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AND WHAT DO WE DO NOW?


May 14, 2014. Last month, they emptied the storage locker and took all the displays to individuals’ homes. On Saturday, an immense funeral pyre consumed the 6,800 wooden tombstones.

Members of the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition (NWOPC) have decided they will no longer mount their “Arlington Midwest” memorial to the Iraqi and Afghan civilians and American soldiers killed in over a decade of war and occupation.

It cost about $1,000 a year to store the massive display, but mostly it’s ending because for some time now, nobody with a highly visible acre of land has been willing to offer their property to set it up. Fact is, when you ask people on the street, just about everyone says the wars are over – except for a heartbreaking number who respond, “What war are you talking about?”

The second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, March 19, 2005, saw the debut of NWOPC’s Arlington Midwest, at the University of Toledo. Overnight, on a rolling campus hillside 1,678 tombstones appeared, each labeled with the name and rank of a soldier and the date and place where he or she died. Laid out on a precise grid like the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery, the wooden markers were arranged by state and within each state by dates of death.

It quickly became a major task to make enough markers to keep up with the hundreds and then thousands of names added to the “Killed in Action” lists from Iraq and Afghanistan.

No one knows for sure, but the hours the activists spent scrounging materials, painting, assembling, loading, transporting, setting up, staffing, taking down, re-loading, re-transporting, re-painting and storing the tombstones without a doubt numbered in the many thousands. For over eight years, Arlington Midwest was NWOPC’s primary focus.

After “peace candidate” Obama took office in 2009, a growing portion of Arlington Midwest’s tombstones wore black ribbons for the soldiers killed on his watch: 1,923 to date. A separate section was reserved for those who silenced their war-induced demons by killing themselves. And wherever it went, the exhibit included a large circle of posts, escalating in height, listing the names of thousands of murdered Iraqi and Afghan civilians, even though the names were only a small fraction of the total.

Volunteers took unpaid time from work or vacation days to set up the memorial at the University of Toledo, Notre Dame, Kent State, Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, churches and convents, county courthouses and the grounds of the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital.
Family members of the dead would travel 100 miles and more to see the exhibit, place a flower or photo on a loved one’s marker and water the ground with their tears. People in the millions saw the memorial via news media.

As Jeff Zenz, a Unit Control Operator at a local electric plant and one of the organizers of Arlington Midwest, said, “It was a protest of the human cost of war…a massive re-creation of Arlington cemetery on college campuses, church yards, and along highways, meant to put that cost in the face of folks, unavoidably. A lot of debates, arguments and conversations took place that wouldn’t have without the draw of Arlington Midwest.”
In addition to the sunburn, frostbite, sweat, frustration, blood and tears required to put the human cost of war “in the face of folks, unavoidably,” many of the volunteers gained a greater sense of accomplishment, purpose and camaraderie than they’d ever known or may ever experience again.
Indeed, just as the title of Chris Hedges’ book, “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning,” described how war energizes whole nations, one could also observe that “antiwar” was a force that gave meaning and a sense of purpose to a whole host of caring, dedicated campaigners across America.

But as more than one of them has asked, “…and what do we do now?”

Now that most people perceive the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be over, will this legion of tenacious, tireless citizens from backwoods, big cities and everything in between, redirect their energies and skills, perhaps to gain reparations for those harmed by the war, or to address concerns on the home front like the environment, healthcare, homeless veterans or human rights?

As a whole generation did 40 years ago when the war in Viet Nam finally ended, many people will again search their souls to discover the best way to keep on working for a better world and just as importantly, how to restore the deep sense of purpose they gained with their comrades by publicly opposing war.

The young among these stout souls will vow “never again.” The old will recall saying those words long ago, only to have their hearts broken many times since.

So where can we invest our limited time, passion and skills to greatest advantage? How can we maintain a vibrant sense of purpose? How can we do more than just react to what the Empire throws at us? How can we strike at the very roots of war and poverty and injustice, not just at the branches, which forever spring anew?

Asking the same things two generations ago, I had no answers. Even having seen war’s carnage first hand as a Navy corpsman I had only questions, just like so many others.

Initially I joined the environmental movement opposing nuclear power plants, then union organizing and opposing our proxy war in Central America, followed by a stint in public office that provided openings to demand we rebuild our cities with the “peace dividend” expected at the end of the Cold War. Eventually and to my utter revulsion, I had to join another antiwar movement.

But today, unlike the period following the war in Viet Nam, there is a movement that has a clear, fundamental goal that addresses these questions and a strategy to achieve it: to greatly expand democracy so that we the people, not corporations, do the governing; so our elections aren’t sold to the highest bidder; so private interests can’t determine national policy in healthcare or education or energy…or war.

What I’m talking about is MoveToAmend.org, a national grassroots campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to remove corporate money from elections and end the insane practice of giving the legal fictions we call corporations the same constitutional rights as real human beings.

Of course we can continue doing what’s comfortable – call it serial activism – and wage campaigns against drones, the F-35 fighter, the rush to boil the oceans, the bankrupt policies in education, healthcare and criminal justice…or we can step back for a moment, take a deep breath and ask our heart of hearts what can we do that will make a truly essential difference so we can achieve a government that serves Us instead of Empire for a change.

Without a doubt we need fewer weapons, more renewable energy, better education, health care and criminal justice systems. But ask this key question: will we get any of those things without more democracy?

If we choose to work for greater democracy, we will begin to see the public interest prevail over the private. Our own government will eventually cease to be the biggest barrier to a better life because it will be owned by us and not by corporations and billionaires.

Human nature being what it is, fires will always break out and those dangers most surely deserve some of our time and energy. But if all we do is fight fires and react to Empire’s evils then that is truly all we will ever do.

A particular point about Move to Amend deserves special mention here.

Across great swaths of the U.S., the peace movement or the progressive movement, as loosely defined, looks much like a loaf of Wonder Bread – maybe with a slice of whole wheat or pumpernickel here and there, but by and large it’s white bread. Move to Amend has addressed that shortcoming from the outset. Its leadership and its materials send the clear message that we won’t get anywhere unless we get there together; that we have to stop dividing and start combining the most powerful forces in society working for radical change. That sounds to me like people who believe it’s time we start playing offense.

Personally, I’ve been a chump on defense long enough and I’d like to start winning for a change. Move to Amend is the only game I know of with a vision to change the rules of the game so that “winning” actually means we start running the show, not just rejoicing that we’ve stopped a weapons system or elected Tweedledum instead of Tweedledummer.

This is my hope and my invitation to each of my fellow laborers in the peace movement when you start thinking about “what’s next?”
Mike Ferner is an Ohio writer. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Article and photos by Mike Ferner


Man and Humanity in Search of Peace Not Wars

A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery.

A vision with a task is the hope of the world.”

(Inscription from a church in Sussex, United Kingdom).

 

There are the times that try men’s soul”, noted Thomas Paine in his famous “Common Sense”, the moral and intellectual hub of the American independence. In situations of adversity and crises, competent leaders represent hope and optimism for change and conflict management, not egoistic political agenda and animosity.

