Sanders' Incapacity to Seriously Talk War Deforms Dialogue

Yesterday, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to a self professed "conservative Christian" group. We live in a time of perpetual war and Sanders -- who sometimes touts his 2002 vote against authorizing the invasion of Iraq -- couldn't bring himself to raise the subject of war with people who profess to be followers of the Prince of Peace.

Sanders spoke at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell on Monday, arguing that despite their differences, they both should work on economic inequality. [video and transcript*] And it was certainly important for someone to talk to people at Liberty University about the idolatry of money. 

But NPR accurately reported that Sanders' reception "was pretty muted except for this one moment. It was after the speech, and the school's vice president was conducting a short Q and A with Sanders using questions that the students had submitted. And he asked a question about abortion. And in short, the question was, how can Sanders advocate for the economic needs of vulnerable children while not supporting the rights of the unborn.

"And when the question was read out loud, the students started cheering, and there was this big standing ovation. It was by the far the biggest applause line of the whole event, and that was for the question. Sanders pivoted on the answer to talk about the Republican budget. And given his support for abortion rights, there wasn't really any way that the students were going to be satisfied with his answer."

Sanders not engaging in a more meaningful way on this allows a continuation of mutually assured stagnation. Liberals who defend abortion rights and those who oppose abortion rights can feel mutually superior to each other while continuing the status quo. 

Sanders received kudos from all round for speaking to an audience that he disagrees with on many issues. But the fact that Sanders is unwilling or unable or simply insufficiently interested in issues of war and peace to raise it in this setting totally deforms our national dialogue. 

No one is more interested in meaningful dialogue between left and right than I am. I founded a website and voting strategy on the premise that there's an anti-establishment center: -- and that a solution to our current predicament would be for disenchanted Democrats and disenchanted Republicans who know and trust each other to have a real dialogue and pair up and vote for the third party or independent candidate(s) of their choice, thus siphoning votes in twos from the establishment parties. 

And, as someone who has spent a fair amount of time with self described Christian conservatives over the course of my life, I think there's a way -- with a lot of work and dialogue -- to make a real change.  

But that dialogue is constricted and twisted when the stated policy position of the "progressive" in the dialogue is not meaningfully pro peace and seeks a more dominant Saudi Arabia in the Mideast. See here and here

I'm critical of people who are sufficiently certain in their own world view that they assert and seek to use the power of the state to coerce women into not having abortions they feel they need or want because they know that a fetus should be afforded personhood. 

But how can we have a meaningful discussion about the preciousness of life while our country regularly bombs people thousands of miles away? How can we pretend to care about human life when death is an instrument of our foreign policy? This largely comes about because in a deep way, Iraqis and Afghans and Yemenis and Palestinian and many others are simply not afforded the status of real personhood by our body politic. 

There are of course people who espouse a "seemless garment" -- who are anti war, anti abortion rights and anti death penalty. They are almost universally ignored by most everyone else. 

I honestly don't know if a fetus is a human being and I am skeptical of anyone who claims with all certainty that they do. But I do know the people in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and Palestine and other victims of U.S. foreign policy -- which sets the violent standard around the world -- are human beings. 

In Sanders' world view, which so far seems remarkably uncaring to people who are not U.S. citizens and is therefore quite xenophobic, they are not afforded meaningful consideration in his policy pronouncements because they don't carry a nice blue U.S. passport. 

This is in contrast to the newly victorious Jeremy Corbyn, who speaks in quite clear terms against wars -- past, current and likely future wars: "Let us be a force for change in the world, a force for humanity in the world, a force for peace in the world and a force that recognizes we cannot go on like this with grotesque levels of global insecurity, grotesque threats to our environment all around the world without the rich and powerful governments stepping up to the plate to make sure our world becomes safer and better. And those people don’t end up in poverty, in refugee camps, wasting their lives away when they could be contributing so much to the good of all of us on this planet. We are one world, let that message go out today."

Most of the attendees at Liberty University likely don't comprehend the humanity of the people in the Mideast because they proclaim their Islamic faith. Or most of them do. Or their humanity is portrayed as one in need of the faith the attendees of Liberty University profess. But of course, the bulk of "Christian conservatives" are quite Zionist in their outlook. That is, their presumed affinity for Christian communities in the Mideast, be they in Palestine or Syria or where ever, is insufficient for them to overcome the imperial impulses of "Christian Zionism." This is in part because they haven't had a meaningful dialogue with enough people from the region. 

It was interesting to see the proclamations by the Liberty University MC for the event, David Nasser (an Iranian American Muslim convert who now proclaims his Christianity) against racism in the Q and A with Sanders, while he acts and is treated rather subserviently by Jerry Falwell Jr. -- the son of the great founder who himself is presumed to be a great man. 

One would think that in terms of foreign policy, the one thing that a liberal like Sanders and those on the Christian right would agree on would be that the Saudi regime, which has fostered Wahhabism, should not be what we rely on to make the region better. But there Sanders was, using his standard talking point about the Saudis stepping up before that audience.  

