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Solomon: Bradley Manning is guilty of “aiding the enemy”–if the enemy is democracy


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Of all the charges against Bradley Manning, the most pernicious — and revealing — is “aiding the enemy.”

A blogger at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson, raised a pair of big questions that now loom over the courtroom at Fort Meade and over the entire country:

*  “Would it aid the enemy, for example, to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government?”

*  “In that case, who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”

When the deceptive operation of the warfare state can’t stand the light of day, truth-tellers are a constant hazard. And culpability must stay turned on its head.

That’s why accountability was upside-down when the U.S. Army prosecutor laid out the government’s case against Bradley Manning in an opening statement: “This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy — material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.”

If so, those fellow soldiers have all been notably lucky; the Pentagon has admitted that none died as a result of Manning’s leaks in 2010. But many of his fellow soldiers lost their limbs or their lives in U.S. warfare made possible by the kind of lies that the U.S. government is now prosecuting Bradley Manning for exposing.

In the real world, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, prosecution for leaks is extremely slanted. “Let’s apply the government’s theory in the Manning case to one of the most revered journalists in Washington: Bob Woodward, who has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publishing classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published,” Greenwald wrote in January.

He noted that “one of Woodward’s most enthusiastic readers was Osama bin Laden,” as a 2011 video from al-Qaeda made clear. And Greenwald added that “the same Bob Woodward book [Obama’s Wars] that Osama bin Laden obviously read and urged everyone else to read disclosed numerous vital national security secrets far more sensitive than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking. Doesn’t that necessarily mean that top-level government officials who served as Woodward’s sources, and the author himself, aided and abetted al-Qaida?”

But the prosecution of Manning is about carefully limiting the information that reaches the governed. Officials who run U.S. foreign policy choose exactly what classified info to dole out to the public. They leak like self-serving sieves to mainline journalists such as Woodward, who has divulged plenty of “Top Secret” information — a category of classification higher than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking. 

While pick-and-choose secrecy is serving Washington’s top war-makers, the treatment of U.S. citizens is akin to the classic description of how to propagate mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.

In effect, for top managers of the warfare state, “the enemy” is democracy.”

Let’s pursue the inquiry put forward by columnist Amy Davidson early this year. If it is aiding the enemy “to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government,” then in reality “who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”

Candid answers to such questions are not only inadmissible in the military courtroom where Bradley Manning is on trial. Candor is also excluded from the national venues where the warfare state preens itself as virtue’s paragon.

Yet ongoing actions of the U.S. government have hugely boosted the propaganda impact and recruiting momentum of forces that Washington publicly describes as “the enemy.” Policies under the Bush and Obama administrations — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond, with hovering drones, missile strikes and night raids, at prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and secret rendition torture sites — have “aided the enemy” on a scale so enormous that it makes the alleged (and fictitious) aid to named enemies from Manning’s leaks infinitesimal in comparison.

Blaming the humanist PFC messenger for “aiding the enemy” is an exercise in self-exculpation by an administration that cannot face up to its own vast war crimes.

While prosecuting Bradley Manning, the prosecution may name al-Qaeda, indigenous Iraqi forces, the Taliban or whoever. But the unnamed “enemy” — the real adversary that the Pentagon and the Obama White House are so eager to quash — is the incessant striving for democracy that requires informed consent of the governed.

The forces that top U.S. officials routinely denounce as “the enemy” will never threaten the power of the USA’s dominant corporate-military elites. But the unnamed “enemy” aided by Bradley Manning’s courageous actions — the people at the grassroots who can bring democracy to life beyond rhetoric — are a real potential threat to that power.

Accusations of aid and comfort to the enemy were profuse after Martin Luther King Jr. moved forward to expose the Johnson administration’s deceptions and the U.S. military’s atrocities. Most profoundly, with his courageous stand against the war in Vietnam, King earned his Nobel Peace Prize during the years after he won it in 1964.

Bradley Manning may never win the Nobel Peace Prize, but he surely deserves it. Close to 60,000 people have already signed a petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the prize to Manning. To become a signer, click here.

Also, you can preview a kindred project on the “I Am Bradley Manning” site, where a just-released short video — the first stage of a longer film due out soon — features Daniel Ellsberg, Oliver Stone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Phil Donahue, Alice Walker, Peter Sarsgaard, Wallace Shawn, Russell Brand, Moby, Tom Morello, Michael Ratner, Molly Crabapple, Davey D, Tim DeChristopher, Josh Stieber, Lt. Dan Choi, Hakim Green, Matt Taibbi, Chris Hedges, Allan Nairn, Leslie Cagan, Ahdaf Soueif and Jeff Madrick.

From many walks of life, our messages will become louder and clearer as Bradley Manning’s trial continues. He is guilty of “aiding the enemy” only if the enemy is democracy.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

(Bruce B. Brugmann, or b3 as he signs his emails and blogs, edits and writes the Bruce blog on the Guardian website at sfbg.com.  He is the editor at large of The San Francisco Bay Guardian and editor and founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012, now retired.) He can be contacted at bruce@sfbg.com b3).

Solomon: Our twisted politics of grief


By Norman Solomon
Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State.”

Darwin observed that conscience is what most distinguishes humans from other animals. If so, grief isn’t far behind. Realms of anguish are deeply personal — yet prone to expropriation for public use, especially in this era of media hyper-spin. Narratives often thresh personal sorrow into political hay. More than ever, with grief marketed as a civic commodity, the personal is the politicized.

The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.

The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. The domestic politics of grief settled in for a very long haul, while perpetual war required the leaders of both major parties to keep affirming and reinforcing the two tiers of grief.

For individuals, actual grief is intimate, often ineffable. Maybe no one can help much, but expressions of caring and condolences can matter. So, too, can indifference. Or worse. The first years of the 21st century normalized U.S. warfare in countries where civilians kept dying and American callousness seemed to harden. From the USA, a pattern froze and showed no signs of thawing; denials continued to be reflexive, while expressions of regret were perfunctory or nonexistent

Drones became a key weapon — and symbol — of the U.S. war trajectory. With a belated nod to American public opinion early in the century’s second decade, Washington’s interest in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan did not reflect official eagerness to stop killing there or elsewhere. It did reflect eagerness to bring U.S. warfare more into line with the latest contours of domestic politics. The allure of remote-control devices like drones — integral to modern “counterterrorism” ideas at the Pentagon and CIA — has been enmeshed in the politics of grief. So much better theirs than ours.

Many people in the United States don’t agree with a foreign policy that glories in use of drones, cruise missiles and the like, but such disagreement is in a distinct minority. (A New York Times/CBS poll in late April 2013 found Americans favoring U.S. overseas drone strikes by 70 to 20 percent.) With the “war on terror” a longtime fact of political life, even skeptics or unbelievers are often tethered to some concept of pragmatism that largely privatizes misgivings. In the context of political engagement — when a person’s internal condition is much less important than outward behavior — notions of realism are apt to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief. As a practical matter, we easily absorb the dominant U.S. politics of grief, further making it our politics of grief.

The amazing technology of “unmanned aerial vehicles” glided forward as a satellite-guided deus ex machina to help lift Uncle Sam out of a tight geopolitical spot — exerting awesome airpower in Afghanistan and beyond while slowing the arrival of flag-draped coffins back home. More airborne killing and less boot prints on the ground meant fewer U.S. casualties. All the better to limit future grief, as much as possible, to those who are not us.

However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered and matter. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.

In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important and revs up many rhetorical engines; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.

A memorable moment in the film Lincoln comes when the president says, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other” — in 1865, a daring leap for a white American assessing race. Truly applying the same Euclidean theorem to grief would be just as daring now in U.S. politics. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.

We might say ’twas ever thus: countries and ethnic groups mourn their own while yawning or even rejoicing at the agonies of some “others.” And when grief weighs in on the U.S. political scale, the heaviness of our kind makes any other secondary at best. No wonder presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. No wonder “Bring our troops home” is such an evergreen slogan of antiwar activism. If the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand — like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans — is vital. And grievously incomplete.

The world’s only superpower has been operating with vast impunity to strike targets and, in effect, summarily execute. (President Obama’s big speech on May 23 reasserted that prerogative; as the ACLU’s president Anthony Romero pointed out, Obama “still claims broad authority to carry out targeted killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency.”)  For American politics and mass media — perennially infatuated with the Pentagon’s latest tech advances in military capacities — such enormous power to smite presumptive evildoers has fed into a condition of jingo-narcissism. Some of its manifestations could be viewed as sociopathic: unwilling or unable to acknowledge, or evidently care much about, the pain of others.

Or the terror of others, if we are causing it. In the American political lexicon, terror — the keynote word for justifying the U.S. state of warfare so far in this century — is a supreme epithet, taken as ours to confer and to withhold. Meanwhile, by definition, it goes without saying, our leaders of the “war on terror” do not terrorize. Yet consider these words from New York Times reporter David Rohde, recalling his captivity by the Taliban in 2009 in tribal areas of Pakistan: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”

As part of tacit job descriptions, the U.S. network anchor or the president is highly selective in displayed compassion for the grieving. It won’t do to be seen with watery eyes when the Pentagon has done the killing (“friendly fire” a notable exception). No rulebook need be published, no red lines openly promulgated; the gist remains powerfully inherent and understood. If well acculturated, we don’t need to ask for whom the bell tolls; we will be informed in due course. John Donne, meet Orwell and Pavlov.

The U.S. Constitution — if not international law or some tenacious kind of idealism — could prevent presidential “kill lists” from trumping due process. But, as Amy Davidson wrote in a New Yorker online column last year, the operative approach is: “it’s due process if the president thinks about it.” Stephen Colbert summed up: “The Founders weren’t picky. Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock-paper-scissors — who cares?” After all, “Due process just means there’s a process that you do.” Satire from Colbert has been far more candid than oratory from President Obama, whose May 23 speech claimed a commitment to “due process” and declared: “I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action.”

Bypassing due process and shrugging off the human consequences go hand in hand. At the same time, it can be reassuring when the commander in chief speaks so well. But Obama’s lengthy speech at the National Defense University laid out a global picture with a big missing piece: grief due to U.S. military attacks. The only mention was a fleeting understatement (“for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss”), instantly followed by a focus on burdens of top perpetrators: “For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live…” As usual, the grief of the USA’s victims was quickly reframed in terms of American dilemmas, essential goodness and standing in the world. So, while Obama’s speech called for “addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia,” some crucial grievances stoking the conflicts were off the table from the outset; grief and rage caused by U.S. warfare remained out of the picture.

Transcendent and truly illuminating grief is to be found elsewhere, close to home. “The greatest country in the world” presumes to shoulder the greatest grief, with more access to profundities of death. No wailing and weeping at the scene of a drone strike, scarcely reported by U.S. media anyway, can hold a candle. For American grief to be only as weighty as any other just won’t do. We’re number one! A national narrative of emotional supremacy.

