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September 03, 2012 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The president’s new choices for Commerce secretary and FCC chair underscore how far down the rabbit hole his populist conceits have tumbled. Yet the Obama rhetoric about standing up for working people against “special interests” is as profuse as ever. Would you care for a spot of Kool-Aid at the Mad Hatter’s tea party?
Of course the Republican economic program is worse, and President Romney’s policies would have been even more corporate-driven. That doesn't in the slightest make acceptable what Obama is doing. His latest high-level appointments -- boosting corporate power and shafting the public -- are despicable.
To nominate Penny Pritzker for secretary of Commerce is to throw in the towel for any pretense of integrity that could pass a laugh test. Pritzker is “a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser,” the Chicago Tribune reported with notable understatement last week, adding: “She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family. With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans.”
A more blunt assessment came from journalist Dennis Bernstein: “Her pioneering sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior for a billion-dollar cost to taxpayers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed.” Pritzker, whose family controls Hyatt Regency Hotels, has a vile anti-union record.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker? What’s next? Labor Secretary Donald Trump? SEC Chairman Bernie Madoff?
The choice of Penny Pritzker to run the Commerce Department is a matched set with the simultaneous pick of Tom Wheeler -- another mega-fundraiser for candidate Obama -- to chair the Federal Communications Commission.
With crucial decisions on the near horizon at the FCC, the president’s nomination of Wheeler has dire implications for the future of the Internet, digital communications and democracy. For analysis, my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy turned to the progressive former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who called the choice “bizarre.”
May 09, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Progressives often wonder why so many Republican lawmakers stick to their avowed principles while so many Democratic lawmakers abandon theirs. We can grasp some answers by assessing the current nationwide drive called “Primary My Congressman” -- a case study of how right-wing forces gain ground in electoral terrain where progressives fear to tread.
Sponsored by Club for Growth Action, the “Primary My Congressman” effort aims to replace “moderate Republicans” with “economic conservatives” -- in other words, GOP hardliners even more devoted to boosting corporate power and dismantling the public sector. “In districts that are heavily Republican,” the group says, “there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real fiscal conservatives to Congress -- not more ‘moderates’ who will compromise with Democrats. . .”
Such threats of serious primary challenges often cause the targeted incumbents to quickly veer rightward, or they may never get through the next Republican primary.
Progressive activists and organizations could launch similar primary challenges, but -- to the delight of the Democratic Party establishment -- they rarely do. Why not?
Here are some key reasons:
* Undue deference to elected Democrats.
Members of Congress and other elected officials deserve only the respect they earn. All too often, for example, plenty of Congressional Progressive Caucus members represent the interests of the establishment to progressives rather than the other way around.
* Treating election campaigns more like impulse items than work that requires long-term planning and grassroots follow-through.
The same progressives who’ve spent years planning, launching and sustaining a wide range of community projects are apt to jump into election campaigns with scant lead time. Progressives need to build electoral capacity for the long haul, implementing well-planned strategic campaigns with candidates who come out of social movements and have a plausible chance to win on behalf of those movements.
April 30, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
As a perpetual emotion machine -- producing and guzzling its own political fuel -- the “war on terror” continues to normalize itself as a thoroughly American way of life and death. Ongoing warfare has become a matter of default routine, pushed along by mainline media and the leadership of both parties in Washington. Without a clear and effective upsurge of opposition from the grassroots, Americans can expect to remain citizens of a war-driven country for the rest of their lives.
Across the United States, many thousands of peeling bumper stickers on the road say: “End this Endless War.” They got mass distribution from MoveOn.org back in 2007, when a Republican was in the White House. Now, a thorough search of the MoveOn website might leave the impression that endless war ended with the end of the George W. Bush presidency.
MoveOn is very big as online groups go, but it is symptomatic of a widespread problem among an array of left-leaning organizations that have made their peace with the warfare state. Such silence assists the Obama administration as it makes the “war on terror” even more resolutely bipartisan and further embedded in the nation’s political structures -- while doing immense damage to our economy, siphoning off resources that should go to meet human needs, further militarizing society and undermining civil liberties.
