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David Swanson

Torture is Mainstream Now

David SwansonUSA 14 April 2-14. As Rebecca Gordon notes in her new book, Mainstreaming Torture, polls find greater support in the United States for torture now than when Bush was president.  And it's not hard to see why that would be the case.

Fifteen years ago, it was possible to pretend the U.S. government opposed torture.  Then it became widely known that the government tortured.  And it was believed (with whatever accuracy) that officials had tried to keep the torturing secret.  Next it became clear that nobody would be punished, that in fact top officials responsible for torture would be permitted to openly defend what they had done as good and noble.

The idea was spread around that the torture was stopping, but the cynical could imagine it must be continuing in secret, the partisan could suppose the halt was only temporary, the trusting could assume torture would be brought back as needed, and the attentive could be and have been aware that the government has gone right on torturing to this day with no end in sight.

Anyone who bases their morality on what their government does (or how Hollywood supports it) might be predicted to have moved in the direction of supporting torture.

Gordon's book, like most others, speaks of torture as being largely in the past -- even while admitting that it isn't really.  "Bush administration-era policies" are acknowledged to be ongoing, and yet somehow they retain the name "Bush administration-era policies," and discussion of their possible prosecution in a court of law does not consider the control that the current chief perpetrator has over law enforcement and his obvious preference not to see a predecessor prosecuted for something he's doing.

President Elect Obama made clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward.  By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike."  In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoneda media outlet to report being tortured.  As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policywould lead one to expect.

In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney saidthat Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture.  David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue.  In fact, it did.  The New York Times quickly reportedthat the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries.  The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it.  Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.

As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation.  It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight.  The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure.  And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice.  While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).

"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?"  Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.

The mainstreaming of torture in U.S. policy and entertainment has stimulated a burst of torture use around the globe, even as the U.S. State Department has never stopped claiming to oppose torture when it's engaged in by anyone other than the U.S. government.  If "Bush-era policies" is taken to refer to public relations policies, then there really is something to discuss.  The U.S. government tortured before, during, and after Bush and Cheney ran the show.  But it was during those years that people talked about it, and it is with regard to those years that people still talk about it.

As Rebecca Gordon's book, Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, recounts well, torture has been around.  Native Americans and enslaved African Americans were tortured.  The CIA has always tortured.  The School of the Americas has long trained torturers.  The war on Vietnam was a war of mass-murder and mass-torture.  Torture is standard practice in U.S. prisons, where the torture of Muslims began post-9-11, where some techniques originated and some prison guards came from via the National Guard who brought their torturing to an international set of victims for the Bush-Obama era.

One of Gordon's central points, and an important one, is that torture is not an isolated incident.  Rather it is an institution, a practice, a collective endeavor that requires planning and organization.  Defenders of torture often defend a widespread practice of purely vicious evil by reference to a single imaginary incident in which it would make sense to torture someone.  Imagine, they say, that you knew for certain (as of course you would not) that many people were about to be killed unless a particular person revealed something.  Imagine you were certain (as of course you would not be) that you had found that person.  Imagine that contrary to accumulated wisdom you believed the best way to elicit the information was through torture, and that you were sure (as of course you would not be) that the information would be revealed, that it would be accurate (nobody EVER lies under torture), and that it would prevent the greater tragedy (and not just delay it or move it), with no horrible side-effects or lasting results.  Then, in that impossible scenario, wouldn't you agree to torture the person?

And doesn't that fantasy justify having thousands of people prepared to engage in torture even though they'll inevitably torture in all sorts of other situations that actually exist, and even though many thousands of people will be driven to hate the nation responsible? And doesn't it justify training a whole culture to support the maintenance of an apparatus of torture, even though uses of torture outside the fantasized scenario will spread like wildfire through local police and individual vigilantes and allied governments?

Of course not.  And that's why I'm glad Gordon has tackled torture as a matter of ethics, although her books seems a bit weighed down by academic jargon.  I come at this as someone who got a master's degree in philosophy, focusing on ethics, back before 9-11, back when torture was used as an example of something evil in philosophy classes.  Even then, people sometimes referred to "recreational torture," although I never imagined they meant that any other type of torture was good, only that it was slightly less evil.  Even today, the polls that show rising -- still minority -- support for torture, show stronger -- majority -- support for murder, that is for a president going through a list of men, women, and children, picking which ones to have murdered, and having them murdered, usually with a missile from a drone -- as long as nobody tortures them.

