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Our Culture of Violence is a Result of Americans (So Far) Not Having to Face Reality

Here's something to grouse about


On this day much of white America is honoring the genocidal killer Cristobal Colon who, as Ward Churchill has aptly said, “Got lost and was discovered by the native people on a Puerto Rican beach,” I find myself pondering the violent culture that his stumbling into the Americas ultimately led to: the establishment of my country, the world’s most violent nation, the so-called United States of America.

How are we to explain how a flood of immigrants, most fleeing from oppression of one kind or another in Europe and later Asia and South America and some dragged here in chains from Africa, ended up producing a nation so steeped in violence and the implements of destruction needed to produce that violence, that we as a people no longer even recoil at the horrors the US routinely commits, encourages, funds, ignores and covers up? How are we to explain the collective lack of will to put a stop to the domestic gun slaughter, by citizens and by police, that makes Americans 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than in any other country in the world (save for those that are currently at war)?

I was born in 1949, and for my entire life this country I live in has been embroiled in wars, mostly of its own making. It has devoted the bulk of its collective national wealth over those decades to creating — and using — ever more powerful weapons of mass death and destruction and since the end of World War II has, by a conservative estimate, been responsible directly or indirectly for the killing of at least 10 million people, the vast majority of them civilians, and most of the rest fighters from other countries who were simply defending or trying to liberate their own homelands — an action that most Americans would readily defend if the people they were fighting against weren’t wearing US uniforms.

Meanwhile, here at home we have this toxic culture that increasingly celebrates violence and considers owning a gun and being prepared to use it to settle disputes or to “defend” one’s family a national right equal to or perhaps greater than the gradually vanishing right to speak one’s mind and publish one’s thoughts, to freely assemble, and to petition the government about grievances.

(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service)(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service)

How we got to this sorry state, where there are more guns in America than there are people, and where every day, according to the FBI, there is at least one mass shooting (defined for American purposes as the killing in one gun incident of at least four people), is an interesting subject for discussion, but at this point I’m more interested in how we move beyond discussion to making us a more peaceful people.

I’m convinced that the problem is that we in the US are all so divorced these days from reality — living as we do in a state of increasing social atomization and in a world of illusion produced by films, television programs and digital media that all work to detach us from the real blood and gore and agony that are the consequence of our own collective violence.

When Hollywood shows our vaunted Special Forces “heroes” blowing up and slaughtering a bunch of terrorists and rescuing some hostage, committing war crimes with abandon, we don’t see the agonized death of the “collateral damage” victims of the assault -- the children in an invaded building who are frequently blown away along with the “bad guys,” or the agonized deaths of those “bad guys” themselves. We don’t learn the complex reasons those “bad guys” have put their lives on the line in the first place — many of which if we stopped to listen to them, we might understand and even agree with. We see it all instead in black and white, and don’t have to deal with the consequences of our being wrong. We also watch cop films where the good guys are cops who break the rules in order to wreak their own “justice” on the “bad guys,” in a made-up world where cops are just trying to protect us, and would never make mistakes, at least on purpose.

ThisCantBeHappening! Wins It's Sixth Project Censored Award in It's Six-Year History

This time it's for what Project Censored is calling the "second most important unreported story of the year"


ThisCantBeHappening! has just learned that the TCBH! Collective has won its sixth Project Censored Award in as many years since the news site was established in June 2010.

This year's award, for the "second most important unreported news story of the 2016-17 year," is for a piece run on August 17, 2016 authored by Dave Lindorff headlined: Not just $600 toilet lids or unusable F-35s: The Pentagon Money Pit: $6.5 Trillion in Unaccountable Army Spending, and No DOD Audit for the Past Two Decades


As Project Censored, the organization that issues these awards each year, puts it in describing the story:

According to a July 2016 report by the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General (DoDIG), over the past two decades the US Army has accumulated $6.5 trillion in expenditures that cannot be accounted for, because two government offices—the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army and the DoD’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service—“did not prioritize correcting the system deficiencies that caused errors . . . and did not provide sufficient guidance for supporting system-generated adjustments.” In the bureaucratic language of the report, the expenditures themselves are referred to as “unsupported adjustments” and the lack of complete and accurate records of them are described as “material weakness.” In other words, as Dave Lindorff reported, the DoD “has not been tracking or recording or auditing all of the taxpayer money allocated by Congress—what it was spent on, how well it was spent, or where the money actually ended up.”

