The Worst of Nevada County in National News, Again

Why is that only the worst of Nevada County — in this case another right-wing gun nut — makes the national news?

Esteemed journalist and historian Rick Perlstein, writing in Salon, found occasion to notice this Nevada County event (while gently chiding the New York Times for failing to cover it):

Here is a truth so fundamental that it should be self-evident: When legitimately constituted state authority stands down in the face of armed threats, the very foundation of the republic is in danger. And yet that is exactly what happened at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch this spring: An alleged criminal defeated the cops, because the forces of lawlessness came at them with guns — then Bureau of Land Management officials further surrendered by removing the government markings from their vehicles to prevent violence against them.

What should be judged a watershed in American history instead became a story about one man’s racist rants. Even as two more Nevada lunatics, inspired by their stint at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, allegedly ambushed and mowed down two police officers and killed a bystander after crying, “This is the start of a revolution.” And now, an antigovernment conspiracy theorist named Douglas Cole recently shot at two police officers in Nevada County, California (though you may not have heard about that, because the New York Times hasn’t found the news yet fit to print).

From “Gun Nuts Are Terrorizing America: The Watershed Moment Everyone Missed

Ah, but here’s some Nevada County news that the New York Times did find “fit to print.” But wait, it’s also bad news!

Nevada County

Nevada County ranks 58th of 58 in diversity in California.

Students, in 2006 15,446
White 13,496 87%
Black 142 1%
Hispanic 1,336 9%
Asian 240 2%
Native American 232 2%

Some might consider Nevada County’s connection to the founding of the Tea Party Patriots good news. But there’s hardly a consensus about that.

I look  forward to the day when we get into the national news for integrating our local economic and environmental interests, for our understanding of the economic importance of restoring local watersheds, for our leadership in bridging the urban/rural divide. and for our creative reconciliation of liberal and conservative values.

The fact that this all sounds very idealistic and touchy-feely is an indication of how far we have to go in making it a reality.

But why else should we be here, if not to work for that?

Short Video: Wolf Creek, Beauty and Community

By Don Pelton

Here’s a short (4+ minute) video loop Jane and I made for the Wolf Creek Community Alliance non-profit display table being featured at the Grass Valley Center for the Arts for the month of June. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the WCCA Board).

“The Time for the Wolf Creek Parkway is NOW”

FORWARDING TO FULL PAGE FORMAT …

Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You — He Already Has You

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.com

The Militarized Realities of Fortress America

By William J. Astore

I spent four college years in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and then served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.  In the military, especially in basic training, you have no privacy.  The government owns you.  You’re “government issue,” just another G.I., a number on a dogtag that has your blood type and religion in case you need a transfusion or last rites.  You get used to it.  That sacrifice of individual privacy and personal autonomy is the price you pay for joining the military.  Heck, I got a good career and a pension out of it, so don’t cry for me, America.

But this country has changed a lot since I joined ROTC in 1981, was fingerprinted, typed for blood, and otherwise poked and prodded. (I needed a medical waiver for myopia.)  Nowadays, in Fortress America, every one of us is, in some sense, government issue in a surveillance state gone mad.

Unlike the recruiting poster of old, Uncle Sam doesn’t want you anymore — he already has you.  You’ve been drafted into the American national security state.  That much is evident from Edward Snowden’s revelations. Your email?  It can be read.  Your phone calls?  Metadata about them is being gathered.  Your smartphone?  It’s a perfect tracking device if the government needs to find you.  Your computer?  Hackable and trackable.  Your server?  It’s at their service, not yours.

Many of the college students I’ve taught recently take such a loss of privacy for granted.  They have no idea what’s gone missing from their lives and so don’t value what they’ve lost or, if they fret about it at all, console themselves with magical thinking — incantations like “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’ve got nothing to hide.”  They have little sense of how capricious governments can be about the definition of “wrong.”

