Flag Day is upon us, with the Fourth of July not far behind. No better time for a frontal assault on a cherished American ritual—the Pledge of Allegiance.
Though conservatives will be most aghast at this undertaking, the open-minded ones will soon discover they should be among the pledge’s greatest critics.
Before I open fire, a brief explanation for international readers: The Pledge of Allegiance is recited by children across America at the start of start of each school day. It’s also incorporated into many meetings held by federal, state and local governments and private groups as well.
Standing and facing the flag with hand over heart, one recites: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
A Government Loyalty Oath Written by a Socialist
Many who consider the pledge a cornerstone of conservative values will be surprised to learn it was written by a Christian Socialist named Francis Bellamy, who was run out of his pulpit at a Boston church for preaching against capitalism, and who called Jesus Christ a socialist.
His radical cousin, Edward Bellamy, wrote a popular novel, Looking Backward, which glowingly describes a future in which government controls the means of production and where men are conscripted into the country’s “industrial army” and compelled to work in roles assigned to them by central planners.
While working for The Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine, Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, timed to be introduced in patriotic celebrations accompanying the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival.
According to a summary of Bellamy’s account of his writing of the pledge, he aimed for brevity, as well as “a rhythmic roll of sound so they would impress the children and have a lasting meaning when they became grown-up citizens.”
Given his beliefs, Bellamy was well-suited for creating a loyalty oath that conditions Americans to subordinate themselves to a powerful central government. Make no mistake—in pledging allegiance “to the republic,” Americans are doing precisely that.
That’s consistent with Bellamy’s wish for state sovereignty and individual liberties to yield to a centralized national government, but it’s starkly at odds with the founding spirit of the country.
Central to that spirit are the notions that government should be a servant and not a master, and that all government should be viewed with deep, ongoing wariness— certainly not the reverence demanded by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Free people have no business pledging loyalty to any government. It’s government that has a duty of loyalty to the people, with no more essential demonstration of that loyalty than the protection of the rights of individuals.
Conditioning America’s Youth for Subservience
Bellamy didn’t just write the pledge, but also instructions for an accompanying ritual that feels simultaneously religious and militaristic:
“At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the Flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it… At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”
Yes, Bellamy directed civilian children and adults to render a military salute to the flag, perhaps laying the philosophical groundwork for the eventual creation of the socialist “industrial army” his cousin envisioned in his novel.
The arm outstretched toward the flag came to be called the “Bellamy salute,” and it endured for several decades before its striking similarity to the Nazi salute prompted its replacement in 1942 by the familiar hand-over-heart gesture.
I haven’t always felt this way. Conditioned by 13 years of public school, I continued sincerely reciting the pledge at various functions far into my adult life. Following my U.S. Army service, I’d even stand at attention with heels locked—Bellamy would’ve been proud.
It was only after learning the true meaning of liberty and the animating spirit of our system of government that my mind was changed. If your experience is like mine, once you begin recognizing the pledge as the authoritarian loyalty oath that it is, you’ll soon develop disdain for its nearly every phrase.
50 States, Infinitely Divisible
Two elements of the pledge are especially destructive of a healthy mindset regarding the relationship between the American people and government: “One nation” and “indivisible.”
First, in creating the United States of America, the founders were not forming a single nation. The U.S. Constitution is a compact of independent states, with the word “states” taking its highest political meaning that puts Virginia, for example, on par with France.
That compact delegated certain, limited powers to a federal government so it could perform stated functions in service to the separate states. As James Madison wrote, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.”
Fifty different sovereign societies exercising numerous and indefinite powers, without regard to the federal government and, whenever necessary, in outright defiance of it. That’s the United States of America.
With each “one nation” incantation, however, American children and adults are conditioned to view their states as insignificant political subdivisions, while embracing the primacy of the federal government and the centralization of power in Washington, DC.
However, of the pledge’s 31 words, “indivisible” should give greatest offense to American patriots. The very existence of the United States—created by secession from the British empire—is a testament to political divisibility as a foundational human right.
The Declaration of Independence explicitly expresses that sentiment:
“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed—that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
By reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaiming the United States of America “indivisible,” Americans disclaim their human right of self-determination. They also surrender their ultimate means of holding government accountable: Every government should exist under perpetual threat of disintegration.
Scouring the pledge for positives, one can appreciate that Bellamy rightly referred to the government as a republic and not a democracy—an important yet underappreciated distinction.
Likewise, we can all embrace the idea of “liberty and justice for all.” However, the pledge implies that’s the current state of affairs, rather than a far-off ambition.
That ambition is undermined by the powerful central government advanced by Bellamy’s pledge. Today, it faces a potent new threat from those who, pursuing “equity,” seek to undermine the rights of individuals by imposing new forms of government-sanctioned discrimination.
Making an Idol Out of Cloth and a False God Out of Government
Civics aside, it’s worth noting that, since its introduction, the pledge has also sparked objections on religious grounds—and I’m not referring to the 1954 addition of the words “under God,” and its attendant controversy about the separation of church and state.
Rather, many religious people reasonably view pledging allegiance to a flag as a form of idolatry, or something uncomfortably close to it. Before you scoff at the idea that the U.S. flag has evolved into a “graven image” in the Second Commandment sense, consider that citizens are encouraged to dispose of worn-out flags by burning them and, after a period of silent reflection, burying the ashes.
Other religious individuals are put off by the idea of swearing faith to a government. One such critic quotes the Christian bible’s Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters.” You don’t have to ponder that long to see many profound conflicts between the bible’s values (e.g., “blessed are the peacemakers,” “thou shalt not steal”) and the U.S. government’s.
An Authoritarian Spectacle That’s Not Going Anywhere
No matter where the hand is placed in what Gene Healy rightly calls a “slavish ritual of devotion to the state,” it’s safe to say if the Pledge of Allegiance had never existed, and Americans were to observe a similar rite in another country, most would surely recoil at the authoritarian spectacle.
Alas, there could be no such opportunity: Richard Ellis, author of To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance, looked but couldn’t find another country that has anything like it.
Created by a socialist and now fiercely championed by those who think they’re conservatives, the Pledge of Allegiance will likely continue warping Americans’ thoughts about the relationship between citizens and government for many more years to come.
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
In a move that would primarily benefit the world’s largest economies and most bloated governments, the Biden administration has proposed that all the world’s countries agree to impose corporate taxes at a rate no lower than 15%. Biden also proposes punishing countries that don’t adopt the minimum, by imposing heavier taxes on U.S. subsidiaries of companies headquartered in those countries.
In describing the initiative, Treasury secretary Janet Yellen made her aim all too clear: “It is important to work with other countries to end the pressures of tax competition,” she said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Though we’re conditioned to view them as something else, taxes are prices—albeit ones associated with no small amount of coercion. In that light, Yellen’s public opposition to tax competition should be just as jarring as if a corporate CFO said “it’s important to work with other companies to end the pressures of price competition.”
Aside from being an act of imperious, central-planning arrogance, the U.S.-led drive to fix the minimum corporate price of government is just the latest example of government pursuing an activity that’s illegal for private actors.
Plan Aims to Make Biden Tax Hike More Palatable
It’s no coincidence that Biden’s proposal comes alongside his drive to hike the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. While that would still leave it below the 35% level where it stood before a GOP-led 2017 cut, it would weaken America’s position in international competition for corporate investment.
According to the Tax Foundation, Biden’s corporate tax increase would lift the U.S. federal-state combined rate to 32%, which would be the highest among the 38-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
To the extent it encourages companies to shift investments and operations to more tax-friendly locales, the tax hike would be at least partially self-defeating. Thus comes the Biden administration’s campaign for a 15% global minimum.
Notably, that rate wasn’t the administration’s first choice—it originally floated a 21% floor. The administration likely sees a 15% pact as a precedent-setting foundation for eventually pushing a higher minimum.
Begging credulity, Biden told reporters he wasn’t concerned that higher taxes could prompt U.S. companies to relocate. “There’s no evidence of that…that’s bizarre,” he said.
Though proposed as a global minimum, the initial focus is on persuading the G7 countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States. Reuters has reported that G7 finance ministers will soon announce their commitment to the idea.
