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Brian Williams Helped Pave the Way to War
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Brian Williams Helped Pave the Way to War
by Sheldon Richman
 
The scandal of the week is NBC anchor Brian Williams’s shabby bid for self-glorification by falsely claiming he was in a U.S. military helicopter forced to land in the Iraqi desert after being hit by ground fire in 2003. Of course so-called news people shouldn’t make up stuff to look good, but there’s something much worse: uncritically passing along official lies intended to prepare the American people for war.
 
Williams, like nearly all of his mainstream media colleagues (with precious few exceptions) did this incessantly in the run-up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. As conduits for the Bush administration’s baseless claims about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to 9/11, Williams and the others did Bush’s bidding in manufacturing public support for the illegal and morally outrageous invasion and occupation that would wreck Iraq even more than it had been wrecked in the 1990s through the military and economic warfare waged by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
 
What did these fake-news presenters learn from that disgraceful episode? Not a thing. If you want proof, tune in to the three major networks’ newscasts or consult the American cable news channels: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. There you’ll find stage actors conveying the Obama administration’s neoconservative line about the ISIS threat to the American people and the need for government military action to counteract it — never noting that there was no ISIS or al-Qaeda in Iraq before the Bush war they helped make possible. Reporting “news” without providing the context is a surefire way to mislead viewers. Why don’t they know that? Or do they know it and prefer to mislead their viewers out of a sense of patriotism and in a quest for ratings?
 
You need another example? Take Iran. (Ukraine would also do.) For quite a while these same media stars have been hawking the claim that Iran has been relentlessly working toward building nuclear weapons. Yet, although the U.S. and Israeli governments have repeatedlythreatened Iran over the years — claiming “all options are on the table” (which logically includes nuclear strikes) — and have engaged in covert and proxy war and terrorism against the Islamic Republic — Iran has not started down the road to acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
 
In his book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, independent reporter and historian Gareth Porter shows that there is no evidence Iran has intended to do anything but obtain a civilian nuclear-power and nuclear-medicine capability. Porter’s book overflows with documentation that supports his case, including a fatwa from Iran’s current leader declaring that possession of nuclear weapons violates Islamic law.
 
I repeat: Iran -- which is routinely inspected by the International Atomic Energy Administration, has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike the Middle East’s only nuclear power, Israel),  and is complying with the interim agreement negotiated with the United States and other powers -- has not sought nuclear weapons. American and Israeli intelligence agencies agree.
 
Have you heard that from Brian Williams, Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, Wolf Blitzer or Fareed Zakaria of CNN, David Muir of ABC, Scott Pelley of CBS, or Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier of Fox News?
 
No, you have not. Instead, they casually refer to “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” as if it were an indisputable fact. Therefore, in their eyes it is unnecessary to interview anyone who could challenge that claim. Their subtext is: “The U.S. government says Iran has a nuclear weapons program. That’s good enough for us.”
 
This can only have the effect of softening up the American people for a war of aggression against Iran, which has already been devastated by economic sanctions, if the hawks in Congress, in cooperation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, succeed in driving Iran from the negotiating table with even more sanctions.
 
Yet even this is not enough for the government mouthpieces who call themselves journalists. Recently, Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, one-upped this reckless gang by asserting that Iran has “promised to get a nuclear weapon and then has promised to use the nuclear weapon to annihilate Israel.” He then repeated this double lie.
 
Compared to Joe Scarborough, Brian Williams is a piker.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org ).
 
States, United States: America’s James Bond Complex
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Wednesday, 04 February 2015
States, United States: America’s James Bond Complex
by Sheldon Richman
 
Today, American politicians of both major parties — conservatives, “moderates,” and so-called liberals alike — insist that the United States is an “exceptional,” even “indispensable” nation. In practice, this means that for the United States alone the rules are different. Particularly in international affairs, it — the government and its personnel — can do whatever deemed necessary to carry out its objectives, including things that would get any other government or person branded a criminal.
 