Now, on Capitol Hill, the most overt attempt to call a halt to the “war on terror” is coming from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose bill H.R. 198 would revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved three days after 9/11. Several months since it was introduced, H.R. 198 only has a dozen co-sponsors. (To send your representative and senators a message of support for Lee’s bill, click here.)
Evidently, in Congress, there is sparse support for repealing the September 2001 blanket authorization for war. Instead, there are growing calls for a larger blanket. Bipartisan Washington is warming to the idea that a new congressional resolution may be needed to give War on Terror 2.0 an expansive framework. Even for the law benders and breakers who manage the executive branch’s war machinery, the language of the September 2001 resolution doesn’t seem stretchable enough to cover the U.S. warfare of impunity that’s underway across the globe . . . with more on the drawing boards.
On Tuesday afternoon, when a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on “targeted killing,” the proceedings underscored the great extent of bipartisan overlap for common killing ground. Republican super-hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham lauded President Obama for “targeting people in a very commander-in-chief-like way.” And what passed for senatorial criticism took as a given the need for continuing drone strikes. In the words of the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, “More transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community” for those attacks.
This is classic tinkering with war machinery. During the first several years of the Vietnam War, very few senators went beyond mild kibitzing about how the war could be better waged. In recent years, during President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan that tripled the U.S. troop levels in that country, senators like John Kerry (now secretary of state) kept offering their helpful hints for how to fine tune the war effort.
April 24, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
After the bombings that killed and maimed so horribly at the Boston Marathon, our country’s politics and mass media are awash in heartfelt compassion -- and reflexive “doublethink,” which George Orwell described as willingness “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”
In sync with media outlets across the country, the New York Times put a chilling headline on Wednesday’s front page: “Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim, Officials Say.” The story reported that nails and ball bearings were stuffed into pressure cookers, “rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast.”
Much less crude and weighing in at 1,000 pounds, CBU-87/B warheads were in the category of “combined effects munitions” when put to use 14 years ago by a bomber named Uncle Sam. The U.S. media coverage was brief and fleeting.
One Friday, at noontime, U.S.-led NATO forces dropped cluster bombs on the city of Nis, in the vicinity of a vegetable market. “The bombs struck next to the hospital complex and near the market, bringing death and destruction, peppering the streets of Serbia’s third-largest city with shrapnel,” a dispatch in the San Francisco Chronicle reported on May 8, 1999.
And: “In a street leading from the market, dismembered bodies were strewn among carrots and other vegetables in pools of blood. A dead woman, her body covered with a sheet, was still clutching a shopping bag filled with carrots.”
Pointing out that cluster bombs “explode in the air and hurl shards of shrapnel over a wide radius,” BBC correspondent John Simpson wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “Used against human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare.”
Savage did not preclude usage. As a matter of fact, to Commander in Chief Bill Clinton and the prevailing military minds in Washington, savage was bound up in the positive attributes of cluster bombs. Each one could send up to 60,000 pieces of jagged steel shrapnel into what the weapon’s maker described as “soft targets.”
April 17, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The story goes that some mice became very upset about the cat in the house and convened an emergency meeting. They finally came up with the idea of tying a bell around the cat’s neck, so the dangerous feline could no longer catch victims unawares. The plan gained a lot of enthusiastic praise, until one mouse piped up with a question that preceded a long silence: “Who’s going to bell the cat?”
In recent days, the big cat in the White House has provoked denunciations from groups that have rarely crossed him. They’re upset about his decision to push for cuts in Social Security benefits. “Progressive outrage has reached a boiling point,” the online juggernaut MoveOn declared a few days ago.
Obama’s move to cut Social Security is certainly outrageous, and it’s encouraging that a wide range of progressive groups are steamed at Obama as never before. But this kind of outrage should have reached a “boiling point” a long time ago. The administration’s undermining of civil liberties, scant action on climate change, huge escalation of war in Afghanistan, expansion of drone warfare, austerity policies serving Wall Street and shafting Main Street, vast deference to corporate power. . . The list is long and chilling.
So is the evasive record of many groups that are now denouncing Obama’s plan to cut Social Security. Mostly, their leaders griped in private and made nice with the Obama White House in public.
