia, fear, consumption, degradation, enslavement, betrayal and suffering – these are the family values of a nation on war.

Our government’s addiction consumes the domestic budget, leaving little for health, education or infrastructure. It invades privacy and creates enemies through paranoia and fear, painting its opposition as savage, barbaric, shady, and justifying oppression, enslavement, torture and murder. It desecrates the natural world, poisoning the veins of the Earth and its abundance, waging chemical warfare and extracting the resources to do so.

This addiction isolates and alienates us from the global community, our physical and spiritual connections with the human family severed by consistent betrayal and erratic abuse.  This addiction gives illegitimate power and authority to the highest bidder; toxic dealers of the military-industrial complex operate within an untraceable, uncontrollable, private Silk Road.

Looking for a fix, the U.S. government betrays us for its own benefit and that of its corporate dealers. It transforms the Edward Snowdens, Bradley Mannings and Julian Assanges into puny snitches, faced with demands for assassination, and charged with illuminating our government’s addiction and challenging pervasive denial.

We need an intervention, an American Awakening, to end the inevitable suffering of the American people – indeed, the global village – at the whims of mega users.  Want to protect the Fourth Amendment? Want to protect them all? Call for a 28th Amendment – an amendment to abolish the slavery of addiction, an amendment to abolish war.

Amendment XXVIII of the Constitution of the United States of America

Section 1.  The American people, in accordance with the promotion of international justice, peace, human rights and dignity, hereby renounce the use of organized, armed force to resolve intra- and inter-state conflict; neither war nor war-making processes shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

We can file as many class-action lawsuits as we’d like. We can repeal Citizens United, fight the NDAA, demolish Gitmo, and we should. But these sores will be replaced with new ones so long as the syringe of the military-industrial complex remains intact and full.

Section 2. Congress shall neither make nor approve war, nor approve of the use of military force, as a means for resolving intra- and inter-state conflict.

Just as we abolished slavery, another fundamentally immoral manmade institution, we can abolish the fundamentally immoral manmade institution of war, and all the harms associated thereof.

Section 3.  The United States shall neither make nor keep locations of detention for prisoners of war, and all prisoners, upon recognition, shall be released to their respective home nations or non-military, judicial courts.

On the fourth of July, our day of independence, stand up for the Fourth Amendment, but also stand up for the rest, because last week it was the Sixth, and tomorrow it’ll be the Fifth, so long as war is our drug of choice. No constitutional right is safe from the manipulative behavior of a government in denial.  We must demand a 28th Amendment – one amendment to secure them all – and declare our independence from the tyranny of addiction, from the enslavement of war.

Erin Niemela is a Master’s Candidate in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University and a PeaceVoice syndicated journalist.

 

No Privacy for You 6/12/13

A Bad Month for Privacy Rights

By Laura L. Finley

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Justice Louis Brandeis once called the right to privacy “the right most valued by civilized men.”  Sadly, it has become increasingly clear that, despite pronunciations about “change” and “transparency,” the Obama administration is continuing down the path so dangerously started by former President George W. Bush.

First, the Supreme Court decided that it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment if police collect DNA from people who have merely been arrested, not convicted, of a crime. Although the Court specified that this practice, already occurring in more than half of the states, should only be done to those who are arrested for “serious” crimes, no definition of what constitutes a serious crime was provided. I wonder whether we should begin preparing ourselves simply to open our mouths whenever a police officer approaches. Whether you are rightly or wrongly arrested, your DNA from that cheek swab will go into the database and, as far as we know, remain there in perpetuity.

While defenders maintain that the practice will help exonerate innocent persons, the risks are huge. Ultimately, the power goes to police, a scary kind of power in the hands of those who do not always use it fairly. In January, President Obama signed into law the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act, which creates grants to help states pay for the expanded DNA databases, and thus we can expect that more will indeed do so. Once again, we have put our faith in a technology at the expense of civil liberties.  Further, DNA evidence is only as good as the people collecting, maintaining and analyzing it.

Then, the Guardian broke the story that the FBI has been granted the power to obtain from Verizon information from all calls made within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries from April 25 and July 19 of this year. Supposedly a tool to keep us safe from terrorism, the authorization for this type of spying on citizens who have done absolutely nothing was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court through the USA Patriot Act’s “business records” provision.  While actual conversations are not covered, details including the phone numbers, location, duration, time and other identifiers about the callers are included in the order. Verizon has close to 100 million customers. We also have no way of knowing whether the NSA or FBI has sought similar orders of other phone companies, as all are prohibited from disclosing.