Plan Would Benefit Largest Governments at Expense of the Smallest
The sledding will get a lot tougher after moving beyond that group of the world’s wealthiest economic heavyweights to the G20, OECD and beyond.
Indeed, OECD member Ireland, which boasts a 12.5% corporate tax rate, has already declared its opposition to the scheme—a scheme that threatens to widen the divide between larger and smaller economies.
Smaller countries often use lower tax rates to heighten their appeal as they compete with larger, more advanced economies: The 24 largest European economies average a 20.8% corporate tax rate, compared to 14.5% for the 24 smallest.
Given Ireland’s 12.5% rate has spurred high-tech investment and prosperity in the country, it’s easy to see why it would promptly reject an invitation to surrender it for the benefit of the United States and other economic giants.
“We do have really significant reservations regarding a global minimum effective tax rate status at such a level that it means only certain countries, and certain size economies can benefit,” said Ireland finance minister Paschal Donohoe.
In a separate statement, the Irish government said could support a 12.5% minimum, “which is fair and within the ambit of healthy tax competition.”
Alas, to big-government proponents of a minimum corporate tax, “healthy tax competition” is an oxymoron: Yellen has decried a downtrend in corporate tax rates as a “30-year race to the bottom” that must be stopped.
Corporate Taxes Affect Everyone
Americans should be as hostile to a global minimum corporate tax as they would to a global minimum price for computer chips, lumber or steel. Higher corporate taxes mean businesses have less money to invest in new facilities, develop products, hire workers, pay dividends and command higher stock prices.
The ripple effect is potent. According to a study by the Organization for International Cooperation and Development, “corporate taxes are found to be most harmful for growth, followed by personal income taxes, and then consumption taxes.”
Some will scoff at the idea that higher stock prices and dividends are good for the public. However, via 401(k) plans, IRAs, mutual funds and direct stock investments, 55% of Americans are corporate shareholders of one type or another.
Though routinely vilified by demagoguing politicians, businesses are part of an economic ecosystem in which all of us live. When government increases the tax burden of either businesses or individuals, both groups are affected.
Feeding Washington’s Spending Addiction
Having said all that, let’s not let the latest tax debate divert our attention from an essential fact: The U.S. government doesn’t have a revenue problem—it has a spending problem. And it’s poised to grow even worse.
Biden has requested a staggering $6 trillion federal budget for the coming fiscal year—that’s nearly a third higher than pre-pandemic levels. As a percentage of GDP, the president’s plan for the coming decade would see sustained spending at levels unseen since World War II.
When that war ended, spending subsided. Today, as the government-exacerbated Covid-19 crisis winds down, Biden and congressional allies are proposing to spend even more, content to watch trillion dollar deficits become routine, and the federal debt mushroom even after hiking rates on individuals and businesses.
That’s the real race to the bottom, Ms. Yellen.
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
The Center for Disease Control’s major easing of its mask-use recommendations was a welcome development, giving Americans hope that logic can triumph over the CDC’s bureaucratic inertia and its COVID-era tendency to push the most severe restrictions on human activity at every turn.
Next, let’s hope this outbreak of rationality proves contagious within the CDC, and brings a major overhaul of the agency’s absurd guidelines for summer camps.
CDC Trapped in March 2020 Mindset
In April, the CDC published guidance for operating youth camps that was the latest eye-rolling example of CDC maximalism that conflicts with what we’ve learned about COVID-19.
Before we examine the CDC guidance, let’s review some of the key things that we now know about COVID-19 that we didn’t in March 2020:
COVID-19 presents little risk at all to children. According to CDC data, only 295 children age 0-17 have died with COVID-19. Compare that to the CDC’s estimation that 600 died of the flu during the 2017-18 season.
Outdoor transmission pretty much never happens. An Irish study of more than 232,000 Covid-19 cases found only 0.1% of cases were transmitted outside.
Surface transmission isn’t a material source of spread. The CDC has declared the risk of contracting the virus by touching surfaces or objects is low, and that rather than cleaning with disinfectant, “soap and water is enough to reduce risk” (unless there’s a known or suspected Covid-19 case in a community setting).
Vaccines are abundantly available. According to the CDC’s vaccination data, 60.5% of U.S. adults have have received at least one vaccine dose, and 48.4% are fully vaccinated. Gone are the days when finding the vaccine was a challenge; today, anyone who wants the vaccine can readily find it.
COVID-19 cases and deaths are in a free fall. The 7-day averages for cases and deaths have respectively fallen 89% and 83% from their peaks. On Sunday, the entire state of Texas reported not a single death from the virus. Today, San Francisco General Hospital has no COVID-19 patients for the first time since March 2020.
With that knowledge in mind, here are some key ingredients in the CDC’s recipe for dystopian summer fun:
Two-layer masks should be worn at all times—indoors and out—except for eating, drinking and swimming
Don’t allow close-contact games and sports
Avoid sharing of objects such as toys, games and art supplies
Separate children on buses by skipping rows
Divide children into “cohorts” and then keep them away from other cohorts
Children should stay three feet away from kids in their cohort and six feet away from those outside their cohort; campers and staff should stay six feet from each other, as should fellow staff members
While eating and drinking, stay six feet away from everybody—even your own cohort
Who exactly are these draconian, fun-killing guidelines meant to protect? The children aren’t in any meaningful danger—the number of children who typically drown in a given year is more than double the number of child COVID deaths we’ve observed in 15 months.
Meanwhile, against a backdrop of rapidly-vanishing COVID-19 infections across the country, camp staff will have had more than ample opportunity to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the first kids arrive.
We’re told to “follow the science,” but what is the CDC following? The agency’s guidelines read like they were written during the early dark ages of the Covid outbreak, when the peril was still filled with overwhelming mystery, and “erring on the side of caution” still had a trace of credibility.
As Columbia University pediatric immunologist Mark Gorelik told New York Magazine, “We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC’s recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
As Americans warily eye new data showing both consumer and producer price inflation heating up beyond expectations, few of them realize the Federal Reserve has an explicit goal to relentlessly degrade the purchasing power of their savings.
The Fed weakens the dollar—and pushes prices higher—by creating new money and pushing it out into the economy. If the Fed hits its stated target, the U.S. dollar will lose 10% of its buying power over the next 5 years, 26% over the next 15, and 40% over the next 25. As bad as that sounds, history suggests the dollar will fare even worse than the Fed intends it to.
The Fed’s Evolving Mandate: So Long, “Stable Prices”
For much of its 108-year history, the Federal Reserve had either an implied or explicit mandate to preserve the value of the U.S. dollar—and it failed spectacularly. Between the Fed’s founding in 1913 and 2012, the dollar lost approximately 96% of its buying power.
In 2012, the Fed formally dropped the value-preservation pretense, brazenly declaring that, henceforth, it will deliberately cultivate price inflation at 2% a year.
In the context of a single year, that may not sound like much. However, just as small plumbing leaks quietly cause devastating damage over time, a steady loss of a modest amount of purchasing power accumulates to a major blow to the dollar. Naturally, the Fed didn’t say it wants to cut the value of a dollar by 26% in 15 years, but that’s how the math plays out.
When announcing its new philosophy, the Fed claimed a 2% inflation rate is “most consistent over the long run with the Fed’s statutory mandate.”
The Fed is clearly applying a creative interpretation of the word “stable.” Would a doctor use that term to describe a patient’s pulse that keeps losing two beats per minute at hourly intervals?
It wasn’t long until the Fed was straining at the longer monetary leash it had given itself. Next, the central bank declared that, rather than viewing 2% as an upper limit on annual price increases, it will feel free to let inflation run hotter in a given year, pursuant to hitting a 2% average over time.
Given history’s many examples of runaway inflation, that sounds a lot like the Fed is playing with fire.
An August 2020 elaboration on the central bank’s philosophy offered little reassurance: Fed chair Jerome Powell said, “We are not tying ourselves to a particular mathematical formula that defines the average. Thus, our approach could be viewed as a flexible form of average inflation targeting.”
