Ukraine will get a lot worse before it starts getting worse

Destroyed Donetsk airport
Destroyed Donetsk airport

Pretty much everything about Ukraine is murky and unreliable these days, and that’s before you take into consideration any of the meddling by outside powers playing carelessly with their Slavic pawns. Viewed in their darkest light, the events of the past 20 months (and the past 20 years) reflect an East-West death spiral that is now accelerating, and from which none of the engaged parties show any desire to disengage.

The civil war in eastern Ukraine has continued fitfully since September, when the parties signed a ceasefire known as the Minsk Agreement. The ceasefire has often been more honored in the breach than the observance, but overall it has led to considerably less bloodshed, especially among civilians, than the previous six months fighting. In the spring of 2014, the level of killing escalated sharply, at U.S. urging, when the newly-installed coup government in Kiev chose to attack rather than negotiate with the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk and People’s Republic of Luhansk (now joined in the self-proclaimed federal state of Novorossiya). So far, only the Republic of South Ossetia has recognized these Ukrainian “republics” as independent countries. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru recognize South Ossetia, which declared its independence from Georgia in 1990, but secured it only in 2008 with the help of Russian intervention.

By comparison, the much smaller Republic of Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, quickly secured that independence thanks to American and NATO military intervention, illustrating the double standard applied by the international community to questions of “territorial integrity” and “sovereignty.” Landlocked Kosovo, population about 1.8 million, is now recognized by 108 UN member countries, including the U.S., Canada, most of Europe, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

During the summer of 2014, the Ukrainian military captured much of the territory of the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and other separatist-held areas, but at significant cost to the civilian population.  An estimated 2.8 million ethnic Russians have emigrated from Ukraine to Russia during the past year. The Ukrainian army’s advance was halted by Russian military support to the Republics that Russia denies it provided, just as the U.S. and other NATO countries deny the support they have given Ukraine. The two Republics now hold about 3 million people and have access to the Black Sea along the southern border.

Does anyone really want a settlement in Ukraine?

In advance of the then-pending high level international meeting in Kazakhstan, each side was claiming the other had increasingly violated the ceasefire with small-arms fire, mortar shelling, and rocket attacks in recent days. An unnamed AP reporter has reported seeing Ukrainian rockets fired at separatist positions. Now that Ukraine and the outside powers have scrapped the peace talks, the Ukraine government has claimed that a separatist rocket killed ten civilians in a bus at the Donetsk airport, a key battlefield for months now. Unconfirmed, this report is somewhat credulously reported by Reuters and the New York Times, among others, while the Los Angeles Times awaited independent verification. [This is one of the memes of the Ukraine conflict, a war crime that each side blames on the other while people in the outside world believe the truth is what supports their political bias: another version of the same story played similarly in October.]

Ukraine initiated the January 15 peace talks only to have Ukraine effectively scuttle the opportunity. The self-contradictory sequence of events seems to have gone something like this: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire chocolate oligarch, announced in late December that he’d be meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana on January 15 with French PresidentFrancois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As of January 10, these countries had yet to confirm such a meeting. Meanwhile Merkel met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, America’s guy-in-Ukraine, and then threw doubt on whether the January 15 meeting would happen at all, or whether there would be any other meeting to continue working toward keeping Ukraine from collapsing into a failed state.

In other words: when Ukraine’s president announces a peace talks, Ukraine’s prime minister meets with a key player and the peace talks get called off. Who’s in charge here?  According to the Ukrainian constitution, both have governing authority – sort of. There is no constitutional mechanism for resolving tension between these offices when the office holders choose to butt heads (as happened earlier with President Viktor Yushenko, a central banker whose policies enraged Communists and oligarchs alike, and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an enraged natural gas oligarch). This structural dysfunction built into the Ukraine constitution is one reason Ukraine has been unable to govern itself effectively for more than a decade during which it has become a world-class kleptocracy.

Why does Merkel set conditions she knows are impossible?

In establishing her “reasons” for blocking peace talks, German Chancellor Merkel created a cover story that sounded vaguely credible, but made no sense to anyone who understood that the terms she called for were, at best, years away from being achieved, if they were achievable at all. As the Times reported it: “Merkel made clear that the entire Minsk agreement needs to be fulfilled before European Union sanctions against Russia can be lifted.” The American choice for Ukrainian leadership, Yatsenyuk echoed Merkel’s word cloud, but added his own obviously self-serving priority: sealing the border between the Republics and Russia.

The Minsk agreement reflects a peace proposal first put forward by Ukrainian President Poroshenko in June 2014. There are only four material signatories to the Minsk agreement: Ukraine, Russia, and the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The agreement was reached under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the only other signatory. One unstated presumption of the agreement is that the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk will be re-integrated into Ukraine with all their rights intact. The Minsk agreement comprises 12 unprioritized points, each of which is an aspirational goal for both sides, even though some elements can be achieved only by one side or another:

  1. Bilateral ceasefire
  2. OSCE monitoring of ceasefire
  3. Decentralization of power under law to be passed by Ukraine
  4. Permanent OSCE monitoring of Ukraine-Russia border
  5. Release of all hostages
  6. Amnesty for separatists, Ukraine to pass law
  7. Continue inclusive national dialogue
  8. Improve humanitarian condition of Donbass
  9. Local elections consistent with Ukraine law
  10. All sides withdraw illegal and mercenary military forces

11.Adoption of Donbass recovery and reconstruction program

  1. Protect all participants in consultations

In effect, the Minsk agreement is a somewhat messy 12-step program designed to help those people who, along with their friends and relatives, remain addicted to uncontrolled outbursts of internecine violence. Call it “Ukraine-anon.” Like any 12-step program, the participants typically need the support of those close to them if they are to succeed in improving their lives. When someone like Angela Merkel, who is outside the formal process, colludes with someone supposedly within the process to undermine the process, the process will likely be sabotaged. That appears to be what happened, at least for the short run.

Given the sketchy quality of the Minsk agreement, using it as a standard for international behavior is irrational, or deliberately dishonest and hostile. The agreement calls, for example, for early local elections, which the Republics held, after the elections in the rest of the Ukraine in the fall of 2014. The Republics’ elections were widely denounced in the West as a violation of the Minsk  agreement, even though Ukraine had failed to pass the law under which they were supposed to be held.