Just days later, the Guardian revealed that the NSA has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants. Under a program called PRISM, the NSA collects our search histories, the content of our emails, file transfers, live chats and more.

These types of blanket surveillance are not only an invasion of privacy but also ineffective to do what the government claims. Someone has to analyze the tremendous amount of data collected from these records, the vast majority of which will be completely innocuous. Not a smart use of resources, I would argue.

Clearly, poet John Perry Barlow had it right: “Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.”  Those interested in a more peaceful and just world must become even more vocal advocates for privacy, what Justice William O. Douglas called “the beginning of all freedom.”

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

 

Welfare or Education? 6/12/13

Corporate Welfare or Education?  America’s Public University System

By Lawrence S. Wittner

Lawrence S. Wittner

Lawrence S. Wittner

Should a public university be transformed into a corporate welfare project?  That’s the key question surrounding “Tax-Free NY,” a new plan zealously promoted by New York State’s Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo, with nation-wide implications.

Under the provisions of his Tax-Free NY scheme, most of the 64 campuses of the State University of New York (SUNY), some private colleges, and zones adjacent to SUNY campuses would be thrown open to private businesses that would be exempted from state taxes on sales, property, the income of their owners, and the income of their employees for a period of 10 years.  According to the governor, this creation of tax-free havens for private, profit-making companies is designed to create economic development and jobs, especially in upstate New York.

Joined by businessmen, politicians, and top SUNY administrators, Cuomo has embarked on a full court press for his plan.  Tax-Free NY, he announced, was “a game-changing initiative that will transform SUNY campuses and university communities across the state.”  Conceding that these tax-free zones wouldn’t work without a dramatic “culture shift” in the SUNY system, Cuomo argued that faculty would have to “get interested and participate in entrepreneurial activities.”  As he declared in mid-May, the situation was “delicate, because academics are academics. . . .  But you can be a great academic and you can be entrepreneurial, and I would argue you’d be a better academic if you were actually entrepreneurial.”

In fact, the commercialization of American college and university life has been advancing steadily in recent years.  Thousands of U.S. students are paid by businesses to market products on their campuses, large numbers of university presidents serve on one or more corporate boards, administrators sport new titles such as Kmart Chair of Marketing and BankAmerica Dean, and for-profit universities now dot the American landscape.  Indeed, some universities run their own industrial parks, venture capital funds, and joint business-university research centers.

Even so, Tax-Free NY appears to be an important milestone in the corporatization of higher education, for SUNY is the nation’s largest public university system.  Only a few years ago, New York State law prohibited businesses from operating on SUNY campuses.  But that barrier has been swept away, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is now a leading cheerleader for Tax-Free NY.

SUNY’s faculty and staff, on the other hand, have a greater stake in preserving the university’s traditional role of education and the advancement of knowledge.  United University Professions (UUP), the union that represents 35,000 faculty and other professional staff on SUNY campuses, has been disturbed for years by the state government’s abandonment of its legal commitment to fund public higher education.  Over a four-year period, SUNY lost nearly $700 million in state support through budget cuts, and state funding has remained flat over the past year.  Today, nearly 75 percent of the university’s operating budget comes from ever-rising tuition and fees.  A decade ago, the state covered 75 percent of SUNY’s budget.

Naturally, then, UUP has promised to fight against this latest assault on the university. Rejecting Tax-Free NY, it argues that any available space on SUNY’s campuses should be dedicated to improving education through smaller class size and improved student services, that there are no assurances that business entities would support the academic mission of campuses, and that the tax-cutting plan would diminish tax revenues that could be used for public education.

Also, there is considerable doubt that Tax-Free NY will spur economic growth.  The Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed group, has reported that New York State already spends about $7 billion annually to foster economic development without any evidence that this funding has been productive.  The Alliance for a Greater New York, a group with a liberal orientation, has noted that, in the past year, the state gave away $490 million to businesses for projects through its Industrial Development Agencies.  Of these projects, half failed to create any jobs and another quarter lost a total of 17,000 jobs.  Criticizing Tax-Free NY,Crain’s New York Business, a leading commercial publication, stated that “history tells us these kinds of strategies don’t work.”  During the administration of Republican George Pataki, “the state created Empire Zones . . . with special tax breaks and incentives. . . .  No area ever showed any real economic gains.  They were eventually phased out when it became clear they had achieved virtually nothing.”  In addition, these economic development programs were riddled with abuse and fraud by unscrupulous companies.

