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banner new.jpg                   A Peaceable Proposition – The Golden Rule ‘Greening’ of U.S. Foreign Policy

                                                                                     An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

The Japanese Air Force launched an attack on December 7, 1941 that devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor on the beautiful Hawaiian Island of Oahu.  This national trauma was “a date that will live in infamy”, and it immediately led to the entry of the United States into the Second World War.  Americans joined the Allies, a group of nations that had been fighting, in increasing numbers since 1939, the aggressive and violent world domination and resource acquisition gambits of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Emperor Hirohito’s Japan. 

Today, after the triumph of the Allies in World War II and the long Cold War between nuclear-armed superpowers that followed it, the United States is engaged in its own course of superpower domination.  The U.S. military has roughly 1,000 military bases in 150 other nations around the globe, and it has spent a decade occupying two entire countries in the Middle East.  The purpose of our occupations was ostensibly to enforce police-state conditions to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan against opposition from sectarian insurgents, religious fundamentalists, nationalists and assorted warlords.  The costs of this aggressive course of action have been exceedingly high in terms of money spent, sons and daughters killed or injured, injustices perpetrated, collateral damages inflicted, and violent opposition and terrorist reactions that are being provoked by our violations of the sovereignty of other nations. 

When General Douglas MacArthur stated that he believed “the entire effort of modern society should be concentrated on the endeavor to outlaw war as a method of the solution of problems between nations,” these words should have been etched permanently on our collective consciousness.  The transcendent truth of this compelling observation should become a defining principle of our foreign policies worldwide.  Our leaders in the United States should commit to courageously acting in ways that are consistent with this understanding.

We should also begin to recognize the profound ecological folly of war.  There is a heavy carbon footprint of American military occupations and the many bases we maintain abroad.  During the many years of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military used more oil every year than was used by all of the 1.2 billion people of India.  These wars add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than over half the countries in the world.  Even the Pentagon has admitted that global warming and the risks of abrupt climate change pose far-reaching and exorbitantly costly national security risks, so we should downsize this wasteful hegemony.

Professor Bruce E. Johansen once observed:  “Peacemakers are often assumed to be naïve dreamers.  However, given the environmental circumstances, the timely end to wars is not naïve, but necessary.  The Earth can no longer afford war.”

This state of affairs in the world calls for a broad and transformative greening of all aspects of business and governmental activities.  We should stop stubbornly defending the entrenched status quo, and mere ‘greenwashing’ will no longer suffice.  Progressive change is needed for our civilizations to survive and prosper.  Bold and wide-ranging reforms should be made that are in accord with common sense and the clearest consensus understandings of economists, ecologists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, statespersons, biologists, and spiritual leaders.  The wisest understandings of honestly ethical lawyers and politicians, if any, should also be taken into account. 

“Ha!”, you may think!  Ethical lawyers and politicians?  Note that there actually have been honest politicians, despite our generally appropriate cynicism in this regard.  Consider, for instance, the honorable progressive Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in an airplane crash in 2002.  He believed that politics should be about more than power and money and winning at any cost.  He noted:  “Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.  It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and in the world.” 

The disparity between this honorable concept of politics and the ugly pragmatic reality has gotten much worse since Barack Obama became President, and it sure seems like some deep racism is involved, especially with the bastion of social conservatism centered in the South.  That issue is explored elsewhere in this manifesto, but there are also other facets of this rancorous opposition:

“If you would work the multiplication table into the Democratic 
platform, the Republicans will vote

   it down at the election.“

                                      --- Mark Twain

History shows that the more money a nation spends on its military, the more likely it is to go to war.  This historical fact reinforces the value of the idea that we should reduce the enormous amount of money we spend on our military.  The savings we achieve from this change should be redirected to domestic investments like affordable education, universal healthcare, better nutrition, and progress toward a more sensibly prioritized and fiscally responsible budget.

And in the future, before we launch any militant attempts to bring order or freedom or democracy to people in other nations, it should be mandatory that we recognize that a violent and repressive war zone is NOT the ideal place for such initiatives.  If, per chance, our national motives are more complex and distinctly different than the rationalizations used to convince the public of the case for preemptive wars, our own democratic society should make concerted efforts to honestly understand WHY we go to war.  We should also collectively ponder why we continue our military occupations, no matter how damaging, unjust, costly or counterproductive they become.  This essay delves into these issues.

As our world becomes increasingly crowded, war becomes ever more dangerously a “disastrous anachronism”.  The need grows for us to channel our materialistic drives, heated sensibilities, violent emotions, aggressive impulses, religious righteousness, and conflicting conceptions of the greater good into less adversarial and more peaceful methods of ensuring the common good.

The national elections of 2008 and 2012 promised hope of positive change in the domestic and foreign policies of the United States.  The American people have been getting increasingly frustrated with the extremely costly quagmire of our military occupations, and they want to be able to believe that the U.S. can alter its course and bring its troops home and stop intervening militarily in the affairs of other nations.  They yearn to have faith that our democratic republic will more honestly and prudently honor its national ideals.  At the same time, people want our leaders to be more fair and sensible in dealing with the compelling global challenges that face humanity. 

We regrettably find ourselves in a tight spot ‘between a rock and a hard place’.  As we cease our Middle East military occupations and bring our troops home, we have a sense of ‘losing face’ and feeling the psychological sting of failure, and we risk abandoning the region to those who we have been exploiting or humiliating for years.  The huge financial, social and moral costs of this military adventurism have been bleeding us for too long, and our hubris has yielded no definitively good results.

The organization EarthJustice is founded on a very sensible and propitious idea.  It is dedicated “to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.”  Unfortunately, because of the high costs and ecological folly of our militarism and wars, we are failing to adequately invest in ‘green’ goals.  It would be a good idea to change this!  Let’s begin to more intelligently balance our means and our commitments, and to weigh all foreign policy courses of action in the light of broader considerations.

We in the U.S. should extricate ourselves from endless wars and military commitments that have so many risks and injustices.  We should stop wielding blunt foreign policy instruments like preemptive wars and harsh economic sanctions that really hurt the people of other nations rather than the regimes we oppose.  Read on for elaborated insights.

Considerations of U.S. Policy in Afghanistan

Let’s be honest with ourselves, my fellow Americans!  Let’s see through the fog of self-justifying rationalizations and propaganda that tell us we are the good guys and that we have humble foreign policies.  We have a more extensive and far-flung military empire than any nation in history, with millions of troops, contractors and support personnel stationed in 150 countries abroad.  We have acted on the international stage with imperialistic aggression and arrogance by embracing preemptive warfare and a hard-nosed offensive “you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us” posture.  A smarter course of action would be to treat other nations with greater fairness, and focus on the mutual security of all involved.  Our military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have been ruthlessly repressive, and they have caused terrible collateral damages and widespread hardships and injustices.  This understandably has stoked insurgent opposition.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trace Center and the Pentagon, it would have been far better if President Bush and his cronies had seen beyond their ideologies and propensities for retribution and their poorly-focused aggression, and if they had heeded Mark Twain’s wise observation about American military adventurism: 

       “It is easier to stay out than get out.”  