Until the West stops assaulting Russia, calls for peace are a bad joke

Merkel’s position, reflecting that of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and his American sponsors, is deceitful and destructive. To suspend the peace process until the Minsk agreement can be fully realized is to knowingly to prolong hostilities for an uncertain number of years.  To make EU sanctions on Russia dependent on fully implementing the Minsk agreement is to give Ukraine a veto on the EU. The agreement cannot be fully implemented until Ukraine adopts the appropriate laws, and there’s little to persuade Ukraine to do that other than its own motives.  If Ukraine fails to pass the promised laws, Merkel would have the EU continue to punish Russia, which seems to be what the game has been about for over 20 years already.

Russia and Ukraine appear to be at a tipping point, and conceivably the delicate balance in those and other affected countries could last for a long time. Or other actors, including the United Nations, could act to help stabilize the region and to ameliorate the economic and human rights damage that threatens to continue unchecked. More likely, the U.S. and Europe will continue their policies of deliberate de-stabilization until the day when it all implodes and Washington will point a finger and say: “See what Russia’s done now!?”

There are many straws blowing in that wind, and for now it looks like an ill wind blowing no good. A sampling of those straws:

* The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 passed both houses of Congress unanimously, without debate and without a recorded vote. The President signed it into law December 18. The 17-page bill is a model of cold-war-style duplicity cloaking a virtual declaration of global war in the rhetoric of high principle, imaginary threats, and sloppy grammar:

“It is the policy of the United States to further assist the Government of Ukraine in restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity to deter the Government of the Russian Federation from further destabilizing and invading Ukraine and other independent countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.”

Among other things, the bill authorizes the president to impose seven pages of further sanctions on Russia, interfere in Russian democracy and civil society, expand American propaganda broadcasting in the region, expand non-military support to Ukraine, and initiate $350 million in military aid to Ukraine over the next three years.  The bill’s last section says it is not to be “construed as an authorization for the use of military force.”

When President Obama signed the bill into law, the White House issued a statement having the president say, in part, with all due sanctimony and duplicity:

“My Administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to developments in Ukraine and will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions to respond to Russia’s actions. We again call on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, cease support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and implement the obligations it signed up to under the Minsk agreements.”

* Ukraine is an impoverished country approaching economic collapse. The new Ukrainian finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, is an American citizen who managed a Ukrainian-based, U.S.-created hedge fund that was charged with illegal insider trading. She also managed a CIA fund that supported “pro-democracy” movements and laundered much of the $5 billion the U.S. spent supporting the Maidan protests that led to the Kiev coup in February 2014. Jaresko is a big fan of austerity for people in troubled economies.

* Writing in the New York Review of books for January 7, billionaire George Soros sees Europe and the United States dithering toward failure not just for Ukraine, but Europe. Soros doesn’t challenge the official view of “Russian aggression” or “attempts to destabilize Ukraine” and the rest of that propaganda line that underpins sanctions. Challenging conventional wisdom, Soros focuses instead on the current, inherent, unaddressed, and enduring instability from maintaining a kleptocratic state:

“”¦ the old Ukraine is far from dead. It dominates the civil service and the judiciary, and remains very present in the private (oligarchic and kleptocratic) sectors of the economy. Why should state employees work for practically no salary unless they can use their position as a license to extort bribes? And how can a business sector that was nurtured on corruption and kickbacks function without its sweeteners? These retrograde elements are locked in battle with the reformists.”

Essentially, Soros argues that reforming Ukraine into an honest modern state that offers opportunity and reliable justice will be at least as effective a response to Russia as the current continued hostility and half-hearted efforts in Kiev. To achieve this, he posits a $50 billion aid package, when the EU is having a hard time managing $2 billion. His view is openly idealistic:

“By helping Ukraine, Europe may be able to recapture the values and principles on which the European Union was originally founded. That is why I am arguing so passionately that Europe needs to undergo a change of heart. The time to do it is right now.”

Right or wrong, this is visionary and the world of conventional wisdom is not buying it. The U.S. and the EU seem determined to continue taking the familiar and comfortable actions they know will fail in the same old ways.

* Perhaps the most vivid sign that the failures of the past foreshadow the failures of the future is the rise of Sen. John McCain to the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will sometimes be able to exercise near-veto power over the White House’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy. In a fawning verbal lap dance in the N.Y. Times of January 13, Sheryl Gay Stolberg characterizes McCain’s apparent inability to learn from failure as his being “untamed.” The reporter allows that McCain is “bellicose,” but frames his responsibility to the nation and the world as a question of whether he will “make war or some accommodation with the White House.” McCain is on record to increase Pentagon spending and to keep the Guantanamo prison camp open, and speaks with open bitterness about the president’s failure to give him a phone call. As Stolberg says about McCain: “If he had his way, the United States would have ground troops in Syria, more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a steady supply of arms going to Ukraine.”

Even as the Ukraine ceasefire was taking effect after the Minsk agreement was signed, McCain was calling for the U.S. to arm Ukraine for defense against a “Russian invasion” that he sees as part of Putin’s plan to “re-establish the old Russian empire.” McCain also called for the U.S. to send military “advisors.”

Maybe the future won’t be dominated by the struggle between those who are satisfied with just a little war on Russia’s border and those who want a whole lot more war because that’s all they know. We’ll see, no doubt. And for now, the unheeded warnings of former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev continue to fall on unhearing ears, and unseeing leaders on all sides grope their way into “a vortex with no way out.”

How long can the present balance of instability last?

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Boehner’s treason. Is the Speaker of the House loyal to US?

Constitution

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court”¦.

– United States Constitution, Article III, section 3

Inviting a hostile head of state to challenge the U.S. President from the shelter of the U.S. Congress may not rise to the level of “levying war” in the literal sense. But it is surely an act of virtual war that recklessly raises the stakes of drawing the U.S. into more actual wars from Gaza to Iran.

Lacking any lawful authority to conduct foreign policy, Rep. John Boehner has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in direct opposition to the American president. This kind of vigilante foreign policy is tantamount to a declaration of war on the constitutional authority of the executive branch. It is also a deliberate effort to destroy the possibility of peaceful relations with Iran, in the midst of serious negotiation headed toward normalization. Defending the U.S. against the threat of peace is a traditionally mindless Republican stance. It becomes an obscenity when it is rooted in nothing more substantial than Israeli intransigence.

