Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention and CCPJ leaders Virginia Rovnyak and Bob McAdams for passing out gun locks and working to reduce gun violence in our community! See the video here.
If you haven't been hiding under a partisan rock for the past several years, you're aware that President Barack Obama has given himself the sort-of legalish right to murder anyone anywhere with missiles from drones.
He's not the only one who wants that power.
Yes, President Obama has claimed to have put restrictions on whom he'll murder, but in no known case has he followed any of his self-imposed non-legal restrictions. Nowhere has someone been arrested instead of killed, while in many known cases people have been killed who could have easily been arrested. In no known case has someone been killed who was an "imminent and continuing threat to the United States," or for that matter just plain imminent or just plain continuing. It's not even clear how someone could be both an imminent and a continuing threat until you study up on how the Obama administration has redefined imminent to mean theoretically imaginable someday. And, of course, in numerous cases civilians have been killed in large numbers and people have been targeted without identifying who they are. Lying dead from U.S. drone strikes are men, women, children, non-Americans, and Americans, not a single one of them charged with a crime or their extradition sought.
Who else would like to be able to do this?
One answer is most nations on earth. We now read news stories from Syria of people dying from a drone strike, with the reporter unable to determine if the missile came from a U.S., U.K., Russian, or Iranian drone. Just wait. The skies will be filled if the trend is not reversed.
Another answer is Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, but not Jill Stein. Yes, those first three candidates have said they want this power.
Another answer, however, should be just as disturbing as those already mentioned. Military commanders around the world want the authority to murder people with drones without bothering to get approval from civilian officials back home. Here's a fun quiz:
How many zones has the United States divided the globe into for purposes of complete military domination, and what are their names?
Answer: Six. They are Northcom, Southcom, Eucom, Pacom, Centcom, and Africom. (Jack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack were already taken.) In normal English they are: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Western Asia, and Africa.
Now here comes the hard question. Which of those zones has a new would-be commander who was just encouraged by a prominent Senator in an open Congressional hearing to acquire the authority to murder people in his zone without getting approval from the U.S. president?
Clue #1. It's a zone with the empire's headquarters not even located in the zone, so that this new commander speaks of killing people there as playing "an away game."
Clue #2. It's a poor zone that does not manufacture weapons but it saturated with weapons made in the United States plus France, Germany, the U.K., Russia, and China.
Clue #3. Many of the people in this zone have skin resembling people who are disproportionately targets of U.S. police department killings.
Did you get it right? That's correct: Africom is being encouraged by Senator Lindsay Graham, who a short time back wanted to be president, to blow people up with missiles from flying robots without presidential approval.
Now here's where the morality of war can wreak havoc with humanitarian imperialism. If a drone killing is not part of a war, then it looks like murder. And handing out licenses to murder to additional people looks like a worsening of the state of affairs in which just one person claims to hold such a license. But if drone killing is part of a war, and Captain Africom claims to be at war with Somalia, or with a group in Somalia, for example, well then, he wouldn't need special permission to blow up a bunch of people with manned aircraft; so why should he need it when using robotic unmanned bombers?
The trouble is that saying the word "war" doesn't have the moral or legal powers often imagined. No current U.S. war is legal under either the U.N. Charter or the Kellogg-Briand Pact. And the intuition that murdering people with a drone is wrong can't be a useful one if murdering people with a piloted plane is right, and vice versa. We actually have to choose. We actually have to set aside the scale of the killing, the type of technology, the role of robots, and all other extraneous factors, and choose whether it's acceptable, moral, legal, smart, or strategic to murder people or not.
If that seems too much of a mental strain, here's an easier guide. Just imagine what your response would be if the ruler of Europe Command asked for the authority to murder at will people of his choosing along with anybody too close to them at the time.
To sign this petition to Charlottesville City Council, click here.
aside 1 square foot of space in a prominent public place, on the
Downtown Mall or in a park, where a peace pole can be erected.
peace pole is a popular means of expressing a desire for peace around
the world, including in the United States, where peace poles are found
in public plazas and parks in many locations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_pole
A peace pole can be purchased for $200 with "May Peace Prevail on Earth" written on four sides in four chosen languages: http://stores.bigwaterhosting.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=peacepoles&Category_Code=peace_poles
Charlottesville's monuments to wars, including the Native American genocide, the defense of slavery, and the slaughter of 3.8 million Vietnamese, dominate public space. Removing them would be ideal.
