How to Handle North Korea

Letter to the Editor, L.A. Times, 4/20, Monterey Herald, 4/21

Another brilliant strategy by the Trump Administration: provoke and threaten North Korea. Two nuclear-armed nations with narcissistic, inexperienced, unstable leaders. What could possibly go wrong?

Arlen Grossman


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Syria: Where is the Evidence?

Unjust Killing is Murder: The Cruise Missile Attack On Syria and the Just War Doctrine

By Doran Hunter/Christian Democracy Magazine/April 10, 2017

David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Star

David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Star

Barely 48 hours after the release of sarin gas in Idlib, Syria, the US military launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, substantially damaging the base, and killing both military personnel and civilians. From his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump declared, citing no evidence, that there “can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.” [1]

Just hours after the poison gas incident, again with absolutely zero proof, mainstream media outlets were already condemning Bashar al-Assad for the attack, becoming willing instruments in the propaganda offensive for war that had so humiliatingly flagged in 2013 in the wake of the almost certainly bogus claims of chemical weapons use by Assad in Ghouta. [2] 

What kind of major investigation should we suppose was undertaken in the course of those few hours? It must have been a rigorous and thorough one, since a cruise missile attack would result, and did result, in the loss of human life? Right?

At this point in the course of US imperialism’s foul and blood-soaked track record of lies and mass murder in the region—have we really forgotten “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 and the tragedy that followed?—it is depressing to see so much uncritical media support for the Trump Administration’s aggression.

To review the known facts: Assad had surrendered his chemical weapons stockpile in 2013, under international supervision, and in line with the terms brokered by Russia. With the aid of Russian and Shiite militias, he had driven ISIS and al-Qaeda from every major Syrian population center. By this point, the “rebel” jihadist forces held sway only in rural areas. Only a few days before the incident, representatives of European nations would meet to decide on their policy for the future of Syria. Rex Tillerson, former Exxon CEO, now secretary of state, had just said that it was up to the Syrians themselves to decide who their leaders would be, and that Assad’s rule would have to be accepted.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for Assad to have ordered this attack, let alone evidence that he did so. He would not have nearly achieved total victory over the “rebels” only to suddenly decide to gas children and other civilians, which he would know would provide the kind of pretext for a major attack for which his enemies have been hoping. Seventy civilians died in Idlib. In return, an airbase was destroyed. Does that seem like a calculation that would have been made by Assad, who has managed to hang on to power throughout six years of the proxy war, with both the superpower US and Europe against him?

In his remarks at Mar-a-Largo, the “commander in chief” pretended to be moved by the sarin victims, saying, “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” [3] This, while just over the border in Mosul, Iraq, US bombs have rained hell on women and children in the hundreds, not to mention the over 1 million killed since the onset of US aggression in 2003. Where is the thought for those children of God?

As usual, we the public debate such matters in terms framed for us by the military and foreign policy establishment—in other words, almost always on false premises.

“A Hitleresque tyrant has deliberately dropped chemical bombs on children and hospitals. If left unchecked, he will only commit worse atrocities. Think of the children!”

The fact is, the Syrian conflict, though complex, essentially boils down to a fight over control of energy resources and regional influence. As the Guardian reported in 2013:

“In 2009 . . . Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets—albeit crucially bypassing Russia. An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was ‘to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.’


“Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012—just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo—and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines. 

“The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a ‘direct slap in the face’ to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that ‘whatever regime comes after’ Assad, it will be ‘completely’ in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will ‘not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports,’ according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action.” [4] 

And so we had the entrance into the conflict of the Saudi-, Qatari-, and Turkish-funded terrorist jihadi proxies, with the US concerned to maintain its hegemony over the region for economic reasons, and funding its own militias and other dubious characters. Diplomatic cables revealing US plans to destabilize Syria can be read here [5], and CIA plans to instigate the now infamous demonstrations are documented here [6].

