Not the Time 10/12/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

The Politics of Fear   –  by Robert C. Koehler

“This politics of fear has actually delivered everything we were afraid of.”

Well, OK, let’s think about these words of Jill Stein for a moment, as the 2016 presidential race enters, oh Lord, its final month — and the possibility still looms that this country could elect a hybrid of Benito Mussolini and Jim Crow its next, uh, commander in chief.

Politics of fear, indeed! Most of the people I know are going to vote for Hillary Clinton, and I get it. The other guy is the most unapologetic “greater evil” the Democrats have ever been blessed with.

Everybody’s scared. Bernie Sanders, my guy, the force behind the Bernie Revolution that almost transformed, or reclaimed, the Democratic Party this year, said: “I know more about third-party politics than anyone. (But) this is not the time for a protest vote.”

And Michelle Obama, speaking at a Clinton rally a few days ago, equated not voting at all with voting for a third-party candidate. She told the crowd, according to Bloomberg.com, that they could “help swing an entire precinct for Hillary’s opponent with a protest vote or by staying home out of frustration.” (And the headline on the Bloomberg story neatly summed up the media consensus on how democracy works: “Which States Can Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Spoil?”)

A month to go and I find myself skewered with something bigger than frustration. It begins with the false, dead enthusiasm I hear in Hillary’s attempts to rally her base, the tepid “USA! USA!” she invokes as she praises America’s generals and its wars and its moral righteousness. She and Trump are running for president of the same illusion, and there’s something seriously wrong with this.

It’s no accident that most of the focus this election season is on how bad the other candidate is. The rallying cry from both sides is: We have no choice. And I agree with those words, but attach a different meaning to them. We have no choice because we’re given no choice. We live in a permanent state of Democracy for Dummies: a complexity-free democracy, reduced to a game of winning and losing. The voters are spectators, not co-creators of the national future. No, the future is already predetermined, and it’s one of unquestioned military budgets and endless war.

Andrew Bacevich, reflecting on the lameness of the first presidential debate last week, pondered a different scenario: a debate in which real questions are addressed. “Consider it,” he wrote, “the question that Washington has declared off-limits: What lessons should be drawn from America’s costly and disappointing post-9/11 wars and how should those lessons apply to future policy?”

Can you imagine an actual, serious discussion of such a question? Can you imagine that the point of this discussion wasn’t to clobber and humiliate the other guy but rather to address a deep, unacknowledged national (and global) wound and begin the work of healing it?

Such questions have been missing from the U.S. presidential elections since 1972 when George McGovern ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War. In the 44 years since, we’ve gotten grotesquely used to campaigns about far, far less than that — with the mainstream media acting as the bouncers, keeping impertinent questions, and candidates, out of the pseudo-news. This year, with two extremely unpopular major-party candidates vying for the job of president, the media have been more cynically dismissive than ever of third-party intruders, a.k.a., spoilers. And of course, any third-party vision of the future is idealistic treacle, not something to actually talk about.

So it is in this context that I bring Jill Stein and the Greens back into the discussion: “All the reasons you were told you had to vote for the lesser evil,” she said last June, in a Democracy Now interview “— because you didn’t want the massive Wall Street bailouts, the offshoring of our jobs, the meltdown of the climate, the endless expanding wars, the attack on immigrants — all that, we’ve gotten by the droves, because we allowed ourselves to be silenced. You know, silence is not what democracy needs. . . .

“It’s time,” she said, “to forget the lesser evil, stand up and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it, because they do.”

If you’re not a Trump supporter, you may well be someone caught between the fear of Trump and the longing for a political process truly engaged in the creation of a compassionate, sustainable future. Is voting Green the way to go? I don’t know, but I definitely do not believe shutting the Green Party’s presidential candidate and platform out of the discussion is the way to go.

The Green platform, as outlined recently by David Cobb, Stein’s campaign manager and 2004 Green Party presidential candidate, includes such items as: transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy (and creating millions of jobs in the process); ending mass incarceration; creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission “to understand and eliminate the legacy of slavery”; ending our current wars and drone attacks, closing our 700-plus foreign military bases and slashing military spending by at least 50 percent; taking the lead on a global treaty to halt climate change.

There’s plenty more, but this cuts to the heart of it. The media consensus on such a platform begins and ends, no doubt, with rolled eyeballs. The unspoken message is: This stuff’s for later. We’ll start addressing it in 2020.

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

Regret the Loss 9/28/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Stop the Killing  – by Robert C. Koehler

Maybe half a million dead, half a country — 10 million people — displaced from their homes, jettisoned onto the mercy of the world.

Welcome to war. Welcome to Syria.

This is a conflict apparently too complex to understand. The U.S. brokered a ceasefire with Russia, then proceeded to lead a bombing strike that killed 62 Syrian troops, injured another hundred — and gave tactical aid of ISIS. Later it apologized . . . uh, sort of.

“Russia really needs to stop the cheap point scoring and the grandstanding and the stunts and focus on what matters, which is implementation of something we negotiated in good faith with them.”

These are the words of U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, as reported by Reuters, who went on to point out, with exasperation, that the U.S, was investigating the air strikes and “if we determine that we did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention and we of course regret the loss of life.”

And. We. Of. Course. Regret. The. Loss. Of. Life.

Oh, the afterthought! I could almost hear the “yadda, yadda” hovering in the air. Come on; this is geopolitics. We implement policy and make crucial adjustments to the state of the world by dropping bombs — but the bombing isn’t the point (except maybe to those who get hit). The point is that we’re playing complex, multidimensional chess, with, of course, peace as our ultimate goal, unlike our enemies. Peace takes bombs.

But just for a moment, I would like to step back into the middle of that quote by Samantha Power and point out that, in the wake, let us say, of 9/11, no one in the United States, speaking in any capacity, official or unofficial, would have spoken thus about the victims: with cursory regret. The fact that their deaths occurred in a complex global context didn’t somehow minimize the horror of the event.

No. Their deaths cut to the national soul. Their deaths were our deaths.

But not so with the dead of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — not so with the victims of our bombs and bullets, the victims of our strategic vision. Suddenly the dead become part of some larger, more complex picture, and thus not our business to stop. The “regret” we express is for PR purposes only; it’s part of the strategy.

So I give thanks to Jimmy Carter who, in a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, took a moment to look beyond the moral unintelligence of our militarized worldview. Speaking of the fragile Syrian “ceasefire” brokered by the United States and Russia, he wrote: “The agreement can be salvaged if all sides unite, for now, around a simple and undeniably important goal: Stop the killing.”

He presented this not as a moral imperative but a strategically smart plan:

“When talks resume in Geneva later this month, the primary focus should be stopping the killing. Discussions about the core questions of governance — when President Bashar al-Assad should step down, or what mechanisms might be used to replace him, for example — should be deferred. The new effort could temporarily freeze the existing territorial control . . .”

Let the government, the opposition, and the Kurds keep their arms, focus on stabilizing the territory they control and guarantee “unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, a particularly important demand given the strike on an aid convoy near Aleppo,” he wrote, detailing some of the long-term realities and urgent needs any legitimate peace negotiations must confront.

Compare this with the simplistic moral righteousness of bombing our way to peace. Last June, for instance, the Times reported: “More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war. . .

“The memo concludes,” the Times informs us, “‘It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.’”

Oh yeah, that should pretty much fix everything. War is addictive, whether you wage it from a terrorist cell or from some perch in the military-industrial complex of the most powerful country on the planet.

The Center for Citizen Initiatives responded at the time: “Similar statements and promises have been made regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. In all three cases, terrorism and sectarianism have multiplied, the conflicts still rage, and huge amounts of money and lives have been wasted.”

The statement, signed by 16 peace activists, also says: “We are a group of concerned U.S. citizens currently visiting Russia with the goal of increasing understanding and reducing international tension and conflict. We are appalled by this call for direct U.S. aggression against Syria, and believe it points to the urgent need for open public debate on U.S. foreign policy.”