An “average” without “a particular mathematical formula” sounds all too flexible indeed.
Has the Inflation Virus Already Escaped the Fed’s Lab?
This spring, Fed officials have been assuring Americans that recent price increases are merely “transitory”—that they don’t mark the start of a major upward trend.
In the wake of April inflation data, those assurances are looking increasingly empty. First came a market-jarring report that consumer prices were 4.2% higher than the previous year. Next, we learned the Producer Price Index soared 6.2% from April 2020—the largest jump since the index started in 2010.
Remember that 2% inflation target? Consumer prices have already risen 2% in the first four months of 2021 alone, with month-to-month increases growing steadily larger. So far this year, the Consumer Price Index has risen:
· +0.2% in January
· +0.4% in February
· +0.6% in March
· +0.8% in April
The Fed’s Unspoken Mandate
Since consumer price increases are driven in large part by the Fed’s creation of new money, there’s ample reason to think inflationary pressures will continue to grow, thanks to the Fed’s unspoken mandate: aiding and abetting federal government deficit spending.
For the first seven months of the 2021 fiscal year, the federal government spent 90% more money than it took in—since October, $4.075 trillion in outlays against $2.14 trillion in receipts.
When the government spends more money than it takes in, it covers the difference by issuing debt in the form of Treasury bonds, bills and notes. To create artificial demand for that debt and force interest rates lower than what a rational market would demand from an entity that’s $28 trillion in debt, the Fed has been buying much of the new debt with money it creates out of thin air.
This eyebrow-raising practice is called “monetizing the debt,” and in recent times, the Fed has been taking it extreme levels. For example, in March and April of 2020 alone, the Fed monetized over $1.5 trillion of federal debt—everything the Treasury borrowed during that span.
The Fed is barred from buying debt directly from the government. In what is essentially a sham transaction, the Fed defeats the spirit of that law by simply waiting until the debt is issued to the public and then buying it from a select group of large financial firms who are in on the arrangement.
It bears repeating that it does so by creating new money, with the consequence of reducing the value of the other money already in circulation. As a means of financing government, then, inflation is a tax everyone pays, but nobody votes for—unless you count the unelected appointees to the Federal Reserve.
A Cornered Fed Won’t Stop Printing Money Now
The U.S. government-Federal Reserve cartel has painted itself into a corner.
Absent the Fed’s purchase of Treasury debt, the federal government’s cost of borrowing would soar, as investors demand full compensation for the growing risk of loaning money to the increasingly debt-laden U.S. government. Since Treasury rates serve as a benchmark, consumer and corporate borrowing costs would soar too, tanking the economy.
At the same time, the prospect of higher inflation puts upward pressure on rates, prompting the Fed to create more money to buy Treasury debt and push rates lower—yet that new money is itself an additional source of inflationary pressure.
Meanwhile, blissfully oblivious to the growing peril, Congress and President Biden are eager to keep stacking trillion-dollar spending plans that hand out money to mismanaged municipalities, give cash payments to people who lost no income during the pandemic, finance a sprawling global empire, award cronies and incentivize unemployed people to stay unemployed.
There’s no telling how or when this will end, but it won’t end well.
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
The coming year could bring a major milestone to America’s fitful relationship with the military draft: The Supreme Court may declare male-only draft registration unconstitutional, while Congress could either expand registration to women or end it altogether.
Out of respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Congress should choose the latter option.
Though it’s been almost a half-century since the last citizen was drafted into military service, the Military Selective Service Act continues requiring men to register upon reaching age 18, and to notify the Selective Service of address changes until age 26. The federal government makes registration a prerequisite for certain benefits, and 41 states incorporate registration into driver licensing.
The Selective Service says 92% of draft-eligible men are registered. With 17 million names in the system today, that compliance rate implies 1.5 million men have failed to register. That’s a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison, but no one has been prosecuted for it since 1986.
Meanwhile, the value of registration is itself undercut by low compliance with the requirement to notify the Selective Service of address changes. A 1982 General Accounting Office report estimated that, by the time men were nearing the end of their draft eligibility, the Selective Service would likely have correct addresses for just a quarter of them. (That appears to be the last time such a study was published.)
Even where the government has a current address, registration may do little to speed draftees to duty: A government study preceding the 1980 resumption of draft registration estimated it would only cut seven days off the time needed to deliver the first inductee to military service.
One might be inclined to instinctively associate support for the draft with Republicans and opposition with Democrats. However, at key points in recent draft history, the opposite is true.
In his 1968 presidential campaign, Republican Richard Nixon ran on a commitment to end conscription for the Vietnam War, and the last men were ordered into military service on December 7, 1972, as his first term was ending. Registration continued for a few more years, until Republican President Gerald Ford suspended it in 1975.
The ensuing draft-registration hiatus was short-lived: Democrat Jimmy Carter ushered the current system into place in 1980, as he sought to convey election-year strength in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Republican icon Ronald Reagan opposed the draft from the 1960s through his 1980 presidential campaign, once saying that, other than in a time of “severe national emergency…a draft or draft registration destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending.” Once in office, however, hawkish advisors dissuaded him from ending registration.
2021: Republicans and Democrats Join Forces Against the Draft
Today, a bipartisan quartet of federal legislators are leading a new charge against the draft. In mid-April, representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced matching House and Senate legislation to abolish the Selective Service.
Noting that “Congress hasn’t come close to reinstating a draft in 50 years,” Wyden said “this arcane system, which disproportionately harms disadvantaged young men, should be officially abolished, once and for all.”
Court Case Puts Young Women in the Crosshairs
Congress is under high pressure to do something about the draft, and soon, as the Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of male-only draft registration. If the court takes up the case, a decision can be expected late this year or in the first half of 2022.
In a 1981 case initiated by the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), the Supreme Court upheld male-only registration in a 6-3 decision, with the majority reasoning that it aligned with the fact that women were barred from serving in combat roles.
However, that rationale was decimated in 2015, when the Pentagon opened combat roles to women. The court is now considering a fresh challenge from the NCFM, which is joined by the American Civil Liberties Union. The NCFM petition argues that male-only registration violates the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On April 14th, the Biden administration asked the court not to hear the case, arguing that Congress is considering a change to the law that could render the case moot. As a candidate, Biden supported expanding registration to include women.
The Selective Service System costs taxpayers $26 million a year; it’s estimated that implementing female-inclusive registration would require an extra $59 million over the first five years alone.
Last year, the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service recommended that women be compelled to register, declaring it “a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified Nation (sic) in a time of national emergency.”
Earlier, I noted that some 1.5 million currently-obligated men haven’t registered. If registration were expanded to women, that tally of felons-in-waiting would skyrocket. That millions of women would become felons under an expanded draft scheme should give pause to feminists.
Likewise, no one should consider it “progress” for women to be forcibly exposed to the risk of being maimed or killed in some future conflict that, if history is any guide, is likely to be a pointless exercise that does nothing to advance national security.
To put it another way, one doesn’t empower women by giving politicians the gravest of control over their bodies. Rather than urging that women be subjected to the draft alongside men, those who support equal protection under the law should call for both men and women to be shielded from coerced military service, which has no place in a free society.
Military Conscription is Involuntary Servitude
The 13th Amendment says “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”
Of course, when casting down prohibitions, governments routinely carve out exceptions for themselves; in 1918, the Supreme Court endorsed the practice of forcing men into highly hazardous labor for the government.
In Arver vs the United States, the court unanimously rejected a challenge to the draft claiming it’s a form of involuntary servitude. Reading like the work of propagandists, the Supreme Court’s Arver opinion describes coerced military service in exalted terms and then simply scoffs at the suggestion anyone would question its propriety:
“As we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation…can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude…, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement.”
Elsewhere in the opinion, the Supreme Court equates Congress’s constitutional power to “raise and support armies” with the authority to accomplish that through coercion.
The past 49 years give ample proof that an army can be raised by enticing volunteers. To the extent the scope of some future war exceeds the supply of willing recruits, the government should be compelled to either respond to the market by offering higher salaries and benefits, or to reconsider the breadth of its military engagement.