As is almost certainly the case, the chemical attack was not carried out by the government of Syria. The “rebels” and their allies have every reason to have done it, and Assad had none. The incident, in any case, is being used as a pretext to further the aims of US imperialism, not to relieve human suffering. There is no case to be made on the basis of Just War Doctrine. [7] [8]  Although I have said that it is unlikely in the extreme that Assad carried out the attack, and that is was likely carried out by forces opposed to him, no serious investigation has been done. So that means we cannot assign culpability, and, therefore, the first criterion for Just War Doctrine, “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain,” has not been satisfied. Strictly speaking, we do not know who the aggressor was. As I said, it is likely that forces opposed to Assad carried it out (and then any retaliation must be directed at them). Moreover, there is the second criterion: “all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.” Can anyone seriously maintain that this was done in the 48 hours between incident and response?

This latest act of US military aggression is therefore a violation of the Fifth Commandment—an act of murder. And those in the Church closest to the situation, the Syrian Catholic Bishops, have indeed condemned the bombing in clear and decisive terms, pointing out as I did above that no investigation has been done, that Assad had no reason to carry out such an attack, and that Syrian Christians will pay the price. [9] 

If you live in a foreign country that is a target of US imperialism, and if US officials and their media lackeys begin making impassioned pleas about “human rights abuses” and “think of the children!” it is time to gather your loved ones and head for the hills, because you can be certain that horror and death are on the way.




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The Pandora’s Box of War

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig/April 7, 2017

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Quick Judgement

Something may be amiss immediately blaming Syrian government for Sarin gas attack

By Dave Lefcourt/OpEdNews/April 5, 2017


Here we go again. The horrific sarin gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib Province, Syria on Monday killing a reported 58 people including women and children was immediately blamed on the Syrian Arab Army of President Bashar al-Assad by “Western leaders including President Trump,” [1] before any independent investigation had begun and before conclusive evidence was established as to the perpetrators of this crime. But what else is new.

Doesn’t this sound similar to the sarin gas attack in August 2013 where the Assad government was immediately blamed by the US? Yet a subsequent UN Mission Report confirmed in December, 2013 “opposition” rebels used chemical weapons and not the government.

Prior to that time President Obama had issued a “red line” that if crossed would result in a US missile attack against the Syrian government. It was also conjectured after the attack al Qaeda wanted a greater US military presence in Syria so blaming the government for the attack would presumably force Obama’s hand and retaliate against the Syrian government.

Luckily Obama was rescued by Russian President Vladimir Putin who diplomatically arranged for his ally Assad to agree to give up his chemical weapons arsenal and no US bombing campaign ensued.

So when one thinks about the latest gas attack blaming the Syrian Arab Army follows the similar pattern used in 2013; the US and its complicit MSM jumping to the immediate conclusion it had to be carried out by the Syrian government.

I suggest reading “Something is Not Adding Up in Idlib Chemical Weapons Attack” [2] by Paul Antonopoulos, an Australian analyst who makes an alternative argument using photos of al Qaeda associated “White Helmets” on the scene handling the dead gassed victims with bare hands and without gas masks.

From local sources he reveals “250 people from Majdal and Khattab were kidnapped by al Qaeda terrorists last week and claimed many of those dead from the chemical weapons were those from Majdal and Khattab”. Antonopoulos “suggests that on the eve of upcoming peace negotiations, terrorist forces have again created a false flag scenario” resembling the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons attack.

He includes a photo of pick-up trucks at the scene near the victims of the attack and people nearby without protective gear and not affected at all when sarin can begin attacking the body within seconds.

Antonopoulos concludes, “With Syrian Army and its allies in a comfortable position in Syria, making advances across the country…why would they resort to using chemical weapons in Nusra Front occupied Idlib? ” Interestingly, even the Times admitted the area around Khan Shaykhun is held by al Qaeda militants. He adds, “It defies any logic that on the eve of a Syrian peace conference in Brussels and a week before peace negotiations are to resume, that the Syrian government would blatantly use the non-existent stock of chemical weapons.”

