Trust Us.

Posted: August 19, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Last night, Glenn Greenwald’s partner was the target of a blatant intimidation attempt by UK authorities who detained him for hours under the powers granted them under anti-terrorism statutes. Glenn’s full account of the incident can be found here. This act backfired, both in instilling Greenwald and his partner with more determination to expose the misdeeds of the U.S.’s deep state and in stoking further outrage among observers, including Andrew Sullivan, whose shellacking of the UK’s David Cameron is well worth reading. The most important way in which the detention of David Miranda backfired, though, was in illustrating how policies supposedly crafted to combat terrorism can be abused to harass those who annoy politicians holding the levers of power. 

Explain to us again how we’re supposed to trust the U.S. government with sweeping surveillance powers–powers that could very, very easily be turned to coerce citizens–under what’s essentially a “trust us” framework.

Sullivan summarizes the revelations that leave us at the “trust us” frame:

…I’ve watched the debate closely and almost all the checks I supported have been proven illusory. The spying is vastly more extensive than anyone fully comprehended before; the FISA court has been revealed as toothless and crippled; and many civilians have had their privacy accidentally violated over 3000 times. The president, in defending the indefensible, has damaged himself and his core reputation for honesty and candor. These cumulative revelations have exposed this program as, at a minimum, dangerous to core liberties and vulnerable to rank abuse. I’ve found myself moving further and further to Glenn’s position.

The U.S.’s British allies just illustrated the danger in trusting governments with sweeping anti-“terror” powers that could easily be abused to intimidate and harass dissenters. Remember that when they ask you to trust them with your entire telecommunications history.

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Difficulty

Posted: May 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

It’s hard to get started writing a blog again. I’ve had so much downtime from activism–and so many conflicting feelings about it–that I find myself paralyzed by the thought of putting my toe back into painful waters. I can’t watch and not write, however, so I hope readers will accept an advance apology for the navel-gazing it will take to get going again.

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (.pdf), the U.S. spends around $700 billion per year on the military. That sum roughly doubled since 2001, and it accounts for about 43 percent of all military spending in the world in 2010. Yet, even in the context of an ongoing unemployment crisis and widespread opposition for the major war in which the U.S. is embroiled, the Pentagon had the audacity to drop a spending plan (.pdf) earlier this month that calls for a continued increase in military spending and to portray the massive levels of outlays on war made at the height of the Iraq War as “breaking faith” with the military. To paraphrase Dr. King, to use for violence these resources better spent rescuing the 50 percent of Americans now in or near poverty is demonic.

The giant named Militarism is nothing if not nimble: last year at this time, the Pentagon used the words of a friend of the King family to insinuate that, though King’s plain words decry all forms of violence and war, today’s wars are different and he would “understand” them. That’s almost as brazen as war industry giant Boeing’s attempt to capture the King mojo for their public relations efforts, donating to the fund for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial fund while making billions from the “business of burning human beings.” We need a new phrase–“King-washing,” maybe?–to describe the efforts of career militarists and war profiteers to grasp at the King mantle.

It is natural for people and organizations to want to associate with King. He was a true prophet in the best sense of the word, someone whose courage, dignity and clear moral vision burned so hot and bright that his after-image remains in our eyes long after he’s gone. But there is a deep, deep difference between trying to associate by emulation and association by manipulation.

Today is MLK Day. For many, it will be a day of service, and that’s certainly an incredibly powerful way to honor King’s memory. But equally powerful is the demand that we hear his message–his whole message, including his condemnation of war as a means to settle conflict–and use it as a genuine opportunity for reflection and action. This year it is especially critical that we do so, as the policy choices waiting in the wings in Washington, D.C. over the next few months so tragically resemble those made regarding the poverty programs of King’s day and the Vietnam War.

Please take a moment to share our latest video. Then, write to President Obama and tell him to honor Dr. King by repudiating the Pentagon’s bid to grow while other programs are cut. Tell him you want him to lead the revolution of values talked about by King–and that that revolution must start by shutting off the “demonic, destructive suction tube” at the Pentagon.

Join the War Costs campaign on Facebook, and follow Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe on Twitter.