Here’s the way Boehner failed to explain his interference in the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs:

“I did not consult with the White House. The Congress can make this decision on its own. I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president, last night [in the State of the Union], kind of papered over it. And the fact is, is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.”

First he admits he’s a partisan lone wolf. Then he lies about Congress making a decision, when he made the decision on his own without bringing it close to a vote; he also falsifies Congressional authority in foreign policy. He then either lies about poking anyone in the eye, or admits he’s in denial. Then he jumps to fear-mongering, ignoring the reality that Iran has been engaged in multi-state negotiations for months now. Then he pretends to want a more serious conversation, when he and his colleagues have been crying wolf about the “Iranian bomb” for more than two decades. Then he compounds his lies and fear-mongering by conflating Iran with “radical Islamic jihadists” of the sort Saudi Arabia has been cultivating for more than 40 years. Nice piece of work for a presumed “patriot.”

Is Boehner “adhering to the enemies” of the United States?

Since the Speaker of the House is unlikely to confess to any sort of treason in open court, as he should, the charge of treason against this Ohio Republican and his co-conspirators will be constitutionally tricky to make. But it needs to be made, no matter how belatedly.

Sacrificing our constitution in an effort to turn American troops into Israel’s proxy army looks very much like the moral equivalent of treason.

The case of Republican treason needs to be made now and should have been made long since against the party that has waged metaphorical war against the United States at least since 2009. Granted, the Republican war has not resorted to the kind of military violence meant by “war” in orthodox constitutional construction. But GOP behavior has been war all the same, unrelenting and destructive, against both the president and the very purpose of the constitution as expressed in its preamble. The only “general welfare” consistently supported by Republicans is military. The rest of their agenda is determined by sectarian spite and corruption.

While not literally “levying war,” Boehner and his party come much closer to actually adhering to the enemies of the United States. But wait, does that mean Israel is an “enemy” of the United States? Good question. We hear over and over about the United States being a friend to Israel, but how is that friendship reciprocated? Enemies of the United States have again and again enticed the United States to embrace the tar baby of endless war in the Middle East, with decades of success to show for it. Israel now entices the U.S. again toward war with Iran. When Israel wants what our enemies want, what does that make Israel? Not much of a friend.

Let’s put it another way: what other head of state from anywhere in the world would be invited to come before Congress to promote intransigence and bellicosity, in direct opposition to White House’s policy? Boehner may not be adhering to our enemies, but he’s certainly adhering to an extreme and dangerous foreign policy that many of our enemies would enjoy watching us suffer.

Is Boehner “giving aid and comfort” to our enemies?

Boehner-Netanyahu hardline policies may give pause to an Iranian government, but not in a way useful to the rest of the world. Boehner-Netanyahu policies are designed to kill negotiation, kill accommodation, and if need be kill peace. There is no greater good at the end of the Boehner-Netanyahu just-say-no road. What Boehner-Netanyahu-ism wants, at a minimum, is permanent, unremediated hostility punctuated by bursts of bloodshed.

Other nations who wish the United States no good can watch the “indispensible nation” dispense itself in further futility while they enjoy their schadenfreude from a safe, noncombatant distance. Watching the United States bleed in another misbegotten crusade will almost surely give our enemies, if not aid, then considerable comfort at least.

Boehner’s traitorous embrace of Netanyahu’s assault on American governance is a betrayal of trust, whether they realize it or not, against all Americans. Boehner has launched another Republican attack on a fundamental constitutional principle – but we can count on Democrats to be brightly up in arms about it, right? No, the silence is deafening, the defense of the constitution nil.

Referring to Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress, the most that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had to say was: “I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful.” Others in her party are saying less or nothing.

Why is the U.S. Congress failing to defend a basic principle of the U.S. Constitution? The key, perhaps, lies in what Pelosi said in 2010, when she was still speaker of the house:

“We in Congress stand by Israel, something we have a joint bipartisan commitment. No separation between us on this subject. In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel. Together we remain committed to advancing the peace process, preserving Israel’s security, responsible sanctions against Iran, working to finalize Iran sanctions bill right now.”

So the constitution is wrong about our bi-cameral system. We don’t have a Congress comprising the Senate and the House, we have some other country’s Knesset.

It’s not enough to suggest that the Boehner-Netanyahu challenge to U.S. sovereignty is inappropriate or unhelpful. Someone should be saying it’s provocative, outrageous, dishonest, and warmongering. Anyone?

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Sen. McCain calls admiral an “idiot” – Why do media promote that?

Voldemort? Or John McCain?
Voldemort? Or John McCain?

BuzzFeed, moving up from cute-cat-tricks to catty-Senator-tricks, caused a few ripples in the political swamp on October 22 with its belated, skewed reporting of Republican Senator John McCain calling U.S. Admiral John Kirby an “idiot” on a rightwing radio show in North Carolina on October 15. OK, nobody really expects BuzzFeed News to publish honest news.

Less defensible, though hardly surprising, is the way the Washington Post and other less well known media outfits picked up the “idiot” story fragment and ran with it as if it was the whole story, without further context, much less identifying Sen. McCain’s own idiotic statements and falsehoods in the very same radio interview.

Here’s the nut of the story, when Sen. McCain, in response to no question, interrupts the host and says out of the blue:

“It’s the most amazing thing. It’s the most amazing thing. The spin and the lies out of this White House. I mean, it’s, it’s unbelievable. This idiot Admiral Kirby was asked, I think yesterday, that said, ‘John McCain says that we are losing, what do you say?’ The guy, you gotta run it, you gotta run it. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. I mean, it’s amazing. And how can they possibly now, with ISIS taking about two thirds of the city of Kobani – they’re saying this is effective. You know, there’s two hundred thousand refugees out of that town, thousands have been slaughtered”¦.  [rambling on other subjects for another minute]”

Radio Host Tyler Cralle didn’t know enough, or care enough, to interrupt the senator and point out that Kobani’s total population in 2004 was about 50,000. Or that Kobani has been a haven for internal refugee Syrians fleeing the civil war. Or that this flood of displaced persons from elsewhere has reportedly pushed Kobani’s population perhaps as high as 400,000. Not surprisingly there’s no accurate count of these refugees becoming re-refugees, either elsewhere in Syria or in neighboring Turkey. If McCain actually cared about uprooted Syrians, he would have been advocating for them three years ago.