Consider us all recruits, more or less, in the new version of Fortress America, of an ever more militarized, securitized country.  Renting a movie?  Why not opt for the first Captain America and watch him vanquish the Nazis yet again, a reminder of the last war we truly won?  Did you head for a baseball park on Memorial Day?  What could be more American or more innocent?  So I hope you paid no attention to all those camouflaged caps and uniforms your favorite players were wearing in just another of an endless stream of tributes to our troops and veterans.

Let’s hear no whining about militarized uniforms on America’s playing fields.  After all, don’t you know that America’s real pastime these last years has been war and lots of it?

Be a Good Trooper

Think of the irony.  The Vietnam War generated an unruly citizen’s army that reflected an unruly and increasingly rebellious citizenry.  That proved more than the U.S. military and our ruling elites could take.  So President Nixon ended the draftin 1973 and made America’s citizen-soldier ideal, an ideal that had persisted for two centuries, a thing of the past.  The “all-volunteer military,” the professionals, were recruited or otherwise enticed to do the job for us.  No muss, no fuss, and it’s been that way ever since.  Plenty of war, but no need to be a “warrior,” unless you sign on the dotted line.  It’s the new American way.

But it turned out that there was a fair amount of fine print in the agreement that freed Americans from those involuntary military obligations.  Part of the bargain was to “support the pros” (or rather “our troops”) unstintingly and the rest involved being pacified, keeping your peace, being a happy warrior in the new national security state that, particularly in the wake of 9/11, grew to enormous proportions on the taxpayer dollar.  Whether you like it or not, you’ve been drafted into that role, so join the line of recruits and take your proper place in the garrison state.

If you’re bold, gaze out across the increasingly fortified and monitored borders we share with Canada and Mexico.  (Remember when you could cross those borders with no hassle, not even a passport or ID card?  I do.)  Watch for those drones, home from the wars and already hovering in or soon to arrive in your local skies — ostensibly to fight crime.  Pay due respect to your increasingly up-armored police forces with their automatic weapons, their special SWAT teams, and their converted MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles).  These vintage Iraqi Freedom vehicles are now military surplus given away or sold on the cheap to local police departments.  Be careful to observe their draconian orders for prison-like “lockdowns” of your neighborhood or city, essentially temporary declarations of martial law, all for your safety and security.

Be a good trooper and do what you’re told.  Stay out of public areas when you’re ordered to do so.  Learn to salute smartly.  (It’s one of the first lessons I was taught as a military recruit.)  No, not that middle-finger salute, you aging hippie.  Render a proper one to those in authority.  You had best learn how.

Or perhaps you don’t even have to, since so much that we now do automatically is structured to render that salute for us.  Repeated singings of “God Bless America” at sporting events.  Repeated viewings of movies that glorify the military.  (Special Operations forces are a hot topic in American multiplexes these days from Act of Valor to Lone Survivor.)  Why not answer the call of duty by playing militarized video games like Call of Duty?  Indeed, when you do think of war, be sure to treat it as a sport, a movie, a game.

Surging in America 

I’ve been out of the military for nearly a decade, and yet I feel more militarized today than when I wore a uniform.  That feeling first came over me in 2007, during what was called the “Iraqi surge” — the sending of another 30,000 U.S. troops into the quagmire that was our occupation of that country. It prompted my first articlefor TomDispatch.  I was appalled by the way our civilian commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, hid behind the beribboned chest of his appointed surge commander, General David Petraeus, to justify his administration’s devolving war of choice in Iraq.  It seemed like the eerie visual equivalent of turning traditional American military-civilian relationships upside down, of a president who had gone over to the military.  And it worked.  A cowed Congress meekly submitted to “King David” Petraeus and rushed to cheer his testimony in support of further American escalation in Iraq.