Yet imagine if those groups had polarized with President Obama in 2009 on even a couple of key issues. Such progressive independence would have shown the public that there is indeed a left in this country -- that the left has principles and stands up for them -- and that Obama, far from being on the left, is in the center. Such principled clarity would have undermined the right-wing attacks on Obama as a radical, socialist, etc. -- and from the beginning could have gotten some victories out of Obama, instead of waiting more than four years to take him on.
Whether or not Obama’s vicious assault on Social Security is successful, it has already jolted an unprecedented number of longtime supporters. It should be the last straw, suffused with illumination.
That past is prologue. We need to ask: Do such groups now have it in them to stop pretending that each of the Obama administration’s various awful policies is some kind of anomaly?
April 10, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The Nobel Peace Prize that President Obama received 40 months ago has emerged as the most appalling Orwellian award of this century. No, war is not peace.
George Carlin used to riff about oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp,” “genuine imitation,” “political science” and “military intelligence.” But humor is of the gallows sort when we consider the absurdity and tragedy of the world’s most important peace prize honoring the world’s top war maker.
This week, a challenge has begun with the launch of a petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to revoke Obama’s Peace Prize. By midnight of the first day, nearly 10,000 people had signed. The online petition simply tells the Nobel committee: “I urge you to rescind the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to Barack Obama.”
Many signers have added their own comments. Here are some samples:
“It is with very great regret that I sign this petition, but I feel it is morally the right thing to do. I had phenomenally high hopes that our President would be a torch bearer for the true message of Peace. Instead he has brought death, destruction and devastation to vast areas of the world, and made us less safe by creating more enemies.” Sushila C., Punta Gorda, FL
“War is nothing to be given a peace prize for.” Brent L., San Diego, CA
“President Obama has clearly demonstrated that he is undeserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. Revoke his prize and give it to Bradley Manning!” Henry B., Portland, OR
“Perhaps a better president than Bush or Romney, but not a Nobel laureate for peace.” Arun N., Woodinville, WA
“I honestly cannot understand how they could bestow that honor on President Obama to begin with; I'm still puzzled!” Cindy A., Phoenix, AR
“Giving the prize to President Obama has degraded the esteem the Nobel Prize once had as a means of recognizing the best of us. It now represents a pat on the back for the thugs that roam freely amongst our governments. That decision has made me question the integrity of all previous nominations, and wonder if the entire Nobel Prize program is nothing but a sham.” Juan F., Arcata, CA
“Continued occupation of Afghanistan and drone strikes across national borders are NOT the actions of a peacemaker. Mr. Obama has defiled the good will of the Nobel prize.” Dudley D., Chicago, IL
April 03, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
During the last week of March, more than 30,000 people signed a petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Bradley Manning. While the numbers continue to mount on the petition website, so do the comments from individual signers.
Thousands have already written personal notes to explain their support for the petition. I hope the Nobel committee reads the comments carefully when the petition arrives in Oslo later this spring.
As a U.S. Army private -- seeing massive evidence of official deception, human rights abuses and flagrant killing of civilians -- Bradley Manning did not just follow orders. Instead, he became a whistleblower, supplying vast troves of documents to WikiLeaks, exposing duplicity that had enormous impacts from Iraq and Afghanistan to Egypt and Tunisia.