The imperial assumptions from liberal and conservatives are therefore silently accepted and therefore re-enforced, even as those all around applaud the great dialogue they are having. 

* A non-correction: at one point in his speech, the transcript from the Washington Post incorrectly has Sanders saying: "And that vision is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12, and it states, 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the war and the prophets.' That is the golden rule. Do unto others, what you would have them do to you. That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated." In fact, what Sanders quoted Matthew, which states that "this sums up the law and the prophets."

But, indeed, it is not very complicated. Now, if only Sanders and self-professed Christians would work toward applying it to our global policies.  

NPR Gives Gehry a Blowjob -- an Awful, Awful Blowjob

It's rare that with just looking at two examples the sheer awfulness of our current "culture" can be illustrated in two different fields at once. But NPR rose to the challenge this morning. 

NPR "special correspondent" Susan Stamberg interviewed architect Frank Gehry and provided him with what can most objectively and analytically be called an audio blowjob. NPR told us the buildings of the "world's most famous architect" resemble "towering waves at sea." His work, Stamberg said is "Wait for it -- lovable, thrilling, audacious, glowing." His personality is that of "a mensch wrapped around an iron will." Stamberg -- perhaps thinking her skills were not sufficient to the task at hand -- was helped on-air by Gehry's biographer, so she could better ask questions like "what did you learn about yourself from this book?" The bibliographer actually ends up sucking up to Gehry by reading his own words back to him about how he's never really satisfied with his work -- because he hasn't yet achieved perfection. The great man agreed. It was an awful, awful seven minute blowjob. Cultural conservatives would truly be within their rights to take to the Senate floor about this. 

Rather than further crit this monstrosity, let me elucidate by contrasting it with a remarkable 1957 interview, in which a baby-faced Mike Wallace interviews an elderly but very vibrant Frank Lloyd Wright -- probably the actually most famous architect, who would likely regard Gehry's work as a series of stunts. In contrast, this interview is both contentious and eventually admiring. Wallace challenges Wright, compelling him to really articulate his beliefs and how they differ from the general society. Thus, it's both timely and perennial. Years later however, Wallace would comment Wright “was master, I was student.” Here's the full transcript and video -- and a few excerpts:  

WALLACE: You obviously hold some fairly unconventional, even unpopular, ideas Mr. Wright. ...
WRIGHT: I'm not aware of it, if so.


WALLACE: I understand that you attend no church. 

WRIGHT: I attend the greatest of all churches. 

WALLACE: Which is? 

WRIGHT: And I put a capital N on Nature, and call it my church.  


WALLACE: You once said, "If I had another fifteen years to work, I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation" Now, would you tell me why should you, one man, want to change the way of life of more than one hundred and seventy million people? 

WRIGHT: ...I think they should have a right to look to their architects for what they should build. ... I'd like to have a free architecture, I'd like to have architecture that belonged where you see it standing, and as a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace. ...


WALLACE: Is Salvador Dali a great public relations specialist? 

WRIGHT: Probably. 

WALLACE: Are you? 

WRIGHT: I don't think so. Because I've never cared very much which way the public was going, and what was the matter with it. 


WALLACE: What is your reaction when I tell you that the nation's teenagers bought eleven million Elvis Presley records last year. Which group of youth do you think will inherit this country fifteen years from now, the Elvis Presley fans or the Frank Lloyd Wright fans? 

WRIGHT: The Frank Lloyd Wright fans. Undoubtedly. Why? Because they're on the side of Nature, and the other fans are on the side of an artificiality that is doomed. Do you believe it? I do. 


WALLACE: How do you square such a mile-high skyscraper with your theories on decentralization?

WRIGHT: ... Everybody would have room, peace, comfort, and every establishment would be appropriate to every man. It's an ideal that I think that goes with democracy, isn't it?


WALLACE: What do you think of the American Legion, Mr. Wright? 

WRIGHT: I never think of it, if I can help it. ... One war always has in it, in its intestines, another, and another has another.... And if you are not for war, why are you for warriors?


WALLACE: Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, section October 18th 1953, said as follows: "Some quarters have denounced Wright as an impractical visionary and a pompous windbag." 


WALLACE: How do you feel about such criticism, Mr. Wright? 

WRIGHT: Doesn't affect me particularly. 

WALLACE: Doesn't bother you? 

WRIGHT: Not a bit. You always have to consider the source from which these things come. Now if somebody I deeply respected had said such a thing I would be worried. I would hurt -- feel hurt. But as a piece in a newspaper, blowing into the gutters of the street the next day, I don't think it counts much. 


