You are browsing the archive for Barack Obama.

Here Comes the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, Dragging a Broken Moral Compass

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, set for October 11, is sure to make big news. The prize remains the most prestigious in the world. But the award has fallen into an evasive pattern, ignoring the USA’s continuous “war on terror” and even giving it tacit support.

In his 1895 will, the dynamite inventor and ammunition magnate Alfred Nobel specified that Norway’s parliament should elect a five-member committee for awarding the prize to “champions of peace.” Yet the list of recent Nobel peace laureates is notably short on such champions. Instead, the erstwhile politicians on the Norwegian Nobel Committee have largely bypassed the original purpose of the prize.

Despite all its claims of independence, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee is enmeshed in Norwegian politics. The global prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize has obscured the reality that its selection committee is chosen by leaders of Norway’s main political parties — and, as a member of NATO, Norway is deeply entangled in the military alliance.

When the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Obama in 2009, he was in the midst of drastically escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, in tandem with the rest of NATO. The same prize went to the European Union in 2012, a year after many of its member states intervened with military force in Libya. On both occasions, in effect, the Nobel Committee bestowed a “good war-making seal of approval.”

Since 2001, the Nobel Peace Prize has been on a prolonged detour around the U.S. government’s far-flung warfare, declining to honor anyone who had challenged any of it anywhere in the world. But the Nobel Committee has done more than just ignore peace activism seeking to stop U.S.-led war efforts. By giving the Peace Prize to Obama and the E.U., the committee has implicitly endorsed those military efforts as part of a rhetorical process that conflates war-making with peace-making. Orwell’s 1984 specter of “War Is Peace” looms uncomfortably large.

At times, the Peace Prize has earned goodwill in NGO circles by honoring humanitarian work that is laudable but not directly related to peace. And so far in this century, when the Nobel Committee has focused the prize on human rights, it has danced around Uncle Sam’s global shadow. The Peace Prize has gone only to dissidents in countries where governments are in conflict with Washington — such as Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003 and Liu Xiaobo of China in 2010 — while failing to honor any of the profuse activism against severe abuses by U.S.-backed governments.

It was not always this way. During previous decades, the annual announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize might alternately please or enrage the top leaders in the capital of a world power. In 1983, the awarding of the prize to Poland’s Solidarity leader Lech Walesa infuriated the Kremlin. When the 1992 prize went to Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous foe of U.S.-supported tyrants killing Guatemalan civilians in large numbers, it was a much-needed rebuke to Washington.

Yes, some Peace Prize choices were dubious or worse. After an Orwellian one, the caustic songwriter Tom Lehrer commented: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” In an exercise of absurd equivalency, the Nobel Committee had given the 1973 prize to Kissinger and North Vietnam’s negotiator Le Duc Tho.

The 1980s brought the Peace Prize to brave activists like Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, as well as International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In 1996, longtime opponents of Indonesia’s U.S.-backed genocidal occupation of East Timor had reason to cheer when the Nobel Peace Prize went to East Timorese heroes Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta. The next year also brought good news when the prize went to Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

But in the “war on terror” world of this century, the Nobel Committee — far from an independent, evenhanded course — has steered the Peace Prize away from terrain where the U.S. government and its allies might appear to be anything other than noble peace-seekers. Relying on such a broken moral compass, the mission to assist “champions of peace” with the Nobel Peace Prize has lost its way.

Norman Solomon is author of  War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Read the rest of this entry →

The Repetition Compulsion for War — and How It Might Fail This Time

3:54 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

No matter how many times we’ve seen it before, the frenzy for launching a military attack on another country is — to the extent we’re not numb — profoundly upsetting. Tanked up with talking points in Washington, top officials drive policy while intoxicated with what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” and most media coverage becomes similarly unhinged. That’s where we are now.

Each war is different, each war is the same

Each war is different, each war is the same

But new variables have opened up possibilities for disrupting the repetitive plunge to war. Syria is in the crosshairs of U.S. firepower, but cracks in the political machinery of the warfare state are widening here at home. For advocates of militarism and empire by any other name, the specter of democratic constraint looms as an ominous threat.

Into the Capitol Hill arena, the Obama White House sent Secretary of State John Kerry to speak in a best-and-brightest dialect of neocon tongues. The congressional hierarchies of both parties — Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, John Boehner, Eric Cantor — are on the same page for an attack on Syria. And meanwhile, the U.S. mass media have been cranking up the usual adrenalin-pumped hype for war.

More than 10 years ago, American media outlets were filled with breathless idolatry of the latest U.S. weapons poised to strike Iraq. Now, the big TV networks are at it again – starting to hype the Pentagon’s high-tech arsenal that’s ready to demolish Syrian targets. Of course the people at the other end of the weaponry aren’t in the picture.