Since then, it’s become a sartorial necessity for our presidents to don military flight jackets whenever they address our “warfighters” as a sign both of their “support” and of the militarization of the imperial presidency.  (For comparison, try to imagine Matthew Brady taking a photo of “honest Abe” in the Civil War equivalent of a flight jacket!)  It is now de rigueur for presidents to praise American troops as “the finest military in world history” or, as President Obama typically said to NBC’s Brian Williams in an interview from Normandy last week, “the greatest military in the world.”  Even more hyperbolically, these same troops are celebrated across the country in the most vocal way possible as hardened “warriors” andbenevolent freedom-bringers, simultaneously the goodest and the baddest of anyone on the planet — and all without including any of the ugly, as in the ugliness of war and killing.  Perhaps that explains why I’ve seen military recruitment vans (sporting video game consoles) at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Given that military service is so beneficent, why not get the country’s 12-year-old prospects hopped up on the prospect of joining the ranks?

Too few Americans see any problems in any of this, which shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, they’re already recruits themselves.  And if the prospect of all this does appall you, you can’t even burn your draft card in protest, so better to salute smartly and obey.  A good conduct medal will undoubtedly be coming your way soon.

It wasn’t always so.  I remember walking the streets of Worcester, Massachusetts, in my freshly pressed ROTC uniform in 1981.  It was just six years after the Vietnam War ended in defeat and antiwar movies like Coming HomeThe Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now were still fresh in people’s minds.  (First Blood and the Rambo “stab-in-the-back” myth wouldn’t come along for another year.)  I was aware of people looking at me not with hostility, but with a certain indifference mixed occasionally with barely disguised disdain.  It bothered me slightly, but even then I knew that a healthy distrust of large standing militaries was in the American grain.

No longer.  Today, service members, when appearing in uniform, are universally applauded and repetitiously lauded as heroes.

I’m not saying we should treat our troops with disdain, but as our history has shown us, genuflecting before them is not a healthy sign of respect.  Consider it a sign as well that we really are all government issue now.

Shedding a Militarized Mindset

If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider an old military officer’s manual I still have in my possession.  It’s vintage 1950, approved by that great American, General George C. Marshall, Jr., the man most responsible for our country’s victory in World War II.  It began with this reminder to the newly commissioned officer: “[O]n becoming an officer a man does not renounce any part of his fundamental character as an American citizen.  He has simply signed on for the post-graduate course where one learns how to exercise authority in accordance with the spirit of liberty.”  That may not be an easy thing to do, but the manual’s aim was to highlight the salutary tension between military authority and personal liberty that was the essence of the old citizen’s army.

It also reminded new officers that they were trustees of America’s liberty, quoting an unnamed admiral’s words on the subject: “The American philosophy places the individual above the state.  It distrusts personal power and coercion.  It denies the existence of indispensable men.  It asserts the supremacy of principle.”

Those words were a sound antidote to government-issue authoritarianism and militarism — and they still are.  Together we all need to do our bit, not as G.I. Joes and Janes, but as Citizen Joes and Janes, to put personal liberty and constitutional principles first.  In the spirit of Ronald Reagan, who told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this [Berlin] wall,” isn’t it time to begin to tear down the walls of Fortress America and shed our militarized mindsets?  Future generations of citizens will thank us, if we have the courage to do so.


William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular, edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 William J. Astore

US Military Since World War II: A Record of Unparalleled Failure

Reprinted from TomDispatch.com, with permission of the author

Don’t Walk Away from War 
It’s Not the American Way

By Tom Engelhardt

The United States has been at war — major boots-on-the-ground conflicts and minor interventions, firefights, air strikes, drone assassination campaigns, occupations, special ops raids, proxy conflicts, and covert actions — nearly nonstop since the Vietnam War began.  That’s more than half a century of experience with war, American-style, and yet few in our world bother to draw the obvious conclusions.

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face.  They are, however, the words that can’t be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons — none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country — that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.

2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.

3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.

4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.

5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

And here’s a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis.  It’s not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire.  The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and dumped on the VA.