As a result, significant criticism of the governor’s plan has begun to emerge.  The small Conservative Party — a key ally of the Republican Party — formally denounced Tax-Free NY, arguing that “government should not be deciding what businesses receive government handouts that give them advantages over other businesses.”  Journalists asked the governor what would stop the favored companies from simply packing up and leaving after their decade of tax breaks.  According to the president of the Civil Service Employees Association: “The governor doesn’t get the fact that more corporate welfare is no answer to New York’s economic challenges.”

Why, then, despite the obvious limitations of Tax-Free NY, is the governor promoting it so vigorously?  One reason, some observers contend, is that Cuomo is a very ambitious man, with his eyes on a run for the White House.  Determined to win re-election by a huge margin, he needs to strengthen his sagging appeal in upstate New York to do so.  In addition, Cuomo has been closely allied with the state’s corporate leaders, who have poured millions of dollars into promoting his pro-business agenda.  Championing tax cuts to business helps cement this alliance.

Ironically, it’s quite possible that the governor could spur economic growth and job creation if he just reversed his proposal.  Instead of throwing more tax dollars at profit-making businesses while starving public education, he could channel that same money into the SUNY system.  In this fashion, he would help build the kind of university that, through its intellectual excellence, would foster advanced scientific experimentation, economic innovation, and a highly-educated workforce.  But that’s not at all his plan. Corporations, politicians, and educators across the country are watching closely.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and writes for PeaceVoice.  His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” – a satire on the corporatization of higher education.]

 

A Little Leak 6/12/13

More leaks in the faulty national security debate – and how to fix them

By Patrick T. Hiller

Patrick T. Hiller

Patrick T. Hiller

A little leak can be quickly fixed by stuffing it or wrapping it. Large leaks, however, often require more structural repairs or completely different solutions. Bradley Manning’s and just days ago Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information demonstrates just how big our structural repairs need to be. What they exposed are further indicators of the faulty framework of the national security debate. In other words, a poorly designed security construct is collapsing. We discuss the acts of those individuals on a sliding scale from “nominate them for the Nobel Peace Prize” to “try them for treason” – I opt for the first. Distracted by character debate, however, we are missing opportunities to engage in more meaningful discussions about the faulty structures they exposed.

We are operating out of the perpetual fear that evil is out there to eradicate the United States of America. The government’s guiding foreign policy principle is to keep the American people safe (http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy), and in doing so the military and intelligence agencies are overstepping legal and ethical boundaries in an outdated understanding of security. While very few would argue against the need of security – in fact it is a shared basic human need for everyone – we are constantly missing opportunities as a nation to re-define security.

Security, particularly national security, unfortunately is defined in relation to military power and its global projection. A fact worth repeating is that we are spending as much as the world’s next 15 countries on our defense (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). It is too much and it does not serve our national defense. Our country is not under attack. There is no clash of civilizations or a battle between American freedom versus the perceived darkness of an Islamist world.

For the sake of having the security discussion let us look at the war on terror and the perpetual terrorist threats which led us into two real wars and are driving the current security conversations. The most recent leak of confidential governmental information was that of Edward Snowden, a computer analyst working for the private government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He revealed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic American national security surveillance program designed to identify terrorists. More than that, PRISM appears to be highly invasive of the privacy of all citizens in an unprecedented collection of data, the full extent yet to be revealed. Instead of resorting to science fiction surveillance tactics out of George Orwell’s novel 1984 through PRISM and “pre-crime” enforcements tactics out of Steven Spielberg’s film Minority Report through drone strikes, we have an opportunity to resort to real science in our responses to terrorism. The bottom line is that we now understand patterns and dynamics of violence and ways of constructive conflict transformation. And quite frankly, the strategies and tactics employed by our government are not constructive pathways toward eliminating terrorism.

Scientists studying the causes and consequences of war offer multiple nonviolent responses to terrorism which are part of an evolving global system of peace. Effective nonviolence, international adjudication, conflict resolution, peace education, indigenous rights, smart sanctions, non-governmental organizations and effective humanitarian work, peaceful interpretation of religious scriptures or human rights are just a few real trends accompanied by proven approaches to move them forward. John Paul Lederach, a pioneer in the peace and conflict studies field who teaches at the University of Notre Dame, suggests that nonviolent responses to terrorism should be based on engagement rather than isolation – particularly of civil society. Those strategies allow for solutions over the mid-term and long-term which are more likely to address the root causes of the grievances. Imagine the new horizons that would open up.

