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The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted
The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted
by Fredrik S. Heffermehl
Edition: Hardcover
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very valuable, March 3, 2012
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Fredrik Heffermehl's book "The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted," is a wonderful thing to discover. I understand if you just can't stomach discovering that Norway and the committee that hands out the peace prizes have become as corrupted as a Congressman. But if awardees like George Marshall, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, and Barack Obama already had you scratching your head a little bit, you may appreciate learning the details of where the prize bestowers ran off the rails and how they might manage to climb back aboard the peace train.

Alfred Nobel left behind a legally binding will that required giving a prize to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Like the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Nobel Committee has largely abandoned its original mission. Carnegie and Nobel are dead and none the wiser, but those of us who like the idea of a well-funded peace movement are painfully aware.

The Nobel prize for peace was not designed as merely an honor, but as a significant source of funding for "work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Yet, with each annual prize, as with each year's operation of the Carnegie Endowment, the peace movement is none the better funded. Warmongers take the funding, or admirable and heroic humanitarians take the funding, but these are not people working toward or even believing in the desirability of the aims for which the prize was created and legally established in Nobel's will.

Heffermehl examines the language of the will in the original Swedish, the thinking and influences that went into it, the reasons why Nobel chose the Norwegian parliament to appoint the committee for the administration of the prize, and the activities and the worldviews of what Nobel termed in the will "champions of peace." Legally, Heffermehl argues, it is the will that counts, not each and every opinion Nobel might have held at some point in his life. While peace congresses are still held, work is still done to abolish standing armies, and many working on these projects also work for what Heffermehl translates as confraternity among nations, much of this work is little known in the media and unknown to the prize committee, which has lost touch with its mission.

Heffermehl argues persuasively that no Nobel prize for peace has been awarded with appropriate justification since 2001. In fact, in his analysis, 50 of the 120 prizes given between 1901 and 2009 were not justified. Heffermehl bases that judgment primarily on the case made for each laureate by the committee awarding the prize. Were he to examine the laureates and those passed over, the number of unjustified prizes might increase.

Heffermehl also looks at the justification for the prizes awarded under each of the 12 committee chairs and six committee secretaries that have ever held those posts. The two chairs who have served since 2003 receive far and away the worst scores, while the two who served up through 1941 score dramatically better than the others. Similarly, the two secretaries who held that position up through 1945 receive high marks, while the one, Geir Lundestad, who has been Secretary since 1990 has, in Heffermehl's scoring, performed miserably.

World War II shifted thinking in Norway and elsewhere toward militarism and the notion of the inevitability of war. While France and Germany have ceased attacking each other, there hasn't been a war between wealthy powers in 70 years, and the only wars we have now are against poor countries, somehow common wisdom holds that the abolition of war is a silly idea. But is legally complying with a dead man's will a silly idea too?

After World War II it wasn't just thinking that changed, but procedure as well. No longer does the Norwegian parliament choose the most qualified peace leaders to serve on the committee. Instead, each political party picks committee members in proportion to the party's strength in the parliament, even if the party is pro-war.

Yet it was not until 1990 that the real corruption began to eat away at Nobel's legacy. Lundestad has created more pompous ceremonies, an annual concert, and a permanent Nobel Peace Center in Oslo filled with cutting edge technology. While the five-member committee in Norway used to have no need for funding, the prizes simply being awarded directly to the laureates, now funding became critical, and much of that funding became corporate. Are images of the fancy new DC building belonging to the "United States Institute of Peace (unless there's a war)" flashing through your mind? Lundestad is a professional fundraiser now who finds time for Bilderberg conferences but not peace congresses.

Heffermehl made his case in Norwegian pre-Obama, and was oh-so-predictably-and-depressingly hopeful when the committee absurdly bestowed its prize on the new U.S. President in 2009. It was Obama's pro-war acceptance speech that led Heffermehl to unhesitatingly add him to the list of undeserving laureates. But there were other reasons. Heffermehl claims to have a source who knows that promotion of Oslo as a tourist destination weighed in the selection of Obama. Alfred Nobel had, of course, not mentioned that motivation in his will at all.

Heffermehl proposes that Nobel's will be followed, that the commercial activities of the Nobel Foundation be dropped, and that the combination of the roles of committee secretary and commercial director be ended. I think he has a point.


Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law and Plotted to Avoid Prosecution? and What We Can Do about It
Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law and Plotted to Avoid Prosecution? and What We Can Do about It
by Cynthia L. Cooper
Edition: Hardcover
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Un-Cheating Justice: 2 Years Left to Prosecute Bush, February 28, 2012
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Elizabeth Holtzman knows something about struggles for justice in the U.S. government. She was a member of Congress and of the House Judiciary Committee that voted for articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1973. She proposed the bill that in 1973 required that "state secrets" claims be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. She co-authored the special prosecutor law that was allowed to lapse, just in time for the George W. Bush crime wave, after Kenneth Starr made such a mockery of it during the Whitewater-cum-Lewinsky scandals. She was there for the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. She has served on the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, bringing long-escaped war criminals to justice. And she was an outspoken advocate for impeaching George W. Bush.