Our politics of grief, bouncing off the walls of U.S. media echo chambers, are apt to seem natural and immutable while fueling much of the domestic political rhetoric that drives U.S. foreign policy. The story goes that we’re sinned against yet not sinning, engaged in self-protection, paying to defend ourselves. Consider the Google tallies for two phrases. “U.S. defense budget”: nearly 4,000,000. “U.S. military budget”: less than 100,000.

But for those in communities grieving the loss of people struck down by the USA’s “Defense Department,” the outlook is inverted. To be killed is bad enough. But to be killed with impunity? To be killed by a machine, from the sky, a missile fired by persons unseen who do not see who they’re killing from hundreds or thousands of miles away? To be left to mourn for loved ones killed in this way?

When, from our vantage point, the grief of “others” lacks major verisimilitude, their resentment and rage appear irrational. Heaven forbid that such emotions could give rise to deadly violence approaching the level of our own. People who are uneducated and unclear on the American concept sometimes fail to appreciate that our perception is to be enforced as hegemonic reality. By a kind of fiat we can elevate with fervent validation some — some — others’ grief. As for the rest, the gradations of importance of their grief, and the legitimacy of their resort to violence, are to be determined by our judicious assessment; for further information, contact the State Department.

There may be no worse feeling of human powerlessness than inability to prevent the death of a loved one. The unmatched power of bereavement forces people to cope with a basic kind of human algebra: love + death = grief. Whether felt as a sudden ghastly deluge or as a long series of sleeper waves with awful undertows, real grief can turn upbeat memories into mournful ones; remembering becomes a source of anguish, so that, as Joan Didion wrote, “Memories are what you no longer want to remember.” Ultimately, intimately, the human conditions of loss often move people to places scarcely mapped by standard news coverage or political rhetoric.

Imagine living in a village in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Yemen. From the sky, death has been visited on neighbors, and drones keep hovering. (As now-former Times reporter Rohde pointed out: “Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone’s victim never hears the missile that kills him.”) Overhead are drones named Reaper, shooting missiles named Hellfire. Have the heavens been grabbed by people who think their instruments of death are godly?

“When scientific power outruns moral power,” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.” For America, drones and other highest-tech weapons are a superb technological means of off-loading moral culpability from public agendas; on the surface, little muss, less fuss.

Disembodied killing offers plenty of pluses in U.S. politics, especially when wars become protracted. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, the reduction of troop levels has cut the number of American deaths (easing the grief that “counts”) in tandem with more bombardment from the air (causing the “other” grief). Today’s domestic politics of grief are akin to what emerged after mid-1969, when President Nixon initiated a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. During the three years that followed, Nixon reduced the number of soldiers in Vietnam by nearly half a million, to 69,000. During the same three years, the U.S. government dropped 3.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam — more than all the bombing in the previous five years.

Then, as now, the official scenario had U.S. troops thinning on the ground, native troops taking up more of the combat burden, and the Pentagon helpfully bombing from the sky as only Americans could “know how.” Independent journalist I. F. Stone astutely identified the paradigm in 1970, when the White House struggled with fading public support for the war. The revamped policy, Stone wrote, was “imperialism by proxy,” aiming to buy “low-wage soldier-power,” an approach that “will be seen in Asia as a rich white man’s idea of fighting a war: we handle the elite airpower while coolies do the killing on the ground.” Stone would have swiftly recognized the pattern in President Obama’s upbeat statement on May 23 that “we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces and sustain a counterterrorism force.”

The number of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan was down by one-third, to 66,000, at the start of this year, when Obama announced plans to gradually withdraw the remaining troops over a period of two years. High-tech warfare would pick up the slack. The outgoing Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, told a news conference that a key mission in Afghanistan, persisting after 2014, would be “counterterrorism,” a buzzword for heavy reliance on airpower like drones and cruise missiles. Such weapons would give others grief.

A top “national security” adviser to the president, John Brennan, said as much in an April 2012 speech. “As we have seen,” he noted, “deploying large armies abroad won’t always be our best offense. Countries typically don’t want foreign soldiers in their cities and towns.” The disadvantages of “large, intrusive military deployments” were many. “In comparison, there is the precision of targeted strikes.”

But such “precision” is imperfect enough to be an other’s calamity. Likewise, the extreme relativity of “agony.” At his Senate confirmation hearing to become CIA director in February 2013, Brennan spoke of “the agony we go through” in deciding which individuals to target with drones. Perhaps to square some circles of cognitive dissonance, those who inflict major violence often seem moved to underscore their own psychological pain, their own mental wounds. (As if to say, This hurts me as much as it hurts them; maybe even more, given my far more acute moral sensitivities.) When the focus is on the agony of the perpetrators, there may be less room left to consider the grief of their victims.

Shifting the burden of protracted war easily meshes with a zero-sum geopolitical game. Official enthusiasm for air strikes has correlated with assurances that Americans would be facing much less grief than allied others. So, near the end of 2012, the USA Today front page reported that “the number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan is on track to decline sharply this year, reflecting the drawdown in U.S. forces” — while the death toll for Afghan government forces had climbed to ten times the U.S. level. These developments were recounted as progress all the way around.

As top officials in Washington move to lighten the political load of American grief, their cost-benefit analyses find major strategic value in actions that inflict more grief on others. Political respects must be paid. Elites in the war corps and the press corps do not have infinite tolerance for American deaths, and the Pentagon’s latest technology for remote killing is a perpetual favorite. In the long run, however, what goes around tends to come around.

Advice offered by scholar Eqbal Ahmad before 9/11 bears repeating and pondering: “A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won’t work in this shrunken world.”
After the “war on terror” gained momentum, Martin Luther King III spoke at a commemoration of his father’s birth and said: “When will the war end? We all have to be concerned about terrorism, but you will never end terrorism by terrorizing others.” That was more than nine years ago.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State.”

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of The San  Francisco Bay Guardian, and editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble (1966-2012). He can be contacted at Bruce@sfbg.com. b3

Memorial Day: Remembering the good old days in Rock Rapids, Iowa, circa 1940s to 1950s


 Bruce B. Brugmann

(Reprinted and updated by popular demand)

When I was growing up in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a farming community of 2,800 in the northwest corner of the state, Memorial Day was the official start of summer.

We headed off to YMCA camp at Camp Foster on West Okiboji Lake and Boy Scout camp at Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota. The less fortunate were trundled off to Bible School at the Methodist Church.

As I remember it, Memorial Day always seemed to be a glorious sunny day and full of action for Rock Rapids. The high school band in black and white uniform would march down Main Street under the baton of the local high school band teacher (in my day, Jim White.) A parade would feature floats carrying our town’s veterans of the First and Second World wars, young men I knew who suddenly were wearing their old uniforms. And there was for many years a veteran of the Spanish American War named Jess Callahan prominently displayed in a convertible. Lots of flags would be flying and the Rex Strait American Legion Post and Veterans of Foreign Wars would be out in force. We never really knew who Rex Strait was, except that he was said to be the first Rock Rapids boy to die in World War I and the post was named after him.

After the parade, we would make our way to our picture post card cemetery, atop a knoll just south of town overlooking the lush green of the trees and the fields along the lazy Rock River.A local dignitary would give a blazing patriotic speech. A color guard of veterans would move the flags into position and then at the command fire their rifles off toward the river. I remember this was the first time I ever saw a color guard in action, with a sergeant who moved his men with rifles into position with strange “hut, hut, hut” commands.

After the ceremony, everyone would go to the graves of their family and friends and people they knew and look at the flowers that would be sitting in bouquets and little pots by the headstones. The cemetery was and is a beautiful spot and many of us who are natives have parents, friends, and relatives buried here. It is one of the wonderful things that connects us to the town, no matter where we end up.

And so this year I got my annual telephone call from Dorothy Bosch, at the Flower Village florist in Rock Rapids, reminding me about the flowers I always place on Memorial Day  on the graves of my relatives in the Brugmann plot. I always get a kick out of doing business with Flower Village because it once was in the Brugmann Drugstore building on Main Street that had housed our family drug store. (“C.C. Brugmann and Son, where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since 1902.”)  Flower Village  later moved across the street to the building that once housed the Bernstein Department store and is now known as Home-ology.  Dorothy always fills me in on the latest Rock Rapids news, which is particularly important this year because I will be back in Rock Rapids on June 14th for my 60th high school class  reunion of the dream class of 1953.

I always ask Dorothy to get the most colorful flowers of the season and she then sees that they are displayed near the headstones in the Brugmann plot a couple of days ahead of Memorial Day. This year, I called Pauline Knobloch to pick up the flowers and put them in her garden.  Pauline and I go back to 1947, when she was a young clerk, just in from Lester, in the store.  I started clerking at age 12  that year, selling stamps and peanuts in the front of the store.  Pauline and I worked together all my school years and she continued on until my dad sold the store in the late 1970s. Pauline is still going strong, as they say in Rock Rapids.

Ours is an unusual plot, because it holds the graves of my four grandparents, my parents, my aunt and uncle and someday my wife and I. My grandfather C.C.Brugmann and my father C.B.Brugmann spent their entire working lives in Brugmann’s drugstore, which my grandfather started in l902. My father (and my mother Bonnie) came into the store shortly after the depression.
My grandfather A. R. Rice (and his wife Allie) was an eloquent Congregational minister who had parishes throughout Iowa in Waverly, Eldora, Parkersburg,  and Rowan. He retired in Clarion. My aunt Mary was my father’s sister and her husband was her Rock Rapids high school classmate, Clarence Schmidt. He was a veterinarian and a reserve army officer who was called up immediately after Pearl Harbor and ordered to report to Camp Dodge in Des Moines within 48 hours. He did and served in Calcutta, India, as an inspector of meat that was flown over the hump to supply the Chinese forces under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek.

Through the years, Elmer “Shinny” Sheneberger, the police chief when I was in school, would say to me, “Well, Bruce, you and I have to get along. We’ll be spending lots of time together someday.” I never knew what he meant until one day, visiting the Brugmann plot, I noticed that the Sheneberger family plot was next to the Brugmann plot. Every Memorial Day, Shinny took pictures in color of the flowers on the Brugmann and Sheneberger family graves and would send them to me in San Francisco.  I would them on to my sister Brenda in Sun City, Arizona, and the families of the three Schmidt boys John in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Conrad and Robert in Worthington, Minnesota. Well, Shinny died two years ago and alas I no longer get his annual batch of pictures. But he was right. We will be together for a long, long time.

Every year the rep from our American Legion Post puts a small American flag on the grave of every person buried in the cemetery who served in the Armed Forces. Chip Berg, who was three years ahead of me in school, performed this chore every year. My uncle gets one. And, Chip assured me, I will get one someday. I earned it, I am happy to report, as an unhappy ROTC soldier for two years at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (1953-55), as a cold war veteran (1958-60), as an advanced infantryman at Ft. Carson, Colorado, as a survivor of two weeks of miserable winter bivouac in the foothills of the Rockies, and as bureau chief of the Korea Bureau of Stars and Stripes (carrying my favorite byline: SP5 Bruce B. Brugmann,  S and S Korea bureau, Yongdongpo, Korea.) I am proud of the flag already. B3, who never forgets how lucky he is to come from the best small town in the country.