This is nothing new. “American exceptionalism” goes back to the founding. When American politicians set their sights on Spain’s North American possessions, they were driven by the same attitude. In their view the new “Empire of Liberty,” as Jefferson called it, was destined to replace the old, worn-out empires of Europe in its hemisphere. They had no doubt that the Old World’s colonial possessions would eventually fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, either formally or informally.
 
Acquisition through negotiation was preferred over war by a good number of presidents, secretaries of state, and members of Congress, but if war was necessary, they intended to be prepared and to let Spain and her fellow colonial powers know it. Thus the push for a global navy under James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams before 1820. Manifest destiny! (Congress’s constitutional war power was a burr under the saddle for Adams and others, who thought war-making was properly an executive power.)
 
Today we see signs of the doctrine of American exceptionalism all around. U.S. foreign policy is not bound in the ways in which U.S. officials expect other countries’ foreign policies to be bound. America is special, chosen. So the rules are different.
 
We might say America has a James Bond complex. In the eyes of many Americans, the United States has a “Double O.” Bond said the Double O indicated “you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some assignment.” As Ian Fleming’s series went on, the Double O became a license to kill. Judging by how the U.S. government gets away with murder, terrorism and other horrible offenses, it apparently has a de facto license to kill. Although by the U.S. definition, nothing it does can ever qualify as murder and terrorism.
 
The signs can be perceived in Americans’ pronounced lack of interest in seeing the country’s governing elite held accountable for its aggressive wars, abuse of prisoners, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, sponsored genocide and occupation, and so on.
 
U.S. rulers have waged aggressive genocidal wars (against the Indians and Vietnamese, for example), have brutally put down colonial rebellions (against the Filipinos, for example), facilitated genocidal policies carried out by client dictators (in Indonesia, for example), underwritten repressive dictatorships and brutal occupations (in Egypt and Palestine, for example), and instigated in antidemocratic coups (in Iran and Chile, for example).
 
When has an American official been placed in the dock to answer for these crimes?
 
Instead, officials from whose hands the blood of countless innocents drips are treated like dignitaries, even royalty. When 91-year-oldHenry Kissinger, a former secretary of state who presided over the deaths of countless Vietnamese and others, appears anywhere, such as a Senate hearing, he’s accorded the reverence that parishioners pay to their priests -- while peace activists, who want him held responsible, are called “low-life scum” by a fawning senator. When Madeleine Albright, a former UN ambassador and secretary of state, writes a new book, talk-show hosts climb over one another to interview her — never asking how she could have thought that killing half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s was an acceptable price for the Clinton administration’s attempt to drive Saddam Hussein from office.
 
Will George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld face charges for their wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan? For their drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia? For their torture programs? Will Barack Obama ever have to defend himself against murder counts for his drone kills? Will former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bear consequences for the havoc she unleashed in Libya?
 
Of course not. The United States is the Double-O nation. Its rulers need not fear judgment. They have a license to kill.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Making An Unexpected Impact (or Sgt Landrith is Still Serving)
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Rape, Sexual Assault and Abuse
Written by James Landrith   
Tuesday, 03 February 2015
Sometimes, especially when you write on difficult issues like sexual violence, you wonder about the positive to negative impact ratio. There is soooooo much hate attached to telling your story publicly, while there are many survivors who benefit by feeling validated and less alone. Sometimes you make a much bigger impact than you could have ever anticipated. This is one of those times.

In addition to being a rape crisis worker and Vice President of Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma, I am also a vocal survivor/RAINN Speakers Bureau member and occasionally interviewed for media stories. In 2013, CNN did a story about my own experience as a survivor and Marine in 1990. I was on active duty when it happened, but I did not report it as in 1990, male survivors had almost zero support and I likely would have been forced out or even disciplined myself. I found out recently that the Marine Corps is actually using my experience from the CNN article as part of their Marine Corps Leadership Development program for their Bystander Intervention training under the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training program. 