Holtzman's new book, coauthored with Cynthia Cooper, is called "Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law and Plotted to Avoid Prosecution -- and What We Can Do About It." Holtzman begins by recalling how widespread and mainstream was the speculation at the end of the Bush nightmare that Bush would pardon himself and his underlings. The debate was over exactly how he would do it. And then he didn't do it at all.

Holtzman ends her book by pointing out that legal accountability can come after many years, as in the case of various Nazis, or of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, or of the murderers of civil rights activists including Medgar Evers.

In between, for the bulk of the book, Holtzman, a former district attorney, lays out the prospects for a prosecution of Bush and others on charges of lying to Congress about the grounds for war, wiretapping Americans, and conspiring to torture. This is an excellent sampling of the many horrors on the list of Bush's abuses, and clearly the three areas in which Holtzman believes a prosecution would stand the best chance of success. Her analysis of the war lies parallels and builds on that of Elizabeth de la Vega, another former prosecutor who has written on the topic. Holtzman adds an analysis of the steps Bush took to protect himself from prosecution in this and each other area. She also examines his possible legal defenses, finding some of them strong and others easily overcome.

In each area Holtzman finds charges that would stick, if our laws were enforced. She also finds charges that would have stuck, had the statute of limitations not elapsed, and others for which a couple of years yet remain. Holtzman believes charges for conspiring to defraud the government with war lies could be brought until January 20, 2014. She also believes that charges for violation of FISA could be brought until that same date, pointing out that changes made to the law have not provided immunity for prior violations of what the law used to be, and that immunity has been granted from civil suits but not from criminal prosecution. Charges of torture, Holtzman concludes, could be brought at any time in the future.

Holtzman argues for lengthening the statutes of limitations for grave abuses of power, for creating a special prosecutor, restoring the War Crimes Act, reclaiming protection against unchecked surveillance, recovering missing records, pursuing civil cases, impeaching torture lawyer turned judge Jay Bybee, and looking abroad for hope and change. She sees some chance of the International Criminal Court pursuing charges of torture.

This book is an ideal guide for a prosecutor with nerve and decency, although we haven't found one in this country in the past several years. Other than Kurt Daims who is running for the office of Town Grand Juror in Brattleboro, Vermont, which voted to direct its police to indict Bush and Cheney four years ago, I'm not aware of any prosecutors in the United States with plans to pursue this kind of justice.

Glaringly absent from Holtzman's book, despite its 2012 publication date, is any significant mention of the approach that President Obama has taken. There's not one word about "looking forward, not backward," not even so much as one tangential reference to Obama's public instructions to Attorney General Eric Holder, no analysis of the intense effort that the Justice Department, State Department, and White House have pursued to protect Bush and Cheney from accountability, no mention of the ways in which Obama has continued a similar pattern of criminality -- a state of affairs which, of course, might explain his reluctance to allow the enforcement of laws against his predecessor.

I don't think it's an unfair criticism to object that a book has left out a large but intimately related topic, one that apears to have been carefully avoided. Partisan prosecution of crimes and non-crimes by Republicans under President Clinton has been aggravated by Republican defensiveness and Democratic spinelessness under Bush. But it is the Democratic switch to defending all presidential wrongdoing since 2008 that has put the largest nails into the coffin of legitimate rule by law in this country. Bush's crimes have been legitimized. Obama has claimed the power to torture as he deems necessary, the power to imprison and rendition as he sees fit, the power to murder any human being including U.S. citizens and children as he and he alone declares necessary, and powers of state secrecy that Nixon and Cheney never dreamed of. While Bush lied the Congress into a war that a reasonably intelligent 8 year old could have seen through, Obama has made the launching of wars a matter for the president alone. And that's just fine with Democrats. Surely Holtzman is aware that this partisanship is a cancer, that it has ruined the power of impeachment and done away with truly independent special prosecutors, and that the purpose of accountability is to halt the ongoing acceptance of crime.

I have to quibble as well with Holtzman's lowballing of the Iraq war death count by two orders of magnitude. I know everybody does it, but I still find it grotesque.

And yet I have to strongly recommend that this book be read and presented to every prosecutor in this country, including the seemingly shameless Eric Holder. We've got 23 months.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 2, 2013 9:27 AM PDT


TRAITOR: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban" (Foreword by Glenn Greenwald)
TRAITOR: The Whistleblower and the "American Taliban" (Foreword by Glenn Greenwald)
by Jesselyn Radack
Edition: Paperback
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Important, February 8, 2012
It began with that monstrous young man so evil we needed to blindfold him and strap him to a board, that confusing young man who looked like Christ but cast us in the role of crucifiers, that treasonous young man who brought dark and heathen evils across linguistic and cultural borders and brought torture onto the list of accepted government actions.