The Media Education Foundation has just posted a two-minute montage of coverage from MSNBC, Fox and CNN idolizing the latest Pentagon weaponry for use in the Iraq invasion a decade ago — as well as Walter Cronkite doing the same on CBS during the Vietnam War. As a present-day bookend, a CNN clip from a few days ago provides a glimpse of how little has changed (except for slicker on-screen graphics).

But the usual agenda-building for war may not work this time.

The first week of September has stunned the military-industrial-media complex. It began with a familiar bellicose call for action from the president, seconded by leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill and echoed by mass media. And yet by the end of the week, grassroots opposition had interrupted the war momentum.

Senators and members of the House are being overwhelmed with anti-war messages via email, fax and phone. People are rising up to demand that Congress vote against launching a war on yet another country.

Whether Obama would actually abide by failure to gain congressional “authorization” to attack Syria is by no means clear. But our immediate task is to create such a failure.

This is a pivotal juncture of history in real time, an “all hands on deck” moment to exert enough public pressure to prevent a war-on-Syria resolution from getting through Congress. Such an outcome would thoroughly delegitimize any order from Obama to attack Syria. In the process, we would make real progress against the masters of war.

There’s an antidote to the repetition compulsion for war. It’s called democracy.
Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Will Launch a Huge Propaganda Blitz — and May Attack Syria Even If He Loses the Vote in Congress

1:18 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Grassroots pressure has forced President Obama to seek approval from Congress for an attack on Syria. But Obama is hell-bent on ordering a missile assault on that country, and he has two very important aces in the hole.

The administration is about to launch a ferocious propaganda blitz that will engulf a wide range of U.S. media. And as a fallback, the president is reserving the option of attacking Syria no matter what Congress does.

Until Obama’s surprise announcement Saturday that he will formally ask Congress for authorization of military action against Syria, the impassioned pitches from top U.S. officials in late August seemed to be closing arguments before cruise missiles would hit Syrian targets. But the pre-bombing hyper spin has just gotten started.

The official appeals for making war on yet another country will be ferocious. Virtually all the stops will be pulled out; all kinds of media will be targeted; every kind of convoluted argument will be employed.

Hell hath no fury like war-makers scorned. Simmering rage will be palpable from political elites who do not want to see Congress set an unprecedented precedent: thwarting the will of a president who wants Pentagon firepower unleashed on another country.

President Obama and top Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will twist every arm they can to get a “yes” vote for attacking Syria. Meanwhile, most mainline media pundits, numbingly addicted to war, will often chastise and denigrate foes of authorization.

However, we have a real chance to prevent a U.S. attack. One cogent argument after another, from intelligence veterans and policy analysts and weapons experts, has debunked the messaging for war on Syria. And some members of Congress — not nearly enough, but some — have begun to speak up with cogent opposition.

One of NPR’s inside-the-box hosts of “All Things Considered” on August 30 asked Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) about the Obama administration’s claim that missile strikes on Syria would be “a limited action” and not “war.” Congresswoman Lofgren replied: “I think that anyone who argues that shooting missiles and dropping bombs on another country is not an act of war has got some further education warranted. If somebody shot cruise missiles at Washington for only one day, we would still consider it an act of war, wouldn’t we?”

Not many members of Congress have Lofgren’s clarity, and many of their votes on authorization are up for grabs. Each of us can help affect the outcome by demanding that our senators and representative oppose the war resolution. We should make our voices heard in all sorts of public venues.

The president’s move for a congressional vote should cause a major escalation of anti-war activism. A straw in the wind: during just a few hours after Obama’s announcement on Saturday afternoon, nearly 10,000 people took the initiative via RootsAction.org to email members of Congress with a “No Attack on Syria” message.

National opinion polling and momentum inside Congress indicate that we can defeat Obama’s war resolution. It’ll be a tremendous fight, but we can prevail.

Even if Obama loses the vote in Congress, there’s a very real danger that he will proceed with ordering an attack on Syria.

Burying the lead almost a dozen paragraphs into a September 1 news story, the New York Times mentioned in passing: “White House officials indicated that Mr. Obama might still authorize force even if Congress rejected it.”

A careful reading of Obama’s Rose Garden announcement on Saturday verifies that he never quite said he will abide by the decision of Congress if it refuses to approve an attack on Syria. Instead, the president filled his statement with hedging phrases, detouring around any such commitment with words like these:

*  “I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. … And I’m prepared to give that order. But … I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

*  “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

*  “Over the last several days, we’ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.” 