 

Leaders who could not lead

 

Human nature longs for peace and harmony not violence and conflict. Nobody can invent peace, it needs to be discovered out of the planned efforts to make it happen. None of the contemporary leaders can enjoin a vision of peace or contribute positively toward sustainable future-making. Egoistic global leaders are in disarray and intellectual decline to think of peace and the engaging interests of the informed mankind. Is the Ukrine crisis a revival of history - warriors as dreamers exposing the mythology of ideological warfare? Not so, on the real confrontational fault lines. NATO was the readily available face of the Western alliance to challenge the might of the Russian-led former USSR communist bloc. All adversaries formed the framework of mutually convenient co-existence without any real warfare. They agreed on mutual coordination to help in making the humanity helpless. But now President Putin seems to have re-emerged the sole arbitrator of Russian nationalism by occupying Crimea and continuing to destabilize and dominate the rest of Eastern Ukraine despite minor diplomatic and economic threats from the West. Unlike George W. Bush, President Obama or the EU affiliates could not give 48 hours notice to President Putin as they did to Saddam Hussein to ward-off the Russian intransigence against the globally recognized sovereignty of Ukrine. The US and its allies know their limits and pre-occupation with bogus wars on terrorism and how much credibility they have in world affairs for any unilateral action. The EU economic interests and priorities overwhelm their political will to threaten Russia with a military challenge. “Lies of the Iraq War” certainly remind all how some of the leaders betrayed public interest and orchestrated lies to wage aggression against a small and helpless country without any rationale. The Western warriors with small wisdom and big thinking are not remorseful for the cruelty of killing approximately three millions people and destructions of habitats in Iraq. They simply attribute all reasoning to the “intelligence failure” without any accountability of those who were in power and planned the Iraq war.

 

People want peace not celebration of bogus wars on the innocent humanity. America and its paid allies are withdrawing troops from Afghanistan- the longest bogus War on Terrorism. Wars divide and humiliate the mankind- man against man and all against all with no sense of rational thinking. Who gains from wars? Some will argue that wars provide opportunities for economic growth and societal change and development. Other realist thinkers and observers will point-out that wars destroy all man’s work that is imagined by progressive civilizations.

 

Man under siege of Capitalism

 

Paul Street (“For Intelligent Civilizations- on Earth.” Information Clearing House: 11/11/2013), an American author, journalist and historian wonders how legitimately humanity can claim to have created “an intelligent civilization” here on Earth. He outlines few of the vital related factors linked to the militantly hierarchical and authoritarian class-based profits system of Capitalism:

 The small but super-wealthy and powerful human elite’s propagation of an ideology of endless economic growth that functioned as a false substitute for the equality and economic security that most humans desired.

* Human capitalists’ reliance on constant economic expansion (growth as material reality, not just ideology) to sustain their profits in their constant competitive struggle with each other

* Capitalism’s reliance on “an economy of built-in waste” including: “(1) a gargantuan and ever-expanding sales effort penetrating into the structure of production itself; (2) planned obsolescence (including planned psychological obsolescence); (3) production of luxury goods for an opulent minority; (4) prodigious military and penal-state spending; and (5)…a whole speculative superstructure in the form of finance, insurance, and real estate market.”

* Capitalism’s inherent short-term fixation and inability to make long-term plans and to set social, democratic, and ecological limits on private/corporate profit in accord with the common good of humanity and other living thing

* The mutually assured global inaction imposed by the division of the world into competing capitalist states, each loathe to make environmental concessions for fear that their rivals would be advantaged

Does Economic prosperity alone make people Happy and Successful?

 

Across the globe, nations claiming to be economically prosperous and successful tend to base their claims of prosperity on accumulated value of natural resources.

 

Christopher Helman (“The World's Happiest (And Saddest) Countries.” 12/13/2011), examines the economic indicators of 110 countries and asserts that people are happier in some of these democracies as participants and functionaries of the democratic system of governance are making headways in technological advancements.

 

Natural resources help: Australia, which ranks third, is benefitting greatly from selling its coal, iron and natural gas to China. And yet some of the most resource-reliant nations, like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, are far down the list. There’s clearly more to it than oil and ore. Joining Norway and Australia in the top 10 are their neighbors Denmark, Finland, Sweden and New Zealand. Equally small and civilized Switzerland and the Netherlands are also up there. Rounding out the top 10 is the United States at 10th and Canada (sixth).

 

Strange as is, that in 2013 at the closing of the federal Government in Washington, according to CNN opinions poll, 85% of the masses were dissatisfied and thought of the Congress as disconnected to the masses and not working for their interests. It is highly questionable if economic indicators (hypothetical or evidence-based) could alone sustain the notion of human prosperity in any given age devoid of other essential factors such as moral, intellectual and spiritual manifestations. Christopher Helman strikes a cautionary note “that prosperity/happiness is not a zero-sum game; every country can improve simultaneously…..Legatum’s researchers also noted surprise at a drop in personal freedom rankings in Finland and Sweden, which show slightly less tolerance for immigrants and minorities. Expect worse results for Europe next year.”

 

Do wars provide lifeline to the man-made system of economic and political manipulation? Wars and aggressions kill people and do not produce peace and harmony but resentment and degeneration. History illustrates when a nation or its leaders challenge the limits of the Laws of God and approach near to the end of their lifespan, insanity takes-over common sense and they tend to ignore warnings and reject all voices of reason for peace and not for war.

 

Political tyranny of the Few and People are the real power

 

Throughout the contemporary global political theatre, politicians claim to be at peace within themselves and the environment around them. But do they really know what peace is and what it means? Individualistic absolutism is often the obsession to achieve political power. Their campaigns for election violate the sacred covenant of societal support and collaboration and imply competitive strategies to enlarge competition and conflict, not cooperation and harmony to pursue the political aims. Politicians are stage actors and politics is a game of maneuverability and tactfulness, fair or foul to get elected on behalf of the public interest. Once in power, personal agenda overwhelms other known choices to enhance egoistic priorities. Political illusions never carve the reality of societal peace and harmony. Common people - the electorate lose their vitality after exercising the right at the ballot box. The 21st century knowledge-based informed democracy is out of order. There are important things that people can do for change and future-making and nobody else can imagine its forceful reality. To play your role and activism with a defined purpose to challenge the implied political illusions. You can be effective and successful if you challenge the imposed modern ignorance of political exploitation. You are not just an individual but a spirit and form of collectivity of a society. Your presence, mind and views cannot be traded-in at the marketplace. The individual, points out Robert J. Burrowes (Why Violence), that is left, having been stripped of its Self, is now (unconsciously) terrified, self-hating, powerless and violent (particularly towards itself but also towards others and the Earth) and is readily manipulated into becoming a passively obedient student, worker/soldier and consumer. How do we restore the highly individual search for meaning in life (which will also better enable us to deal powerfully with the enormous challenges to human survival)? Asks Robert J. Burrowes, the author of Why Violence and “The Struggle for Meaning in a World of Violence.” (Information Clearing House: 10/24/2013), has lifetime commitment to ending understanding and ending human violence extends the force of self-consciousness and strength to individualistic discourse:

Tragically, however, this innate drive to search for meaning and thus achieve consciousness of the Self has been destroyed in virtually all human beings as a result of the violence inflicted on them throughout their childhood and the (unconsciously) terrorised state in which this leaves them throughout their life. In a life that is devoid of the deep satisfaction that derives from the search for meaning, any number of pale substitutes might emerge to 'fill' this aching gap. The individual might become 'content', for example, to seek attention and/or approval; to become wealthy; to succeed in some intellectual, physical, spiritual or commercial endeavour; to experience sex and romance exhaustively; or to 'see the world'. In short, the individual may become addicted to seeking one or more of these things, or something else, as the fearful compulsion to fill the aching hole in their Self-hood drives them relentlessly.