“All evidence suggests this is another false chemical attack allegation made against the government as seen in the Ghouta 2103 attack”. 

Admittedly I’ve never heard of Paul Antonopoulos and so soon after such a horrific attack it’s impossible to make a substantive judgment on who committed the atrocity.

But when the US government and western MSM headed by the New York Times comes to the immediate conclusion the Syrian government is to blame, making assertions and assessments without any investigation having taken place it’s a tell tale sign something is amiss. 

A jumped on bandwagon of accusations, assertions, assessments without substantiated proof does not make for honest, unbiased conclusions.

What it does reveal is we’re living in a dangerous McCarthyesque time in the US. And that didn’t start with the coming of the “Donald”. He’s just part of the bandwagon. 

[1] Worst Chemical Attack in Years; U.S. Blames Assad”, by Anna Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “The New York Times, April 4, 2017.

[2] “Something is Not Adding Up in Idlib Chemical Weapons Attack” by Paul Antonopoulos, Information Clearing House”, April 4, 2017

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America’s TV Media Crisis Goes Far Beyond Covering Trump: We Simply Aren’t Hearing About the Most Pressing Issues of Our Time

If the media really wants to fight Trump, they can start by reporting on climate change and inequality.

By Thom Hartmann/Alternet/ March 22, 2017

America has a “lying press” problem.  And it’s not the “enemy of the people” situation our president has asserted.

Consider the biggest threats America faces right now.  

Abrupt climate change [3] is happening around the world as a result of our use of fossil fuels. France 24 reported [4] on February 18 that half the population of Somalia is facing famine because of an unprecedented, climate change-driven drought that’s extending across north and central Africa, while the United States is whipsawed between unprecedented weather extremes because there’s 6 percent more moisture [5] in the air than in 1950, feeding massive storms. The list goes on from the Arctic, which was up to 50 degrees warmer than it should be this winter, to the Antarctic, where sea ice is also reaching lows not seen since humans came out of the trees.  

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

While Canada has declared the internet to be a “fundamental right for all [6]” and is reinforcing its version of net neutrality while extending high-speed, low-cost (and often free) broadband internet service to all Canadians, the new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has said right out loud that he wants to end net neutrality [7] in the U.S., increasing costs for Americans, potentially limiting access to websites that giant ISP corporations don’t like (like perhaps this one) or who don’t pay ISP’s extra for “fast access.”

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

Fracking is causing an explosion of earthquakes [8] in Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania (among others) and devastating water supplies around the nation, while fossil fuel giants hand so much money off to Republican politicians that they’re willing to deny that human-caused climate change is even a thing or that fracking is dangerous. The fossil fuel industry has even now largely seized control of the EPA [9].


Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

An explosion of consolidation in corporate America started in 1982 when Reagan effectively stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The last real enforcement was by Nixon against AT&T, which resolved under Carter with the company breaking up into 7 “Baby Bells” to enhance competition, but those companies are now all re-consolidated.

Reagan’s deregulation lead to the mergers and acquisitions mania from the 1980s to today, highlighted in the movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas famously echoing Michael Milken’s sentiment that “Greed is good.” The latest industries to recently hyper-consolidate are Big Pharma and Big Health Insurance. But media consolidation is the most pernicious [10] when it comes to a “lying press.”

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

An American landscape that used to be filled with local, independently owned businesses has become so homogenized [11] by the handful of companies that control our retail, restaurant, and travel sectors that you could parachute from space to any random part of the country and have no idea where you are because everything is the same. It makes billions for the billionaires, but locks out anything resembling the local competition that used to be a hallmark of American business.

Have you seen the story on American network news? Probably not.

Our so-called “free trade” deals are giveaways to huge multinationals, who now can even force national laws to be struck down [12], and serve mostly to cement the profits of billionaires and transnationals (this goes waaaaay beyond the “offshoring jobs” Trump talking point). Because these trade deals put multinational corporate “courts” above the laws of our own nation, they should rightly be called treaties, which require two-thirds of the Senate to ratify; instead, since Nixon, they’ve been called “trade agreements” and repeatedly passed by tiny majorities with Republican support over Democratic opposition.