*  “And all of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote.” 

*  “I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage. Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation.”

At the grassroots, people across the United States will be working very hard to prevent congressional approval of an attack on Syria. That activism is imperative. We should also understand that Obama has not committed himself to abide by the decision that Congress makes.

Read the rest of this entry →

While Cameron Defers to Parliament, Obama Locks into Warfare State of Mind

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The British Parliament’s rejection of an attack on Syria is a direct contrast — and implicit challenge — to the political war system of the United States.

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.”

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly,” Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday night. At least for now, Uncle Sam’s poodle is off the leash.

Now all eyes turn to Congress, where the bar has suddenly been raised. Can the House of Representatives measure up to the House of Commons?

It’s a crucial question — but President Obama intends to render it moot with unwavering contempt for the war authority of Congress. Like his predecessors.

Even with war votes on Capitol Hill, the charade quotient has been high. The Gulf War began in early 1991 after the Senate vote for war was close: 52 to 47. But, as the PBS “Frontline” program reported years later, President George H.W. Bush had a plan in place: if Congress voted against going to war, he’d ignore Congress.

“The president privately, with the most inner circle, made absolutely clear he was going to go forward with this action even if he were impeached,” said Robert Gates, who was deputy national security advisor. “The truth of the matter is that while public opinion and the voice of Congress was important to Bush, I believe it had no impact on his decision about what he would do. He was going to throw that son of a bitch [Saddam Hussein] out of Kuwait, regardless of whether the Congress or the public supported him.”

By the Pentagon’s estimate, the six weeks of the Gulf War took the lives of 100,000 Iraqi people. “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Colin Powell, said at the time.

Eight years later, the War Powers Act’s 60-day deadline for congressional approval of U.S. warfare expired on May 25, 1999 — but large-scale U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia continued. Bill Clinton was unable to get authorization from Congress but, like other wartime presidents before and since, he ignored the law that was passed in 1973 to constrain autocratic war-making. Republican Rep. Tom Campbell said: “The president is in violation of the law. That is clear.” Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich said: “The war continues unauthorized, without the consent of the governed.” And President Clinton said, in effect, I don’t care.

In October 2002, President George W. Bush won congressional approval for an invasion of Iraq, waving the fig leaf that passage would strengthen his hand at the bargaining table. Of course Bush got what he wanted — a full-scale war on Iraq.

“The president’s ability to decide when and where to use America’s military power is now absolute,” pundit Michael Kinsley observed, writing in Time magazine in mid-April 2003, just after the U.S. occupation of Iraq began. “Congress cannot stop him. That’s not what the Constitution says, and it’s not what the War Powers Act says, but that’s how it works in practice.”

That’s how it works in practice.

We’ve got to change how it works in practice.

Read the rest of this entry →

‘You Failed to Break the Spirit of Bradley Manning’: An Open Letter to President Obama

9:35 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Dear President Obama:

As commander in chief, you’ve been responsible for the treatment of the most high-profile whistleblower in the history of the U.S. armed forces. Under your command, the United States military tried — and failed — to crush the spirit of Bradley Manning.

Your failure became evident after the sentencing on Wednesday, when a statement from Bradley Manning was read aloud to the world. The statement began: “The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life. I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country.”

From the outset, your administration set out to destroy Bradley Manning. As his biographer Chase Madar wrote in The Nation, “Upon his arrest in May 2010, he was locked up in punitive isolation for two months in Iraq and Kuwait, then nine more months at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. Prohibited from lying down during the day or exercising, he was forced to respond every five of his waking minutes to a guard’s question: ‘Are you OK?’ In his final weeks of isolation, Manning was deprived of all clothing beyond a tear-proof smock and forced to stand at attention every night in the nude.”

More than nine months after Manning’s arrest, at a news conference you defended this treatment — which the State Department’s chief spokesman, P.J. Crowley, had just lambasted as “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” (Crowley swiftly lost his job.) Later, the UN special rapporteur on torture issued a report on the treatment of Manning: “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

At a fundraiser on April 21, 2011, when asked about Manning, you flatly said: “He broke the law.” His trial would not begin for two more years.

Bradley Manning’s statement after sentencing on Wednesday said: It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized that (in) our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

Public accountability is essential to democracy. We can’t have meaningful “consent of the governed” without informed consent. We can’t have moral responsibility without challenging official hypocrisies and atrocities.

Bradley Manning clearly understood that. He didn’t just follow orders or turn his head at the sight of unconscionable policies of the U.S. government. Finding himself in a situation where he could shatter the numbed complacency that is the foundation of war, he cared — and he took action as a whistleblower.