A talented computer analyst like Edward Snowden would not need to fear for his future and life for acting out of his conscience and could be put to work on creating sophisticated early warning violence prevention networks. Our aeronautical engineers could design, manufacture and program drones for tornado warnings, disaster relief or atmospheric research. Then we don’t need to have discussions about the perpetual war on terror, drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay, or the manufactured fear of an established Islamist state. Then we are indeed strengthening an evolving global peace system, which is not based on utopian thinking but based on numerous trends of constructive conflict transformation, social change and global collaboration.

As to security, we can re-define security as a more positive role for the United States in the world rather than constantly preparing for war and going to war in the name of freedom. That is not only patriotic and demonstrates love for our country, it addresses the human need for security of all.

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., Hood River, OR, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

IRS HOAX 6/5/13

IRS ‘Scandal’ is a Hoax

By William Boardman

Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game Straight?

Almost everything you hear and read in the media about the current IRS “scandal” is based on deliberate falsification of basic facts.  Some might call it lying.

Here’s a reasonably typical media-framing of the IRS lie, from the usually careful and accurate Economist, posted May 23:  “Even before this month’s revelation that conservative political groups applying for 501(c)(4) status were being singled out for special scrutiny….” 

You see this false framing of the IRS story across the media spectrum, from Info wars to ABC News and NBC News to the Economist to DemocracyNOW! (The latter on May 24:  “the scandal over the targeted vetting of right-wing groups…).    Even the usually reliable Wonkblog at the Washington Post doesn’t get the story right, apparently because it hasn’t read the relevant law.

An exception to this remarkable mental stampede in the wrong direction was Jeffrey Toobin (New Yorker, May 14) who wondered, “Did the I.R.S. actually do anything wrong?”  His answer started to put the story in reasonable perspective, with a focus on tax law and political money:  “…the scandal isn’t what’s illegal—it’s what’s legal. It’s what society chooses not to punish that tells us most about the prevailing ethical standards of the time.”

Anatomy of a False Narrative – Lying, Laziness, Partisanship, What? 

How is it that the conventional framing is dishonest?  Here are some of the ways:

1.     It wasn’t a revelation.  All kinds of people were aware of the underlying problem, that 501(c)(4) tax status abuse had been going on since 1959, and that it took a quantum leap after 2011, when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision opened the democratic process to money flooding that would be facilitated by the secrecy offered by the 501(c )(4) status.

2.     There were bi-partisan public hearings on the problem scheduled by the Senate well before the “scandal” broke.   Anyone could look it up.

3.     As soon as the story broke, Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC The Last Word) was reporting accurately on the issue, rooted in the difference between a law that says 501(c)(4) organizations should be “exclusively” for social welfare and a 1959 IRS regulation that says, with Orwellian authority, that “exclusively” is to be interpreted to mean “primarily.”   Too many reporters and others still do not get this, even though responsible research begins with these primary sources.

4.    No one was singled out.   That’s right, no one was singled out.  The problem with 501(c)(4) applications is that the IRS must review every one to see if the applicant qualifies for tax-exempt status.  Given the flood of applications from political groups of all sorts post-Citizens United, the IRS needed some way to make sure those applications were “primarily” for social welfare, even though political insiders knew that had been a joke for years (Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and MoveOn.org are both IRS-approved 501(c)(4) organizations, of which there are thousands – reportedly 97,382 in 2011).

5.     There is no reason within the law that any political organization should get a tax subsidy from American taxpayers.  That is allowable only under the IRS regulations put in place in 1959 under the Eisenhower administration.  And the Congress could fix this virtually overnight by restoring “primarily” to its original meaning in the law, “exclusively.”  Perhaps, the real scandal, and a bi-partisan one at that, is that that’s not what’s happening.

6.     No one was singled out.  The IRS at some level (that eventually included Lois Lerner) made a remarkably stupid, tone deaf, inept effort to identify applications that were more likely than others to be primarily political.   Looking for applications tagged “tea party” may have reflected the reality of an inordinate number of such applications, but it was really dumb.  Using the tag “party” not only would have done the job, but would have been wholly defensible, since no political party is eligible for public tax subsidy and secrecy for its donors.

7.     No one was singled out.  The IRS net for possibly political organizations caught some 300 applications.  Of these, no more than a third were “conservative” or “tea party” or “right-wing.”  The rest were something else, including “liberal” and “left-wing.”  None of the so-called conservative group applications were denied.  Some were delayed, deservedly so, but a group can function as a 501(c)(4) with an application pending, so it’s hard to see how much damage a delay would do, if any.