We have been occupying Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union did during its terribly costly war from 1980 to 1988, and longer than the combined amount of time that the U.S. fought in World War I and World War II.  We should have learned the lesson from the Soviet Union’s misguided war in Afghanistan, which demonstrated that it is dirty business to intervene militarily in that region and such undertakings are quite likely destined to be disasters.  This outcome is a probability no matter how many troops we send there, because it is a brutally unjust occupation that creates practical grievances, numerous civilian casualties, widespread anger, and exacerbated instability.  Insurgent opposition is the inevitable and natural result of our heavy-handed militarism.

If the U.S. were to be occupied by a foreign power, for any reason whatsoever, millions of freedom-embracing, gun-loving Americans would be immediately radicalized into powerful opposition to foreign armies, air forces, military police and security agents.  This insurgency would fight occupiers from the beginning, especially if our society was so poor and unstable that there was a very high unemployment rate like there is in Afghanistan. 

Think about it!  Half the people of Afghanistan are under 20 years old.  We will never win the hearts and minds of such young people if we contribute to heightened ethnic conflicts in their country, and to corrupt governance, widespread poverty, high levels of unemployment, heavy civilian casualties, cultural oppression, and violence.  An arrogant attitude that presupposes superior Western military and political power stokes resentment and stimulates the motives for blowback retaliation.  Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, insightfully noted in the film The Fog of War, that we do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image, so we should not act as if we do! 

We should find a fair and safe way to extricate our country from what is essentially a civil struggle between warlords of the Pashtun ethnic group and Tajiks and Uzbecs.  Our military presence in Afghanistan is making problems worse, not better, by fueling the growth of insurgent opposition, according to Matthew Hoh, a former Foreign Service official in Afghanistan.  When Hoh resigned from his position in protest of our nation’s policies in late 2009, he pointed out that it was foolish not to have had a more clearly focused mission. 

We got into occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq in a similar way that we got into the war in Vietnam.  Many misconceptions and much simplistic propaganda, and a number of outright distortions of the truth, were used to sell these wars to the American people.  Our economic aggression and military presence in the Middle East were probably the primary motivating causes of the blowback terrorism of the 9/11 attacks in the first place.

For one thing, we are principally fighting Afghani insurgents, not al Qaeda, and our presence is exacerbating a more dangerous instability in Pakistan. For another, we cannot free the Afghani people from some monolithic ‘Taliban’ in what is a very complex cultural array of ethnic sectarian forces that fight there. 

Ronald Reagan called Afghani insurgents “freedom fighters” in the 1980s when they were fighting the Russian occupation and its puppet Afghan government.  To regard them now as ‘terrorists’ is not exactly accurate.  The central government we are supporting is barely legitimate, and it is among the most corrupt in the world.  It seems like an odd conviction to believe it is feasible and a good idea to try to train a large and costly Afghan army and police force that is adequate to suppress warring civil factions.  How can we have expected to stabilize Afghanistan when our military presence itself causes much of the insurgent opposition and many suicide bombings?

We should ‘Rethink Afghanistan’, and ‘Get Afghanistan Right’!  Civilian solutions need to be found to the problems in the Middle East, rather than futilely trying to force military solutions upon the people there.  Endless wars and military occupations with unclear missions are NOT necessary.  We have chosen them, and it is time to reconsider such strategies before they bankrupt our nation financially, socially and morally.

We are supporting a corrupt central government in Kabul, not a great experiment in democracy in Afghanistan.  The Corruption Perceptions Index prepared every year by Transparency International, a global civil society organization, indicated that in 2010 the public sector in Afghanistan was tied with Myanmar (Burma) as the second-most corrupt government in the world, out of 180 countries studied.  Rampant bribery, cronyism, fraud, and opium production exists there.  The United States should put more pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with moderate leaders of the Taliban, whose fanatic fringe may be religious reactionaries who favor the oppression of women, but they are more legitimate than occupying American forces, who are ‘infidels’ that have replaced the Russians in a continuing harsh military occupation of their country.

The U.S. should shift more of its foreign aid to non-military assistance, and help the Afghani people to live more secure lives.  We should have adopted a similar strategy at the end of ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ in Afghanistan in 1988, rather than having abandoned war-ravaged Afghanistan to ruthless Taliban warlords.  The only way to achieve enduring peace in Afghanistan is by helping create conditions in which the Afghani people are somewhat more free from fear, insecurity and desperation.  We should recognize that Western-style democracy and religious tolerance, and strong guarantees of women’s rights, and the separation of church and state, are all anathema to Afghan political and tribal culture, and that we will never be victorious in imposing our cultural ways upon them.

The United States has spent more than $1 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, and 95% of this cost has been for military actions, not humanitarian assistance.  Imagine how much goodwill we could have bought for a fraction of that amount of money!  We could have helped the Afghani people build hospitals, water systems, schools, libraries, bridges, roads and other infrastructure.  Unfortunately, we seem to have an open checkbook for wars, but there is strong opposition to more generous forms of foreign aid, just as there is powerful opposition to fairer and more universal forms of healthcare at home.

Wars that have unclear missions and confused purposes are foolish.  The stated intentions of our leaders are long on idealism, bravado and self-righteousness, but are short on honest motivations, achievable missions and smart strategic planning.  The result is that our actions tend to be counterproductive.  Not only do they foment insurgencies, but they also breed radical opposition, inflame hatreds, increase the motives for global jihad, perpetuate endless conflicts, counter-support terrorist tactics and undermine regional stability.  These are highly negative outcomes, so it is downright foolish to continue to pursue policies that have such adverse results.

‘Hard Power’ Versus ‘Soft Power’

History reveals that military overstretch has been a significant factor in the decline and fall of many empires.  Now is the time for the U.S. to choose more humble, sane, fair, affordable and sustainable courses of action.  We have backed ourselves into a corner of distorted priorities and wrong-headed aggression and military overstretch, and we are now seeing that arrogant ‘hard power’ is a poor substitute for smarter and fairer principles of ‘soft power’.  We should endeavor to understand this distinction more clearly. 

The power and prestige of the U.S. in the world are diminished when our foreign policies are founded on repulsive ‘hard power’ gambits like naked aggression, intimidation, coercion, unilateral military actions, deception, heartless economic sanctions, self-serving ideologies, ruthless covert operations, military occupations, trigger-happy security forces, kicked-in doors, horrid prison conditions, harsh interrogations, and extensive ‘collateral damage’ from air strikes.  This is why injustice, brutality, torture, hypocrisy, arrogance and triumphalism create insurgent opposition, and make us more vulnerable.  War should always be a last resort.