While pundits rant about crime in Chicago, nobody mentions the estimated 100,000 people who die every year [13] from workplace-related diseases, the 65,000 who die from mostly fossil fuel-related air pollution, or the 400,000 Americans killed every year by the tobacco industry. At the same time we hyperventilate about street crime and drugs, corporate criminals and banksters destroy working class families with much higher frequency than burglars or robbers but are almost never, ever jailed.  

Have you heard a single in-depth word about any of these issues on the network news?  Odds are your answer is “No,” and when you have, it’s the rare exception that proves the rule, and usually presented in a very narrow frame that doesn’t include corporate malfeasance.

Our radio and TV press is not keeping us informed about things that actually matter to our daily lives and economy, and instead focusing on things that drive up ratings (including, but not limited to, the Donald Trump Reality Show POTUS Version, which they cynically pounded us with throughout 2015 and 2016 because it was, as CBS’s Les Mooves famously said, not good for America but great for CBS).  


In a word: Profits. Profits over truth. Profits over “news.” Profits over the planet. Profits over human survival.

People call into my radio program and ask, “Why don’t I hear about net neutrality on the most liberal of the TV networks?” The easy answer: their parent company is so opposed to net neutrality that they’ve participated in lawsuits to end it. Why? To increase the profits of their Internet ISP arm.

People ask, “Why doesn’t the main “cable news” network cover all the opposition to the giant mergers that are happening?” The easy answer: their parent company is trying to merge with giant telco/ISP company, and is itself the product of multiple mergers.

People ask, “Why doesn’t the conservative TV network ever talk about wealth inequality or billionaire control of the GOP?” The easy answer: a billionaire largely owns their parent company.

People ask, “Why doesn’t public radio do investigative reporting on corporate malfeasance anymore, and instead regularly has on spokespeople for corporate-funded right-wing think tanks?” The easy answer: they’re now funded in substantial part by corporate money.

In 1980, thousands of individuals and local companies owned the majority of radio stations, TV stations and newspapers across America. The result was the outgrowth of competition: broad diversity of programming and opinion on our nation’s airwaves, and healthy debates about a wide variety of issues.

Because of a series of massive deregulations, from Reagan blowing up the Fairness Doctrine to Clinton signing the Telecommunications Act, all that media is now owned by a handful of mega-corporations and a few billionaires.  

Healthy and resilient ecosystems require diversity. The same is true of a healthy media system.

Between the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 and the Communications Act of 1934, our media, until Reagan defanged both in the 1980s, was broad and diverse in its ownership and programming. This is no longer the case, and the American people instinctively know it (even if they lack the details of why).  

Thus, when Donald Trump echoes the tyrants of history by calling out the Lügenpresse (“lying press” in German—the term Hitler used to ultimately shut down the independent German press in 1933) as “fake news,” people know at a gut level that there’s an element of truth to it.  

And if Trump’s new FCC head has his way, the internet (at least in America) will soon be no better.

The billionaire takeover of our media is nearly complete, leading to a deafening silence about the activities of billionaires gaming our economic, political/judicial, and media ecosystems.  We even have a billionaire president and cabinet, brought to us by over $2 billion of free corporate media in the primaries and general election.  

The remnants of American democracy are under daily assault from voter suppression and purges, billionaire-owned judges and politicians, billionaire-friendly tax and trade policies, and a billionaire-owned media.  Income and wealth inequality are at levels not seen since 1929, but you won’t hear a peep about it on the network news.

Billionaire assaults are both consolidating and taking down media companies [14] and journalists (Rachel Maddow’s detailed reporting on this is the shining exception to the rest of the press). And billionaires who game the stock market will profit as much through a crash as they do through bubbles like the one we’re in now. Only the “little people” with their 401Ks or pensions get really badly hurt. But don’t expect to learn that from the corporate media.

