Opportunity is Now 3/15/17

A Crisis of Relevance  – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

And the word of the moment is . . . opportunity:

“What unites our party is a belief in opportunity, the idea that however you started out, whatever you look like, whoever you love, America is the place you can make it if you try.”

Could you be any more tepid? The words were those of the former president the other day, giving his blessing to the naming of Tom Perez as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Perez is the safe, establishment choice to lead the party forward into the maelstrom of Trump, under a banner that seems garishly inoffensive: Tolerate our differences, give everyone a chance.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and the idea of “tolerance” may even have resonated with controversy half a century ago, but today it has the hollow ring of an ad slogan.

But this is leadership for you, trying to quiet everyone down and put forth the smiley face of unity. Behind closed doors, the military-industrialists plan their agenda, but let’s not worry about that. The role of the public, or at least the liberal, Democrat-leaning sector thereof, is to be afraid of Donald Trump and cheer for the good guys. Meanwhile, the actual future will be handled by the experts and their overlords in the corporatocracy.

In point of fact, a serious segment of the Democratic base sees beyond this well-tailored lie. The movement in the streets, the “creative turbulence,” as Charles Pierce put it, the furious cries for change, are aimed as much at the Democrats as they are at the Republicans and the Trumpsters.

Perez himself, after gaining the DNC chairmanship, put the situation as succinctly as anyone I’ve heard. He quickly undid his assessment and lapsed into “positive message” blather about inclusion, opportunity and the big tent. But first he asked: “Where do we go from here? Because right now we have to face the facts. We are suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance.”

A. Crisis. Of. Relevance.

The words cut like a wound across the chest. The last time the Democratic mainstream publicly acknowledged awareness of this crisis — as opposed to simply participating in its ongoing creation — was in 1972, when George McGovern seized the Democratic presidential nomination and ran for the presidency on a blatantly antiwar platform.

“I have no secret plan for peace. I have a public plan,” he said.

“And as one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day.”

He delivered these words during the Democratic National Convention that year, then went on to run a wide-open campaign that was no match for Richard Nixon and CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), despite the Watergate break-in. And in the 45 years since, America’s wars have been off the table in every presidential election, and today — surprise, surprise! — we find ourselves mired in permanent war, with the Middle East and, indeed, the whole planet bleeding from the consequences.

McGovern also said: “The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plane.”

I call this participatory vs. spectator democracy, and I think this is what’s happening today in the nation’s streets and airports and in its town hall meetings: creative turbulence the likes of which we have not seen since the Vietnam War era. But what’s crucial is that this progressive uprising not limit itself to economic and domestic issues, as though U.S. militarism were a separate matter. The Democrats’ crisis of relevance is grounded in the party’s absolute acquiescence during the Obama years to the war on terror, and the only way for the party to reclaim power and credibility is to stand up to its own moral shortcomings, not just those of George Bush and Donald Trump.

Andrew Bacevich, describing the quasi-religious nature of American exceptionalism and the quest for global dominance, wrote last week: “Members of the Church of America the Redeemer, Democrats and Republicans alike, are demonstrably incapable of rendering an honest accounting of what their missionary efforts have yielded.”

He then offers “a brief inventory” of the consequences of our recent wars:

“thousands of Americans needlessly killed; tens of thousands grievously wounded in body or spirit; trillions of dollars wasted; millions of Iraqis dead, injured, or displaced; this nation’s moral standing compromised by its resort to torture, kidnapping, assassination, and other perversions; a region thrown into chaos and threatened by radical terrorist entities like the Islamic State that U.S. military actions helped foster. And now, if only as an oblique second-order bonus, we have Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency to boot.”

Let us lift the silence! If the new DNC chairman is able to concede that his party is in the midst of — and being destroyed by — a crisis of relevance, then perhaps he can defy the establishment that backed him and stand up to the State of War, as McGovern did 45 years ago.

What we need is a public plan for peace. The opportunity is ripe.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Global Chaos – Cautious Observation 3/8/17

The moment of the fool  – by Robert C. Koehler

Obama . . . Trump.

Robert Koehler

Could there be a bigger contrast — in attitude, style, comportment, philosophy? What irony that the two names are now linked in history: Donald Trump forever the successor to Barack Obama, forever the orange-haired blot on his legacy, forever the surrealistic next chapter of the American narrative.

At the superficial level of news and understanding, this is never going to compute. And the way the Trump presidency has begun — white nationalism cozying up with the generals and Wall Street — seems to raise the worst fears possible.

Before this contrast disappears completely into the global chaos the Trump presidency seems bent on creating (that is to say, the new normal), I have a small, cautious observation to make: Maybe Trump is just what we need.

I say this in spite of what he stands for and who he is — in spite of his lies, his racism, his lack of impulse control, his nutball tweets — not because of them. He’s a dangerous egotist occupying the most powerful position on the planet. His value lies pretty much completely in the fact that his incompetence is so obvious that, in spite of himself, he winds up exposing problems much deeper than the ones he manifests. And the opposition that swirls around him can only become increasingly aware of the need not simply to stand up to Trump but to rebuild much of America’s political infrastructure.

“In the splurge of ‘news,’ media-bashing, and Bannonism that’s been Donald Trump’s domestic version of a shock-and-awe campaign, it’s easy to forget just how much of what the new president and his administration have done so far is simply an intensification of trends long underway,”William Hartung wrote recently. “Those who already pine for the age of Obama — a president who was smart, well read, and not a global embarrassment — need to acknowledge the ways in which, particularly in the military arena, Obama’s years helped set the stage for our current predicament.”