Since the deficit committee officially failed to produce a plan as of last week, expect the war profiteer spin to hit the fan. Here’s an early warning of what to expect, courtesy of Reuters last week:

Failure of a special congressional committee to strike a deficit-reduction deal is expected to unleash desperate lobbying by U.S. arms makers to get lawmakers to block $600 billion in automatic cuts.

Their weapon of choice: jobs.

Unfortunately for them, War Costs’ new video exposes the truth about massive military budgets and employment: military spending is a job killer.

But, don’t expect the truth to get in the way of a good propaganda campaign.

The profiteer’s agitprop push is already underway. Searching for “defense cuts” on Google early this morning already brings up articles high in the search feed from paid war-industry shills in the top results, notably a lengthy piece from Loren Thompson, perennial paid defender of massive military budgets (himself on the war industry dime). His argument, that Obama could lose the election due to job losses from military cuts, is one you better get used to seeing.

This argument is part of a massive, coordinated effort headed by war industry CEOs and their advocates on Capitol HIll to push elected officials to protect the massive, corruption-filled war budget by slashing social safety nets. This would be a disaster for our economy. As we show in our latest War Costs video, military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money, and Congress must cut this spending if we are to get out of this unemployment crisis.

Massive Military Budgets Cost Jobs

“If we’re really serious about building anything approximate to a full employment economy, or at least getting us out of the damn recession, the best thing to do is to start cutting the military.”

Robert Pollin is the co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He and his colleague, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, are working on a new update to an employment study that discusses the jobs impact of various kinds of government spending. PERI has a strong message for elected officials: if you are going to cut, cut the Pentagon budget.

Brave New Foundation’s War Costs project spoke with Pollin and other experts several times over the past several weeks as press reports indicated a disposition among the many elected officials to spare the Pentagon from the cuts required to the budget by the debt ceiling law. The consensus of these experts–as opposed to those funded heavily by military money and war profiteers–is that the U.S.’s massive military budgets are terrible for job creation, and that the talking points coming from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the war-profiteer front campaign, “Second To None,” are specious propaganda.

PERI’s study uses Department of Commerce data to determine how many people are employed by various kinds of spending, including military, health care, green energy and education. They also examine the employment effects of basic consumer spending. Their discoveries, validated repeatedly as they’ve updated the study every two years since the original study in 2007, might startle those who bought the Washington consensus on military spending. In short, among the kinds of spending examined, military spending actually costs jobs compared to any other form. It’s the only spending that scored worse than basic consumer spending, and it created far less than half the jobs created by education spending.

Here are the numbers from their latest available study (.pdf):

Job Creation Per $1 Billion Spent:

  • Military: 11,200
  • Tax Cuts for Personal Consumption: 15,100
  • Clean Energy: 16,800
  • Health Care: 17,200
  • Education: 26,700

In short, at bare minimum, every billion dollars spent on the military costs at least 3,900 jobs compared to other spending types, and if compared to the best job creator from the study, education, $1 billion in military spending costs 15,500 jobs.

And, according to some experts, the actual jobs costs of massive military budgets over the past several decades could be in the millions.

Dr. Lloyd Dumas is a professor of Political Economy, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Texas Dallas and the author of The Peacekeeping Economy. His new book features an extended discussion of what makes manufacturing firms competitive: investment in research and development to develop new tools and techniques to increase product quality, production efficiency and to develop new technologies. He says the massive military budgets of recent years, especially the massive R&D budgets at the Pentagon, have severely undermined this process in the civilian manufacturing sector in the U.S. by luring scientists and engineers out of civilian R&D and into military programs.

“Large military budgets are very bad for job creation especially in the long run, and actually responsible in my view for much of the loss of American industrial jobs…that’s a job killer. …As a matter of fact, cutting defense spending is absolutely crucial to revitalizing American industry and creating millions of jobs that we’ve already lost–getting them back and getting more on top of that.”

Military contractors and their advocates, desperate to prevent cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget, point to critical technological developments that spring from military research. For example, the head of the Aerospace Industries Association, Marion Blakey, said in a recent press conference:

“For decades we’ve seen how investments in military aerospace endeavors lead to breakthroughs that benefit all of us – the Internet and GPS that grew out of DARPA research come to mind.”