After being sentenced to many years in prison, Manning conveyed to the American public an acute understanding of our present historic moment: “In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

“Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.”

Clearly, Mr. President, you have sought to make an example of Bradley Manning with categorical condemnation and harsh punishment. You seem not to grasp that he has indeed become an example — an inspiring example of stellar courage and idealism, which millions of Americans now want to emulate.

From the White House, we continue to get puffed-up sugar-coated versions of history, past and present. In sharp contrast, Bradley Manning offers profound insights in his post-sentencing statement: Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy — the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps — to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Zinn once said, ‘There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.’”

Imagine. After more than three years in prison, undergoing methodical abuse and then the ordeal of a long military trial followed by the pronouncement of a 35-year prison sentence, Bradley Manning has emerged with his solid humanistic voice not only intact, but actually stronger than ever!

He acknowledged, “I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.”

And then Bradley Manning concluded his statement by addressing you directly as president of the United States: “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”

You failed to break the spirit of Bradley Manning. And that spirit will continue to inspire.

Editors note: This post was written before the news of Chelsea Manning’s declaration of gender change Read the rest of this entry →

Our Twisted Politics of Grief

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

9/11 Smoking WTC Tower

Our politicized grief over 9/11 continues to cost lives worldwide.

Darwin observed that conscience is what most distinguishes humans from other animals. If so, grief isn’t far behind. Realms of anguish are deeply personal—yet prone to expropriation for public use, especially in this era of media hyper-spin. Narratives often thresh personal sorrow into political hay. More than ever, with grief marketed as a civic commodity, the personal is the politicized.

The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.

The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. The domestic politics of grief settled in for a very long haul, while perpetual war required the leaders of both major parties to keep affirming and reinforcing the two tiers of grief.

For individuals, actual grief is intimate, often ineffable. Maybe no one can help, but expressions of caring and condolences can matter. So, too, can indifference. Or worse. The first years of the 21st century normalized U.S. warfare in countries where civilians kept dying and American callousness seemed to harden. From the USA, a pattern froze and showed no signs of thawing; denials continued to be reflexive, while expressions of regret were perfunctory or nonexistent.

Drones became a key weapon—and symbol—of the U.S. war trajectory. With a belated nod to American public opinion early in the century’s second decade, Washington’s interest in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan did not reflect official eagerness to stop killing there or elsewhere. It did reflect eagerness to bring U.S. warfare more into line with the latest contours of domestic politics. The allure of remote-control devices like drones—integral to modern “counterterrorism” ideas at the Pentagon and CIA—has been enmeshed in the politics of grief. So much better theirs than ours.

Many people in the United States don’t agree with a foreign policy that glories in use of drones, cruise missiles and the like, but such disagreement is in a distinct minority. (A New York Times/CBS poll in late April 2013 found Americans favoring U.S. overseas drone strikes by 70 to 20 percent.) With the “war on terror” a longtime fact of political life, even skeptics or unbelievers are often tethered to some concept of pragmatism that largely privatizes misgivings. In the context of political engagement—when a person’s internal condition is much less important than outward behavior—notions of realism are apt to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief. As a practical matter, we easily absorb the dominant U.S. politics of grief, further making it our politics of grief.

The amazing technology of “unmanned aerial vehicles” glided forward as a satellite-guided deus ex machina to help lift Uncle Sam out of a tight geopolitical spot—exerting awesome airpower in Afghanistan and beyond while slowing the arrival of flag-draped coffins back home. More airborne killing and less boot prints on the ground meant fewer U.S. casualties. All the better to limit future grief, as much as possible, to those who are not us.

However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered and matter. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.

In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important and revs up many rhetorical engines; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.”

A memorable moment in the film Lincoln comes when the president says, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” A daring leap for a white American assessing race in 1865. Truly applying the same Euclidean theorem to grief would be just as daring now in U.S. politics. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.

*****

We might say ’twas ever thus: countries and ethnic groups mourn their own while yawning or even rejoicing at the agonies of some “others.” And when grief weighs in on the U.S. political scale, the heaviness of our kind makes any other secondary at best. No wonder presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. No wonder “Bring our troops home” is such an evergreen slogan of antiwar activism. If the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand—like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans—is vital. And grievously incomplete.

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama in Plunderland: Down the Corporate Rabbit Hole

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The president’s new choices for Commerce secretary and FCC chair underscore how far down the rabbit hole his populist conceits have tumbled. Yet the Obama rhetoric about standing up for working people against “special interests” is as profuse as ever. Would you care for a spot of Kool-Aid at the Mad Hatter’s tea party?