And of course this goes much deeper than Obama. The country’s current state of endless war goes back to the end of World War II and the evolving of what Dwight Eisenhower called — as he left office — the military-industrial complex. War as a policy, especially perpetual war, isn’t simply one individual’s reasoned decision, but a state of existence flowing from the consensus of governing institutions.

When that consensus exists in the dark, free of public input or scrutiny, the motivating factors of that consensus are likely to be something other than the euphemism known as “the public good.”

For instance: “Given that the Soviet Union no longer exists, that China has become a capitalist economy and that the major difficulties faced abroad are ISIS . . . and related groups, it is deeply questionable why the congressional budget still devotes tens of billions of dollars to Cold War-era nuclear weapons,” Jonathan King and Richard Krushnic write at Truthout.

“. . . Where does the pressure for these wasteful and provocative programs — which almost certainly decrease national security — come from?” they ask. “While military high command and the intelligence agencies also press for nuclear weapons upgrades, corporate profits derived from nuclear weapons contracts may be the most powerful driving force, supported by members of Congress with military research and development . . . and production facilities in their districts.”

This begins to get at it. The ongoing development of nuclear weapons is insane by any measure, but if the ultimate driving influence is economic — cash dividends spread across the Washington consensus — it’s unclear what, if any, political or social force exists that can effectively challenge this, i.e., can undo the entrenched justifications of business as usual even if that business is leading the whole planet toward Armageddon.

Obama couldn’t do it, even though he declared, back in 2009, in his first foreign policy speech: “Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And . . . as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.

“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

What happened instead, as Hartung notes, is that Obama “oversaw the launching of a trillion dollar ‘modernization’ of the U.S. nuclear arsenal (including the development of new weapons and new delivery systems). And one thing is already clear enough: President Trump will prove no non-interventionist. He is going to build on Obama’s militarization of foreign policy and most likely dramatically accelerate it.”

Indeed, “Given the way President Trump has outfitted his administration with generals, the already militarized nature of foreign policy is only likely to become more so,” Hartung goes on, adding that many of his appointees have backgrounds not only in the military but the weapons industry as well.

Back to the contrast between Obama and Trump. Obama, as he coolly articulated the politics of hope, managed to disarm not U.S. foreign policy but the antiwar public. Trump is doing the opposite — and doing it so garishly, so clumsily, that public outrage coalesces around his every executive order. And a permanent movement is very much in formation right now, composed of people who see the government acting with utter oblivion to their will and interests. They feel unrepresented.

As I pondered this, an image flickered for a moment: I saw a deck of Tarot cards, and there was Donald Trump as The Fool: the card of impulse, audacity and the pursuit of foolish adventure. This is the card that prophecies, in short, Change.

Could it be? What if the public could permanently tear open the secret state and demand accountability and openness in the conduct of its business? What if we decided to stay on permanent alert and refused to let the lesser human qualities — greed, paranoia, hatred, dominance — determine the planet’s future? What if Trump has set something into motion that can’t be stopped? You might even call it a revolution.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

No Other Way? 3/1/17

Costa Rica’s Peace Journey  – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

“This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Dwight Eisenhower gave the world some extraordinary rhetoric — indeed, his words have the sting of ironic shrapnel, considering how little they have influenced the direction of the country and the world in the last six decades.

“These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953,” he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors nearly 64 years ago. “This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty. It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: Is there no other way the world may live?”

Even if Ike believed these words from the depths of his being, he didn’t inscribe them into national policy. These were the 1950s. The nuclear arms race was in full swing. We were playing Cold War with the Soviets and toppling governments we didn’t like (Iran, Guatemala, the Congo). Ike may have meant well, but he was the hostage of the very military-industrial complex he outed as he left office — which reduces “peace,” whatever that might truly mean, to a dream . . . to pie-in-the-sky idealism and the hostage of cynics.

What most people don’t know, however, is that when Eisenhower delivered his “cross of iron” speech, a tiny nation to the south had already been living those words for five years. Yes, yes, yes, there is another way for the world to live! And Costa Rica is now nearly seven decades into what may be the most extraordinary experiment a sovereign nation has ever undertaken.

And this experiment is the subject of a fascinating documentary, A Bold Peace, co-directed by Matthew Eddy and Michael Dreiling, which is one of more than 30 films that are part of Chicago’s ninth annual Peace on Earth Film Festival, to be held March 10-12 at the city’s Music Box Theatre. It’s been my privilege to be part of this festival since its beginning — and I never cease to be awed by the scope and complexity of the subject matter on display at the festival.

A Bold Peace is definitely part of that complexity, as it tells the story of Costa Rica’s risky, extraordinary journey of living without a military — of transcending war and remaining (for 68 years and counting) an example of the future that is possible for the whole planet. Guess what? Contrary to what too many people continue to believe, aggressive dominance is not the key to survival, for nations or for individuals. Indeed, it’s just the opposite.

“Our best defense is to be defenseless,” former Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias says at one point in the film. “Not having an army doesn’t make you weaker, but stronger. . . . The political opinion of the world is our army.”

These are stunning words from a national leader. The whole idea of nationhood seems baptized in the concept of war, aggression and militarized “self-defense.” But something happened to Costa Rica in 1948: An opening in awareness took place, perhaps because of its leader at the time, Jose Figueres Ferrer, or perhaps because of some innate public will, or more likely it was the two factors in remarkable convergence. The country disbanded its army.