As Rand Paul said in announcing his sponsorship of the Senate draft termination bill, “If a war is worth fighting, Congress will vote to declare it and people will volunteer. This outdated government program no longer serves a purpose and should be eliminated permanently.”
Note: Brian McGlinchey served—voluntarily—as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve and Pennsylvania National Guard, and as an officer in the U.S. Army.
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
This fiscal year alone, the U.S. government will redistribute over $3.8 billion in American wealth to the government of Israel—violating federal law every step of the way.
While having amassed upwards of 200 nuclear warheads, Israel is not a member of the the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)—unlike every other state on Earth other than North Korea, India, Pakistan and South Sudan.
That makes U.S. aid to Israel illegal under the Symington Amendment of 1976, which bars economic and military assistance to countries that acquire nuclear reprocessing technology without submitting to international safeguards and inspections. The law was reinforced by the Glenn Amendment of 1977.
Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal: A No-So-Secret Secret
Where its nuclear arsenal is concerned, Israel is said to pursue a policy of “nuclear ambiguity”—neither confirming nor denying its existence. For nearly 50 years, the U.S. government has played along.
However, in the face of overwhelming information in the public domain—including revealing statements by U.S. officials—the government’s implicit and explicit professions of ignorance of Israel’s nuclear weapons program long ago grew farcical.
The most glaring of that public information surfaced in 1986, when former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu spilled the beans on Israel’s nuclear weapon program to the British Sunday Times, providing photos and details from his eight years working at the country’s Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev desert.
Israel’s retaliation was swift: Using a female agent posing as an American tourist, Israel’s Mossad lured him to Italy, where he was drugged, abducted and smuggled to Israel on a freighter, where he was prosecuted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
More pointedly underscoring the dishonesty surrounding American aid to Israel, there have been many occasions in which the U.S. government and its officials have either quietly or inadvertently acknowledged the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons. Here’s a small sampling:
A declassified 1974 National Intelligence Estimate declared “We believe Israel has already produced nuclear weapons.”
In 2006, then-incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who had previously served as Director of Central Intelligence, told a Senate committee that Iran is “surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons—Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf.
Wikileaks published a 2015 email to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from an assistant secretary of state who declared “what Israeli military leaders really worry about—but cannot talk about—is losing their nuclear monopoly.”
In a hacked 2015 email, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told a colleague “the boys in Tehran know Israel has 200 (nuclear weapons), all targeted on Tehran.”
Under pointed questioning in a 2018 press conference, now-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It is a well-known fact that Israel has nuclear weapons.”
Perversely, government employees who would discuss or release information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program—and thus illuminate the ongoing criminality of U.S. aid to Israel—would themselves be subject to prosecution, thanks to a secret classification directive issued by the Obama administration.
The two-page gag order was released in 2015 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Other than the title—“Guidance on Release of Information Relating to the Potential for an Israeli Nuclear Capability”—nearly every word has been redacted.
How to Make Aid to Israel Legal Again
Short of repealing or amending Symington and Glenn amendments, there are two ways aid to Israel can become legal.
First, Israel could join the NPT. That’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Here’s why. There are two categories of NPT membership: nuclear-weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS). Since NWS status is only open to states that built and detonated a nuclear weapon before 1967, Israel and others can only join now as non-nuclear-weapon states. That means Israel would have to acknowledge and then completely dismantle its nuclear arsenal under international supervision.
There’s a much simpler way to restore the legality of American aid to Israel: Both the Symington and Glenn Amendments allow presidents to waive aid restrictions by certifying in writing to the Speaker of the House and the Senate foreign relations committee that “termination of such assistance would…jeopardize the common defense and security.” Those waiver provisions have been used before, with India and Pakistan.
Issuing a waiver for Israel, however, would equate to formally proclaiming the country’s status as a nuclear power. Particularly today, that kind of publicity would be deeply unappreciated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli government and its domestic U.S. champions, who continue cultivating an ongoing, manufactured crisis regarding Iran’s alleged but likely nonexistent nuclear weapons ambitions.
Lawsuit Seeks to Force Compliance with U.S. Law
With the executive and legislative branches showing no sign of obeying the Symington and Glenn amendments anytime soon, one man has turned to the judicial branch to restore compliance.
In 2016, Grant F. Smith, who leads the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), filed a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking an injunction against the continuing flow of illicit aid to Israel.
Smith alleged that the government and named defendants, including then-President Obama and CIA Director John Brennan, “have collectively engaged in a violation of administrative procedure and the Take Care Clause by unlawful failure to act upon facts long in their possession while prohibiting the release of official government information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program.”
The case is still working its way through the federal courts. In the meantime, President Biden and Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle continue making a mockery of U.S. law, and American wealth keeps flowing to Israel, a country that—while ranking 100th in worldwide population and 153rd in area—is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
Fed up after years of relentless National Guard deployments in undeclared wars, state lawmakers across the country are pushing legislation that would prohibit the use of Guard units in combat zones without a formal declaration of war by Congress.
The bills are being promoted by BringOurTroopsHome.US, a self-described organization of “right-of-center” veterans working to end American involvement in “endless wars” and restore congressional authority over war-making. The libertarian 10th Amendment Center is also backing the cause.
The proposed laws would require governors to determine the constitutionality of orders that place Guard units on federal active duty; where they’re deemed unconstitutional, the governor is required to take action to prevent the unit from being surrendered to federal control and sent into harm’s way.
The first “Defend the Guard” bill was conceived and introduced by Air Force veteran and West Virginia state legislator Pat McGeehan. While no state has enacted the law yet, interest is spreading widely, with legislators now pushing the measure in 31 states.
Conservative Veterans Taking Point
BringOurTroopsHome.US is led by Dan McKnight, a 13-year veteran of the Marine Corps Reserve, active duty Army and Idaho Army National Guard whose military service ended after he was injured in Afghanistan.
McKnight and many other veterans leading the drive against the War on Terror are from the right side of the political spectrum. That’s a sharp contrast to the typical antiwar veteran of the Vietnam era, but McKnight says vets from both wars share a common experience.
Today’s veterans “are coming home and saying the same thing (Vietnam vets did): ‘What was the point of that? What was our mission? We have no mission, we have no definition of success, we have no clear path to victory, we have no idea what victory means and we’re there without a constitutional authority to send us there’,” he says.
“Every one of us raised our hands and swore an oath to the Constitution…and when it says Congress shall be the only body to declare war, we take that to heart. And when Congress doesn’t do it, we understand bad things can happen: long, endless foreign misadventures,” says McKnight.
In a 2019 Pew Research poll, 64% of veterans said the war in Iraq wasn’t worth fighting; 58% said the same of Afghanistan. A January Concerned Veterans for America/YouGov poll found two-thirds or more of veterans support full withdrawals from both countries.
“The right-of-center veterans are now echoing the message of left-of-center veterans, and it’s hard to ignore when veterans from the entire political spectrum are saying the same thing: Enough already—if you want us to go and bleed and die and spend our lives and your treasure in a foreign land, then Congress should put their name on the line before we put our boots on the ground,” McKnight says.
That’s what the Constitution demands. In an impassioned speech at the West Virginia legislature last month, McGeehan quoted James Madison: “The Constitution supposes what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war and most prone to it. It has accordingly, with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature.”
Deployments’ Steep Toll
The National Guard has played a major role in America’s post-9/11 militarism: As recently as December, more than 57,000 Guard members were deployed around the world.
The federal government’s reliance on the National Guard makes state legislatures an intriguing second front in the drive to curtail the War on Terror. “Defend the Guard” laws also give state lawmakers a rare chance to influence foreign policy—and to impose consequences for the executive branch’s usurpation of war powers.
The heavy reliance on the Guard takes a toll on soldiers, families, neighborhoods and states. The intense pace of National Guard deployments was underscored at a recent Defend the Guard hearing in South Dakota: While opposing “Defend the Guard,” the state adjutant general acknowledged that, during the entire Global War on Terrorism to date, the state has had all its troops home for just 42 days.
McKnight has friends who’ve done a staggering 12 or 13 overseas National Guard deployments. Beyond the risk to life and limb, and the hardships imposed on individuals, families and marriages, he says communities also pay a price.