An easier method of quickly
displaying our city's support for peace would be to create a peace pole.
Charlottesville's city council has spoken up repeatedly over the years
for peace, for reduced military spending, for transition to peaceful
industries, and for a halt to particular wars. But a visitor to
Charlottesville cannot observe any of that anywhere on the landscape.
Charlottesville has four sister cities, and signs indicating them are visible in Charlottesville. But the motto of Sister Cities International, "Peace Through People," is nowhere to be found. There is no location set aside to celebrate these relationships, as there could be in combination with a peace pole.
Please send this petition to everyone you know in Charlottesville, Va.: http://bit.ly/cvillepeacepole
We will deliver the petition to Charlottesville City Council on a date to be set in future.
When someone commits mass murder in the United States and is tied, however significantly, to a foreign terrorist group, there remains a section of the U.S. population willing to recognize and point out that no ideology, fit of hatred, or mental derangement can do the same damage without high-tech weaponry that it does with it. Why does this understanding vanish into the ether of ignorance and apathy at the water's edge?
ISIS videos display U.S. guns, U.S. Humvees, U.S. weaponry of all sorts. The profits and political corruption that bring those weapons into existence are the same as those that litter the United States with guns. Shouldn't we be bothered by both?
The same politicians who claim they'd like to restrict U.S. gun sales have flooded the world markets with the weaponry of mass slaughter. President Obama's administration has approved more weapons sales abroad than any other administration since World War II. Over 60 percent of those weapons have been sold to the Middle East. Add to that total huge quantities of U.S. weapons in the hands of the United States or its proxies in the Middle East -- or formerly in their hands but seized by ISIS.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived restrictions at the State Department on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar, all states that had donated to the Clinton Foundation. Saudi Arabia had chipped in at least $10 million, and Boeing added another $900,000 as Secretary Clinton made it her mission to get Saudi Arabia the planes with which it would attack Yemen.
In the past five years, the United States has sold weapons to at least 96 countries. As of 2011 the United States accounted for 79% of the value of transfer agreements to ship weapons to governments in the Middle East, 79% also to poor nations around the world, and 77% of the value of total agreements to ship weapons to other countries, according to the Congressional Research Service. By 2014, those percentages had dropped a bit but remained over 50%.
In 2013, the big war profiteers spent $65 million lobbying Congress. There's a big headline when the National Rifle Association spends $3 million. We ask if black lives matter. In addition, do foreign lives matter?
Toddlers with guns kill more people in the United States than do foreign terrorists -- even adding in domestic terrorists somehow tied to foreign ideas. But we don't hate toddlers. We don't bomb toddlers and whoever's near them. We don't think of toddlers as inherently evil or backward or belonging to the wrong religion. We forgive them instantly, without struggle. It's not their fault the guns were left lying around.
But is it the fault of ISIS that Iraq was destroyed? That Libya was thrown into chaos? That the region was flooded with U.S.-made weapons? That future ISIS leaders were tortured in U.S. camps? That life was made into a nightmare? Maybe not, but it is their fault they murder people. They are adults. They know what they are doing.
True enough. But could they do it without the weapons?
On the domestic scene, we are able to recognize that other nations have conflict, hatred, and crime, but that -- in the absence of all the guns -- the crimes do less damage. Australia got rid of its guns following a killing less deadly than Orlando. Now a gun in Australia costs more than anyone would be likely to get out of an armed robbery. Now Australia has no mass killings, apart from its participation in U.S. wars.
On the foreign scene, can we recognize that regions armed to the teeth with U.S. weapons, wars with U.S. weapons on both sides, and CIA and Pentagon proxies fighting each other in Syria are not the inevitable result of backwardness in Arab culture, but rather the result of giving free rein to merchants of death?
If that headline sounds a bit like "God Is Dead" to you, you just might be from the United States. Only what the people who live in this one country of the American hemisphere call "an American" carries that variety of flag passion. If, on the other hand, you find watching paint dry more engaging than the suspense of waiting for the next Flag Day, you just might be a candidate for citizen of the world.
In fact, I think Flag Day needs to be canceled. It's not a holiday that the government, much less the military, much less the rest of the United States, actually takes off work. It's rumored, in fact, that any socialistic interruption in work schedules would be offensive to the flag herself.