WALLACE: Let's turn to your political views. After a visit to Soviet Russia, back in 1936, '37, you wrote the following in a publication called Soviet Russia Today. You wrote, "I saw something in the glimpse I had of the Russian people themselves which makes me smile in anticipation"

WRIGHT: ... Do you ever disassociate government and people? ... I find that government can be a kind of gangsterism and is in Russia. And is likely to be here if we don't take care of ourselves pretty carefully. 


WALLACE: In one of your books; Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture, you wrote, "We can escape literature nowhere, and its entire fabric is drenched with sex, newspapers recklessly steer sex everywhere. Every magazine has its nauseating ritual of the girl cover, the he-and-she novel is omnipresent."


WALLACE: What's wrong with sex, Mr. Wright?

WRIGHT: Nothing. 

WALLACE: Then, why do you write what you say? 

WRIGHT: It would be wrong with you, rather than sex. 

Indeed, there's nothing at all wrong with sex -- including blowjobs -- they just shouldn't be administered by National Public Radio. 

Lousy Food, Small Servings -- Sanders Foreign Policy: Backing Saudi Intervention

There's an old joke about two elderly men at a Catskill resort. One complains: "The food here is horrible." The other vigorously agrees: "Yeah, I know -- and the portions are so damn small!" 

Several writers have noted Bernie Sanders' scant comments about foreign policy -- small portions. 

But another problem is the little that he has articulated in terms of foreign policy -- the foreign policy issue that he's been most passionate about really -- is extremely regressive and incredibly dangerous. That issue is the role of Saudi Arabia. Sanders has actually pushed for the repressive regime to engage in more intervention in the Mideast. 

In discussing ISIS, Sanders invariably has talked about Saudi Arabia as the solution rather than a large part of the problem. It's couched in language that seems somewhat critical, but the upshot is we need more Saudi influence and intervention in the region. In effect, more and bigger proxy wars, which have already taken the lives of hundreds of thousands in Syria and could even further rip apart Iraq, Libya and other countries. 

He's said this repeatedly -- and prominently. In February with Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "This war is a battle for the soul of Islam and it's going to have to be the Muslim countries who are stepping up. These are billionaire families all over that region. They've got to get their hands dirty. They've got to get their troops on the ground. They've got to win that war with our support. We cannot be leading the effort."

What? Why should a U.S. progressive be calling for more intervention by the Saudi monarchy? Really, we want Saudi troops in Syria and Iraq and Libya and who knows where else? You'd think that perhaps someone like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the corrupt Saudi regime -- but no, he wants to dramatically accelerate it. 

Even worse, after the Saudis started bombing Yemen with U.S. government backing earlier this year, killing thousands and leading to what the UN is now calling a "humanitarian catastrophe," and suffering that is "almost incomprehensible," Sanders continued. In another interview, again with Wolf Blitzer in May, Sanders did correctly note that as a result of the Iraq invasion, "we’ve destabilized the region, we’ve given rise to Al-Qaeda, ISIS." But then he actually called for more intervention: "What we need now, and this is not easy stuff, I think the President is trying, you need to bring together an international coalition, Wolf, led by the Muslim countries themselves! Saudi Arabia is the third largest military budget in the world, they’re going to have to get their hands dirty in this fight. We should be supporting, but at the end of the day this is [a] fight over what Islam is about, the soul of Islam, we should support those countries taking on ISIS."

Progressives in the U.S. are supposed to look toward the Saudi monarchy to save the soul of Islam? The Saudis have pushed the teachings of the Wahhabi sect and have been deforming Islam for decades. This actually helped give rise to ISIS and Al Qaeda. It's a little like Bernie Sanders saying that the Koch Brothers need to get more involved in U.S. politics, they need to "get their hands dirty."

But if your point is to build up the next stage of the U.S. government's horrific role in the Mideast, it kind of makes sense. The U.S. government helped ensure the Saudis would dominate the Arabian Peninsula from the formation of the nation state of Saudi Arabia -- a nation named after a family. In return, the Saudis had the U.S. take the lead in extracting oil there and favored investing funds from their oil wealth largely in the West over building up the region, what the activist scholar Eqbal Ahmed called separating the material wealth of the Mideast from the mass of the people of the region. Saudi Arabia buys U.S. weapons to further solidify the "relationship" and to ensure its military dominance. 

The Saudis and other Gulf monarchies deformed the Arab uprisings, which transformed oppressive but basically secular and minimally populist regimes into failed states, giving rise to groups like ISIS and allowing Saudi Arabia to largely call the shots in the region. What has happened in the Mideast since the ouster of Mubarak and the so-called Arab uprisings is that the Saudis have been strengthened. Both the Tunisian and Yemeni dictators fled to Saudi Arabia. Mubarak himself was urged not to resign by the Saudis, and the Saudis are now the main backers of the military regime in Cairo. 

Why is Sanders doing this? Is there a domestic constituency called "Americans for Saudi Domination of the Arab World"? Well, yes and no. It would obviously play well in the general public to say: "We've got to stop backing dictatorships like the Saudis. They behead people, they are tyrannical. They have a system of male guardianship. Why the hell are they an ally?" 