While many people would rather be tortured than killed, few people oppose the killing of others as strongly as they oppose torturing them.  In part this may be because of the difficulty of torturing for the torturers.  If foreigners or enemies are valued at little or nothing, and if killing them is easier than torturing them, then why not think of killing as "cleaner" just as the Obama administration does?  That's one ethical question I'd like to see taken up even more than that of torture alone.  Another is the question of whether we don't have a duty to put everything we have into opposing the evil of the whole -- that being the Nuremberg phrase for war, an institution that brings with it murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, injury, trauma, hatred, and deceit.

If you are going to take on the ethics of torture alone, Mainstreaming Torture provides an excellent summary of how philosophy departments now talk about it.  First they try to decide whether to be consequentialist or deontological or virtue-based.  This is where the jargon takes over.  A consequentialist ethics is one that decides on the propriety of actions based on what their likely consequences will be.  A deontological ethics declares certain actions good or bad apart from their consequences.  And an ethics of virtues looks at the type of life created by someone who behaves in various ways, and whether that person is made more virtuous in terms of any of a long list of possible virtues.

A competition between these types of ethics quickly becomes silly, while an appreciation of them as a collection of insights proves valuable.  A consequentialist or utilitarian ethics is easily parodied and denounced, in particular because supporters of torture volunteer such arguments.  Would you torture one person to save the lives of two people?  Say yes, and you're a simple-minded consequentialist with no soul.  But say no and you're demonstrably evil.  The correct answer is of course that it's a bad question.  You'll never face such a situation, and fantasizing about it is no guide to whether your government should fund an ongoing torture program the real aim and results of which is to generate war propaganda, scare people, and consolidate power.

A careful consideration of all consequences, short- and long-term, structural and subtle, is harder to parody and tends to encompass much of what is imagined to lie outside the purview of the utilitarian simpleton (or corporate columnist).  The idea of an ethics that is not based on consequences appeals to people who want to base their ethics on obedience to a god or other such delusion, but the discussions of deontological ethicists are quite helpful nonetheless.  In identifying exactly how and why torture is as incredibly offensive as it is, these writers clarify the problem and move people against any support for torture.

The idea of an ethics based entirely on how actions impact the character of the actor is self-indulgent and arbitrary, and yet the discussion of virtues (and their opposite) is terrifically illuminating -- in particular as to the level of cowardice being promoted by the policy of employing torture and any other evil practice in hopes of being kept safe.

I think these last two types of ethics, deontological and virtue -- that is, ongoing discussion in their terms -- have good consequences.  And I think that consequentialism and principled integrity are virtues, while engaging in consequentialism and virtue ethics lead to better deontological talk as well as fulfillment of the better imperatives declared by the deontologists.  So, the question should not be finding the proper ethical theory but finding the proper ethical behavior.  How do you get someone who opposes torturing Americans to oppose torturing human beings?  How do you get someone who wants desperately to believe that torture has in fact saved lives to look at the facts?  How do you get someone who believes that anyone who is tortured deserves it to consider the evidence, and to face the possibility that the torture is used in part to make us see certain people as evil, rather than their evilness actually preceding and justifying the torture?  How do you get Republicans loyal to Bush or Democrats loyal to Obama to put human rights above their loyalty?

As Gordon recounts, torture in reality has generated desired falsehoods to support wars, created lots of enemies rather than eliminating them, encouraged and directly trained more torturers, promoted cowardice rather than courage, degraded our ability to think of others as fully human,  perverted our ideas of justice, and trained us all to pretend not to know something is going on while silently supporting its continued practice.  None of that can help us much in any other ethical pursuit.


Rumsfeld Personifies Our Society

April 12, 2014. When Donald Rumsfeld used to hold press conferences about the Iraq war, the press corps would giggle at the clever ways in which he refused to actually say anything or answer any questions. 

In a new film about Rumsfeld called The Unknown Knowns, the aging criminal is occasionally confronted with evidence that what he's just said is false. He maintains a frozen grin and acts as if nothing has happened.  The film's director, interviewing Rumsfeld, never presses the truly uncomfortable points.