When we rely so heavily on hard power policies, our influence is eventually eroded and our national security interests are compromised.  Positive ‘soft power’ values are more attractive because they are admirable, decent and just.  Attributes of ‘soft power’ include democratic fairness, adherence to rules of law, respect for human rights, protections of individual liberties, good neighbor policies, generous foreign aid, and policies that are multilateral and mutually beneficial.  Fair-mindedness and clear legitimacy bolster our power because they enhance our standing and prestige.  Soft power policies are deeply seductive to people because they are intrinsically moral, and thus encourage cooperation.  We would be wise to embrace ‘soft power’ options with greater enthusiasm, and we should develop better laws to ensure that the forces of ruthless domination and amoral profiteering are prevented from being so influential in determining our policies. 

‘Soft power’ tends to encompass different modalities of communication and negotiation than hawkish ‘hard power’.  Soft power more readily embraces diplomacy, mediation and compromise to meet the needs and achieve the goals of all concerned.  Even the neoconservative Francis Fukuyama has pointed out that the U.S. is discovering it is necessary to implement “a dramatic demilitarization of American foreign policy and a re-emphasis on other types of policy instruments.”  Please!!

The ‘war on terror’ is similar to the wide and costly ‘war on drugs’.  Both of these are overly broad approaches based on narrow ideologies, and both of them address symptoms instead of real causes.  It is often better to be ‘smart’ on crime rather than ‘hard’ on crime or ‘soft’ on crime, and this lesson extends to our attitudes toward power.

We should be alert to the fact that centralized governments throughout history have had a tendency to reinforce their power by creating enemies and fomenting hatreds, thereby exploiting the fears and nationalistic impulses of their citizens.  Iran’s ayatollahs, for instance, rail against the United States as ‘the great Satan’, warning the Persian people about Western imperialism and political interference.  This use of an external threat of American encroachment strengthens their control and ability to repress their people. 

Likewise, American leaders used similar tactics to demonize communism during the Cold War, and now to make us fear terrorism and Islamic peoples.  Using such manipulations, they divert our attention from domestic problems, injustices, and workers’ grievances.  Such courses of action have the accompanying benefit for authoritarian rulers of helping stifle dissent, suppress political opposition, and eliminate the voices of those who oppose such ruthlessness.

It is high time that we begin to recognize the injustices and dangers of such gambits, and to prioritize our national efforts to create a fairer and more sustainable society.  The time has come for us to forsake preemptive wars.  Let us commit to conserve resources, prevent unnecessarily extensive environmental damages, and mitigate the risks of trillions of dollars of costs and widespread biotic calamities related to global warming and climate change.

Speak Truth to Power

“You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its

    assimilated conformists.”             

                                          --- 1960’s Political activist Abbie Hoffman

THAT is speaking truth to power!  Listen up Ayatollahs, autocrats, authoritarians, “strict father” conservatives, tyrants, religious reactionaries, and all political control freaks!  People now recognize that self-anointed emperors ‘have no clothes’.  Their power-mongering gambits are clear, and it is time to allow the great historical trends toward national independence and truer democracies to progress.  It is time to loosen the reins of intrusive government, tighten the reins on amoral corporations and power usurping elites, and act with greater fairness, humanitarian resolve, and ecological sanity.

Freedom is one of the highest values of human aspiration.  In light of this fact, we should organize our societies in ways that maximize intrinsic and ‘unalienable’ human rights and civil liberties.  These freedoms can be assured only in the context of an adherence to Golden Rule ethics, in which every individual agrees to abide by reasonable rules of law and a degree of personal responsibility for the greater social good. 

In connection with this overarching individual responsibility, we should all oppose efforts by our leaders to wage wars of aggression.  After the terrible aggression of Germany and Japan during World War II, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg deemed such aggression to be “the supreme international crime”.  We have had too much self-serving bombastic war-justifying propaganda, and we need to begin to understand that our national security is bound up with the mutual security of people everywhere.  Imperial ambitions and domineering militarism is contrary to peaceable goals and truer mutual security!

Games People Play

We human animals behave like many other mammals.  We use status displays and strategies of deceit, bluff, threat and appeasement gestures in our sex and courtship activities and other social interactions.  We may deny the basic zoological fact that we are animals, but it is a fundamental fact of biology.

Our motivation to avoid failure in Afghanistan is similar to a psychological tendency in investing known as ‘loss aversion’.  We do not want to admit losses and sunk costs, so we effectively double down on bad bets.  President Obama fell prey to such a strategy with his costly escalation of the Afghan war.  But by continuing this military occupation, rather than having cut our losses and negotiated a withdrawal and fairer conditions in Afghanistan, the costs have multiplied.

An Aside from the Front

I was one of thousands of wanderlust-driven young travelers who adventurously journeyed overland “across Asia on the cheap” between Europe and Australia in the early 1970s.  Most of these travelers followed a highlight route that was described in the first Lonely Planet publication by Maureen and Tony Wheeler, Across Asia on the Cheap.  This homespun guide summarized places to see and stay and eat in a dozen nations from Turkey to Indonesia.  My travels took me to Afghanistan, where I spent a month in November and December of 1973.

The Afghani people back then, before 30 years of nearly continuous warfare, were largely honorable people living in an extremely poor country.  They struggled to survive in this ruggedly mountainous and harshly arid nation where more than 2 million of the 15 million people were nomads who migrated around the semi-desert with tents, camels and herds of goats and sheep.  Throughout history, from time immemorial, marauding armies have imperiously coursed across the rugged countryside of Afghanistan to cross over the Khyber Pass seeking riches and glory in Europe or the Far East.  Many invaders have come and gone, including Arabs and Persians, and Mongols under Genghis Khan, and the British, and the Russians.  History shows that all attempts to impose centralized control over the Afghani people have been destined to failure.  The attempt to impose an authoritarian rule over such a disparate collection of ethnic peoples is just too difficult to achieve. 

In neighboring Iran, the U.S. conspired to help overthrow the freely-elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, and to install the Shah of Iran who ruled with an iron fist and a ruthless secret police -- the notorious SAVAK.  After 25 years of his rule, the Shah was finally overthrown by religious ayatollahs in 1979. 

Anyone caught using drugs in Iran was punished severely when I traveled overland across the country in 1973.  Young travelers would arrive in Afghanistan, in dramatic contrast, and find an astonishingly more relaxed authority.  Travelers would go into small restaurants for dinner in towns in Afghanistan near the Iranian border, and the proprietor would invariably be filling a primitive pipe known as a chillum with strong hashish and passing it around to customers.  Dilapidated and obviously ill-paid Afghani army regulars would come in to eat, and they would join in getting stoned as if it were as natural to share in this activity as having a cup of coffee.

Any conceptions we Americans have about “you’re either with us or against us” are far beyond the ken of these inadvertent Afghani pawns in the conflict between capitalist-driven empire-protecting globalization interests and their hubris-filled militaristic superpower enforcers, on the one hand, and the tribal warlords, freedom-fighting insurgents and infidel-hating religious extremists, on the other.