It was a bit overwhelming when I found this out recently. My inability to seek help in 1990 may actually educate a new generation of Marines in 2015. Speaking out is hard and shaming is very prevalent for those of us who go public. I know that all too well. To see that it makes a difference, helps to put into perspective the backlash and ugliness we experience as speakers and advocates.
 
Changing minds is real work and takes time. I am humbled to have been able to make a contribution to improve the service that was not there for me in my time of need. 

Guided Dicussion - Bystander Intervention

The article adapted for the training:
CNN: Against His Will Female on Male Rape

Marine Corps Leadership Development website

If you are a speaker as well, you have my utmost respect. I know what you know about the price we pay.
 
The American Sniper Was No Hero
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Wednesday, 28 January 2015
The American Sniper Was No Hero
by Sheldon Richman
 
Despite what some people think, hero is not a synonym for competent government-hired killer.
 
If Clint Eastwood’s record-breaking movie, American Sniper, launches a frank public conversation about war and heroism, the great director will have performed a badly needed service for the country and the world.
 
This is neither a movie review nor a review of the late Chris Kyle’s autobiographical book on which the movie is based. My interest is in the popular evaluation of Kyle, America’s most prolific sniper, a title he earned through four tours in Iraq.
 
Let’s recall some facts, which perhaps Eastwood thought were too obvious to need mention: Kyle was part of an invasion force: Americans went to Iraq. Iraq did not invade America or attack Americans. Dictator Saddam Hussein never even threatened to attack Americans. Contrary to what the George W. Bush administration suggested, Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Before Americans invaded Iraq, al-Qaeda was not there. Nor was it in Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
 
The only reason Kyle went to Iraq was that Bush/Cheney & Co. launched a war of aggression against the Iraqi people. Wars of aggression, let’s remember, are illegal under international law. Nazis were executed at Nuremberg for waging wars of aggression.
 
With this perspective, we can ask if Kyle was a hero.
 
Defenders of Kyle and the Bush foreign policy will say, “Of course, he was a hero. He saved American lives.”
 
What American lives? The lives of American military personnel who invaded other people’s country, one that was no threat to them or their fellow Americans back home. If an invader kills someone who is trying to resist the invasion, that does not count as heroic self-defense. The invader is the aggressor. The “invadee” is the defender. If anyone’s a hero, it’s the latter.
 
In his book Kyle wrote he was fighting “savage, despicable evil” — and having "fun" doing it. Why did he think that about the Iraqis? Because Iraqi men — and women; his first kill was a woman — resisted the invasion and occupation he took part in.
 
That makes no sense. As I’ve established, resisting an invasion and occupation — yes, even when Arabs are resisting Americans — is simply not evil. If America had been invaded by Iraq (one with a powerful military, that is) would Iraqi snipers picking off American resisters be considered heroes by all those people who idolize Kyle? I don’t think so, and I don’t believe Americans would think so either. Rather, American resisters would be the heroes.
 
Eastwood’s movie also features an Iraqi sniper. Why isn’t he regarded as a hero for resisting an invasion of his homeland, like the Americans in my hypothetical example? (Eastwood should make a movie about the invasion from the Iraqis’ point of view, just as he made a movie about Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view to go with his earlier movie from the American side.)
 
No matter how often Kyle and his admirers referred to Iraqis as “the enemy,” the basic facts did not change. They were “the enemy” — that is, they meant to do harm to Americans — only because American forces waged an unprovoked war against them. Kyle, like other Americans, never had to fear that an Iraqi sniper would kill him at home in the United States. He made the Iraqis his enemy by entering their country uninvited, armed with a sniper’s rifle. No Iraqi asked to be killed by Kyle, but it sure looks as though Kyle was asking to be killed by an Iraqi. (Instead, another American vet did the job.)
 