Of course the Republican economic program is worse, and President Romney’s policies would have been even more corporate-driven. That doesn’t in the slightest make acceptable what Obama is doing. His latest high-level appointments — boosting corporate power and shafting the public — are despicable.

To nominate Penny Pritzker for secretary of Commerce is to throw in the towel for any pretense of integrity that could pass a laugh test. Pritzker is “a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser,” the Chicago Tribune reported with notable understatement last week, adding: “She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family. With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans.”

A more blunt assessment came from journalist Dennis Bernstein: “Her pioneering sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior for a billion-dollar cost to taxpayers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed.” Pritzker, whose family controls Hyatt Regency Hotels, has a vile anti-union record.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker? What’s next? Labor Secretary Donald Trump? SEC Chairman Bernie Madoff?

The choice of Penny Pritzker to run the Commerce Department is a matched set with the simultaneous pick of Tom Wheeler — another mega-fundraiser for candidate Obama — to chair the Federal Communications Commission.

With crucial decisions on the near horizon at the FCC, the president’s nomination of Wheeler has dire implications for the future of the Internet, digital communications and democracy. For analysis, my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy turned to the progressive former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who called the choice “bizarre.”

“There is no single independent regulatory commission that comes close to the impact of the FCC on every American’s life,” Johnson said. “That’s why Congress, in creating it, characterized its mission as serving ‘the public interest’ — an expression used throughout the Act.”

But with countless billions of dollars at stake, the corporate fix was in. As Johnson pointed out, “Wheeler’s background is as a trade association representative for companies appearing before the Commission, a lobbyist in Congress for other FCC customers, and a venture capitalist investing in and profiting from others whose requests he’ll have to pass on. He has no record, of which I am aware, of challenging corporate abuse of power on behalf of consumers and the poor.”

But wait. There’s more. “Nor does Wheeler’s membership on the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board bode well for those who believe Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights should be getting at least as much attention as the government’s perceived need to engage in even more secret snooping.”

To urge senators to reject the nominations of Pritzker and Wheeler, click here.

Meanwhile, at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Obama’s recent appointment of Wall Street insider Mary Jo White as SEC chair is playing out in predictable fashion. Days ago, in an editorial, the New York Times faulted her role in an SEC decision on regulating the huge derivatives market: “Last week, in her first commission vote, Ms. White led the commissioners in approving a proposal that, if finalized, could leave investors and taxpayers exposed to the ravages of reckless bank trading.”

We need to ask ourselves how the forces of corporate capitalism have gained so much power over government, to the extreme detriment of people who aren’t rich. Humpty Dumpty’s brief dialectical exchange with Alice is on point:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” Alice replied, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” Humpty Dumpty responded, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Denunciations and protests against the dominant power structure are essential. And insufficient. For the body politic and the potential of democracy, accommodating to the Democratic Party leadership is a deathly prescription. So is failure to fight for electoral power by challenging that leadership, fielding genuinely progressive candidates and organizing to win.

The Growing Campaign to Revoke Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

11:24 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The Nobel Peace Prize that President Obama received 40 months ago has emerged as the most appalling Orwellian award of this century. No, war is not peace.

George Carlin used to riff about oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp,” “genuine imitation,” “political science” and “military intelligence.” But humor is of the gallows sort when we consider the absurdity and tragedy of the world’s most important peace prize honoring the world’s top war maker.

This week, a challenge has begun with the launch of a petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to revoke Obama’s Peace Prize. By midnight of the first day, nearly 10,000 people had signed. The online petition simply tells the Nobel committee: “I urge you to rescind the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to Barack Obama.”

Many signers have added their own comments. Here are some samples:

“It is with very great regret that I sign this petition, but I feel it is morally the right thing to do. I had phenomenally high hopes that our President would be a torch bearer for the true message of Peace. Instead he has brought death, destruction and devastation to vast areas of the world, and made us less safe by creating more enemies.”  Sushila C., Punta Gorda, FL

“War is nothing to be given a peace prize for.”  Brent L., San Diego, CA

“President Obama has clearly demonstrated that he is undeserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. Revoke his prize and give it to Bradley Manning!”  Henry B., Portland, OR

“Perhaps a better president than Bush or Romney, but not a Nobel laureate for peace.”  Arun N., Woodinville, WA

“I honestly cannot understand how they could bestow that honor on President Obama to begin with; I’m still puzzled!”  Cindy A., Phoenix, AR

“Giving the prize to President Obama has degraded the esteem the Nobel Prize once had as a means of recognizing the best of us. It now represents a pat on the back for the thugs that roam freely amongst our governments. That decision has made me question the integrity of all previous nominations, and wonder if the entire Nobel Prize program is nothing but a sham.”  Juan F., Arcata, CA

