This is how free speech gets shut down. #BoeingGate

Ear­lier today Don­ald Trump tweet­ed that Boe­ing was spend­ing $4 bil­lion dol­lars to ren­o­vate Air Force One. He was off the facts by orders of mag­ni­tude but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know knew exact­ly what he was doing. It’s time we stop try­ing to read his tweets as exer­cis­es in truth find­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter if Trump didn’t know or didn’t care about his num­bers: With author­i­tar­i­ans, we must fol­low the effects, not the log­ic.

Trump’s tweet came less than half an hour after the Chicago Tri­bune post­ed a few short quotes from the Boe­ing CEO say­ing they were con­cerned about the impli­ca­tions of trade with Chi­na under a Trump Admin­is­tra­tion. It was rel­a­tive­ly tame stuff and of course a multi­na­tion­al with bil­lions of dol­lars in Chi­na is going to be con­cerned. About a quar­ter of their air­crafts are built for the Chi­ne­se mar­ket.

But fol­low not the log­ic but the effect: if you crit­i­cize this pres­i­dent in pub­lic he will destroy your share­hold­er val­ue. Boe­ing lost half a bil­lion dol­lars in val­ue fol­low­ing Trump’s 140 char­ac­ters. Every CEO in Amer­i­ca will now have to think twice before speak­ing to the press. It would be fis­cal­ly irre­spon­si­ble to do oth­er­wise. A few quotes in a paper isn’t worth that amount of share­hold­er val­ue.

Free speech isn’t just court cas­es or a few lines in the Con­sti­tu­tion. Even the CEOs of the largest cor­po­ra­tions in Amer­i­ca need to watch their tongues. Silenc­ing has begun.

Story: The teapot that survived

“What do you think of this?” It was prob­a­bly the twen­ti­eth time my broth­er or I had asked this ques­tion in the last hour. Our moth­er had down­sized to a one-bedroom apart­ment in an Alzheimer’s unit just six days ear­lier. Vis­it­ing her there she admit­ted she couldn’t even remem­ber her old apart­ment. We were clean­ing it out.

Almost forgotten history.
Almost for­got­ten his­to­ry. by martin_kelley, on Flickr

The object of the ques­tion this time was an antique teapot. White chi­na with a blue design. It wasn’t in great shape. The top was cracked and miss­ing that han­dle that lets you take the lid off with­out burn­ing your fin­gers. It had a folksy charm, but as a teapot it was nei­ther prac­ti­cal nor aston­ish­ing­ly attrac­tive, and nei­ther of us real­ly want­ed it. It was head­ed for the over­sized trash bin out­side her room.

I turned it over in my hands. There, on the bot­tom, was a strip of dried-out and cracked mask­ing tape. On it, bare­ly leg­i­ble and in the kind of cur­sive script that is no longer taught, were the words “Recov­ered from ruins of fire 6/29/23 at 7. 1067 Haz­ard Rd.”

We scratched our heads. We didn’t know where Haz­ard Road might be (Google lat­er revealed it’s in the blink-and-you-miss-it rail­road stop of Haz­ard, Penn­syl­va­nia, a cross­roads only tech­ni­cal­ly with­in the bound­ary of our mother’s home town of Palmer­ton). The date would place the fire sev­en years before her birth.

We can only guess to fill in the details. A cat­a­stroph­ic fire must have tak­en out the fam­i­ly home. Imag­ine the grim solace of pulling out a fam­i­ly heir­loom. Per­haps some grand­par­ent had brought it care­ful­ly packed in a small suit­case on the jour­ney to Amer­i­ca. Or per­haps not. Per­haps it had no sen­ti­men­tal val­ue and it had land­ed with our moth­er because no one else cared. We’ll nev­er know. No amount of research could tell us more than that mask­ing tape. Our moth­er wasn’t the only one los­ing her mem­o­ry. We were too. We were los­ing the fam­i­ly mem­o­ry of a gen­er­a­tion that had lived, loved, and made it through a tragedy one mid-summer day.

I stood there and looked at the teapot once again. It had sur­vived a fire nine­ty years ago. I would give it a reprieve from our snap judge­ment and the dump. Stripped of all mean­ing save three inch­es of mask­ing tape, it now sits on a top shelf of my cup­board. It will rest there, gath­er­ing back the dust I just cleaned off, until some spring after­noon forty years from now, when one of my kids will turn to anoth­er. “What do you think of this?”