 

Global problems need people-oriented global thinking and solutions

 

America and its allies had no understanding of the culture, moral and intellectual values of the people of Afghanistan, Iraq to determine a useful strategy to fight the wars. Despite all the technological and advanced weaponry, they are defeated by handful of people. Crisis in Ukrine reignite the vitality to understand the nature of ethnic divides and how to manage the conflicts. The Western leaders lack capacity to conflict management and haphazardly doing things that make no sense in relation to the situations on the ground in Ukrine. Once again, humanity appears to have been pushed back to the shameful annals of the European Dark Ages. In search of new animosity, few utopian scholars wanted to distract the humanity after the end of the Cold War to keep the liberal democracy working and to ensure electoral voters active participation. In 1993, Samuel Huntington reinvented the old cliché - “a clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam - a new age of confrontation between the predominantly technologically advanced culture of the West and the subdued interdependent societal religious culture of the Muslim world. The powerful mass media and the official policy makers throughout the West, fuel the insane imagery that the Arabs and Muslims are “fundamentalists” and “terrorists.” This one-sided political tyranny could not be more far from the truth when the US and some of its EU allied nations are engaged in the bogus war on terrorism and have unleashed massive deaths and environmental destructions in Afghanistan, Iraq and northwest part of Pakistan.

 

Analyzing the contemporary global affairs, the image of a single most World Power is fixed and unquestionable, be it fair or foul. The net outcome shows the manufactured imagery of Muslims as the alleged terrorists and the sole inheritor of the 21st century political ideology. With massive corporate sponsorships and the Western mass media collaborative alliances, Muslims are the only targeted client of this emerging business.

 

Global Humanity is living entity and its concerns must be understood

 

Progressively evolving is a new information-age plausible global culture of Thinking of One Humanity and a new proactive civilization of strong bonds and affinity of people to people cultural communications – global citizenry participation in social, economic and political Thinking and Globalization - man in one part of the world feels, thinks and acts-reacts to what happens to any man in another remote corners of the globe. Mankind is neither blind, nor inept, it defines its own purpose, meaning and identity for peace and harmony that the established institutions of governance - be it in America or Europe or elsewhere miserably failed to recognize or value their importance in global political affairs. Given the inherent systematic deficiencies and moral and intellectual corruption in the US - European – worldwide political governance and policy formulation toward the international community, the global community is actively organized and morally and intellectually powerful to halt all the belligerent nightmares planned and orchestrated by the few war lords.

 

Across the Western world, masses vigorously oppose the on-going deadly wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In wars people are killed, leaders are not. None of the Western leaders have ever fought a war on the real front. Simply put, there are politicians lacking reason and honesty of purpose, and are engaged in time killing discussions. The expanding conflict and embossed regional identities in Eastern Ukrine serve multipurpose for the economic and political interests of the US-dominated NATO establishment. NATO had never faced any real war front against the former Communist bloc. After having being dismantled, it was reborn out of the nowhere to join the US belligerent attack on Afghanistan. The Entire Globe is a Battlefield for Pentagon” (Information Clearing House: 5/26/2013), explains Pepe Excobar that “Until virtually yesterday the Obama administration did not even recognize in public the existence of the shadow 'Drone Wars' killing the innocents in Pakistan elsewhere. Medea Benjamin (“Why I Spoke out at Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech” Information Clearing House: 5/26/2013), is not a hackler to disturb Obama’s individual relevance but an internationally known voice of reason and moral force, President of Women Peace and Code Pink, asked the President but was forcibly moved out of the conference by the security agents: “Excuse me, Mr. President,” I said, “but you’re the Commander-in-Chief. You could close Guantánamo tomorrow and release the eighty-six prisoners who have been cleared for release…..The bulk of the president’s speech was devoted to justifying drone strikes. I was shocked when the president claimed that his administration did everything it could to capture suspects instead of killing them. That is just not true.” Could it be that President Obama is no longer interested in listening to the voices of reason?

Stephen. Lendman (“Eroding Freedom in America,” Information Clearing House: 5/13/2013), is a Chicago-based international peace activist, a man of human conscience and author of Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity (2013), spells out what went wrong to contemporary America:

 

Freedom is a four-letter word. It’s fast disappearing. It’s an endangered species. Wealth, power and privilege alone matter. America’s war on terror priorities advance them….. Tyranny isn’t in the eye of the beholder. It’s escalating in plane sight. It’s just a matter of time until it’s full-blown. Washington’s bipartisan criminal class plans it…. It’s dangerous living in America at the wrong time. Supporting right over wrong is threatened. Anyone can be targeted for any reason or none at all. Guilt by accusation is policy. Diktat authority has final say…. War on terror priorities breached First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment freedoms. At issue are search and surveillance authority, indefinitely detaining citizens and non-citizens uncharged, and undermining free expression, due process, and equal protection.

 

(Dr. Mahboob A. Khawaja specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution, and comparative Western-Islamic cultures and civilizations, and author of several publications including the latest one: Global Peace and Conflict Management: Man and Humanity in Search of New Thinking. Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany, May 2012).

Honestly, War Is Over

Remarks in Los Angeles, May 10, 2014.

David SwansonThank you to Pat Alviso and all the individuals and groups involved in setting this event up. Thank you to Lila Garrett for doing twice what I do at twice my age, including hosting the best radio show around. And thank you to our friend, recently lost, Tim Carpenter, for whom there is a memorial event today in Massachusetts. We will not forget you, Tim, and we will carry on.

Now, about ending war.

When we start talking about ending war, one common reaction -- not as common as "You're a lunatic," but fairly common -- is to propose that if we want to get rid of war we'll have to get rid of something else first, or sometimes it's a series of something elses. We'll have to get rid of bankers or bribery or the current structure of our government, or the corporate media monopoly. We'll have to get rid of racism or bigotry or extreme materialism. We'll have to abolish capitalism or environmental exploitation or religion or greed or resource shortages or sociopaths, and then we'll be able to move on to abolishing war.

Now, I think there's truth and falsehood in a lot of such two-step proposals. War is made easier by many evil things. Ending war would be easier if we ended those things. Ending war and some other things together might be an easier job because of the broader coalition that would work on it. And I'm in favor of ending lots of bad things -- racism, bribery, predatory capitalism, mass incarceration, the White House Correspondents Dinner, etc. -- and I would be even if doing so didn't help end war.

But war is not made necessary by anything else. The United States has roughly 5% of the world's population and 50% of the world's military spending. Many nations spend 10% or 5% or less what the United States spends on war, but they don't have only 5% of the racism or 5% as many sociopaths (how ever those are defined). Nations with plenty of bigotry and serious resource shortages manage to nonetheless avoid U.S. levels of war investment (whether measured absolutely or as a proportion of wealth). The U.S. media at the moment seems to care about burned Nigerians more than burned Ukrainians; racism can serve imperialism but can also be trumped by it.

In addition, if you look at particular wars launched and possible wars not launched, it becomes clear that the decisions are entirely contingent on human choices. When a particular war is stopped, the lesson we ought to take away is not that the forces of consumerism and capitalism and exploitation will build up greater pressure, making it more likely than before that another war will soon be launched. The lesson we ought to take away, on the contrary, is that because one war has been stopped, the next war can be stopped as well, and the one after it, and the next 100 after that one.