P.S. As the years went by, I became more curious about how my uncle Schmitty, as he was known, could leave his three young boys and his veterinary practice in nearby Worthington, Minnesota,  and get to Camp  Dodge so fast and serve throughout the entire war. I asked him lots of questions. How, for example, did he handle his veterinary practice? Simple, he said, “my partner just said let’s split our salaries. You give me half of what you make in the Army and I’ll give you half of what I make in veterinary practice.” And that’s what they did and that’s how the veterinary practice kept going throughout the war. Schmitty returned to a healthy practice, retired in the 1960s, and turned it over to his second son Conrad.

P.S. 1: Confession: I was not drafted. I enlisted in the federal reserve in the summer of 1958, which amounted to the same thing. Two years of active duty, two years of active reserve, and two years of inactive reserve. I did this maneuver so that I could formally say that I beat Elmer Wohlers. Elmer was the local draft board chief who had spent a little time in World War I, “the big one,” as he would say. The word around town was that he never got out of Camp Dodge in Des Moinesm but you would never know it by his rhetoric. He had a bit of black humor about his job and we had a running skirmish for years.

Whenever he would see me on the street in Rock Rapids, he would say, ” Bruce, I’m going to get you, I’m going to get you.” And I would reply, “No, no, Elmer, you’ll never get me.”  I think he was particularly annoyed when I escaped his grasp and went off for a year to graduate school at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. I would send him cards through the years, from an ATO  fraternity party at the University of Nebraska, or from my hangout bar in New York City (the West End Bar, across from the Columbia Journalism building.) I would write in effect, but with elegant variations, “Elmer, having a wonderful time. Keep up the good work. Wish you were here.” When I was in town and we would spar on the street,  I would invite Elmer over to the Sportsmen’s Club for a martini, but he always refused, most testily. 

And so I joined the federal reserve and ended up with the initials FR instead of  US on my dog tags that hung around my neck for two years. I was officially FR17507818 and rose from lowly  recruit in the 60th infantry at Ft Carson, Colorado, to the lofty position of  E-5 and bureau chief of the Korea edition of Stars and Stripes bureau. But my big accomplishment was that Elmer didn’t get me. I still feel good about beating Elmer at his own game.

P.S. 2: Here’s how things work in Rock Rapids.  One year, in sending my annual Memorial Day drill in an email note to Rock Rapids alumni of my era,  I recounted the Shinny anecdote and placed the Brugmann and Sheneberger plots in the southeastern corner of the cemetery. I promptly got an email note back from Joanne Schubert Vogel (class of ’49). She wrote that she had sent my note to her brother Dale Schubert in Rock Rapids (class of ’55, who was a halfback when I was a quarterback on the celebrated Rock Rapids Lions football team. Dale called her and said that I had made an error and that the Brugmann and Sheneberger plots were in the southwestern corner of the cemetery, not in the southeast corner. Amazing. He was right and I was wrong. Joanne softened the blow by saying she was sure that this was the first error I had ever made.

(Bruce B. Brugmann, or B3 as he signs his emails and blogs, writes and edits the Bruce Blog on the Guardian website at SFBG.com   He is the editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012, now retired. He can be contacted at Bruce@sfbg.com.)

Solomon: Obama in Plunderland: Down the corporate rabbit hole


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.”

“There is no single independent regulatory commission that comes close to the impact of the FCC on every American’s life,” Johnson said. “That’s why Congress, in creating it, characterized its mission as serving ‘the public interest’ — an expression used throughout the Act.

But with countless billions of dollars at stake, the corporate fix was in. As Johnson pointed out, “Wheeler’s background is as a trade association representative for companies appearing before the Commission, a lobbyist in Congress for other FCC customers, and a venture capitalist investing in and profiting from others whose requests he’ll have to pass on. He has no record, of which I am aware, of challenging corporate abuse of power on behalf of consumers and the poor.”

But wait. There’s more. “Nor does Wheeler’s membership on the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board bode well for those who believe Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights should be getting at least as much attention as the government’s perceived need to engage in even more secret snooping.”

To urge senators to reject the nominations of Pritzker and Wheeler, click here.

Meanwhile, at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Obama’s recent appointment of Wall Street insider Mary Jo White as SEC chair is playing out in predictable fashion. Days ago, in an editorial, the New York Times faulted her role in an SEC decision on regulating the huge derivatives market: “Last week, in her first commission vote, Ms. White led the commissioners in approving a proposal that, if finalized, could leave investors and taxpayers exposed to the ravages of reckless bank trading.”

We need to ask ourselves how the forces of corporate capitalism have gained so much power over government, to the extreme detriment of people who aren’t rich. Humpty Dumpty’s brief dialectical exchange with Alice is on point

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” Alice replied, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.””The question is,” Humpty Dumpty responded, “which is to be master — that’s all.

Denunciations and protests against the dominant power structure are essential. And insufficient. For the body politic and the potential of democracy, accommodating to the Democratic Party leadership is a deathly prescription. So is failure to fight for electoral power by challenging that leadership, fielding genuinely progressive candidates and organizing to win.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

(The Bruce Blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and co-founder and editor and co-publisher with his wife Jean of the Bay Guardian, 1966-2012, now retired.)

The Pulitzer Prize Board surrender – and how the New York Times blew the Ed Kennedy story (Part l)


In the May 19, 1945 edition of the New Yorker magazine, the legendary press critic A. J. Liebling wrote a prescient article on what happened when Edward Kennedy, an Associated Press combat correspondent, defied military censorship to break one of the century’s biggest and most important stories.

His lead said that “the great row over Edward Kennedy’s Associated Press story of the signing of the German surrender at Reims served to point up the truth that if you are smart enough you can kick yourself in the seat of the pants, grab yourself by the back of the collar and throw yourself out on the sidewalk. This is an axiom that I hope will be taught to future students of journalism as Liebling’s Law.” Liebling titled his piece, “The AP surrender,” because AP, caving in to government pressure, led the attack on its own reporter by publicly censuring and then firing him. He cited the New York Times as leading the charge with a nasty editorial blasting Kennedy only two days after it had splashed Kennedy’s story on the front page with huge heads. Kennedy, the editorial intoned solemnly, had done a “grave disservice to the newspaper profession.”

Liebling, a mid-1920s  student at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City, was presumably aiming his axiom at his alma mater, which was in a building endowed by Joseph Pulitzer, a crusading liberal publisher in New York at the turn of the century.  Pulitzer also endowed the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes, which are housed in the school and administered by a senior member of the faculty.

I especially enjoyed Liebling’s Law as a Columbia journalism graduate (’58) and as a charter member of the committee working to get Kennedy a posthumous Pulitzer prize this year for his story. The axiom was timely because my wife Jean and I were at the journalism school in April to attend my 55th class reunion and the school’s centennial celebration. The event was full of Pulitzer references and remembrances, highlighted by an address by James McGrath Morris, a respected Pulitzer biographer, speaking in the World room, named after Pulitzer’s newspaper.

The day after the centennial weekend, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced its Pulitzers and rejected the two Kennedy nominations without comment. One nomination was for his story, the other for a previously unpublished book by Kennedy on his career as a WWII foreign correspondent. The rejections demonstrated a serious flaw in the Pulitzer Prize process.

The point of quoting Liebling today, in May of 2013, is that almost seven decades after his article, the Pulitzer Prize Board and the New York Times have once again left Kennedy out on the sidewalk for doing his job as a reporter who, in a favorite Pulitzer phrase, knew “the  right and had the courage to do it.” Since this is a historic story of military censorship for political reasons, it is as timely and relevant now as it was then, since the Pulitzer Board and the Times still do not get the point.

So let me put the issue in context. Let me start by quoting Liebling’s main arguments and link his full six page piece, written in the heat of the censorship battle.

Liebling, who was himself a distinguished World War II correspondent, wrote,  ”The important aspect of the story of the row, I am sure, is not that Kennedy got his dispatch out of Europe before the SHAEF Public Relations bosses wanted him to but that only three representatives of the American press were admitted to one of the memorable scenes in the history of man, and only on condition that they promise not to tell about it until the brigadier general in charge of public relations gave them permission.

“No correspondent of a newspaper published in the United States was invited to the signing; besides Kennedy, Boyd Lewis of United Press, and James Kilgallen, of Hearst’s International News Service, the official list included four radio men, an enlisted correspondent for the Stars and Stripes, and a collection of French, Russian, Australian, and Canadian correspondents.

“Whether a promise extorted as this one was, in an airplane several thousand feet up, has any moral force is a question for theologians…I suppose Kennedy should have refused to promise anything and thus made sure of missing an event that no newspaperman in the world would want to miss, but I can’t imagine any correspondent doing it.

“I do not think Kennedy imperiled the lives of any Allied soldiers by sending the story, as some of his critics   have charged. He probably saved a few, because by withholding the announcement of an armistice you prolong the shooting, and, conversely, by announcing it promptly you make the shooting stop. Moreover, the Germans had broadcast the news of the armistice several hours before Kennedy’s story appeared on the streets of New York, and Alsie, the OWI’s American Broadcasting Station in Europe, broadcast it in 24 languages, including English, within an hour after.”

Liebling noted that the Russians “had their own surrender show in Berlin, and probably had a better publicity break on it than they would have had if the two surrenders has been announced simultaneously… One unconditional surrender of the Reich a day is as much as the public can absorb.” 

Liebling brought out the crucial political censorship point. “Moreover, the row can do a lot of good if it brings into the clear the whole disturbing question of military censorship imposed for political, personal, or merely capricious reasons and reveals the history of the prodigious amount of pure poodle-faking that has gone under the name of Army Public Relations.” Liebling was right on because it later turned out that a secret agreement between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill had imposed a 24 hour embargo on the surrender story so the Russians could announce it the next day in Berlin. Kennedy’s story was in effect the start of the Cold War.

Last year, almost 70 years later,  Tom Curley, as president and CEO of AP,  backed up Liebling’s Law and apologized publicly on behalf of  AP. for the way it treated Kennedy. “tt was a terrible day for AP,” he was quoted as saying on the AP wire.  “It was handled in the worst possible way,.” He wrote a strong  defense of Kennedy in an introduction to a book published last year by the Lousiana State University Press,  titled “Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship & the Associated Press.” The book was a personal account by Kennedy of his career as a foreign correspondent and a detailed account of his side of the controversy. His daughter, Julia Kennedy Cochran, found Kennedy’s manuscript in his papers after he died in a pedestrian accident in Monterey in 1963 at age 58 where he was editing the Monterey Peninsula  Herald. 