But Sanders is unwilling to break with the U.S.-Saudi alliance that has done such damage to both the Arab people and the American people. Now, we have a full-fledged Israeli-Saudi alliance and it must be music to the ears of pro-Israeli journalists like Wolf Blitzer for Sanders to be calling for U.S. backing of further Saudi domination. 

Some have argued that Sanders' candidacy is very valuable -- that win or lose, he's putting the issue of income inequality front and center. But if the candidacy is to be lauded for raising issues of economic inequality, educate the public and galvanize around that, it's fair to ask how the candidacy is also deforming public discussion on other crucial issues. If the position of the most prominent "progressive" on the national stage is for more Saudi intervention, what does that do to public understanding of the Mideast and dialogue between people in the U.S. and in Muslim countries? 

If the U.S. further subcontracts the Mideast to the Saudi regime, the setbacks and disappointments for peace and justice in the Mideast during the Obama years will be small potatoes in comparison. If the Mideast continues to deform, largely because of U.S. policies backing Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, all the other things Sanders is talking about regarding economic inequality are arguably out the window. He himself has noted that "wars drain investment at home." Or does Sanders think it's all good if he can set up a scheme whereby the Saudis pay the bills and use their own troops for Mideast wars that the U.S. government backs? Martin Luther King in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech referred to the wars taking funds from the war on poverty as a "demonic destructive suction tube." But he also referred to just looking at the funding as a "facile" connection, listing several other, deeper, reasons based on other moral grounds for opposing war. But Sanders rarely touches on those other reasons. It's as though we've learned nothing about blowback since 9/11. 

Contrast Sanders' call for an escalation in Saudi Arabia's proxy wars with what insurgent Jeremy Corbyn -- whose campaign to lead the Labor Party in the UK has caught fire -- is saying. He's been challenging the British establishment about arming the Saudis: "Will the Minister assure me that the anti-corruption laws will apply to arms deals and to British arms exports? Will they involve forensic examination of any supposed corruption that has gone on between arms sales and regimes in other parts of the world rather than suspending Serious Fraud Office inquiries, as in the case of an investigation into the Al-Yamamah arms contract with Saudi Arabia?" See a section on Corbyn's website on Saudi Arabia and video of his remarks at the House of Parliament just last month, with Corbyn relentlessly raising questions of human rights violations by the Saudi regime. 

Instead of adopting Corbyn's human rights perspective, Sanders has used Saudi Arabia's massive military spending to argue that it should further dominate the region. Unexamined is how it got that way. Unexamined is the $60 billion arms deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that Obama signed off on in 2010. The BBC reports, Saudi "Prince Turki al-Faisal called for 'a unified military force, a clear chain of command' at a high level regional security conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital." 

So Sanders and Saudi planners seem to be working toward the same ends, as though war by an autocratic state in a critical region can be expected to breed good outcomes. Sanders doesn't seem to take money from Lockheed Martin -- though he's backed their F-35, slated to be based in Vermont -- but his stance on Saudi Arabia must bring a smile to the faces of bigwigs there. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has moved Sanders to "say the names" of Sandra Bland and others who are victims of police violence. Those striving for peace and justice around the world need to do the same regarding Sanders and U.S. foreign policy. 

Another Word on the "Presidential Mural"

Actually, not another word, but a previous one. I'd almost forgotten about this piece I wrote in August of 2009, shortly after the "presidential mural" replaced the Mount of Olives mural at Mama Ayesha's. [See previous piece: "New Mural in D.C.: Shooting the "War Thug" Presidents in the Balls."] 

August 4, 2009

Obama Photo Op with Helen Thomas 

By Sam Husseini

So Obama came with cupcakes to wish Helen Thomas a happy birthday (video). Now, if only he'd take her questions.

Obama claimed they have a "common birthday wish" -- for a "real healthcare reform bill" -- but Thomas is not in favor of Obama's plan, she's for single payer.

Last week I bumped into Helen Thomas at her stopping ground, Mama Ayesha's restaurant in Washington, D.C. and she stressed the single payer failure on the part of Obama.

I asked her if I was right, that Obama hadn't called on her since his first news conference. Yes, she confirmed. He's had five news conferences since and not a single question from her.

At his first news conference, she asked about Obama's buildup in Afghanistan and Pakistan and about Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal. Obama declined to "speculate" about the existence of such an arsenal. Video here.

People should be asking Obama: Why are you refusing to take Thomas' questions? Why are you refusing to acknowledge the existence of Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal?

Outside Mama Ayesha's is a new mural which features Mama Ayesha, the founder of the restaurant, flanked by every president from Eisenhower to Obama. Everyone is smiling and getting along cheerfully. I told Thomas the "mural was ridiculous and the mural should feature you and Mama Ayesha not any of these jokers."