Manning, now 25 years old, could be in prison for the rest of his life. But while the U.S. government tries to crush him, it’s clear that many Americans love him -- and would be thrilled to see him win the Nobel Peace Prize. The following samples of comments from petition signers begin to explain why:
“Bradley Manning knowingly risked his freedom in order to bring the true facts of war to the public. The courage and insight of such a young person is worthy of the highest recognition.” Sheila C., Kings Park, NY
“Manning is a U.S. political prisoner being persecuted for blowing the whistle on war crimes by the powerful, including his own corrupt government. He should be given the Nobel Peace Prize.” Ruth K., Greenbelt, MD
“If you are looking to regain your reputation after giving the award to a warmongering president, I can think of no more important or honorable figure than this political prisoner.” Catherine C., Santa Monica, CA
“This poor, incredibly brave person has been scapegoated nearly to death for his extraordinary heroism in revealing just a bit of the truth behind the ideological gloss of war and politics. Please give him the support and recognition he deserves -- you may save his life and you will certainly support a higher consciousness in many if you do so.” Cathy C., Boulder, CO
“Wall Street bankers who looted our nations go scot free. Petro chemical companies who poison millions go free. A young man who releases truth in a democracy is terrorized endlessly by his government. We must stand up for truth tellers.” W.D., Overland Park, KS
“Manning has done more for peace in our time than any other individual. He risked his freedom to inform the world of war crimes and other wrongdoing by his country.” William P., Prescott Valley, AZ
“He has done more than anyone to challenge the hubris of a government’s foreign policy that is based on belligerence and aggression.” Myles H., Baltimore, MD
“Please give the peace prize to those who truly merit it, like Manning, not to politicians who further militarism and war.” Albert R., Naperville, IL
By Norman Solomon
If your daily routine took you from one homegrown organic garden to another, bypassing vast fields choked with pesticides, you might feel pretty good about the current state of agriculture.
If your daily routine takes you from one noncommercial progressive website to another, you might feel pretty good about the current state of the Internet.
But while mass media have supplied endless raptures about a digital revolution, corporate power has seized the Internet -- and the anti-democratic grip is tightening every day.
“Most assessments of the Internet fail to ground it in political economy; they fail to understand the importance of capitalism in shaping and, for lack of a better term, domesticating the Internet,” says Robert W. McChesney in his illuminating new book, Digital Disconnect.
Plenty of commentators loudly celebrate the Internet. Some are vocal skeptics. “Both camps, with a few exceptions, have a single, deep, and often fatal flaw that severely compromises the value of their work,” McChesney writes. “That flaw, simply put, is ignorance about really existing capitalism and an underappreciation of how capitalism dominates social life. . . . Both camps miss the way capitalism defines our times and sets the terms for understanding not only the Internet, but most everything else of a social nature, including politics, in our society.”
And he adds: “The profit motive, commercialism, public relations, marketing, and advertising -- all defining features of contemporary corporate capitalism -- are foundational to any assessment of how the Internet has developed and is likely to develop.”
Concerns about the online world often fixate on cutting-edge digital tech. But, as McChesney points out, “the criticism of out-of-control technology is in large part a critique of out-of-control commercialism. The loneliness, alienation, and unhappiness sometimes ascribed to the Internet are also associated with a marketplace gone wild.”
Discourse about the Internet often proceeds as if digital technology has some kind of mind or will of its own. It does not.
For the most part, what has gone terribly wrong in digital realms is not about the technology. I often think of what Herbert Marcuse wrote in his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man: “The traditional notion of the ‘neutrality’ of technology can no longer be maintained. Technology as such cannot be isolated from the use to which it is put; the technological society is a system of domination which operates already in the concept and construction of techniques.”
Marcuse saw the technological as fully enmeshed with the political in advanced industrial society, “the latest stage in the realization of a specific historical project -- namely, the experience, transformation, and organization of nature as the mere stuff of domination.” He warned that the system’s productivity and growth potential contained “technical progress within the framework of domination.”
Fifty years later, McChesney’s book points out: “The Internet and the broader digital revolution are not inexorably determined by technology; they are shaped by how society elects to develop them. . . . In really existing capitalism, the kind Americans actually experience, wealthy individuals and large corporations have immense political power that undermines the principles of democracy. Nowhere is this truer than in communication policy making.”
March 27, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
On a plane circling Baghdad in gray dawn light, a little Iraqi girl quietly sang to herself in the next row. “When I start to wonder why I’m making this trip,” Sean Penn murmured to me, “I see that child and I remember what it’s about.”
After the plane landed at Saddam International Airport, we waited in a small entry room until an Iraqi official showed up and ushered us through customs. Soon we checked into the Al-Rashid Hotel. Back in Washington the sponsor of our trip, the Institute for Public Accuracy, put out a news release announcing the three-day visit and quoting Sean: “As a father, an actor, a filmmaker and a patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation (at least attempt) to find my own voice on matters of conscience.”