In 1996, Congress enacted legislation that required all government agencies—including not only the Department of Defense but also the federal government’s departments of education, veterans affairs, and housing and urban development, for instance—to undergo annual audits. As Thomas Hedges reported for the Guardian in March 2017, “the Pentagon has exempted itself without consequence for 20 years now, telling the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that collecting and organizing the required information for a full audit is too costly and time-consuming.” (For Project Censored’s previous coverage of the Pentagon’s “inauditable” budget, see “Pentagon Awash in Money Despite Serious Audit Problems,” Censored 2015, pp. 59–60.)

As Lindorff wrote, in fiscal year 2015 total federal discretionary spending—which includes everything from education, to housing and community development, to Medicare and other health programs—amounted to just over $1.1 trillion, and the $6.5 trillion in unaccountable Army expenditures represents approximately fifteen years’ worth of military spending.

The DoD Inspector General issued its report at a time when, in Lindorff’s words, “politicians of both major political parties are demanding accountability for every penny spent on welfare,” and they have also been engaged in pervasive efforts “to make teachers accountable for student ‘performance.’” Yet, he observed, “the military doesn’t have to account for any of its trillions of dollars of spending . . . even though Congress fully a generation ago passed a law requiring such accountability.”

Mandy Smithberger, director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight, told Lindorff, “Accounting at the Department of Defense is a disaster, but nobody is screaming about it because you have a lot of people in Congress who believe in more military spending, so they don’t really challenge military spending.”...

Buying Homeland Insecurity

America's $50-plus billion annual boondoggle:


Thank god for the US Department of Homeland Security!

Thanks to its $40-billion annual budget, and Homeland Security laws like the PATRIOT Act that Congress passed quickly after the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we have not had a major terrorist attack in the US in the ensuing 16 years.

Oh, wait a minute. My bad.

We have had some major mass murders over the ensuing years, haven’t we, including some being officially labeled “acts of terrorism.”

There was the sniper shootings of 10 people in suburban Washington, DC back in 2002. There was the execution of 5 Amish schoolchildren in their one-room schoolhouse by a gunman in 2006. There followed the 32 students and faculty killed at the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the lone gunman who opened fire at an open-air meet-and-greet session hosted by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords which killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Giffords in 2011, the 12 killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting in 2012, the Vietnamese immigrant who shot and killed 13 people in Binghamton, NY in 2009, the 20 grade-school kids and a teacher murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, also in 2012, and the Navy contractor and former sailor who killed 13 in a Washington, DC industrial complex, the murder of 9 people in their church in Charleston, SC in 2015, and now this latest killing of over 58 people in Las Vegas. I’m just naming the big ones here, or particularly outrageous one like those that focused on killing little kids.

Thank god not one of these horrible incidents was considered an act of terrorism!

America's biggest mass killers in the past quarter century, one, a terrorist, killed 49, the other, not a terrorist, killed 59America's biggest mass killers in the past quarter century: one, a terrorist, killed 49; the other, not a terrorist, killed 59. $50 billion a year spent on 'homeland security' didn't stop either one. Both used legally purchased assault rifles

Of course there were some at least nominally terrorist mass killings too — the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three or four depending on whether you count the killing of a police office during the later manhunt part of the deal, the 2014 attack at Fort Hood by a deranged Army psychologist who slayed 13 people, the 2015 San Bernardino rec center attack which killed 14, and the 2016 murder of 49 at a disco in Orlando. But in most of these cases the link to organized terror was tenuous at best, and in the Orlando case in particular, which was touted at the time as the worst mass killing in modern US history (at least until this latest Las Vegas incident), the killer appears to have had no connection to ISIS and was probably just claiming a link in order to ensure that he would be killed by police, and not captured (he succeeded in that plan). We know these were acts of terrorism not just because the government calls them that, but because, well, they were committed by Muslims, which for the US government terrorism "experts" means it must be terrorism.

The few actual or supposed “terrorist’ attacks aside, what all these mass murders in the US not committed by Muslim terrorists have in common, along with many more that I did not list either because the number killed was less than 10, or because the cause was so mundane — worker laid off and went postal, family dispute, road rage or whatever — is that they were the work of lone usually deranged (and usually white) men using guns — and often guns designed for killing people.