Guard members “are police officers, tradesmen, mechanics, schoolteachers, attorneys. (When) they have to leave that job behind, it puts a burden on the community,” says McKnight. Upon their return, Guard members are generally guaranteed the option to reclaim their jobs—but that sometimes means displacing those who filled their positions while they were away, compounding the disruptive effect.
Deployments also prevent National Guard units from responding to crises at home—their primary reason for existing. For example:
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, thousands of the states’ National Guard soldiers were deployed to Iraq. Mississippi’s 223rd Engineer Battalion returned to repair hurricane damage—but was ordered to leave its equipment in Iraq for use by other units.
In 2020, as Oregon endured some of its worst wildfires ever, half the state’s National Guard helicopters were in Afghanistan, including all its CH-47 Chinooks—dual-rotor choppers capable of carrying 26,000-pound payloads and ideal for use in firefighting. The Oregon Guard did what it could with Blackhawk helicopters that have one tenth the lifting power.
The Empire Strikes Back
When Defend the Guard measures are introduced in state legislatures, the national security establishment and its allies emerge to defend the status quo—by hook or by crook.
In South Dakota, McKnight says, “the military-industrial complex…sent a two-star general to testify…and made all kinds of threats, and insinuated the state would lose their National Guard if they passed this bill, which is simply not true.”
Weeks ago, Republican Idaho Representative Joe Palmer, who chairs the state’s Transportation & Defense Committee, seemed to resort to underhanded tactics to kill a Defend the Guard bill.
He put the measure to an initial procedural vote in the committee, and declared it to have failed by voice vote. Video of the proceedings, however, shows the result of the voice vote to be unclear at best, and McKnight says his group’s post-vote polling of members suggests the measure would have advanced had Palmer taken a recorded vote.
If Palmer didn’t already know he should play fair with veterans who are trying to prevent fellow citizen-soldiers from dying in unconstitutional wars, he may be learning that lesson now: McKnight says his group facilitated an emergency meeting of the GOP committee in Palmer’s home town, which is now considering a resolution censuring Palmer for his conduct.
“If you want to play parliamentary tricks and the price of your tricks is the blood of my brothers and sisters who (deploy) over and over again, then we’re going to take some blood of our own, and we’re going to do that the way politicians understand, and that’s with voters in the primary and the general election,” says McKnight.
Sometimes, the establishment’s machinations are done away from cameras. In a 2015 interview, West Virginia’s McGeehan said he was summoned to a meeting in the Speaker’s office with the commander of the state National Guard. The general said he’d received a call from the Pentagon, threatening that, if Defend the Guard became law, West Virginia bases would find their way onto the list of installations targeted for closure.
Liz Cheney Intervenes to Thwart Wyoming Bill
McKnight says “the most offensive opposition that we’ve faced” came from U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney.
“When we pushed the Defend the Guard bill in Wyoming last year, she or her staff contacted members of the Wyoming legislature and said, ‘If this passes in Wyoming, I will personally see to it that two C-130 aircraft are stripped from Wyoming and sent to Texas’,” says McKnight, who was in Cheyenne to support the bill, along with U.S. Senator Rand Paul.
Bethany Baldes, Wyoming state director of BringOurTroopsHome.US, was also on hand. She too says lawmakers told her they received calls from Cheney’s office that included threats to send new C-130 cargo planes to Texas. (Cheney’s communications director has not replied to an invitation to comment on this story.)
The measure failed, 35-22. A statement signed by a group of Wyoming senators opposing the measure seemed to turn logic on its head by claiming the bill “calls into question Wyoming’s support for our soldiers and airmen in the National Guard.”
That episode was McKnight’s second jarring encounter with Cheney, whom he describes as a “warmonger heiress of a military-industrial fortune.” Months before, he and other veterans met with Cheney in Washington to urge her to support the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
“We went into Liz Cheney’s office and we asked her, ‘What conditions must be met on the ground for you to support ending the war in Afghanistan and bringing our troops home?’ And she said, ‘I don’t think I could ever support that position’.”
Pressing the issue, the veterans asked Cheney how long troops should remain. “She looked us stone-faced in the eye and said, ‘Forever. American troops will be in Afghanistan forever’,” says McKnight. “That’s when we decided it was time to step away from the swamp and work in the states, and force the states to force Congress’s hand.”
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
If you’ve felt the media has heavily emphasized bad news throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, your judgment now has some scholarly corroboration.
Dartmouth College and Brown University researchers have analyzed tens of thousands of Covid-19 articles and found major U.S. media outlets have overwhelmingly pushed negative narratives about the virus.
“The most striking fact is that 87 percent of the U.S. stories are classified as negative, whereas 51 percent of the non-U.S. stories are classified as negative,” according to the study by Dartmouth economics professor Bruce Sacerdote, Dartmouth’s Ranjan Sehgal and Brown University’s Molly Cook.
Thwarting Public Clarity About COVID-19
Though the study doesn’t delve deep into the societal implications, there’s little doubt excessive media negativity has contributed to public misunderstanding of the nature of the disease and the risk it poses to various segments of society.
Consider one of study’s most glaring findings: Even when COVID-19 cases were falling nationally between April 24 and June 27, major media discussed rising caseloads 5.3 times as frequently as falling ones.
The impact was evident: A June CBS News poll found a record number of Americans felt the fight against coronavirus was going badly. Of course, news of the poll was itself another negative story, feeding a media-facilitated vicious circle of fear.
In July, a Franklin Templeton-Gallup poll found Americans had a poor understanding of the risk of Covid-19 death for different age cohorts:
Participants said people aged 55+ accounted for a little over half of the deaths, when the actual share was 92%.
Those under age 25 accounted for just 0.2% of deaths—participants overestimated the share by a factor of 50.
The results aren’t surprising, given the media’s compulsion to accentuate rare occasions when teens and twentysomethings fall victim to the virus.
The many who skimmed the headline received an anecdotal infusion of fearful misinformation. The minority who made it to the tenth paragraph would finally learn that doctors treating the purportedly “healthy” yet visibly obese teen found he had Type 1 diabetes with a blood sugar level 10 times the norm.
Two months earlier, the Centers for Disease Control announced that about 90% of those hospitalized with the virus had one or more underlying conditions. Among the most common were obesity (48%) and diabetes (28%). Rather than using this teen’s grim story to enlighten the public about who is at greatest risk, CNN aggressively pushed a perception that nobody is safe.
The media’s failure to foster understanding of Covid-19 also seems evident in the many people still seen wearing masks while alone outdoors. According to Dr. Muge Cevik, an infectious diseases and virology scientist at the University of St Andrews, “outdoor risk is negligible unless it involves close interaction or you are in a crowded or semi-outdoor environment.”
Perceptions of the Virus Influence Policy Opinions
Overly-negative Covid-19 reporting has implications well beyond individual feelings and practices: Those who’ve been led to an exaggerated perception of their personal risk are more prone to support strict government policies to counter the virus.
A recent Pew Research poll confirms that individuals’ perception of the pandemic heavily influences their opinions about various government interventions.
For example, Pew asked if limiting restaurants to carry-out service has been necessary to counter the virus. Among those who think Covid-19 represents a minor threat to the U.S. population, 21% agreed. Support soared to 66% among those who deem the virus a major threat.
Many are likely opining from a position of ignorance: How many know that a New York contact tracing study attributed less than 2% of Covid-19 case transmission to bars and restaurants?
Negative About Positives
The Dartmouth and Brown researchers found “the negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive developments, including school re-openings and vaccine trials.”
When schools reopen to in-person teaching—a move validated by the experience of European schools—U.S. media has been quick on the scene with a wet blanket: The study found 86% of mainstream media articles about school reopenings are negative.
The easing of government restrictions reliably attracts negative media. Iowa governor Kim Reynolds’s lifting of the state’s mask mandate in early February sparked a wave of negative reporting and opinion pieces, including a Washington Postpiece that was actually titled “Welcome to Iowa: a state that doesn’t care if you live or die.”