“Continued occupation of Afghanistan and drone strikes across national borders are NOT the actions of a peacemaker. Mr. Obama has defiled the good will of the Nobel prize.”  Dudley D., Chicago, IL

“His actions are speaking louder than his words. He has continued Bush’s torture policy and both wars. He has sent armed drones in to remote places and only questionably killed terrorists, but definitely killed civilians. He does not deserve it.”  Katherine M., San Diego, CA

“Les espoirs envers Obama étaient élevés, les résultats décevants.”  André T., Quebec City, Canada

“A President for Peace? Tell that to the thousands of innocent men, women and hundreds of children that have been killed in drone strikes during the Obama administration. It was laughable that this coveted prize was given to him in the first place but now it is just obscene!”  Barlee R., Antioch, CA

“Allowing the Nobel Peace Prize to remain in Obama’s name forsakes the very creed the prize is meant to represent. Please don’t (continue to) be a hypocrite — no way in Hell does that man deserve to be credited in any way for being a peacemaker. I said the same for Bush by the way — so don’t think I’m just some partisan nutcase obsessed with bashing Obama. I simply speak the Truth as often as possible and let the chips fall where they may. Many of us peaceful, compassionate folks would like to have this message droned into your collective heads. Obama is just another puppet doing the bidding of the greedy, mass-murdering global elite.”  Greg C., Manhattan, KS

“The peace prize should be awarded to Pfc. Bradley Manning instead.”  Robert F., Santa Clara, CA

“This would be an extraordinarily bold move, but it certainly would send a message to the world that peace means peace, not war.”  David G., Portland, OR

“I so wish President Obama had lived up to the award he was given. Instead he has chosen to continue and expand the horrors being perpetrated by our country. War is not ever the answer.”  Carol G., Goshen, IN

“Droning people to death is not peace.”  William S., New York, NY

“Not being George W. Bush was never sufficient ground for this award, and Mr. Obama’s enthusiastic support for the extension of empire, fossil fuels, raw military power, and other violence against the earth and its people is further evidence of its unwisdom.”  Scott W., Durham, NC

“One must walk the walk of peace, not just talk the talk of peace in order to earn the Peace Prize.”  Paul M., Los Angeles, CA

“Drone Bombs create more terrorists than they kill.”  Jay J., Roachdale, IN

“A war criminal is not worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.”  Lars P., Afton, WI

“Our President had an unprecedented opportunity to effect a turn-around in foreign policy after the illegal and failed wars of his predecessor. He was hired to do so; but he has squandered the opportunity and has in fact increased U.S. aggression. He does not deserve to be known as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.”  Lynn J., Roslyn, PA

“The PEACE prize should be given to those that work toward PEACE, not the ones that only talk about it.”  Karen W., Weirsdale, FL

“Take it from Obama and give it to its rightful owner, Bradley Manning.”  Rand K., Hotchkiss, CO

“I urge you to rescind the Nobel from this coward who kills children with drones. Are you intentionally making the peace prize a joke or are you just not too bright?”  Janet M., Charlottetown, CA

“He’s not as big a war criminal as Kissinger, so you should revoke both.”  Earl F., Santa Maria, CA

“This man is a disgrace in the cause of peace. What were you thinking?”  Sherrill F., Davis, CA

“Given his actions and policies, Obama is more a Man of Pieces — as in, ‘Blow them to pieces!’ — than he is a Man of peace.”  Marcus M., San Rafael, CA

“He’s done nothing to deserve it; and he’s done many things to destroy peace in this world.”  Danny D., Shoreline, WA

“This human has killed more after he got the prize.”  Thomas P., Lewiston, CA

“He obtained the award on promises he didn’t keep.”  Ron B., Bend, OR

“President Obama’s actions have shown that his words were meaningless. The Nobel Peace Prize means little if it’s so easily given away.”  Debra J., Pasadena, MD

“As an Obama voter I am deeply disappointed. It was bad judgment to give it to him in the first place.”  Tim K., Long Prairie, MN

“Drones are offensive weapons, in every sense of the word.”  Richard F., Portland, OR

“As much of an Obama supporter I am, perhaps stripping him of this award would get his attention, nothing else seems to be getting the message across that the American People have had enough of multiple trillion dollar unnecessary wars.”  Vern M., Albuquerque, NM

“Obama is a smiling war monger.”  Jon M., Wellington, New Zealand

“Under Obama’s leadership our assassination-by-drone foreign policy has increased dramatically, which makes him a war criminal.”  Frank S., Bellingham, WA