“Small government” is merely code for “less regulation of billionaires and the  companies they control”; as government power wanes, billionaire power increases.  Thus, the post-1981 multi-trillion-dollar transfer of wealth from working families to the top 1% continues apace with nary a notice on the evening TV.

If “small-d” democratic political movements want long-term success, they must put at the top of their to-do list a return to a vigorous Sherman Act (and its heirs), and a return to local control/ownership of media with a new “news programming in the public interest” mandate (eliminated by Reagan in 1987) for the media.  

Anything less is merely whistling past the graveyard of democracy.


Thom Hartmann [15] is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is “The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It. [16]

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The Democratic Party is far from perfect, but anyone who can’t see the difference between them and Republicans is simply not paying attention. It would be hard to find a more perfect example of those differences than last week’s votes in which both houses of Congress voted to allow Internet service providers–like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon–to use and sell user’s private information and browsing history, with or without customer permission. All votes in favor of gutting internet privacy were by Republicans. Not a single Democrat voted in favor of this outrageous gift to the ISPs.

-Arlen Grossman

Letters to the Editor, published in SF Chronicle (April 4) and Monterey Herald (April 5)
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 By A.Q. Smith/Current Affairs/March 30,2017

It’s Basically Just Immoral To Be Rich

A reminder that people who possess great wealth in a time of poverty are directly causing that poverty…

Here is a simple statement of principle that doesn’t get repeated enough: if you possess billions of dollars, in a world where many people struggle because they do not have much money, you are an immoral person. The same is true if you possess hundreds of millions of dollars, or even millions of dollars. Being extremely wealthy is impossible to justify in a world containing deprivation.

Even though there is a lot of public discussion about inequality, there seems to be far less talk about just how patently shameful it is to be rich. After all, there are plenty of people on this earth who die—or who watch their loved ones die—because they cannot afford to pay for medical care. There are elderly people who become homeless because they cannot afford rent. There are children living on streets and in cars, there are mothers who can’t afford diapers for their babies. All of this is beyond dispute. And all of it could be ameliorated if people who had lots of money simply gave those other people their money. It’s therefore deeply shameful to be rich. It’s not a morally defensible thing to be. 

To take a U.S. example: white families in America have 16 times as much wealth on average as black families. This is indisputably because of slavery, which was very recent (there are people alive today who met people who were once slaves). Larry Ellison of Oracle could put his $55 billion in a fund that could be used to just give houses to black families, not quite as direct “reparations” but simply as a means of addressing the fact that the average white family has a house while the average black family does not. But instead of doing this, Larry Ellison bought the island of Lanai. (It’s kind of extraordinary that a single human being can just own the sixth-largest Hawaiian island, but that’s what concentrated wealth leads to.) Because every dollar you have is a dollar you’re not giving to somebody else, the decision to retain wealth is a decision to deprive others. 

Note that this is a slightly different point than the usual ones made about rich people. For example, it is sometimes claimed that CEOs get paid too much, or that the super-wealthy do not pay enough in taxes. My claim has nothing to do with either of these debates. You can hold my position and simultaneously believe that CEOs should get paid however much a company decides to pay them, and that taxes are a tyrannical form of legalized theft. What I am arguing about is not the question of how much people should be given, but the morality of their retaining it after it is given to them. 

Many times, defenses of the accumulation of great wealth depend on justifications for the initial acquisition of that wealth. The libertarian-ish philosopher Robert Nozick gave a well-known hypothetical that is used to challenge claims that wealthy people did not deserve their wealth: suppose millions of people enjoy watching Wilt Chamberlain play basketball. And suppose, Nozick wrote, that each of these people would happily give Wilt Chamberlain 25 cents for the privilege of watching him play basketball. And suppose that through the process of people paying Wilt Chamberlain, he ended up with millions of dollars, while each of his audience members had (willingly) sacrificed a quarter. Even though Wilt Chamberlain is now far richer than anyone else in the society, would anyone say that his acquisition of wealth was unjust? 