The time is now. Foreign policy should no longer be classified, hidden, the province of an unelected government engaged in a game of global chess and high-tech terror, a.k.a., endless war.

Peace starts with three words: Stop the killing.

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

People in Power 9/21/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

War vs. Democracy – by Robert C. Koehler

The paradox of democracy is that it depends on the integrity of those who have the most to lose if an election goes the wrong way — you know, the people in power.

That’s a particularly thorny dilemma when the “fourth estate” — the speakers of truth to power, the public’s counterforce against political hackdom — are basically corporate wimps who view their job as the voice of public relations for the status quo, the defenders of our conventional beliefs, e.g., that God’s in his heaven and America is the world’s oldest, greatest, most secure democracy.

But in 2016, even the mainstream media are trembling with uncertainty. As Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis recently wrote: “Now 16 years after the theft of the presidency in Florida 2000, and a dozen since it was done again in Ohio 2004, the corporate media is approaching consensus that it is indeed very easy to strip millions of legitimate citizens from the voting rolls, and then to hack electronic voting machines and computerized central tabulators to flip the official final outcome.”

I’m sure the party to thank for this late mainstream awareness that our computerized voting system is painfully vulnerable is Donald Trump, who has dragged the election process into territory more puerile, racist and reptile-brained than even the corporate media can tolerate.

Change is coming, apparently, whether we want it or not. Bernie Sanders and the progressive revolution were neatly, efficiently stiffed by the Democrats, but the “alt-right” nationalists and white supremacists surprised the hell out of the Republicans, and now their man is leading a charge up Stone Mountain, promising to make America great again, or at least free of non-European immigrants and the cruel constraints of political correctness.

Two months before the election, I feel the need to pause and look in several directions at the shortcomings of the process we celebrate with such self-adulation.

In an interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner at Tikkun, Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, points out: “The magnificent work that the Bernie Sanders campaign did and the momentum they built and the public support that they demonstrated and mobilized is a wonder to behold, and it has forever transformed the political landscape. But it was essentially sabotaged by the Democratic Party as it has always done since George McGovern won the Democratic Party nomination, and the rules of the game were changed so that a grassroots campaign could not win the nomination again — in part by creating superdelegates and Super Tuesdays, but that’s not the end of it.”

It is in this context that I bring up the concept of election reform. For democracy to be real, three rights must be protected: the right to vote, the right to have your vote counted, and the right to choose a candidate who actually represents you. And as usual, all three of these rights are under assault.

Of course they are!

Those in power work hard to create a social structure in which they will remain in power. As Bill Moyers wrote: “It is now the game: Candidates ask citizens for their votes, then go to Washington to do the bidding of their donors.”

Vote suppression takes many forms. The Jim Crow era is long dead, but today we witness the spread of harsh voter ID laws in many states, the closing of voting precincts or miserly allocation of voting machines in low-income and college neighborhoods, and the disenfranchisement of ex-felons (most of whom are men and women of color, thanks to the “new Jim Crow” that is the prison-industrial complex).

As U.S. Rep. John Conyers and Barbara Arnwine pointed out several months ago in The Nation: “Whereas voting rights were ascendant in 1966, voter-suppression tactics are spreading in 2016. Whereas Congress was moving in the right direction in 1966, in 2016, it’s often conspicuously absent.

“The challenge this year — the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the (Voting Rights Act) — isn’t just protecting free and open access to the ballot; it is also rekindling the fire that forced federal action on voting rights.”

And then there’s the absurd spread of eminently hackable electronic voting machines, which, as Wasserman and Fitrakis pointed out, has finally reached the attention of the mainstream media. The Washington Post, for instance, recently noted that “computer experts . . . have long warned that Americans vote in a way that’s so insecure that hackers could change the outcome of races at the local, state and even national level.”

At least this last matter has an obvious solution: “nothing less than a full and secure hand-count of paper ballots done at the precinct,” as Victoria Collier points out. This is “something the American public is likely to support, if given all the facts. What’s missing, however, is the political will and public resources to carry out this kind of fully verified election.

“Apparently, in the United States, we can conduct multiple trillion-dollar wars around the globe, but counting our own ballots on election night is simply an overwhelming proposition.”

And that pretty much sums up the state of American democracy. We believe in the concept, but at the level of elections, we don’t actually have one right now. We have endless war instead. It’s impossible to have both.

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

Just Common Criminals ? 9/14/16

The Future Cries Out: ‘Water Is Life’  – by Robert C. Koehler

The dogs growl, the pepper spray bites, the bulldozers tear up the soil.

“Water is life!” they cry. “Water is life!”

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

This isn’t Flint, Michigan, but I feel the presence of its suffering in this cry of outrage at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. No more, no more. You will not poison our water or continue ravaging Planet Earth: mocking its sacredness, destroying its eco-diversity, reshaping and slowly killing it for profit.

The dogs growl, the pepper spray bites, the bulldozers tear up the soil and a judge rules against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s demand that construction of the Dakota Access pipeline be stopped. Sorry, the wishes of the rich and powerful come first. And you protesters are just common criminals.

But sometimes the forces of corporate supremacy don’t get the final word. Something about this tribal-led protest could not be ignored, even by politicians. Initially, the permit application to build the 1,172-mile pipeline, from North Dakota to Illinois, had been fast-tracked through the federal bureaucracy. No matter that it would cut under the Missouri River or destroy ancestral burial grounds. Environmental and tribal concerns were not considered and the tribe was not consulted. The permit was granted and that was that. But shortly after the judge’s ruling upholding the permit, three branches of the Obama administration — the departments of Justice, the Interior and the Army — issued a joint statement temporarily suspending pipeline construction . . . and, good God, suggesting the intervention of a larger consciousness:

“. . . this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”

Water is life? And the feds give a damn?

As Rebecca Solnit wrote a few days later in The Guardian: “What’s happening at Standing Rock feels like a new civil rights movement” — one, she said, “that takes place at the confluence of environmental and human rights” awareness.

“Indigenous people have played a huge role, as (have) the people in many of the places where extracting and transporting fossil fuel take place, as protectors of particular places and ecosystems from rivers to forests, from the Amazon to the Arctic, as people with a strong sense of the past and the future, of the deep time in which short-term profit turns into long-term damage, and of the rights of the collective over individual profit. All these forces are antithetical to capitalism, and it to them.”

This extraordinary movement is also taking place at the confluence of the past and the future. David Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman, put it this way recently in a New York Times op-ed: “As American citizens, we all have a responsibility to speak for a vision of the future that is safe and productive for our grandchildren.”

The world’s most powerful governmental bodies have demonstrated an alarming inability to do this on their own, beholden as they are to the military-industrial status quo and its need for endless growth. This is the maw of capitalism, which could care less about the future.

“We are also a resilient people who have survived unspeakable hardships in the past, so we know what is at stake now,” Archambault writes. “As our songs and prayers echo across the prairie, we need the public to see that in standing up for our rights, we do so on behalf of the millions of Americans who will be affected by this pipeline.

“As one of our greatest leaders, Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota, once said: ‘Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.’ That appeal is as relevant today as it was more than a century ago.”

As Winona LaDuke said of the Missouri River itself, this is a force to be reckoned with.  “Water is life!” they cry. “Water is life!”

“It is early evening, the moon full,” she writes. “If you close your eyes, you can remember the 50 million buffalo — the single largest migratory herd in the world. The pounding of their hooves would vibrate the Earth, make the grass grow.

“There were once 250 species of grass. Today the buffalo are gone, replaced by 28 million cattle, which require grain, water, and hay. Many of the fields are now in a single GMO crop, full of so many pesticides that the monarch butterflies are dying off. But in my memory, the old world remains.”