Not so fast, according to Dumas. While he concedes that some spill-over effect exists, Dumas pointedly rebuts the implication that we should fund military R&D because of asserted benefits to civilian life. That way of obtaining innovative products is highly inefficient because military application drives research, experiment design and which results get attention. This means that discoveries that could have civilian application come at a much, much higher cost to society than if society sought those innovations directly through civilian research.

Despite the fact that economic data clearly suggest that military spending is a terrible priority for a government supposedly concerned with job creation, and despite the negative effect of this spending on the United States’ long-term competitiveness in the world market, an astounding number of representatives in Congress, Pentagon officials and war industry executives want to protect the military budget from cuts. Even worse, they are trying to wrap their campaign in the one word that certainly should not be applied to military spending: jobs. Add a healthy dose of fear-mongering about security into the mix, and you have a killer message campaign run largely with taxpayer dollars to protect war industry revenues.

The Fear Campaign

War industry CEOs have allies all over Capitol Hill pushing Congress and the administration to protect the bloated military budget from cuts.

For example, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) recently sent a high-temperature letter to the deficit committee, including the mind-blowing assertion that less military spending will result in longer wars–irrespective of the fact that we’re spending all this money on the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan. He’s continued his agitation after the committee’s failure, which isn’t all that surprising considering his massive campaign cash take from the war industry.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has filled the airwaves in recent weeks with sky-is-falling rhetoric, which last week included a flat-out declaration that he sees protecting the business interests of the military contractors as part of his job.

McKeon and Panetta have both included in their scare-mongering the theme that cuts to the military budget would “hollow out” the military. Of course, they always fail to mention that the Pentagon’s budget would only be drawn down to roughly 2007 topline number for the military budget (which, by the way, McKeon enthusiastically voted for–twice), after which it would resume growing again.

The real lipstick that McKeon, Panetta and others put on their propaganda pig, however, is the jobs fiction cooked up by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a “nonprofit” governed by executives from the major military contractor organizations which advocates for their businesses on Capitol Hill. AIA paid Dr. Steven Fuller from George Mason University to write a paper about job losses that would occur if sequestration–the across-the-board cuts triggered by deficit committee failure–took place. Fuller’s estimate checked in at roughly 1 million jobs.

Pollin, however, takes strong issue with AIA’s methods in the debate, pointing to their study’s total lack of context.

“The real point is to compare the relative employment impacts of military spending versus spending on domestic infrastructure, on the green economy, on health care and on education. …It is fair to say that every time we take money out of these alternatives, it is costing the economy jobs by putting money into the military.”

Long-time war industry observer Bill Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, had a simple description for the Panetta/McKeon/war industry media push around jobs. He called it simply, “a propaganda campaign.”

“To me there’s no question that this scare campaign about jobs by the Pentagon and the industryis a propaganda campaign. And the reason I say that is, first of all, it’s coordinated. So for example, one day an executive from the Aerospace INdustries Association says we’re going to increase unemployment 1 percent if we make significant cuts in military spending. The next day, Secretary of Defense Leon panetta calls congress and says, ‘Guess what? We’re going to gain 1 percent in unemployment if we make significant cuts in military spending.’ So they’ve obviously sat down and gotten their stories straight. They’re working shoulder-to-shoulder to scare people into spending more on the military than we need.”

Hartung pointed out the industry’s penchant for inflated jobs numbers, urging readers to take them with a healthy dose of skepticism. (See our latest video for more information.)

Right now, Congress and the administration are the target of a coordinated propaganda campaign involving war industry allies in Congress and the administration, funded in large part by huge corporations whose executives rely on the taxpayer for lavish lifestyles. This spin campaign flies in the face of what economists know to be true: that military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money. If Congress acts on the “information” they’ve obtained during this propaganda push, there’s a real chance they will protect the worst kind of spending for job creation–the military budget–by slashing other kinds of spending that create far more jobs. This would be a disastrous decision that would prolong and deepen our economic woes.

We’ve got to push back with the truth: military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money.

In response to this propaganda campaign from the war industry and their allies, Brave New Foundation’s War Costs campaign has launched our own effort to break through to Washington, D.C. with the truth. We have set up a tool that includes a new video about the job-killing impact of war spending, targeted at your elected officials. Please use it today and let them know that you want Congress to make real cuts to the war budget to save our economy.