Libertarians use this example to rebut attempts to say that the rich do not deserve their wealth. After all, they say, the process by which those rich people attained their wealth is totally consensual. We’d have to be crazy Stalinists to believe that I shouldn’t have the right to pay you a quarter to watch you play basketball. Why, look at Mark Zuckerberg. Nobody has to use Facebook. He is rich because people like the product he came up with. Clearly, his wealth is the product of his own labor, and nobody should deprive him of it. People on the right often defend wealth along these lines. I earned it, therefore it’s not unfair for me to have it.

But there is a separate question that this defense ignores: regardless of whether you have earned it, to what degree are you morally permitted to retain it? The question of getting and the question of keeping are distinct. As a parallel: if I come into possession of an EpiPen, and I encounter a child experiencing a severe allergic reaction, the question of whether I am obligated to inject the child is distinguishable from the question of whether I obtained the pen legitimately. It’s important to be clear about these distinctions, because we might answer questions about systems differently than we answer questions about individual behavior. (“I don’t hate capitalism, I just hate rich people” is a perfectly legitimate and consistent perspective.) 

I therefore think there is a sort of deflection that goes on with defenses of wealth. If we find it appalling that there are so many rich people in a time of need, we are asked to consider questions of acquisition rather than questions of retention. The retention question, after all, is much harder for a wealthy person to answer. It’s one thing to argue that you got rich legitimately. It’s another to explain why you feel justified in spending your wealth upon houses and sculptures rather than helping some struggling people pay their rent or paying off a bunch of student loans or saving thousands of people from dying of malaria. There may be nothing unseemly about the process by which a basketball player earns his millions (we can debate this). But there’s certainly something unseemly about having those millions. 

One of the reasons wealthy people rarely have to defend their choices is that “shaming the rich” is not really compatible with any of the predominating political perspectives. People on the right obviously believe that having piles of wealth is fine. Centrist Democrats can’t attack rich people for being rich because they’re increasingly a party for rich people. And socialists (this is the interesting case) tend to believe that questions about the morality of having wealth are relatively unimportant, because they are far more interested in how the state divides up wealth than in what individuals choose to do with it. As G.A. Cohen points out in If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?, Marxists have been concerned with eliminating capitalism generally, which has kept them from thinking about questions of the justice of people’s personal choices. After all, if the problem of inequality is systemic, and rich people do not really make choices but pursue their class interests, then asking whether it is moral for wealthy people to retain their wealth is both irrelevant (because individual decisions don’t affect the systemic problem) and incoherent (because the idea of a moral or immoral capitalist makes no sense in the Marxist framework). In fact, there is a certain leftist argument that giving away wealth in the form of charity is actually bad, because it allows capitalism to look superficially generous without actually altering the balance of power in the society. “The worst slave owners were those who were kind to their slaves, because they prevented the core of the system from being realized by those who suffered from it,” as Oscar Wilde ludicrously put it. (In their book Blueprints for a Sparkling TomorrowNimni and Robinson parody this perspective by portraying two leftist academics who insist on being rude to servers in restaurants, on the grounds that being polite to them obscures the true brutality of class relations.)

But I think it is a mistake to avoid inquiring into the moral justifications for wealth. This is because I think individual decisions do matter, because if I am an extremely wealthy man I could be helping a lot of people who I am choosing not to help. And for those people, at least, it makes a difference when a billionaire decides to retain their wealth rather than rid themselves of it. 

Of course, when you start talking about whether it is moral to be rich, you end up heading down some difficult logical paths. If I am obligated to use my wealth to help people, am I not obligated to keep doing so until I am myself a pauper? Surely this obligation attaches to anyone who consumes luxuries they do not need, or who has some savings that they are not spending on malaria treatment for children. But the central point I want to make here is that the moral duty becomes greater the more wealth you have. If you end up with a $50,000 a year or $100,000 a year salary, we can debate what amount you should spend on helping other people. But if you earn $250,000 or 1 million, it’s quite clear that the bulk of your income should be given away. You can live very comfortably on $100,000 or so and have luxury and indulgence, so anything beyond is almost indisputably indefensible. And the super-rich, the infamous “millionaires and billionaires”, are constantly squandering resources that could be used to create wonderful and humane things. If you’re a billionaire, you could literally open a hospital and make it free. You could buy up a bunch of abandoned Baltimore rowhouses, do them up, and give them to families. You could help make sure no child ever had to go without lunch.