So the monarch is also part of the protest, part of the movement, with its drumbeat reverberating across the planet. The tribal peoples of Earth are making their voices heard in so many ways. Their mission is to reconnect the modern world with the circle of life — a circle that much of humanity left behind maybe ten millennia ago, in pursuit of the Agricultural Revolution and dominion over nature. In the process, we’ve succeeded in changing the climate and, perhaps, establishing a troubling new geological epoch. Now it’s time to rethink “progress.”

Building another pipeline is its antithesis.

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

Messenger Boy Trump 8/17/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

The Nuclear Breakfast Menu  – by Robert C. Koehler

Donald Trump is a reckless fool. But the U.S. defense establishment is M.A.D.

And herein lies one of the darker problems with the Trump candidacy, and the reason why so many establishment conservatives are awkwardly distancing themselves from America’s leading narcissist — if not running screaming into the night in fear for their lives (and everyone else’s).

Trump as commander in chief? Trump with his finger on the button?

When the subject of nukes has come up in interviews, he has come across as creepily naïve. For instance, according to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Trump allegedly hounded a foreign policy expert with the question: “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

And when Chris Matthews, in another interview, scolded Trump for even suggesting that maybe — maybe — launching a nuclear attack might be necessary someday, he shot back: “Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?”

America, America. This is why we’re great. A clueless billionaire TV personality can get within screaming distance of the presidency and, in the process, push all sorts of (non-nuclear) buttons with his politically incorrect questions, implications, and assertions. I have no doubt that a huge part of Trump’s popularity is due to his aggressive naiveté. He doesn’t know any more about this than Joe Sixpack does, so the questions he asks are Average American questions. In the process, he yanks the geopolitics of nuclear deterrence — the embedded insanity, you might say, of Mutually Assured Destruction — out of the clutches of the deep state and its secret priesthood.

The last thing I want to see is Trump gaining admittance to this realm. But his banging at the door may serve a valuable purpose. At the very least, it brings certain realities into the consciousness of the American mainstream.

The planet has been trapped — for the entirety of my lifetime — in a nuclear standoff among various world powers. Even though the Cold War ended 25 years ago, some 16,000 nuclear weapons still infest the planet; the United States and Russia still have 2,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

“The president has basically unconstrained authority to use nuclear weapons, a seemingly insane system that flows pretty logically from America’s strategic doctrine on nuclear weapons,” Zack Beauchamp wrote recently at Vox. “The U.S. needs a system to launch weapons fast for deterrence to work properly, which means one person needs to be able to order the use of nukes basically unencumbered. The president is the only possible choice.”

Beauchamp quotes Michael Dobbs, a former military aide to President Bill Clinton, who describes the target options contained within the “nuclear football” that a U.S. president has access to as “a ‘Denny’s breakfast menu,’ allowing presidents to pick ‘one (target) out of Column A and two out of Column B.’”

His point is to express well-justified horror at the idea of a President Trump having access to this “breakfast menu,” but only a small amount of further reflection is required before one starts to tremble in terror that we have such a system in the first place and that anyone, elected or otherwise, could have such incomprehensible power — to launch nuclear weapons either in first-strike aggression or retaliation.

How is it that the hair-trigger possibility of nuclear annihilation is still the global norm? And at the very least, how come such matters are not addressed with any seriousness in the presidential race?

We’re still trapped, 71 years after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in a system of geopolitical “order” that depends on displaying the pretense of nuclear aggression as the primary means of staving off the other guy’s nuclear aggression.

Georgetown University Professor Robert Gallucci, speaking last month at a symposium in Nagasaki, put it thus: “The paradox is clear: By making the use of a nuclear weapon plausible, easier for a decision maker to elect, deterrence is supposed to be enhanced, and the likelihood of use reduced.”

Got it?

In essence, nuclear deterrence — a.k.a., M.A.D. — depends not only on having a nuclear arsenal ready to go, but having a president perceived by the other guys to be ready to use it, kind of like we imagine President Trump would be. But of course, this is only supposed to be an illusion. The president is really supposed to be rational and sensible, willing to wage conventional wars only. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well . . . on Oct. 27, 1969, Richard Nixon, in collusion with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, pretended to launch a nuclear war, thinking this was a good way to end the Vietnam War.

Thus: “On the morning of October 27, 1969, a squadron of 18 B-52s — massive bombers with eight turbo engines and 185-foot wingspans — began racing from the western U.S. toward the eastern border of the Soviet Union,” Jeremi Suri wrote for the magazine Wired in 2008. “The pilots flew for 18 hours without rest, hurtling toward their targets at more than 500 miles per hour. Each plane was loaded with nuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the ones that had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

This was Giant Lance, a long-classified secret Nixon plan to force North Vietnam and the Soviet Union to negotiate an end of the Vietnam War on U.S. terms. Suri, who tells the story in gripping detail, called it “a strategy of premeditated madness . . . Nixon’s notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.”

There were several opportunities for unfathomable disaster to result from Giant Lance, including an in-flight fuel transfer operation “along the coast of Canada near the polar ice cap. Here, KC-135 planes — essentially 707s filled with jet fuel — carefully approached the bombers. They inched into place for transferring thousands of gallons from aircraft to aircraft through a long, thin tube. One unfortunate shift in the wind, or twitch of the controls, and a plane filled with up to 150 tons of fuel could crash into a plane filled with nuclear ordnance.”

That didn’t happen, nor did the Soviets panic and launch a nuclear counterattack. They asked in alarm what was going on, Nixon called back the B-52s . . . and the Vietnam War continued for another six years. In other words, the plan risked infinitely more than it accomplished.

My provisional thought here is that “a strategy of premeditated madness” is a small-minded, desperate grasp for victory — not peace — and the human race has to bring a larger consciousness to the negotiating table if it is to achieve the larger end of world peace. Could Donald Trump be the messenger boy, telling us, at long last, that the situation is urgent?

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

Mars – You Sicko! 7/20/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

The God of War  by Robert C. Koehler

There’s Mars, the god of war, perched in a parking garage in Dallas, annihilating the enemy with utter impunity. Mars, you sicko! Just listen to President Obama:

“By definition, if you shoot people who pose no threat to you — strangers — you have a troubled mind. What triggers that, what feeds it, what sets it off, I’ll leave that to psychologists and people who study these kinds of incidents.”

Pardon me while I scream. Let’s all loose a primal scream as we absorb the daily news and the secret news. What’s happening to the United States of America – what’s happening to Planet Earth – is beyond words, yet the words march on. The same New York Times story that delivered the president’s words condemning Micah Johnson’s killing of five police officers last week also reported the killer’s military service and apparently life-consuming military mindset.

Johnson, the story reported, “had returned in disgrace from his stint abroad in the Army Reserve, but then continued a training regimen of his own devising, conducting military-style exercises in his backyard and reportedly joining a gym that offered martial arts and weapons classes.”

He had also spent the last two years “building his arsenal . . . stockpiling guns and gathering the elements to build explosives,” according to CBS News.

And as Joshua Holland wrote recently in The Nation: “Micah Johnson was what Wayne LaPierre might call a ‘good guy with a gun’—a combat veteran with no criminal record . . .

“And last Thursday, donning body armor, Johnson grabbed at least one ‘military-style weapon’ and gunned down 12 people in the streets. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said that his investigators are ‘convinced that this suspect had other plans and thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed that he was going to target law enforcement — make us pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color.’”

That is to say; he fit the true believer’s definition of a Second Amendment stalwart: an armed patriot rising up to fight government tyranny.

There’s Mars, the god of war, perched in a parking garage in Dallas . . .

The insanity begins at the top. The U.S. government is engaged in endless war. Our defense budget, in all its waste, hovers at the edge of a trillion dollars a year, surpassing all discretionary domestic spending, yet never, never, never discussed publicly by politicians, including presidential candidates.