North Korean nukes and cowboy politics

Yes­ter­day North Korea claimed that it has processed enough plu­to­ni­um to make six nuclear weapons. I’ve often argued that wars don’t begin when the shoot­ing actu­al­ly begins, that we need to look at the mil­i­taris­tic deci­sions made years before to see how they plant­ed the seeds for war. After the First World War, the vic­to­ri­ous allies con­struct­ed a peace treaty designed to humil­i­ate Ger­many and keep its econ­o­my stag­nant. With the onslaught of the Great Depres­sion, the coun­try was ripe for a mad dem­a­gogue like Hitler to take over with talk of a Greater Ger­many.
In his Jan­u­ary 2002 State of the Union address, Pres­i­dent Bush’s team added North Korea to the “axis of evil” that need­ed to be chal­lenged. By all accounts it was a last min­ute addi­tion. The speech­writ­ing team nev­er both­ered to con­sult with the State Department’s east Asia experts. In all like­li­hood North Korea was added so that the evil three coun­tries wouldn’t all be Mus­lim (the oth­er two were Iraq and Iran) and the “War on Ter­ror” wouldn’t be seen as a war again­st Islam.
North Korea saw a bull­dog pres­i­dent in the White House and judged that its best chance to stay safe was to make a U.S. attack too dan­ger­ous to con­tem­plate. It’s a sound strat­e­gy, real­ly only a vari­a­tion on the Cold War’s “Mutu­al­ly Assured Destruc­tion” doc­trine. When faced with a hos­tile and militaristically-strong coun­try that wants to over­throw your gov­ern­ment, you make your­self too dan­ger­ous to take on. Let’s call it the Rat­tlesnake Defense.
Mil­i­tarism rein­forces itself when coun­tries beef up their mil­i­taries to stave off the mil­i­taries of oth­er coun­tries. With North Korea going nuclear, pres­sure will now build on South Korea, Chi­na and Japan to defend them­selves again­st pos­si­ble threat. We might be in for a new east Asian arms race, per­haps an east Asian Cold War. Being a paci­fist means stop­ping not only the cur­rent war but the next one and the one after that. In the 1980s activists were speak­ing out again­st the bru­tal régime of Sad­dam Hus­sein, an Amer­i­can friend who was gassing his own peo­ple. Now we need to speak out again­st the cow­boy pol­i­tics that is feed­ing insta­bil­i­ty on the Kore­an Penin­su­la, to pre­vent the hor­ror and mass death that a Sec­ond Kore­an War would unleash.

The Real Phantom Menace is Us

Being the home to a cou­ple of dozen peace groups, the Non­vi­o­lence Web has pub­lished a lot of press releas­es call­ing for an end to bomb­ing in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. They’re all very fine but also all very pre­dictable.

But as we write, the U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues pur­su­ing a war that has no clear real­is­tic goals, has led to even more killing in the region, and has seri­ous­ly dis­rupt­ed post Cold-War rela­tion­ships with Rus­sia and Chi­na (See George Lakey’s “Cold War Return­ing? — A Chill­ing Rus­sian Vis­it”).

At home, Amer­i­cans just watch the pic­tures on TV as they go about liv­ing a glo­ri­ous Spring. We laugh, cry, work and play; we make trips to the shore for Memo­ri­al Day week­end; and we obe­di­ent­ly flock to a movie called Phan­tom Men­ace that tells the sto­ry of the start of cinema’s most famous Evil Empire.

A new empire is being shaped here. The Unit­ed States has been able to claim the title of “empire” for at least a hun­dred years. But some­thing new is at work here ( see my own War Time Again). We’re wit­ness­ing the birth of a new Amer­i­can order which is start­ing a new wars every three months. New kinds of wars, which bare­ly touch Amer­i­can lives, even those of the bombers wag­ing them from 20,000 feet. The Pen­tagon and State Department’s plan­ners are build­ing on lessons learned at the start of the decade in the Gulf War. They’re refined their mis­siles for accu­ra­cy but they’ve learned how to spin the media

Now every new vil­lain is pre­sent­ed to the media as the new Hitler. Sad­dam Hus­sein. Osama bin Laden. Milosvic. Every­one call­ing for peace is paint­ed as a neo-isolationist, a con­tem­po­rary Cham­ber­lain appeas­ing a tyrant. After­wards it’s easy to see how overly-dramatic the pro­pa­gan­da was and how inef­fec­tu­al all the Amer­i­can bombs were. But still, here we are in Kosovo, in anoth­er Nineties war and next year we’ll be in yet anoth­er. Unless we stop the zest for the­se Clin­ton wars now.

What do we have to do to end this war? And what do we need to do to stop the U.S.’s new­found zest for cruise mis­siles? How can peace and anti­war activists start act­ing beyond the press releas­es and iso­lat­ed vig­ils to think cre­ative­ly about link­ing folks togeth­er to bring new peo­ple and ideas into the peace move­ment?