We can define something like a “maximum moral income” beyond which it’s obviously inexcusable not to give away all of your money. It might be 5o thousand. Call it 100, though. Per person. With an additional 50 allowed per child. This means two parents with a child can still earn $250,000! That’s so much money. And you can keep it. But everyone who earns anything beyond it is obligated to give the excess away in its entirety. The refusal to do so means intentionally allowing others to suffer, a statement which is true regardless of whether you “earned” or “deserved” the income you were originally given. (Personally, I think the maximum moral income is probably much lower, but let’s just set it here so that everyone can agree on it. I do tend to think that moral requirements should be attainable in practice, and a $30k threshold would actually require people experience some deprivation whereas a $100k threshold indisputably still leaves you with an incredibly comfortable lifestyle better than almost any other had by anyone in history.)

Of course, wealthy people do give away money, but so often in piecemeal and self-interested and foolish ways. They’ll donate to colleges with huge endowments to get needless buildings built and named after them. David Geffen will pay to open a school for the children of wealthy university faculty, and somehow be praised for it. Mark Zuckerberg will squander millions of dollars trying to fix Newark’s schools by hiring $1000-a-day-consultants. Brad Pitt will try to build homes for Katrina victims in New Orleans, but will insist that they’re architecturally cutting-edge and funky looking, instead of just trying to make as many simple houses as possible. Just as the rich can’t be trusted to spend their money well generally, they’re colossally terrible at giving it away. This is because so much is about self-aggrandizement, and “philanthropy” is far more about the donor than the donee. Furthermore, if you’re a multi-billionaire, giving away $1 billion is morally meaningless. If you’ve got $3 billion, and you give away 1, you’re still incredibly wealthy, and thus still harming many people through your retention of wealth. You have to get rid of all of it, beyond the maximum moral income. 

The central point, however, is this: it is not justifiable to retain vast wealth. This is because that wealth has the potential to help people who are suffering, and by not helping them you are letting them suffer. It does not make a difference whether you earned the vast wealth. The point is that you have it. And whether or not we should raise the tax rates, or cap CEO pay, or rearrange the economic system, we should all be able to acknowledge, before we discuss anything else, that it is immoral to be rich. That much is clear. 


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Two Very Different Republicans

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Civil defense team members and people try to rescue people who were trapped under the debris of a Mosque after an aerial attack on a mosque during prayer in the Cina village of Etarib district of Aleppo, Syria on March 16, 2017.  (Photo: İbrahim Ebu Leys/ Anadolu Agency )

By Robert C. Koehler/ Common Dreams/ March 21, 2017

We committed a quiet little war crime the other day. Forty-plus people are dead, taken out with hellfire missiles while they were praying.

Or maybe not. Maybe they were just insurgents. The women and children, if there were any, were . . . come on, you know the lingo, collateral damage. The Pentagon is going to “look into” allegations that what happened last March 16 in the village of al-Jinah in northern Syria was something more serious than a terrorist takeout operation, which, if you read the official commentary, seems like the geopolitical equivalent of rodent control.

The target was “assessed to be a meeting place for al-Qaeda, and we took the strike,” a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command explained. The strike involved two Reaper (as in Grim Reaper) drones and their payload of Hellfire missiles, plus a 500-pound bomb.

The target, at least according to human rights organizations and civilians on the ground, was a mosque during prayer hour.

“U.S. officials said the strikes . . . had killed ‘dozens’ of militants at a meeting of the terrorist group,” according to the Washington Post. “But local activists and a monitoring group reported that at least 46 people died, and more were trapped under rubble, when the attack struck a mosque during a religious gathering. . . . Photos from the area showed rescue workers pulling mangled bodies from a mound of rubble.”