The closest the film comes to asking Rumsfeld about the wrongness of launching a war on Iraq is with the question "Wouldn't it have been better not to go there at all?"  Not "Wasn't it illegal?" Not "Do you believe 1.4 million Iraqis were killed or only 0.5 million?" Not "When you sleep at your home at the Mt. Misery plantation where they used to beat and whip slaves like Frederick Douglass how do you rank the mass slaughter you engaged in against the crimes of past eras?" Not "Was it at least inappropriate to smirk and claim that 'freedom is untidy' while people were destroying a society?"  And to the only question that was asked, Rumsfeld is allowed to get away with replying "I guess time will tell."

Then Rumsfeld effectively suggests that time has already told.  He says that candidate Barack Obama opposed Bush-era tactics and yet has kept them in place, including the PATRIOT Act, lawless imprisonment, etc.  He might have added that President Obama has maintained the right to torture and rendition even while largely replacing torture with murder via drone.  Most crucially for himself, he might have noted that Obama has violated the Convention Against Torture by barring the prosecution of those responsible for recent violations.  But Rumsfeld's point is clear when he notes that Obama's conduct "has to validate" everything the previous gang did wrong.

I've long included Rumsfeld on a list of the top 50 Bush-era war criminals, with this description:

"Donald Rumsfeld lives in Washington, D.C., and at former slave-beating plantation "Mount Misery" on Maryland's Eastern Shore near St. Michael's and a home belonging to Dick Cheney, as well as at an estate outside Taos, New Mexico. He took part in White House meetings personally overseeing and approving torture by authorizing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding on specific people, and was in fact a leading liar in making the false case for an illegal war of aggression, and pushed for wars of aggression for years as a participant in the Project for the New American Century."

The National Lawyers Guild noted years ago:

"It was recently revealed that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and personally oversaw and approved the torture by authorizing specific torture techniques including waterboarding. President Bush admitted he knew and approved of their actions. 'They are all liable under the War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute,' Professor [Marjorie] Cohn testified. 'Under the doctrine of command responsibility, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief, are liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.'"

This doesn't come up in the movie.  Rumsfeld does shamelessly defend abusing and torturing prisoners, and maintains that torturing people protects "the American people," but he passes the buck to the Department of Justice and the CIA and is never asked about the White House meetings described above.  When it comes to Abu Ghraib he says he thought "something terrible happened on my watch" as if he'd had nothing to do with it, as if his casual approval of torture and scrawled notes about how he stands up all day and so can prisoners played no part.  (He also claims nobody was killed and there was just a bit of nudity and sadism, despite the fact that photos of guards smiling with corpses have been made public -- the movie doesn't mention them.)  Asked about abuses migrating from Guantanamo to Iraq, Rumsfeld cites a report to claim they didn't.  The director then shows Rumsfeld that the report he cited says that in fact torture techniques migrated from Guantanamo to Iraq.  Rumsfeld says he thinks that's accurate, as if he'd never said anything else.  Rumsfeld also says that in the future he believes public officials won't write so many memos.

The central lie in Rumsfeld's mind and our society and The Unknown Knowns is probably that irrational foreigners are out to get us.  Rumsfeld recounts being asked at his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of So-Called Defense "What do you go to sleep worried about?"  The answer was not disease or climate change or car accidents or environmental pollution or starvation any actually significant danger.  The answer was not that the United States continues antagonizing the world and creating enemies.  There was no sense of urgency to halt injustices or stop arming dictators or pull back from bases that outrage local populations.  Instead, Rumsfeld feared another Pearl Harbor -- the same thing his Project for the New American Century had said would be needed in order to justify overthrowing governments in the Middle East.

Rumsfeld describes Pearl Harbor in the movie, lying that no one had imagined the possibility of a Japanese attack there.  The facts refute that endlessly repeated lie.  Then Rumsfeld tells the same lie about 9-11, calling it "a failure of imagination."  What we're going through is a failure of memory.  These words "FBI information ... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York" appeared in an August 6, 2001, briefing of President George W. Bush titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

The movie does a decent job on Rumsfeld's pre-war lies.  Rumsfeld tells the camera that nobody in the Bush administration ever tied Saddam Hussein to 9-11.  Then the film shows old footage of Rumsfeld himself doing just that.  Similar footage could have been shown of numerous officials on numerous occasions.  Rumsfeld has clearly been allowed such levels of impunity that delusions have taken over.  He rewrites the past in his head and expects everyone else to obediently follow along.  As of course Eric Holder's Justice Department has done.