War accomplishes nothing except to ensure the conditions for further war and to maintain dominance of humanity’s collective mindset. War’s handmaiden is public relations: Our enemy is evil and killing him (or dying in the process of trying to kill him) is the essence of glory. Everyone longs for glory. All you have to do to get it is kill someone evil. This is the theme of our mass entertainment and our video games. It’s the bait that lures the adolescent soul into surrendering his life to the military, which Micah Johnson apparently did.

“But Mr. Johnson did not succeed,” the Times reported. “While overseas” – in Afghanistan – “a female soldier in Mr. Johnson’s unit accused him of sexual harassment. When the Army considered kicking him out, he waived his right to a hearing in exchange for a lesser charge.”

The Times story dropped the subject there, leaving the implication that Johnson was merely a bad participant in an otherwise good institution. But glory and sexual assault are permanently linked. As Nan Levinson wrote recently at WagingNonviolence: “By the Pentagon’s own estimate, some 20,300 sexual assaults involving the U.S. military took place in the last fiscal year. About one quarter, or 6,083, of those were reported . . .”

The point I’m making here is that the national ritual after every mass killing is to isolate the murderer and focus on his weirdness and inability to be normal: his “troubled mind,” as Obama put it. But in fact, mass killers embrace our essential national values. Johnson’s mind was no more troubled than the collective mind called national defense, which identifies and dehumanizes our enemy of the moment, then proceeds to take that enemy out as efficiently as possible.

And the process is completely impersonal. In war we kill “strangers” who have not done us personal harm; they merely represent – by their uniform or simply by their presence in enemy territory – the large wrong we are attempting to eliminate.

In the shadow of the Department of Defense lurks the Second Amendment, which ensures that war doesn’t vanish simply because we’re safely within the borders of the greatest country there is. Bad people are everywhere, and the need for defense never ends. This, too, is part of the context in which Johnson and all the other celebrity mass murderers have acted. Add to this our increasingly militarized police departments and the de facto war being waged on people of color and what we have is an almost endless justification for violent behavior.

The only way out is to think beyond war: to mourn, to grieve for so many lives cut short, and to refuse to dehumanize anyone.

Dehumanizing others is so easy when you’re armed.

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

Right to Bear Courage 7/6/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

The right to bear courage – by Robert C. Koehler

Behind the “right to bear arms” lies concealed the right to make money. You know, a lot of it.

The right to . . .

I pause here, torn apart by the political sacredness of these words. We have the right to speak freely and worship the God or our choosing or none at all, the right to reasonable privacy, the right to choose our leaders, the right to fair and equal treatment under the law. These rights are inscribed in the national bedrock: the Constitution. They activate our humanity; without them, we’re so much less than our fullest selves. Without them we’re perpetual victims, forced to live in fear and secrecy.

This bizarrely worded right is also etched in the Constitution: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Whatever the founders actually meant by this amendment — and there’s no doubt more politics of the moment inscribed here than eternal wisdom — succeeding generations of Americans have had no doubt what it means, reducing it to five words: the right to bear arms. And thus being armed — owning a gun — enters the realm of inviolable rights. It becomes a basic necessity for being human: the key to empowerment. Just try taking that away, baby.

But there’s a gaping paradox here. The right to bear arms, especially as it has come to be interpreted — the right to own an assault rifle, the right to carry a gun pretty much anywhere and everywhere, the right to kill your enemy — is something far, far more than an isolated, individual freedom. NRA propaganda to the contrary, one person’s right to bear arms takes away, ultimately, another person’s right to live in safety.

To put it another way, the right to bear arms establishes a particular precondition for social order, as described so unforgettably by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

Under this view of the world, “safety” requires arming everyone, or at least everyone who’s good. Welcome to the universe of Thomas Hobbes and the war of all against all. Arming everyone is arguably the stupidest possible concept for maintaining social order. It negates trust, empathy, compassion and all the better angels of human nature, reducing society to a buzzing hive of endless suspicion. And peace is cynically degraded to “that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.” (Imagine the laughter this observation would have generated at the Pulse nightclub a few weeks ago.)

LaPierre’s iconic observation, while socially brain dead, is, however, a terrific advertising slogan. The concept of self-defense, which started revving up in the early ’90s, revived the ailing gun industry, which was hurting badly because of a declining interest in hunting.

“A solution, of sorts,” Evan Osnos writes in a recent New Yorker article, “arrived in 1992, when a Los Angeles jury acquitted four police officers of using excessive force in the beating of Rodney King. The city erupted in riots. . . . The new market for self-defense guns was born . . . and it was infused with racial anxiety.

“Selling to buyers who were concerned about self-defense,” Osnos adds, “was even better than selling to hunters, because self-defense has no seasons.”

Even as the country has grown statistically safer, America’s obsession with armed self-defense has intensified, stoked in recent years by a fear of terrorism. Rebecca Solnit, writing recently in The Guardian, put it this way: “What we see over and over is that this society would like to imagine our epidemic of violence is by ‘them’ — some kind of marginal category: terrorist, mentally ill, nonwhite. But when it comes to mass killings, mostly it’s an epidemic of ‘us’ —mainstream men, mostly white, often young, usually miserable.”

Another thing about the right to bear arms — which equals the right to sell guns — is that it can tolerate no downside. For several decades now, the congressional majority has been so closely allied with the NRA and the gun industry that it has managed to put a near total kibosh on scientific research into guns as a public health issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has “not touched firearm research since 1996 — when the NRA accused the agency of promoting gun control and Congress threatened to strip the agency’s funding,” Todd C. Frankel wrote last year in the Washington Post. “The CDC’s self-imposed ban dried up a powerful funding source and had a chilling effect felt far beyond the agency: Almost no one wanted to pay for gun violence studies, researchers say. Young academics were warned that joining the field was a good way to kill their careers.”

This is the right to bear arms. You might call it the right to be afraid — afraid of regulation, afraid of consequences. The enemy is everywhere. But there are other ways to live.

“They expect a fight. I just talk to people,” Lee Goodman told me, referring to the way he handles the occasional hate call he gets. Goodman, of Peaceful Communities, has been leading protest demonstrations at gun shops and gun shows in the Chicago area for many years now. The large matter at stake here is a different way of looking at the world.

Goodman emphasizes that his approach is non-confrontational. “At two of the gun shops, guys walked out with guns on their hips” — over to where the protesters were standing. “They had to be prepared to face down peaceful protesters with guns on their hips. ‘Do you really need it? Do you really think you’ll have to kill us?’ I asked. His response: ‘Well, I have a right to have it.’”

Goodman added: “We’re never belligerent. We try to show by example: You don’t have to be afraid of the world. Understanding replaces hate.”

You might call it the right to bear courage.

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

People Like Him 6/22/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Mass Karma – by Robert C. Koehler

This won’t be the last.

Just after the Orlando tragedy, this reality remains pretty much unacknowledged, as cause-seekers focus on security and ISIS and the specific mental instability of Omar Mateen, who, as the world knows, took 49 precious lives and injured 53 others at the nightclub Pulse in the early hours of June 12.

Was it terrorism? Was it a hate crime? Apparently there’s a media obsession with categorizing murder. No, this was faux-war, as all our mass killings are, waged by an army of one or two or a few. And it won’t be the last. Mass killings are part of the social fabric – still shocking, still horrifying, but becoming more and more . . . “normal.”

Tighter security won’t stop them. Destroying ISIS won’t stop them. Banning immigrants won’t stop them. Maybe nothing will – though I don’t believe that. I do believe in karma, which is to say, the idea that what goes around comes around. If we act with violence, violence will come back to haunt us.

Only when the U.S. news media can put its murder stories in a context that includes inner reflection, rather than simply casting about for some external evil to blame – e.g., the killer had a Muslim name, so it must be terrorism – do we have, I believe, a hope of transcending the violent culture we’ve created.

There’s nothing particularly mysterious about this. What goes around usually comes back around in fairly obvious ways. For instance, the day after the killings, Rachel Maddow spent part of her show on MSNBC discussing how Mateen’s fantasy ISIS connection seemingly fit in with the terror organization’s global game plan, quoting an ISIS social media post to its followers in the West:

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, especially the spiteful and filthy French or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever, from the disbelievers waging war, kill him in any manner or way however it may be.”