Curley wrote that “Kennedy and his editors performed superbly. They delivered one of the most significant scoops in journalism history. They did four things right. A great correspondent was assigned to the story. He kept reporting even after the censors tried to shut him down. The London desk moved the news without hesitation. The correspondent and editors adhered to the wartime rules as they knew them.  Finally, Kennedy wins the argument on a technicality. With the signing of a surrender treaty, there was no longer a war in Europe and not any excuse to submit to censors.”

Curley said “the book matches the best memoirs by World War II combat reporters for the quality of writing and telling detail, some of it gripping.  And in one way it surpasses the others. Not only does Kennedy give his final, thoughtful explanation for what happened on May 7, 1945. In describing his struggles with censorship and bureaucratic red tape and stupidity over many months, not just on May 7, he provides the fullest first-person account we have of the difficulties World War II correspondents encountered every day trying to do their jobs.

“Perhaps in some small way we bring posthumous recognition to an American hero and embrace – too belatedly – what McClean and Cooper (B3: AP executives) and the AP board could not admit. Edward Kennedy was the embodiment of the highest aspirations of the Associated Press and American journalism.” Curley said his account drew upon newly available records held in the Associated Press Corporate Archives.

Curley’s co-author was John Maxwell Hamilton, founding dean of the Manship School of Mass Communications at LSU.  He is the editor of “From Our Correspondent,” a series of books that features forgotten works and unpublished memoirs by pioneering foreign correspondents and illuminates “the development of foreign news gathering at a time when it has never been more important.” Hamilton, once a foreign correspondent himself, is currently the executive vice chancellor and provost of LSU. The book was submitted by LSU Press for a Pulitzer in the book category but the board rejected the nomination and, in keeping with tradition, rejected it without comment.

Following V-E Day, Kennedy was out at AP and the big  mainstream dailies. He became a managing editor for two years at the Santa Barbara News-Press and then edited the Monterey County Herald, later the Monterey Peninsula Herald.   The Herald won lots of journalism awards under Kennedy and he wrote many international commentaries under the initials E.K. He loved his community and he loved his job. .A memorial to Kennedy stands in the form of a sundial in Laguna Grande Park in nearby Seaside. It reads: “He saved the world an extra day of happiness.”

Meanwhile, Ray March, editor of the Modoc (Calif.) Independent News  and a former reporter under Kennedy on the Herald, decided it was time to nominate Kennedy for a posthumous Pulitzer prize and help right a historic journalistic and public policy wrong. With the help of Eric Brazil, a former Examiner editor and reporter, he put together a committee and petition.  I signed up immediately when Brazil called me.  And I helped put together the first ever panel anywhere on the Kennedy story for last year’s annual meeting of the California Press Association. It featured as moderator Ward Bushee, the Chronicle editor whose father had been recruited by Kennedy to work on the Herald. (He turned down the offer.)  Ward’s father had earlier won a Pulitzer as editor of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian for exposing corruption involving the local district attorney.

The historic panel included March, Kennedy’s daughter, and Dave Perlman, a Chronicle reporter at 93, who was in Paris as a reporter at the time of the surrender. Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, drafted  a stirring resolution supporting the nomination and the members approved it unanimously.  It was submitted as part of the nomination package, put together by the Chronicle’s promotion department. March, Brazil, and  Frank McCulloch, former bureau chief for Time magazine in Vietnam who later held top editorial positions at the LA Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the old San Francisco Chronicle, wrote the nomination letter. It stressed that Kennedy had been the victim of military censorship for political reasons.  Meanwhile, the nomination got much media coverage, including the Chronicle, Washington Post, Sacramento Bee, Atlantic Magazine, Portland Oregonian, Editor and Publisher, and many other print and online venues.

When the New York Times announced this year’s Pulitzers, the paper gushed that  it got four Pulitzers, giving it a total of 112 Pulitzers, ”far more than any other newspaper,” as trumpeted in full page promotion ads. Margaret Sullivan, the public editor, was even more glowing in her Sunday column (4/21/2013). Her lead:  “The Times, it is safe to say, had a very good week. On Monday, it won four Pulitzer prizes – “the third most in its history and twice a many as any other news organization this year.”  (She also quite properly gave credit to the Times for its coverage of the Boston bombings and in particular for staying on the safe side of the “Rubicon of inaccuracy” by not reporting that an arrest had been made and a suspect was in custody.) She concluded her appraisal by saying that “The Times is far from perfect.  But last week, in its intelligent and restrained handling both of images and facts, it looked like a newspaper worthy of this year’s Pulitzer glory.”

However,  I and many others weren’t as smitten by Pulitzer glory. We were disappointed to see that the Pulitzer Board  not only rejected a Pulitzer for Kennedy, but that it did so without reference or mention of the Kennedy nominations, made no special citation (such as the special citation to the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen) and gave no reasons nor acknowledgment of any kind for the rejections or to the historic importance of righting a major  journalistic and public policy wrong on one of the most crucial issues of our time:  military censorship for political reasons of news the public needs to know. I couldn’t find any evidence that the Times ever changed its editorial opposition to Kennedy and that it ever properly covered Kennedy’s side of the story. And the Times, unlike AP and so many other papers, didn’t cover the current story of the nominations to award Kennedy a posthumous Pulitzer prize or the censorship issues, before or after the Pulitzer awards were announced. Will it do so now? I am sending this report to the public editor and other Times editors and public  for comment.

I emailed Sig Gissler, the former Milwaukee Journal editor who now administers the Pulitzers.as a journalism professor. I put the above points to him and asked why the committee “instead of coming down on the side of the free press that Pulitzer and his school and prizes represented, the committee in effect came down on the side of government censorship for political reasons and supported a politically charged embargo agreement that would allow Stalin to catch up on the surrender announcement and hold his own press conference in Berlin.” 

Specifically, I asked Gissler  “was there any discussion on the Kennedy nominations, was there a vote and what was it, who voted for and against, what were the reasons for the rejection, was there any real internal debate on the importance and timeliness of this issue, and anything else that you or the Columbia officials (Outgoing Dean Nicholas Lemann or incoming Dean Steve  Coll, President Lee Bollinger) or the committee chairs or member would like to add. Is there a spokeperson I can talk to?”  I also asked for the names and contact information of the full Pulitzer committee and subcommittees and the appropriate Columbia spokespeople.

Gissler is a good man in a tough job burdened with honoring a dated policy. He emailed me back promptly and thanked me for my “interesting note.”  He said that, “regarding Kennedy, your desire for an explanation is testimony to your earnestness. However, each year the Pulitzer process produces many similar situations. Entrants desire to know why they did not become finalists. Finalists desire to know why they didn’t become winners. Petitioners for special citations desire to know why no special citations were bestowed. The Board declines to provide explanatory details, consistent with its tradition of basically not discussing, debating or defending its decisions.

“I understand your disappointment. However, at the risk of eternal irritation, I can only reiterate that the request for a special citation for Ed Kennedy was duly considered and that we do not issue statements when a request does not result in a citation.” He didn’t send me the names or contact information of the board or Columbia spokespeople. 

To give Gissler every opportunity to explain, I emailed him again and asked more questions: “So, after all these years, are you saying that the Pulitzer Board has no way for anyone (entrants or journalists or the public) to comment on the awards or the contest or the process? If not, why not?” I also asked again how the Kennedy nominating committee and others could make comments this year, right now. I ended by saying there was now much interest in “making the Pulitzer process more transparent, representative, and accountable.” I hope you agree, I told Gissler, and that you “at least present the issue to the board and the proper Columbia officials.”  I got no further comment from Gissler.

The Pulitzer School of Journalism and the Pulitzer prizes are endowed by Joseph Pulitzer. The school has the venerable Columbia Journalism Review magazine with a mission to “encourage excellence in journalism in the service of a free society.” And it has the excellent  CJR.org website that “weighs in daily, hosting a conversation that is open to all who share a commitment to high journalistic standards in the U.S. and around the world” and that could, let me suggest,  display the Pulitzer winners properly and host a lively forum for congratulations and comment  on the Pulitzers and the Pulitzer process,  It has a large and distinguished faculty and hosts a wide array of newsworthy panels and programs. It attracts each year an excellent class of students. It has a huge statue of Thomas Jefferson, paid for by Pulitzer, standing as a beacon of press freedom in front of the entrance to the journalism building. It is situated in the media capital of the world and promotes itself as the best journalism school in the country and a source of many of the country’s best journalists. It can do better, much better, with the prizes that the New York Times proclaimed, in its full page ad promoting its four Pulitzers, as “widely considered journalism’s highest honor.” .

And so I recommend that Columbia, the Graduate School of Journalism, and its Pulitzer Prize Board use the rejected nominations of Edward Kennedy, the reporter who was tarred and feathered for the crime of committing journalism, as the catalyst for major Pulitzer reforms. I recommend making the Pulitzer process more transparent, more responsive, and more prepared in our militarized age to fight government censorship and more prepared to promote and defend the First Amendment values of free speech and free press.

I will keep you posted. B3

POSTSCRIPT:  THE RUSSIAN PLAN TO PREEMPT THE SURRENDER STORY:   Ed Kennedy writes in his book that in the turmoil over his dispatch the correspondents overlooked another story almost as big as the surrender story. It came from  “no less august an official spokesman”  than Brig. Gen. Frank A. Allen Jr., the SHAEF commanding officer,  who told the corresponents in a May 8 meeting that “the official announcement might be delayed even further beyond the time set for it–3 p.m., Paris time.  He revealed that the Russians, having induced Washington and London to hold up the announcement, until the hour set for their own ceremony in Berlin, now were asking that news of the real surrender at Reims be suppressed until some hours after the phony surrender of Berlin. HIs disclosure was ‘off the record’ at the moment but could have been legitimately been reported the following day. It never was. 

“The sole purpose of the Soviet request, it was later established–and even then was obvious–was to convince a large part of the world that the Russians had obtained the surrender of Germany, with but contributory help from the Western Allies, whom they had generously invited to share in the final honor.  The Berlin ceremony was staged purely for Soviet propaganda purposes. Although a Russian correspondent was one of those whom General Allen had invited to Reims to the exclusion of any reporter of an American newspaper, no word of the Reims surrender appeared in the Russian press. So far as I know, none has to this day.

“The Russian action was the inauguration of the propaganda build-up for the course of expansion on which the Soviet Union was shortly to embark in Europe. Its importance as news was that it was the first clue to Moscow’s postwar policy.  But it went unreported at that time.”

Bruce B, Brugmann, writing as editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, as editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble (1966-2012, now  retired), as a graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (’58), as a recipient of  the Columbia Journalism School’s  Distinguished Alumnus award (2011), as a former bureau chief of the Korea Bureau of the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes who encountered milItary censorship  (1959-60), and as a charter member of the Kennedy nominating committee. 








Dick Meister: We’ve suffered a great loss


She’s gone, Gerry, the love of my life, my dearly beloved wife for 57 years. It’s difficult at this time of deep mourning for me to think of Gerry except in the context of our long and extremely happy life together and great devotion to each other, difficult to think of Gerry as anything but a loving partner who shared my life for so long.