One local resident told Agence France-Presse: “I saw 15 bodies and lots of body parts in the debris when I arrived. We couldn’t even recognize some of the bodies.”

“Global humanity, led by the United States of America, the planet’s primo superpower, is devolving into a state of perpetual war. It has caged itself into unending self-hatred.”

During the 30 seconds of attention the story garnered, the controversy was whether it was a mosque that was hit or a building across the street from a mosque. The Pentagon even declassified a photo of the bombing aftermath, showing that a small building near the ghastly bomb crater was still standing. However, according to The Intercept: “Activists and first responders say the building that was targeted was a part of the mosque complex — and that the charred rubble shown in the photo was where 300 people were praying when the bombs began to hit.”

Anyway, the news cycle moved on. My initial thought, as I read about the bombing, which was not described as a massacre or slaughter in the mainstream headlines, but remained an “incident,” is that the media have a default agreement on morality: Killing’s OK as long as it’s emotionless, coldly rational and strategic (even if mistakenly so). This is the American way. Coldly strategic murder can be reported in such a way that it fits into the global infrastructure of safety and the control of evil.

But killing is bad if there’s passion involved. Passion is easily linked to “extremism” and wrongthink. The man killed this month by police at Paris’ Orly Airport, for instance, had cried, “I am here to die for Allah — there will be deaths.”

This fits neatly into the moral certainty of the Western world. Compare this to military PR talk, also reported in The Intercept: “The area,” according to a U.S. Navy spokesperson, “was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties.”

“The media have a default agreement on morality: Killing’s OK as long as it’s emotionless, coldly rational and strategic…”

In both cases, the perpetrators foresaw dead bodies left in the wake of their action. Nevertheless, the American military machine carefully avoided the public’s, or the media’s, moral disapproval. And geopolitics remains a game of good vs. evil: as morally complex as 10-year-old boys playing cowboys and Indians.

What I had not foreseen was how quickly the story would disappear from the news cycle. It simply couldn’t compete with the Trump cacophony of tweets and lies and whatever else passes for the news that America consumes. This adds a whole new dimension of media indifference to the actual cost of war, but I guess no nation could wage endless war if its official media made a big deal out of every mosque or hospital it (mistakenly) bombed, or put human faces on all its collateral damage.

I write this with sarcasm and irony, but what I feel is a troubled despair too deep to fathom. Global humanity, led by the United States of America, the planet’s primo superpower, is devolving into a state of perpetual war. It has caged itself into unending self-hatred.

“The way in which U.S. militarism is taken for granted,” Maya Schenwar writes at Truthout, “mirrors the ways in which other forms of mass violence are deemed inevitable — policing, deportation, the genocide and erasure of Indigenous peoples, the exploitative market-driven health care system, the vastly inequitable education system and disastrous environmental policies. The generally accepted logic tells us that these things will remain with us: The best we can hope for, according to this narrative, is modest reform amid monstrous violence.

“We have to choose,” she says, “life-giving priorities over violent ones. We have to stop granting legitimacy to all forms of state violence.”

Yes, yes, but how? The necessity of war has not been challenged at official levels of power in this country in more than four decades. The corporate media grants legitimacy to state violence more by what it doesn’t say than by what it does. Bombed mosques simply disappear from the news and, voila, they never happened. Liars had a global forum to promote the invasion of Iraq, while those who questioned it had to loose their outrage from street corners. “Collateral damage” is a linguistic blur, a magician’s cape, hiding mass murder.

And Donald Trump is under the control of the militarized far right as well as his own clueless immaturity. Of course his new budget, released, as Schenwar points out, on the anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, ups the military allotment by $54 billion and gouges social spending. As we protest and write letters to Congress and express our shock and awe at what is happening, let us keep in mind that Trump merely puts a face on America’s out-of-control militarism. He didn’t create it.

For the protests against his budget cuts to be effective, for the roiling turmoil to matter, a new country must be in formation.

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Crying Wolf


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