Corporations in Puerto Rico are Keeping their Satellite Telecoms to Themselves

While many on the island worry about relatives they cannot reach, corporations hold back the solution


The Trump administration is not the only entity that has been missing in inaction in Puerto Rico in the wake of the island-wide destruction caused by back-to-back direct hits from two major hurricanes. The island’s many “corporate citizens” have thus far been looking to their own interests during this crisis.

While communities across the island have rallied, rich and poor alike, to help one another survive, the major companies scattered across the island, aside from donating funds to relief efforts, or having their parent corporations do so, have largely focused on themselves. This includes firms like Medtronic, Univision, Destilería Serrallés (makers of Don Q rum), DowDuPont, AstraZeneca, Merck, Industrias Vassallo, Puerto Rico Iron Works, Walmart, and banking firms like Triple-S Management and First BanCorp. Most if not all of those have disaster plans in place that include generators and satellite communications capability to stay in touch with suppliers, customers and branch locations across the island and headquarters in the mainland U.S. Overwhelmingly, these companies are focusing on getting back into production and locating and helping their own employees.

A typical satellite dish mounted on a Puerto Rican business site's roof providing cell phone and internet capability, but not foA typical satellite dish mounted on a Puerto Rican business site's roof provides cell phone and internet capability, but not for desperate locals seeking to contact anxious relatives

That is all understandable. What may be less understandable is that these companies, which generally have telecommunications capability and access to the internet at a time when the vast majority of Puerto Ricans do not, are not advertising that fact to local residents of the regions around their facilities.

One of the great torments and preoccupation for Puerto Ricans, both on the island and in the mainland U.S., is the near-total inability to get news from relatives and friends in the blacked-out parts of the island. At this point, that's about 97 percent of Puerto Rico. Those people can't call out to say that they're OK, or that they need help. Furthermore, in most cases they can't reach San Juan or other major towns and cities by road; downed trees and washouts have made most routes impassable on the mountainous 110-mile by 40-mile island....

For the rest of this article, which was written by DAVE LINDORFF for Salon magazine, please go to

"Why are we in Vietnam?" (or any damn place for that matter), revisited

How long should we wash our hands?
And while we're at it,
How many angles in "Heaven"?
Just to keep things moving,
Dear little Ameise,
How tiny you look today.
Why I would even say
You have shrunk
To the size of an ant.
What do you call your monkeys?
Those two,
The ones you put diapers on
And turned them loose
In the sunroom.
The sun got angry,
After it asked you nicely
To let it play with the monkeys
But you didn't trust it,
And for good reason.

Philly Ceremony: Another History Lesson Trump Will Ignore

Ignorant and unashamed

The historic ceremony outside City Hall in Philadelphia recently, that unveiled a statue of a significant yet overlooked 19th Century civil rights leader, contained chilling contemporary connections that radiate the adage: the more things change the more they stay the same.

That ceremony honored the works of Octavius V. Catto, an activist, educator and officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. Several hundred attended the ceremony including Philadelphia’s mayor, decedents of Catto, local celebrities and regular citizens from children to senior citizens.

The Catto statue, the centerpiece of a memorial installation for that man located on the south side of City Hall, is the first ever monument for an African-American individual located on city owned property in Philadelphia, a 335-years-old city with 1,200 public statues.

Philadelphia Mayor James Kenny (l) and sculptor Branly Cadet (r) unveil Octavius Catto statue. LBWPhotoPhiladelphia Mayor James Kenny (l) and sculptor Branly Cadet (r) unveil Octavius Catto statue. LBWPhoto
A racist murdered Catto on October 10, 1871 during a riot by whites to keep blacks from voting. During that Election Day riot members of Philadelphia’s police department actively aided the rioters – an incident of race-tainted abusive policing. Abusive and too often racist policing persists today.

Catto helped secure Pennsylvania’s ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an addition implemented nationally in March 1870 intended to ensure voting rights for blacks, ex-slaves and freedmen then excluded from voting.

Today, conservative legislators nationwide are engaged in various efforts to erect barriers to block voting by blacks. Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump created a Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, which critics proclaim a thinly veiled scheme to suppress voting rights. Catto lost his life battling to break down barriers that blocked blacks from voting.