President Obama’s compromise solution to the dilemma of what to do with the perplexing situation in Afghanistan and the critical situation in neighboring Iran and Pakistan, where millions of Afghans have been driven as war refugees, is an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.  Regrettably, the efforts of Westerners to impose their versions of stability and centralized control on a region with such a fractured history are a costly and ultimately futile attempt at the impossible.  We will not be able to train a strong cohesive Afghan army that will be able to control the intensely independent tribal cultures of Afghanistan.  Because Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, it cannot afford to support a large standing army, and high unemployment rates will ensure instability in the region for years to come.  We Americans will likely find that it is not possible to coerce the Afghani people into some kind of peaceful coexistence in light of the corrupt authority in Kabul.

More than 40 years have passed since I was in Afghanistan, and that country has been involved in internecine warfare for most of those years.  Now the U.S., still deep in the costly quagmire, is gambling that we can whip the Afghani army into a well-trained fighting force to suppress the warlords and tribal factions, and to defend the corrupt central government in a police-state-like establishment of security.  There is something rather insane about this gamble!

I remember thinking, when I was a young woman, how bizarre it would have been to be born in “Red China”, where all the people were brainwashed by government propaganda into believing that communism was a good thing, and that strict conformity was a necessity.  Such conceptions turn out to have been extremely simplistic, and they ignored the extent to which people in all nations are subtly indoctrinated with solipsistic worldviews and self-righteously nationalistic beliefs and feelings of ethnocentric supremacy.  Nations that have a free press have a somewhat greater degree of objectivity about their own national self-image, but all peoples have their own acculturated biases and it is ridiculous to fervently believe in narrowly provincial attitudes and convictions of either the ideological elites or the less educated masses.

Robert McNamara pointed out in the film The Fog of War that misunderstanding our enemies, as we did in Vietnam, is dangerous.  He says that we must be able to ‘empathize’ enough with our enemies to see their point view.  Only by doing this can we formulate the most sensible and successful foreign policies.  Today in the Middle East, Muslims despise us NOT for our freedoms, democracy, open culture and empowerment of women, they hate us because of our militaristic and imperialistic economic actions in their nations.  This truth was consistently communicated to us by Osama bin Laden and other extremists who oppose our aggression and humiliating policies.  Islamic people’s primary opposition has been to our heavy-handed military occupations and our harsh economic sanctions in the Middle East, and our interference in their sovereign affairs.

In a videotape from the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that was sent within a month after the airplane hijackings, Osama bin Laden talked about the humiliation and degradation of the Islamic world, and of innocent children being killed in Iraq, and of insecurity in Palestine, and of infidel armies in the land of Muhammad.  He did not say anything about hating our culture or freedoms or democracy.  It was people in the Bush administration who fostered this deceptive story to get the American people to support wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Again I urge Americans to be more honest with themselves when deliberating about the proper geopolitical and humanitarian strategies of our foreign policies.  Let’s admit that our true comprehension of the tragic travails of the Afghani people, beyond the shallow sound-bite mentality of our national debate, is quite limited.

Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public.  Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear -- kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor -- with the cry of grave national emergency.”

                                       --- General Douglas MacArthur, 1957   

Differing Approaches to War and Peace

Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of India during its movement for independence from British colonial rule.  Gandhi was a champion of social justice and resistance to tyranny through non-violent means and mass civil disobedience.  He inspired other great leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.  

Gandhi’s ideals are a dramatic contrast to those of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  Instead of peace, Islamic opposition to Western military and economic hegemony over Arab nations uses terrorist tactics like suicide bombings and attacks on innocent civilians that stoke sectarian conflicts.  Osama bin Laden was an adherent to a strict version of the Sunni sect of Islam that advocates austere puritanism, Arab nationalism and Islamic supremacy.  Bin Laden, like all right-wing extremists, embraced winning at any cost as the highest value, and thus he justified his terrible guerilla warfare tactics that have harmed international peace so much by provoking preemptive wars.

The Dalai Lama is one of the most admirable spiritual leaders in the world.  Seeing his native country of Tibet militarily occupied and colonized by the Chinese, he fled Tibet in 1959.  Since then the Chinese have harshly assaulted Buddhists and their culture in Tibet, destroying thousands of monasteries, killing many Tibetans, and driving hundreds of thousands of others into exile in Nepal, India and other countries.  Today, the Dalai Lama supports the idea of a ‘Middle Way Approach’ to peacefully resolving the issues related to China’s occupation of Tibet.  Rather than demanding independence, which the authoritarian rulers of China viciously oppose, those who embrace this moderate approach pragmatically seek autonomy for Tibetans and the protection and preservation of Tibetan culture, religion and national identity.

Another eminently honorable man was Sergio Vieira de Mello, a charismatic Brazilian diplomat who worked for the United Nations for more than 34 years.  His peace-promoting efforts included humanitarian stints in many countries around the world.  He was the United Nations Transitional Administrator in East Timor from December 1999 to May 2002.  During that time, he guided this former Portuguese colony to independence from Indonesia.  (East Timor had been a colony of Portugal for centuries, and Indonesia occupied East Timor after it became independent from Portugal in 1975.)  In May 2003, Sergio became the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Iraq to help the Iraqi people after the U.S. invasion.  Several months later Sergio was killed by a suicide truck bomber who targeted him presumably because of the assistance he had given East Timor in its efforts to gain independence from Indonesia.  The mastermind behind the attack was the Iraq-based al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarkawi, who objected to East Timor’s independence from Indonesia because Indonesia is the nation with the biggest Muslim population in the world.  Pathetic!

I highly recommend the compelling independent film Sergio for greater insights into his laudable life!

Why is There War?

Many motives drive a nation to war, as evaluated at length in Reflections on War.  In our American democracy, our leaders provide us with rationalizations for war that are generally disingenuous spin and propaganda rather than honest reasons underlying the real motives for war.  They do this to get popular support for military activities.  War throughout history has been waged for a complex array of reasons that include drives for power, control, competitive advantage, economic ascendancy, nationalistic pride and ideological supremacy.  The underlying struggle is often about acquiring or defending territory, or getting access to minerals like oil or other natural resources, or obtaining cheap labor, or penetrating foreign markets.  Modern wars are also fought so that bankers and the defense industry and war suppliers can have better opportunities to make bigger profits. 

Violence has the undesirable tendency to beget violence, and extremism to beget extremism.  Injustices wreaked on others beget injustices in reaction.  Empire building, aggression and militarism create enemies, and the existence of enemies strengthens authoritarian factions that insist on ruthless responses to those who oppose them.  By allowing our leaders to pursue harshly supremacist gambits, the American people have effectively become more vulnerable to terrorist antagonism, blowback retaliation, military overstretch and fiscal ruin.

Recognizing these facts, we should be able to pursue more enlightened policies.  Political realities may make it difficult for our leaders to actually be honest with the people, but we must somehow make sure that diplomacy, peace and truer justice have higher priorities.  The powerful need for politicians to act tough on the world stage is largely created by the hawkish right-wing crowd, which so vociferously demands that America act in domineering ways.  Despite these rancorous Strict Father voices, we must find ways to ensure a truer form of national security, and better methods for succeeding economically that do not involve military occupations of other countries.  We should work with dedicated resolve to ensure that our security and liberty prosper together, and that the profit motive of the ‘military-industrial complex’ does not have such an extensive and overweening influence in our foreign policy decisions.