When you hear the phrase "American Taliban" you probably think of a young American who betrayed his country, aided its enemies, and - like Saddam Hussein - was behind the attacks of 9-11. John Walker Lindh was an American. That part is accurate. He converted to Islam at age 16 and traveled to Yemen to study classical Arabic and Islamic theology. In 2001 he went to Afghanistan to join an ongoing battle between a political group funded by Russia and another group funded by the United States. Lindh joined the group that was backed and funded by the Bush Administration. It was called the Taliban. Lindh trained to fight the Northern Alliance, not civilians, and not the United States. But, after 9-11, the United States attacked the Taliban, and Lindh attempted to escape and return to America.

Instead he and other soldiers were captured by the Northern Alliance and beaten senseless in the presence of two CIA officers, Johnny "Mike" Spann and Dave Tyson, who interrogated Lindh and threatened him with death on the spot. When some of the other prisoners rebelled (Lindh was not involved), Northern Alliance troops shot and killed scores of prisoners, many with their arms tied behind their backs. Lindh was shot in the leg. Spann was killed. (Though he was not involved, Lindh was later charged with conspiracy to murder Spann.)

When Lindh was finally in U.S. custody, Secretary of "Defense" Donald Rumsfeld's office told an Army intelligence officer to "take the gloves off" and ask Lindh whatever he wanted, only reading him his rights after he said something incriminating. The officer asked for a copy of the Miranda warnings and never received it and never read Lindh his rights. Instead, U.S. Special Forces tied his hands, put a hood over his head, drove him for hours, placed him in a dark room, and taunted him, denying his many requests for counsel.

The same day that Newsweek broke the story of the "American Taliban," Lindh's mother called the State Department, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, all of which refused to help her. Lindh's father persuaded James Brosnahan to take the case the next day, by which point, in the words of Jesselyn Radack, Lindh

"was being discussed on every radio show, and images of him were constantly shown on TV. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Ashcroft, and Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain made inflammatory comments and prejudicial statements, none of them true, that Lindh was an al Qaeda fighter, terrorist, and traitor; fired his weapon; attended a terrorist training camp; supported bin Laden; and had foreknowledge of September 11th - even though the government from the first day of Lindh's capture was in possession of facts to the contrary."

Jesselyn Radack should know. Radack was a top graduate from Yale Law School in 1995 who went straight to work in the U.S. Justice Department. By the time our nation was adopting torture as an open and respectable practice, Radack worked in the Justice Department's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office. There she received a call from counter-terrorism prosecutor John De Pue who wanted her advice on the FBI's proposal to interrogate Lindh without allowing him access to counsel, even though his father had retained a lawyer who was demanding to meet with Lindh and demanding that interrogations cease. Lindh, meanwhile, had been blindfolded, stripped naked, bound to a stretcher with duct tape, taunted, threatened, and locked in an unheated metal shipping container in the bitter cold at a Marine base in Afghanistan.

Radack made a fateful decision. She took an action that was drastically out of place in the Ashcroft Justice Department, although she herself did not then realize how out of place it was. She told De Pue the truth. She told him that the FBI could not legally interrogate Lindh, knowing that his father had retained counsel on his behalf.

Radack recounts what happened next in her book "The Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of 'American Taliban'." The book interweaves an account of the Justice Department's retaliation against Radack for doing her job and making public what she had done, with an account of the Bush Administration's development of greater and greater use of torture, violation of rights, secrecy, and lies.

The Justice Department lied about how Lindh was treated. Michael Chertoff even perjured himself in the U.S. Senate. Senator Kennedy and others knew the truth and still voted to confirm Chertoff to head up efforts to keep our "homeland" secure. Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence and is under a gag order not to talk about it. Our government is torturing the innocent and guilty alike around the globe. And many secrets are being kept secret by those who know better, because they've seen what has been done to Radack and others like Bunnatine Greenhouse, James Yee, Sibel Edmonds.

The Justice Department aggressively attacked Radack, costing her a job there and a later job with a private law firm, threatening her license to practice law, damaging her reputation, denying her income, placing her on the "no-fly" list, and endlessly harassing her. Her book recounts the hell she went through.


The End of War
The End of War
by John Horgan
Edition: Hardcover
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give This to Anyone Who Thinks War Must or Should Always Be With Us, January 20, 2012
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The best book I've read in a very long time is a new one: "The End of War" by John Horgan. Its conclusions will be vigorously resisted by many and yet, in a certain light, considered perfectly obvious to some others. The central conclusion -- that ending the institution of war is entirely up to us to choose -- was, arguably, reached by (among many others before and since) John Paul Sartre sitting in a café utilizing exactly no research.