We met briefly while I was playing semi-professional baseball in Gerry’s hometown of Coquille on the Oregon coast in 1952, and again a few years later during a party at Stanford, where we were both students. I was introduced to her as someone who actually knew of Coquille.

Within two years, we were married. That came shortly after a lunch date at Tommy’s Joynt on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. We were earnestly discussing the merits of Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (remember him?} and savoring our beer and pastrami on rye when it suddenly popped into my head, and I blurted it out : “I think we ought to get married.” Gerry paused for just a moment. “Yes,” she said, “I think we should.”

But our relationship aside, let me don my journalist’s hat to objectively note that Gerry was long one of the key leaders in the often extraordinary efforts of active and retired teachers and other public employees to win, secure and expand their rights and benefits.

Gerry died in San Francisco on March 4 at 77 after a brief struggle with cancer.  She was most recently chair of the 900-member retired division of the local teachers’ union, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) and co-chair of the Protect Our Benefits Committee (POB) that advocates for retired teachers and retired public employees generally.

Gerry was particularly effective in advocating for the local Health Service System (HSS) and insisting that it provide workers the health care they required. It was a very difficult task to which she devoted most of her time after retiring in 2001 from the social studies teaching post she had held with distinction at San Francisco’s Washington High School for nearly 40 years. She had taught more than 7000 students and generously mentored scores of new teachers. She was an activist member of the Silver Eagles organization of retired Washington teachers and of several neighborhood organizations.

She  played a major role in passing the ballot initiative that defined the HSS as a separate and thus much more effective agency in 2004 and went on to become a valued advisor to each HSS director and to the many retirees who sought her help

Gerry also was a leader in political campaigns involving ballot initiatives. She led the way to victory for several important worker-friendly measures and to the defeat of several that she and her fellow activists and their allies thought harmful to the general public as well as to teachers, students and retirees.

Gerry, who modestly described her work as “doing what needs to be done,” was an exceptionally popular teacher and leader. Her death drew dozens of messages from students, her fellow teachers and others praising and thanking her for her life’s work and for leaving behind an invaluable legacy.

They described Gerry as overwhelmingly concerned about others, always giving, but never taking; loyal; highly competent and knowledgeable, tenacious, dynamic, brilliant, truly inspirational.

Gerry’s work, conducted with integrity, grace, warmth and compassion, made her a force for truth and justice throughout her lifetime  and an inspirational guide for those who follow. We are fortunate she lived among us, and I am especially fortunate that she lived her extraordinary life with me.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Protect Our Benefits Committee, P.O.
Box 320057, San Francisco 94132, or to Gerry Meister Scholarship Fund, UESF
Retired Division, 170 Topeka Ave., San Francisco 94124.

Don’t vent, organize and “primary” a Democrat near you


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.

*  Assuming that millions of dollars are necessary to win.

Yes, successful campaigns require effective fundraising — but money is often a less significant obstacle than a shortage of commitment and willingness to do painstaking grassroots organizing.

*  Self-marginalization by ignoring elections.

Some on the left prefer to stay out of electoral contests while focusing on the next protest demonstration — thus leaving the electoral field to battles between corporate Democrats and Republicans. One sure result: a progressive won’t win.

*  Self-marginalization with third-party efforts in partisan races.

In congressional races, Green Party and other progressive third-party candidates have a zero record of success in our lifetimes. In other races with party affiliations also on the ballot (such as governor and state legislature), victories have been almost nonexistent. In such races, the corporate-military complex is not in the slightest threatened by third-party candidates, who rarely get higher than a low single-digit percentage of the vote. In nonpartisan races, by contrast, there are examples of successful and uplifting campaigns by third-party candidates, as with Green Party member Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of Richmond, California. 

By changing just a few words in the Club for Growth’s “Primary My Congressman” manifesto, progressives have a road map for electoral progress: In districts that are heavily Democratic, there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real progressives to Congress — not more of those who go along with the Obama White House as it keeps compromising with Republicans.

Anyone serious about getting genuine progressives elected to Congress next year should be engaged in developing campaigns now. To avoid the impulse-item syndrome, that means identifying key races where progressives have a real chance to win, while remaining mindful that election campaigns should be subsets of social movements and not the other way around.

If there’s a defining issue that now separates the Obama party leadership from social decency, it is the president’s push to cut Social Security benefits. Less ballyhooed but also crucial is his push to cut Medicare benefits and the ever-present danger of cuts to already woefully-underfunded Medicaid. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are unwilling to seriously cut the enormous military budget.

Any incumbent Democrat who is not serving progressive interests should be weighed as a possible primary target. And the most fruitful primary challenges are beckoning in heavily Democratic districts where there are many progressive voters and incumbents aren’t measuring up.

By that standard, the Congress members who may be vulnerable to a primary challenge include the 44 who tout their membership in the Progressive Caucus but have refused to sign the letter (initiated by Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano) promising not to vote to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.

A good starting point to consider launching a primary challenge in your area would be to look at those 44 members of Congress who continue to refuse to make such a promise, leaving themselves wiggle room to vote for cuts in three crucial programs of the social compact. To see the list of those self-described “progressives,” click here. (Meanwhile, wherever you live, you can let your Congress member and senators know what you think of proposals for such cuts by clicking here.)

It’s fair to say those 44 members of Congress are among the many Democratic incumbents showing themselves to be more afraid of the Obama White House and the Democratic Party hierarchy than they are of voters in their own districts. Progressives in and around those districts need to do less venting and more organizing.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.


Solomon: It’s time to renounce the “war on terror”


Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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

The “war on terror” is now engaged in various forms of military intervention in an estimated two-dozen countries, killing and maiming uncounted civilians while creating new enemies. It infuses foreign policy with unhinged messages hidden in plain sight, like a purloined letter proclaiming “What goes around won’t come around” and telling the world “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Political ripple effects from the Boston Marathon bombings have only begun. While public opinion hasn’t gotten carried away with fear, much of the news media — television in particular — is stoking the fires of fear but scarcely raising a single question that might challenge the basic assumptions of a forever “war on terror.”

After a city has been traumatized and a country has empathized, a constructive takeaway would be that it’s terribly wrong to set off bombs that kill and maim. But that outlook is a nonstarter the moment it might be applied to victims of U.S. drones and cruise missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The message seems to be that Americans should never be bombed but must keep bombing.

The death of Richie Havens days ago is a loss and reminder. Each of us has only so many days ahead. We may as well live them with deeper meaning, for peace and social justice. To hear Havens performing the song “Lives in the Balance” written by another great musician, Jackson Browne, is to be awakened anew:

I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.





Solomon: The Orwellian warfare state of carnage and doublethink


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.”

An unusually diligent reporter, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Timesreported from Pristina, Yugoslavia: “During five weeks of airstrikes, witnesses here say, NATO warplanes have dropped cluster bombs that scatter smaller munitions over wide areas. In military jargon, the smaller munitions are bomblets. Dr. Rade Grbic, a surgeon and director of Pristina’s main hospital, sees proof every day that the almost benign term bomblet masks a tragic impact. Grbic, who saved the lives of two ethnic Albanian boys wounded while other boys played with a cluster bomb found Saturday, said he had never done so many amputations.”

The LA Times article quoted Dr. Grbic: “I have been an orthopedist for 15 years now, working in a crisis region where we often have injuries, but neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs.” He added: “They are wounds that lead to disabilities to a great extent. The limbs are so crushed that the only remaining option is amputation. It’s awful, awful.”

The newspaper account went on: “Pristina’s hospital alone has treated 300 to 400 people wounded by cluster bombs since NATO’s air war began March 24, Grbic said. Roughly half of those victims were civilians, he said. Because that number doesn’t include those killed by cluster bombs and doesn’t account for those wounded in other regions of Yugoslavia, the casualty toll probably is much higher, he said. ‘Most people are victims of the time-activated cluster bombs that explode some time after they fall,’ he said.”

Later, during invasions and initial periods of occupation, the U.S. military dropped cluster bombs in Afghanistan and fired cluster munitions in Iraq.

Today, the U.S. State Department remains opposed to outlawing those weapons, declaring on its official website: “Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility. Their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of its soldiers and those of its coalition partners at risk.”

The State Department position statement adds: “Moreover, cluster munitions can often result in much less collateral damage than unitary weapons, such as a larger bomb or larger artillery shell would cause, if used for the same mission.” Perhaps the bomber(s) who stuffed nails and ball bearings into pressure cookers for use in Boston had a similarly twisted rationale.

But don’t expect explorations of such matters from the USA’s daily papers or commercial networks — or from the likes of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” or the PBS “NewsHour.” When the subject is killing and maiming, such news outlets take as a given the presumptive moral high ground of the U.S. government.

In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote about the conditioned reflex of “stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought . . . and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

The doublethink — continually reinforced by mass media — remains within an irony-free zone that would amount to mere self-satire if not so damaging to intellectual and moral coherence

Every news report about the children killed and injured at the finish line in Boston, every account of the horrific loss of limbs, makes me think of a little girl named Guljumma. She was seven years old when I met her at an Afghan refugee camp one day in the summer of 2009

At the time, I wrote: “Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.

In the refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, where several hundred families were living in squalid conditions, the U.S. government was providing no help. The last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the U.S. government was when it bombed them.

War thrives on abstractions, but Guljumma was no abstraction. She was no more or less of an abstraction than the children whose lives have been forever wrecked by the bombing at the Boston finish line.

But the same U.S. news media that are conveying the preciousness of children so terribly harmed in Boston are scarcely interested in children like Guljumma.

I thought of her again when seeing news reports and a chilling photo on April 7, soon after 11 children in eastern Afghanistan were even more unlucky than she was. Those children died from a U.S./NATO air strike. For mainline American journalists, it wasn’t much of a story; for American officials, it was no big deal.

“Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip,” Orwell observed, “but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.”

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Norman Solomon: Nominate Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace prize!


Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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

“His actions are speaking louder than his words. He has continued Bush’s torture policy and both wars. He has sent armed drones in to remote places and only questionably killed terrorists, but definitely killed civilians. He does not deserve it.”  Katherine M., San Diego, CA

“Les espoirs envers Obama étaient élevés, les résultats décevants.”  André T., Quebec City, Canada

“A President for Peace? Tell that to the thousands of innocent men, women and hundreds of children that have been killed in drone strikes during the Obama administration. It was laughable that this coveted prize was given to him in the first place but now it is just obscene!”  Barlee R., Antioch, CA

“Allowing the Nobel Peace Prize to remain in Obama’s name forsakes the very creed the prize is meant to represent. Please don’t (continue to) be a hypocrite — no way in Hell does that man deserve to be credited in any way for being a peacemaker. I said the same for Bush by the way — so don’t think I’m just some partisan nutcase obsessed with bashing Obama. I simply speak the Truth as often as possible and let the chips fall where they may. Many of us peaceful, compassionate folks would like to have this message droned into your collective heads. Obama is just another puppet doing the bidding of the greedy, mass-murdering global elite.”  Greg C., Manhattan, KS

“The peace prize should be awarded to Pfc. Bradley Manning instead.”  Robert F., Santa Clara, CA

“This would be an extraordinarily bold move, but it certainly would send a message to the world that peace means peace, not war.”  David G., Portland, OR

“I so wish President Obama had lived up to the award he was given. Instead he has chosen to continue and expand the horrors being perpetrated by our country. War is not ever the answer.”  Carol G., Goshen, IN

“Droning people to death is not peace.”  William S., New York, NY

“Not being George W. Bush was never sufficient ground for this award, and Mr. Obama’s enthusiastic support for the extension of empire, fossil fuels, raw military power, and other violence against the earth and its people is further evidence of its unwisdom.”  Scott W., Durham, NC

“One must walk the walk of peace, not just talk the talk of peace in order to earn the Peace Prize.”  Paul M., Los Angeles, CA

“Drone Bombs create more terrorists than they kill.”  Jay J., Roachdale, IN

“A war criminal is not worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.”  Lars P., Afton, WI

“Our President had an unprecedented opportunity to effect a turn-around in foreign policy after the illegal and failed wars of his predecessor. He was hired to do so; but he has squandered the opportunity and has in fact increased U.S. aggression. He does not deserve to be known as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.”  Lynn J., Roslyn, PA

“The PEACE prize should be given to those that work toward PEACE, not the ones that only talk about it.”  Karen W., Weirsdale, FL

“Take it from Obama and give it to its rightful owner, Bradley Manning.”  Rand K., Hotchkiss, CO

 “I urge you to rescind the Nobel from this coward who kills children with drones. Are you intentionally making the peace prize a joke or are you just not too bright?”  Janet M., Charlottetown, CA

“He’s not as big a war criminal as Kissinger, so you should revoke both.”  Earl F., Santa Maria, CA

“This man is a disgrace in the cause of peace. What were you thinking?”  Sherrill F., Davis, CA

“Given his actions and policies, Obama is more a Man of Pieces — as in, ‘Blow them to pieces!’ — than he is a Man of peace.”  Marcus M., San Rafael, CA

“He’s done nothing to deserve it; and he’s done many things to destroy peace in this world.”  Danny D., Shoreline, WA

“This human has killed more after he got the prize.”  Thomas P., Lewiston, CA

“He obtained the award on promises he didn’t keep.”  Ron B., Bend, OR

“President Obama’s actions have shown that his words were meaningless. The Nobel Peace Prize means little if it’s so easily given away.”  Debra J., Pasadena, MD

“As an Obama voter I am deeply disappointed. It was bad judgment to give it to him in the first place.”  Tim K., Long Prairie, MN

“Drones are offensive weapons, in every sense of the word.”  Richard F., Portland, OR

“As much of an Obama supporter I am, perhaps stripping him of this award would get his attention, nothing else seems to be getting the message across that the American People have had enough of multiple trillion dollar unnecessary wars.”  Vern M., Albuquerque, NM

“Obama is a smiling war monger.”  Jon M., Wellington, New Zealand

“Under Obama’s leadership our assassination-by-drone foreign policy has increased dramatically, which makes him a war criminal.”  Frank S., Bellingham, WA

“As a constituent and two-time voter for Barack Obama, I am dismayed and frightened at the warmongering ways he has displayed as our leader. I urge the revocation of his undeserved Nobel prize.”  Samuel P., Colton, CA

“What a good idea! Yes, he has the blood of many innocents on his hands.”  Gene A., Athens, OH

“He should have never got it in the first place!”  David S., Everett, WA

“I voted for the president in both elections but I do not feel he ever deserved the Nobel Peace Prize! Please rescind it!”  Carol H., Michigan City, IN

“Please start with Henry Kissinger before Obama, whose hands are tied.”  Bob S., Gibsons, BC, Canada

“Giving him a Nobel Peace Prize is an affront to the deep heritage of true peacemakers who well deserved it. Obama has waged continuous war, torture and other violence since being President. Please revoke it now.”  Barry S., Macdoel, CA

“Bush gave us 2 unfunded wars. Will Obama add a few more? Stop wars, drones and killing with other people’s children.”  Burt S., Pompton Plains, NJ

“I voted for Obama — twice. I am very sad to sign this petition, but I believe in my heart, what he has done with drones is totally wrong!”  Gloria H., Santa Rosa, CA

“Obama’s deeds do not match his words.”  Evalyn S., Walnut Creek, CA

“You lost any credibility giving Obama the peace prize. Fix it.”  Camilo B., Long Beach, CA

“Obama’s harsh treatment of whistleblowers who are trying to expose the outlandish abuses of the military/corporate state disqualify him from any awards given to peacemakers.”  David L., Alamosa, CO

“It’s real sad that the promises that were made by Barack Obama concerning nearly everything have been lost with his sellout to corporate greed. We need a real leader for Peace.”  Al B., Ignacio, CO

“I had high hopes for this President when I voted for him. I believed him to be a peace maker, unlike the hawk who was his predecessor. However, there seems to be no effort at peacemaking, at reconciliation, at hope, and killing-by-drone simply leads to more fear and hatred. I fear the day that the government will try to control US with them, too.”  Louise A., Greenfield, MA

“You gave him the Nobel Peace Prize too soon. His use of drones and killing of innocent civilians attests to his being anything but a peace-maker.”  Rev. Sandy G., San Francisco, CA

“It is not a good example of what peace means when the Nobel Prize is awarded to the leader of a nation engaging in war as a business strategy. Make a statement, please.”  Chandra P., Walsenburg, CO

“I, like so many others, gave this man the benefit of the doubt. It has been thrown back in our faces.”  Chris C., Harrogate, Great Britain

“He never deserved it and he hasn’t earned it. Yes, please, take it back.”  Jackie F., Oakland, CA

 “The Nobel Peace Prize should not be awarded to war mongers and war criminals. Therefore, please revoke the Peace Prize you awarded to President Obama in 2009.”  Fred N., Pleasanton, CA

“It is with deepest regret we ask for this but our President’s actions have not lived up to the high honor of promoting peace.”  GlendaRae H., South Bend, IN

“I don’t think anyone ever understood what Obama was supposed to have done to have deserved the Peace Prize in the first place. And I’m a lifelong Democrat, so my feeling that the Nobel Committee made a mistake is not based in political partisanship.”  Steve J., Hermosa Beach, CA

“It appears that preemptive peace prizes work about as well as preemptive wars.”  Jaan C., Alameda, C

To read more comments, or to sign the RootsAction.org petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to revoke President Obama’s Peace Prize, click here.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.


Calvin Trillin: One issue that seems to be getting bipartisan support in the Senate


When Cruz begins a crude bombard,

He speaks with reckless disregard.

So even those who share his views

Tend not to want to schmooze with Cruz.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: The Nation4/8/2013


Calvin Trillin: On Dennis Rodman and his pal Kim Jong-un in North Korea


Kim Jong-un, dictator of North
Korea and BFF of Dennis Rodman,
threatens to use nuclear weapons
against the United States
Now Kim, who’s the strangest of big bomb possessors,
Says he’d use his nukes against Yankee aggressors.
Should we build some shelters? No, Kim is no menace,
Since he knows a nuke strike could take out his Dennis.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: The Nation 4/1/2013

Norman Solomon: Ten years ago today: A warfare state of mind


Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.”

That was 123 months ago, in mid-December 2002. The invasion of Iraq came a hundred days later.

The resulting tragedies have been so horrific and large-scale that the overall reporting by U.S. mass media scarcely provides a clue. In real time and in retrospect, the dominant cliches about this war have stayed in circular motion, self-referential, within American bubbles.

Occasional, usually dimmed, strobe lights flicker on the real suffering of American soldiers and their loved ones. Numerically much larger, the Iraqi suffering gets short shrift, barely discernible in the shadows of U.S. media and politics.

A just-released report, “Iraq War Among World’s Worst Events,” provides a cogent summary of devastation so extensive and terrible that readers will be challenged to not turn away. In the report, David Swanson offers a 10-year overview of human consequences of moral turpitude for which no American official or propagandist has been held accountable.

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, don’t expect the vast numbers of media hotshots and U.S. officials who propelled that catastrophe to utter a word of regret. Many are busy with another project: assisting the push for war on Iran.

Days ago, speaking of possible actions against Iran, President Obama told an Israeli TV reporter: “I continue to keep all options on the table.” Earlier this month, Vice President Biden told AIPAC’s annual conference that the president “is not bluffing.” Biden said “all options, including military force, are on the table.” Those statements are similar to the threats from President Bush and Vice President Cheney before the invasion of Iraq.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Calvin Trillin: Hacker unearths paintings by George W. Bush


To new artist George Bush (junior),

We welcome you  Greetings. Salaam.

We’re eager to see your depiction

Of nukes stashed away by Saddam.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: The Nation 3/4/2013)


Calvin Trillin: The sip heard round the world


He sought to trash the Democrats.

He’d rough then up for sure, but first he

Just had to have a drink.

Poor Rubio was dry and thirsty.


Though pundits say his future’s bright,

Whatever life to him may bring,

HIs sobriquet will always be

The senator from Poland Spring.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: (The Nation 3/11/2013)


Solomon: Three quarters of Progressive Caucus refuse to stand against cuts in social security, medicare and medicaid


Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

(With a list of the 54 Progressive Caucus members who have refused to sign a letter opposing the cuts)

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 explo

In contrast, the House members on the short list of the letter’s signers deserve our praise for taking a clear stand: Brown, Cartwright, Conyers, DeFazio, Ellison, Faleomavaega, Grayson, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, A. Hastings, Kaptur, Lee, McGovern, Nadler, Napolitano, Nolan, Serrano, Takano, Velazquez and Waters.

If you don’t see the name of your representative in the above paragraph, you might want to have a few words. (For a list of the 54 Progressive Caucus members who haven’t signed the letter, click here.)

It’s one thing — a fairly easy thing — to tell someone else what you hope they’ll do, as 107 House Democrats did recently in a different letter to President Obama: “We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. . . . We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits.”

It’s much more difficult — and far more crucial — for members of Congress to publicly commit themselves not to vote for any cuts in those programs, which are matters of life and death for vast numbers of Americans.

Even a signed pledge to do or not do something, in terms of a floor vote, is no guarantee that a member of Congress will actually follow through. But in a situation like this, the pledge is significant — and even more significant is a refusal to make such a pledge.

As of now, 54 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have taken a historic dive. We should take note — and not forget who they are.

Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.




Solomon: Congress: End endless war and stop ‘becoming the evil we deplore’


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.

Beyond the worthy goal of repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force is a need for Congress to cut off appropriations for the “war on terror.” A prerequisite: repudiating the lethal mythology of righteous war unbounded by national borders or conceivable duration.