This is the story A Bold Peace tells: a quiet story of planetary significance, which begins, paradoxically, with an armed revolution that swept Costa Rica in 1948, in the wake of a disputed presidential election. Some 4,000 people died. Figueres led the revolution and took power, but here any similarity with other revolutionary movements ends.

Figueres stayed in power a total of 18 months. In that time, as the film points out, he accomplished several things: granting women and African-Caribbeans the right to vote, preserving and expanding the country’s social welfare system and, glory hallelujah, totally demilitarizing. He disbanded the armed forces, with full public support. The lack of a military is ingrained in the constitution and is part of the Costa Rican national identity. And after a year and a half, Figueres voluntarily stepped down from the presidency (though he was re-elected to that office twice in the coming years, in 1953 and 1970).

Part of the film’s impact is the clarity with which it explains, through numerous interviews, the complexity of Costa Rica’s peace journey and the courage required over the decades to sustain it. One of the interviewees described Figueres as “a victorious man who abolished his own army, surrounded by powerful enemies.” The U.S.-allied dictators of the Caribbean Basic hated him, including Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, who at one point challenged Figueres to a pistol duel at the border of the two countries. Figueres responded: “Grow up.”

But the cruelest challenges Costa Rica faced over the decades came directly from the United States. The film addresses these challenges in detail, beginning with Ronald Reagan and the U.S. proxy war with the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, who had overthrown Somoza. The Reagan administration had claimed a swath of Honduras for use as a military base and put enormous pressure on Costa Rica to give it the same access. Costa Rica resisted and wound up declaring neutrality, much to the chagrin of the United States and its proxy warriors, who could hardly fathom such comeuppance from this tiny country.

“We were not afraid. That’s a very important national trait,” Victor Ramirez, a former assistant minister under Arias, says in the film. “Paranoia . . . is one of the paradoxical traits of the powerful. The United States is a very good example of that. It’s a very paranoid country. They are so scared of everything. We had a very strong power just to the north of our country and we were not scared. We were not going to militarize our country.”

In 2003, when George W. Bush invaded Iraq, Costa Rica was again pressured to be part of the action, to join the U.S. “coalition of the willing,” and its president at the time momentarily succumbed, but public pressure forced her to pull out. And in 2010, when the Nicaraguan military invaded a Costa Rican island, the two countries eventually solved the dispute at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. “If Costa Rica had an armed force, that would have been war,” Luis Guillermo Solis, current president of Costa Rica, says in the film.

Is there no other way the world may live?

A Bold Peace, which begins by quoting Eisenhower’s “cross of iron” speech, tells the remarkable story of war avoided, or transcended, again and again and again. Yes, there is another way for the world to live. By the film’s end, this way emerges not simply as possible, not simply as a curiosity, but as the model for the future. It’s time for the rest of the world to join Costa Rica on its journey.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Bizarre Alliances 2/22/17

Robert Koehler

The Great American Awakening – by Robert C. Koehler

Old wounds break open. Deep, encrusted wrongs are suddenly visible. The streets flow with anger and solidarity. The past and the future meet.

The news is All Trump, All the Time, but what’s really happening is only minimally about Donald Trump, even though his outrageous actions and bizarre alliances are the trigger.

“As the nightmare reality of Donald Trump sinks in, we need to put our resistance in a larger perspective,” Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman wrote recently, describing Trump as “our imperial vulture come home to roost.”

The context in which most Trumpnews is delivered is miniscule: more or less beginning and ending with the man himself — his campaign, his businesses, his appointees, his ego, his endless scandals (“what did he know and when did he know it?”) — which maintains the news at the level of entertainment, and surrounds it with the fantasy context of a United States that used to be an open, fair and peace-loving democracy, respectful of all humanity. In other words, Trump is the problem, and if he goes away, we can get back to what we used to be.

In point of fact, however, the United States has always been an empire, a national entity certain of its enemies — both internal and external — and focused on conquest and exploitation. Yes, it’s been more than that as well. But the time has come to face the totality of who we are and reach for real change.

I believe this is what we are seeing in the streets right now. Americans — indeed, people across the planet — are ceasing to be spectators in the creation of the future. The protests we’re witnessing aren’t so much anti-Trump as pro-humanity and pro-Planet Earth.

As Fitrakis and Wasserman point out, Trump is “actually (so far) a moderate compared to scores of murderous dictators the U.S. has installed in other countries throughout the world. Especially since World War II, our imperial apparatus has constantly subverted legitimate attempts by good people to elect decent leaders.”

They present a partial list of “duly elected leaders the United States has had removed, disappeared and/or killed to make way for authoritarian pro-corporate regimes.” These leaders include: Patrice Lumumba of the Congo; Salvador Allende of Chile; Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti; Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran; Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala and many, many more. Their removals, and the installation of U.S.-friendly dictators, were accompanied by social chaos and mass killings.

Also included on the list were such names as Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph — a few of the innumerable indigenous leaders who stood in the way of Europeans’ conquest of the Western Hemisphere, the mentioning of which opens a chasm of largely unexamined and whitewashed America history. Tens of millions of people died and numerous cultures were mocked and destroyed in his American holocaust spanning centuries.

This is part of our history and it can’t be diminished and written off any more than slavery can be written off. In our failure to face such history honestly, we remain trapped in collective unawareness — and thus trapped, we repeat history again and again and again.