President James Madison once observed that it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is often attributable to provisions we make against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.  We Americans treasure our freedoms, so we cannot allow them to be trampled by vested interests that use our fears to curtail our civil liberties.

Author John Steinbeck’s Perspective on War

When John Steinbeck was writing The Log from the Sea of Cortez in 1940 and 1941, he made the following observation that strikes me as so stunning that it bears repeating:

“There is a war now which no one wants to fight, in which no one can see a gain:  a zombie war of sleep-walkers which nevertheless goes on out of all control of intelligence.  Some time ago a Congress of honest men refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions of dollars to feed our people.  They said, and meant it, that the economic structure of the country would collapse under the pressure of such expenditure.  And now the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the manufacture, transportation, and detonation of explosives to protect the people they would not feed.”

Today, the United States has been hijacked by those who believe in an ideology that says we must spend enormous amounts of money on the military to make us safe.  It seems likely to me that this is a misguided notion, as discussed throughout the Earth Manifesto.  It would be much wiser and more practical to support initiatives to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, and to give higher priority to international peacebuilding, social justice, the well-being of American families, and environmental protections.

Let’s courageously demonstrate the wisdom, diplomacy and collective discipline of striving to achieve peace, and let’s forego the weak-willed expediency of using warfare and aggression to try to achieve distorted national goals.  Macho impulses get boys and men into fistfights, and they tend to drive statistical tendencies for males to commit the vast majority of violent crimes.  It is not surprising, then, that in societies where men’s authority is balanced out by a fair participation of women in politics, there is a greater likelihood that problems will be solved without resorting to violence and war.  This leads to an inescapable conclusion that our societies would be well advised to pursue policies that are more enlightened and fair by giving women more power, influence and prerogatives.

The Red Herring of “Weakness” by the Most Powerful Nation in History

“Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.”

                                                                                                            --- Sir Peter Ustinov

A deep gulf divides us from those we regard as enemies on the international stage.  Reactionary minds refuse to admit that we create enemies when we indulge in anti-Golden-Rule injustices of treating others shabbily.  The rude, arrogant, ruthlessly domineering, imperialistic and humiliating way we treat people creates enemies.  The “conservative” contention that “appearing weak” is the biggest risk on the international stage is a costly deception. Fear-mongering ideological stalwarts like Dick Cheney constantly warned Americans that we must project relentless military power in order not to appear weak.  This belief, however, seems to be diametrically opposite of the actual situation.  It is our hard-nosed, hubris-filled projection of power that engenders insurgent opposition and blowback attacks. In the long run, our safety can best be found in just actions, diplomacy, compromise, cooperative problem-solving, broad multinational coalitions, and a sensible degree of empathetic respect for the national interests, cultures and religious faiths of others.

Ethnocentricity is a natural tendency to regard one’s own culture as superior, and more desirable, moral and worthy, and to regard the culture of other peoples as inferior, immoral, unworthy and even ridiculous.  This is especially true of attitudes in religious matters.  Believers tend to regard their own religion as the only true, revealed and moral faith, while all others are regarded as deluded, false and heretical.  The dangers in such attitudes are immediately apparent to dispassionate observers.

The world is becoming figuratively smaller, and the competition for resources and dominance is heating up.  This makes one thing perfectly clear:  the costs of remaining parochial, ethnocentric, ruthlessly nationalistic, and overly aggressive are unacceptable.  Safety and peace can only be found in a reasonable modicum of mutual security, NOT in our complete domination of others and their coerced acquiescence to our economic and military supremacy.

One of the Achilles heels of our American empire is our dependence on oil imported from corrupt nations dominated by religious theocracies and authoritarian governments.  In order to preserve the status quo of our addiction, our government meddles in the affairs of these reactionary countries by propping up harsh regimes in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we make an ally of the distinctly despotic rulers of Saudi Arabia.  We also effectively strengthen ‘enemies’ in Iran with our aggression in the Middle East.  Our costly hard-nosed military occupations have arguably made us less safe.

We should instead be investing in cleaner energy alternatives and leading the world to a fairer, more peaceful, more sustainable and more ecologically sound future.  We should change the status quo by constraining the influence of corporate lobbyists, and by ending subsidies to Big Oil.  We should also alter the rules of our laissez-faire casino capitalist system to keep it from exporting economic instability to the rest of the world when manufactured financial crises occur.

Here in the U.S. we have one of the most remarkable Constitutionally-governed, rule-of-law oriented governments in the history of civilization, and yet we are allowing vested interests to hijack it and give unchecked power to multinational corporations.  We are letting our politics be dominated by motives for amoral profiteering and the overriding greed of wealthy people.  We are moving beyond the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ phenomenon in terms of exploited resources, externalized damages, and privatized profits and socialized costs, and we are moving into the province of a global Tragedy of a Devastated Home Planet.  We are doing this by fomenting unnecessary conflicts and failing to check the rapid increase in the number of people alive.  Our habitat-damaging and polluting activities are causing deteriorating environmental conditions and an associated diminished diversity of life forms on Earth.

Insights into Capitalism and War and Democracy

Let’s be honest and clear.  Let’s recognize the difference between honorable and sensible principles, on the one hand, and expediencies and shortsightedness on the other.  Our corporate-dominated capitalist system seeks arenas in which to make profits because profits are the primary raison d’etre of our economic activities.  Profit-making, in fact, is one of the two primary purposes of corporate entities.  The other purpose is to shield owners and shareholders from liability.  Neither of these purposes is generally consistent with ethics or the common good.  War games and aggression for the control of resources, markets and profit-making are poor and unjust means to achieve economic success. 

Capitalism has a regressive influence on human societies because it gives overweening power to rich people and giant corporations.  This power enables 2% of the people in the world to own 50% of the wealth.  Such an unjust distribution of wealth guarantees narrowly-focused decision-making and ever-more intense strife. 

“Our country is now geared to an arms economy bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war

    hysteria and an incessant propaganda of fear.”

                                                                            --- General Douglas MacArthur            

At this juncture in human history, the need is greater than ever before for bold cooperation to solve global economic and social problems and unprecedented environmental challenges. But we are unfortunately still stuck in our testosterone-driven paradigms of dominion and hubristic supremacy.  We should deal with the wide range of problems facing us with a sense of proper priorities.  And we should stop focusing on wrong-headed priorities and acting in ways that make Islamic peoples less secure, or that threaten or humiliate them by stationing our military in and around their countries.