Heroes and Turncoats

One caveat.  Think whatever you want about war and American war-making, but keep in mind that we are inside an enormous propaganda machine of militarism, even if we barely acknowledge the space in our lives that it fills. Inside it, only certain opinions, certain thoughts, are acceptable, or even in some sense possible.

Take for an example the recent freeing of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from five years as a captive of the Haqqani network.  Much controversy has surrounded it, in part because he was traded for five former Taliban officials long kept uncharged and untried on the American Devil’s Island at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  It has been suggested that Sgt. Bergdahl deserted his post and his unit in rural Afghanistan, simply walked away — which for opponents of the deal and of President Obama makes the “trade for terrorists” all the more shameful.  Our options when it comes to what we know of Bergdahl’s actions are essentially to decry him as a “turncoat” or near-voluntary “terrorist prisoner” or ignore them, go into a “support the troops” mode, and hail him as a “hero” of the war.  And yet there is a third option.

According to his father, in the period before he was captured, his emails home reflected growing disillusionment with the military.  (“The U.S. army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at.  It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”)  He had also evidently grown increasingly uncomfortable as well with the American war in that country. (“I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”)  When he departed his base, he may even have left a note behind expressing such sentiments.  He had reportedly told someone in his unit earlier, “If this deployment is lame… I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.”

That’s what we know.  There is much that we don’t know.  However, what if, having concluded that the war was no favor to Afghans or Americans and he shouldn’t participate in it, he had, however naively, walked away from it without his weapon and, as it turned out, not into freedom but directly into captivity?  That Sgt. Bergdahl might have been neither a military-style hero, nor a turncoat, but someone who voted with his feet on the merits of war, American-style, in Afghanistan is not an option that can be discussed calmly here.  Similarly, anyone who took such a position here, not just in terms of our disastrous almost 13-year Afghan War, but of American war-making generally, would be seen as another kind of turncoat.  However Americans may feel about specific wars, walking away from war, American-style, and the U.S. military as it is presently configured is not a fit subject for conversation, nor an option to be considered.

It’s been a commonplace of official opinion and polling data for some time that the American public is “exhausted” with our recent wars, but far too much can be read into that.  Responding to such a mood, the president, his administration, and the Pentagon have been in a years-long process of “pivoting” from major wars and counterinsurgency campaigns to drone wars, special operations raids, and proxy wars across huge swaths of the planet (even while planning for future wars of a very different kind continues).  But war itself and the U.S. military remain high on the American agenda.  Military or militarized solutions continue to be the go-to response to global problems, the only question being: How much or how little? (In what passes for debate in this country, the president’s opponents regularly label him and his administration “weak” for not doubling down on war, from the Ukraine and Syria to Afghanistan).

Meanwhile, investment in the military’s future and its capacity to make war on a global scale remains staggeringly beyond that of any other power or combination of powers. No other country comes faintly close, not the Russians, nor the Chinese, nor the Europeans just now being encouraged to up their military game by President Obama who recently pledged a billion dollars to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe.

In such a context, to suggest the sweeping failure of the American military over these last decades without sapping support for the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex would involve making the most breathtaking stab-in-the-back argument in the historical record.  This was tried after the Vietnam War, which engendered a vast antiwar movement at home.  It was at least conceivable at the time to blame defeat on that movement, a “liberal” media, and lily-livered, micromanaging politicians.  Even then, however, the stab-in-the-back version of the war never quite stuck and in all subsequent wars, support for the military among the political class and everywhere else has been so high, the obligatory need to “support the troops” — left, right, and center — so great that such an explanation would have been ludicrous.

A Record of Failure to Stagger the Imagination

The only option left was to ignore what should have been obvious to all. The result has been a record of failure that should stagger the imagination and remarkable silence on the subject.  So let’s run through these points one at a time.