Of course, Kyle’s admirers would disagree with this analysis. Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News commentator, said,
 
“Chris Kyle was clear as to who the enemy was. They were the ones his government sent him to kill.”
 
Appalling! Kyle was a hero because he eagerly and expertly killed whomever the government told him to kill? Conservatives, supposed advocates of limited government, sure have an odd notion of heroism.
 
Excuse me, but I have trouble seeing an essential difference between what Kyle did in Iraq and what Adam Lanza did at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It certainly was not heroism.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org ).
 
Two Kinds of Income Inequality
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Economics and Financial Services
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Thursday, 22 January 2015
Two Kinds of Income Inequality
by Sheldon Richman
 
Income inequality is back in the news, propelled by an Oxfam International report and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. The question is whether government needs to do something about this — or whether government needs to undo many things.
 
Measuring income inequality is no simple thing, which is one source of disagreement between those who think inequality is a problem and those who think it isn’t. But it is possible to cut through the underbrush and make some points clear.
 
We can identify two kinds of economic inequality, and let’s keep this in mind as we contemplate what, if anything, government ought to do.
 
The first kind we might call market inequality. Individuals differ in many ways, including energy, ambition, and ingenuity. As a result, in a market-oriented economy some people will be better than others at satisfying consumers and will hence tend to make more money. The only way to prevent that is to interfere forcibly with the results of peaceful, positive-sum transactions in the marketplace. Since interference discourages the production of wealth, the equality fostered through violence will be an equality of impoverishment.
 
Is it better that people be equally poor or unequally affluent? This is the important question that political philosopher John Tomasi, author ofFree Market Fairness, puts to his classes at Brown University. Would they prefer a society in which everyone has the same low income, or one in which incomes vary, perhaps widely, but the lowest incomes are higher than the equal income of the first society?
 
Which would you choose? Let’s remember that it is entirely possible for the poorest in a society to become richer even as the gap between the richest and poorest grows. Imagine an accordion-like elevator that is rising as a whole while being stretched out, putting the floor further from the ceiling. Would such a society be objectionable? Why is the relative position of the poorest more important than their absolute position? Is concern about relative positions nothing more than envy?
 
We could argue about that all day, but a much more urgent subject is political-economic inequality. This is the inequality fostered through the political system. Since government’s distinctive feature is its claimed authority to use force aggressively (as opposed to defensively), this second sort of inequality is produced by violence, which on its face should make it abhorrent.
 
Political-economic systems throughout the world, including ones typically thought to be market-oriented (or “capitalist”), such as in the United States, are in fact built on deeply rooted and long-established systems of privilege. Favors, which the rest of us must pay for one way or another, typically go to the well-connected, and prominent business executives have always been well represented in that group.
 
In the United States this has been true since the days of John Jacob Astor, the fur trader who had the ears of such influential politicians as James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams. Government was little more than the executive committee of leading manufacturers, planters, and merchants (to risk opprobrium by paraphrasing Marx). As Adam Smith put it in The Wealth of Nations in 1776, “Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters.”
 
While business interests today are not the only ones that get consideration in the halls of power, it’s a mistake to think they do not retain major influence over government in economic and financial matters. “Regulatory capture” is a well-known phenomenon, and ostensible efforts to limit it always fail.
 
Unlike market inequality, political-economic inequality is unjust and should be eliminated.
 
How? By abolishing all direct and indirect subsidies; artificial scarcities, such as those created by so-called intellectual property; regulations, which inevitably burden smaller and yet-to-be-launched firms more than lawyered-up big businesses; eminent domain; and permit requirements, zoning, and occupational licensing, which all exclude competition. These interventions and more protect incumbent firms from conditions that would lower prices to consumers, create self-employment and worker-ownership opportunities, and improve bargaining conditions for wage labor.
 
Instead of symbolically tweaking the tax code to appear to be addressing inequality -- the politicians’ charade -- political-economic inequality should be ended by repealing all privileges right now.
 
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org ).
 
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