Later I chatted with the owners of the restaurant, Mama Ayesha's nephew and his son. They basically said that the DC Arts Commission funded and called the shots on the mural. This is the collapse of art -- where government entities in an alleged democracy decide what art gets funded for the greater glory of our esteemed leaders.

Art -- especially murals -- should not be honoring politicians whose legacies are war, inequality, scandal and corruption. If anyone, it should be honoring folk heroes like Thomas.

Appropriately, Mama Ayesha is depicted behind bars, though most of the men around her should have been. None of the victims of their wars and bombings are depicted below their feet. 

New Mural in D.C.: Shooting the "War Thug" Presidents in the Balls

Commemorating U.S. Violence from Hiroshima to Iraq 

By Sam Husseini

new political mural has gone up in Washington, D.C. 
Well, sort of new. 

The mural has been there for a few years, but it's been transformed just recently. Some might say, made more whole, reborn. 

It's a mural on the side of a restaurant formerly known as the Calvert Cafe. It features U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Obama with Mama Ayesha, who founded the restaurant that is now named for her: Mama Ayesha's, just near the Duke Ellington Bridge in Adams Morgan. It was originally labored over by Karlisima Rodas. 

The recent transformation involves someone having apparently paintballed all the presidents, shooting them in the balls with red paint. Or trying to. Who ever did this seems to have been richer in inspiration than in sniper skills, which may on balance be a good thing. It's a bit messy, but the intent is fairly clear: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton I, Bush II and Obama -- all shot in the balls. Scrawled on the side is "The War Thugs." 

This is an apparent reference to Obama's comments in April calling protesters against police killings who resort to property destruction "thugs."

As USA Today reported: "President Obama doesn't regret using the term 'thug' in describing the violent rioters in Baltimore this week, spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

"'Whether it's arson or, you know, the looting of a liquor store ... those were thuggish acts,' Earnest said.

"In discussing the riots Tuesday, Obama assailed the 'criminals and thugs who tore up the place,' and described them as a distraction from the real issues of police brutality."

An examination of U.S. foreign policy puts the "thugishness" of someone looting a liquor store to shame. From using nuclear weapons, to bombing Vietnam and invading Iraq to deploying killer drones in county after country, the thugishness of these presidents is hard to compete with. 

One could imagine the augmented muralist going a bit further, perhaps giving us a lingering blot where Truman's crotch would be were he in the picture. That would be all too appropriate given that Truman gave rise to our "National Security State" and nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki exactly 70 years ago this week. 

The date of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima -- August 6 -- is also the date of the imposition of the sanctions being imposed on Iraq in 1990, exactly 25 years ago, that would ultimately take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, many of them children. The 1991 U.S. bombing of Iraq and subsequent sanctions set the stage for the killing fields we now see -- or rather, don't see and manage to ignore in Iraq and beyond. Yet, the administration of Bush I is regarded by some so-called critics of Bush II as enlightened. 

From Hiroshima to Iraq, all these presidents have used violence. Massive violence. An augmented mural could include mushroom clouds in the background, and perhaps jet fighters, bombers and killer drones flying overhead. 

Perhaps the greatest violence they've all used is to threaten the world with nuclear weapons. It's not as though the U.S. only used atomic weapons against Japan at the end of World War II. 

As Daniel Ellsberg has noted, the U.S. uses nuclear weapons constantly, like a thief robbing people by waving a gun around. You don't need to pull the trigger to "use" the gun. 

So, take a look at "From Wounded Knee to Syria: a Century of US Military Interventions" by Zoltan Grossman. Among the U.S. aggression most have forgotten is Eisenhower administration issued a nuclear threat against Iraq in 1958 against invading Kuwait. Or that Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965; how many remember that? Or that the Carter administration began the Rapid Deployment Force, paving the way for future U.S. Mideast wars and began the backing of the Mujahadeen to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan. 

The paintballing -- a sort of art work thar is literally paint as paint -- recalls the Edward Sorel piece that adorns Robert Scheer's book "Thinking Tuna Fish, Talking Death" -- which features "world leaders" dancing the can-can with missiles as genitalia. 

There's typically a taboo against graffiti artists "tagging" over each other's work and this would seem to violate it, but there's a case to be made that this more competes the piece than defaces it. Some people, including Karlisima, now seem upset by the addition of the paintballs, but murals are not typically done to glorify the high and mighty, and do so for the Great Leaders in traditions that shouldn't be emulated. The labor of putting together the original mural is not destroyed, it's not painted over, but used to make a perhaps unexpected point. Further, the original mural it seems was not so much done to convey a vision the artist as much as commissioned by the DC Arts Commission and various other governmental bureaucratic entities. The mural that used to adorn that wall was of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where Mama Ayesha was born. But it was replaced and the collective wisdom had it that the environs of Washington, D.C. were lacking in sufficiently honoring our war presidents, pretending all is smilingly well as they are brutal. 