1. American-style war doesn’t work.  Just ask yourself: Are there fewer terrorists or more in our world almost 13 years after the 9/11 attacks?  Are al-Qaeda-like groups more or less common?  Are they more or less well organized?  Do they have more or fewer members?  The answers to those questions are obvious: more, more, more, and more.  In fact, according to a new RAND report, between 2010 and 2013 alone, jihadist groups grew by 58%, their fighters doubled, and their attacks nearly tripled.

On September 12, 2001, al-Qaeda was a relatively small organization with a few camps in arguably the most feudal and backward country on the planet, and tiny numbers of adherents scattered elsewhere around the world.  Today, al-Qaeda-style outfits and jihadist groups control significant parts of Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and even Yemen, and are thriving and spreading in parts of Africa as well.

Or try questions like these: Is Iraq a peaceful, liberated state allied with and under Washington’s aegis, with “enduring camps” filled with U.S. troops on its territory?  Or is it a riven, embattled, dilapidated country whose government is close to Iran and some of whose Sunni-dominated areas are under the control of a group that is more extreme than al-Qaeda?  Is Afghanistan a peaceful, thriving, liberated land under the American aegis, or are Americans still fighting there almost 13 years later against the Taliban, an impossible-to-defeat minority movement it once destroyed and then, because it couldn’t stop fighting the “war on terror,” helped revive?  Is Washington now supporting a weak, corrupt central government in a country that once again is planting record opium crops?

But let’s not belabor the point.  Who, except a few neocons still plunking for the glories of “the surge” in Iraq, would claim military victory for this country, even of a limited sort, anywhere at any time in this century?

2. American-style wars don’t solve problems.  In these years, you could argue that not a single U.S. military campaign or militarized act ordered by Washington solved a single problem anywhere.  In fact, it’s possible that just about every military move Washington has made only increased the burden of problems on this planet. To make the case, you don’t even have to focus on the obvious like, for example, the way a special operations and drone campaign in Yemen has actually al-Qaeda-ized some of that country’s rural areas.  Take instead a rare Washington “success”: the killing of Osama bin Laden in a special ops raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  (And leave aside the way even that act was over-militarized: an unarmed Bin Laden was shot down in his Pakistani lair largely, it’s plausible to assume, because officials in Washington feared what once would have been the American way — putting him on trial in a U.S. civilian court for his crimes.)  We now know that, in the hunt for bin Laden, the CIA launched a fake hepatitis B vaccination project.  Though it proved of no use, once revealed it made local jihadists so nervous about medical health teams that they began killing groups of polio vaccination workers, an urge that has since spread to Boko Haram-controlled areas of Nigeria.  In this way, according to Columbia University public health expert Leslie Roberts, “the distrust sowed by the sham campaign in Pakistan could conceivably postpone polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred.” The CIA has since promised not to do it again, but too late — and who at this point would believe the Agency anyway?  This was, to say the least, an unanticipated consequence of the search for bin Laden, but blowback everywhere, invariably unexpected, has been a hallmark of American campaigns of all sorts.

Similarly, the NSA’s surveillance regime, another form of global intervention by Washington, has — experts are convinced — done little or nothing to protect Americans from terror attacks.  It has, however, done a great deal to damage the interests of America’s tech corporations and to increasesuspicion and anger over Washington’s policies even among allies.  And by the way, congratulations are due on one of the latest military moves of the Obama administration, the sending of U.S. militaryteams and drones into Nigeria and neighboring countries to help rescue those girls kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram.  The rescue was a remarkable success… oops, didn’t happen (and we don’t even know yet what the blowback will be).

3. American-style war is a destabilizing force.  Just look at the effects of American war in the twenty-first century.  It’s clear, for instance, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed a brutal, bloody, Sunni-Shiite civil war across the region (as well as the Arab Spring, one might argue).  One result of that invasion and the subsequent occupation, as well as of the wars and civil wars that followed: the deaths of hundreds of thousands of IraqisSyrians, and Lebanese, while major areas of Syria and some parts of Iraq have fallen into the hands of armed supporters of al-Qaeda or, in one major case, a group that didn’t find that organization extreme enough.  A significant part of the oil heartlands of the planet is, that is, being destabilized.