Fear-mongering is what people do when they have no cogent argument

Sen. McCain couldn’t possibly have known whether it was true to say, “ISIS taking about two-thirds of the city of Kobani.” It’s unlikely anyone knew with any precision, including those on the ground. Whether it was ever true, which is doubtful, it’s not true more than a week later,according to the BBC. It’s a small point, but its importance is how it shows Sen. McCain’s willingness to demagogue and falsify in the service of his perennial fear-mongering.

Taking fear-mongering as far as it can go, Sen. McCain claims that ISIS is:

“”¦ now the largest and most powerful terrorist organization in history, uh, they control area the size of, uh, state of Indiana, and they are winning and we are losing. And that is very serious, and it poses a direct threat to the United States of America”¦.”

That should be “poses as” a direct threat, since no serious person can make a credible case for ISIS being a significant threat to the U.S. now, or for the foreseeable future. Or perhaps Sen. McCain knows more about the ISIS Air Force and the ISIS Navy than is presently apparent, and this justifies his fear-mongering.

There is no persuasive evidence that “they are winning and we are losing.” There is no persuasive evidence that anyone is winning or losing. What persuasive evidence there is seems to show that everyone is losing. In recent months, the fighting in Syria and Iraq has been stalemated, with minor gains and losses on any side making little if any overall difference.

McCain is fear-mongering even when he claims ISIS controls an area the size of Indiana, roughly 36,400 square miles. All of Syria is 72,000 square miles. What ISIS controls is a patchwork of roads and communities. This patchwork is intertwined with other patchworks of roads and communities controlled by others. And these patchworks continue to change almost daily. “Control” is a chimera in both Syria and Iraq.

As for “the largest and most powerful terrorist organization in history,” Sen. McCain is simply saying: be afraid, don’t think, just quiver in your boots, that’s what Republicans want the American people to do more than anything. For McCain’s claim to have any credibility, one must assume that ISIS is larger and more powerful than, among others, al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban, Hezbollah, or U.S. Special Forces.

That conclusion would require rational assessment, and that’s no way to win elections.

McCain’s fear-mongering is rooted in his unchallenged Big Lie

As anyone who pays attention knows, the decision to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq was made by President George Bush in November 2008, apparently without consultation with then president-elect Barack Obama. On November 17, 2008, the Bush administration signed the Status of Forces Agreement that sealed the U.S. pullout by December 31, 2011, leaving it for the next administration to carry out. Some in the Bush administration, especially at the Pentagon, started a media campaign to leave U.S. combat troops in Iraq under some other name, but the deal was done. In an official White House statement, President Bush praised his administration’s accomplishment:

“The Strategic Framework Agreement sets the foundation for a long-term bilateral relationship between our two countries, and the Security Agreement addresses our presence, activities, and withdrawal from Iraq. Today’s vote affirms the growth of Iraq’s democracy and increasing ability to secure itself”¦.

Two years ago, this day seemed unlikely – but the success of the surge and the courage of the Iraqi people set the conditions for these two agreements to be negotiated and approved by the Iraqi parliament. The improved conditions on the ground and the parliamentary approval of these two agreements serve as a testament to the Iraqi, Coalition, and American men and women, both military and civilian, who paved the way for this day”¦.these historic agreements that will serve the shared and enduring interests of both our countries and the region.”Â [emphasis added]

The complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by December 2011 was sealed in treaty by the Bush administration. It was what the Iraqi government dearly wanted. But Sen. McCain has his own, false, self-serving version of this history that he put this way to Tyler Cralle:

“There’s many failings of this president [Obama], but, he doesn’t want to lead, it’s created a vacuum, and the best example of that is – every one of our military leaders, uh, that wanted to retain a residual force in Iraq – thanks to [Gen.] David Petraeus and the surge and so many brave people back in – actually North Carolinians from our bases here in North Carolina – we had it won, it was, it was, uh, it was stabilized. But the president had to get everybody out. All of his commanders said, ‘Leave a stabilizing force behind and everything will be fine.’ We pulled them all out and, as [Sen.] Lindsey Graham and I and others predicted”¦. things went to hell.”

This is a Big Lie that the right has been repeating for years, with little or no correction from mainstream media, or even from Democrats. The BuzzFeed News “idiot” story carried no hint of McCain’s deceit, and the follow-up coverage by the Washington Post and others was equally free of accurate context.

Sen. McCain has been wrong about Iraq and the region since 2002, and he’s still wrong. He is the son of an admiral, and the grandson of an admiral, and he joined the Navy and didn’t make admiral, and surely being a POW in Vietnam had something to do with that. But none of that justifies a 78-year-old rejected presidential candidate going around calling a current, serving admiral an “idiot,” does it?

This raises the question: what’s a good working definition of “idiot”? Dictionaries offer dozens of synonyms, including: fool, ass, halfwit, dunce, dolt, cretin, moron, imbecile, dork, butthead, dingbat, and nitwit. Some people might argue that an “idiot” is someone who undermines the commander in chief during wartime, but that’s really more like “traitor,” to use an all-too-common rightwing trope. Â Others, including a number commenting on various websites, say the best working definition of “idiot” is: someone who chooses a running mate like Sarah Palin.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Cops freak out over free speech in Vermont

Mumia

Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont
How a non-event becomes an “event” that ends in anti-climax

When Mumia Abu-Jamal was the pre-recorded speaker at a Goddard College commencement in Plainfield, Vermont, in 2008, almost no one outside the Goddard community paid any attention. This year, when Goddard announced that students had chosen Mumia to do a return engagement at their graduation, Philadelphia police, politicians, media, and Fox News went crazy with angry rhetoric aimed at curbing free speech.

In the end, this breakdown in civil society resulted in nothing worse than hundreds of police-instigated threats of violence to the Goddard community. For the sake of security, Goddard moved the graduation up three hours, with no public announcement, and the full-house ceremony for 24 students went forward with private security and without incident.

In the week between the announcement and the event, “Mumia Abu-Jamal” the symbol served once again as a triggering Rorschach blot exposing aspects of American character in 2014, reflecting and denying realities decades and centuries past. In a sense what Goddard students provoked with their commencement speaker choice was a weeklong confrontation between the symbolic “Mumia Abu-Jamal” and the actual Mumia Abu-Jamal, without much success in joining them in there single, complex reality.