The new mural now features Mama Ayesha in her beautiful Palestinian dress bringing the war makers together, their vulnerability, what they likely had thought of as a source of their dominating power, made evident. And they're smiling, accepting, perhaps gaining in empathy. 

As it is, there continue to be sprawling U.S. military bases the world over -- and it's not as if things are getting better by any objective measure -- the U.S. just reopened its military base in the Philippines to little notice. All these presidents have continued the U.S.'s backing of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians as Israel has effectively destroyed a people over their collective tenure. 

The paintball artist perhaps admirably exercised restraint from engaging in figurative head shots. After all, virtually every president has killed, not least of all the current inhabitant of the White House, who has commented he's "really good at killing people."

The U.S. is killing people using drones in Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Obama is often depicted as something approaching a pacifist by some for not having bombed Iran already. Never mind that he escalated the war in Afghanistan, has now stepped up U.S. bombings of Iraq and Syria, bombed Libya along with NATO, and so on and so on. 

But our society, media and art largely ignore all this. They focus on celebrity silliness or, worse yet, treat presidents like revered celebrities when their hands are covered in blood that is all too real. 

Why Does Bernie Sanders Want the Saudis to Exercise MORE Influence?

My colleague Norman Solomon has a piece published today: "Bernie Sanders should stop ducking foreign policy" in which he writes: 

"After a question about 'the military establishment' and 'perpetual war' from a man who identified himself as a veteran for peace at a recent town hall gathering in Iowa City, Sanders’ reply was tepid Democratic boilerplate. He blamed Republican hawks for getting the U.S. into Iraq. He called for progress against waste and cost overruns at the Pentagon. And he said that in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the U.S. government should act jointly with regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. ('Those countries are going to have to get their hands dirty, it cannot just be the United States alone.')

"When pressed for details on military intervention, Sanders has indicated that his differences with the Barack Obama administration are quite minor. Like many Democrats, he supports U.S. air strikes in the Middle East, while asserting that only countries in the region should deploy ground forces there. Sanders shares the widespread view among members of Congress who don’t want boots on the ground but do want U.S. air power to keep dropping bombs and firing missiles.

"Sanders has also urged confronting Russian leader Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. ('You totally isolate him politically, you totally isolate him economically,' Sanders said on Fox News last year.) Closer to home, the Vermont senator has championed the $1.4 trillion half-century program for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 beleaguered fighter jets. The Air Force is planning to base F-35s at the commercial airport in Burlington, his state’s largest city."

I had actually asked Sanders about the F-35 when he was at the Press Club in March of this year and he ducked the question. It was part of what the moderator asked as a two parter and Sanders replied to the other part of the question and simply ignored the question about his backing the F-35. I've listed all the questions I submitted below. 

However, the aspect of foreign policy as articulated by Sanders that has grabbed me the most is his stance on ISIS -- where he points to the Saudis being the solution. He's said this repeatedly. In February with Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "this war is a battle for the soul of Islam and it's going to have to be the Muslim countries who are stepping up. These are billionaire families all over that region. They've got to get their hands dirty. They've got to get their troops on the ground. They've got to win that war with our support. We cannot be leading the effort."

And in May, after the Saudi's started bombing Yemen, also when interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, Sanders correctly noted as a result of the Iraq invasion "we’ve destabilized the region, we’ve given rise to Al-Qaeda, ISIS." But then says: "What we need now, and this is not easy stuff, I think the President is trying, you need to bring together an international coalition, Wolf, led by the Muslim countries themselves! Saudi Arabia is the third largest military budget in the world they’re going to have to get their hands dirty in this fight. We should be supporting, but at the end of the day this is fight over what Islam is about, the soul of Islam, we should support those countries taking on ISIS."

What? Why should the U.S. be backing Saudi Arabia? You'd think that perhaps an alleged progressive like Sanders would say that we have to break our decades-long backing of the Saudis. But no, he wants to double down on it. They're not "pulling their weight" -- they're not exercising enough influence in the region. The Saudis have pushed Wahabism and have been deforming Islam, which actually give rise to ISIS and Al Qaeda. It's a little like Bernie Sanders saying that the Koch Brothers need to get more involved in U.S. politics, they need to "get their hands dirty."

But if your point is to build up the next stage of the U.S. government's horrific role in the Mideast, it kind of makes sense. The U.S. government helped ensure the Saudis would dominate the Arabian Peninsula. In return the Saudis invested funds from their oil wealth largely in the West instead of the region. They buy U.S. weapons to further solidify the "relationship" and to ensure their military dominance. The Saudis and other Gulf monarchies deformed the Arab uprisings, which turned oppressive but minimally populist regimes that were potential rivals into failed states. 

Perhaps most horrifically, Sanders continued this line of argument in May -- after the Saudis started bombing Yemen in March. As far as I can tell, he continues making the argument. 