The American people hope for more sensible foreign policies, and also for more progressive domestic policies.  They want the economy to be improved, and more jobs to be created, and the extremes of neo-Gilded Age inequalities to be reduced.  They want to see a reduction in the rapid inflation of medical costs and the inequities in healthcare.  They want the decline in the fortunes of the middle class and poor people to be reversed.  They want a new energy regime to be created that is less wasteful and less polluting.  They want lower taxes for the majority of people.  They want less borrowing by the federal government and less profligate government spending.  They want our environmental and social policies to be fairer and more farsighted.  They want the corrosive effects of extreme political partisanship to be moderated by cooperative problem-solving.  And they want our economic and political system to be less dominated by big banks, corporations, greedy CEOs, Wall Street insiders and wealthy people.

Instead of ensuring that our economic and political policies are determined by democratic fair representation, we have allowed them to be controlled by the military-industrial complex, right-wing ideologues, tough love reactionaries, bullying Neoconservatives, economic ‘shock doctrine’ capitalists, and hyper-inegalitarian forces.  And we are allowing highly regressive tax policies to remain in effect that are contributing to a widening of the dangerously large disparity in income, wealth and personal security between a tiny minority of rich people and the growing woes of the struggling majority of the poor and the declining middle class.

Our national priorities have become distorted completely out of proportion to what they should be in a representative democracy.  Our Founders pointed the way in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights: our society should be primarily concerned with establishing justice, promoting the general welfare, protecting against despotism and abuses of power, guaranteeing freedoms and civil liberties to people today and in posterity, creating equality of opportunity for people in their pursuit of happiness, and ensuring national security and peaceful coexistence.

Our government and rules of law were theoretically designed so that our representatives would honor the voice of the people.  Instead, however, large corporations and wealthy people have managed to usurp power and dominate our governmental decision-making.  The proof of this is widespread, particularly in our tax policies and the highly unequal distribution of national income and assets.  Two percent of Americans own nearly half of all financial wealth in the U.S., and they annually earn about 60% of all capital income, which is taxed at low capital gains rates.  Higher rates of taxes on earnings above $250,000 per year, and on inheritances worth more than $5 million, and on large capital gains, should be instituted that would assess more taxes on only 2% of Americans, and yet the other 98% of people are unable to get their representatives to enact such a system, even though it would providentially help everyone by raising enough money to deal more effectively with our mounting social and environmental problems.  More progressive financing would prevent the growing obscenity of our myopic debt-addicted and deficit-spending ways, and slow down the rate at which we are mortgaging the future.  It is time now to return to our ideals, and make our nation fairer and more responsive to the common good.

Laissez-faire capitalism preaches ideological righteousness that in effect rationalizes abandoning the majority of people in favor of the few.  It is a sink-or-swim system in which tiny life vests are figuratively thrown to the middle class and the poor, begrudgingly, while the rich speed recklessly in supercharged torpedo boats through the public waters that are vital to the safety of all.

A Proposal for the Common Good

Once again I think of the observation made in David Kaplan’s humorous film, Today’s Special:

   “Despair is the solace of fools.”

I believe in Chipper positivity, and in striving to make the best of whatever circumstances come our way.  But no matter how sunny one’s outlook, and no matter how fortunate one’s circumstances, we do live in somewhat desperate societies, with hunger, unemployment, medical adversities, homelessness, crime, resource shortages, many mental health problems, extreme injustices and growing numbers of people.  As a result, anxieties and conflicts are increasing globally.  Because of the fact that our societies are so severely afflicted and so greatly in need of effective problem-solving, we should require those people who can afford to help finance the remedies to these challenges to give more money to accomplish the needed tasks.

Financially-fortunate people should recognize the truth of this characterization, and they should also understand the fickle nature of good fortune.  In doing so, they should cheerfully accept their social responsibility during times that they are prosperous, and agree to shoulder the light burden of paying higher rates of taxes on higher levels of earnings and capital gains. 

When rich people succeed in shifting more of the burden of taxation from what it has been to all other people, like to workers and the middle class and future generations, as George W. Bush did with his enormous debt-financed tax breaks for the rich, this is called a regressive change in taxation.  It is folly to allow our leaders to use shortsighted expediencies of deficit financing to conceal such fiscally irresponsible intergenerational transfers of wealth. 

Let Us Now Begin to Sensibly Remake Our Nation!

Barack Obama was elected to effect “Change we can believe in.”  The American people hoped for a new era in economics and politics, an era in which the common good would have higher priority.  They wanted narrow vested interests to be forced to yield to popular pressure to make our country truly fairer and more just and more secure.  When Barack Obama won his first historic election, he promised in his victory speech, “I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.  I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.  And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation.”

Surely, now is the time to boldly and seriously work to remake our nation.  We should stop militarily occupying other nations, and bring home more of our young people from military assignments abroad.  We need to be more honest in our attempts to actually shift the emphasis of our foreign policies to less militaristic, less imperialistic and more humble ones, and to build peace and ensure the safety and well-being of Americans at home and abroad. 

And we need to be more aware of the legacy we are leaving to future generations.  We are already using up limited resources at nearly the fastest possible rate, and we are depleting topsoil, causing waterways to be polluted and forests to be chopped down, and even altering the gaseous composition of the atmosphere.  We are damaging wildlife habitats, wetlands and coral reefs, thereby diminishing biological diversity.  We are accelerating the harm we are wreaking on our descendants’ prospects by refusing to limit rapid population growth through generous family planning programs.  And we are hyper-stimulating the consumption of resources by indulging in unprecedented levels of deficit spending.

The Golden Rule is a common sense ethic of reciprocity that guides us to treat others fairly, as we would like to be treated ourselves.  Ecological sanity is like a Golden Rule attitude applied to our descendants in future generations.  When we see our actions from the point of view of others, we are more likely to act ethically, fairly and sensibly.  It is not hard to imagine that people in the future will want fresh water, clean air, some resources that have not been severely depleted, a stable climate, and peaceful relationships with neighbors and other countries.

While Barack Obama inspired great hope in millions of people with his campaign rhetoric in 2008, the intense and optimistic political courtship was followed, as usual once the electoral deal has been sealed, by a marriage of governing that involves difficult compromises.  High expectations crashed against the Procrustean bed of political realities, and political opposition by the radical Right has torpedoed civility in debate and subverted the principles vital to the current and future well-being of the majority of Americans, and of our heirs.

When I was a freshman college student in 1967, many folks believed in the desirability of the great peace slogan of the Sixties:  Power to the People!  This was not just a slogan, but a clear articulation of one of the deepest ideals embraced in the Constitution by our Founders.  If we truly want to dedicate ourselves to the struggle to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” as Abraham Lincoln declared in his Gettysburg Address, we need to find ways to limit the power that rich people and the military-industrial complex and other giant corporations have in influencing our national policies for narrow ends. 

We have fallen into the trap of superpower imperialism and world domination gambits, even though this course of action violates the principles set forth by our Founders.  Remember that our Founding Fathers staunchly believed in avoiding foreign entanglements.  Similarly aggressive gambits by Adolf Hitler ended very badly, and the effects of Russian aggression in Afghanistan were catastrophic for the Soviet empire in the 1980s.