Rumsfeld, in the film, dates the certainty of the decision to invade Iraq to January 11, 2003.  This of course predates months of himself and Bush and Cheney pretending no decision had been made, including the January 31, 2003, White House press conference with Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at which they said they were working to avoid war, after Bush had just privately proposed to Blair a string of cockamamie ideas that might get a war started.

Bizarrely, the film's director Errol Morris asks Rumsfeld why they didn't just assassinate Saddam Hussein instead of attacking the nation of Iraq.  He does not ask why the U.S. didn't obey the law.  He does not ask about Hussein's willingness to just leave if he could keep $1 billion, as Bush told Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar that Hussein had offered.  And even the question asked, Rumsfeld refuses to answer until he makes Morris complicit.  Morris had used the word "they," as in "why didn't they just assassinate him?" whereas he clearly should have used the word "you," but Rumsfeld makes him repeat the question using the word "we" before providing an answer.  We?  We were lied to by a criminal government.  We don't take the blame as servants to a flag.  Are you kidding?  But Morris dutifully asks "Why didn't we just assassinate ... ?"

Rumsfeld replies that "We don't assassinate" and tries hard not to grin.  Morris says "but you tried" referring to an attempt to bomb Hussein's location.  Rumsfeld excuses that by saying it was "an act of war."  This is the same line that human rights groups take on drone murders.  (We can't be sure if they're illegal, because President Obama may have written a note and hid it in his shoe that says it's all a part of a war, and war makes murder OK.)

Rumsfeld blames Iraq for not avoiding being attacked.  He pretends Iraq pretended to have weapons, even while blaming Iraq for not turning over the weapons that it claimed not to have (and didn't have).  The veteran liar lies that he thought he was using the best "intelligence" when he lied about Iraqi weapons, and then passes the buck to Colin Powell.

Rumsfeld and the nation that produced him didn't turn wrong only in the year 2001.  Rumsfeld avoided Watergate by being off to Brussels as ambassador to NATO, a worse crime one might argue than Watergate, or at least than Nixon's recording of conversations -- which is all that this movie discusses, and which Rumsfeld describes as "a mistake."  Asked if he learned anything from the U.S. war that killed 4 million Vietnamese, Rumsfeld says "Some things work out, some things don't."  I think he expected applause for that line.  On the topic of meeting with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, Rumsfeld is allowed to describe his mistake as having been filmed shaking hands with the man he calls a dictator.  But he's never asked about having supported Hussein and armed and assisted him, including with weapons that would later (despite having been destroyed) form the basis of the pretended cause of war.

After giving the fun-loving sociopaths of fictional dramas a bad name for two hours, this real person, Donald Rumsfeld, blames war on "human nature" and expresses pretended sadness at future U.S. war deaths, as if 95% of the victims of U.S. wars (the people who live where the wars are fought) never cross his mind at all.  And why should they?


War For Dummies

USA 10 April 2014. Sorry for the headline if it got you hoping for a quick 1-step guide on how to bomb a country without breaking a sweat. I didn't actually mean that I could teach a dummy to wage a war. I meant that only dummies want to wage wars.

Need proof?

Check out a recent Washington Post report.

Now there I go misleading you again.  While it's true that the editors of the Washington Post are often dummies and often want wars to be waged, that's not what I mean right now.  I think members of the U.S. government and its obedient media constitute an important but tiny exception to the rule this report points to.

The facts as reported on April 7th are these:

  • 13% of us in the United States want our government to use force in Ukraine;
  • 16% of us can accurately identify Ukraine's location on a map;
  • the median error by Americans placing Ukraine on a map is 1,800 miles;
  • some Americans, based on where they identified Ukraine on a map, believe that Ukraine is in the United States, some say it's in Canada, some Africa, some Australia, some Greenland, some Argentina, Brazil, China, or India;
  • only a small number believe Ukraine is in an ocean.