Horgan is a writer for "Scientific American," and approaches the question of whether war can be ended as a scientist. It's all about research. He concludes that war can be ended, has in various times and places been ended, and is in the process (an entirely reversible process) of being ended on the earth right now.

The war abolitionists of the 1920s Outlawry movement would have loved this book, would have seen it as a proper extension of the ongoing campaign to rid the world of war. But it is a different book from theirs. It does not preach the immorality of war. That idea, although proved truer than ever by the two world wars, failed to prevent the two world wars. When an idea's time has come and also gone, it becomes necessary to prove to people that the idea wasn't rendered impossible or naïve by "human nature" or grand forces of history or any other specter. Horgan, in exactly the approach required, preaches the scientific observation of the success (albeit incomplete as yet) of preaching the immorality of war.

The evidence, Horgan argues, shows that war is a cultural contagion, a meme that serves its own ends, not ours (except for certain profiteers perhaps). Wars happen because of their cultural acceptance and are avoided by their cultural rejection. Wars are not created by genes or avoided by eugenics or oxytocin, driven by an ever-present minority of sociopaths or avoided by controlling them, made inevitable by resource scarcity or inequality or prevented by prosperity and shared wealth, or determined by the weaponry available. All such factors, Horgan finds, can play parts in wars, but the decisive factor is a militaristic culture, a culture that glorifies war or even just accepts it, a culture that fails to renounce war as something as barbaric as cannibalism. War spreads as other memes spread, culturally. The abolition of war does the same.

Those who believe that war is in our genes or mandated by overpopulation or for whatever other reason simply unavoidable or even desirable will not be attracted to Horgan's book. But they should read it. It is written for them and carefully argued and documented. Those who, in contrast, believe it is as obvious as breathing air that we can choose to end war tomorrow will find a little sad comedy in the fact that the way we get people to choose to end a long-established institution is by rigorously persuading them that such choices have been made before and are already well underway. Yet, that is exactly what people need to hear, especially those who are on the edge between "War is in DNA" and "War is over if you want it." Most human cultures never produced nuclear bombs or genetically engineered corn or Youtube. Many cultures have produced peace. But what if they hadn't? How in the world would that prevent us from producing it?

Evidence of lethal group violence does not go back through our species' millions of years but only through the past 10,000 to 13,000. Even chimpanzees' supposed innate war spirit is not established. We are not the only primates who seem able to learn either war or peace. Annual war-related casualties have dropped more than ten-fold since the first half of the twentieth century. Democracy is no guarantee of peace, but it is allowing people to say no to war. Of course, democracy is not all or nothing. Some democracies, like ours in the United States, can be very weak, and weaker still on the question of war. What allows nations' leaders to take countries into war, Horgan shows, is not people's aggressiveness but their docility, their obedience, their willingness to follow and even to believe what authorities tell them.

Mistaken theories about the causes of war create the self-fulfilling expectation that war will always be with us. Predicting that climate change will produce world war may actually fail to inspire people to buy solar panels, inspiring them instead to support military spending and to stock up at home on guns and emergency supplies.

I wish Horgan had looked more at the motivations of those in power who choose war, some of whom do profit from it in various ways. I also think he understates the importance of the military industrial complex, whose influence Eisenhower accurately predicted would be total and even spiritual. It's harder to work for the abolition of war when the war industry is behind your job. I think this book could benefit from recognition of the U.N. Charter's limitations as compared with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in its acceptance of wars that are either "defensive" or authorized by the United Nations. I think Horgan's view of the Arab Spring and the Libyan War is confused, as he thinks in terms of intervention in countries where the United States had already long been intervened, and he frames the choices as war or nothing. I think the final chapter on free will is rather silly, confusing the philosophical point of physical determinism with how things look from our perspective, a confusion that David Hume straightened out quite a while ago.

But Horgan makes a key point in that last chapter, pointing to a study that found that when people were exposed to the idea that they had no free will they behaved less morally, choosing to behave badly, of course, with the very same free will they nonetheless maintained. Being free to choose, we can in fact choose things that most of us never dare imagine. Here's John Horgan's perfect prescription:

"We could start by slashing our bloated military, abolishing arms sales to other countries, and getting rid of our nuclear arsenal. These steps, rather than empty rhetoric, will encourage other countries to demilitarize as well."

Or as Jean Paul Sartre put it -- (Look, ma, no research!) -- "To say that the for-itself has to be what it is, to say that it is what it is not while not being what it is, to say that in it existence precedes and conditions essence or inversely according to Hegel, that for it 'Wesen ist was gewesen ist' -- all this is to say one and the same thing: to be aware that man is free."
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2012 1:18 PM PST


Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It
Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It
by Jeffrey D. Clements
Edition: Paperback
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111 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Worse Than We Thought But More Easily Fixed Than We Imagined, January 8, 2012
This book should mainstream the campaign to end corporate personhood.