The clock may have run out on the deficit committee, but the real fight to cut job-killing Pentagon budgets is just beginning, and we need your help. Please watch our latest video and send it to your elected officials today.

Silence

Posted: July 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’ve not posted here in a while–sorry about that. Will change in the next few days. I’ve got a few ideas banging around in my head for posts, but haven’t made time to put them into words on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan in any significant numbers. While the Afghanistan War long ago lost a strategic rationale supported by actual outcomes on the ground (insurgent-initiated attacks continue to rise every year, despite the massive escalations of the past two years), Bin Laden’s death obliterates the last plausible excuse for keeping troops in Afghanistan any longer. It’s time to bring the troops home.

If you agree, please sign our petition to the White House to start a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan following Bin Laden’s death.

The celebrations following the death of Bin Laden were about more than the demise of a terrorist kingpin. They were an outpouring of relief and a release of tension–there is a feeling that something is ending. As one troop told the Army Times, “He’s dead. Can we go home now?”

It’s safe to say that that’s how most Americans feel. Even while Bin Laden was still at large, 73 percent of Americans wanted significant troop withdrawals this summer, and more than half of likely voters wanted all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan within a year. With Osama Bin Laden now buried in the ocean, it’s more than likely that almost everyone is asking the question, “He’s dead. Can we go home now?”

The White House, though, doesn’t seem to understand what most Americans want. According to The Hill:

The White House has stressed that the death of bin Laden is a major victory in the battle against al Qaeda, but should not be seen as a reason to change the U.S. game plan in Afghanistan.

Really? The U.S. invaded Afghanistan to get Bin Laden and destroy al-Qaeda. General Petraeus admits al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan, and Bin Laden is dead. The fact that the administration does not view the death of Bin Laden and the driving out of al-Qaeda as a reason to draw the Afghanistan War to a close shows just how disconnected the war strategy has become from the original rationale for the U.S. invasion in the first place. In fact, in pursuit of the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, we’ve been scratching the backs of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, who may be implicated in allowing Bin Laden to shelter in their country.

But, if the death of Osama Bin Laden isn’t a good enough reason to change the game plan in Afghanistan, here’s another: the counterinsurgency strategy is a failure on its face. In the first quarter of 2011, insurgent attacks more than doubled compared to the first quarter of 2009, when President Obama took office and doubled down in Afghanistan. NATO expects insurgent attacks to continue to escalate as fighting season commences. So when the fighting heats up, what possible explanation can we offer to the next military family who loses their loved ones following Bin Laden’s death? What possible rationale remains? Supporting the corrupt, criminal Kabul government, which includes the man who brought Bin Laden to Afghanistan in the first place, along with the warlord that helped him escape Tora Bora? Please.

Bin Laden once said:

“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. …All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations.”

This is the first week after Bin Laden’s death, and during this week we’ll spend more than $2 billion on Afghanistan War. Every week we continue to do so is a week when Bin Laden is laughing at us from the grave.

He’s dead. We should go home now.

Join the tens of thousands of people calling for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan following Bin Laden’s death at RethinkAfghanistan.com.

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he’s expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that’s utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer “a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress.” Petraeus’s Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have “impressed” people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”

As if to underline Burgess’ point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today’s L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the “optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating.” Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have “allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan.”

“The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north,” analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. “There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems.”

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

“I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said. “I don’t see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately.”

McCain only sees what he wants to see, apparently. A Rasmussen poll conducted March 4-5, 2011, found that 52 percent of likely voters want all U.S. troops brought home this year, with more than half of those wanting them brought home immediately (31 percent of likely voters). In January, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan (including 86 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans), with 41 percent strongly favoring such actions. And despite McCain’s efforts to blot it out, there is, in fact, a resolution being offered before Congress “calling for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan either in 30 days or no later than Dec. 31, 2011.”

Petraeus and McCain can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the counterinsurgency gamble failed, and the American people want our troops out, pronto. Nobody buys the counterinsurgency propaganda anymore, and the more these guys trot it out, the more damage it does to their credibility.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join your neighbors for a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your hometown.