But why? Is there a domestic constituency called "Americans for Further Expanding Saudi Power"? Well, yes and no. It would obviously play well in the general public to say: "We've got to stop backing dictatorships like the Saudis." There's no affront to any sense of U.S. nationalism there. There would seem to be no affront to the domestic constituencies obsessed with Israeli domination of the region. But the Israeli-Saudi alliance means that there is. It feels to me that Sanders is knowingly or not -- I don't know who his foreign policy advisers are -- telegraphing to the Israel fanatic crowd that he's on board in terms of Israel's geo-strategic interests in the region. And to the U.S. establishment generally. It's noteworthy that he's made the case on Wolf Blitzer's program, since Blitzer has long been a leading pro-Israel luminary. 

The U.S.-Saudi alliance has been one of the plagues that has devastated the Mideast. There's nothing "progressive" about doubling down on it. 

The following are the questions I submitted to the Sanders event at the National Press Club in March. Other than the question about the F-35, which Sanders didn't respond to, none were asked:  

* You're fond of saying "Wars drain investment at home" -- MLK referred to
this in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, the notion that wars drain the public treasury as a "facile" connection -- and then listed several other reasons based on other moral grounds for opposing war. You rarely list other reasons for opposing war. Why is that?

* Why do you support the F-35 program?

* On Friday, CIA director John Brennan proposed a restructuring of the CIA to allegedly better confront current threats. Some former CIA analysts however charge that this restructuring will further politicize intelligence, so that "intelligence" will more likely come to "conclusions" that are politically convenient. Is this a growing threat?

* There's apparently a gag order on acknowledging the Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal, even as many in the US and Israel have charged Iraq and now Iran with having a nuclear weapons program. Do you acknowledge Israel has a nuclear weapons program? Will you change decades-long US policy that refuses to acknowledge this?

* Last summer, the Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent backing Israel's "defending itself" from Gaza in the conflict that left about 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza dead. Do you regret not objecting to that resolution?

* Noted historian Alfred McCoy recently wrote: "Under Obama, drones have grown from a tactical Band-Aid in Afghanistan into a strategic weapon for the exercise of global power. From 2009 to 2015, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force deployed a drone armada of over 200 Predators and Reapers, launching 413 strikes in Pakistan alone, killing as many as 3,800 people. " Are you for or against the drone assassination program?

* You recently said: “I find it remarkable that Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq and is controlled by a multi-billion dollar family, is demanding that U.S. combat troops have ‘boots on the ground’ against ISIS. Where are the Saudi troops?...With the third largest military budget in the world and an army far larger than ISIS, the Saudi government must accept its full responsibility for stability in their own region of the world." Are you really wanting the Saudi regime, which has been accused of fomenting violence through the Wahhabi sect, to play a greater role in the region? Will you break with the decades-old alliance with the authoritarian Saudi regime?

* What issues do you agree with some, like Ron Paul, who are associated with the right wing? (Trade? Civil liberties? Cutting military budget? Cutting corporate welfare? Ending bank bailouts?)

How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life

"This doesn't happen in the United States -- okay. This might happen in Afghanistan or somewhere. This just does not happen in the United States."
-- Cincinnati Prosecutor Joe Deters

The last several months have seen a debate, at times heated, between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and those who respond with #AllLivesMatter.

I think a lot of people -- perhaps not all -- who are using both tags are missing a larger point and opening themselves up to ultimately devaluing a lot of lives. 

People use #BlackLivesMatter to denote that given our criminal "justice" system, African Americans are frequently targeted, endangered and at times killed largely because they are black. And that's totally true and needed saying a long time ago.

People saying #AllLivesMatter presume to appeal to universal values, perhaps also noting that poor whites and others have particular vulnerabilities to police abuse as well. And the last part is certainly true. But it is odd to seem to appeal to universal values in a way that seems to seek in broaden the point to include a relatively privileged group. 

They crit each other: "The Defacement of Sandra Bland Mural Proves #AllLivesMatter Is Destructive" ("#AllLivesMatter is a mantra of white supremacy that ignores history..." and "#BlackLivesMatter Should Move Towards #AllLivesMatter" ("Twice as many Whites are killed than Blacks by cops, which means they are killed at about a third of the rate as Blacks.")

But both sides limit who they mean by "lives." They effectively exclude the victims of the U.S.'s highest officials. When most people use #BlackLivesMatter, they seem to be saying that all black U.S. lives matter when taken unlawfully by the government. And when most people who use #AllLivesMatter use it, they seem to be saying all U.S. lives matter when taken at the hands of police authorities -- not just black U.S. lives. But the formulation effectively excludes the lives of millions of people who U.S. officials have deemed expendable for reasons of state. 

Charles Blow of the New York Times for example at one level makes a legitimate point: "#AllLivesMatter may be your personal position, but until that is this COUNTRY'S position it is right to specify the lives it values less..." But aren't some of the lives that this country values less the lives our government and military has taken in Iraq and Afghanistan the last 15 years? Blow also tweeted: "I will not be an accessory to my own oppression. #BlackLivesMatter” But nor should one be an accessory to the oppression of others. 