What does “Mumia Abu-Jamal” actually mean, or should he just be? 

Understanding “Mumia Abu Jamal” in full requires more time and space that is available here. The man and the symbol and those who pillory him all have significant complexity, both real and unreal. There are at least two contexts that are fundamental to understanding the Mumia phenomenon itself and the mini-drama it produced at Goddard:

First, whatever else he is, Mumia is a political prisoner and has been a political target at least since he was 15. Mumia was born in 1954 as Wesley Cook. As he became an articulate member of the Black Panther party (until he was 16) and a representative of black resistance generally, he was targeted for his political expression by police agencies that included the FBI and its illegal COINTELPRO program. On December 9, 1981, radio reporter Mumia was moonlighting as a cab driver. He was on the scene when officer Daniel Faulkner made a traffic stop of Mumia’s younger brother, William Cook. In the next few moments, Faulkner was shot and killed and Mumia was shot and disabled. Little else about the event is reliably clear. Anyone who takes the time to look disinterestedly into the record of the investigation and subsequent trials will soon understand that Mumia’s conviction for killing officer Faulkner may or may not be a miscarriage of justice in terms of Mumia’s actual guilt, which remains unproved. Mumia denied his guilt at trial and ever since. The investigation and judicial process are so fundamentally flawed in so many ways, they offer the best evidence that Mumia’s conviction is morally and factually insupportable.

Second, and probably more important for context, is the abiding corruption of the Philadelphia legal system, both police and courts. At the time of Mumia’s arrest, he had been talking on the radio about police corruption. At the same time, there was a federal investigation going on that would lead to the conviction of 31 Philadelphia police officers. In 1981, Officer Faulkner, 26, was working undercover inside the department, gathering evidence against his fellow officers. Another wave of Philadelphia police corruption and brutality in the 1990s came to be known as the 39th District scandal. In July 2014, federal prosecutors indicted six officers in “what Philadelphia’s police commissioner described as one of the worst cases of corruption,” according to CNN. CBS Philly has a special page for Philadelphia police corruption. Currently, after some 20 years of abusing civil forfeiture laws to pad city budgets (by an average $6 million a year), Philadelphia faces a class action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice seeking to end the abuse, which includes an inherently corrupting conflict of interest.

When you’re under fire, it’s useful to have a distracting scapegoat

One of the epicenters of reflexive Mumia-bashing is the 325,000 member Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), whose website has no prominent (if any) expressed opposition to police corruption.  The Order was instrumental in unscrupulously attacking an Obama administration nominee for U.S. Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, who eventually withdrew his name from nomination. Attorney Debo Adegbile, 48, was fully qualified to serve, but the FOP opposed him because he had, as part of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, tangentially participated in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals process. None of this was improper, but the FOP used inflammatory guilt-by-association in a McCarthyite campaign that effectively intimidated Democratic Senators into joining their prejudiced Republican colleagues in race-based opposition to a qualified candidate for the “sin” of representing the “wrong” client, an expectation of attorneys actually expressed in the U.S. Constitution. Given its Mumia-obsession, the FOP was quick to join the counter-constitutional attack on personal and institutional free speech at Goddard.

Founded in 1863 as a Universalist seminary in the Green Mountains, Goddard College has about 600 students, most of whom are not college-age and most whom are not on campus most of the time. Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Goddard offers undergraduate degrees as well as Masters degrees in fields including Education, Health Sciences, Psychology, and Creative Writing. Mumia Abu-Jamal first came to Goddard in the 1970s, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1996 from prison. In 2008, graduating students unanimously and “proudly” chose Mumia to give a pre-recorded commencement speech at Goddard. On August 10, 2008, he gave his speech, apparently without incident and without much media or other attention. Having had that experience, Goddard made a routine announcement on a Monday, setting off a chain of events, with these highlights:

September 29, 2014.

Goddard publicized Mumia’s October 5 speech in a matter-of-fact press release with this headline:

Mumia Abu-Jamal to Give Commencement Speech at Goddard College
Inmate Journalist and Goddard Graduate to Address Newest Class of Radical Thinkers

The release noted that Mumia was convicted for the 1981 murder of officer Faulkner and was serving a sentence of life in prison without parole. The release quoted interim college president Bob Kenny saying, almost prophetically: “Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”

The same day the Burlington Free Press picked up the news in a brief, bland item that began: “Goddard College students have chosen a famous alumnus as their fall commencement speaker, but his remarks have been pre-recorded and he won’t be at the ceremony on Sunday.” The Free Press was apparently alone in this reporting. So far, so calm.

September 30, 2014. 

Philadelphia’s CBS local station broke the calm with a story that began: “A small Vermont college is poking a lot of people in the eye by having convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal as its commencement speaker next Sunday.” Fox News also pushed the story: “A man serving life in prison for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 has been selected as a commencement speaker at his Vermont alma mater.”

The spin on the story was inspired by the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, John Nesby, who is quoted saying: “We have somebody who’s a convicted murderer, who’s in prison, and they’re allowed to be able to have special privileges. It just seems the only one being penalized here is [officer Faulkner’s widow] Maureen Faulkner and she’s fed up with it.” The CBS headline read:

Convicted Cop-Killer Mumia Abu-Jamal Selected As Commencement Speaker For College In Vermont

CBS also reported Corrections Department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton trying to distance the department from controversy, saying that: Mumia is merely making use of his phone privileges. He’s done this before in the past. He’s made other commencement addresses. They’re not live, from what I understand. They’re recorded and then played”¦. the department does not endorse Mumia’s speech, but he has the right to talk.

Picking up on the cue from the Philadelphia FOP, the Vermont Troopers’ Association president, Michael O’Neil, wrote a public letterto the Goddard president, “on behalf of the 280 members of the Vermont Troopers’ Association and the families of slain police officers”¦.” O’Neil asked the college to rescind the invitation, writing in part:

“Your invitation to this convicted murderer demonstrates an absolute disregard for the family of Danny Faulkner”¦. While our nation is searching for solutions to gun violence in our schools and communities, we are outraged that Goddard College is hosting a man who shot and killed a police officer. A college commencement ceremony should be conducted to honor the achievements of graduates, not provide a forum for recognition of a convicted killer.”

The Troopers Association did not respond to questions submitted in writing.