As French anthropologist Rene Girard has said, in his book Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, “. . . men kill in order to lie to others and to themselves on the subject of violence and death. They must kill and continue to kill, strange as it may seem, in order not to know that they are killing.”

This, so it seems to me, is the psychological and spiritual foundation of militarism and the military-industrial complex, which, among much else, has bequeathed Planet Earth with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all existing life. Donald Trump, whose vision of American greatness is all about military triumph, commands some 4,000 of them. This is terrifying, but not simply because Trump is untrustworthy and impulsive. It’s terrifying that we’ve created a world in which anyone commands that kind of power and that alone is a reason why the time for profound, deeply structural social change, is now.

And I don’t believe change will come from elected or appointed leaders, who, as they settle into office, have to make their peace with the current situation, a.k.a., the deep state, with its unquestioned militarism. This is the status quo Trump both represents and lays grotesquely exposed for what it is, like no other president in memory.

In other words, I don’t think we’ll ever vote real change into place. The social infrastructure won’t be seriously altered by those who are empowered by it, as Barack Obama, who was elected to be the bringer of hope and change, demonstrated during his tenure in office, in which he continued the Bush-Cheney wars.

Serious change will only emerge from an external force able to stand up to the existing momentum of government and the special interests attached to it. The multifaceted resistance we see on the streets — the great American awakening — may be that force.

One recent example is the huge outpouring of support that emerged last week in Phoenix, when Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, married, mother of two, was suddenly seized and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement during her yearly check-in.

“I think we sugar-coat it by making it very procedural, but actually, that night she was kidnapped from her family,” community organizer Maria Castro said in a Truthout interview. She described the confrontation with the deportation authorities:

“Myself and about half a dozen people jumped in front and were being pushed. The van literally pushed me at least 30 feet, hyperextending my knees, hurting some of my friends, knocking some of my fellow organizers down to the ground. It wasn’t until we had one of the vehicles in front of the vans and then, another person started to hug the wheels and put his own life at risk, because this is just the beginning. This is the beginning of the militarized removal of our communities, of our families, and of our loved ones.”

With Trump as the official voice of the status quo, more people than ever before are becoming aware that “the way things are” can be challenged and changed. The moment is here. Social policy should not dehumanize anyone.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Creating Hell 2/15/17

Creating Enemies, Creating Hell – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

“Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001.”

As Donald Trump sets out to “protect America,” I dedicate the words of his explosively controversial proclamation banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, to one of his supporters: Alexandre Bissonnette, the white nationalist Canadian who shot up a mosque in Quebec City a few days ago, murdering six people and injuring eight others.

Bissonnette is the latest native-born lost soul who figured out how to combine a simmering hatred for a preselected “enemy” with guns and ammo and set out to save the world. He won’t be the last. He’s part of a burgeoning North American tradition of mass murder that is fed by racism, war, fear and guns — a tradition the American government happily exploits but is clueless on how to address effectively.

“Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States,” Trump’s executive order continues. “The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.”

Trump’s executive order, though unprecedentedly reckless (this, of course, is the Trump brand), is nevertheless in sync with the behavior of past administrations, which in various ways have set about “protecting” the country by edict, force and moral righteousness. That is to say, they have refused to look inward, instead blaming the country’s problems on “the enemy.”

In its shoddy recklessness, the Trump ban has generated unprecedented defiance from the U.S. judicial system and protests from concerned citizens across the country. Hallelujah for that. I continue to believe that the hope this new, non-elected administration offers to the country and the future is its ongoing, unintentional exposure of what we have always done wrong. Awareness is the precondition for change.

And the executive order has been subjected to devastating critiques: “The order is a priceless recruiting tool for ISIS and similar movements, because it so easily fits their narrative that the United States is the enemy of all Muslims,” David A. Martin writes at Vox. Trump has set about to create consequences that are the opposite of what he says he’s doing.

Furthermore, foreign-born terrorists are, in any case, virtually the least of America’s security problems. The killings that permeate the country are almost entirely domestic in nature. Focusing on an outside enemy is sheer, blatant avoidance of reality. And the seven countries whose residents have been banned — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — have not been the home to anyone implicated in a terrorist act on U.S. soil.

As the New York Times reports, Most of the 9/11 hijackers “were from Saudi Arabia. The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries are on Mr. Trump’s visa ban list.” However, as a number of observers have pointed out, either Trump himself or members of his administration have business ties to many of the exempted countries. What a coincidence.

So the Trump presidency will be one of testosterone-spewing righteousness, perhaps quietly comingled with business interests. Outrageous as this is, what bothers me the most about his actions so far, with the Muslim ban being perhaps the most blatant, is their same old, same old quality. Trump is just another powerful fool declaring to his people who the enemy of the moment is.

And finally it comes down to this: When you create enemies, you create hell.

To wit: “Of the victims, he said, ‘They prayed beside us and they were shot in the back because they prayed.’”

This is a co-founder of the Quebec City mosque, quoted in the New York Times. Why am I suddenly reminded of Dylann Roof, who two years ago murdered nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., after having sat for an hour with his victims in prayer? Indeed, they had welcomed him into the church that evening.

American mass murders have increased exponentially since the 1960s (and have now, apparently, crossed the border into Canada). If, as has been the case on a few occasions, the killer has an Arab name, the crime is quickly labeled an act of terrorism and the killer’s possible ties to nefarious organizations are hunted down. But if the killer is just an ordinary American (most likely, a white guy), he’s gauged to be a loner, acting on his own, utterly free of context.