Maddow described this as a tactical change for ISIS: “Stay where you are in the West and commit attacks there. Kill civilians in your home country.” She also talked about how the U.S. is at war with ISIS and has been “dropping bombs on ISIS targets” in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014. She made this point coolly, matter-of-factly, giving no hint that she understood that bombs cause a lot of carnage, often killing everyone in the vicinity, including children. Outrage and grief only entered her voice when her reporting turned to ISIS, because . . . my God, what they were promoting was sick beyond belief.

However, their tactical change also struck me as brilliant, in that they had found a way to “drop bombs on Western targets” without having an air force. This was, you might say, improvised shock and awe, borrowing a phrase from the U.S. war machine, which launched a shock-and-awe bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003. The term comes from a 1996 publication by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance:

“The intent here,” they wrote, “is to impose a regime of Shock and Awe through delivery of instant, nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction directed at influencing society writ large, meaning its leadership and public, rather than targeting directly against military or strategic objectives.”

In March of 2003, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq – a.k.a, the Big Mistake – with some 1,700 air sorties over the country that killed thousands of Iraqis. Out of this monstrous mistake, and all that followed, ISIS eventually emerged, and started striking back. This sort of karma is so obvious; you have to make a serious effort not to notice it.

But the hell Mateen unleashed at the Orlando nightclub hardly reduces to something this simple. His fantasy connection to ISIS may have been no more than a fragment, at best, of his motivation. Like every mass killer, he was deeply, deeply troubled and seething with social grievances – in his case, homophobia, likely permeated with self-hatred.

The only way to protect ourselves from such a person before he’s committed a crime is to create a surveillance-saturated, endlessly suspicious – and, of course, increasingly fortified and armed – social structure, which probably won’t work anyway, but will surely poison our social bedrock, which is trust.

And as long as the only way we attempt to understand mass murder is on his (or her) own terms, independent of all social context, we will fail to prevent the next one, and the one after that.

The starting place, I think, is to understand that committing mass murder is psychologically the same as waging war. The murders are not personal. The killer is employing what’s known as the “principle of social substitutability” — substituting a particular group of people for a general wrong.

“The rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice,” Peter Turchin explains in his essay “Canaries in a Coalmine.” “. . . it is usually a group, an organization, an institution, or the whole society that are held responsible by the killer.

“On the battlefield,” he wrote, “you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you’ve never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform . . . Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable.”

Under official circumstances, we glorify this sort of behavior. And this glory permeates the American social structure, creating a sort of standing permission for every troubled individual – every potential army of one – to wage war against a self-perceived wrong. Added to this standing permission is the dumbfounding availability of automatic weapons – and suddenly mass murders happen every couple of months.

Throw in one further irony. Mateen had worked for nine years as a security guard at G4S, the largest security firm in the world, which at one time had charge of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. As The Atlantic noted, he was part of the security system that’s supposed to protect the public from . . . people like him.

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

Collateral Consequences 5/25/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Rethinking Criminal Justice – by Robert C. Koehler

“For over forty years our criminal justice system has over-relied on punishment, policing, incarceration and detention. This has ushered in an age of mass incarceration. This era is marked by sentencing policies that lead to racially disproportionate incarceration rates and a variety of ‘collateral consequences’ that have harmed our communities and schools. . . .”

In this time when our self-inflicted troubles seem so obvious but the possibility of change — that is to say, political transformation, through awareness, compassion and common sense — feels more illusory than ever, something extraordinary, that is to say real, is on the brink of happening in Chicago.

The above quote isn’t just another analysis from the margins, to be uttered and instantly ignored. It’s part of a Vision and Action Plan, written by Cook County Juvenile Court Judge Colleen Sheehan, not simply proposing fundamental change in our punishment-based system of justice but describing change that is about to happen and, in fact, is already underway.

I’ve written a lot over the years about a concept called Restorative Justice, a healing-based, multifaceted approach to dealing with crime — social harm — that seeks first of all to repair the damage that has occurred and, profoundly, to restore the wholeness within a community that has been shattered. RJ, as it is known, seeks to create and expand trust between people, not just pass judgment on wrongdoers and shrug as neighborhoods go to hell.

Sheehan, as a Juvenile Court judge, saw firsthand the ineffectiveness of the current system — the “collateral consequences” of America’s prison-industrial complex and the utter vulnerability of the children caught up in the system.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.”

And where has this gotten us? Low-income neighborhoods in America’s major cities are being torn apart not just by crime but by “justice” — by the fact that so many of their kids not only go to jail via the school-to-prison pipeline but wind up caught in a system that never lets them go. When they get a record, they are often consigned to second-class citizenship for the rest of their lives.

And the cost of their incarceration is astronomical — some $1.4 million a day to warehouse 10,000 inmates in Cook County Jail, according to figures cited in the Vision and Action Plan. And meanwhile, there’s no money for schools or social services.

Sheehan decided she couldn’t just shrug helplessly at this situation. In collaboration with numerous RJ practitioners in the Chicago area, she began envisioning an alternative: a Restorative Justice Community Court. The idea was presented to Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy Evans, who saw its value — and with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, a two-year pilot program for a new system of justice will begin in 2017 in Chicago’s North Lawndale community, a community already committed to serious social change.

There’s still an enormous amount of planning to be done. As Sheehan told me, “The concept is very simple: repair harm from crime. But how you do it is very complex.”

Here are the basic logistics, according to the Cook County Circuit Court: “The Community Court will hear nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors committed by adults ages 18 through 26 who reside in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. . . . Defendants will enter the program voluntarily, and those who successfully complete the program may have the opportunity to have their charges dropped and arrest expunged.”

Enter the program voluntarily? What kind of court system is that? Perhaps you can see the complexity emerge. Restorative Justice is a system based on trust, honesty and connectedness. It can’t simply be imposed from above. Even the alleged offender’s presence must be uncoerced because that’s the only way RJ will work.

At the center of the RJ process is the peace circle. Everyone in the circle sits in what I call vibrant equality, a part of the whole. A talking piece is passed around. You only speak when you hold the talking piece; everyone gets a chance to speak; most of the time you listen; you wait your turn. When the purpose of the circle is to repair harm, all those affected — including the victims of the crime, but also members of the community affected by the crime — have a right to be included, and to speak their minds. Participants strive to reach an agreement about how to repair the damage that has been done.

“As a result,” as the Vision and Action Plan states, “peace circles and restorative conferencing can help address the underlying causes of violence. Throughout the process, victims and offenders will be supported by RJ Court staff. Community service is one example of an activity the offender can participate in to better understand the impact of the offense, give back to the community, and repair the harm she, he, or they created.

“Now is time for innovation in our approach to punishment and the moment is right for a philosophical shift in the way we think about what is truly just in the justice system.”

The current system acknowledges only the state’s interest when a crime occurs, and that “interest” is a sheer, bureaucratic abstraction, a predetermined doling out of tit for tat. However, a community’s interest is real and vital. In an impoverished neighborhood like North Lawndale, that interest is survival itself. The point of the Restorative Justice Community Court is to re-empower the community, to help it address the causes of its crime and rebuild itself.

As Cliff Nellis, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center and one of the new court’s co-planners, told me, “This court needs a community, a home.” Only in a state of collaboration with the community can the court hope to achieve its goal of healing and repair.

“There’s a huge divide between the community and the justice system,” Nellis said, noting how badly that relationship has been damaged over the years. “This is an opportunity for the system to make up for previous errors, to become worthy of the community’s respect and trust.”