With U.S. war drums at feverish pitch, Sean Penn’s sudden appearance in Baghdad set off a firestorm of vilification in American media. Headlines called him “Baghdad Sean”; pundits on cable news channels called him a stooge for Saddam.
But as the U.S. media attacks got underway, our focus was Baghdad. At the Al-Mansour Children’s Hospital, youngsters lay on threadbare mattresses with haunting dark eyes, mournful mothers sometimes seated next to their tiny beds. As we left, Sean said to me: “You don’t even want someone to slam a door too loud around these children, let alone imagine a bomb exploding in the neighborhood.”
There were meetings with Iraqi officials, including Tariq Aziz, who -- with his well-cut suit and smooth talk -- epitomized the urbanity of evil. But most of all, we kept seeing children and wondering what would happen to them. The threat of war overshadowed everything.
UNICEF took us to schools in the city, and improvements were striking in the ones being helped by the agency. Sean and I visited the office of UNICEF’s Iraq director, a Dutchman who talked about prospects for aiding the country’s emaciated kids. But what if an invasion happens, we asked. Suddenly, there was silence.
On our last morning in Baghdad, across a breakfast table of pita bread and hummus, I watched Sean write out a statement on a pad. Later in the day, speaking at a huge news conference, he said: “I feel, both as an American and as a human being, the obligation to accept some level of personal accountability for the policies of my government, both those I support and any that I may not. Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands.”
March 18, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Now we know.
Every member of Congress has chosen whether to sign a letter making a crucial commitment: “We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits -- including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
The Democratic Party hierarchy doesn’t like the letter. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said that cutting Social Security would “strengthen” it, and President Obama’s spokespeople keep emphasizing his eagerness to cut Social Security’s cost of living adjustments. The fact that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit is beside the austerity point.
Since mid-February, across the country, many thousands of people have sent personal notes, submitted petitions and made phone calls imploring members of Congress to sign the letter, initiated by Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano.
Twenty-eight members of the House of Representatives have signed the letter.
Here are their names: Brown, Cartwright, Castor, Clay, Conyers, D. Davis, DeFazio, Ellison, Faleomavaega, Grayson, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, A. Hastings, Honda, Kaptur, Lee, Lynch, C. Maloney, Markey, McGovern, Nadler, Napolitano, Nolan, Serrano, Takano, Velazquez and Waters.
If you don’t see the name of your Congress member on that list, you live in a House district without a representative standing up for economic decency.
Especially noteworthy are 49 members of the House who belong to the Congressional Progressive Caucus but have refused to sign the Grayson-Takano letter. In most cases, they represent districts with a largely progressive electorate. In effect, their message is: We like to call ourselves “progressive” but we refuse to clearly stand up to an Obama White House that’s pushing to slash Social Security and Medicare benefits. To see the names of those 49 members of Congress, click here.
March 13, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Stringent “background checks” are central to many proposals for curbing gun violence. The following is a background check on the nation’s largest buyer of firearms:
The applicant, U.S. Pentagon, seeks to purchase a wide variety of firearms in vast quantities. This background check has determined that the applicant has a long history of assisting individuals, organizations and governments prone to gun violence.
Pentagon has often served as an active accomplice or direct perpetrator of killings on a mass scale. During the last 50 years, the applicant has directly inflicted large-scale death and injuries in numerous countries, among them the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan (partial list). Resulting fatalities are estimated to have been more than 5 million people.
For purposes of this background check, special attention has been necessarily focused on the scope of firearms currently sought by Pentagon. They include numerous types of semi-automatic and fully automatic rifles as well as many other assault weapons. Continuing purchases by the applicant include drones and cruise missiles along with the latest models of compatible projectiles and matching explosives.
Notable on Pentagon’s shopping list is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. This “bunker buster” weapon -- with a weight of 30,000 pounds, set for delivery by a B-2 stealth bomber -- is for prospective use in Iran.
While considering the likely outcomes of authorizing Pentagon to purchase such large-scale assault weapons, past lethal recklessness should be viewed in context of present-day mindset. A meaningful background check must include a current psychological profile.
Despite the abundant evidence of massive carnage made possible by past Pentagon acquisitions of firearms and other weapons, the applicant is unrepentant. This indicates that the applicant is sociopathic -- unwilling to acknowledge, let alone express any semblance of remorse for, pain and suffering inflicted on human beings.