But this is never the case: The motive for mass murder — the killing of strangers en masse — is always the same as the motive for war: to get rid of symbolic representatives of “the enemy,” whether the enemy is the personal concoction of a troubled mind or the collective creation of a racist society. The enemy is always, conveniently, “not me,” and therefore easy to dehumanize. And the solution always amounts to taking the enemy out, i.e., waging war. And doing so always leaves consequences in its wake that become grounds for the next war.

How do we create a governing structure that understands this? This is the task at hand. It’s bigger than defeating Trump.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

“Lots of Killers” 2/8/17

The Mass Grave We Call Collateral Damage  – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

“Lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Boy, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?”

We have carnage and we have irony.

The speaker is the president, of course. It’s Super Bowl Sunday and here he is, generating another eyeball-popping headline as he dares to compare American collateral damage over the years with (as a chorus of shocked critics exclaimed) Vladimir Putin’s remorseless homicides. This happened during a pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly last Sunday, after O’Reilly had challenged Trump’s coziness with Russia and called Putin a killer.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska summed up the outrage thus: “There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism.”

Too bad we can’t ask 8-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki for her opinion on whose killings are worse, America’s or Russia’s. She apparently bled to death from a neck wound a week before the Trump interview, during the disastrous U.S. raid on Yemen that left a Navy SEAL — and maybe 23 civilians — dead. This was a Trump authorized raid, the first of his presidency, but had been planned many months earlier. A newborn baby was also killed in the raid, according to the British humanitarian organization Reprieve, along with other women and children.

How many children have been buried thus far in the mass grave we call collateral damage? Nawar was the sister of Abdulrahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy killed in a 2011 drone strike, two weeks after the children’s father, an alleged al Qaeda leader (and U.S. citizen), was killed, also in a drone strike. “Why kill children?” Nawar’s grandfather asked after the girl’s death.

But the politics of our drone assassinations and our air strikes and our wars justify and soften the murders we commit. Even now, as consensus consigns the Iraq war to the status of “mistake,” we still refuse to take official responsibility for its consequences. The shattered country, the dead, the dislocated, the rise of terrorism — come on, cut us a little slack, OK? We were bringing democracy to Iraq.

The unpredictable Trump spews out a fragment of spur-of-the-moment truth in a Fox News interview — “you think our country’s so innocent?” — and the consensus critics can only writhe in outrage. “One can argue that’s the most anti-American statement ever made by the president of the United States,” retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey exclaimed on MSNBC, defending American exceptionalism as though it’s God.

What a strange game this president is playing. Fervid belief in this exceptionalism is the foundation of Trump’s support. The raw meat he throws to his supporters is fear and hatred and clearly defined enemies: Muslims, Mexicans, refugees and immigrants from everywhere (except Europe). His allegiance to white nationalism and corporatocracy and war, the unacknowledged beneficiaries of this exceptionalism, is serious, and reflected in his cabinet choices.

“Everyone on Trump’s national insecurity team seems to agree on one thing: the United States is in a global war to the death,” Ira Chernus writes at TomDispatch, for instance, quoting the crusading militarism of a number of his advisors and appointees, such as Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland.

“If we do not destroy the scourge of radical Islam, it will ultimately destroy Western civilization . . . and the values we hold dear,” she has said.

“For her,” Chernus noted, “it’s an old story: civilization against the savages.”

And, indeed, Trump’s ascension to the presidency was cited by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as the reason they set the Doomsday Clock — Planet Earth’s largest, most ominous metaphor — ahead by thirty seconds in January, to two and a half minutes tomidnight. The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board explained:

“This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a U.S. presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.”

I note all this in the context of Trump’s Fox News tease — that the United States is no more innocent in its wars and murders than Russia is — and his perplexing, perhaps business-related friendliness with Putin, which seems to address one of the major concerns of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Board, in its Doomsday Clock statement, noted with alarm: “The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO.”

Trump is a walking maelstrom of racism, arrogance, greed, incompetence and political incorrectness. He approved the Navy SEAL raid in Yemen with a shrug, as he ate dinner. Children died. The smiling face of Nawar al-Awlaki now haunts the mission.

As Bonnie Kristian wrote recently at Business Insider: “President Trump promised real change in U.S. foreign policy, and in at least one clear regard he has already delivered: Where President Obama spent six years waging covert drone warfare in Yemen and nearly two years quietly supporting brutal Saudi intervention in the Gulf state’s civil war, Trump drew national outrage to this heretofore ignored conflict in nine days flat.”

In his own racism and hypocrisy, is Trump exposing the hypocrisy of the media and the military-industrial complex? Is the new president somehow holding hands with the children whose deaths he will continue to order?

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

F-35 Consciousness 1/11/17

War consciousness and the F-35  – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

“The F-35 Lightning II Program (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter Program) is the Department of Defense’s focal point for defining affordable next generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and our allies. The F-35 will bring cutting-edge technologies to the battlespace of the future.”

Lurking behind this perky little PR blurb, from the F-35’s own website, is the void into which the soul of the human race has disappeared.

This is war consciousness: locked into place, awash in money. The deeply flawed F-35, the most expensive military weapons system in history, is ultimately projected to cost over $1 trillion, but no matter: “It will bring cutting-edge technologies to the battlespace of the future.”