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

Democracy Looks Like 3/23/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

This Is What Democracy Looks Like  by Robert C. Koehler

The snaking line was more than a mile long. Thousands of us had been waiting for hours in the bitter cold to get into Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre to hear Bernie Sanders speak. It was Monday night. The Illinois and four other state primaries were the next day and, as has been the case for the last three weeks now, the fate of the country — and the planet — seemed to hang in the balance.

Signs were everywhere: A FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN, of course. And FEEL THE BERN and variations thereof. BERNIE: PROPHET, HILLARY: PROFIT. And my favorite: SHAMANS FOR SANDERS.

The elevated train — Chicago’s L — rattled and clattered overhead at regular intervals, adding random noise to the windy, exhilarating night. Cheers erupted here and there for no apparent reason. The camaraderie was joyous. Even the police were friendly.

What if Trump people showed up and tried to start something? That rumor had been hovering for several days, but here in the midst of this crowd nothing seemed more preposterous. “If Trump people show up we need to show them love,” a woman standing nearby said. “Welcome them! Invite them to be one of us!” This was the sort of energy that infused the crowd. If nothing else, it flooded the cold March night with warmth.

And people chanted: “This is what democracy looks like!”

Oh, Lord.

What I thought was: Maybe they’re right. A day and a half later, as I write, I’m still transfixed by those words, even though all the energy has scattered. Democracy is about the depth of participation, not about winning and losing. And something is happening this election cycle that is opening up a participatory consciousness I haven’t felt, at least at the national level, in four decades.

What I want is more than a fleeting image of democracy on a bitter Chicago night. I want a lasting sense of social involvement and participation in crucial change. This is what democracy looks like. Democracy is the precondition of social evolution. And for this to occur at the national and global level — for society to reorganize itself in a way that defangs the four horsemen of social collapse: war, poverty, racism and climate change — we have to be engaged not as spectators but at the level of every human soul.

The doors opened. A huge segment of the waiting crowd did not get in, but I made it. Wow. A burst of light and warmth in the old historic theater. Speakers address the crowd. Someone says: “The only thing that’s been able to trump hatred and fear is beauty and love.” Old rock music fills the air. Twenty-somethings get up and start to dance. A mom in front of me is holding a month-old baby, and I can hardly contain my emotions.

The candidate himself didn’t step onto the stage till 11 p.m. He went nonstop for about 40 minutes, addressing, by my count, 15 issues, none of which — of course! — were part of the media coverage of the primaries. Here are a few highlights:

· “This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. We need to invest in our children. Get our priorities right. We are not going to be shutting down schools while Wall Street makes huge profits. . . . No more water systems that poison children.”

· “This should be a country with the highest voter turnout, not one of the lowest.”

· “Together we are going to repair a broken criminal justice system. . . . We need to demilitarize the police.”

· “Substance abuse is a health issue, not a criminal issue. We need to rethink the so-called war on drugs.”

· “There are 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. living in fear: We need comprehensive immigration reform.”

· “The way we have treated Native Americans for centuries is an absolute disgrace.”

· “Barack Obama’s father was born in Kenya. My father was born in Poland, but no one is asking me for my birth certificate. Maybe it has something to do with the color of my skin.”

· “I’m opposed to death penalty. In a world where there is so much violence, the state should not be a part of that.”

Finally and, it almost seemed, reluctantly, Sanders brought up the matter of war. He condemned the Iraq invasion as one of the worst blunders in American history and added: “I will do everything I can to see that the men and women in the military do not get sucked into perpetual war.”

Yeah, this is what democracy looks like, on both the inside and the outside. I hear the words of the one major-party candidate who dares to question America’s militarized relationship with the rest of the world. I also hear the wiggle room. I wish Sanders’ stance on war and the unfathomable U.S. military budget had the certainty of most of his other policy positions; and I wonder if his momentum — his reach into the soul of the electorate — would be more powerful if that were the case.

I know this much. When I hear someone dismiss Sanders’ social programs, such as free college tuition, on the grounds that “the money’s not there,” I will ask why nobody ever says: “We can’t develop the next generation of nuclear weapons; the money’s just not there!”

When it comes to militarism, I have yet to see what democracy looks like.

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

Peace and Bernie Sanders 3/9/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

War, Peace, and Bernie Sanders  by Robert C. Koehler

We’ve had our first big vote, and I’m doing my best to dig Tulsi Gabbard’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders out from beneath the pile of Super Tuesday numbers and media declarations of winners and losers.

As a Boston Globe headline put it: “Clinton and Trump are now the presumptive nominees. Get used to it.”

But something besides winning and losing still matters, more than ever, in the 2016 presidential race. War and peace and a fundamental questioning of who we are as a nation are actually on the line in this race, or could be — for the first time since 1972 when George McGovern was the Democratic presidential nominee.

Embrace what matters deeply and there’s no such thing as losing.

Gabbard, an Iraq war vet, a congresswoman from Hawaii, and “rising star” in the Democratic establishment, stepped down as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee in order to endorse Sanders — because he’s the only candidate who is not financially and psychologically tied to the military-industrial complex.

“As a veteran of two Middle East deployments, I know firsthand the cost of war,” she said, cracking the mainstream silence on U.S. militarism. “As a vice chair of the DNC, I am required to stay neutral in democratic primaries, but I cannot remain neutral any longer. The stakes are just too high.”

Because of Gabbard — only because of Gabbard — the multi-trillion-dollar monstrosity of U.S. militarism is getting a little mainstream media attention amid the reality-TV histrionics of this year’s presidential race, the Donald Trump phenomenon and the spectacle of Republican insult-flinging.

As the results of Super Tuesday started coming in on Tuesday night, Gabbard was given a few minutes to talk on MSNBC. While Rachel Maddow wanted to discuss the risk her Sanders endorsement might have on her career; Gabbard insisted on addressing the slightly larger matter of our unchecked, resource-hemorrhaging military adventurism across the globe.

“War is a very real thing,” she said. “If the Syrian war continues, we won’t have the resources to fund important social programs. This isn’t a question of the past — it’s a question of today. Regime-change wars do nothing to strengthen our national security, but they do strengthen our enemies.”

Fine. We’ll return after these messages . . .

A short while later, the MSNBC analysts’ attention snapped back to the Trump phenomenon. Someone opined: “The vast majority of Trump supporters are enamored of winning” far more than they care about the goofball issues Trump is supposedly running on, like the wall across the Mexican border and the ban on Muslims entering the country.

Maybe it’s true, and maybe it’s not, but I sense the mainstream media is a lot more comfortable with an issue-free presidential race, which is what the powers that be want, of course. The presidential election is supposed to be a distraction, not some kind of public accountability process.

The Sanders phenomenon, while as shocking and unexpected as the success of the Trump campaign, is far too substantive to garner a similar amount of media attention, let alone serious consideration of the issues he’s bringing up. Yet remarkably, his call for social change — for the transformation of a “rigged economy” — has not receded to the margins, either.

So what happens next? Tulsi Gabbard’s endorsement is the key. As Dave Lindorff recently wrote:

“Sanders, who has been avoiding talking about the country’s military budget and its imperialist foreign policy, should use the opportunity of Gabbard’s defection from the DNC to announce that if elected he would immediately slash military spending by 25 percent, that he would begin pulling U.S. forces back from most of the 800 or more bases they occupy around the world, and that he would end a decades-long foreign policy of overthrowing elected leaders around the globe.”

The shock waves generated by such a stance, from a candidate who already has 386 delegates, would be enormous. Conventional wisdom cries no, no, that’s too much. No matter how much harm our wars have caused in the last decade, no matter how absurd a slice that war preparation — including nuclear weapons development — gouges from the national budget, the U.S. military, the planet’s biggest polluter and most prolific terrorist, remains untouchable. The public has no say in these matters. The president has no say in these matters.

This delusion goes back to the Vietnam War and McGovern’s loss to Richard Nixon. Since then, the Democrats have attempted to purge themselves of antiwar — or what perhaps should be called trans-military — thinking. In doing so, they’ve tied themselves to their own, and the country’s, inevitable collapse.