What may be even more difficult to rescind is the chronic disconnect between lofty oratory and policies digging the country deeper into endless war.

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” President Obama said in his 2013 inaugural address, after four years of doing more than any other president in U.S. history to normalize perpetual war as a bipartisan enterprise.

Repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force will be very hard. Revoking the power to combine lovely rhetoric with pernicious militarism will be even more difficult.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Dick Meister: Honor a legendary organizer


Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, is co-author of A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America’s Farm Workers (Macmillan)

There’s still time, if you hurry, to join a nationwide campaign  to posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to legendary organizer Fred Ross. For more than a half-century he was among the most influential, skilled, dedicated and successful of the community organizers who have done so much for the underdogs of American society.

Most people have never heard of Fred Ross, which is exactly how he wanted it. He saw his job as training others to assume leadership and the public recognition that accompanies it.  And train them he did, hundreds of them, including farm worker leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who were previously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Chavez and Huerta were typical Ross trainees ­­ poor, inexperienced members of an oppressed minority who were inspired to mobilize others like them to stand up to their oppressors.

“Fred did such a good job of explaining how poor people could build power I could taste it,” Chavez recalled.

Chavez was among the Mexican Americans living in California’s barrios in the 1950s that Ross, then with Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, was helping form political blocs to demand improvements in the woefully inadequate community services provided them.

Ross’ approach was, as always, to get people to organize themselves, and he sensed correctly that young Chavez was “potentially the best-grass-roots leader I’d ever run into.”

Within just a few years, the small organizations formed by the residents of the particular barrios joined into a potent statewide group, the Community Services Organization, headed by Chavez.

A few years later, Chavez and Huerta founded what became the United Farm Workers Union. It was the country’s first effective organization of farm workers precisely because it was built in accord with Ross’ principles ­­ from the ground up by farm workers relying heavily on such non-violent tactics as the boycott.

Ross had started out to be a classroom teacher after working is way through the University of Southern California in 1936. But he could find no teaching jobs in that dark year of the Great Depression. He took other public work, eventually managing the federal migratory labor camp near Bakersfield, California, that novelist John Steinbeck used as a model for the camp that had a central role in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Fiction though it was, Steinbeck’s account was accurate. Conditions in the camp were deplorable. So were the conditions imposed on the migrants by the local growers for whom they worked.

But the migrants organized themselves to win better living and working conditions, thanks to young Fred Ross. He went from cabin to cabin and tent to tent every morning after daybreak, encouraging camp residents to form the organizations that helped improve their conditions,

Ross had found his life’s work. He would become a full-time organizer, a task he described as being “a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” Never was Ross paid more than a marginal salary, sometimes no more than room, board and expenses, but never would he falter.

His goal was “to help people do away with fear­­ fear to speak up and demand their rights ­ ­ to push people to get out in front so they could prove to themselves they could do it.”

Ross left the migrant group to work with the Japanese Americans on the West Coast who were herded into internment camps during World War II. Ross, then with the American Friends Service Committee, helped internees win release by finding them jobs in the manpower-short steel plants and other factories in the Midwest that produced vital war materials.

After the war, he returned to southern California, to help African Americans and Mexican Americans fight against housing and school segregation.  They fought effectively, too, against police brutality and helped elect Los Angeles’ first Hispanic city councilman.

Ross also worked in Arizona, helping Yaqui Indians get sewers, paved streets, medical facilities and other basic needs that had been denied their communities.

Ross’ most ambitious and probably most satisfying work came during his 15 years of training hundreds of organizers and negotiators for the United Farm Workers from the UFW’s inexperienced and long-oppressed rank-and-file members.

Ross kept at it for virtually the rest of his life, joining his son, Fred Jr., a highly regarded organizer himself, in grass-roots campaigns for liberal politicians and progressive causes. He actively supported a wide variety of international as well as domestic issues, much of the time working with anti-nuclear and peace groups.

It was not until four years before his death in 1992, when Alzheimer’s Disease struck, that he finally stopped.

Fred Ross was an organizer’s organizer, a trailblazer, a pioneer. He was ­­and he remains ­­ a vitally important model for those seeking to empower the powerless and to truly reform, if not perfect, this imperfect society.

“Fred fought more fights  and trained more organizers and planted more seeds of righteous indignation against social injustice than anyone we’re ever likely to see again,” noted Jerry Cohen, formerly the UFW’s general counsel.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi noted  that Ross “left a legacy of good works that have given many the courage of their convictions, the powers of their ideals, and the strength to do heroic deeds on behalf of the common person.”

Honoring Ross, said his son, would be recognizing “the foot soldiers in all struggles that do the day to day work but rarely get acknowledged for their labors. It’s about honoring the farm workers, low- wage urban workers, and all those fighting for social justice against what many see as insurmountable odds.”

To add your voice to those urging President Obama to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Fred Ross, send an email before Feb. 28 to presidential aide Julie Chavez Rodriquez at Julie_C_Rodriguez@who.eop.gov. Please send a blind copy to Fred Ross Jr. at fredross47@gmail.com. You might also ask your House and Senate representatives to join others in Congress who have signed a letter urging the President to act.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, is co-author of A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America’s Farm Workers (Macmillan)


Solomon: What Obama said–and what he meant–about climate change, war and civil liberties


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.

“Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

We’re so pleased to help Afghan people kill other Afghan people! Our government’s expertise in such matters includes superb reconnaissance and some thrilling weaponry, which we’ll keep providing to the Kabul regime. And don’t you love the word “counterterrorism”? It sounds so much better than: “using the latest high-tech weapons to go after people on our ‘kill lists’ and unfortunately take the lives of a lot of other people who happen to be around, including children, thus violating international law, traumatizing large portions of the population and inflicting horrors on people in ways we would never tolerate ourselves.”

“We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”

We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. And I recognize that, in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will. The ones who get huffy about the Bill of Rights aren’t going to get the time of day from this White House. I recognize that some of my base is getting a bit upset about this civil-liberties thing, so I’ll ramp up the soothing words and make use of some prominent Democratic members of Congress who are of course afraid to polarize with me. Don’t underestimate this president; I know how to talk reverentially about our great nation’s “checks and balances” as I undermine them.

“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.


Norman Solomon: Washington’s war-makers are in a bunker


Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column

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.”

In that case, the onus is shared by those inside and outside the bubble. Wilkerson said as much when I mentioned that a decade ago, during many months before the invasion, my colleagues and I at the Institute for Public Accuracy helped to document — with large numbers of news releases and public reports — that the Bush administration’s claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were full of holes.

From there, our debate swiftly went down a rabbit hole, as Wilkerson took me to task for not getting through the bubble that surrounded him as chief of staff for Secretary of State Powell. “I didn’t see a single one of your reports,” Wilkerson said. “So, nobody called me from your group. Nobody tried to get in — nobody tried to get into my office and talk to me from your group. Other groups did, but your group never got into my office, never called me on the phone — never talked to me. Other groups did. Why didn’t you?. . . You didn’t call. . . You didn’t call. . . You did not call.”

Non-apology apologies have been a forte of former impresarios of the Iraq war. It speaks volumes that Col. Wilkerson has been more apologetic than most of them. The scarcity of genuine public remorse is in sync with the absence of legal accountability or political culpability.

The partway apologies are tethered to notable narcissism. It’s still mainly about them, the seasoned ones who have worked in top echelons of government, whose self-focus is enduring. At the same time, scarcely a whisper can be heard about renouncing the prerogative to launch aggressive war.

So, when faced with occasional media questions about Powell’s WMD speech to the U.N. Security Council six weeks before the Iraq invasion, both Wilkerson and Powell routinely revert to the same careful phrasing about their own life sagas. Interviewed by CNN in 2005, after his three years as Secretary of State Powell’s chief of staff, Wilkerson described his key role in preparing that speech as “the lowest point in my life.” Last week, in our debate, he called the U.N. presentation “the lowest point in my professional and personal life.”

As for Colin Powell, guess what? That U.N. speech was “a low point in my otherwise remarkable career,” he told AARP’s magazine in 2006. Yet the U.N. speech gave powerful propaganda support for the invasion that began the Iraq war — a war that was also part of Powell’s “otherwise remarkable career.”

So, too, a dozen years earlier, was the Gulf War that Powell presided over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early 1991. On the same day that the Associated Press cited estimates from Pentagon sources that the six-week war had killed 100,000 Iraqi people, Powell told an interviewer: “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.”

The illustrious and sturdy bow on the entire political package is immunity — a reassuring comfort to retired and present war leaders alike. Former Bush officials and current Obama officials have scant reason to worry that their conduct of war might one day put them in a courtroom dock. They’ve turned their noses up at international law, lowered curtains on transparency and put some precious civil liberties in a garbage compactor with the president’s hand on the switch.

Normalizing silence and complicity is essential fuel for endless war. With top officials relying on their own exculpatory status, a grim feedback loop keeps spinning as the increasingly powerful warfare state runs roughshod over the principle of consent of the governed. Top officials dodge responsibility — and pay no penalty — for lying the country into, and into continuing, horrendous wars and other interventions.

Without an honest reckoning of what did and didn’t happen in the lead-up to the Iraq war, a pernicious message comes across from Wilkerson, Powell and many others: of course we stuck it out and followed orders, we had private doubts but fulfilled our responsibilities to maintain public support for the war.

It’s a kind of role modeling that further corrodes the political zeitgeist. The upshot is that people at the top of the U.S. government — whether in 2003 or 2013 — have nothing to lose by going along with the program for war. In a word: impunity.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Dick Meister: The pioneering black porters


By Dick Meister

Bay Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

It’s Black History Month, a good time to honor the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, one of the most important yet too often overlooked leaders in the long struggle for racial equality and union rights.

The union, the first to be founded by African Americans, was involved deeply in political as well as economic activity, joining with the NAACP to serve as the major political vehicle of African Americans from the late 1930s through the 1950s.

Together, the two organizations led the drives in those years against racial discrimination in employment, housing, education and other areas that laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the1960s.

The need for a porters’ union was painfully obvious. Porters commonly worked 12 or more hours a day on the Pullman Company’s sleeping car coaches for less than $100 a month. And out of that, they had to pay for their meals, uniforms, even the polish they used to shine passengers’ shoes. And they got no fringe benefits.

In order to meet their basic living expenses, most porters had to draw on the equally meager earnings of their wives, who were almost invariably employed as domestics.

It was a marginal and humiliating experience for porters. They were rightly proud of their work, a pride that showed in their smiling, dignified bearing. But porters knew that no matter how well they performed, they would never be promoted to higher-paying conductors’ jobs. Those jobs were reserved for white men.

Porters knew most of all that their white passengers and white employers controlled everything. It was they alone who decided what the porters must do and what they’d get for doing it.

When a passenger pulled the bell cord, porters were to answer swiftly and cheerfully. Just do what the passengers asked – or demanded.  Shine their shoes, fetch them drinks, make their beds, empty their cuspidors, and more. No questions, no complaints, no protests. No rights. Nothing better epitomized the vast distance between black and white in American society.