I'm a big fan of the journalist Seymour Hersh, including of the help he's been in exposing the fraudulent case that was built up to support a White House proposal last summer for missile strikes into Syria -- and the help he's been in exposing the massive scale of the attack that was being contemplated. Some of us had figured out all on our own that when Secretary of State John Kerry said the missile strikes would shift the balance in the war AND be so small as to have no effect on the war, at least one of those two assertions had to be false. It turns out that the plan was for a major assault, not a tiny one. What the result would have been nobody can be sure -- beyond widespread death, injury, trauma, and suffering. Two wings of B-52 bombers carrying 2,000-pound bombs were to take out "electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings." This was not a few missiles. This was shock and awe, targeting numerous facilities in densely populated urban areas. If you need an example of the Obama White House immediately expanding a war like this one once begun, the obvious example is Libya.

But when Hersh writes and talks about what went on back in August and September, he doesn't seem to even consider the possibility that public pressure might have played even the slightest role in preventing the missile strikes. Democracy Now! interviewed Hersh and didn't raise the topic. I don't mean to pick on Seymour Hersh or Democracy Now! Nobody else has done any different. A friend of mine, a former CIA officer, Ray McGovern, has been doing some great writing about Syria. He, like Hersh, considers the steps taken by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Congress, the Russians, the President. Nowhere is the public mentioned.

Now, even if the public played no role whatsoever, that fact in itself would be worthy of serious consideration. Members of both houses of Congress from both parties said they had heard more from their constituents on the missiles-into-Syria proposal than they had heard ever before on anything else, and that what they heard was more one-sided than anything they'd experienced before. If the public had no impact, or if Congress had no impact, the scale of the pretense otherwise -- and the possible futility of ever lobbying Congress on anything -- would make for a remarkable story.

Virtually this entire country was opposed to the missile strikes. Add to that the fact that Congress members were on break and being directly confronted at district townhall meetings, accused of joining a war on the side of al Qaeda, accused of falling for propaganda again. It didn't hurt that Jewish holidays left AIPAC missing in action. It was an advantage that many people in the halls of power were themselves reluctant to launch a war. But why were they? Why were members of Congress stating that they didn't want to be the guy who voted for another Iraq war? Why did the House of Commons oppose a prime minister on war for the first time since Yorktown? Why did the conversation swing away from the missile strikes?

President Obama and his Secretary of State were telling us to watch Youtubes of suffering children and support that suffering or support missile strikes. That's not a half-hearted sales pitch. Wall Street was completely sold: Raytheon, the company that made the missiles, saw its stock hit an all-time high. The leaders of both big political parties were on board. The corporate news outlets were gung ho. John Kerry was calling Bashar al Assad a new Hitler. The illegality of the proposed action was hardly a blip in the conversation, the way it might have been before Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and the drone wars. Illegality had become the new normal.

Russia and Syria came up with a solution, but they'd been willing to do that for some time. President Obama allowed Congress to have a say as he had not on Libya and does not on most drone strikes (we all, including Congress, pretend it's up to the president to allow Congress to act). But why did he? I think it can help to contrast the war-and-peace climate in the U.S. in 2013 with a different, imaginary one. I proposed this to Ray McGovern, and he completely agreed.

Imagine that the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were considered the peak of U.S. glory, were routinely celebrated, were what everyone had come to hope for as the ideal outcomes for all future wars. Imagine that those who voted against the war on Iraq were shamed and shunned and forced to defend their mistake. Imagine 90% of the country rather than 5 or 10% favored every new war proposal. Imagine that doubt of new assertions about chemical weapons use or other supposed reasons for wars was unheard of. Imagine crowds chanting their demands for more wars, bigger wars, more costly wars, greater destruction, more extravagant atrocities. Imagine the phones in Washington ringing off the hook and the online petitions flooding in with a demand for war rather than a demand to avoid it. In such a climate, would the balance have tipped the little bit that it tipped, bumping war -- which is never a last resort -- into the position of second resort, from the first-resort action that it had been the day before?

Now, to claim that public pressure, both over the past decade or longer and immediately, may have had some impact is not to reject other factors. This was a horribly timed, horribly marketed war that any self-respecting member of the world's second-oldest profession, war propaganda, should be ashamed of. Another war might have been harder to stop. Nor would it be right to claim a complete victory, with the U.S. government continuing to arm and train and support fighters in the war, and with no investment in humanitarian aid or diplomacy or nonviolent peace workers to match the public demand. The crisis in Syria rolls on, reinforcing the ridiculous notion that if you aren't going to bomb a country, there's nothing else you can do for it. But the resolution of the Syrian Missile Crisis, like the blocking of a sanctions-and-possible-war-on-Iran bill earlier this year, suggests possible victories to come, as well as suggesting that no underlying force makes any war inevitable.

If I had to pick a factor to eliminate, in hopes that war would be eliminated as well, and if I had the magical ability to effectively eliminate any factor I chose, I think I would pick, rather than bigotry or greed, the factor of dishonesty. While you can have dishonesty without war, you cannot have war without dishonesty. You can have lies about other, much smaller public programs: police, schools, parks, courts, housing, agriculture, research, environmental protection, diplomacy, etc., but you can also create and fund such programs without lying about them. In contrast, there's no example of an honest war, and there's reason to believe that there cannot be one.

This isn't new, and it extends as far back as historical records, probably farther. Enemies are dehumanized, threats and abuses are invented or exaggerated, victims in need of rescue or protection or vengeance are airbrushed or pulled out of thin air. Victory is always right around the corner. And if nothing is accomplished, the war is glorified as an end in itself. This country began with these lies about Native Americans. In 1812, among other occasions, Canada was depicted as eager to be liberated. Then Mexico was falsely said to have invaded the United States. Spain was said to have blown up the Maine. President Wilson pretended the troops and arms on the Lusitania had not been public knowledge. The Gulf of Tonkin incident launched war on Vietnam despite never happening. The Gulf War began two-decades of devastation for Iraq after a completely fictional skit created by a public relations company pretended babies had been taken out of incubators.

These are not exceptions. Every war requires such lies about fake motives and omission of real motives, as well as lies about how the war is proceeding. One-sided slaughters of civilians on a scale that ancient and medieval wars couldn't approach are depicted as sporting contests on battlefields in which the aggressor suffers. Polls find a majority in the United States believing Iraqis benefitted from the war that destroyed Iraq. That lie is more dangerous than the WMD lies ever were. Lies about the glory of WWI after 100 years of war failing to end all war, lies about victory in Korea and nobility in Vietnam: these are major undertakings for governments like ours for a reason.

A central lie for war-makers is the pretense of working for peace. The United States worked for the breakup of Yugoslavia, intentionally prevented negotiated agreements among the parties, and engaged in a massive bombing campaign, 15 years ago, that killed large numbers of people, injured many more, destroyed civilian infrastructure and hospitals and media outlets, and created a refugee crisis that did not exist until after the bombing had begun. This was accomplished through lies, fabrications, and exaggerations about atrocities, and then justified anachronistically as a response to violence that it generated.

The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya. The U.S.-backed government post-slaughter took war into the Congo, where 6 million people have since been killed. And we're taught that Rwanda is a case where more violence was needed, but where the so-called international community, consisting of representatives of 1 percent of nations containing 8 percent of humanity, supposedly failed to act.