October 1, 2014. Using some language word-for-word from the Philadelphia FOP letter, the national office of the Fraternal Order of Police issuedwhat it titled:

STATEMENT OF NATIONAL PRESIDENT CHUCK CANTERBURY ON COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY COP-KILLER ABU-JAMAL

Canterbury, like McNeil, urged “that Goddard College rescind its invitation to this repugnant murderer.” Despite the police pile-on, the story gained little traction nationally. The Washington Post played it fairly neutrally, first referring to Mumia as “an infamous American prisoner.”

October 2, 2014.  

The Vermont Police Chiefs Association joined the law enforcement chorus against Goddard and Mumia. The head of the association, Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel was quoted saying:

“It is beyond belief that an educational institution would even consider such an act of disrespect to the family of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and the law enforcement community of Vermont”¦. It obviously means nothing to the school administration and graduates that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered Officer Faulkner in cold blood by shooting him five times.

While we support the protection of individual rights in Vermont, we find the choice of this convicted murderer as a commencement speaker offensive, and shows a lack of judgment on behalf of the college and its graduates, as well as a total disrespect for the family of the slain officer, who was sworn also to protect individual rights”¦.”

The only member of Congress to take a public position, apparently, was Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who wrote an outraged letter to Goddard in which said, among other things:

“Is there any crime so heinous that Goddard would not reward the perpetrator with a spot as commencement speaker? I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer”¦.”

Earlier in the year, Toomey led the effort to deny the appointment of Debo Adegbile to the Justice Dept., because Adegbile had had the temerity to give meaning to the Constitution’s promise that Mumia should have adequate counsel.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections joined the official outcry against hearing the voice of “a convicted cop killer.” A spokesperson described a proper speaker. Ironically, that description also fits Mumia: “a commencement speaker worthy of their time such as a survivor of crime to impart things like resiliency, courage and strength.”

The National Review offered a smooth, cleverly argued critique of Goddard’s choice of Mumia, beginning with the G.K. Chesterton warning against being “so open-minded that your brains fall out.” At the end, the piece sarcastically suggests:

“Perhaps Goddard’s graduating class is not so intellectually atrophied and morally adrift as to actually think that entertaining a cop-killer as its commencement speaker was a bold, revolutionary decision. Perhaps they just invited Goddard’s most distinguished graduate.”

Vermont Public Radio exaggeratedly reported that “Goddard College is facing a storm of criticism for inviting a man convicted of murdering a police officer to speak”¦.” Vermont Public Radio did not mention that it used to broadcast Mumia’s radio programs when they were carried by National Public Radio (until another political attack drove them off the air).

As a Goddard spokesman pointed out, Mumia speaks from a unique perspective, an “an imprisoned African-American male,”¦ an under-represented and almost invisible population.”Â  Goddard Community Radio, WGDR-WGDH FM, currently carries Mumia’s syndicated Prison Radio show, at 7 PM on Sunday.

“Murder is wrong. Free speech is right”¦. these exist together.”

Without responding formally to police demands to cancel Mumia, Goddard pushed back. Goddard communications manager Samantha Kolber sent out two tweets about an hour apart that evening:

10:28 PM – “Free people have a right to decide for themselves what they want to hear.” – @MumiaAbuJamal

11:43 PM – “Murder is wrong. Free speech is right. Sometimes these exist together. #Duality #truth #complexity

In an interview, Kolber had said that the graduating students “chose Mumia because to them, Mumia represents a struggle for freedom of the mind, body, and spirit. Those were values important to this graduating class.”

Late that same day, a North Carolina prison released an ex-police commander to a halfway house, after three and a half years behind bars. The former Chicago police officer was Jon Burge, 66, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his participation in using torture to coerce false confessions from men in custody. Although a final count is uncertain, police commander Burge took part in torturing more than 100 black men, sometimes using electro-shock.

A Chicago police pension board has affirmed Burge’s $4000-a-month police pension. The capture and conviction of Burge, as well as settlements to victims, is estimated to have cost $120 million to Chicago taxpayers.

The police organizations attacking Goddard College have not objected to the public paying a convicted police torturer some $48,000 a year in retirement.

October 3, 2014. In great part because of the police protest, Goddard was receiving hundreds of threats of non-specific violence by phone and social media (https://twitter.com/hashtag/supportmumiagraduationspeech?src=hashTwitter was busy, and there was also Mumia support). Goddard reported these to the Vermont State Police, who said through a spokesperson that they planned to investigate the source of the threats and would keep in touch with the college in case the college needed help.  According to VTDigger:

Goddard has received hundreds of phone calls, about one per minute Friday, and letting all of them go to voicemail, Goddard spokesperson Samantha Kolber said. College officials were responding to only the most urgent calls, she said. Some of the calls threatened violence and sexual assault.

To Police and Politicians: “Hands Off Goddard College!”Â 

That was the headline of a piece in Counterpunch, an appeal by two college professors, one from the City College of New York, the other from the Princeton Theological Seminary.  They note, in support of both Goddard and Mumi that: “His death sentence was ruled unconstitutional in 2001, and finally vacated in 2011.”

They characterize Mumia as “a political prisoner, who was framed in the courts for his political beliefs and affiliations,” whose supporters include Amnesty International and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

They characterize his current attackers as guardians of “a center that quashes the right to speak of needed voices from among the marginalized and politically repressed, they cease being a center worthy of public respect.

They conclude that:

‘The students occupy the moral and intellectual high ground. Let them proceed without intimidation by officials who command guns and prisons. The youth of today, those who must forge tomorrow’s freedom and real democracy, should be neither chained nor intimidated by guardians of the old center.

October 4, 2014.  The Fox News program FOX&friends continued attack on Goddard and Mumia. Officer Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, and Sen. Toomey were guests and the views of the guests and anchor were predictably one-sided and without nuance

Reinforcing the dominant narrative that requires Mumia to be a one-dimensional Black Panther cop-killer, pictures of Mumia typically show him as a much younger man, with long dreds, and sometimes a threatening appearance. The very pro-Mumia website of Rachel Wolkenstein, one of his attorneys, has a picture from 2012 showing Mumia with his wife and attorney Wolkenstein.

October 5, 2014. 

The graduation ceremony went off without reported incident.

The college hired private security to supplement college staff, since relying on Vermont police who had been attacking the college all week didn’t seem rational. As it turned out, some 20 police were busy peacefully protesting the graduation. Interesting work all around with the “serve and protect” thing.