The other option is transformation. This is the year it could begin.

–end–

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

Politics & Soul 2/10/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Presidential Politics and the American Soul

By Robert C. Koehler

When I want to believe that America is a democracy — indeed, to feel so deeply this is so that my soul trembles — I turn to Martin Luther King, who gave his life for it.

He cried out for something so much more than a process: a game of winners and losers. He reached for humanity’s deepest yearning, for the connectedness of all people, for transcendence past hatred and the demonization of “the other.” He spoke — half a century ago — the words that those in power couldn’t bear to hear because his truths cut too deep and disrupted too much business as usual.

But what else is a democracy than that?

“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war . . .”

Uh oh. This ain’t politics as usual. This is King standing in the oval office, staring directly into the eyes of LBJ, declaring that civil rights legislation isn’t a political favor but merely the beginning of a nation’s moral atonement.

“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.”

These words were part of the stunning address King delivered — on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before his assassination — at Riverside Church in New York City. To read these words today, in the context of the 2016 presidential race and the mainstream media’s inevitable focus on stats and trivia rather than big issues is to realize how utterly relevant this man and the movement he helped awaken remain today. To read King’s words in 2016 is to rip this man out of a sentimentalized sainthood and to bring him back to living relevance.

What he had to say to the political leaders of the time must not be reduced to a few phrases carved in granite; they must be heard anew, in all their disturbing fullness. I say this not because his “day” recently passed and I’m somewhat tardily “remembering” him, but because the 2016 presidential race needs King’s presence — his uncompromised wisdom — standing tough against the media and political status quo that is now trying desperately to mute the unapproved voices spurting forth in this campaign and pulling the electorate’s attention away from the approved, mainstream candidates they’re supposed to choose between.

Paul Krugman, for instance, representing the liberal wing of the status quo, came out for compromise and Hillary the other day, dismissing Bernie Sanders not out of a specific disagreement with any of his positions but because of a contempt for the “contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions.”

This is how to make sure that a self-proclaimed democracy is really a faux-democracy, flawed, perhaps, but plodding along in the right direction and basically healthy, with its biggest threat not unrestrained militarism or unregulated corporate capitalism but . . . oh, universal health care. See, that’s radical.

I have yet to hear the status-quo media call the poisoning of the Flint, Mich., water supply, or the daily police shootings of young men or women of color — or the multi-trillion-dollar failure known as the war on terror — “radical,” but a candidate who wants to give a serious push for policies of social betterment (and calls himself a democratic socialist) is radical. He’s purveying false hope, disrespecting the sacred act of political compromise and dangerously trying to establish, or re-establish, the precedent that the public should get what it needs, even if those needs override the quietly laid plans of the nation’s military-industrial consensus.

Indeed, that consensus is never asked to compromise or, good God, subjected to public scrutiny — except, of course, by radicals.

This brings me back to King’s Riverside Church speech, which had the audacity to be visionary, to challenge the United States at its deepest levels of being — which is something that ought to happen during a presidential race. King looked directly at the hell we were inflicting on Vietnam and called not simply for an end to that war but an examination of the national soul.

“This,” he said, “I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

The war King was crying out against ended eight years after that 1967 speech, but the poison did not disappear from the country’s soul. There was no atonement, no real change, only, ultimately, a retrenching and regrouping of the military-industrial consensus. Thus, King’s words remain as urgent and prescient today as when he first uttered them.

“The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. . .

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”

Would that Bernie Sanders spoke with such radicalism — or drew such a clear connection between social deprivation and militarism.

Beyond that, however, I must ask, in light of the words of Martin Luther King, what kind of democracy is too terrified, and too cowardly, to examine its own soul and reach toward values that are bigger than its short-term interests? And why do we not have a media rooted in these values and committed to holding politicians accountable to them?

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

Broken Souls 1/13/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Adding Up the Broken Souls

By Robert C. Koehler

“The question now is how to change our institutions so that they promote human values rather than destroy them.”

Philip Zimbardo, who posed this question in the wake of the famous — or infamous — Stanford Prison Experiment 44 years ago, might have added: If we fail to do so, we guarantee our own social collapse.

The collapse is underway, one broken soul at a time.

“But the basic story the men told was the same: (Leonard) Strickland was pushed down a flight of stairs, and then beaten nearly to death by a large group of guards.”

This is from a recent New York Times investigative piece about inmate abuse at Clinton Correctional Facility, in upstate New York — a particularly boiling caldron of racism in America’s prison-industrial complex. Almost all of the nearly 1,000 guards who work at the rural prison are white; the inmates, mostly from New York City, are black. Not surprisingly, the prisoners say “they face a constant barrage of racial slurs.”

And racial slurs have a way of escalating, especially under conditions in which one group of people has enormous, unchecked power over another group. Zimbardo called it the Lucifer Effect: the transformation of ordinary, decent people into monsters. His 1971 study, in which two dozen college-student volunteers were randomly designated either guards or prisoners in a makeshift “penitentiary” in the basement of Stanford’s psych department, was meant to last two weeks but was called off after six days because the situation had gotten out of control.

Zimbardo said that he came to his senses after an outside observer, who was brought in to conduct interviews, reacted with utter shock “when she saw our prisoners being marched on a toilet run, bags over their heads, legs chained together, hands on each other’s shoulders. Filled with outrage, she said, ‘It’s terrible what you are doing to these boys!’”

Compare this to the Times story about Clinton Correctional Facility. Though all the guards were officially cleared of wrongdoing in the 2010 death of Leonard Strickland, who was diagnosed mentally ill but had no history of violent behavior, six prisoners who had witnessed the event, interviewed separately at various facilities, told essentially the same story: that he was called a racial slur, pushed down a flight of stairs and beaten and repeatedly kicked by a group of guards at the bottom of the stairs.

As Strickland fell down the stairs, one prisoner told the Times, “his skull hit the concrete steps several times. At the bottom, he pulled himself into a tight fetal position, as about 10 officers took turns kicking him in the head and the ribs … They ‘beat this kid to zero,’ he said.”

Ah, Lucifer!

The broken souls add up. We live in a world where the prevailing belief is that control and dominance are necessary … because of all the terrorism, y’know, and the crime and what have you. In so many American cities, armed police officers (white and otherwise), wield unchecked power in impoverished, minority communities. Not surprisingly, the Lucifer Effect continually makes the news.

Last month, the Associated Press released the results of a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by police, discovering records of about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for various sex crimes, including rape. The figure is “unquestionably an undercount,” the AP story noted because many departments don’t maintain such records.

“‘It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country,’ said Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida, who helped study the problem for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. ‘It’s so underreported, and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.’”

What this otherwise excellent story fails to do is put the crimes into a larger context, dismissing the perps simply as “bad officers.” When they can’t resign quietly and disappear, they are turned into scapegoats: exceptions to the rule in otherwise good, solid institutions that serve the public. This is how it is in every institution that commands enormous power over a particular group of people, including the scandal-rocked U.S. military and the Catholic Church.

It’s time for the media, which usually goes along with the “bad apple” explanation, to expand its consciousness. Lucifer haunts the corridors of power. Ordinary, decent people can turn into monsters — rapists, murderers — when given unlimited power over others. It happens with eerie frequency, especially when, in the era of the cellphone video, such crimes are not so easily covered up.

In Chicago, a police officer shot a teenager walking in the middle of the street 16 times, almost as though the gun took control of the officer’s consciousness. Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, interviewed recently by Democracy Now, pointed out that, because of budget cuts, only about 20 Chicago police officers have received crisis intervention training.

My God, budget cuts! In a country that’s waging perpetual war and raking in billions from the global sale of weapons. Yeah, the boy had been acting erratically. But real public safety for the city of Chicago would have included safety for Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old killed by police officer Jason Van Dyke.

I fear we’re reversing the evolutionary process. We’ve surrendered to simplistic, impulsive, fear-based “safety” and we’re reaping the consequences, one broken soul at a time.