In September, similarderision was heaped on Florida governor Ron DeSantis when he lifted major statewide restrictions.
However, when neither Florida nor Iowa experienced negative consequences, there was little media reporting of the good news that government restrictions and mandates may not be worthwhile after all.
We see a similar pattern with the media’s never-ending cycle of warning that various holidays and special events will bring a surge in contagion. From Thanksgiving to Christmas to the Super Bowl and spring break, we’re constantly presented headlines stoking fears these occasions will cause major virus spikes.
When predicted surges don’t happen, the media gives little attention to the happy news that their alarms proved false. Instead, they’re apparently hard at work drafting warnings about whatever’s next on the calendar.
It’s as if mainstream journalists feel duty-bound to stoke Covid-19 fear, while paternalistically shielding us from welcome facts that could lead us to “let our guard down.” In doing so, they negligently disregard the collateral harm they do to mental health and our quality of life.
Hope for Greater Media Balance?
The Dartmouth-Brown study on U.S. media negativity prompted The New York Times’ David Leonhardt to call for introspection: “If we’re constantly telling a negative story, we are not giving our audience the most accurate portrait of reality. We are shading it.”
That’s a welcome acknowledgment: Until recently, Leonhardt’s own Times email newsletter has mirrored the negative slant found across U.S. media.
There are hints of a growing balance. For example, in recent weeks, major outlets have finally started acknowledging that Florida’s post-reopening experience conflicts with the media-reinforced notion that shutdowns are an essential strategy.
Concluding his review of the study, Leonhardt expressed gratitude to researchers Sacerdote, Cook and Sehgal for “holding up a mirror to our work and giving us a chance to do better.” Let’s hope his sentiment proves highly contagious.
This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
Efforts to restore American and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal—formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—are at an impasse.
President Biden has declared there will be no relaxing of smothering economic sanctions on Iran unless the country first returns to full compliance with the deal. Iran, which began exceeding nuclear enrichment thresholds in response to America’s total withdrawal from the deal under President Trump, wants the United States to begin easing sanctions first.
As that chess game continues, there’s something missing from op-ed pages, network news studios and the House and Senate chambers: a fundamental debate about the morality of economic sanctions.
If we reduce economic sanctions to a general characterization that encompasses both ends and means, we arrive at a truth that is as damning as it is incontrovertible:
Economic sanctions intentionally inflict suffering on civilian populations to force a change in their governments’ policies.
If that has a familiar ring, perhaps it’s because “the intentional use of violence against civilians in order to obtain political aims” is one definition of terrorism.
That’s not to say “sanctions” and “terrorism” are interchangeable terms. However, both practices center on willfully harming civilians to accomplish political goals.
Like Sanctioning Governments, Terrorists Have Political Objectives
Some resist the fact that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are principally motivated by political goals. That’s understandable, given establishment media grossly underreports terrorist motivations.
The resulting vacuum is filled with reflexive and false assumptions—for example, that Muslim terrorists are principally motivated by religion—or deliberately misleading government claims, like President George W. Bush’s baseless assertion that al Qaeda terrorists “hate our freedoms.”
Through various written and recorded pronouncements, Osama bin Laden made al Qaeda’s political motivations clear. His aims included the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Middle East, and termination of U.S. support of the region’s dictators and the government of Israel.
The political nature of terrorism was particularly apparent in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. The attacks came three days before Spain’s general election, and a video received by Spanish authorities said the attacks were punishment for the country’s participation in the occupation of Iraq.
On election day, the shaken Spanish population gave an upset victory to the Socialist party, and the newly elected prime minister immediately pledged to withdrawal Spanish troops from Iraq.
Those examples focus on al Qaeda and its kin, but terrorists of all religions, ethnicities and nationalities have political aims. An exhaustive study of worldwide suicide bombing by University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape found nearly all such attacks seek “to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.”
Like Terrorists, Sanctioning Governments Intentionally Harm Civilians
In a hearing earlier this month, Senate foreign relations committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who has been one of Capitol Hill’s most prolific authors of Iran sanction legislation, praised sanctions as part of “our arsenal of peaceful diplomacy.”
Perhaps it was a Freudian slip that led him to oxymoronically place his supposedly “peaceful” sanctions inside an “arsenal”—in their effect, there’s little difference between imposing economic sanctions and mining Iranian harbors.
Of course, “peaceful” isn’t the favorite adjective of sanction advocates. When boasting about their handiwork, Menendez and others invariably use a far more appropriate descriptor: “crippling.”
VP Biden on Iran: "These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions. Period."
Officials assure us that sanctions are meant to cripple governments, but any honest observer understands that’s achieved by first crippling the country’s economy.
Since the concept of economic harm is somewhat abstract, it’s easy for Americans to limit their visualization of that harm to a downward slope on a gross domestic product chart, failing to appreciate what economic warfare means to the everyday lives of individual humans.
Occasionally, though, American media provides a window on the harms being visited upon the Iranian people.
While the U.S. sanctions regime provides exceptions for Iran’s import of food and medicine, other limitations on the flow of Iranian money—and vendors’ and bankers’ fears of accidentally running afoul of U.S. restrictions—often render those exceptions meaningless.
As a result, sanctions can have profound consequences for Iran’s sick. Among other observations, a 2019 report by Human Rights Watch found:
Iranian patients with rare diseases were finding it increasingly difficult to access essential, imported medicines
A pediatric cancer treatment center was unable to acquire medications deemed essential by the World Health Organization
Patients with epidermolysis bullosa—a rare disease that causes blistering— had their supply of a special kind of foam dressing cut off when a European producer ceased business in Iran due to U.S. sanctions. The domestic alternative dressing “often gets attached to the blisters, causing excruciating pain for the patients,” according to an attorney representing a health NGO.
The report also noted Iranians were finding it harder to acquire imported eye drops, “causing suffering for the large number of patients affected by chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war.”
Exasperatingly, many of those eye patients are being victimized by the U.S. government for a second time: During the Iran-Iraq War, American intelligence officials provided targeting information to the Iraqi military, fully aware Saddam Hussein’s forces would attack with chemical weapons.
U.S. sanctions also make civilian air travel in Iran riskier. When the 2015 JCPOA eased sanctions, Iranian airlines rushed to update their aging fleets, placing large orders with Boeing, Airbus and ATR.
However, when self-proclaimed “America-first” President Trump later abandoned the JCPOA and restored sanctions, he denied U.S.-based Boeing billions of dollars of business and forced Iranian airlines to continue patching old jets, often unable to buy replacement parts.
Officials Acknowledge Intent to Harm Civilians
Some readers might be tempted to liken civilian suffering under sanctions to so-called “collateral damage” in warfare, as may happen when a missile goes astray or a bomb target is incorrectly selected.
However, the harm to civilians under economic sanctions isn’t incidental, and those who impose sanctions fully understand they inevitably bring misery and sometimes death to innocents.
In occasional moments of candor, U.S. officials confirm economic sanctions are meant to take a toll on civilians. At a 2007 press conference, President George W. Bush said, “The whole strategy is that, you know, at some point in time leaders orresponsible folks inside of Iran may get tired of isolation and say, ‘This isn’t worth it’” (emphasis mine).
When Congressman Tony Cardenas (D-CA) voiced his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, he argued that “lessening sanctions…would economically reward the Iranian people for supporting those who enslave them.”
If the withdraw of sanctions is an improper reward of Iranian civilians, it logically follows that Cardenas views the imposition of sanctions and their accompanying misery as rightful punishment.
Cardenas’s rationalization of civilian harm is indistinguishable from bin Laden’s. In a 2002 “Letter to America,” bin Laden offered this justification of aggression against civilians:
“The American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. Thus the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.”
Current Biden deputy Iran envoy and former Obama sanctions coordinator Richard Nephew wrote the book on sanctions—literally. At The Grayzone this week, Max Blumenthal explored various passages from Nephew’s 2017 book, “The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field.”
Nephew celebrated the tripling of chicken prices “during important Iranian holiday periods,” admitted to having targeted manufacturing jobs, and boasted of having purposefully intensified wealth inequality by devaluing Iran’s currency, thus “depriving most people of the practical benefit of being able to purchase” humanitarian, consumer or luxury goods.