And here's the interesting bit:

"[T]he further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants' general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests."

I take this to mean that some people believe that attacking Alaska or the continental United States (where they believe Ukraine to be located) will advance "U.S. national security interests."  This suggests one of two things: either they believe the United States would be better off bombed (and perhaps suicidal tendencies account for some of the staggering stupidity reported by the Washington Post) or they believe the United States is located in Asia or Africa or somewhere other than where they've indicated that Ukraine is on the map.

I also take this report to mean the following: ignorant jackasses are the only statistically significant group that wants more wars.  Virtually nobody in the United States wants a U.S. war in Iran or Syria or Ukraine.  Nobody.  Except for serious hardcore idiots.  We're talking about people who can't place Ukraine in the correct landmass, but who believe the United States should go to war there.

People informed enough to find Ukraine on a map are also informed enough to oppose wars.  People who can't find Ukraine on a map but possess an ounce of humility or a drop of decency also oppose war.  You don't have to be smart to oppose wars.  But you have to be an unfathomably ignorant jackass to favor them.  Or -- back to that exception -- you could work for the government.

Why, I wonder, don't pollsters always poll and report sufficiently to tell us whether an opinion correlates with being informed on an issue?  I recall a poll (by Rasmussen), tragic or humorous depending on your mood, that found 25% of Americans wanting their government to always spend at least three times as much on its military as any other nation spends, while 64% said their government spends the right amount on the military now or should spend more.  This only gets tragic or humorous if you are aware that the United States already spends much more than three times what any other nation spends on its military.  In other words, large numbers of people want military spending increased only because they don't know how high it is already.

But what I want to know is: Do the individuals who have the facts most wrong want the biggest spending increases?

And I wonder: do pollsters want us to know how much opinions follow facts? If opinions follow factual beliefs, after all, it might make sense to replace some of the bickering of pundits on our televisions with educational information, and to stop thinking of ourselves as divided by ideology or temperament when what we're divided by is largely the possession of facts and the lack thereof.


One Nation the U.S. Actually Should Liberate

USA 10 April 2014. "Secretary Kerry? It's Ukraine on the phone asking about liberation again. Have you been able to get them a reference letter yet from Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan? How about Vietnam? Panama? Grenada? Kosovo maybe? Ukraine says Syria says you have a reference letter in the works from Kosovo. No? Huh. They said they'd accept one from Korea or the Dominican Republic or Iran. No? Guatemala? The Philippines? Cuba? Congo? How about Haiti? They say you promised them a glowing reference from Haiti. Oh. They did? No, I am not laughing, Sir. What about East Timor? Oh? Oh! Sir, you're going to liberate the what out of them? Yes sir, I think you'd better tell them yourself."


Some nations the United States should probably not liberate -- except perhaps the 175 nations which could be liberated from the presence of U.S. soldiers.  But one nation I would make an exception for, and that is the nation of Hawai'i.

Jon Olsen's new book, Liberate Hawai'i: Renouncing and Defying the Continuing Fraudulent U.S. Claim to the sovereignty of Hawai'i, makes a compelling case -- a legal case as well as a moral one.

Olsen's case, in very condensed summary, looks like this: Hawai'i was an independent nation, recognized as such by the United States and numerous other nations, with treaties in effect between Hawai'i and other nations, including the United States, that have never been terminated.  In 1893 U.S. profiteers and U.S. Marines, in a criminal act, overthrew Hawai'i's government and queen, setting up a new government that lacked any legal standing.  President Grover Cleveland investigated what had been done, admitted to the facts, and declared the new government illegitimate, insisting that the Queen retain the rule she had never abdicated.  But the fraudulent foreign government remained, and in 1898 once William McKinley was U.S. president, handed over Hawaii (thought it had no legal power to do so) to the United States, as the United States also picked up the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba in a bit of a global shopping spree.  By 1959, these events were growing lost in the mists of time, and the demographics of Hawai'i were radically altered, as Hawai'i was offered a vote between two bad choices: statehood or continued status as a colony or "territory" (liberation wasn't on the ballot). Thus did Hawai'i seem to become a state without legally becoming any such thing.  In 1993, the U.S. Congress passed and President Clinton signed U.S. Public Law 103-150, admitted to and apologizing for this history, without of course doing the one thing legally and morally required -- liberating Hawai'i.

