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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.
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Oiling the War Machinery, From Oslo to Heathrow to Washington

8:25 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

In Oslo, the world’s most important peace prize has been hijacked for war.

In London, government authority has just fired a new shot at freedom of the press.

Bradey Manning Hero

The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to Bradley Manning.

And in Washington, the Obama administration continues to escalate its attacks on whistleblowers, journalism and civil liberties.

As a nation at peace becomes a fading memory, so does privacy. Commitments to idealism — seeking real alternatives to war and upholding democratic values — are under constant assault from the peaks of power.

Normalizing endless war and shameless surveillance, Uncle Sam and Big Brother are no longer just close. They’re the same, with a vast global reach.

Last week, I met with the Research Director of the Nobel Committee at its headquarters in Oslo. We sat at one end of a long polished conference table, next to boxes of petitions signed by 100,000 people urging that the Nobel Peace Prize go to Bradley Manning.

The Nobel official, Asle Toje, remained polite but frosty when I urged — as I had two hours earlier at a news conference – that the Nobel Committee show independence from the U.S. government by awarding the Peace Prize to Manning. Four years after the prize went to President Obama, his leadership for perpetual war is incontrovertible — while Manning’s brave whistleblowing for peace is inspiring.

In recent times, I pointed out, the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to some dissenters who were anathema to their governments’ leaders — but not to any recipient who profoundly displeased the U.S. government. Toje responded by mentioning Martin Luther King Jr., a rejoinder that struck me as odd; King received the prize 49 years ago, and more than two years passed after then until, in April 1967, he angered the White House with his first full-throated denunciation of the Vietnam War.

I motioned to the stacks of the petition, which has included personal comments from tens of thousands of signers — reflecting deep distrust of the present-day Nobel Peace Prize, especially after Obama won it in 2009 while massively escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

We were in the grand and ornate building that has housed the Nobel Committee for more than a hundred years. Outside, a bust of Alfred Nobel graces the front entrance, and just across a small traffic circle is the U.S. Embassy, an imposing dark gray presence with several stories, hundreds of windows on each of its three sides and plenty of electronic gear on its roof. (That intersection is widely understood to be a base for American surveillance operations.) More than ever in recent years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee building’s physical proximity to the U.S. Embassy is an apt metaphor for its political alignment.

Over the weekend, the British government showed more toxic aspects of its “special relationship” with the U.S. government. As the Guardian reported, “The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programs by the U.S. National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow Airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.” David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, “was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. … Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and game consoles.”

Assaulting press freedom is part of a comprehensive agenda that President Obama is now pursuing more flagrantly than ever. From seizing phone records of AP reporters to spying on a Fox News reporter to successfully fighting for a federal court decision to compel reporter James Risen to reveal his source for a New York Times story, Obama’s war on journalism is serving executive impunity — for surveillance that fundamentally violates the Fourth Amendment and for perpetual war that, by force of arms and force of example, pushes the world into further bloody chaos.

The destructive effects of these policies are countless. And along the way, for the Nobel Committee, more than ever, war is peace. Across the globe, aligned with and/or intimidated by official Washington, many governments are enablers of an American warfare/surveillance multinational state. And in Washington, at the top of the government, when it comes to civil liberties and war and so much more, the moral compass has gone due south.

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Obama’s Escalating War on Freedom of the Press

11:24 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The part of the First Amendment that prohibits “abridging the freedom … of the press” is now up against the wall, as the Obama administration continues to assault the kind of journalism that can expose government secrets.

The US Constitution

Obama’s war on basic freedoms continues with an escalating attack on Freedom of the Press.

Last Friday the administration got what it wanted – an ice-cold chilling effect — from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on the case of New York Times reporter James Risen. The court “delivered a blow to investigative journalism in America by ruling that reporters have no First Amendment protection that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in the event of a criminal trial,” the Guardian reported.

The Executive Branch fought for that ruling — and is now celebrating. “We agree with the decision,” said a Justice Department spokesman. “We are examining the next steps in the prosecution of this case.” The Risen case, and potentially many others, are now under the ominous shadow of the Appeals Court’s pronouncement: “There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify … in criminal proceedings.”

At the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founder Trevor Timm calls the court ruling “the most significant reporter’s privilege decision in decades” and asserts that the court “eviscerated that privilege.” He’s not exaggerating. Press freedom is at stake.

Journalists who can be compelled to violate the confidentiality of their sources, or otherwise go to prison, are reduced to doing little more than providing stenographic services to pass along the official story. That’s what the White House wants.

The federal Fourth Circuit covers the geographical area where most of the U.S. government’s intelligence, surveillance and top-level military agencies — including the NSA and CIA — are headquartered. The ruling “pretty much guts national security journalism in the states in which it matters,” Marcy Wheeler writes.

That court decision came seven days after the Justice Department released its “News Media Policies” report announcing “significant revisions to the Department’s policies regarding investigations that involve members of the news media.” The report offered assurances that “members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.” (Hey thanks!) But the document quickly added that the government will take such action “as a last resort” when seeking information that is “essential to a successful investigation or prosecution.”

Translation: We won’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs unless we really want to.

Over the weekend, some news accounts described Friday’s court decision as bad timing for Attorney General Eric Holder, who has scrambled in recent weeks to soothe anger at the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists. “The ruling was awkwardly timed for the Obama administration,” the New York Times reported. But the ruling wasn’t just “awkwardly timed” — it was revealing, and it underscored just how hostile the Obama White House has become toward freedom of the press.

News broke in May that the Justice Department had seized records of calls on more than 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters over a two-month period and had also done intensive surveillance of a Fox News reporter that included obtaining phone records and reading his emails. Since then, the Obama administration tried to defuse the explosive reaction without actually retreating from its offensive against press freedom.

At a news conference two months ago, when President Obama refused to say a critical word about his Justice Department’s targeted surveillance of reporters, he touted plans to reintroduce a bill for a federal shield law so journalists can protect their sources. But Obama didn’t mention that he has insisted on a “national security exception” that would make such a law approximately worthless for reporters doing the kind of reporting that has resulted in government surveillance — and has sometimes landed them in federal court.

Obama’s current notion of a potential shield law would leave his administration fully able to block protection of journalistic sources. In a mid-May article — headlined “White House Shield Bill Could Actually Make It Easier for the Government to Get Journalists’ Sources” — the Freedom of the Press Foundation shed light on the duplicity: As a supposed concession to press freedom, the president was calling for reintroduction of a 2009 Senate bill that “would not have helped the Associated Press in this case, and worse, it would actually make it easier for the Justice Department to subpoena journalists covering national security issues.”

Whether hyping a scenario for a shield law or citing new Justice Department guidelines for news media policies, the cranked-up spin from the administration’s PR machinery does not change the fact that Obama is doubling down on a commitment to routine surveillance of everyone, along with extreme measures specifically aimed at journalists — and whistleblowers.

The administration’s efforts to quash press freedom are in sync with its unrelenting persecution of whistleblowers. The purpose is to further choke off the flow of crucial information to the public, making informed “consent of the governed” impossible while imposing massive surveillance and other violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Behind the assault on civil liberties is maintenance of a warfare state with huge corporate military contracts and endless war. The whole agenda is repugnant and completely unacceptable.

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