Never again!is a shout we hear about Rwanda and about World War II, understood as a war that should have been and a war that righteously was. It's stunning how many people go back 73 years to find an example they support of what has been our top public investment ever since. But was the good war actually good? It is widely accepted that World War I was unnecessary, yet without World War I its sequel is unimaginable. Ending World War I with punishment of an entire nation rather than of the war makers was understood by wise observers at the time to make World War II very likely. The arms race between the two world wars was widely and correctly understood to be making the second war more likely. U.S. and other Western corporations profited by enriching and arming dangerous governments in Germany and Japan, which also had the support of Western governments between the wars. The United States had tutored Japan in imperialism and then provoked it through territorial expansion, economic sanctions, and assistance to the Chinese military. Winston Churchill obtained a secret commitment from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to bring the United States into the war. The U.S. government expected the Japanese attack, took numerous actions it knew were likely to provoke it, and prior to the attack: ordered its Navy to war with Japan, instituted a draft, collected the names of Japanese Americans, and ignored peace activists marching in the streets for years against the long build-up to a war with Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye proposed talks with the United States in July 1941, which Roosevelt rejected. President Roosevelt lied to the U.S. public about Nazi attacks on ships and plans to take over the Americas in an effort to win support for entering the war. President Roosevelt and the U.S. government blocked efforts to allow Jewish refugees into the United States or elsewhere. Facts about Nazi crimes in concentration camps were available but played no part in war propaganda until after the war was over. Wise voices predicted accurately that continuing the war would mean the escalation of those crimes. After gaining air superiority, the Allies declined to raid the camps or bomb the railway lines to them. No crimes apart from the war, by any nation, remotely matched in scale the death and destruction of the war itself. The U.S. military and government knew that Japan would surrender without the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japanese cities, but dropped them anyway. The U.S. military put numerous Japanese and German war criminals on its staff following the war. U.S. doctors, engaging in human experimentation during and after World War II, widely viewed the Nuremberg Code as applicable only to Germans. Nonviolent resistance to Nazism in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and even in Berlin — poorly planned and developed though it was in that day and age — showed remarkable potential. World War II gave the world: wars in which civilians are the primary victims, as well as a permanent massive U.S. military aggressively present around the globe.

It takes two sides to wage a war between wealthy nations. The crimes of one side don't excuse the crimes of the other. The point of recognizing them is to avoid their repetition. Japan's president, with U.S. support, hopes to remove peace from Japan's Constitution. The U.S. government is backing a coup in Ukraine that includes Nazis among its leaders. We are handicapped if we don't know we've been here before. If we only ever say "Never again!" after horrors rather than before them, then the life expectancy of our species is severely limited.

World War II became the good war in contrast to Vietnam, or what the Vietnamese call the American War. Afghanistan became a good war in contrast to Iraq. But we don't view cases of slavery or child abuse or rape as good because other cases are worse. Afghanistan was and is as illegal and immoral and counterproductive on its own despicable terms as Iraq. Decades of horrible policies preceded the latest assault, just as with Iraq. Allies were made enemies and demonized, just as in Iraq. The bulk of the population that just wants to live in peace was deemed essentially valueless, just as in Iraq. There was no U.N. authorization, just as in Iraq. And every effort was made to avoid any peaceful resolution, just as with Iraq. A group of mostly Saudi hijackers had spent time in a number of nations and U.S. states. The Taliban government was willing to turn Osama bin Laden over to a neutral country to be put on trial. The Taliban was not itself al Qaeda, and the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan not only did not support the attacks of 911 but had never heard about them. Over a dozen years into this war, the idea to keep 5,000 troops there for another 10 years and beyond is being reported, not as a decision to keep troops there but as a decision to keep fewer than 10,000, as if keeping 10,000 troops in a country were just the norm. In fact, the U.S. has some million troops in 175 nations; that's an average of 5,714.

Three years ago, the White House claimed that Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi -- conveniently, as the head of a government on a Pentagon list of governments to be overthrown -- had threated to massacre the people of Benghazi with "no mercy," but the New York Times reported that Gaddafi's threat was directed at rebel fighters, not civilians, and that Gaddafi promised amnesty for those "who throw their weapons away." Gaddafi also offered to allow rebel fighters to escape to Egypt if they preferred not to fight to the death. Yet President Obama warned of imminent genocide. The result of NATO joining the war was probably more killing, not less. It certainly extended a war that looked likely to end soon with a victory for Gaddafi.

Last year, the White House claimed with Bush-like certainty that the government of Syria had used chemical weapons. Piece by piece the evidence for that claim has fallen apart. It now looks quite unlikely that the government used chemical weapons, and altogether certain that President Obama possessed no solid evidence that it had. It's also certain that the use of chemical weapons, just like the so-called harboring of bin Laden, and just like the supposed stockpiling of weapons in Iraq, would not have been a legal or moral or practical reason for a war even if true. The same goes for Iran possessing a nuclear weapons program, which we've been told for 30 years, but which has never been true. Read Gareth Porter's new book if you haven't.

And how are the drone wars dependent on lies? Let me count the ways. There's the lie that murder is legal if it's part of a war, the lie that the warmaker gets to make that determination, the lie that a war can be limitless in time and space, the lie that killing people is more humane than arresting and prosecuting them, the lie that the people killed are small in number, the lie that the people killed pose an imminent threat to the United States, the lie that Obama's claimed justification for killing one U.S. citizen actually justified it despite conflicting with all known facts of the case and despite being presented in a speech rather than a court of law, the lie that the killing of other U.S. citizens is therefore justified too, the lie that killing non-U.S. citizens requires less justification, the lie that the killings are discriminate and targeted unlike the killing done by bad weapons like poison gas, the lie that whole communities aren't traumatized by the constant buzzing threat, the lie that we're being made safer rather than generating enemies, and the lie that a drone war is better than a ground war whereas the drone wars have actually created wars where there weren't any before.

The very word Ukraine at this point is so packaged in lies as to practically make a liar of anyone who utters it. First there's the lie that one must choose sides and declare anyone on one's chosen side angelic and beyond all reproach. This really shuts down conversation, and action. Many well-intended people sought to nonviolently reform or replace a deeply flawed Ukrainian government. That doesn't change the fact that the coup was violent, that the new government is of dubious legitimacy, that the new government contains neo-Nazi leaders, or that the new government immediately sought to deny acceptance to the Russian language. The story of a popular democratic uprising also misses the growing threat to Russia of U.S. and NATO military expansion eastward over the years, the current efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO, and the extensive efforts of the U.S. government to influence Ukrainian politics and activism, to the tune of $5 billion, with the outcome of the coup being the installation of the U.S. State Department's chosen man as president. Obama refers to the duly elected government of Ukraine as if a NATO member but it isn't and wasn't elected. We've seen the U.S. media push and then retract claims about Russian troops in Ukraine (while largely avoiding the massing of U.S. troops and weaponry nearby), and about anti-Semitic actions by Eastern Ukrainians that turned out to be fictional. Federalists are called separatists (and terrorists) and are said to be taking orders from Moscow, although reporters who actually meet them report that they are independent of Russia. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazis of the U.S.-backed coup wave flags of the U.S. Confederacy as well as of Nazism, and burn people to death by the dozens. Their opponents have burned Nazis in effigy, with no sense of irony, and violently attacked them. No major group of ideal saints seems to be involved in this crisis at all. But imagine the relentless barrage of images of burned bodies we would be subjected to if those bodies were in a different country -- well, I guess, not in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan or . . . -- but I mean in a country on the list to be overthrown, like Syria or Iran.