There might have been a bigger protest, but Goddard had quietly and privately changed the time of the ceremony from 4 PM to 1 PM. Mumia’s pre-recorded speech (audio only, though often reported as video) was not his best work, but adequate to the occasion. One highlight, when he spoke more personally, first of the 1970s:

“Let me say something that I’ve never said before: when I came to Goddard, I was intimidated. Although teachers and adults told me that I could do the work, I rarely believed them. I felt woefully unprepared. But guess what? Goddard gave me confidence, and I never lost that feeling”¦.”

And then he spoke of the 1990s:

“In one of the most repressive environments on earth (Death Row), Goddard allowed me to study and research human liberation and anti-colonial struggles on two continents: Africa and Latin/Central America. I think you for that grand opportunity”¦.”

In Philadelphia, uniformed police there held a 30-minute silent vigil at the site of a plaque commemorating Officer Faulkner, an event organized by the FOP to honor Maureen Faulkner and her husband and other fallen police officers.

In California, Maureen Faulkner issued an angry statement in which she said, in part:

“Once again, my family and I find ourselves being assaulted by the obscenity that is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On Sunday October 5th, my husband’s killer will once again air his voice from what masquerades as a prison, and spew his thoughts and ideas at another college commencement. Mumia Abu-Jamal will be heard and honored as a victim and a hero by a pack of adolescent sycophants at Goddard College”¦.

Shame on Goddard College and all associated with that school for choosing to honor an arrogant remorseless killer as their commencement speaker. Unfortunately, this is something that I am certain they will be proud of for the rest of their lives.”

She accuses Mumia of hating America, she blames Goddard for hiding behind the First Amendment, she calls that “a convenient way to dodge their responsibility to take a moral position on this situation.” Moments later, she contradicts this and describes the moral position she says they’ve already taken:

“Let’s be honest. The instructors, administrators and graduates at Goddard College embrace having this killer as their commencement speaker not despite the fact that he brutally murdered a cop, but because he brutally murdered a cop.”  [emphasis added]

If that paranoia is heartfelt and widespread in the FOP and other police associations, police might consider why anyone would believe such a thing, whether out of rage or guilt. And they might wonder what effect it has, on others and themselves, to demonize supposed cop-killers while giving killer cops a pass. Â 

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Hysteric POTUS channels Bushist war shtick before UN

"Show me the way to the next little war,  oh don't ask why."
“We have always been at war with Eastasia”

The U.S. without a war is like an apple pie without apples

A Nobel Peace Prize recipient is among the loudest voices for war nowadays. Better, this Nobel Peace prize recipient has unchecked power to wage war and uses it willfully in a variety of nations. Perhaps best, this prize-winning peace president has set out a plan to make a desert and call it peace, for which a grateful power structure might well give him yet another prize.

Such absurdity dominates the world we live in now, because people in governments are committing us all to irrational choices based on no credible public explanation. Examples are myriad, but President Obama’s shrill war cries at the United Nations offer a paradigm of the present bloody moment that is, in part, a near-parody of grandiloquent George W. Bush doing his most preening strut as a feckless “war president.”

The following excerpts from President Obama’s long and specious 39-minute speech to the U.N. on September 24, 2014, are chosen to highlight the contradictions and deceits so carefully packaged with familiar, false pieties about imaginary realities. The pitch is fraudulent from the moment the president begins, with a pseudo-lofty, tripartite cliché untethered from the real world:

“We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.”

Yes, every moment is a crossroads between war and peace in some place, a moment waiting for some commander somewhere to cross the line and start killing “enemies.” The president’s moment at the U.N. was NOT, for him or anyone else, a “crossroads” – he had long since proceeded straight across the intersection, extending the Iraq War of 2003 into its second decade; he had already escalated that war into Syria; he had long since carried on wars in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and who knows where else. He has no legal authority to expand wage these wars, but he knows he has no Congress or court or any other opposition with both the will and the standing to challenge his decision for more killing in the blood zones of the Middle East.

There is no “crossroads between disorder and integration,” a meaningless construction about conditions that may exist independently or simultaneously. “Integration” is an especially absurd word to apply to the police states that stretch from Iran to Egypt. U.S. policy has failed for decades to promote even the most elementary, necessary integration of Israelis and Palestinians. U.S. policing now, as ever, only heightens the disintegration among Sunni and Shia. Disorder is the hallmark of the region, and the West has only made it worse for centuries. The present U.S.-sponsored war only increases the disorder, with no promise and little likelihood of a happy ending.

In the words of Chicago mayor Richard Daley circa 1968, commenting on his city’s police riot with unintentional accuracy: “The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder.”

And so it has been with the American presence in the Middle East, where the world’s policeman helped to preserve disorder for decades before ratcheting up the intensity in 2003 by bringing fresh chaos to Iraq and the rest of the region. As the self-appointed policeman of the world, the U.S. has much to regret and atone for.

And there is no “crossroads between fear and hope.” These are emotions that often coexist, not artifacts from a Pentagon planning project. If truth were told, there are no crossroads at all in this moment of American “leadership.” There is only a headlong president whose hope now is that fear will lead to dead bodies strewn across several landscapes, and that those bodies will make him look good.

In his U.N. speech, President Obama moved from his imaginary crossroads into a couple of paragraphs of selective happy talk about progress, peace, poverty and prosperity. These remarks coming from an escalating commander-in-chief were not without irony as he cited the U.N. as “a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together.” Moments later, without explanation, this became “the failure of our international system.” Rhetoric requires no real basis in fact so long as choice emotive buttons get pushed effectively:

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.”

If this line has meaning, it’s not likely a suggestion to review the brutality of others in the region, least of all our “allies.” And the line is surely not a humble recommendation to explore the dark heart of American methods of torture and killing over the past decade, and it’s not an expression of willingness to end the brutal penal colony at Guantanamo, where innocent and possibly guilty alike suffer without hope until they die. These horrors, like drones assassinating wedding parties, are brutalities that President Obama has failed to “look into,” much less tried to degrade and destroy.

There is little if anything the Islamic State has done to earn the hyperbolic fear-mongering it gets from this administration and the Fox network’s echo chamber. There is perhaps no grisly act the Islamic State has committed that has not been committed by the U.S. and/or its allies, with the possible exception of posting videos of beheadings on YouTube. Beheadings themselves are commonplace in countries like Saudi Arabia.