The primary purpose of the U.S. grab for Hawai'i, even more than economic exploitation, was military expansion, as Olsen shows.  The U.S. military wanted, and took, Pearl Harbor.  Then it took a lot more land, occupied it, bombed it, poisoned it.  Now the U.S. military holds 22% of O'ahu, 68% of Kaula, and chunks of all the major islands, with more planned, archaeological sites threatened, species threatened, air quality for telescopes threatened, and heightened tensions around the Pacific not just threatened but those heightened tensions being the actual purpose of this massive and disastrous investment by the foreign occupying nation claiming Hawai'i by force and fraud.

What can be done? And of, by, and for whom exactly?  Who is a Hawaiian and who is not?  Olsen does not advocate a Hawaii for the ethnically native Hawaiians alone.  He recognizes that the term "Hawaiian" is used to refer to an ethnic group, and proposes the invention of the term "Hawaiian national" to refer to anyone who considers Hawaii home and supports its liberation.  I think Olsen is on the right path but slipping slightly off it.  Nationalism has not proved a wholly beneficial concept.  Hawaii needs to be liberated from U.S. nationalism, but Hawaiians and the rest of us need to begin thinking of ourselves as citizens of the world, not of one nation over others.  Nor do two wrongs, of whatever disparity, make a right (just ask Palestine).  I'd like to see "Hawaiian" evolve to encompass all who consider Hawaii their home, without the addition of "national."  Of course this unsolicited advice from me to Hawaiians may be unappreciated.  But then, they are free to ignore it; I'm not using the Marine Corps as a delivery service, and my advice to the Marine Corps (unsolicited as well) is to disband and liberate the world from its existence.

There's an important point that I think Olsen's argument supports, although he does not develop it in his book, and it is this: If in 1941 Hawaii was not yet even purporting to be a U.S. state, but was rather an illegally and illegitimately seized territory, Pearl Harbor having been stolen from the Hawaiian people, then whatever else you might think of the second major crime committed at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese did not attack the United States.  The Japanese attacked an imperial outpost in the middle of the Pacific that they viewed as a threat -- and what else was it if not that?

Were Hawaii to liberate itself from the United States (for the United States is not actually going to liberate it voluntarily), would the point be moot as the practices of the United States and China and other nations drive the world's islands underwater?  Actually, projections show Hawaii surviving the flood.  The question for Hawaiians may be this: Who do you want managing the influx of millions of Floridians looking for a new paradise to pave, your own manageable self-governed society or the tender mercies of the United States Congress?


Here Comes Ukrainian Hemp


28 March 2014. So the United States wants to buy hemp from the Ukraine. I suppose we should be happy. Anytime the U.S. government gives a country money that is not earmarked for weapons, we probably shouldn't too closely examine the unelected neo-liberals and neo-Nazis handling the cash.  Nobody pays attention to the Saudi government or the oil, wars, and terrorism it provides in exchange for U.S. largesse.

Of course if the hemp buy is part of a larger package deal that impoverishes the Ukraine for the benefit of Western plutocrats, gets NATO's nose under the door, threatens Russia, and encourages the NED to hire the companies that name paint colors in hopes of finding unique names for all the revolutions it's going to plan next, we may want to oppose the whole package.

But isn't the precedent of connecting U.S. foreign policy in any way to a substance that benefits, rather than destroys, the environment of potentially great value?  While buying hemp abroad might be a move against permitting the production of hemp at home, won't it just further fuel the argument that it's insane to make U.S. companies import a raw material that they could much more cheaply grow (while creating jobs, restoring soil, slowing climate change, and garnering some 478 other benefits of hemp)?

Or is insanity just not that big a concern? Jon Walker has a book out called After Legalization.  And there's a book called Hemp Bound by Doug Fine.  These guys are convinced that marijuana and hemp are both about to be legalized in the United States.  One of their arguments is that doing so has majority support  -- and support, they stress, from across the political spectrum (Fine can't quote anybody without emphasizing that the person is NOT A HIPPIE).  "Since when do 80% of Americans agree on anything, as they do that the drug war is a failure?" asks Fine.