So we can indeed cancel Flag Day just by totally ignoring it, along with the overlapping Flag Week, the simultaneous U.S. Army's Birthday, the mythological tales about Betsy Ross, and the celebration of a war in 1812 that failed to take over Canada, got Washington D.C. burned, and pointlessly killed lots of human beings in a battle we celebrate with bad singing auditions before every sporting event because a colored piece of cloth survived it.
This Flag Day, instead of trying to add, if possible, yet more publicly displayed U.S. flags to those already flying, take down a flag instead. Don't burn it, though. There's no sense in giving flag worshipers martyrs. Instead, I recommend Betsy Rossing it. Cut and stitch that flag into clothing you can donate to those in need of clothing -- a significant section of the public in fact in this incredibly over-wealthy country in which the wealth is concentrated beyond medieval levels -- a situation from which we are distracted in part by all the darn flags.
Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, we have a lovely city with tons of natural beauty, history, landmarks, available imagery, talented artists, an engaged citizenry capable of civil debate, and yet no Charlottesville flag. We do have a huge debate over whether to remove from their prominent positions all the statues of Confederate fighters. Less controversial, costly, and time-consuming would be to add to the local scene a Charlottesville flag that did not celebrate slavery, racism, war, or environmental destruction.
What? Now I'm in favor of flags? Of course, I'm in favor of pretty pieces of cloth waving around when they're not icons of war and separation. In the United States, local and state flags don't create any sense of superiority or hostility toward the rest of humanity. But the flag of war, the flag that the U.S. military has now planted in 175 countries, does just that.
UVA alumnus Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Flag Day the year before pushing the United States into World War I, as part of that propaganda campaign. Congress joined in the year before the war in Korea. Five years later "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, an oath originally written by a fascist preacher, originally administered with the pledgers holding their right arms straight, outward and up. This was changed to the hand-over-heart routine during World War II because the Nazis had adopted the original salute as their own. Nowadays, visitors from abroad are often shocked to see U.S. children instructed to stand and robotically chant an oath of obedience to a piece of colored cloth.
To many "Americans" it comes naturally. The flag has always been here and always will be, just like the wars under which it is fought, for which lives are taken and risked, for which lives are even exchanged. Families that lose a loved one in war are presented with a flag instead. A majority of Americans supports freedom of speech in many outrageous instances, including the right of massive media corporations to present us with false justifications for wars. But a majority supports banning the burning of flags -- or rather, of the U.S. flag. You can burn the flags of 96% of humanity. You can burn your state or local flag. You can burn a world flag. But burning a U.S. flag would be a sacrilege. Sacrificing young lives to that flag in yet another war is, however, a sacrament.
But the U.S. military now has robotic drones it can send to war. Robots are also perfectly capable of swearing the pledge of allegiance, although they have no hearts to put their hands over.
Perhaps we should reserve our actual human hearts for things robots cannot do. Perhaps we should liberate our landscape from both Confederate statues and the ubiquitous flag of the still crusading union empire.
In the early 1980s almost nobody from the United States traveled to the Soviet Union or vice versa. The Soviets wouldn't let anybody out, and good Americans were disinclined to visit the Evil Empire. But a woman in California named Sharon Tennison took the threat of nuclear war with the seriousness it deserved and still deserves. She got a group of friends together and asked the Russian consulate for permission to visit Russia, make friends, and learn.
Russia said fine. The U.S. government, in the form of the FBI and USAID, told them not to go, warned that they would not be permitted to move freely once there, and generally communicated that they, the U.S. government employees, had internalized their own propaganda. Tennison and company went anyway, had a wonderful experience, and spoke at events with slide shows upon their return, thus attracting many more people for the next trip.
Now it was Tennison's turn to brief the flabbergasted and ignorant U.S. government staff who had virtually no actual knowledge of Russia beyond what she gave them. This was back in the day when President Ronald "Is this a film or reality?" Reagan said that 20 million dead Americans would be acceptable in a war. Yet the so-called intelligence so-called community didn't know its assets from its elbows. War as a "last resort" was being considered without having considered literally any other resorts. Someone had to step in, and Sharon Tennison decided she'd try.