8.     At least some of the groups on the right were clearly partisan and perhaps broke the law.   The New York Times of May 26 reports in a story wrongly headlined “Groups Targeted by I.R.S. Tested Rules on Politics” describes several tax exempt groups that spent money on partisan activities.

9.     One of the groups, Emerge America, was granted 501(c)(4) status in 2006 in order to train women to run for elected office.  In 2012, when an IRS review showed that Emerge America was training only Democratic candidates, the IRS revoked the group’s tax-exempt status.

10. Another group calling itself “CVFC 501(c)(4)” on its application in 2010 gave its address as the same as “Combat Veterans for Congress PAC” (political action committee).   Perhaps PAC triggered a closer look.  While awaiting an IRS decision, CVFC spent almost $8,000 on radio ads for a Republican candidate.  CVFC omitted this expenditure from its 2010 tax return.  On a questionnaire asking if it had engaged directly or indirectly in political activity on behalf of a candidate, CVFC checked “NO.”

NBC News Reporting Achieves Incompetence and Partisanship 

In a report on May 29, “Open Channel Investigative reporting from NBC News” (bylined Lisa Myers, Rich Gardella, Talesha Reynolds) starts with a flat-out false headline: “IRS higher-ups requested info on conservative groups, letters show.”

The story begins:  “Additional scrutiny of conservative organizations’ activities by the IRS did not solely originate in the agency’s Cincinnati office, with requests for information coming from other offices and often bearing the signatures of higher-ups at the agency….”

The letters don’t show that.  NBC provides two letters, and both come from and direct responses to the IRS Cincinnati office, although one letter also has an apparently hand-stamp signature for “Lois Lerner, Director, Exempt Organizations” and no address other than Cincinnati.  The letters comprise nine pages, of which five pages are form letters.  Each of the applicants also received a personal, two-page request for additional information to justify tax-exempt status.

The IRS asked Ohio Liberty Council Group in March 2012 to update a two year old filing, and to describe its planned activities, public events, membership recruitment, political activity, and lobbying – if any.

The IRS asked Linchpins of Liberty if they had adopted bylaws or chosen a board of directors. The IRS also wanted to know, among other things, about the organizations income and expenses, its loan agreements and other contracts, and whether its activities wound go beyond selling a book (“Linchpins of Liberty”) written by its president.   NBC fails to note that this isn’t a response to a relevant 501(c)(4) application, but the IRS answer on May 6 to an application for the more stringent 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

If You Hate Government, Do You Hate It More When It Does Due Diligence?  

Nothing in these two letters suggests anything more than due diligence by the IRS in protecting public policy and assets.   The information in the story came to NBC mostly from attorneys representing the complaining groups.   NBC provides no reliable, independent support for the opinions of its biased sources, even though it reports those opinions as more or less fact.

The IRS story went off the tracks of fact the moment Lois Lerner planted a question with a reporter at an American Bar Association conference on May 10.  In answer to the reporter’s posing of Lerner’s question, Lerner answered this way, as reported by Associated Press (no transcript appears to be available):

“The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was ‘inappropriate’ targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

“IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their exemption applications, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.”

For whatever reason, the AP makes the IRS apology institutional even though it comes from a mid-level IRS manager ratting out people she was supposed to be managing.  The news catches her superiors in the IRS, as well as the White House, completely off guard.    It also sets off a right-wing feeding frenzy, which the AP reports at length in the same story

Somebody Needs to Give This Story a Little Perspective and Proportion

Only near the end of the story, in a clumsily written paragraph, does the AP reporter touch on the factual context for the news Lerner was breaking and in which she had been a central player:

“In all, about 300 groups were singled out for additional review, Lerner said. Of those, about a quarter were singled out because they had ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ somewhere in their applications.”

In other words, about 225 applications were not “political conservative groups, as AP had reported at the top of the story, and for which it has yet to issue a correction or an apology.   

Given her unusual behavior over the past few years, it doesn’t seem all that strange that Lois Lerner has refused to answer questions in Congress, pleading the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, while refusing to resign from her $180,000-a-year job (she’s now on administrative leave).

What seems much stranger, but not as surprising as it should, is that so much of the media goes on reporting as fact the partisan political version of a story that never happened.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

This article was published at NationofChange at:http://www.nationofchange.org/irs-scandal-hoax-1370271415. All rights are reserved.

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