Clements traces the development of the legal doctrine of corporate personhood back long before the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision two years ago this month, in particular to President Richard Nixon's appointment of Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court in 1972. Led by Powell's radical new conception of corporate rights, Clements shows, the court began striking down laws that protected living breathing persons' rights in areas including the environment, tobacco, public health, food, drugs, financial regulation, and elections.

In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had speech rights that prevented banning their money from an election, a conclusion that might have been nearly incomprehensible a decade earlier before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various corporate foundations began filling our public discourse with phrases like "corporate speech." In 1980 Congress forbade the Federal Trade Commission from protecting children or students from junk food advertising and sales. In 1982 corporate speech rights in the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state law that had attempted to block energy companies from promoting greater energy consumption. In the 1990s, the Monsanto corporation, whose genetically engineered drug was banned in many countries, won the right to include it in milk in the United States and the "right not to speak," thereby overturning a law requiring that milk be labeled to indicate the drug's presence.

Decision after decision has extended corporate rights to a position of priority over actual human rights on everything from food and water and air to education and healthcare and wars. The ground has shifted. In 1971 Lewis Powell argued on behalf of the cigarette companies that they had a corporate person's right to use cartoons and misleading claims to get young people hooked on nicotine, and he was laughed out of court. In 2001, the Supreme Court struck down a state law banning cigarette ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. The reason? The sacred right of the corporate person, which carries more weight now than the rights of the people of a community to protect their children ... er, excuse me, their "replacement smokers."

And why do corporate rights carry so much weight? One reason is that, as Clements documents and explains, "transnational corporations now dominate our government" through election spending. This is why a civilized single-payer health coverage system like those found in the rest of the wealthy nations of the world is not "practical." This is why cutting military spending back to 2007 levels would mean "amageddon" even though in 2007 it didn't. This is why our government hands oil corporations not only wars and highways but also massive amounts of good old money. This is why we cannot protect our mountains or streams but can go to extraordinary lengths to protect our investment bankers.

"Since the Citizens United decision in 2010," Clements writes, "hundreds of business leaders have condemned the decision and have joined the work for a constitutional amendment to overturn expanded corporate rights." You might not learn this from the corporate media, but there is a widespread and growing mainstream understanding that abuse by oversized mega-corporations has been disastrous for ordinary businesses as well as communities, families, and individuals. Clements' turns out to be a pro-business, albeit anti-U.S. Chamber of Commerce, book.

And what can be done? We can build an independent, principled, and relentless Occupy movement and include as a central demand the amending of the U.S. Constitution to end corporate personhood. Clements' book offers a draft amendment, a sample resolution, a collection of frequently asked questions (and answers), a list of organizations, websites, resources, books, and campaigns.

This is doable, and it is what we should do this election year so that in future election years we might actually have elections.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2012 8:30 PM PDT


Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite
Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite
by Bruce E. Levine
Edition: Paperback
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars critically important, April 26, 2011
I've struggled with how to answer what I think of as the "But why don't we all just kill ourselves?" questions that really started coming up in speaking events in 2009. In the guise of asking a question of an author, people cough defeatism all over the room by declaring everything hopeless and citing some of the supposed reasons why. How does one respond? Telling people they're mentally damaged doesn't seem an ideal solution. Telling people success is right around the corner is dishonest and unpersuasive. I'd prefer ultimately to see people able to do what needs doing and enjoy it regardless of whether success is visible on the horizon or not. I'd like to see us motivated by morality. Similarly, I think the peace movement's focus on the damage wars do to Americans is off-track, as U.S. wars do ever less damage to Americans while killing ever more people. Unless we learn to care about non-Americans, our military will destroy the world. But how do we get to the point where people are motivated by morality, or even by a combination of morality, expectation of success, excitement, solidarity, and peer pressure? The same facts can prove that change is hopeless or guaranteed; the choice comes from inside each person. How do we make it the right one?

This is where Levine's book begins to point us in some very useful directions. We need to develop individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, Levine writes. We need to unite as anti-authoritarians, regardless of other differences. We need to learn from immigrant groups that have been least infected by our culture of disempowerment. Many factors are working against us: long work hours, lack of health care, and lack of job security or home security. Psychologists now drug people who display signs of anti-authoritarianism, which is treated as a crime. Our prisons are packed with some of our society's most rebellious, and therefore useful, members. We're administered every greater doses of television, which is ruinous regardless of the content:

"Researchers confirm that, regardless of the programming, viewers' brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state. That's part of the explanation for why it's so hard to turn the television off even when it's not enjoyable -- we have become pacified by it."