“The Price is Worth It”
When it comes to cold, calculating acceptance of civilian suffering under sanctions in pursuit of political goals, the most infamous example is Madeleine Albright’s 1996 interview on 60 Minutes.
At the time, Albright was ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration, and surveyors had recently estimated that upwards of 576,000 Iraqi children had died because of malnutrition and deterioration of water and sanitation systems caused or exacerbated by UN sanctions promoted by the United States.
Lesley Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And…you know..is the price worth it?
Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.
It’s important to note the survey’s particular child-death estimate has been credibly disputed. A subsequent study placed the combined toll of the Gulf War and subsequent sanctions between 100,000 and 227,000, with the majority attributed to sanctions.
It’s telling that Albright didn’t object to the premise of Stahl’s question. That’s not to say she was validating the “half million” number, but rather that she was stipulating that sanctions did inflict some ghastly toll on Iraqi children that was “worth it” to the U.S. government.
Notably, in a 2004 video, bin Laden listed Iraq sanctions among al Qaeda’s motivating grievances, claiming they inflicted “the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known.”
On 9/11, Bin Laden was party to killing nearly 3,000 civilians in an effort to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East. Even by many of the lower estimates, Albright was party to killing a far higher number—of children alone—in a purported effort to ensure Iraq had no chemical or biological weapons.
In both bin Laden and Albright, we see a calculated acceptance of civilian deaths to achieve political aims. While Bin Laden is rightly reviled for that calculus, Albright is wrongly revered.
For example, when my alma mater, Bucknell University, announced her as its 2019 commencement speaker, it lauded her for having “advocated for…human rights.” University president John Bravman said she led a “life of courageous service” that “left an indelible mark on the world.”
I suppose the tombs of Iraqi children do count as indelible marking.
Sanctions Are Fundamentally Immoral
Like terrorism, economic sanctions intentionally inflict suffering on innocent individuals in pursuit of political objectives. Americans should take no comfort in the fact that this suffering is neatly arranged by government officials using legislation, executive orders, UN resolutions and Treasury regulations.
After all, is it less villainous to kill someone by depriving them of cancer medicine, food or aircraft parts via economic restraints, as compared to blowing them up with a car bomb?
The difference is in the means, not the ends: Instead of using explosives, sanction-enforcing bureaucrats at the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) inflict their harms using phones and computer keyboards.
True, most harms imposed by sanctions aren’t lethal. However, that fact does nothing to buttress their moral standing or absolve their advocates and implementers from guilt.
By unjustly violating innocent individuals’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, economic sanctions are not only inhuman, they’re fundamentally un-American. It’s time for citizens and legislators across the political spectrum to demand their immediate, unconditional and universal termination.
This article was originally featured on Stark Realities and is republished with permission.
In March 2017, a group of 9/11 families presented the Department of Justice with 17 pages of detailed allegations that Qorvis Communications had, on behalf of Saudi Arabia, conducted a lobbying campaign against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) characterized by extensive violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
In the worst instance, veterans who were flown to Washington to lobby against the measure say Qorvis withheld the fact that it was bringing them to Capitol Hill to advance the Saudi agenda, and that the kingdom was paying for their airfare, lodging and meals.
Eighteen months after 9/11 families filed their formal complaint, there’s no indication any investigation ever took place. “It’s one of the most deceptive campaigns that any foreign lobbying operation has ever done, and yet there’s been no punishment whatsoever,” says Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative.
Justice Department national security spokesman Marc Raimondi declined to comment.
Meanwhile, a recent revelation by a retired FBI counterintelligence agent offers yet another indication of a systemic DOJ tendency to put protection of the kingdom’s reputation ahead of the pursuit of justice.
Veterans Tricked into Lobbying for the Kingdom
In September 2016, Congress enacted JASTA by overriding President Obama’s veto. Saudi Arabia then unleashed a massive campaign aimed at amending the law, which cleared the way for 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom for financial and logistical support allegedly provided by government officials.
That campaign tapped many firms in Saudi Arabia’s formidable influence arsenal, but the claims of misconduct focus on the kingdom’s flagship lobbying and public relations firm: Qorvis Communications, a subsidiary of MSLGROUP.
Facing Americans’ deep sympathy for 9/11 families, Saudi Arabia and Qorvis sought a sympathetic face of their own for their campaign to weaken JASTA, and found it in U.S. military veterans.
Saudi Arabia, Qorvis and the kingdom’s allies in U.S. government–most notably, senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—pushed a coordinated campaign built on the claim that, if JASTA were allowed to stand, U.S. service members and veterans going back as far as the Vietnam War would be exposed to lawsuits abroad.
That’s false, according to William S. Dodge, former counselor on international law at the State Department. “JASTA poses no risk of exposing U.S. service members to lawsuits in foreign courts. JASTA deals only with the immunity of foreign states, not individuals,” Dodge told28Pages.org last year.
Though empty, the claim proved all too effective in creating alarm among well-intentioned veterans recruited via a grassroots campaign carried out by scores of political consultants across the country.
Many were persuaded to sign group letters to Congress or send individual messages of their own. Some agreed to put their names on op-ed pieces printed in newspapers around the country that used identical language.
Qorvis appears to have used a bounty system, with the highest reward given for persuading veterans to travel to Washington. In an email pitch to veterans, Saudi agent Shelbi Lewark wrote, “You don’t have to know anything about JASTA…They will be putting you in the Trump hotel, which is incredibly nice…It’s an awesome trip and basically like a 5 star vacation.”
Offered the chance for a free trip to the nation’s capital to work alongside fellow veterans for a cause they believed to be noble, upwards of two hundred or more leapt at the opportunity over a period of months.
Many were in for a terrible surprise, telling28Pages.org they didn’t find out the kingdom was pulling the strings until they’d already started making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Several say organizers didn’t merely conceal Saudi Arabia’s role, but actively denied it.
Victimized Veterans Ask: Where’s the Investigation?
Now, well over a year after they spoke out about the Saudi-Qorvis scam, three of the veterans lured into the Saudi web want to know why the Justice Department hasn’t contacted them or taken any other discernible action.
“The government not in some way looking into this just raises all kinds of red flags as to where their loyalties are,” says T.J. Hermesman, a Marine veteran who deployed to Afghanistan.
“One part of me feels like it’s fucking crazy. The other part of me says it’s business as usual,” says David Casler, a former Marine who deployed to Iraq. “Our geopolitical relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is such that they can pretty much get away with anything and everything.”
Hermesman says the DOJ is sending the wrong message to Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments. “If there’s no response whatsoever, it’s going to show the door’s wide open,” he says.
Noting that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was charged under FARA in the Mueller probe while the sprawling Saudi lobbying scandal has gone completely uninvestigated, lawyer and retired Army officer Lorraine Barlett says selective prosecution “politicizes the legal system, undermines the rule of law nationwide and promotes disobedience.”
“To me, it falls on the hands of senators and Congress,” says Casler. “Why aren’t they asking for an investigation into this? We walked up on their doorstep and they were pretty much blatantly lied to. You would figure they would be the most pissed off and say ‘Ok, we have an American company operating as pretty much a rogue agent for a foreign government. Why aren’t we investigating them, penalizing them, making sure this doesn’t happen again?’”
The veterans remain indignant over their treatment at the hands of Qorvis, which is on a $279,500 monthly Saudi retainer and received $6.2 million from the kingdom during the six-month period that encompassed most of the veterans lobbying program.
“Where do they come from to think that’s an OK idea to use veterans like that?” asks Hermesman.
While Saudi Arabia has a well-established reputation for ruthlessness, the veterans find Qorvis’s conduct all the more galling considering most or all of the firm’s executives and employees are their fellow Americans.
If he met the architects of the Qorvis scam, Hermesman says he’d ask, “How does it feel to completely lose your loyalty and not only go against your own country but go so far as to use young war veterans? It’s a pretty crazy level of disrespect and disloyalty.”