The shocking 9/11 attacks on the United States generated worldwide empathy and sympathy for Americans.  But George W. Bush and his Neoconservative advisors used the attacks as a pretext to launch a broad and apparently endless “war on terror”.  They used the fears of Americans to implement both a rash international agenda and a retrogressive domestic agenda.  The image of George W. Bush strutting around like a cocky bantam rooster, acting with a reckless, preachy and trigger-happy cowboy mentality, did great harm to our reputation around the globe. 

As a candidate, George W. Bush had said he was “a uniter, not a divider”.  He told Americans he believed in a humble foreign policy, not in “nation building” and foreign interventions.  He sure turned out to be a different character once he got into office, to the detriment of almost everyone.  He got us into unnecessary and poorly planned wars, acted with hubris, promoted economic inequalities, spent taxpayer funds profligately and borrowed enormous sums of money for war and for tax breaks for the wealthy.  He was dishonest, and he hyped up people’s fears, indulged in hyper-partisanship, and pursued bubble economics policies, bank deregulation, budgetary accounting gimmicks, corporate privileges, and shortsighted anti-environmentalism.  His religious fundamentalism also had a divisive impact, not a uniting one.

Bush administration officials used an evolving variety of rationalizations for the war in Iraq.  They misled the American people about their motives, denied facts, provided serious misinformation, and used scare tactics, secrecy and outright lies, just as the Pentagon Papers revealed the government had done to escalate the war in Vietnam.  O treachery, for spacious lies … above the fruited plain!

It should be clearly understandable to us that most people in other nations are made justifiably angry when the U.S. intervenes militarily in their sovereign internal affairs.  I just keep thinking how much better it would be to make genuine friends on the international stage rather than to humiliate people.  Let’s honestly treat others with greater respect and dignity.  

Instead of a wide war against the Moslem world and a slap in the face to the sovereignty of nations in the Middle East, the United States should have adopted a saner strategy against terrorism after 9/11.  We should have targeted the criminals who planned the 9/11 attacks.  Our poorly-focused approach in Afghanistan and Iraq has had unintended consequences that are highly negative.  Thousands of American troops have died, tens of thousands have been injured, and many collateral injustices have taken place.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians have been killed and millions have been displaced.  The costs of our military actions have been enormous in terms of taxpayer’s money and mounting debt, and this makes it much more difficult to deal effectively and fairly with our own serious domestic problems.

If we were more honest with ourselves, we would have a military draft, so that all citizens would be subject to the dangers of our military adventurism.  We would also require pay-as-you-go policies for war spending, so that everyone would be required to contribute to the costs incurred by our military decisions.  Then the national debate about our wars would shift to become decidedly more comprehensive!  Powerful new forces would influence our decision making, and the overriding ability of rich people and large corporations to set foreign policies would be offset, under the influence of such a more accountable new regimen.  And concerns about the actual more widely distributed risks and costs would gain sway.

We are now in a similar position to where we were in the Vietnam War in 1967.  We are seeing that foreign policy failures have led to a risky and costly quagmire.  We are trying to figure out how to ‘save face’ and get out of occupied countries before our involvement destroys our nation and destabilizes the Middle East even further.  A radicalized Pakistan poses a greater risk to us than even Iran does, because it is already nuclear-armed, and our aggressive sovereignty-violating drone missile attacks on Pakistani people are causing growing unrest and instability there.  This provides powerful counter-support to jihad forces that oppose our actions, so it is an extremely dangerous course of action.

An Aside from the Rear

Savants occasionally observe that those who defensively accuse others of something may in fact be more guilty of the charge than those they accuse.  In May 2009, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the position President Obama has taken on ‘enhanced interrogation’ is “recklessness clothed in righteousness”.  He was saying, essentially, that unless the United States acts ruthlessly, terrorists will attack us again.  He apparently staunchly believes in this hard-nosed contention, although his extensive economic conflicts of interest tended to discredit the sincerity of his convictions.

Other people feel that arrogant ruthlessness is one of the primary causes of terrorist tactics in reaction.  A large contingent of Americans is deeply skeptical of points of view like Dick Cheney’s, and many people see that the extremely high price we are paying to enforce his militant worldview is causing many more hardships to Americans at home than any foreign army or terrorists ever have.

Cheney’s charge makes me think about his recklessly aggressive role in encouraging George W. Bush to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq.  Since this has cost the U.S. well over a TRILLION DOLLARS and the lives of so many American soldiers and contractors, we should closely evaluate the merits of this aggressive stance.  Dick Cheney also played a significant role in authorizing torture-like interrogation practices and a defining role in the creation of harsh prisons at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram.  These tactics and prisons have galvanized the recruiting efforts of terrorist organizations in reaction to Western injustices.  It seems to me that Dick Cheney is generally responsible for having helped make the Middle East less stable and more dangerous.

During the Bush administration, I wrote these words:

“Please stop crying wolf, Mr. Cheney!  The consequences of crying wolf in the old fable were eventually disastrous.  Likewise, the consequences of the ruthlessly arrogant and naked state-terrorism aggression of the Bush administration are proving to be colossally costly.  By goading Islamic extremists, you have helped make our nation more feared and hated, and you have simultaneously contributed to an increase in the power of the military-industrial complex and a heightening of the impetus toward national bankruptcy through the debt-financing of our U.S. military interventions.  These actions are myopic and foolish in a world where peaceful coexistence should be accorded a much higher value.  It is time now to give much less influence to the interests of Big Oil and the profitability of arms manufacturers and war services industries. 

In your perverse world, Dick, it may seem obvious to you that your strategies are win/win/win ones, with heightened fear leading to strengthened control and easier domination and more aggressive repression of the populace, AND greater profits for certain giant corporations.  But it is apparent to me that your strategies are lose/lose ones.  You’ve succeeded in painting a little target on every American that says <Deserves Vengeance>, and then you’ve bombed the hell out of any religious fanatics or resistance fighters that oppose our military.  This is reminiscent of the German Army in Greece during World War II.  The Germans would round up 50 innocent civilians and slaughter them for every German soldier killed by resistance fighters.  But this ruthless tactic did not make Hitler right, or successful, and it did not make the German people safer.

In an alternative world where YOU were the one that would be waterboarded, Herr Cheney, your confessions of the full details of your involvement in what the Nuremberg Principles enunciated as the “supreme international crime” – the waging of a war of aggression – would be exposed, and you would be locked up forever, or worse.  Instead, you still all too often have the pulpit of the media to defend your crimes, and to set up an “I told you so” prediction for when the next terrorist attack comes, for which you have so strongly provoked the motivations.”

True Power to the People

When Winston Churchill once observed that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” he had a good point.

Democracy is unruly.  Yet the great principles of fairness of representation, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and religion, protections against tyranny, fair legal treatment for all, and the championing of the general welfare are marvelous achievements of self-governance in human history. 