“As a constituent and two-time voter for Barack Obama, I am dismayed and frightened at the warmongering ways he has displayed as our leader. I urge the revocation of his undeserved Nobel prize.”  Samuel P., Colton, CA

“What a good idea! Yes, he has the blood of many innocents on his hands.”  Gene A., Athens, OH

“He should have never got it in the first place!”  David S., Everett, WA

“I voted for the president in both elections but I do not feel he ever deserved the Nobel Peace Prize! Please rescind it!”  Carol H., Michigan City, IN

“Please start with Henry Kissinger before Obama, whose hands are tied.”  Bob S., Gibsons, BC, Canada

“Giving him a Nobel Peace Prize is an affront to the deep heritage of true peacemakers who well deserved it. Obama has waged continuous war, torture and other violence since being President. Please revoke it now.”  Barry S., Macdoel, CA

“Bush gave us 2 unfunded wars. Will Obama add a few more? Stop wars, drones and killing with other people’s children.”  Burt S., Pompton Plains, NJ

“I voted for Obama — twice. I am very sad to sign this petition, but I believe in my heart, what he has done with drones is totally wrong!”  Gloria H., Santa Rosa, CA

“Obama’s deeds do not match his words.”  Evalyn S., Walnut Creek, CA

“You lost any credibility giving Obama the peace prize. Fix it.”  Camilo B., Long Beach, CA

“Obama’s harsh treatment of whistleblowers who are trying to expose the outlandish abuses of the military/corporate state disqualify him from any awards given to peacemakers.”  David L., Alamosa, CO

“It’s real sad that the promises that were made by Barack Obama concerning nearly everything have been lost with his sellout to corporate greed. We need a real leader for Peace.”  Al B., Ignacio, CO

“I had high hopes for this President when I voted for him. I believed him to be a peace maker, unlike the hawk who was his predecessor. However, there seems to be no effort at peacemaking, at reconciliation, at hope, and killing-by-drone simply leads to more fear and hatred. I fear the day that the government will try to control US with them, too.”  Louise A., Greenfield, MA

“You gave him the Nobel Peace Prize too soon. His use of drones and killing of innocent civilians attests to his being anything but a peace-maker.”  Rev. Sandy G., San Francisco, CA

“It is not a good example of what peace means when the Nobel Prize is awarded to the leader of a nation engaging in war as a business strategy. Make a statement, please.”  Chandra P., Walsenburg, CO

“I, like so many others, gave this man the benefit of the doubt. It has been thrown back in our faces.”  Chris C., Harrogate, Great Britain

“He never deserved it and he hasn’t earned it. Yes, please, take it back.”  Jackie F., Oakland, CA

“The Nobel Peace Prize should not be awarded to war mongers and war criminals. Therefore, please revoke the Peace Prize you awarded to President Obama in 2009.”  Fred N., Pleasanton, CA

“It is with deepest regret we ask for this but our President’s actions have not lived up to the high honor of promoting peace.”  GlendaRae H., South Bend, IN

“I don’t think anyone ever understood what Obama was supposed to have done to have deserved the Peace Prize in the first place. And I’m a lifelong Democrat, so my feeling that the Nobel Committee made a mistake is not based in political partisanship.”  Steve J., Hermosa Beach, CA

“It appears that preemptive peace prizes work about as well as preemptive wars.”  Jaan C., Alameda, CA

To read more comments, or to sign the RootsAction.org petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to revoke President Obama’s Peace Prize, click here.

Which Members of Congress Are Standing Up for Economic Decency – And Which “Progressives” Aren’t

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Jared_Huffman

Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA)

Now we know.

Every member of Congress has chosen whether to sign a letter making a crucial commitment: “We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.

The Democratic Party hierarchy doesn’t like the letter. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said that cutting Social Security would “strengthen” it, and President Obama’s spokespeople keep emphasizing his eagerness to cut Social Security’s cost of living adjustments. The fact that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit is beside the austerity point.

Since mid-February, across the country, many thousands of people have sent personal notes, submitted petitions and made phone calls imploring members of Congress to sign the letter, initiated by Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano.

Twenty-eight members of the House of Representatives have signed the letter.

Here are their names: Brown, Cartwright, Castor, Clay, Conyers, D. Davis, DeFazio, Ellison, Faleomavaega, Grayson, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, A. Hastings, Honda, Kaptur, Lee, Lynch, C. Maloney, Markey, McGovern, Nadler, Napolitano, Nolan, Serrano, Takano, Velazquez and Waters.

If you don’t see the name of your Congress member on that list, you live in a House district without a representative standing up for economic decency.