Well, let me count the ways.  I've been referring for years to this fine collection of polls: http://YesMagazine.org/purpleagenda In fact, 80% in the U.S. believe their government is broken, and I suspect they do so in part because so often their government ignores the will of 80% of the country, be it on ceasing to threaten Iran, investing more in green energy or education, or holding bankers to the rule of law.  Eighty percent and more usually support restoring money to the minimum wage, as it continues to plummet.  Ninety percent want higher fuel efficiency standards.  Eighty percent would ban weapons in space, enforce laws against torture, strengthen the United Nations, reduce the power and influence of big corporations, restore voting rights for ex-felons, create a justice system that does rehabilitation, allow immigrants to apply for citizenship, etc., etc.  Never mind the countless sane and important policies supported by 75% or 68% or 52% -- which damn well ought to be enough once in a while but almost never is.

Walker says the difference is that pot doesn't have any enemies.  Fine writes as if he expects no enemies either.  And yet, Fine refers repeatedly to the great damage hemp will do to oil companies and even to the war machine.  Now, I don't know to what extent there's truth behind the supposition that major corporate interests favored the banning of marijuana and hemp, as they had favored the banning of alcohol (they certainly benefitted from its being banned and remaining banned), but we know the oil companies killed public transit and the electric car and the Gulf of Mexico. These are not lightweights when it comes to amoral short-term struggles.  And you can add to them the petrochemical, plastics, timber, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical drug companies, as well as the herbicide companies (hemp doesn't require any), the agribusinesses currently subsidized, and -- last but not least -- the urine testing, property seizure, police and prison industries -- including the prison guard unions.  Oh and let's not neglect the State Department that wants to buy hemp from abroad as carrots for austerity schemes, and the foreign nations from whom the hemp is bought.  Who in their right mind would put sanity up against that whole crowd? I'm not even counting people too ignorant to distinguish hemp from marijuana, or who think marijuana kills you, or whom Jesus told pot comes from the devil.

Of course, I hope we will legalize hemp immediately (I mean nationally, I'm aware of the steps many states are taking). It's just going to require a great deal of effort, I'm afraid.

Then there's another worry.  Will marijuana and hemp be legalized but monopolized, corporatized, and Wal-Martized? Walker says pot won't be because nobody would buy it.  Fine says the same of hemp, and that the U.S. should ban GMO hemp from the start, as Canada has done -- as if banning GMO anything in the U.S. were as easy as passing a billion-dollar subsidy for a space weapon that threatens Iran, weakens the U.N., makes us dumber, and damages the atmosphere.  For hemp to sell, Fine writes, it has to keep a positive image that includes "a quest for world peace" -- which I take to mean more quoting Nobel laureates on packaging than funding the peace movement.  But who's going to know it's GMO if labeling on such points is banned?

Legalization is entirely doable, and the pressures in its favor are indeed likely to grow, but it's going to require huge public pressure.  Where books like Walker's and Fine's are most helpful is informing that little snippet of the public that reads books of the incredible benefits to be gained.  Hemp is apparently the healthiest food on earth, both for feeding people and for feeding farm animals whom people eat or from which people eat the eggs or drink the milk.  The same crop of hemp can, if all goes well, produce material stronger than steel or softer than cotton.  And the same crop can, in theory, produce a third thing at the same time, from yet another part of the plant: fuel.  You can build your tractor out of hemp, fuel it with hemp, and use it to harvest hemp -- hemp that is busy restoring your soil, preventing erosion, and surviving the drought and climate change.  You can do this while eating and drinking hemp and wearing clothes made of hemp and washed with hemp in your house also made of hemp and lime -- a house that sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. (The list of products and benefits is endless.  One that Fine cites is body armor, although how that fits into the quest for world peace is not clear.)

I'm not a fan of devoting acres needed for food production to fuel production, but a crop that produces both fuel and food (and building materials) -- if it really can do all that at once -- might alter the calculation.  Biofuel aside, hemp has more than enough benefits to start investing in it right now, if sanity were on the table.  Take the U.S. troops stationed in 175 countries and reduce that total by 5 countries per year.  Instead, buy those countries' hemp AND invest billions in our own (hire the former troops to grow it).  It's win-win-win, except for whichever profiteers have their interests in the wrong place.  Watch out for them.


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