“It’s absolutely reprehensible,” says Barlett, who was brought to Washington by Qorvis-affiliated Capitol Media Group. “It’s unbelievable that they would stoop that low. They obviously have no shame and they’re willing to push the envelope as far as they can push it. They have no moral compunction about exploiting a group of citizens who would otherwise be deemed worthy of respect.”
Campaign Used Unregistered Agents
If the DOJ were to investigate the Qorvis campaign, they would likely find the firm ran roughshod over a variety of FARA requirements.
For starters, those working on behalf of a foreign government are required to register with the DOJ as agents of that government; many involved in the sprawling campaign against JASTA did not. Failure to register can trigger fines of up to $10,000 and prison terms of up to five years.
To take one apparent example of an unregistered agent on the Qorvis campaign, consider political consultant Elliott Schwartz. A partner at QE Intelligence, Schwartz previously ran the war room for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and was director of research for the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC.
According to Army veteran Barlett, Schwartz made travel arrangements, emailed an itinerary of activities, met veterans at their hotel and accompanied them to Capitol Hill. However, he does not appear in a search of the DOJ database of foreign agents.
Similarly, veterans have identified three individuals—Daniel Tinsley, Dustin Tinsley and Cole Azare—who helped organize and lead a veterans lobbying operation led by registered agent Jason Johns. None of the three registered with the Justice Department.
FARA’s registration requirement applies regardless of whether one’s efforts are compensated. Thus, had the campaign been operated with required transparency, it would seem that each of the hundreds of volunteer veterans should have registered too. Of course, had Qorvis told them they’d have to register as an agent of Saudi Arabia, the program’s true objectives would have been revealed and most wouldn’t have signed on in the first place.
The Justice Department also seems to have tolerated non-compliance that should be readily apparent to its staff: Capitol Media Group has failed to file the twice-yearly supplemental reports required under its status as a “primary registrant,” and the firm’s owner, Scott Wheeler, himself appears to have never registered as an individual agent despite having disclosed his role in the veterans lobbying scheme in his firm’s filing.
Recruiting Materials Lacked Required Disclosures
FARA requires that written materials used to advance the agenda of a foreign government include a conspicuous disclosure that the material is being distributed for that government.
Not only was the disclosure lacking on some materials—it appears to have been removed from a flyer used to persuade veterans that JASTA posed a risk to service members.
Qorvis filed the flyer with the Justice Department on October 26, 2016. Titled “The Real Impact of JASTA,” it included the required disclosure.
A nearly-identical version was later used to recruit veterans to the cause—on social media, as a printed handout and as a PDF attached to emails.
The only difference: The FARA-required disclosure had gone missing.
Upon their arrival in Washington, veterans who lobbied in the Jason Johns operation received a detailed, six-page set of instructions and guidance modeled after a military operations order. It disclosed that Qorvis and Advocacy Group, Inc were supporting the undertaking, but did not disclose that the two organizations and Jason Johns were working for Saudi Arabia.
Some Saudi agents, such as former Maryland GOP communications director Chevy Weiss, used Facebook as a recruiting tool, but failed to disclose their Saudi sponsorship on their posts or their profiles—another FARA violation.
A federal investigation may uncover still more. For example, were the veterans listed on three group letters to Congress (pages 6, 12 and 19 here) urging that JASTA be amended told that their names were being solicited on behalf of Saudi Arabia?
Some Qorvis Victims Likely Remain in the Dark
Importantly, an investigation would also be a means of enlightening participating veterans who still haven’t found out the real reason they were flown to Washington to oppose JASTA.
When Capitol Media Group filed its months-late registration, it declared that it had brought scores of veterans to Washington to lobby and offered to provide “individual names if requested.”
28Pages.org made repeated requests to the Justice Department’s FARA section requesting it to direct Capitol Media Group to produce the names via a supplementary disclosure filing. Though an aide to Senate majority whip and judiciary committee member John Cornyn also followed up on the request, no names have been disclosed by Capitol Media Group or Qorvis.
FBI Tells Retired Agent Not to Aid 9/11 Case: Saudi Relations Come First
Inattention to the Saudi-Qorvis scandal isn’t the only indication that the Justice Department puts the interests of Saudi Arabia above those of American citizens.
As 28Pages.org was first to report in August, retired FBI counterintelligence agent Kenneth Williams said the FBI’s Office of the General Counsel told him not to cooperate with 9/11 victims’ attorneys pursuing the civil suit against Saudi Arabia enabled by JASTA.
According to Williams, an FBI attorney “said they didn’t want me to cooperate with the plaintiffs’ attorneys because it could impact other pending litigation involving the United States government…and because…the Trump administration was trying to develop good relations with the Saudi government.”
It’s not clear what “other pending litigation” the FBI attorney was referring to; Williams considers the possibility it may have been a bluff. If not, it seems a likely reference to Freedom of Information Act suits filed by investigative news outlet Florida Bulldog, seeking documents relating to FBI investigations of Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks.
After several guilt-ridden months of complying with the FBI’s directive, Williams decided to follow his conscience and began communicating with the attorneys. Former Senate intelligence committee chair Bob Graham called the FBI’s attempted intervention “a fundamental assault on the principle of democracy.”
Enabling Bad Saudi Behavior
Reflecting on the Justice Department’s action with Ken Williams and inaction regarding Qorvis, the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative’s Freeman says, “It’s part of this larger pattern of enabling Saudi bad behavior, whether it’s from the government of Saudi Arabia or its lobbyists here. They continue to do things that are harmful to Americans and not get punished for it and, ultimately, we see a Saudi Arabia that feels emboldened enough to kill a Washington Post journalist on foreign soil.”
For Saudi-victimized veteran and attorney Barlett, the Justice Department’s conduct is cause for alarm among all Americans: “If you don’t enforce the law, you destroy the rule of law writ large. The DOJ is supposed to be the top federal agency for law enforcement, supporting the rule of law and the Constitution. When a body like that is corrupted, the fish rots from the head down, and therefore it’s going to impact the entire legal system.”
As the world marks the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11, legislators have introduced resolutions in both the House and Senate urging the broad declassification of U.S. government documents relating to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
As with the successful drive to declassify 28 pages on Saudi government links to the 9/11 attacks, this latest effort has support on both sides of the aisle.
At a press conference announcing the Senate effort, Senator Richard Blumenthal, flanked by 9/11 families, said, “This is a nonpartisan issue. Forget about if you’re a Republican, if you’re a Democrat, if you’re independent—this is a humanity issue. These are human beings that got savagely murdered on September 11 and there should be no partisan politics involved in this at all.”
Among others joining the Connecticut Democrat on the Senate resolution are two senior Republicans: majority whip John Cornyn of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Secrecy is an Impediment to Justice
The continued classification 9/11 documents is a headwind for a civil suit by victims of the attacks seeking to prove that Saudi government officials provided financial and other assistance to hijackers and others closely associated with them.
Brett Eagleson, whose father was killed at the World Trade Center, has been actively involved in building congressional support for additional declassification. “It seems to us that the rights of enemies and terrorists are coming before the rights of U.S. citizens,” he said at the Blumenthal press conference. “There are literally thousands and thousands of documents that are still redacted for no reason whatsoever.”
A retired FBI counterterrorism agent with a notable role in the story of 9/11 says the FBI’s Office of the General Counsel told him not to cooperate with attorneys representing 9/11 victims in their suit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, because it could harm U.S.-Saudi relations.
In an exclusive interview with 28Pages.org, Kenneth Williams, author of an ignored July 2001 memo warning that Osama bin Laden may be training pilots in the United States, explains why he has now decided to ignore the FBI’s instructions, and illustrates how the failure to share critical information continued into the 9/11 investigation—possibly to the benefit of the kingdom.
FBI Priority: Protecting U.S.-Saudi Relationship
The 9/11 plaintiffs—family members, survivors and insurers—allege that officials of the Saudi government provided financial, logistical and other support to the perpetrators of the attacks.
After being contacted by their attorneys in October of last year, Williams notified the FBI legal counsel in Phoenix, where he spent his career. Days later, he received a call from an attorney at the Office of the General Counsel whose name he does not recall.
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