March 06, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.
While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits -- including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
More than 10 days ago, Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano initiated the forthright letter, circulating it among House colleagues. Addressed to President Obama, the letter has enabled members of Congress to take a historic stand: joining together in a public pledge not to vote for any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
The Grayson-Takano letter is a breath of fresh progressive air, blowing away the customary fog that hangs over such matters on Capitol Hill.
The Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, signed the letter. So did Barbara Lee, the caucus whip. But no signer can be found among the five vice chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Michael Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Jan Schakowsky. The letter’s current list of signers includes just 16 members of the Progressive Caucus (along with five other House signers who aren’t part of the caucus).
What about the other 54 members of the Progressive Caucus? Their absence from the letter is a clear message to the Obama White House, which has repeatedly declared its desire to cut the Social Security cost of living adjustment as well as Medicare. In effect, those 54 non-signers are signaling: Mr. President, we call ourselves “progressive” but we are unwilling to stick our necks out by challenging you in defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we want some wiggle room that you can exploit.
February 26, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Congress waited six years to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution after it opened the bloody floodgates for the Vietnam War in August 1964.
If that seems slow, consider the continuing failure of Congress to repeal the “war on terror” resolution -- the Authorization for Use of Military Force -- that sailed through, with just one dissenting vote, three days after 9/11.
Prior to casting the only “no” vote, Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke on the House floor. “As we act,” she said, “let us not become the evil that we deplore.”
We have. That’s why, more than 11 years later, Lee’s prophetic one-minute speech is so painful to watch. The “war on terror” has inflicted carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere as a matter of routine. Targets change, but the assumed prerogative to kill with impunity remains.
Now, Rep. Lee has introduced H.R. 198, a measure to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force. (This week, several thousand people have already used a RootsAction.org special webpage to email their Senators and House members about repealing that “authorization” for endless war.) Opposed to repeal, the Obama administration is pleased to keep claiming that the 137-month-old resolution justifies everything from on-the-ground troops in combat to drone strikes and kill lists to flagrant abrogation of civil liberties.
A steep uphill incline faces efforts to repeal the resolution that issued a blank political check for war in the early fall of 2001. Struggling to revoke it is a valuable undertaking. Yet even repeal would be unlikely to end the “war on terror.”
At the start of 1971, President Nixon felt compelled to sign a bill that included repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. By then, he had shifted his ostensible authority for continuing the war on Vietnam -- asserting his prerogative as commander in chief. Leaders of the warfare state never lack for rationales when they want to keep making war.
In retrospect, the U.S. “war on terror” has turned out to be even more tenacious than the U.S. war that took several million lives in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Some key similarities resonate with current circumstances. Year after year, in Congress, support for the Vietnam War was bipartisan. Presidents Johnson and Nixon preached against unauthorized violence in America’s cities while inflicting massive violence in Southeast Asia. Both presidents were fond of proclaiming fervent wishes for peace.
But unlike the horrific war in Southeast Asia, the ongoing and open-ended “war on terror” is not confined by geography or, apparently, by calendar. The search for enemies to smite (and create) is availing itself of a bottomless pit, while bottom-feeding military contractors keep making a killing.
February 14, 2013 | Permalink
Past and Prologue: The Invasion of Iraq
February 14, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.
Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.
“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”
We’ve done so little to combat climate change -- we must do more.
“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…”
Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.” The corporate environmental groups are on board, and maybe we can offer enough goodies to big corporations to make it worth their while to bring enough of Congress along.
“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”
Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)
“That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”
Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you 350.org types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.
“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”
How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.
“And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”
If you believe that, you’re the kind of sucker I appreciate -- unless you think “our war in Afghanistan” doesn’t include killing people with drones and cruise missiles.
February 13, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
With the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion coming up next month, we can expect a surge of explanations for what made that catastrophe possible. An axiom from Orwell -- “who controls the past controls the future” -- underscores the importance of such narratives.
I encountered a disturbing version last week while debating Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Largely, Wilkerson blamed deplorable war policies on a “bubble” that surrounds top officials. That’s not just faulty history; it also offers us very misleading guidance in the present day.