Those first trips took courage, to defy the U.S. government, and to operate in a Soviet Union still monitored by a nasty KGB. But the Americans went with friendship, were generally permitted to go wherever they wanted, and encountered friendship in return. They also encountered knowledge of cultural differences, the influences of history, political and social habits both admirable and lamentable. They became, in fact, a bridge between two worlds, experts on each for the other.
They expanded their work as Gorbachev came to power and the USSR opened up. They hired staff and opened offices in both countries. They sponsored and facilitated all variety of exchanges from art schools to Rotary clubs to police officers to environmentalists. They began bringing Russians to the United States as well as the reverse. They spoke all over the United States, even -- in some examples Tennison gives in her book The Power of Impossible Ideas -- converting gung-ho members of the U.S. weapons industry into volunteers and staff (in one case a man lost his job at General Dynamics as penalty for associating with them, but this freed him to more closely associate).
Tennison's organization worked on sister cities, citizen diplomacy, alcoholics anonymous, and economic development. The latter would, over the years, become increasingly central and certainly focused on privatization and Americanization in a manner that might well be criticized. But it was not U.S. citizen diplomats who created the oligarchs of the 1990s or any culture of oligarch admiration. In fact, Tennison and her philanthropists made grants to Russians dependent on their making donations to others, working to build a culture of philanthropy. Alcoholics Anonymous can also be criticized, of course, but this was an effort to assist Russians with a real problem, not to threaten them with nuclear annihilation. All of these projects built relationships that have lasted and that have influenced U.S. policy for the better.
Through the 1990s, the projects evolved to include food and financial donations, orphanages, aid modeled on the Marshall Plan's Productivity Tours, the creation of urban gardens and sustainable agriculture, and numerous business-training initiatives. Tennison met Vladimir Putin before he rose to power. She also met and advised top officials in the U.S. government. She accepted huge grants from USAID, the agency that had advised her never to begin her work. Of course, USAID has been involved in coups and hostile propaganda around the world, and a closer look at that problematic association might have been helpful in The Power of Impossible Ideas. But the work Tennison describes was all for the better, including taking U.S. Congressional leaders to dine in ordinary Russian homes. (I wonder how many current U.S. Congress members have done that.)
I can't possibly recount all the amazing stories in Tennison's book, which lives up to its vague and extravagant title; I strongly recommend you read it yourself. The critical development in the later chapters is the diversion Tennison encountered between reality and U.S. media. She found Putin to be a force for reconciliation, and the U.S. media to be intent on demonization -- at least from the moment that Russia refused to participate in attacking Iraq in 2003.
Putin had tried to partner with the United States, challenging the demands of Russian hardliners. He allowed the U.S. to use Russian bases in Central Asia. He overlooked the United States withdrawing from the ABM treaty. He accepted NATO expansion right to Russia's border. He supported, up to a point, the U.S. "war on terrorism." Washington didn't care.
"During the 2000s," writes Tennison, "I watched as the reservoir of goodwill from the Gorbachev/Reagan years evaporated." In 2004 the State Department cut off its funding for Tennison's work. In 2006 the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report hostile toward Russia. That same year, Russia gave the United States the 10-story-tall monument that stands in Bayonne, New Jersey, but it was too late to have the U.S. media inform many people of it. In 2007, the U.S. was pushing to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Now, following the Ukrainian coup, the U.S. is seeking "partnerships" with NATO for those nations. The U.S. also announced its plans to put Ronnie's "Star Wars" into Poland and the Czech Republic, later changed to Poland and Romania.
Finally, Putin began pushing back, warning against aggression toward Russia. In 2007, Tennison brought a group of 100 Russians to Washington, D.C., to speak to Congress. But the hostility only increased. (By 2016 Pentagon staff would be openly saying the motivation of this hostility is bureaucratic and profit-driven.)
In 2008, Tennison and others in her organization launched a blog to correct bad U.S. media. But with tensions growing ever worse, Tennison has lately returned to where she started and begun taking groups of interested Americans to visit Russian cities and get to know members of the demonized foreign land. These trips are as badly needed as they were in the 1980s, though they may require less courage. In fact, what seems to me to require the most courage, or the greatest delusion, is to not participate in this potentially world-saving project.
Sharon Tennison provided this at the end of her book, so I assume it's OK to copy it here: Reach out to her at sharon [AT] ccisf.org.