Meanwhile, the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the tribal borderlands of neighboring Pakistan have destabilized that country, which now has its own fierce Taliban movement.  The 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya initially seemed like a triumph, as had the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan before it.  Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and the rebels swept into power.  Like Afghanistan and Iraq, however, Libya is now a basket case, riven by competing militias and ambitious generals, largely ungovernable, and an open wound for the region.  Arms from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals have made their way into the hands of Islamist rebels and jihadist extremists from the Sinai Peninsula to Mali, from Northern Africa to northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is entrenched.  It is even possible, as Nick Turse has done, to trace the growing U.S. military presence in Africa to the destabilization of parts of that continent.

4. The U.S. military can’t win its wars.  This is so obvious (though seldom said) that it hardly has to be explained.  The U.S. military has not won a serious engagement since World War II:  the results of wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq ranged from stalemate to defeat and disaster.  With the exception of a couple of campaigns against essentially no one (in Grenada and Panama), nothing, including the “Global War on Terror,” would qualify as a success on its own terms, no less anyone else’s.  This was true, strategically speaking, despite the fact that, in all these wars, the U.S. controlled the air space, the seas (where relevant), and just about any field of battle where the enemy might be met.  Its firepower was overwhelming and its ability to lose in small-scale combat just about nil.

It would be folly to imagine that this record represents the historical norm.  It doesn’t.  It might be more relevant to suggest that the sorts of imperial wars and wars of pacification the U.S. has fought in recent times, often against poorly armed, minimally trained, minority insurgencies (or terror outfits), are simply unwinnable.  They seem to generate their own resistance.  Their brutalities and even their “victories” simply act as recruitment posters for the enemy.

5. The U.S. military is not “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” or “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known,” or any of the similar over-the-top descriptions that U.S. presidents are now regularly obligated to use.  If you want the explanation for why this is so, see points one through four above.  A military whose way of war doesn’t work, doesn’t solve problems, destabilizes whatever it touches, and never wins simply can’t be the greatest in history, no matter the firepower it musters.  If you really need further proof of this, think about the crisis and scandals linked to the Veterans Administration.  They are visibly the fruit of a military mired in frustration, despair, and defeat, not a triumphant one holding high history’s banner of victory.

As for Peace, Not a Penny

Is there a record like it?  More than half a century of American-style war by the most powerful and potentially destructive military on the planet adds up to worse than nothing.  If any other institution in American life had a comparable scorecard, it would be shunned like the plague.  In reality, the VA has a far better record of success when it comes to the treatment of those broken by our wars than the military does of winning them, and yet its head administrator was forced to resign recently amid scandal and a media firestorm.

As in Iraq, Washington has a way of sending in the Marines, setting the demons loose, leaving town, and then wondering how in the world things got so bad — as if it had no responsibility for what happened.  Don’t think, by the way, that no one ever warned us either.  Who, for instance, remembers Arab League head Amr Moussa saying in 2004 that the U.S. had opened the “gates of hell” in its invasion and occupation of Iraq?  Who remembers the vast antiwar movement in the U.S. and around the world that tried to stop the launching of that invasion, the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to warn of the dangers before it was too late?  In fact, being in that antiwar movement more or less guaranteed that ever after you couldn’t appear on the op-ed pages of America’s major papers to discuss the disaster you had predicted.  The only people asked to comment were those who had carried it out, beaten the drums for it, or offered the mildest tsk-tsk about it.

By the way, don’t think for a moment that war never solved a problem, or achieved a goal for an imperial or other regime, or that countries didn’t regularly find victory in arms.  History is filled with such examples.  So what if, in some still-to-be-understood way, something has changed on planet Earth?  What if something in the nature of imperial war now precludes victory, the achieving of goals, the “solving” of problems in our present world?  Given the American record, it’s at least a thought worth considering.