And imagine the news it would be if the government of Syria sent tanks to attack Syrians, but unarmed crowds (perhaps a bit saintly after all) persuaded the drivers of the tanks to abandon that mission. This happened in Ukraine just after CIA director John Brennan visited. He's used to drones. Drones don't stop to have a beer with the enemy. This Prague Spring-like moment of militarism collapsing in the face of humanity is hardly a U.S. news story in the way that speculation about evil intentions by Russia has become. According to Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin is a new Hitler. According to Obama, the U.S. destruction of Iraq (and murder of a half-million to a million-and-a-half people) was nowhere near as bad as Russia accepting Crimea's vote to rejoin Russia. There should not have been Russian troops on the streets. Crimea's departure from Ukraine should be agreed to by the government of Ukraine, if it comes up with one. But the vote by Crimea has no parallel in the U.S. war on Iraq, or in Nazi invasions. Iraqis did not choose to have their home destroyed. Poland did not vote to be invaded. And if Quebec voted to leave Canada and join the U.S. it's hard to imagine Putin screaming about Nazis or declaring it worse than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The U.S. public, to its credit, is not longing for a U.S. war in Ukraine. Seven percent want military options considered (poll by McClatchy-Marist, April 7-10), up from six percent a bit earlier (Pew, March 20-23), or 12 percent for U.S. ground troops and 17 percent for air strikes (CNN, March 7-9). The Washington Post says 13% want U.S. military action, and 16% can find Ukraine on a map. Americans place Ukraine in Africa, Asia, Alaska, or the Americas. And the further people place Ukraine on the map from where it actually is, the more they want it attacked -- including people who place Ukraine in the United States. So, either they're suicidal, or they think the United States is itself in Africa or somewhere else. There's a Canadian comedy show called "Talking to Americans" in which the host asks people on the street in the United States whether they believe it's reached the point where there's no choice but to bomb _________ (and he makes up the name of a fictional country). People who hear the country's name for the first time declare that in fact it must be bombed. They're sorry that it must be bombed, but the world is full of bad people and there just isn't any other choice. Sometimes I think de-funding war to fund education presents a chicken and egg problem.

Congress members including the House so-called "Defense" Appropriations subcommittee chair are using Ukraine as a reason to keep a war slush fund going for another year, as well as a reason to halt any reduction in nuclear weapons. Some profiteers would no doubt be happy to make billions from weapons even if the weapons are never used. Sadly, it doesn't tend to work out that way. And their playing around with a conflict between two nuclear nations is as suicidal as any fossil fuel lobbying.

If we're going to stop not just one war, but the machinery that drives us toward more wars, we're going to have to come to an understanding that war can be eliminated from the world. That's the mission of a new project I'm working on called WorldBeyondWar.org.  As long as it is believed that there must be wars, the United States is going to want to sell the weaponry, get involved, and be guaranteed overwhelmingly superior force. Some people believe we're trapped in a hopelessly pro-war culture. See if you know who this quote is from:

"We don't evaluate what's right and wrong. We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture."

If you said the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, you were right. He sounds like a jerk because overt racism is not an unquestionable part of our culture anymore. In fact, it can get you banned from the NBA. But when a professor from Stanford named Ian Morris publishes a nonsensical book claiming that war is good for us, his career carries on just fine. When a weapons CEO jokes on NPR, as I heard him do prior to the attack on Libya, that if the occupation of Afghanistan has to end he hopes there can be an occupation of Libya, nobody demands his resignation.

But if you step outside of our culture for a moment, in your mind, and think Why is it OK to joke about mass murder for profit? Why is it acceptable for Congress Members to talk about militarism as a jobs program? Why did a Congressman publicly say he was voting against Iraq war funding because his brother died in Vietnam, and not because 4 million died in Vietnam and 1 million in Iraq and mass murder is the responsibility of each and every one of us because no man is an island? When you ask those questions, then the Donald-Sterling everybody's doing it defense looks shameful, even about something that everyone really is doing.

Not everyone's buying the lies. The lies aren't working well enough to sell any war, but they are working well enough to keep alive the idea that there might be a good war some day. Ridding ourselves of that idea is a matter of survival at this point. Or in the words of George W. Bush, "Fool me once shame on you, fool me -- umm -- err --- uh --- can't get fooled again."

Polling for war support is not just low on Ukraine. It's very similar on U.S. desire for a war with Iran, or for U.S. military involvement in Syria. Many more Americans believe in ghosts and UFOs, according to the polls, than believe that these would be good wars. The U.S. public never got behind the war on Libya, and for years a majority has said that the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan never should have been launched. The search for a good war is beginning to look as futile as the search for the mythical city of El Dorado. And yet that search remains our top public project.

The U.S. military swallows 55.2 percent of federal discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. Televised U.S. sporting events thank members of the military for watching from 175 nations. U.S. aircraft carriers patrol the world's seas. U.S. drones buzz the skies of nations thousands of miles from our shores.

No other nation spends remotely comparable funds on militarism, and much of what the United States buys has no defensive purpose -- unless "defense" is understood as deterrence or preemption or, indeed, aggression. As the world's number one supplier of weapons to other nations, ours may be said to extend its search for a good war beyond its own affairs as well.

A 2006 National Intelligence Estimate found that U.S. wars were generating anti-U.S. sentiment. Former military officials, including Stanley McChrystal, say drone strikes are producing more enemies than they are killing. A WIN/Gallup poll of 65 nations at the end of 2013 found the U.S. far ahead of any other as the nation people believed was the greatest threat to peace in the world. When I lived near Vicenza, Italy, pre-911, people tended to like Americans despite the Army base. Now that they've built an enormous new base despite overwhelming local opposition, feelings are not quite as friendly.  People who tried to stop the base just posted a video online of themselves cutting a fence, going in, and planting marijuana seeds everywhere -- set to music; you should watch it.

Tim Carpenter always used to talk about healthcare, not warfare.  He had his priorities right.  But we spend twice per capita what any other nation spends on healthcare, and we get worse healthcare as a result of how we spend it.  We spend SEVERAL TIMES what any other nation spends on war and war preparation.  And we get a lower level of safety because of how we spend it.  Canadians don't go without healthcare, and there are no anti-Canadian terrorist networks.  It's the country that routinely bombs people in the name of fighting terrorism that is generating all the terrorism.

It is the ethics of a coward to believe that safety justifies all, but of a fool to commit immoral acts that actually endanger oneself. And what is more immoral than modern wars, with deaths and injuries so massive, so one-sided, and so heavily civilian?

Military spending produces fewer jobs than spending on education or infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people, according to studies by the Political Economy Research Institute. It is the ethics of a sociopath to justify killing for economic gain, but of a fool to do so for economic loss.

The military is our top consumer of petroleum and creator of superfund sites, in addition to being the hole into which we sink the funds that could address the real danger of climate change.

War justifies secrecy and the erosion of liberties: warrantless surveillance, lawless imprisonment, torture, and assassination, even as wars are marketed as defending "freedom." Did you see the report last week that Haji Gulalai, Afghanistan's "torturer-in-chief," over a period of several years of the U.S. occupation is now living in a two-story pink house in a suburb of Los Angeles, having brought a dozen relatives with him, not bothered to learn English, and remaining unemployed?  He sounds a lot like George W. Bush.  Both should be prosecuted, as should Condoleezza Rice who has just been stopped from speaking at Rutgers' graduation by student protests.

Another thing the keeping war around does is keep weapons around that could destroy the planet.  Maintenance of nuclear and other weapons for war risks intentional or accidental catastrophe.

The downsides to war, even for an aggressor nation with overwhelming fire power, are voluminous. The upside would seem to be that if we keep fighting wars, one of them might turn out to be a good one.  But, here's the thing: We don't need a good one.  We have the knowledge and the resources to avoid conflicts, to resolve conflicts nonviolently, and to resist violence nonviolently more effectively than it can be resisted using violence.