While watching all that television, we fail to talk to each other and build friendships. Increasingly, Americans live alone and lack confidants, something online social media provide only a false sense of. If we had more friends we would be more active citizens. We have learned helplessness, writes Levine, comparing us to a group of dogs in an experiment who were conditioned to believe they could not escape an electric shock and who then failed to escape even when an easy way out was made available.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2014 8:13 PM PDT


War and Taxes
War and Taxes
by Steven A. Bank
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wars Used to Cause Taxes and Now Cause Debt and Recession, April 22, 2011
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It turns out that "war and taxes" have a lot more in common than "death and taxes." War and taxes are both optional and are joined at the hip. Or, as these authors put it:

"War has been the most important catalyst for long-term, structural change in the nation's fiscal system. Indeed, the history of America's tax system can be written largely as a history of America's wars."

Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist No. 30, as he and his allies argued elsewhere, for the federal power to tax precisely because the federal government might need to fight wars. Between 1789 and 1815, tariffs produced 90 percent of government revenue. But taxes were needed for wars, including wars against protests of the taxes -- such as President Washington's quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion. A property tax was put in place in 1789 in order to build up a Navy (some people in what is now Libya allegedly needed killing for the good of humanity, oddly enough). More taxes were needed in 1798 because of the troublesome French. But taxation really got going with the War of 1812.

Remember, this was to be an easy cakewalk kind of war with Canadians welcoming us as liberators. But mistakes were made, as they say, and the bill grew hefty. Congress passed a tax program in 1812 that included a direct tax on land, and excise taxes on retailers, stills, auction sales, sugar, bank notes, and carriages. And in 1815, our representatives added a new direct tax and restored that controversial whiskey tax as well, plus taxes on all kinds of items, luxurious and otherwise. The idea of an income tax was raised but rejected.

The income tax was brought to you courtesy of that glorious act of mass stupidity that began 150 years ago this month: the Civil War. The North began an income tax in 1862, and the Confederacy in 1863. This was after the routine promises of a cheap and easy war had worn out their welcome. Both sides were forcing men to leave their homes to kill and risk death, but effectively excusing the wealthy from that duty. Thus arose popular pressure to compel the rich to "sacrifice" financially. Both sides enacted progressive, graduated income taxes, and other taxes as well. The North taxed everything in sight, including inheritances and especially corporations. The financial cost of the Civil War was astronomical, and the veterans' pension program was our first major social welfare program. It required massive funding.

--skip a few wars --

And then came George W. Bush. War as a joint sacrifice was out the window. Wars would be fought by the poor and the privatized. Mercenaries and contractors would outnumber troops. Massive spending would be dedicated to recruitment. Those recruited would meet lower standards and be held for longer periods of "service." Everyone else would benefit from war. There would be patriotism, entertaining news coverage, and major tax cuts, instead of increases. Out as well was progressive taxation, the notion that the wealthy should pay at a greater rate than those who actually need their money. So, something new arose on the horizon of U.S. history: major and repeated regressive tax cuts during an immensely expensive pair of simultaneous wars.

This pattern has essentially continued during President Obama's tenure. Military spending continues to increase, while taxes continue to decrease. The result has been a huge budget deficit. And the impact of these and related policies on the economy has been disastrous, leading to an even huger budget deficit. A lot of ideas have been proposed to solve this problem: cut back or eliminate self-funding programs that are doing fine financially, such as Social Security or Medicare; or cut back or eliminate basic goods provided through our government, such as schools or healthcare or environmental protection. The fact that over half of our income tax goes to the military and wars, and that a majority of us want those wars ended and that military reduced -- such obvious solutions are not discussed in corporate media.

The fact that wars created the taxes, and that the taxes have now been cut back as the wars expanded -- such insights would require a knowledge of history. One solution would be to give everyone a copy of Bank and Stark and Thorndike's book, "War and Taxes."


Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth
Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth
by Diane Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.75
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BP Is Messing With the Wrong Woman, April 20, 2011
This is an hilariously entertaining book of an almost impossible sort.

For years I've met fulltime hardcore activists full of powerful and colorful stories that I thought I knew would die with them. Most people are tragically and frustratingly allergic to writing anything down. Wilson is an all-out activist, a Gulf Coast shrimper turned civil resister who has made herself a major thorn in the side of several multinational corporations. She's part Forest Gump, part Erin Brokovich, part Daniel Berrigan, and she has put her stories down on paper. Her book is a guide to becoming a one-person justice movement.

Wilson has not only lived as a shrimper who experienced the arrival of the polluting chemical companies that would kill off the shrimp, but she has put that experience into context -- and I mean context.