It’s not the beheadings that separate the brutality of the Islamic State from the brutality of others near and far, it’s the deployment of pictures of beheadings that has upset polite societies well-steeped in their denial. Posting such videos, censored as they are, has achieved a metaphorical beheading: leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere has lost its head over a theatrical provocation as effective emotionally as it is unimportant geopolitically. Some forty countries are now at war against a threat of minimal proportions, largely as a gut reaction to a disturbing movie. That’s not so much a heart of darkness as a head of darkness.

President Obama speaks from a darker heart when he refers to “Russian aggression” with nomeaningful context. Failing to acknowledge the civil war in Ukraine, the U.S. president promises to “support the people of Ukraine,” when he means only some of the people of Ukraine:

“We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”

In countries all over the world, from Iran and Cuba to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as all of Latin America, the United States has consistently opposed and often crushed “the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.” Even when native movements adopted their own versions of American founding documents the U.S. was not assuaged, as the Vietnamese learned at horrendous cost in the face of American brutality that makes the Islamic State look like a bunch of Quakers.

President Obama does not acknowledge this imperial history any more than his government’s present imperial imperative. As far as Ukraine goes, the fault is all with Russia, according to the president, who even lies about MH-17 to reinforce his phony bill of particulars. He certainly omits reference to his favored Ukrainians burning opponents alive in Odessa. Nowhere does he acknowledge anything like a Western-supported coup in Kiev that established an illegitimate government with a neo-Nazi tinge, whose war crimes in the east are documented by U.N. observers. Nowhere does this Nobel peace laureate acknowledge twenty years of Western stealth aggression against Russia, in which his own administration remains active.

With no apparent shame or sense of irony, the president refers to reducing nuclear arsenals and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons as “the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.”

Actually, these are things worth pursuing for their own sake, and if anyone needs to change course, it’s the West, the U.S./NATO/EU/IMF and the rest. The way the president couches it is intellectual fraud and moral blackmail.

The president takes a similar, not-our-fault-and-not-really-our-responsibility approach to various other issues, including poverty and climate change, where the evidence is to the contrary. Long as it is, the speech at the U.N. does not gain in coherence. The president who recently said he doesn’t have a strategy apparently still has no strategy, unless casting blame is somehow strategic:

“But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.”

In context, the president’s implication is that Muslim extremists prevent the rest of the world from dealing sensibly with climate change. Read the speech, these are in consecutive paragraphs. And these bad Muslims are fearfully powerful:

“”¦ they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels”¦. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.”

Or as President Bush put it thirteen years ago: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The presidential rhetoric of 2001 lives on in the presidential rhetoric of 2014. Moments later, President Bush added, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.” Then he lied his country into war in Iraq.

In other words, it absolutely is an exaggeration to say that “humanity’s future” depends on fighting the Islamic State, a force numbering in the thousands, a force without nuclear weapons, and virtually defenseless against attack from the air. Like so many other governments and rebels, the Islamic State has committed atrocities, perhaps on the scale of Lidice, Wounded Knee, Suchow, My Lai, Dublin, or other mass killings. President Obama charges the Islamic State with committing “the most horrific crimes imaginable,” which is flatly untrue. Islamists have not perpetrated a Holocaust or the atomic vaporization of a city. These are accomplishments of Western civilization.

Bad as it was, Islamist treatment of Yazidis in Iraq came nowhere close to the Turkish genocide of Armenians in the early 20th century. Yet genocide-denying Turkey is a much-desired ally. And the president, citing “videos of the atrocity [of beheading],” says somewhat hysterically of the enemy du jour:

“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

And the way the United States will do this is to bring more war, death, and suffering to a region already hostile to the West for its centuries of abuse. But the president presumably knows that some God condones that terror. For all his high-pitched condemnation of Islamic State beliefs, the president omits their nurturing safe haven in Saudi Arabia, where the state religion is a conservative Sunni belief system with much in common with the Sunnis of the Islamic State. Saudis have supported the Islamic State for years. Saudi Arabia is a police state that allows the open practice of no religion other than Islam.

For the United States, this is not division “into adherents and infidels,” this is just a quirk of a major oil producer. Besides, as the U.S. president told the U.N., the real problem is elsewhere:

“It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology”¦. We must offer an alternative vision.”

The answer to the whole problem turns out to be marketing! And not just any marketing, marketing to the young!

So war is just marketing by other means? And marketing is way more persuasive than justice? And blaming victims, the young who have no effective power to change anything happening to them now, is an intellectually tenable position? And it’s a moral perspective? And God condones it?

The president’s “final point” is:

“”¦ the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.”

This may sound like patronizing nonsense, but perhaps the president means it as another example of “the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.” Or perhaps not:

“If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed”¦. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner.”

We’re talking to you, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Kuwait and other police states, the president seems to say, and we don’t really mean anything by it, we just have a home audience that needs gulling.

The Islamic State has few if any friends, so bombing its people has little or no immediate political cost. Better, they can be punished without disrupting much of the oil business, while at the same time boosting the arms business. Down the line there may be blowback – again – but that’s down the line.

And besides, America is exceptional, and that exceptionalism means that God condones whatever we do, or as the president puts it:

“”¦ we welcome the scrutiny of the world”¦. we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves”¦. we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary”¦. we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law”¦.”

That’s part of the ideal, to be sure.

The reality is that each of the five most recent presidential administrations has committed war crimes (and other crimes), for which almost no one has been held accountable and some have received presidential pardons. Government secrecy continues to expand, police state tactics continue to spread, the “free press” is controlled by fewer and fewer people, and this president has responded to these trends by criminally charging more reporters than all his predecessors combined.

The president, who wages war without legal authority, concludes:

“The people of the world look to us, here [at the U.N.], to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done”¦. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.”

The candidate of hope and change in 2008 has somehow become the president of war and fear in 2014, channeling his predecessor’s rhetoric while pursuing similar policies somewhat less recklessly. How did this happen?

Somehow this U.S. president has reached the point of making an Orwellian argument that war is peace, that war is decent, dignified, and courageous, even (or especially) against an outnumbered, militarily helpless, hapless, non-state enemy (a “muscular new course,” the New York Times called it). And why, why should this one-sided war be waged?

Do it for the children – or at least for the ones who survive. That’s what it comes down to in President Obama’s crie de guerre.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and