During our debate on Democracy Now, Wilkerson said: “What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process. . .”
But why does this happen?
“These things are happening because of that bubble that you just described,” Colonel Wilkerson told host Amy Goodman. “You can’t get through that bubble” to top foreign-policy officials, “penetrate that bubble and say, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing, both to American civil liberties and to the rest of the world’s appreciation of America, with these increased drone strikes that seem to have an endless vista for future?’”
Wilkerson went on: “This is incredible. And yet, I know how these things happen. I know how these bubbles create themselves around the president and cease and stop any kind of information getting through that would alleviate or change the situation, make the discussion more fundamental about what we’re doing in the world.”
Such a “bubble” narrative encourages people to believe that reaching the powerful war-makers with information and moral suasion is key -- perhaps the key -- to ending terrible policies. This storyline lets those war-makers off the hook -- for the past, present and future.
Hours after my debate with Wilkerson, I received an email from Fernando Andres Torres, a California-based journalist and former political prisoner in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Referring to Wilkerson as “that bubble guy,” the email said: “Who they think they are? No accountability? Or do they think the government bubble gives them immunity for all the atrocities they commit? Not in the people’s memory.”
Later in the day, Torres sent me another note: “Not sure if we can call it a bubble, ’cause a bubble is easy to break; they were in a lead bunker from where the bloody consequences of their action can pass unnoticed.”
Wilkerson’s use of the bubble concept is “a tautology, a contradiction implicit,” wrote the co-editor of DissidentVoice.org, Kim Petersen, in an article analyzing the debate. “Often people escape culpability through being outside the loop. After all, how can one be blamed for what one does not know because one was not privy to the information. Can one credibly twist this situation as a defense? Wilkerson and other Bush administration officials were in the loop -- privy to information that other people are denied -- and yet Wilkerson, in a strong sense, claims to be a victim of being in a bubble.”
February 10, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
When Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, countless journalists in the United States extolled him for a masterful performance -- making the case that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The fact that the speech later became notorious should not obscure how easily truth becomes irrelevant in the process of going to war.
Ten years later -- with Powell’s speech a historic testament of shameless deception leading to vast carnage -- we may not remember the extent of the fervent accolades. At the time, fawning praise was profuse across the USA’s mainline media spectrum, including the nation’s reputedly great newspapers.
The New York Times editorialized that Powell “was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime.” The Washington Post was more war-crazed, headlining its editorial “Irrefutable” and declaring that after Powell’s U.N. presentation “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”
Yet basic flaws in Powell’s U.N. speech were abundant. Slanted translations of phone intercepts rendered them sinister. Interpretations of unclear surveillance photos stretched to concoct the worst. Summaries of cherry-picked intelligence detoured around evidence that Iraq no longer had WMDs. Ballyhooed documents about an Iraqi quest for uranium were forgeries.
Assumptions about U.S. prerogatives also went largely unquestioned. In response to Powell’s warning that the U.N. Security Council would place itself “in danger of irrelevance” by failing to endorse a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the adulation from U.S. media embraced the notion that the United Nations could only be “relevant” by bending to Washington’s wishes. A combination of cooked intelligence and geopolitical arrogance, served up to rapturous reviews at home, set the stage for what was to come.
The invasion began six weeks after Powell’s tour de force at the United Nations. Soon, a search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was in full swing. None turned up. In January 2004 -- 11 months after Powell’s U.N. speech -- the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a report concluding that top officials in the Bush administration “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile programs.”
Left twisting in the wind was Powell’s speech to the U.N. Security Council, where he’d issued a “conservative estimate” that Iraq “has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.” The secretary of state had declared: “There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”
Nineteen months after the speech, in mid-September 2004, Powell made a terse public acknowledgment. “I think it’s unlikely that we will find any stockpiles,” he said. But no gingerly climb-down could mitigate the bloodshed that continued in Iraq.
A decade ago, Colin Powell played a starring role in a recurring type of political dramaturgy. Scripts vary, while similar dramas play out on a variety of scales. Behind a gauzy curtain, top officials engage in decision-making on war that gives democracy short shrift. For the public, crucial information that bears on the wisdom of warfare remains opaque or out of sight.