What does that mean? It sounds like an ad for the next Star Trek movie, but it’s U.S. foreign policy — or, more accurately, the defining assumption of nationhood: We will always be at war with someone. It’s the quintessential self-fulfilling prophecy. When we spend trillions of dollars “preparing” for war, by God, we’ll find an enemy, as ever.

This is the consciousness we must transcend, and opposing Lockheed Martin’s way-over-budget, absolutely-unnecessary-for-national-security F-35 fighter jet, which is supposed to be ready to go by 2019, is certainly a good place to start.

“The F-35 is a weapon of offensive war, serving no defensive purpose,” reads the petition now in circulation, initiated by a dozen organizations. “It is planned to cost the U.S. $1.4 trillion over 50 years. Because starvation on earth could be ended for $30 billion and the lack of clean drinking water for $11 billion per year, it is first and foremost through the wasting of resources that this airplane will kill. . . .

“Wars are endangering the United States and other participants rather than protecting them. Nonviolent tools of law, diplomacy, aid, crisis prevention, and verifiable nuclear disarmament should be substituted for continuing counterproductive wars. Therefore, we, as signers of this petition, call for the immediate cancellation of the F-35 program as a whole, and the immediate cancellation of plans to base any such dangerous and noisy jets near populated areas.”

At the local end of this travesty, the F-35s, which would be based in Burlington, Vermont, and Fairbanks, Alaska, are so dangerous they could render nearby residential areas uninhabitable. The extreme noise level could cause cognitive impairment in children, according to a World Health Organization report; and the planes’ high risk of crashing, combined with highly toxic materials used in their construction, put local residents at an unacceptable risk.

But the absurdity of subjecting people to such risks is magnified exponentially by the needlessness to do so.

Roots Action, one of the organizations calling for the F-35’s cancellation, describes the fighter jet as “a first strike stealth weapon designed to penetrate air space undetected. It will be used for massive killing and destruction in more wars like Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Vietnam in which millions of civilians have been killed and wounded and millions of refugees created.”

Yet these wars didn’t advance any rational agenda whatsoever. They didn’t make America safe, much less “great.” To confirm this point, the Roots Action site cuts to CIA director John Brennan, testifying before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee last June:

“Unfortunately,” Brennan tells the committee, “despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.”

He goes on: “The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.”

Let’s sit in silence with these words for a moment.

In the silence, the word “why” emerges with enormous force, more force, perhaps, than it’s possible to bear, at least when one begins adding up the costs of our ineffective efforts. Why are the weapons of war the only tools we choose to wield — the only tools we can imagine wielding — against the threat we call terrorism? Why are the multi-billion-dollar agencies of government trapped at such a feeble level of consciousness — war consciousness — that they are able to envision nothing but the wreaking of more destruction to “keep us safe,” when everything about this activity weakens us, endangers us, makes us ever less safe?

What if we began waging peace against terrorism? That is to say, what if we began to recognize that understanding the enemy is what’s crucial, while thinking we can destroy what we fear is an illusion of monstrous proportions?

Consider: “The Defense Department is designing robotic fighter jets that would fly into combat alongside manned aircraft,” the New York Times reported in October. “It has tested missiles that can decide what to attack, and it has built ships that can hunt for enemy submarines, stalking those it finds over thousands of miles, without any help from humans. . . .

“Defense officials say the weapons are needed for the United States to maintain its military edge over China, Russia and other rivals, who are also pouring money into similar research (as are allies, such as Britain and Israel). The Pentagon’s latest budget outlined $18 billion to be spent over three years on technologies that included those needed for autonomous weapons.”

What a world we’re planning! I believe there’s still time to change directions, but the demand to do so must begin today.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Different Worlds 12/28/16

Robert Koehler

Pledging Allegiance  – by Robert C. Koehler

I pledge allegiance to . . . what?

The Electoral College, to no one’s serious surprise, voted Donald Trump in as the nation’s 45th president, and the pot of outrage in the American spectator democracy begins to boil.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no — no to all his right-wing and idiotic cabinet and Team Trump appointments, no to his conflicts of interest and serial tweets, no to his sexism, his reckless arrogance, his ego, his finger on the nuclear button.

The word of the day is resistance. For instance, Nancy Altman and Ira Lupu, writing at Huffington Post, point out that Trump, though legally the new American president, lacks political legitimacy, thanks to widespread voter suppression, his huge loss in the popular vote and the anachronistic absurdity of the Electoral College; and even more disturbingly, is a thin-skinned, dishonest, immature jerk, utterly lacking the moral authority a national leader must project. These are flaws that cannot be ignored.

“Other elected officials, the media, and the citizenry at large have no obligation to afford him the slightest political respect,” they write. “Rather, the next four years should be a time of resistance and outright obstructionism. Opponents of Trump should be at least as aggressive in challenging the political legitimacy and moral authority of his presidency as Republicans were in disrespecting President Obama, whose political legitimacy and moral authority were beyond reproach.”

Wow, I get it. Don’t let Trump get away with anything! Fight every alt-right and nutcase appointment he tries to make, every racist or reckless policy he tries to implement. Above all, don’t let him shift the paradigm of normal.

There’s only one problem here, and it’s the same problem the Hillary Clinton campaign faced and had no way to overcome. The “old normal” — the Washington consensus, the status quo — that Trump is so successful at selectively mocking, even as he remains utterly enmeshed in it, is a ravenous predator and looming disaster of global proportions.