So a woman who had struggled to become a shrimper in a man's world became an activist, a resister, a hunger-striker, and an aid to whistleblowers, not to mention an author. Wilson very rapidly developed into the kind of activist who will act immediately upon the wildest idea available. When Union Carbide / Dow was poisoning her corner of Texas, while shortchanging the victims of a disaster the company had caused in India, Wilson scaled a fence, climbed a tower, dropped a banner, and chained herself up. Wilson declared herself an unreasonable woman and announced the need for more of the same. Inevitably, she was involved in launching one of my favorite peace groups, CodePink.

One of Wilson's more entertaining stories involves her sneaking into a fundraiser to protest then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Another is when she decides to sink her boat on top of an illegal discharge pipe, the Coast Guard tries to stop her, and a surprising ally takes her side.

Wilson's book is part of her activism, exposing the crimes and lies of the corporations she has protested. Her repeated willingness to risk jail leads to some of the best whistleblowing in the book, as she describes the horrors of the Texas penal system.

The stories Wilson tells about Union Carbide and Dow and Formosa and BP are worse, far worse. The actions she takes to counter their crimes include single-handedly filling in for the government agencies -- notably the EPA -- that are supposed to enforce laws. Wilson generates media coverage of abuses, educates the public, attempts citizens arrests, and afflicts the comfortable when she can't comfort the afflicted. After organizing a CodePink naked women's protest of BP in Houston, she greeted one of its bought-off senators, Lisa Murkowski, in a Congressional hearing by pouring oil-looking syrup all over herself and denouncing BP's destruction of the Gulf. Then Wilson managed to get back in, to another hearing the same week, to protest BP's then-CEO Tony Hayward with black paint all over her.

As Wilson demanded Hayward's arrest through the microphone of world media (and the end of his work running BP would be announced the next day, his departure from the company a month later), Wilson herself was the outlaw under our system of so-called justice. She faced criminal charges in Texas from which she was fleeing, and now in Washington, D.C., as well, but hopped a plane to Taiwan where she would present a Black Planet Award (for destroying part of the planet) to Formosa Plastics, the biggest corporation in Taiwan. The headlines all celebrated "The Woman Who Fights Formosa."

The last line of Wilson's book is "Now -- where's that Tony Hayward?"

She found him (or his company) last week, with another Black Planet Award, and despite being kept out of BP's shareholders' meeting, helped generate stories around the world about the oil that is still killing the Gulf of Mexico where once upon a time a woman could make a living with a shrimp boat.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2011 8:59 AM PDT


Honor For Us: A Philosophical Analysis, Interpretation and Defense
Honor For Us: A Philosophical Analysis, Interpretation and Defense
by William Lad Sessions
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $104.50
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Idea, Dull Execution, April 18, 2011
William Lad Sessions is a philosophy professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. I was once a philosophy student at the University of Virginia. Both schools have honor codes for their students. I experienced UVA's honor code as one of the most thrilling discoveries of my life. W&L's has inspired Sessions to write a book.

I realize that nowadays everyone but billionaires, ironically enough, is treated like a criminal every day. Airports mean searches and questionings. Phone calls to banks involve numerous questions to prove your identity. Video cameras watch your every public move. But not so long ago it was possible to imagine living in a world, or at least a little oasis within the world, in which you would be trusted completely. When I learned that students at UVA were trusted to take tests on their own with the understanding that they would not cheat because they had honor, it was as though a weight that had been pressing me down for my life up until that moment had been lifted.

Of course, the thrill of being trusted is just part of an honor system. Other integral parts of it are the thrill of being trustworthy, the thrill of living among others who are trustworthy, and the thrill of the common understanding that everyone will trust each other without a word needing to be said about it. Cheating someone who expects you to cheat and treats you like a cheater would stain your own character, but that would fall far short of the soul-destruction that would come from cheating an honor system. And an honor system is not strictly exclusive. One is expected to behave honorably to those outside the system as well -- even if they do not behave honorably toward you. This is where an honor system can become Gandhian.

I've read nineteenth century American Christian writers who opposed the "non-resistance" they advocated (turning the other cheek) to honor and the aggressive reaction it demanded to any insult. After Gandhi, this opposition collapsed. One can resist without violence. One can also have honor without the demand for vengeance. Forgiveness and magnanimity can be part of an honor code. Honor has a bad name derived from traditions of tribal feuds, honor killings, and misogyny. I'm writing this on a plane ride home from Afghanistan where the Taliban's concept of honor leaves a bad taste indeed -- not to mention the U.S. military's.

Anything can be given a bad name. Congress routinely deems its own outrages "ethical" and we don't condemn the very idea of ethics. The Nobel Committee gives war makers peace prizes and we don't become enemies of peace. Honor fits into this category. The word can be applied to anything, but some of the things it has been used to mean are extremely valuable. Honor, as Sessions argues, creates equality, reciprocity, respect, mutuality, publicity (public understanding of an honorable code of behavior), and solidarity.