Why Hasn't Trump Ordered the Military to Puerto Rico?

Missing in inaction:

This article was written on assignment for magazine

Night satellite images of the island of Puerto Rico taken before and after it was hit by two major hurricanesNight satellite images of the island of Puerto Rico taken before and after it was hit by two major hurricanes
It’s been a week since Puerto Rico, the American-owned island colony of 3.4 million, was destroyed by the second of two Category 5 hurricanes that struck it within a brief two-week period earlier this month.

Yet as of today, although virtually all the island’s local farms were destroyed by Hurricane Maria, its electric grid almost totally taken down, its cellular phone system destroyed, its water and sewer systems rendered inoperable and its roads made impassable, and although lack of communications and ability to travel has meant that the fate of millions in the island’s hinterlands and mountains is still unknown to family and friends in San Juan and on the US mainland, the US government in Washington has done almost nothing concrete to bring real, desperately needed help or even food and medicine to the island.

This stands in stark contrast to the aid Washington rushed immediately to Houston and to southern Florida in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

President Trump has cited the island’s technical insolvency (its economy was crushed by the Fiscal Crisis that began in 2008 and by the ensuing Great Recession and its government and various public agencies have been unable to make payments on over $72 billion in bond debt), as being the people’s and their government’s fault. But Puerto Rico, as a colony subject to the rule of Congress and to US federal courts, is not permitted the same recourse of entering into bankruptcy and renegotiating its debt as public agencies and municipalities in the US can do.

Trump alluded to that debt in an incredibly insensitive comment, tweeting: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble.”
He has also blamed the significant lack of aid coming from the US on Puerto Rico’s being an island. As the president put it in a Tuesday tweet: “This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it's a big ocean; it's a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”

Left unsaid by the president is that Congress has long made transporting goods to Puerto Rico astoundingly difficult and expensive, dating back to the Jones Act. That law passed in 1929 requires, among other things, that all shipping between US ports be done on US-flagged and US-built ships, which of course are among the most costly in the world to operate (and there aren’t many of them). The act includes Puerto Rico’s ports, too. And in Puerto Rico’s case it also imposes huge tariffs on goods imported to Puerto Rico from other countries, like neighboring Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, etc., which are in a good position to deliver aid if they could. (Cuba also stands ready to aid Puerto Rico with both food and medical assistance as it did during the Haiti earthquake, but that is not even permitted by the US.)

When Puerto Rico’s government asked for an emergency exemption from the Jones Act, so that any ship from any nation could deliver needed supplies of medicine, food, water, fuel and emergency equipment like generators and rescue equipment, including from US ports, the Trump administration flatly refused Yet his administration readily waived the act for both Houston and Florida after hurricanes hit there….

For the rest of this article, please go to: magazine

We're Seeing Freedom of Speech on the Gridiron So How About in Every Other Workplace?

Why don't Americans demand that the 1st Amendment apply on the job too?


Football players are a special class of workers. Even the lowliest of them make six-figure salaries, at least for the short time they stay healthy enough to play, but they are, nonetheless workers, and unionized workers at that.

And what is happening right now -- with NFL players, black and in some cases white, and now professional basketball and baseball players too, acting in solidarity to protest racist policing and other issues of equality denied in America by not standing for the traditional performance of the Star-Spangled Banner, and with the subsequent incendiary calls by President Trump for the firing of these protesters by team management -- is shining a light not just on the racist politics of the president, but on the wholesale lack of First Amendment freedom on the job for most American workers.

The reality is that workers in the US, unless they are represented by a labor union -- and even then only a powerful and assertive union -- speak their minds at the risk of being fired, and have no recourse if they are fired for the opinions they express if those opinions aren't shared by the boss.

Freedom of speech, that hallowed and much touted supposed birthright of all Americans, actually only applies during the hours that that we are sleeping, traveling to and from work, on our days off, or at home. And even then, as people are discovering with employers monitoring their personal blogs, Facebook pages and Tweets, and firing them for things they may have said or written, we're not so free
Colin Kaepernick (center) takes a knee in protest, loses his ability to play pro ball, but starts a movementColin Kaepernick (center) takes a knee in protest, loses his ability to play pro ball, but starts a movement

Hooray for the professional ball players who, following the lead of the heroic former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, are engaging their public protests before the fans and asserting their right to speak their minds about racism and the national epidemic of police brutality against and murders of African Americans.