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

Broken Souls 12/30/15

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Adding Up the Broken Souls

By Robert C. Koehler

“The question now is how to change our institutions so that they promote human values rather than destroy them.”

Philip Zimbardo, who posed this question in the wake of the famous — or infamous — Stanford Prison Experiment 44 years ago, might have added: If we fail to do so, we guarantee our own social collapse.

The collapse is underway, one broken soul at a time.

“But the basic story the men told was the same: (Leonard) Strickland was pushed down a flight of stairs, and then beaten nearly to death by a large group of guards.”

This is from a recent New York Times investigative piece about inmate abuse at Clinton Correctional Facility, in upstate New York — a particularly boiling caldron of racism in America’s prison-industrial complex. Almost all of the nearly 1,000 guards who work at the rural prison are white; the inmates, mostly from New York City, are black. Not surprisingly, the prisoners say “they face a constant barrage of racial slurs.”

And racial slurs have a way of escalating, especially under conditions in which one group of people has enormous, unchecked power over another group. Zimbardo called it the Lucifer Effect: the transformation of ordinary, decent people into monsters. His 1971 study, in which two dozen college-student volunteers were randomly designated either guards or prisoners in a makeshift “penitentiary” in the basement of Stanford’s psych department, was meant to last two weeks but was called off after six days because the situation had gotten out of control.

Zimbardo said that he came to his senses after an outside observer, who was brought in to conduct interviews, reacted with utter shock “when she saw our prisoners being marched on a toilet run, bags over their heads, legs chained together, hands on each other’s shoulders. Filled with outrage, she said, ‘It’s terrible what you are doing to these boys!’”

Compare this to the Times story about Clinton Correctional Facility. Though all the guards were officially cleared of wrongdoing in the 2010 death of Leonard Strickland, who was diagnosed mentally ill but had no history of violent behavior, six prisoners who had witnessed the event, interviewed separately at various facilities, told essentially the same story: that he was called a racial slur, pushed down a flight of stairs and beaten and repeatedly kicked by a group of guards at the bottom of the stairs.

As Strickland fell down the stairs, one prisoner told the Times, “his skull hit the concrete steps several times. At the bottom, he pulled himself into a tight fetal position, as about 10 officers took turns kicking him in the head and the ribs … They ‘beat this kid to zero,’ he said.”

Ah, Lucifer!

The broken souls add up. We live in a world where the prevailing belief is that control and dominance are necessary … because of all the terrorism, y’know, and the crime and what have you. In so many American cities, armed police officers (white and otherwise), wield unchecked power in impoverished, minority communities. Not surprisingly, the Lucifer Effect continually makes the news.

Last month, the Associated Press released the results of a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by police, discovering records of about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for various sex crimes, including rape. The figure is “unquestionably an undercount,” the AP story noted because many departments don’t maintain such records.

“‘It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country,’ said Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida, who helped study the problem for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. ‘It’s so underreported, and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.’”

What this otherwise excellent story fails to do is put the crimes into a larger context, dismissing the perps simply as “bad officers.” When they can’t resign quietly and disappear, they are turned into scapegoats: exceptions to the rule in otherwise good, solid institutions that serve the public. This is how it is in every institution that commands enormous power over a particular group of people, including the scandal-rocked U.S. military and the Catholic Church.

It’s time for the media, which usually goes along with the “bad apple” explanation, to expand its consciousness. Lucifer haunts the corridors of power. Ordinary, decent people can turn into monsters — rapists, murderers — when given unlimited power over others. It happens with eerie frequency, especially when, in the era of the cellphone video, such crimes are not so easily covered up.

In Chicago, a police officer shot a teenager walking in the middle of the street 16 times, almost as though the gun took control of the officer’s consciousness. Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, interviewed recently by Democracy Now, pointed out that, because of budget cuts, only about 20 Chicago police officers have received crisis intervention training.

My God, budget cuts! In a country that’s waging perpetual war and raking in billions from the global sale of weapons. Yeah, the boy had been acting erratically. But real public safety for the city of Chicago would have included safety for Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old killed by police officer Jason Van Dyke.

I fear we’re reversing the evolutionary process. We’ve surrendered to simplistic, impulsive, fear-based “safety” and we’re reaping the consequences, one broken soul at a time.

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

Joy Feels Troubling 11/25/15

The Aftermath of Paris

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

By Robert C. Koehler

I’m sitting in the aftermath of Paris, feeling emotions tear me apart. One of the emotions is joy. My daughter, who lives there, is safe.

Has “joy” ever felt so troubling?

The aftermath of Paris seems likely to be intensified (“pitiless”) bombing raids in Syria, closed borders, heightened fear-based security and the deletion of “the gray zones of coexistence” across the planet.

Oh, it’s so nice to have an enemy who is truly evil! The logic of war is so seductive. It simplifies all these complex emotions. Just watch the news.

The news is that terror wins. Indeed, terror is the cornerstone of civilization.

I couldn’t get that notion out of my head. That’s because I couldn’t stop thinking about an act of extraordinary terror that took place a little more than a dozen years ago, and its relevance to the world’s current state of shock and chaos. Doing so made it impossible to contemplate the raw savagery of the ISIS killings in Paris and Beirut and everywhere else — the “my God!” of it all, as innocent lives are cut short with such indifference — in a simplistic context of us vs. them.

In March of 2003, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq with a bombing campaign called “Shock and Awe,” consisting of some 1,700 air sorties over the country that killed, according to Iraq Body Count, more than 7,400 civilians.

We launched our war on Iraq with the intent to commit terror on a scale ISIS could only dream of. The relevance of this is inescapable, not simply because it makes the United States and NATO brothers in terror with ISIS, but also because the war shattered Iraq and caused the death and displacement of millions more people and, ultimately, created the conditions in which ISIS was able to come to power.

What’s haunting to me is the absence of this shockingly relevant recent history from most mainstream coverage of the Paris killings — or more to the point, the absence of almost any sort of trans-war consciousness, you might say, from the discussion of what we ought to do next.

Considering that bombing campaigns, and war itself, are not only the equivalent of terror (“writ large”) but also wildly ineffective and counterproductive, producing, in the long term, pretty much the opposite of what rational, non-war-mongers crave, the failure of politicians and mainstream media types to reach beyond a riled militarism in their reaction to the Dark Ages terror in which ISIS specializes bodes poorly, I fear, for the future of humanity.

My daughter, who last Friday night had been at a rehearsal for an upcoming poetry event, found herself, at 10 p.m., as she was leaving a tavern called Les Caves St.-Sabin, in the middle of the chaos. As she and her friends stepped into the street, someone came running past warning people to get back inside. They only learned, in bits and pieces, the enormity of what was still happening in their city. She spent the night at the tavern, a decorated basement that felt, she said, like a “medieval fallout shelter.” In the morning, the Metro was running again, and she returned to her apartment. Only then did the horror hit her with full ferocity. She sat and cried, then got up and went to work.

However, the tears continue, if only in silence. The Paris tears are a small tributary to a worldwide River of Sorrow that swells beyond Paris and beyond Europe and the West to the broken, bombed, war-ravaged nations of the Third and Fourth World, the source of the planet’s 60 million refugees. This is the world of ISIS. Instead of continuing to bomb this world, in our fear and anger, we could try to understand it.

“ISIS is the first group since Al Qaeda to offer these young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe.”

So wrote Lydia Wilson, a research fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, in a recent piece for The Nation. She and her colleagues, in an attempt to do just that — understand those who have given over their lives to ISIS — recently interviewed ISIS prisoners of war in Iraq and, in the process, found their humanity. Mostly they were young men in their 20s who grew up in the wake of the American occupation of Iraq; that is to say, in the midst of brutal civil war.

“The Americans came,” one of them told her. “They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”

Violence begets violence; war begets war. Knowing this is the starting place. It is time to start over.

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

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