Sessions argues in favor of a renewed understanding of honor as something of use in our time and place, not just a concept applicable to others. Sessions hopes to create a whole new academic discipline to study honor. I hope he succeeds.

Sadly, I don't think his book is the sort to begin a new field of study. It's written with a scholarly ponderousness that is likely to appeal only to people already working in the not-yet-created discipline or one related to it. The book is packed with analysis of abstract categories with almost no examples. There's little explanation of why we should want honor, what's so enjoyable about it, why honor should inspire us. In the absence of examples, there's plenty of filler in the form of philosophico-tautological gibberish like "The kernel of my focus on war, then, is this: war is just what warriors fight (and it is what they fight insofar as they are warriors)." There's plenty of academical repetitiveness telling readers what is about to be said and what was just said. Some people like their books that way. I like my books raw and emotional. Near the end of the book, Sessions comes right out and admits he hasn't provided any motivating images of honor:

"Of course, the most potent appeal of honor would derive from intimate acquaintance with particular groups and individuals whose lives attract us precisely because they embody conceptions of honor. . . . [I]t will take more than a philosopher's abstractions to give them flesh and vitality. So the reader will have to find her own examples."

Gee, thanks!

Sessions' book is not just unnecessarily boring, but is also slanted toward discovering honor to secretly exist in all aspects of our lives, rather than advocating the enrichment of our lives through the development of honor systems. In his discussion of lawyers, Sessions concludes that they act on the basis of honor codes that may or may not be ethical. OK, but how do we make them more ethical?

That's not really the question that Sessions is after. He is promoting the concept of honor as valuable to such an extent that sometimes it should be given priority over "consequentialist ethics." That is to say, doing the honorable thing may be more important than doing the thing that causes the best results, such as the most happiness and the least suffering.

I disagree, at least in theory, since Sessions offers no examples to make his case. I'm convinced that more people would be better off if we built up more systems of honor and relied on them more than we rely on surveillance and law enforcement.

I'm not interested in honor because a simplistic understanding of it can scandalously violate "consequentialism." I'm interested in honor because it encourages good behavior by appealing to the very best in people.


The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism
The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism
by John Nichols
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.80
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136 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cure for Decades of Cable News, April 17, 2011
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On Friday on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, congress members spoke in defense of Medicare, Social Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other programs that by almost anyone's definition are socialist, programs that were denounced as socialist by opponents of their passage in decades past, programs that would not have been created without the efforts of socialists and the Socialist Party.

The debate screeched to a halt, however, because an opponent of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's "People's Budget" then under discussion suggested that its supporters might be socialists. Congressman Keith Ellison, co-chair of that caucus, protested the vicious accusation and demanded that the words of his accuser be transcribed for the record (and possible legal action?). The Republican congress member guilty of the horrible slander announced that he was retracting it. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the other co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, thanked him sincerely for the retraction. Although polls show socialism to be far more popular than Congress, neither Ellison nor Grijalva insisted on being cleared of the label "congress member."

"Socialism," remarked Frank Zeidler, former socialist mayor of Milwaukee, "believes that people working together for a common good can produce a greater benefit, both for society and for the individual, than can a society in which everyone is shrewdly seeking their own self-interest." Missing from Washington, D.C., is not just a single individual who would hurl the term "capitalist" with the strength to have a retraction demanded. Missing also is any sense of working for a cooperative society based on the above truth -- a truth apparent to any child who has neither read Ayn Rand nor viewed cable news, but a truth that sounds insane in our nation's capital.

And one more thing is missing: awareness of the debt our nation owes to its rich socialist history. That's where the best book yet by John Nichols -- and that's saying something! -- comes in. The author of "The Genius of Impeachment," among other brilliant books, has just published "The 'S' Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism."

The book is marred by a militaristic cover depicting the flag-raising pose on Iwo Jima, and its focus on the U.S. national tradition is not without problems. Nichols' goal is to depict socialism as American, as rooted in the tradition of Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, the founding of the Republican Party, the rise of competent public planning in 20th century cities, the New Deal, the struggle for free speech and freedom of the press, and the civil rights movement. In this he is very successful. But a strain of thought related to much socialism and admirable in its own right holds that an idea need not be American to be the best for America. You'd think we'd learn that in KINDERGARTEN.

Nichols does not argue with such internationalism; it just fails to harmonize with the theme of his book. Yet, while other authors have sought to bring out the rich leftist tradition of the United States as something predating and independent of, and better off without, Marxism, Nichols goes out of his way to highlight Marx's employment by a New York newspaper and communications with President Lincoln. Doing so certainly cannot hurt and makes for fascinating reading. Of course, the fascination is in large part based on the reader's imagining of the explosive cognitive dissonance a contemporary Republican might face in discovering his or her party's founding father's appreciation of Marx. This imagination may give too much credit to contemporary Republicans for cognitive processes of whatever sort.
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