The Vietnam War As Public Spectacle

Bottom-up Collective Drama or Top-Down Atrocity?

The spectacle of warfare, whether by intermittently shocking its public or inuring it to the horrors of combat, serves to normalize a permanent war economy and to make peace an anomaly.
                                                                                                            Jan Mieszkowski, Watching War

I wasn’t sure what hat I should wear watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS documentary The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. Should I be a professional Vietnam veteran, something I have stooped to? Or should I be a journalist, a fiction writer or a documentary filmmaker? I've done all these things. Maybe I should be an anti-war activist, something I’ve done (some say badly) for over 30 years? I’ve worn all these hats in the context of the Vietnam War. In the end, identity is a fluid and willful thing selectively mined from experience; like everyone else, I'm a human being doomed to live in ever-changing contexts. Holding on to the past is a trap.

One of the many images from Vietnam used to tell stories in the filmOne of the many images from Vietnam used to tell stories in the film

Like Magritte's famous painting of a pipe titled "This is not a pipe," the Burns/Novick film is not "Vietnam" -- it's a TV drama. Questions about historic accuracy and political bias will likely always haunt it. It’s sophisticated cinematic production values and the story-telling questions they raise are important. In one sense, it's a classic PBS documentary. But, then, it's breaking some kind of ground in its mode of telling. If there's a continuum between fiction and non-fiction, this film is somewhere in the middle; let’s call it a hybrid -- in a no-man’s-land or DMZ between fiction and non-fiction. For any work of representational art, constructing a clean narrative from the chaos of life means leaving things out. That's how narrative is refined and distilled. It also opens such a project to criticism from many angles. The use of metaphor and symbol are tools in the process of making sense out of the unfamiliar and the confusing. Without the essential reductiveness, art would be like that Borges story where the map of a country is a 1:1 ratio to reality -- exactly the same size as the country itself.

Burns and Novick say their goal was “to comprehend the special dissonance that is the Vietnam War. ... We vowed to each other that we would avoid the limits of a binary political perspective and the shortcuts of conventional wisdom and superficial history.” They refer to the war as a “Rashomon of equally plausible ‘stories.’ ” Thus, the slogan they put on the movie poster: “There is no single truth in war.” As I watched the first half of the epic unfold, I constantly mulled over the question whether it was true "there is no single truth" concerning the Vietnam War. For one, the slogan seems to contradict itself. I would submit there is a single truth concerning the Vietnam War: It's the fact the Vietnamese people never did anything against the powerful, imperial people who invaded and devastated their country for over a decade. Lately, I've challenge anyone to come up with anything hostile the Vietnamese, our WWII ally, did to us to deserve what we did to them. Self-defense doesn't count. This single truth is hard to dispute, even when it's swamped by an impressive melange of "intimate" cinematic stories set down in the weeds of war where killing is a self-reinforcing, circular nightmare. As many combat vets will tell you, once the firefight starts it's only about killing those who are trying to kill you and your comrades. There's the old truism, the first casualty of war is the truth. That, of course, is another single truth.

Sharing the sandbox

That’s right,
I want to say something about my compatriates, “us”.
The American People aren’t going to like this.
They like being referred to as The American People;
it makes them feel special.
But the American People need to get out more.
They should learn to play better.
They should learn to share the sandbox.
Right across the street are the Mexican People
and they are very nice.
And across the way, there are the Chinese People
who buy our stuff and make things for us.
Many of them are also very nice.
And the German People have some great toys.
In fact, there are lots of People in the neighborhood!
What if People are just People!
That’s hard for the American People.
But when someone says something about the American People
just who do they think they are?
Whatever happened to “us” or “we”.
But hey, I’m just a poet
draining my cup of coffee,
wondering where the poetry has gone?
It’s like the smell of bacon frying somewhere.
It still smells good
but it’s just no use to me.
I’m a vegetarian.
I prefer local and home-grown
And anyway, I am well satisfied
by what’s on my plate.
--Gary Lindorff

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Here's the link to prairie radio radical Mike Caddell's Radio Free Kansas program, where you can hear the podcast of the whole group interview that was conducted on Saturday, May 8.

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