As for peace?  Not even a penny for your thoughts on that one.  If you suggested pouring, say, $50 billion into planning for peace, no less the $500 billion that goes to the Pentagon annually for its base budget, just about anyone would laugh in your face.  (And keep in mind that that figure doesn’t include most of the budget for the increasingly militarized U.S. Intelligence Community, or extra war costs for Afghanistan, or the budget of the increasingly militarized Department of Homeland Security, or other costs hidden elsewhere, including, for example, for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which is buried in the Energy Department’s budget.)

That possible solutions to global problems, possible winning strategies, might come from elsewhere than the U.S. military or other parts of the national security state, based on 50 years of imperial failure, 50 years of problems unsolved and wars not won and goals not reached, of increasing instability and destruction, of lives (American and otherwise) snuffed out or broken?  Not on your life.

Don’t walk away from war.  It’s not the American way.


Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of  The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture.  He runs the Nation Institute’s  TomDispatch.com.  His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join it on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Time for Congress to Investigate Bill Gates’ Coup

Reprinted from Diane Ravitch’s Blog under a Creative Commons License Creative_Commons_Diane_Ravitch

By Diane Ravitch

The story about Bill Gates’ swift and silent takeover of American education is startling. His role and the role of the U.S. Department of Education in drafting and imposing the Common Core standards on almost every state should be investigated by Congress.

The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and–working closely with the U.S. Department of Education–impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal. A Congressional investigation is warranted.

The close involvement of Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the law was broken.

Thanks to the story in the Washington Post and to diligent bloggers, we now know that one very rich man bought the enthusiastic support of interest groups on the left and right to campaign for the Common Core.

Who knew that American education was for sale?

Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could dismantle and destroy state and local control of education?

The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected man, underwriting dozens of groups. and allied with the Secretary of Education, whose staff was laced with Gates’ allies, is ample reason for Congressional hearings.

I have written on various occasions (see here and here) that I could not support the Common Core standards because they were developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students.. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.

In a democratic society, process matters. The high-handed manner in which these standards were written and imposed in record time makes them unacceptable. These standards not only undermine state and local control of education, but the manner in which they were written and adopted was authoritarian. No one knows how they will work, yet dozens of groups have been paid millions of dollars by the Gates Foundation to claim that they are absolutely vital for our economic future, based on no evidence whatever.

Why does state and local control matter? Until now, in education, the American idea has been that no single authority has all the answers. Local boards are best equipped to handle local problems. States set state policy, in keeping with the concept that states are “laboratories of democracy,” where new ideas can evolve and prove themselves. In our federal system, the federal government has the power to protect the civil rights of students, to conduct research, and to redistribute resources to the neediest children and schools.

Do we need to compare the academic performance of students in different states? We already have the means to do so with the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It has been supplying state comparisons since 1992.

Will national standards improve test scores? There is no reason to believe so. Brookings scholar Tom Loveless predicted two years ago that the Common Core standards would make little or no difference. The biggest test-score gaps, he wrote, are within the same state, not between states. Some states with excellent standards have low scores, and some with excellent standards have large gaps among different groups of students.

The reality is that the most reliable predictors of test scores are family income and family education. Nearly one-quarter of America’s children live in poverty. The Common Core standards divert our attention from the root causes of low academic achievement.

Worse, at a time when many schools have fiscal problems and are laying off teachers, nurses, and counselors, and eliminating arts programs, the nation’s schools will be forced to spend billions of dollars on Common Core materials, testing, hardware, and software.

Microsoft, Pearson, and other entrepreneurs will reap the rewards of this new marketplace. Our nation’s children will not.

Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education? Who decided that the federal government should watch in silence as school segregation resumed and grew? Who decided that schools should invest in Common Core instead of smaller classes and school nurses?

These are questions that should be asked at Congressional hearings.


Diane_RavitchDiane Silvers Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

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