Especially noteworthy are 49 members of the House who belong to the Congressional Progressive Caucus but have refused to sign the Grayson-Takano letter. In most cases, they represent districts with a largely progressive electorate. In effect, their message is: We like to call ourselves “progressive” but we refuse to clearly stand up to an Obama White House that’s pushing to slash Social Security and Medicare benefits. To see the names of those 49 members of Congress, click here.

A case in point: As a freshman Congressman, Jared Huffman represents California’s North Coast district, stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. On the 2012 campaign trail, I often heard Huffman assuring voters that he opposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. (As a candidate, I finished second to him among Democrats in the primary election last June.) When he got to Washington, Huffman joined the Progressive Caucus.

Now, refusing to sign the Grayson-Takano letter, Congressman Huffman publicly touts his disdain for “outside groups.” Days ago, deriding the pressure from organizations urging him to sign the letter, Huffman boasted on his public Facebook page: “I won’t be bullied from the left or the right into signing Norquistian vote pledges to outside groups.”

The pejorative word “Norquistian” is proving to be very handy for some Democratic politicians — eager to equate progressive pledges not to cut vital social programs with right-wing pledges not to increase any taxes — as if standing up for economically vulnerable people is somehow comparable to the ideological rigidity of Grover Norquist. This amounts to old-wine corporate centrism poured into a new rhetorical bottle. Subtext: basic progressive principles aren’t important enough to warrant a wiggle-proof promise.

As battles over key issues of economic fairness intensify on Capitol Hill, we’re very likely to see a lot of Democrats — led by President Obama — preening themselves as virtuously non-dogmatic while they rebuff the minimal humanistic demands of progressive constituencies. The Grayson-Takano letter, for example, has been endorsed by dozens of progressive groups such as National Nurses United, Credo Action, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Bold Progressives, Democracy for America, RootsAction.org, Social Security Works, Progressive Democrats of America, the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, Rebuild the Dream, Progressives United, Color of Change, Campaign for America’s Future, Center for Community Change, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

In the real politics of the emerging struggle over Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, there’s a very big difference between expressing opposition to benefit cuts and promising not to vote for them. It’s only when members of Congress make a firm public commitment that Obama White House strategists may feel a need to recalibrate their deal-making calculus with Republicans.

Even firm commitments have eroded all too often on Capitol Hill, but at least the Grayson-Takano letter is a solid starting point. And as we look to the next election season, we should be searching for alternatives to the members of Congress who call themselves “progressive” but refuse to risk the wrath of an austerity-crazed Obama White House.

Read the rest of this entry →

Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Taking a Dive on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Rep. Alan Grayson

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)

For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.

While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

More than 10 days ago, Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano initiated the forthright letter, circulating it among House colleagues. Addressed to President Obama, the letter has enabled members of Congress to take a historic stand: joining together in a public pledge not to vote for any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

The Grayson-Takano letter is a breath of fresh progressive air, blowing away the customary fog that hangs over such matters on Capitol Hill.

The Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, signed the letter. So did Barbara Lee, the caucus whip. But no signer can be found among the five vice chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Michael Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Jan Schakowsky. The letter’s current list of signers includes just 16 members of the Progressive Caucus (along with five other House signers who aren’t part of the caucus).

What about the other 54 members of the Progressive Caucus? Their absence from the letter is a clear message to the Obama White House, which has repeatedly declared its desire to cut the Social Security cost of living adjustment as well as Medicare. In effect, those 54 non-signers are signaling: Mr. President, we call ourselves “progressive” but we are unwilling to stick our necks out by challenging you in defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we want some wiggle room that you can exploit.

In contrast, the House members on the short list of the letter’s signers deserve our praise for taking a clear stand: Brown, Cartwright, Conyers, DeFazio, Ellison, Faleomavaega, Grayson, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, A. Hastings, Kaptur, Lee, McGovern, Nadler, Napolitano, Nolan, Serrano, Takano, Velazquez and Waters.

If you don’t see the name of your representative in the above paragraph, you might want to have a few words. (For a list of the 54 Progressive Caucus members who haven’t signed the letter, click here.)

It’s one thing — a fairly easy thing — to tell someone else what you hope they’ll do, as 107 House Democrats did recently in a different letter to President Obama: “We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. . . . We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits.”

It’s much more difficult — and far more crucial — for members of Congress to publicly commit themselves not to vote for any cuts in those programs, which are matters of life and death for vast numbers of Americans.

Even a signed pledge to do or not do something, in terms of a floor vote, is no guarantee that a member of Congress will actually follow through. But in a situation like this, the pledge is significant — and even more significant is a refusal to make such a pledge.

As of now, 54 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have taken a historic dive. We should take note — and not forget who they are.

Read the rest of this entry →