February 04, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
A lot of what we say and do becomes habit-forming. Groundhog Day 2013 could serve as a reminder that some political habits should be kicked. Here are a few:
** “Defense budget”
No, it’s not a defense budget. It’s a military budget. But countless people and organizations keep saying they want to cut “the defense budget” or reduce “defense spending.”
Anyone who wants to challenge the warfare state should dispense with this misnomer. We don’t object to “defense” -- what we do oppose, vehemently, is military spending that has nothing to do with real defense and everything to do with killing people, enforcing geopolitical control and making vast profits for military contractors. And no, they’re not “defense contractors.”
President Eisenhower’s farewell address didn’t warn against a “defense-industrial complex.”
The fact that there’s something officially called the Department of Defense -- formerly the Department of War, until 1947 -- doesn’t make its huge budget a “defense budget,” any more than renaming the Bureau of Prisons “the Bureau of Love” would mean we should talk about wanting to cut the “love budget.”
Last week, midway through a heated debate on the PBS “NewsHour,” the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said that some politicians get elected while hiding their extreme anti-abortion positions -- but would be rejected at the ballot box “if they ran on their pro-life values.”
“Pro-life” values? Not a label that abortion-rights advocates should use for opponents of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. One of the main reasons those opponents keep calling themselves “pro-life” is they want to imply that supporters of abortion rights are anti-life. Why help?
In many realms, globalization can be positive, even essential. For instance, wonderful results flow from globalizing solidarity among workers around the world. Likewise, the planetary spread of awareness and cooperation among people taking action to protect the environment, stop human-rights abuses and end war.
Corporate globalization is another matter. Its destructive effects are lashing every continent with voracious commercialization along with exploitive races to the bottom for cheap labor, extraction of raw materials, privatization, flattening of protective tariffs, overriding of national laws that protect workers and replacement of democratic possibilities with the rule of big money.
January 29, 2013 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
With President Obama’s second term underway and huge decisions looming on Capitol Hill, consider this statement from Howard Zinn: “When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”
With so much at stake, we can’t afford to forget our role. For starters, it must include public clarity.
Let’s face it: despite often nice-sounding rhetoric from the president, this administration has continued with a wide range of policies antithetical to progressive values.
Corporate power, climate change and perpetual war are running amok while civil liberties and economic fairness take a beating. President Obama has even put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts.
Last fall, the vast majority of progressives voted for Obama to prevent the presidency from going to a Republican Party replete with racism, misogyny, anti-gay bigotry and xenophobia. Defeating the right wing was cause for celebration. And now is the time to fight for genuine progressive policies.
But let’s be real about our current situation. Obama has led the Democratic Party -- including, at the end of the legislative day, almost every Democrat on Capitol Hill -- deeper into an abyss of corporate-driven austerity, huge military outlays, normalization of civil-liberties abuses and absence of significant action on climate change. Leverage from the Oval Office is acting as a brake on many -- in Congress and in progressive constituency groups -- who would prefer to be moving legislation in a progressive direction.
Hopefully we’ve learned by now that progressive oratory is no substitute for progressive policies. The soaring rhetoric in Obama’s inaugural address this week offered inspiring words about a compassionate society where everyone is respected and we look out for each other. Unfortunately and routinely, the president’s lofty words have allowed him to slide by many progressives despite policies that often amount to a modern version of “social liberalism, fiscal conservatism.”
The New York Times headline over its front-page coverage, “Obama Offers a Liberal Vision in Inaugural Address,” served up the current presidential recipe: a spoonful of rhetorical sugar to help the worsening austerity go down. But no amount of verbal sweetness can make up for assorted policies aligned with Wall Street and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
“At their inaugurals,” independent journalist I.F. Stone noted long ago, our presidents “make us the dupes of our hopes.”
Unlike four years ago, Obama has a presidential record -- and its contrasts with Monday’s oratorical performance are stark. A president seeking minimally fair economic policies, for instance, would not compound the disaster of four years of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury by replacing him with Jack Lew -- arguably even more of a corporate flack.
January 22, 2013 | Permalink