It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world.  It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. Round up to $50 billion per year to provide the world with both food and water. That's 5 percent of the roughly $1 trillion the U.S. wastes every year on militarism.  Foreign aid is $23 billion now.  It would cost very little to make the U.S. the most beloved rather than most feared nation on earth.  Refraining from war-making would cost nothing and on the contrary save a fortune that could be spent at home and abroad.  Spending a bit of it on useful projects would save many times the number of lives that would be spared by avoiding the warmaking.

What if we invested in peace education, nonviolent activist training, conflict negotiation, human-shields and nonviolent peace teams, aid, diplomacy, the rule of law, and sustainable energy? To hear President Obama talk you'd think we were already headed that way and the world was outraged about it.  "Typically," Obama said last week, "criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force." Really? That's why people rank the U.S. as the greatest threat to peace in the world? Of course, by critics Obama means corporate television and rightwing warmongers and Republicans.  Perhaps he even means his own Republican Secretary of so-called Defense Chuck Hagel who just made this comment in support of incredible levels of military spending: "We want our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines active around the world, deploying with greater frequency and agility, with the skills and expertise needed to build security capacity in each region." Really? Who's we?

I want to close with a few things you can do, before taking questions.  There are sign-up cards for WorldBeyondWar.org around in the room.  They have a survey question at the top that it would be very helpful if everyone could answer Yes or No.  Then there's a short statement to sign if you agree with it.  Thousands of people have signed from 57 nations thus far.  This is how we're going to build an international pivot to peace instead of a pivot to war in Asia.  Then there are places to check if you'd like to join in in any way.

You can also start planning, and maybe some of you are already, for the International Day of Peace on September 21st.  Join an existing event and enlarge it, or start a new one and we'll help promote it.  There are resources you can use at WorldBeyondWar.org.

Also start planning for an October 4th global day of actions against drones.

Connecticut has established a commission to work on converting from war to peace industries.  Los Angeles and/or California could use one of those.

Other things to tell Congress (and come to RootsAction.org where I work on online activism and where you can create your own online petitions):

1. Repeal the authorizations for the use of military force from Afghanistan and Iraq

2. End the occupation of Afghanistan

3. End drone murders

4. Disband NATO

And I would add, out of the millions of other things you might tell Congress, do not put troops back into the Philippines, do not build a Navy base on Jeju Island South Korea, and do not build a new Marine base on Okinawa, Japan.  Ten days from today I'll be speaking at an event in Washington with a mayor from Okinawa who was elected to stop the construction of a base that the people of Okinawa overwhelmingly oppose.  Congress should hear his message from you while he's in town.  And I hope he has as good a crowd as this one today.  Thank you for being here.

The state of Australia: cultural economy

The state of culture in Australia? Basically, it’s in rude health. Ars Electronica

In the lead-up to the budget, the story of crisis has been hammered home, but there’s more to a country than its structural deficit. So how is Australia doing overall? In this special series, ten writers to take a broader look at the State of Australia; our health, wealth, education, culture, environment, well-being and international standing.


Naturally, federal budgets are fretful times for economic sectors underwritten by discretionary public expenditure. The arts and cultural sector is composed of parts that rely heavily on public funding (such as heritage, museums), parts that are a mixture of public and private (such as film, television, radio), and parts that are largely private (fashion, design, video games). Obviously, some parts of this sector therefore have more reason for trepidation than others.

The recent report from the Commission of Audit makes clear that there is indeed a budget crisis – although not everyone would see things that clearly.

Neal Sanche

But it we can accept for a moment there is such a crisis, political reality indicates it will need to be met with expenditure cuts as well as tax increases (although the Abbott government did make an election promise not to do this). As I previously noted on The Conversation, those spending cuts – come May 13 – will probably not have much impact on arts and culture in this budget cycle (although the Commission did recommend that Screen Australia face funding cuts).

So what then is the state of culture in Australia? Basically, it’s in rude health. We know this from government data itself. The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects a variety of statistics, although as with most aggregate economic data, there are several years of lag between gathering and reporting.

In February of this year the ABS released an experimental set of cultural and creative activity satellite accounts. These are for 2008-9.

How we’re doing now

The ABS Satellite account for 2008-9 shows the contribution of the cultural and creative economy to Australian GDP was A$86 billion, which is almost 7%. Cultural activity makes up A$50b of that, and creative activity is larger, at A$80b (a A$42b overlap of cultural and creative explains how these numbers add up to A$86b).

Public cultural spending was A$7.6b. Some A$2.3b of this was from federal spending, about half of which was for public broadcasting.

A 2010 survey carried out by the ABS indicates that Australians get a regular fix of culture, with about 85% reporting attending a cultural event, the most popular being cinema, but with music festivals, parks, and museums and galleries not too far behind.

Private cultural spending in 2010 was just under A$20b, with television, books and film capturing the bulk of that spending. According to the Australian Tax Office, just A$28 million was donated to cultural organisations from tax-deductible private ancillary funds.

By industrial sector, gross value added (GVA) estimates run to A$65b, the majority of which was broken down as:

  • design (A$26b)
  • literature and print media ($13bn)
  • fashion ($12bn)
  • broadcasting, digital media and film ($8bn).

The cultural and creative sector produces more GVA than health care, but less than construction.

There were about 1 million employees in this sector, with a quarter of those working in cultural and creative occupations outside the cultural and creative industries. There are more than 160,000 business or non-profit organisations in the cultural and creative industries sector.

International comparisons are plagued by definitional consistencies, but the ABS reports that Australia’s cultural and creative sector is very similar to that of Canada, Finland, Spain and the UK by most measures. (The largest, on a per-capita measure, is the US.)

Yu Shibao

How we got here

There is much more detail that we could report from the above statistics. Yet we don’t need to worry too much about the lags in the data or the crude aggregations because a few overarching findings and long-run trends stand out.

The first is that the cultural and creative industries are large, vibrant and growing, and it is the creative, market-facing parts that are doing most of the heavy lifting.

That is entirely unsurprising, and nor – I will stress to add – is it an ideological point. These sectors can grow because they face not just millions of Australians but billions of global consumers.

The single most important factor driving and shaping the Australian cultural and creative economy is the global marketplace. And within that, Australia’s single greatest advantage is that we are a multi-cultural English-speaking nation, meaning that we have a comparative advantage in cultural content production for a global market.

The factor most accelerating this is the rise and spread of digital and computational technologies into all corners of cultural and creative production. This lowers the cost of production and distribution, increases access and variety, creates new platforms, and makes possible new business models.

A further significant trend is the long-run growth in household wealth globally, not just in Australia. This increases the quantity of household spending and, consequentially, demand for cultural and creative content. Furthermore, as demonstrated recently in the UK, a strong case can be made connecting the growth of the arts and cultural sector with GDP growth.

These three factors – globalisation, technology and wealth – are not the only things that matter, but to a first order of approximation they are most of the story of how we got here.

National Museum of Australia. Sam Ilić

The next ten years

The most important policy forces affecting the cultural and creative economy in Australia are not those from within Australian cultural and creative industry policy. They are the factors affecting Australia’s position vis-à-vis the global economy, digital technology development and adoption, as well as the factors affecting household wealth.

These are factors relating to bilateral trade agreements (and the intellectual property provisions written into these), the state of the National Broadband Network, Australian tax policy, the vibrancy of the mining sector, and so on, will likely continue to have a far greater impact on the state of Australia’s cultural economy than, say, specific details pertaining to the funding of the National Gallery.

What is likely to change? We might usefully distinguish among the cultural economy between those parts that are more in the manner of public goods (such as national galleries, museums, and so on) from those that are subsidised industries (such as public support to the film industry).