I pledge allegiance to the United States of War? To the United States of Prisons? To the United States of Poverty and Infrastructure Decay and Contaminated Water?

Indeed, the concept of American exceptionalism ensconced in the old normal and thoughtlessly touted by the corporate media is Trumpesque in its narcissism. And its time is running out. The economy is breaking down for much of the working class and some of our deep, foundational flaws — the racism, the militarism, the environmental exploitation — are getting increasingly difficult to avoid noticing.

The challenge presented by Trump requires something more than resistance. I believe it requires reaching for, and pledging our allegiance to, a much larger, more compassionate and peace-oriented country than the one we have now. It requires pledging allegiance to the planet and the future.

But what does this look like?

Half a century ago, the emerging nation could be seen in the civil rights movement. Today, perhaps the best place to look is Standing Rock, where an old wound, you might say, is insisting on its right to heal.

“What can we learn from their struggle?” Audrea Lim asks in The Nation. “Bombarded for months with tear gas, sound cannons, rubber bullets and water hoses (often in freezing temperatures, no less), the camp at Standing Rock grew from around ten in April to thousands by fall. They transformed what might have otherwise been a remote, invisible, rural struggle into national headline news.”

The struggle, she notes, had blatantly racist origins: “Originally meant to traverse the Missouri River north of Bismarck, city residents complained that it would threaten their municipal water supply, and the pipeline was re-routed to nearer the Standing Rock reservation in September 2014.”

She adds: “It is significant that Bismarck is 92.4 percent white.”

This could have been just one more isolated wrong, but for some reason the national or perhaps global moment was ripe for it to be something else. The struggle for water rights, for the sanctity of the land, for a wounded people’s dignity, sent a tremor through the whole country. Something sacred — to use a risky, old-fashioned word — had been violated. And maybe we’re no longer simply Consumer America, using up our resources, destroying our rivers, clotting our veins, to consequences born only by the racially and culturally marginalized. We used to be, but this is changing.

“We live today at a moment of transition between worlds.”

So writes Charles Eisenstein in The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. The world that’s giving way — and the story, or mythology, that sustains it — is the world of “survival of the fittest” and winner takes all, the world of domination and conquest, isolation from nature, a dismissal of life itself as less than sacred.

“Today,” writes Eisenstein, “it is increasingly obvious that this was a bubble world built atop massive human suffering and environmental degradation.”

It isn’t merely resistance that will replace the bubble world of exploitation, but a new and deeper consciousness of connection with all of life and a reawakening to what is sacred.

I pledge allegiance to the world that is coming into being.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Just The Trigger 11/30/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Bending the Arc  – by Robert C. Koehler

Maybe this much is true. Donald Trump, pseudo-president-elect, loser of the real election, charismatic stump-speech populist whose actual ability to govern may well be non-existent, has inflicted significant damage on America’s political infrastructure.

This is scary, of course, but not necessarily a bad thing. I say this even, or especially, if he manages to assemble a far right, white-nationalist-friendly cabinet and inner circle and start attempting to implement some of the promises he made on the campaign trail. If the Trump pseudo-presidency is “normalized” and we-the-people and the media shrug our shoulders at the rebuilding of Jim Crow Nation — the Wall, the Muslim registry and God knows what happens next — then yes, this is a disaster and moving to Canada is a viable option. But if Trump, instead, is the reincarnation of Bull Connor, someone who makes a dark, hidden ugliness suddenly clear to the public at large, then his rise to power may be the harbinger of profound, positive change.

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe,” abolitionist Theodore Parker wrote more than 150 years ago, prefiguring the words of Martin Luther King. “The arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

But the arc doesn’t bend by itself.

The Trump era may be defined less by the damage he inflicts than by the outrage he incurs: the outrage of a public that loves this country but also manages to love the whole planet and revere the principles of compassion and connection. This may, indeed, be an era of change, but not the change that Trump himself expects. Perhaps he’s just the trigger.

Consider, for instance, the idea of creating a Muslim registry, notoriously defended last week by former Trump-backing super PAC spokesman Carl Higbie, who told Megyn Kelly of Fox News, “We did it during World War II with the Japanese.” He proceeded to cite the internment camps, quasi-prisons in which as many as 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to live between 1942 and 1946, as a “precedent.”

“Look,” he said, “the president needs to protect America first.”

What does it mean to “protect America”? This is now a concept that is up for grabs, thanks to the non-election of Donald Trump. As his baldly racist plan to pretend to protect America gains publicity, determination to oppose it also grows, and, in that opposition, bring deeper values into play in our national politics.

Thus: “We need to stand in solidarity with Muslim people who are being targeted by Donald Trump,” “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah said to a cheering studio audience. “If they start registering Muslims in America, we all register as Muslims.”

And slowly the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

“Noah said that if all citizens stood with immigrants and said, ‘I am a Muslim,’ it ‘would take away any power the registry might have,’ according to Huffington Post reporter David Moye.

And several websites have sprung up creating this opportunity, including a site called Register US, which contains a pledge signed, so far, by nearly 30,000 people:

“Donald Trump has said he would ‘absolutely’ require all Muslims to register in a database. This is just one of Trump’s racist and Islamophobic proposals that threaten our ideals of freedom and equality. We must come together and fight back before he takes these dangerous, hateful and unconstitutional ideas any further.