Hundreds of porters who challenged the status quo by daring to engage in union activity or other concerted action were fired. But finally, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted workers, black and white, the legal right to unionize. And finally, in 1937 the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters won a union contract from Pullman.

The contract was signed exactly 12 years after union president and founder A. Philip Randolph had called the union’s first organizing meeting in New York City. It was a long arduous struggle, but it brought the porters out of poverty. It won them pay at least equal to that of unionized workers in many other fields, a standard workweek, a full range of employer financed benefits.  Most important, porters won the right to continue to bargain collectively with Pullman on those and other vital matters.

Union President Randolph and Vice President C.L. Dellums, who succeeded Randolph in 1968, led the drive that pressured President Roosevelt into several key actions against discrimination. That included creation of a Fair Employment practices Commission in housing as well as employment.

FDR agreed to set up the commission – a model for several state commissions – and take other anti-discrimination steps only after Randolph and Dellums threatened to lead a march on Washington by more than 100,000 black workers and others who were demanding federal action against racial discrimination.

Randolph and Dellums struggled as hard against discrimination inside the labor movement . . . particularly against the practice of unions setting up segregated locals, one for white members, one for black members.

Randolph, elected in 1957 as the AFL-CIO’s first African–American vice president, long was known as the civil rights conscience of the labor movement, often prodding federation President George Meany  and other conservative AFL-CIO leaders to take firm stands against racial discrimination.

The sleeping car coaches that once were the height of travel luxury have long since disappeared. And there are very few sleeping car porters in this era of less-than-luxurious train travel. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is gone, too. But before the union disappeared, it had reached goals as important as any ever sought by an American union or any other organization.

Bay Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Ten years after Powell’s U.N. speech, old hands are ready for more blood


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

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,  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.

Among the powerful and not-so-powerful, in mass media and on Capitol Hill, the default position is still to defer to presidential momentum for war. Public candor and policy introspection remain in short supply.

The new secretary of state, John Kerry — like the one he just replaced, Hillary Clinton — voted for the Iraq war resolution in the Senate, nearly four months before Powell went to the U.N. Security Council. During the crucial lead-up months, Senator Kerry was at pains to show his avid support for an invasion. In early October 2002, appearing for an hour on MSNBC’s “Hardball” program live from The Citadel as an audience of young cadets filled the screen, Kerry said: “I’m prepared to go. I think people understand that Saddam Hussein is a danger.”

Since then, Kerry has publicly said that he would have voted for the war resolution even if he’d known that Iraq actually had no weapons of mass destruction. But on the Senate floor, Kerry prefaced his vote for war by rhetorically demanding to know why Saddam Hussein was “attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don’t even try.” The senator emphasized that “according to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.”

Months later, when Powell trumpeted that theme at the United Nations, the landslide of testimonials included this one from a future U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice: “I think he has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them, and I don’t think many informed people doubted that.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post edition with the editorial headlined “Irrefutable” also included unanimous agreement from each of the opinion columns on the facing page.

Longtime Post columnist Richard Cohen attested to Powell’s unquestionable veracity with these words: “The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”

Inches away, another venerable pundit held forth. Powell managed to “present the world with a convincing and detailed X-ray of Iraq’s secret weapons and terrorism programs yesterday,” wrote Jim Hoagland, a Post foreign-policy specialist. He concluded: “To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don’t believe that. Today, neither should you.”

Fast forward to the current era. What are Richard Cohen and Jim Hoagland writing — about Iran?

On February 6, 2012, exactly nine years after proclaiming that “only a fool” could doubt Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Cohen’s column declared flatly: “The ultimate remedy is Iranian regime change.” Four months ago, Cohen wrapped up a column by observing “there is still time for Iran to back down before President Obama’s red line — no nuclear weapon — is crossed. This is a war whose time has not yet come.” Not yet.

Hoagland — a decade after telling readers they should put their trust in Colin Powell’s “convincing and detailed X-ray of Iraq’s secret weapons” — is now making clear that his patience with Iran is wearing thin. “Until recently,” Hoagland wrote five weeks ago, “I had been relatively comfortable with Obama’s assertions that there is time to reach a peaceful resolution with Iran.” Hoagland’s column went on to say that military strikes on Iran “threaten disastrous political and economic consequences for the world,” so diplomatic efforts should try to avert the need for such strikes — before they become necessary.

So goes the dominant spectrum of opinionating and policymaking for war, from eagerness to reluctance. Propaganda lead-ups to warfare are as varied as wars themselves; and yet every style of such propaganda relies on deception, and every war is unspeakable horror.

After jumping onto ghastly bandwagons for one war after another, the nation’s media establishment is available to do it again. So is the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. So is the new secretary of state. They’re old hands, dripping with blood. They have not had enough.

Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

America’s new Progressive Era?


By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

NEW YORK – In 1981, US President Ronald Reagan came to office famously declaring that, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Thirty-two years and four presidents later, Barack Obama’s recent inaugural address, with its ringing endorsement of a larger role for government in addressing America’s – and the world’s – most urgent challenges, looks like it may bring down the curtain on that era.

Reagan’s statement in 1981 was extraordinary. It signaled that America’s new president was less interested in using government to solve society’s problems than he was in cutting taxes, mainly for the benefit of the wealthy. More important, his presidency began a “revolution” from the political right – against the poor, the environment, and science and technology – that lasted for three decades, its tenets upheld, more or less, by all who followed him: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and, in some respects, by Obama in his first term.

The “Reagan Revolution” had four main components: tax cuts for the rich; spending cuts on education, infrastructure, energy, climate change, and job training; massive growth in the defense budget; and economic deregulation, including privatization of core government functions, like operating military bases and prisons. Billed as a “free-market” revolution, because it promised to reduce the role of government, in practice it was the beginning of an assault on the middle class and the poor by wealthy special interests.

These special interests included Wall Street, Big Oil, the big health insurers, and arms manufacturers. They demanded tax cuts, and got them; they demanded a rollback of environmental protection, and got it; they demanded, and received, the right to attack unions; and they demanded lucrative government contracts, even for paramilitary operations, and got those, too.

For more than three decades, no one really challenged the consequences of turning political power over to the highest bidders. In the meantime, America went from being a middle-class society to one increasingly divided between rich and poor. CEOs who were once paid around 30 times what their average workers earned now make around 230 times that amount. Once a world leader in the fight against environmental degradation, America was the last major economy to acknowledge the reality of climate change. Financial deregulation enriched Wall Street, but ended up creating a global economic crisis through fraud, excessive risk-taking, incompetence, and insider dealing.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama’s recent address marks not only the end of this destructive agenda, but also the start of a new era. Indeed, he devoted almost the entire speech to the positive role of government in providing education, fighting climate change, rebuilding infrastructure, taking care of the poor and disabled, and generally investing in the future. It was the first inaugural address of its kind since Reagan turned America away from government in 1981.

If Obama’s speech turns out to mark the start of a new era of progressive politics in America, it would fit a pattern explored by one of America’s great historians, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who documented roughly 30-year intervals between periods of what he called “private interest” and “public purpose.”

In the late 1800’s, America had its Gilded Age, with the creation of large new industries by the era’s “robber barons” accompanied by massive inequality and corruption. The subsequent Progressive Era was followed by a temporary return to plutocracy in the 1920’s.

Then came the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and another 30 years of progressive politics, from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. The 1970’s were a transition period to the Age of Reagan – 30 years of conservative politics led by powerful corporate interests.

It is certainly time for a rebirth of public purpose and government leadership in the US to fight climate change, help the poor, promote sustainable technologies, and modernize America’s infrastructure. If America realizes these bold steps through purposeful public policies, as Obama outlined, the innovative science, new technology, and powerful demonstration effects that result will benefit countries around the world.

It is certainly too early to declare a new Progressive Era in America. Vested interests remain powerful, certainly in Congress – and even within the White House. These wealthy groups and individuals gave billions of dollars to the candidates in the recent election campaign, and they expect their contributions to yield benefits. Moreover, 30 years of tax cutting has left the US government without the financial resources needed to carry out effective programs in key areas such as the transition to low-carbon energy.

Still, Obama has wisely thrown down the gauntlet, calling for a new era of government activism. He is right to do so, because many of today’s crucial challenges – saving the planet from our own excesses; ensuring that technological advances benefit all members of society; and building the new infrastructure that we need nationally and globally for a sustainable future – demand collective solutions.

Implementation of public policy is just as important to good governance as the vision that underlies it. So the next task is to design wise, innovative, and cost-effective programs to address these challenges. Unfortunately, when it comes to bold and innovative programs to meet critical human needs, America is out of practice. It is time to begin anew, and Obama’s full-throated defense of a progressive vision points the US in the right direction.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.

Norman Solomon: Verbal tics and political routines


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.”

**  “Pro-life”

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?

**  “Globalization”

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.

Putting “corporate” before “globalization” may seem cumbersome, but it’s worth another three syllables. There’s a world of difference between globalization for human cooperation and corporate globalization. Blurring it all together misses the chance to clarify the distinct possibilities.

**  “Moderates”

Fifty-five years ago, in his book “The Causes of World War Three,” sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote about what he called “crackpot realism” — policy nostrums widely touted by mass media outlets and other powerful institutions as wisely reasonable, yet actually disastrous.

In a similar groove, these days, we hear about how certain elected officials are “moderates.” And we might refer to them that way ourselves. But the grim results of crackpot moderation — climate change and environmental degradation, incessant warfare, more poverty, widening economic inequities, abuse of civil liberties and so much more — are all around us. So-called “moderates” fuel the infernos of catastrophe.

What’s moderate about the extreme injustices and destructiveness of the status quo?

**  Skimming the headlines

We all do it sometimes — glancing at headlines and scarcely reading the stories — one of the reasons why, all too often, what we think we know actually isn’t so.

Case in point: a headline at the top of the New York Times front page days ago, no doubt leaving many quick readers with the belief that President Obama is getting tough on Wall Street.

Well, that’s what the headline conveyed. “SIGNAL TO STREET IN OBAMA’S PICK FOR REGULATORS,” it began, followed by an elaboration in big type just below: “A Renewed Resolve to Hold Financial Firms Accountable.”

Mostly focusing on the appointment of Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, the article offered a fleeting indication in its eighth paragraph that the “renewed resolve” might actually be wobbly. “While Ms. White is best known as an aggressive prosecutor,” the article noted, “she also built a lucrative legal practice defending Wall Street executives, a potential concern for consumer advocates.”

The basis for that potential concern, however, did not gain any further elucidation until the article’s twenty-sixth paragraph, which provided the other mention of why consumer advocates might be concerned: “Ms. White could face additional questions about her career, a revolving door in and out of government. In private practice, she defended some of Wall Street’s biggest names, including Kenneth D. Lewis, a former chief of Bank of America. As the head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, she also represented JPMorgan Chase and the board of Morgan Stanley.”

So much for headlines

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.