Democracy relies on a well-informed public.  In The Wisdom of Crowds, an intriguing book by James Surowiecki, the author adduces many instances in which large groups of people prove to be smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant.  Crowds are often better at solving problems, at fostering innovation, at coming to wise decisions, and in making predictions.  This is especially true when there is a diversity of opinions and people think freely and independently.  The media has a great journalistic responsibility in this regard.  Media outlets should not act as mere mouthpieces or cheerleaders for vested interests or conventional thinking or military aggression. 

In contrast to The Wisdom of Crowds, Charles Pierce has written a book titled Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.  In this book, Pierce makes incisive observations about how ideology, groupthink, vested interest spin, corporate power, popular delusions, anti-intellectualism, and doctrinaire tendencies toward denial of scientific understandings all threaten to destroy the democratic fabric of our country.  Are we a nation of sheep?

The Founders of our democracy embraced the highest ideals of human aspirations, and their efforts have been followed, in the 224 years since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were ratified, by a hard-fought progressive evolution of laws in which much has been achieved in providing civil rights and the right of women to vote, and social security and fairness doctrines and labor laws and collective bargaining, and protections of the environment.  We should continue to support progressive goals, and make sure that our aggregate activities are sustainable and fair-minded!

It is a grave irony of our post-Cold-War era that in the name of national security we let our government act in ways that make all American citizens less safe.  Our policies have not only made us more vulnerable to terrorist targeting and blowback retaliation, but also to even more serious challenges caused by associated military overstretch, fiscal ruin, ecological calamity, intensifying domestic discord, high unemployment, and inadequate resources devoted to healthcare and other worsening social adversities and inequities at home.

It is estimated that 45,000 people die in the United States each year because they lack medical insurance, and yet we have still been unable to reform our healthcare system for many decades.  Now that the system has gotten so costly and unfair, and the premiums so high, why are we still unable to eliminate health insurance monopolies in so many states?  Terrorists will probably never kill 45,000 people in any one year, and yet we refuse to spend more on healthcare while we act as if there are no limits on how much we can spend on military occupations of other nations and wars.  It is quite astonishing that every piece of legislation passed by Congress contains so much of what is essentially corporate welfare, like the boondoggles of the Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003, while at the same time many of the laws enacted do little to actually help the majority of people.

My personal hero, Mark Twain, had the remarkable ability to populate his novels, short stories and public lectures with the truest of fictional characters.  He would throw in enough tall tales and wild exaggerations in his deadpan story-telling to uproariously entertain his readers and listeners at the same time that he provocatively enlightened.  The spin that our leaders lay on us is almost as creative, in a corporatist bureaucratic kind of way, but it is far less humorous – and drastically less salubrious!

In consideration of all these ideas, Americans should urge President Obama to take the long view of history, and to find ways to strengthen peace in the world.  Let’s begin to close many of our military bases abroad, and bring home more of the troops stationed in foreign countries.  Let’s strive harder to get everyone with a stake in a stable Middle East to cooperate together to achieve peaceful coexistence.  Let’s make our nation a truer example of integrity and sanity to others in the world by making our nation fairer and more sustainable.  And let’s actually choose to pay forward some good deeds to future generations!

Thanks for your consideration of these ideas.


       Dr. Tiffany B. Twain


Many other ideas are contained in the revolutionarily comprehensive understandings to be found in the Earth Manifesto.  Check them out!  See Common Sense Revival or Part Four online for highly specific recommendations on how we could and should be making our nation and the world a fairer and safer place.

Germinating Thoughts

Pliny the Elder was a Roman writer and natural philosopher (AD 23 – AD 79), as well as a naval and army commander of the early Roman empire, and a personal friend of the emperor Vespasian.  He died while attempting to rescue a friend and his family by ship from the violent eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 25, 79 CE.  “Fortune favors the brave,” he declared as he approached the unfolding disaster on the Italian coast in a Roman fleet of galleys, where fortune dealt him a cruel blow and he died of asphyxiation or a stroke or heart attack.

His nephew Pliny the Younger sent memorable words about his uncle to the historian Tacitus:

“For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favor of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred.  In the latter number will be my uncle, by virtue of his own and of your compositions. 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------“ROADKILL:”  When the U.S. government spends money on wildlife, we usually think its purpose is to protect it.  But there is also an agency tasked with killing wild animals — and last year it took out nearly three million of them.

Wildlife Services, which operates under the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is given the responsibility of responding to conflicts between humans and wildlife and to manage invasive populations.  But critics say the agency's methods are crude and not in line with the latest conservation science.

"The whole approach of just getting rid of the perceived problem by killing it is something that this agency has been doing for well over 100 years," Bradley Bergstrom, a biologist at Valdosta State University, told VICE News.

In 2014, Wildlife Services killed more than 2.7 million animals, 1.3 million of which were native, noninvasive species.  They included 570 black bears, 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 2,930 foxes, 305 mountain lions and 22,416 beavers.  It has also breached many beaver dams by hand and by using powerful explosives.  The agency also killed three bald eagles and five golden eagles using methods like cyanide capsules, neck snares, and foot traps.  Accidental kills are a frequent byproduct of the agency's methods.  Of the 454 river otters killed, for example, 390 were unintentional.

Satisfying the demands of ranchers and other interest groups, the Department of Agriculture allows thousands of wolves, birds, foxes, beavers and other animals to be poisoned, trapped and shot, without taking a "hard look" at the ecological impacts.

"Lethal methods are used as part of an integrated approach to manage wildlife damage in specific areas where nonlethal methods alone would be ineffective," Lyndsay Cole, assistant director of public affairs for APHIS, told VICE News.

The overall numbers are down from last year, when the agency killed 4.3 million wild animals.  Wow -- that’s progress?

Many of the wolves and coyotes are killed to protect agricultural livestock, Atwood said.  According to USDA data, Wildlife Services reported 37,011 incidences of agricultural losses -- which includes everything from asparagus to alpacas -- in 2014.  But culling predators may not be an effective way of preventing those losses.  A 2014 study examining livestock data from 1897 through 2012 found that lethal force against wolves actually increased the odds of a wolf attack on sheep by 4 percent and cattle by 5 to 6 percent.  That's likely because killing wolves causes the pack structure to collapse, which leads to solitary wolves looking for food beyond their usual hunting grounds.

"Wildlife Services once again wasted taxpayer dollars killing nearly three million animals last year," Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, told VICE News.  "Their lethal predator control program is particularly inhumane and totally unnecessary."

In 2012, DeFazio called for a congressional investigation of Wildlife Services, alleging the agency is obstinate, opaque, and a questionable use of public funds.  In 2014, the USDA's inspector general initiated an internal review of Wildlife Services.  The result of that review is still pending.

The agency's practices also seem to clash with the millions of tax dollars spent on ecological conservation.  According to a study Bergstrom published in 2013, Wildlife Services is budgeted $57 million, while the Department of Interior has spent $43 million on efforts to protect the gray wolf.  Wildlife Services has killed more than 1,500 gray wolves since 1996.

"Some of these are incredibly important species, imperiled species," Atwood told VICE News.  "We have millions of dollars in active policies to recover them.  It's a completely schizophrenic policy."