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U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America's wars have defended America's freedom. But the historical record doesn't bear out this contention. In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.
Shortly after the United States entered World War I, seven states passed laws abridging freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In June 1917, they were joined by Congress, which passed the Espionage Act. This law granted the federal government the power to censor publications and ban them from the mail, and made the obstruction of the draft or of enlistment in the armed forces punishable by a hefty fine and up to 20 years' imprisonment. Thereafter, the U.S. government censored newspapers and magazines while conducting prosecutions of the war's critics, sending over 1,500 to prison with lengthy sentences. This included the prominent labor leader and Socialist Party presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs. Meanwhile, teachers were fired from the public schools and universities, elected state and federal legislators critical of the war were prevented from taking office, and religious pacifists who refused to carry weapons after they were drafted into the armed forces were forcibly clad in uniform, beaten, stabbed with bayonets, dragged by ropes around their necks, tortured, and killed. It was the worst outbreak of government repression in U.S. history, and sparked the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union.
October 9, 2014 marked the end of an era for Boston's homeless, ill and marginalized residents when the sole bridge to Long Island was closed after a state inspection declared it too unstable for vehicles. One of several small islands ("Harbor Islands") of the Massachusetts Bay, Long Island's geographic separation from the mainland has made it a prime location for isolating social outcasts over the years. In 1882, the City of Boston purchased property on Long Island for an almshouse, a residence for unwed mothers, a chronic disease hospital, a nursing school and a "Home for the Indigent." In subsequent decades, a treatment center for alcoholics was added. Recently, it's the site of homeless shelters, Boston Public Health residential facilities and a variety of residential programs for "recovering" addicts and people involved with the Courts.
Reachable only by limited shuttles, Long Island effectively served to keep homeless and sick people out of sight and out of mind for over a century. In recent years, people who stay at the various shelters cannot get to the Island before 2 PM or after 9 PM; once there, they cannot leave if the shuttles aren't running; and on most days, shelter residents must depart the Island no later than by the 9 AM mainland-bound shuttle.
Political language can be used, George Orwell said in 1946, "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." In order to justify its global assassination program, the Obama administration has had to stretch words beyond their natural breaking points. For instance, any male 14 years or older found dead in a drone strike zone is a "combatant" unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving him innocent. We are also informed that the constitutional guarantee of "due process" does not imply that the government must precede an execution with a trial. I think the one word most degraded and twisted these days, to the goriest ends, is the word "imminent."
Just what constitutes an "imminent" threat? Our government has long taken bold advantage of the American public's willingness to support lavish spending on armaments and to accept civilian casualties in military adventures abroad and depletion of domestic programs at home, when told these are necessary responses to deflect precisely such threats. The government has vastly expanded the meaning of the word "imminent." This new definition is crucial to the U.S. drone program, designed for projecting lethal force throughout the world. It provides a legal and moral pretext for the annihilation of people far away who pose no real threat to us at all.
On May 23, President Obama gave a major address from the National Defense University, ON THE FUTURE OF OUR FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM, in which he acknowledged for the first time the US government’s still officially secret program of assassination by remotely controlled drones. I was able to watch this televised speech from the privileged vantage of a federal prison on the last day of a sentence resulting from my protest of drones lethally operated from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri over various countries around the world.
Over the previous six months in the Federal Prison Camp at Yankton, South Dakota, I had watched from afar as the discussion on drone warfare emerged from the fringe and into the mainstream. Fellow prisoners brought me clippings on the subject from their local newspapers and kept me apprised of what they heard on the evening news. The American people seemed to be just awakening to the reality and consequences of wars being fought and assassinations carried out by unmanned but heavily armed planes controlled by combatants sitting at computer screens at stateside bases far from the conflict.
Part I - The Best of the Worst
Given the dangerous results of the recent election in the United States - one that saw the Republicans, a right-wing party increasingly populated with neocon warmongers, reactionaries, and plutocrats, take control of both houses of Congress - it might be time to take a look at a sober look at US democracy.
We can begin be taking note of the generic observation made by Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worse form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The implication here is that democracy is really not the God-blessed system so many of Americans take it to be. For instance, the public in a democracy is as just as vulnerable to manipulation by various elites and interest groups as are those in non-democratic environments. The difference is that a democracy has a built-in procedure which allows citizens to have second thoughts about past manipulation. Thus they can kick out the bastards they were originally persuaded to kick in - even if it is often only to replace them with a new set of bastards. This repeated procedure results in a time limit on the damage elected leaders can do. It is, of course, possible that democratically elected politicians can come close to ruining a nation (their own as well as others) even given their limited tenure.
The United States is a society incapable of producing a major documentary film opposing the institution of war and explicitly advocating its abolition. If it did so, the major corporate media outlets would not sing such a film's praises.
Yet Watchers of the Sky is beloved by the US corporate media because it opposes genocide, not war. I'm not aware of any opponents of war who don't also oppose genocide. In fact, many oppose the two as a single evil without the stark distinction between them. But the anti-genocide academic nonprofit industrial complex has become dominated by leading advocates for war.
Following a worldwide day of actions of 100,000 registered nurses and health workers demanding substantial improvements in safeguards for the deadly Ebola virus, California officials have announced landmark mandatory Ebola guidelines that should be a model for federal and state action for all US hospitals, National Nurses United said today.
NNU, which has sponsored two months of actions to upgrade Ebola protections, and its California affiliate, California Nurses Association, praised the new standards released today by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) under the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown.
It’s been 100 days since Darren Wilson killed unarmed young African American Michael Brown and the world is watching and waiting to hear the forgone conclusion of white officer Wilson’s non-indictment. Many expect a violent reaction from an angry community when there is no indictment.
There is little mainstream coverage of the many groups within the St. Louis region that have begun important conversations, nonviolence trainings and planning to make positive change in their communities. It is important to understand and challenge violence in all of its forms (direct and structural). While we are all familiar with direct violence, it is just as important to understand structural violence, which includes many forms of injustice ultimately backed by the threat of violence. If you have warehouses of food and our families are starving you need guns to keep us from taking what we need. Poverty is structural violence.
This is the outline of a talk I once gave at the FOR Peacemaker Training Institute.
FIRST, DO NO HARM (Hippocrates): consider consequences short term and long term, intended and otherwise.
EARTH FIRST/GAIA (Lovelock): the earth, its creatures and its elements are a single organism of interacting, interdependent parts; avoid tribalism, nationalism, classism.
The film, Kill the Messenger, based on a true story, recounts a California reporter named Gary Webb. It discussed his real life effort to link the CIA with the 1980s crack epidemic and funding of the Contras. Webb implied that drug smuggling by Nicaraguans into American cities was intentionally overlooked by the CIA and a Reagan Administration weapons program in order to supply right wing anti-democratic fighters in Nicaragua. Webb maintained that the CIA knew of the drug trafficking operation. Reagan needed that operation since following passage of the Boland Amendment Congress would not help fund any Contra-oriented operation.
The movie essentially shows how Webb took on the world while no one else listened. The San Jose Mercury News decided to let him run his "Dark Alliance" series in 1996 and the story brought Webb notoriety. Other larger newspapers such as the LA Times, New York Times and Washington Post coalesced to marginalize the Mercury's editors and Webb, claiming that the story lacked credibility. They argued this was justified since Webb never nailed down a completely verifiable CIA source. They thought the story was plausible and interesting, but too circumstantial in proportion to the magnitude of its accusations and assertions. There is however, now evidence, based on the work of Robert Parry, that the CIA used its connections with the major print news publications to undermine Webb's work. Webb put himself out there and the mainstream news media (as well as his own publication) left him hanging out to dry.