I don’t pre­tend to know what exact­ly we need. All I know is that I’m per­son­al­ly bored of the stan­dard issue peace actions we’ve been engag­ing in and want to see some­thing new. Some of it might look like clichés from the 60s and some might look like rip-offs of McDonald’s lat­est ad cam­paign. But we need to build an anti­war cul­ture that will intrude upon a sun­ny spring and remind peo­ple that a war is on. The real phan­tom men­ace this sum­mer is an Amer­i­can Empire that is retool­ing it’s mil­i­tary and re-conditioning its cit­i­zens to think of war as a nor­mal course of affairs.

Stop the Zipper War Before It Starts

Why is Pres­i­dent Clin­ton talk­ing about a reprise of the 1991 Per­sian Gulf War?

We’re told it’s because U.N. inspec­tors believe that Iraq has hid­den “weapons of mass destruc­tion.” But of course so does the Unit­ed States. And Britain, France, Rus­sia, the Ukraine, Chi­na, India and Pak­istan. Iraq doesn’t even hold a region­al monopoly, as Israel cer­tain­ly has atom­ic weapons atop U.S.-designed rock­ets aimed this very moment at Hussein’s Bagh­dad palaces.

Insanely-destructive weapons are a fact of life in the fin-de-Millennium. There’s already plen­ty of coun­tries with atom­ic weapons and the mis­sile sys­tems to lob them into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Hus­sein prob­a­bly doesn’t have them, and the weapons U.N. inspec­tors are wor­ried about are chem­i­cal. This is the “poor man’s atom­ic bomb,” a way to play at the lev­el of nuclear diplo­ma­cy with­out the expens­es of a nuclear pro­gram.

Clin­ton seems obliv­i­ous to the irony of oppos­ing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruc­tion with our own. The air­craft car­ri­ers and bat­tle fleets that have been sent into the Gulf in recent weeks are load­ed with tac­ti­cal nuclear mis­siles.

If the pos­ses­sion of weapons of mass destruc­tion is wrong for Iraq, then it is wrong for every­one. It is time to abol­ish all weapons pro­grams and to build real world peace along lines of coöper­a­tion.

He’s our Bul­ly

Most Amer­i­cans, on hear­ing a call to let Hus­sein be, will react with dis­be­lief. Con­di­tioned to think of him as our mod­ern Hitler, any­one oppos­ing a new Gulf War must be crazy, some­one unfa­mil­iar with the his­to­ry of the appease­ment of Hitler pri­or to World War II that allowed him to build his mil­i­tary to the fright­en­ing lev­els of 1939.

But Amer­i­cans have alas not been told too much of more recent his­to­ry. Sad­dam Hus­sein is our cre­ation, he’s our bul­ly. It start­ed with Iran. Obsessed with glob­al mil­i­tary con­trol, the U.S. gov­ern­ment start­ed arm­ing region­al super­pow­ers. We gave our cho­sen coun­tries weapons and mon­ey to bul­ly around their neigh­bors and we looked the oth­er way at human rights abus­es. We cre­at­ed and strength­ened dic­ta­tors around the world, includ­ing the Shah of Iran. A rev­o­lu­tion final­ly threw him out of pow­er and ush­ered in a gov­ern­ment under­stand­able hos­tile to the Unit­ed States.

Rather than take this devel­op­ment to mean that the region­al super­pow­er con­cept was a bad idea, the U.S. just chose anoth­er region­al super­pow­er: Iraq. We looked the oth­er way when the two got into a war, and start­ed build­ing up Iraq’s mil­i­tary arse­nal, giv­ing him the planes and mil­i­tary equip­ment we had given Iran. This was a bloody, crazy war, where huge casu­alties would be racked up only to move the front a few miles, an advance that would be nul­li­fied when the oth­er army attacked with the same lev­el of casu­alties. The Unit­ed States sup­port­ed that war. Inter­na­tion­al human rights activists kept pub­li­ciz­ing the abus­es with­in Iraq, and denounc­ing him for use of chem­i­cal weapons. They got lit­tle media atten­tion because it was not in U.S. polit­i­cal inter­ests to fight Hus­sein.

Nothing’s real­ly changed now except U.S. polit­i­cal inter­ests. Hus­sein is still a tyrant. He’s still stock­pil­ing chem­i­cal weapons. Why are U.S. polit­i­cal inter­ests dif­fer­ent now? Why does Bill Clin­ton want U.S. media atten­tion focused on Iraq? Look no fur­ther than Big Bill’s zip­per. Stop the next war before it starts. Abol­ish everyone’s weapons of mass destruc­tion and let’s get a Pres­i­dent who doesn’t need a war to clear his name.