Public goods suffer free-rider problems, and are best supplied through public funding. We can expect that Australian cultural public goods will continue to be funded, and maybe even receive greater funding as Australian wealth grows.

But the subsidised industries part of the cultural sector will face a tougher time. These can survive through lobbying and scare campaigns. But they also tend to be eventually defeated by innovative competition and new technologies.

It’s unclear where, for example, Australia’s public broadcasters fall on this spectrum. In the early years they very clearly were a public good. They still are in the case of some remote and regional broadcasting. But they are a purely subsidised industry in most urban markets and many media segments.

This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

Reducing discrimination and financial burdens for people with cancer

People with cancer are concerned about losing their jobs if they take ‘too much’ leave for treatment. Lisa F. Young

May 8, 2014. Some Australians with cancer face discrimination when attempting to access financial services, are treated unfairly by their employers, and face significant financial burden when travelling for treatment.

Laws and policy are not often considered a part of the cancer experience, but they have a significant impact on outcomes for cancer patients, their families and health professionals, according to a report by the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer Cancer Council Victoria.

In the first stage of our project Making the law work better for people affected by cancer, we asked people affected by cancer to share their experiences accessing financial support when travelling for medical treatment, financial services, such as life and travel insurance and whether they had faced discrimination at work.

We consulted with a variety of professional, and community stakeholders through workshops, round tables and an online survey of more than 550 members of the Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Review and Survey Group.

With around 125,000 Australians diagnosed with cancer each year, it’s important we get these laws and policies right.

Financial burden

Many patients and carers talked about the financial burden of cancer and, particularly, the costs of transport and accommodation for treatment.

This burden is greatest for those living in rural and remote areas who will almost always need to travel for some components of their care. As geographical isolation increases, cancer care is less accessible.

These costs can affect the decisions people make about treatment and recovery; those worried about the financial burden of treatment may be less inclined to choose a particular care pathway. Significant travel and accommodation costs make people more likely to defer treatment or seek alternative treatment options.

Disturbingly, the further from a metropolitan centre a cancer patient lives, the more likely they are to die within five years of diagnosis.

Subsidies fall far short of the true cost of transport and accommodation. Martin Kalfatovic, CC BY-NC-SA

The patients and carers we spoke to welcomed the support available through government patient travel assistance schemes, but most considered it too modest to cover the true costs.

Victorian cancer patients, for example, are eligible for government support of $35+GST per night for accommodation; subsidies in other states and territories range from $30 per night in South Australia, to $60 per night in Queensland.

In 2007, Cancer Action Victoria estimated the average cost of a hotel room for a night to be around $90, leaving a gap of between $30 and $60.

A rural cancer patient, who had to travel four hours to Melbourne for regular treatment, said while she received some reimbursement from the Victorian government, the cost of the trips was “outweighing the benefit”:

I’m at a point where costs will stop me from continuing to see my oncologist at regular intervals.

Concerns about work

Discrimination against employees on the basis of having or having had cancer is prohibited by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, with some exceptions relating to a person’s ability to perform the inherent requirements of the job and where reasonable adjustments to accommodate the effects of a person’s cancer would cause unjustifiable hardship to an employer. Carers of people affected by cancer are also protected under the legislation.

Many respondents to our online consultation reported their employers had been supportive when they went back to work, while others reported concerns, including how their employer or colleagues would respond to their taking leave; the risk of missing out on career opportunities; and losing their job altogether.

Some people reported being treated differently or avoided at work, and commented that employer and colleague sympathy could decrease very quickly when treatment was lengthy and required extended periods of leave.

People with a history of cancer were worried they could miss out on promotions due to employers having a lingering “what if?” in their minds about the likelihood of future absences.

It’s against the law to discriminate against workers on the basis of their cancer. Christian Delbert/Shutterstock

People on casual or fixed-term contracts had particular concerns about losing their jobs – or not being rehired – if they took “too much” leave for treatment.

Carers of people affected by cancer also shared concerns about losing opportunities or their jobs if they took extended leave to care for a loved one with cancer. One online survey respondent said:

I think this comes down to people not having a complete awareness of the long-term effects of cancer post-treatment, meaning that people who have not previously been exposed to what cancer entails may have preconceived notions of how survivors are affected post-treatment.

Rather than calling for new legislative protections, most people recommended that employers, people affected by cancer and their colleagues receive more education on:

  • the effects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • the experience of living with cancer
  • the legal frameworks
  • rights and responsibilities that apply when an employee or potential employee is affected by cancer
  • practical solutions to common problems.

Insurance discrimination

Stakeholders were also concerned about their ability to obtain certain types of insurance. Despite discrimination laws designed to protect people with cancer or a history of cancer, some reported being unfairly denied travel or life insurance.

While insurers can take a cancer diagnosis or history of cancer into account when offering a policy of insurance, a decision to charge a higher premium or deny cover must be supported by statistical or actuarial evidence.

In a 2003 case of a woman with advanced breast cancer who disclosed her condition to a travel insurance company, the Federal Court held that a blanket denial of coverage was unreasonable. The woman was no more likely than a person without breast cancer to make a claim on her policy in relation to, for example, lost luggage; but the insurance company treated her application in a formulaic way, without directly considering her particular circumstances.

Despite anecdotal reports of insurers refusing cover for cancer patients, very few cases have been referred to human rights commissions. Respondents to our survey suggested that for people affected by cancer, complaining or taking action against insurance companies would be too great a burden.

Some people were worried about the implications of having genetic testing for hereditary cancers. While some wanted to undergo testing to be able to look after their health, they feared the results might prevent them or their families getting insurance.

If the genetic testing shows I have an increased risk of cancer then this may influence decisions insurers may make about my children. I worry about the flow on effect. (Online survey respondent)

Insurers are allowed to take genetic test results into account when assessing a person’s risk profile, just as they would any other health information. But, like any other relevant health factor, a decision to offer or decline cover must be supported by evidence.

Insurers are allowed to take results of genetic tests into account, within reason. Nikita G. Sidorov/Shutterstock

In a case study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Louise Keogh and Margaret Otlowski describe the experience of an Australian man who was refused insurance on three separate occasions on the basis of genetic information he disclosed. This was despite having provided information to the insurers to show that, with regular health checks he was at no greater risk of developing cancer than the general population.

The man, who complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission, was eventually offered full cover by an insurer. But the authors highlight the case as an example of the “high level of initiative and proactivity required for a consumer to achieve a fair result”.

Towards a fairer system

The next stage of our project is to inform people with cancer and their families about the law and their legal rights and responsibilities, as well as supporting improvements to existing laws.

One of the recommended reforms is to increase Victorian transport and accommodation subsidies. We will also undertake education sessions and raise awareness about transport and accommodation support services, workplace rights and insurance discrimination protections.

The law is not always visible to those affected by cancer, but it affects their experiences in a number of ways. We need to develop an approach to cancer support that includes a better understanding of how laws and policies can protect and support the thousands of people who have to deal with a cancer diagnosis and improve them where they don’t serve us well.


Where to go for help?

For help with cancer-related financial or legal problems in the meantime, call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 for information and support.

To make a free and confidential discrimination complaint, contact the Australian Human Rights Commissionon 1300 656 419, or your state or territory equal opportunity or anti-discrimination board or commission.

For employment problems in particular, call the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.


This article was co-authored by Sondra Davoren, Senior Legal Policy Advisor and Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor at Cancer Council Victoria


This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

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