“We pledge to stand together with Muslims across the country, and around the world. Because when we stand as one, no American can be singled out by their race, religion, income, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

If such a movement grows, its effect would not be simply to defeat a bad plan and return the country to some sort of pre-Trump normal, but rather to push the nation further beyond the us-vs.-them mentality that still imprisons it and keeps it tied to fear and — yes, oh Lord — war. Trump could foment a revolution that is the opposite of the one his campaign rhetoric called out for.

I believe a larger consciousness is waiting to lay claim on American politics.

Trump says build a wall. Even if the wall is mostly a metaphor, the effect of that metaphor is to lock in consciousness, as though “America” is the only truth Americans are capable of understanding: Fifty states and that’s it. We’re exceptional and the rest of you, keep out. Locked-in consciousness never keeps people safe, but it does keep them scared. You might call it patriotic absolutism, which yields fear, violence and war.

Trump or no Trump, this caged thinking has had its day. The primary characteristic of truth, someone once said, is that it willingly yields to greater truth. It’s convenient to organize a nation state around the lesser truth of us vs. them and the ever-lurking presence of The Enemy, but the time has come for this truth to yield to the greater truth of one planet, one humanity.

Perhaps it begins with these words: “I am a Muslim.”

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Harmful to Humans & Wildlife 10/26/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Commander In Chief  – by Robert C. Koehler

Maybe it’s the phrase — “Commander in Chief” — that best captures the transcendent absurdity and unaddressed horrors of the 2016 election season and the business as usual that will follow.

I don’t want to elect anyone commander in chief: not the xenophobic misogynist and egomaniac, not the Henry Kissinger acolyte and Libya hawk. The big hole in this democracy is not the candidates; it’s the bedrock, founding belief that the rest of the world is our potential enemy, that war with someone is always inevitable and only a strong military will keep us safe.

In a million ways, we’ve outgrown this concept, or been pushed beyond it by awareness of global human connectedness and the shared planetary risk of eco-collapse. So whenever I hear someone in the media bring “commander in chief” into the discussion — always superficially and without question — what I hear is boys playing war. Yes, we wage war in a real way as well, but when the public is invited to participate in the process by selecting its next commander in chief, this is pretend war at its most surreal: all glory and greatness and hammering ISIS in Mosul.

“What about our safety here?” Brian Williams asked Gen. Barry McCaffrey on MSNBC the other night, as they were discussing the awfulness of terrorism and the need to bomb the bad guys out of existence. I cringed. How long can they keep selling this?

Our safety is far, far more imperiled by the fact that we have a military at all than by any enemy that military is allegedly fighting, but is, in fact, creating as it churns out endless collateral damage, a.k.a., dead and injured civilians.

The essential truth about war is this: The enemies are always on the same side. Regardless who “wins,” what matters is that war itself continues. Just ask the military-industrialists.

The only commander in chief I want to vote for is the one who will turn that title over to the historians and cry out that war is an obsolete and monstrous game, revered and coddled for five millennia now as the most sacred of activities that a (male) human can engage in. We need a commander in chief capable of leading us beyond the age of empire and the horrific games of conquest that are killing this planet.

“What about our safety here?”

When Brian Williams threw this question out to the American public, I thought, among much else, about the devastation and contamination the U.S. military has wrought on our deserts and coastal waters over the last seven decades by testing weapons — both nuclear and conventional — and playing, good God, war games; and then, sooner or later, by disposing of its obsolete toxins, usually with zero concern for the environmental safety of the surrounding area, whether it be in Iraq or Louisiana. Because the military is what it is, neither EPA regulations nor sanity itself usually applies.

For instance, as Dahr Jamail wrote recently at Truthout: “For decades, the U.S. Navy, by its own admission, has been conducting war game exercises in U.S. waters using bombs, missiles, sonobuoys (sonar buoys), high explosives, bullets and other materials that contain toxic chemicals — including lead and mercury — that are harmful to both humans and wildlife.”

Why do we need to worry about ISIS when, as Jamail reports, “the batteries from dead sonobuoys will leach lithium into the water for 55 years”?

And then there’s depleted uranium, the extraordinarily toxic heavy metal the U.S. military loves; DU missiles and shells rip through steel like it was butter. They also spread radioactive contamination across Planet Earth. And they help poison the waters off the Washington-Oregon coast, where the Navy plays its games, just like they poisoned the waters surrounding Vieques, a tropical paradise island off the coast of Puerto Rico, which, as I wrote several years ago, “was commandeered by the U.S. military as a throwaway site for weapons testing” for 62 years. The Navy finally left but left behind contaminated soil and water and many thousands of live shells that had failed to detonate, along with a legacy of serious health problems for the island’s 10,000 residents.

“They are indeed the largest polluters on Earth,” environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani told Truthout, speaking of the U.S. military, “as they produce more toxic chemicals than the top three U.S. chemical manufacturers combined. Historically, large global ecosystems and significant human food sources have been contaminated by the U.S. military.”

What does it mean to vote for the next commander in chief of the largest polluter on the planet?

I confess that I do not know — at least not in the context of this absurd and superficially debated election, with virtually every serious question or issue pushed to the margins. How do we transcend nationalism and the game of war — the reality of endless war — and engage in securing the safety of the whole planet? How do we acknowledge that this planet is not just “a jumble of insensate stuff, a random melee of subatomic particles” for us to exploit, as Charles Eisenstein writes, but a living entity of which we are, crucially, a part? How do we learn to love this planet and one another?

Any potential “commander in chief” who asks lesser questions than these is engaging in a childish game with real guns.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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