What should be a glaring blind spot has at time reached absurd proportions. Hillary Clinton saying "all lives matter" at a predominantly black church was deemed a "misstep" by NPR, but why not examine if it makes any sense coming from her? While Senator, Clinton voted for authorizing Bush to invade Iraq, resulting in hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced. While Secretary of State, Clinton helped preside over the U.S. massive nuclear weapons arsenal, which threatens the entire planet, the drone assassination program which has killed thousands and the NATO bombing of Libya, boasting afterward of Muammar Gaddafi: "We came, we saw, he died." That doesn't exactly square with a position of "all lives matter."

As it is, #BlackLivesMatter fails to genuinely uplift the lives of the most discarded by remaining within a national confine. And #AllLivesMatter isn't being universal at all -- in its current form, it's being outright nationalistic and parochial. 

Many now know the names of Sandra Bland and of Samuel DuBose and other African Americans whose lives were devalued by law enforcement officials, we know their names and we know some of their stories.  

The U.S. government has been outright bombing and attacking several countries in the Mideast for years now. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen. How many names do you know of the victims of U.S. foreign policy? 

We know the names of the victims of the so-called Islamic State, people like Steven Sotloff. We know the names of victims of the Taliban, like Malala Yousafzai, who recovered from their attack on her. But the U.S. government has killed thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we don't know the names, we don't listen to their stories. Virtually the only time we meaningfully perceive the violence of U.S. foreign policy -- in media or anywhere really -- is when U.S. soldiers are hurt or killed. Otherwise, the violence is normalized as in Deters's quote atop this article. It is decidedly off stage, a sideshow at best. 

Have you thought of a civilian victim of U.S. policy who you could name? You probably came up with Anwar al-Awlaki. But the reason you know his name is he was a U.S. citizen, proving the point that often that is what bestows value upon a human life. 

A study by Physicians for Social Responsibility earlier this year found: "The number of Iraqis killed during and since the 2003 U.S. invasion have been assessed at one million, which represents 5 percent of the total population of Iraq. This does not include deaths among the three million refugees subjected to privations." 

But that's a non story. We've ended up in a sense embracing Stalin's aphorism: "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic." 

A year ago, the U.S. government backed the latest of Israel's regular brutal bombing on Gaza, in which Israel killed over 1,000 2,000 Palestinians, hundreds of them children. For several months now, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen to minimal attention and virtually no protest. President Obama just visited Ethiopia and Kenya -- with barely any criticism of how those nations have carved up Somalia, perpetuating killing there

It may be possible to honor the noblest possible intent in #BlackLivesMatter: That we should rush to aid those lives that are disregarded by many. Likewise for #AllLivesMatter: We should be universal and apply the principle of veneration of the value of life truly to all

Both impulses in their best form would argue to seriously scrutinize the U.S. government's role as global rogue cop -- a "cop" more dangerous than the most violent, racist police operating in the U.S. today. 

Addendum: When I made an abbreviated version of this argument to my partner, Emily, and said: Both #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter can in effect devalue non U.S. lives, she replied that it actually devalued all lives -- including U.S. lives. "How's that?" I asked. She said: "It helps continue the militarism and that will eventually take U.S. lives, so it devalues those lives as well." If it were not a pseudo military analogy, I'd say "touché."

As if religious belief, unlike depression, typically leads to violence

Anderson Cooper from last night:

Cooper: Do the gunman's parents acknowledge the possibility that their son committing these murders in the name of Islamic extremism? I mean they say it's depressions, but depression doesn't lead most people to kill other people. 

Correspondent: According the the family representative, the parents did say that in their son's weaker moments he did get into "evil ideology and extremist ideas." But they also said they're convinced he never talked to any extremists, never talked to any outsiders about becoming a domestic terrorist. [video]

Huckabee's Use of "Daisy" Ad Totally Undermined by Original

Mike Huckabee just released an ad that uses footage from the Johnson "Daisy" ad. 

It states in text at the end: "A threat to Israel is a threat to America. Stand with Israel. Reject a nuclear Iran." 

What nobody (according to a Google News search I just did) is noting is that the original ad totally undermines Huckabee's presumed case. 

In the original ad, after zooming into the girl's eye and showing the countdown and nuclear explosion, it features Johnson's voice: "These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other. Or we must die."

See the original ad:

The new Huckabee deformed ad only seems to make sense to some because the entire political establishment -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- ignores the reality of Israel's menacing yet unacknowledged nuclear threat to the planet. 

The original ad's subtext was that Goldwater could not be trusted to have his finger on the button. The Huckabee ad seems to poorly attempt to use the same logic on Iran, but it more obviously applies to Netanyahu -- and now, Huckabee as they champion Israel's nuclear domination of the region. 

Indeed. These ARE the stakes: to make a world in which ALL of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We MUST either LOVE each other. Or we must DIE.