Global Mitch

Editor's Note

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Hey - maybe the answer to Crimea isn’t war with Russia?

Like all humans, Americans like to think of themselves as a peace-loving nation: the good guys on the side of freedom and justice. And don’t get me wrong - this country has done a lot of wonderful things for humanity; it’s rhetoric and highest ideals are certainly what other nations aspire to. But despite its ideals, America is also one of the most militarily bristling, savage purveyors of death in history. This is something to bear in mind when listening to the pundits and politicians urging Obama to stop “exhibiting weakness” on Crimea, and start leading from the front in a more forceful manner.

Perhaps you disagree that America is a savage, violent country. Well let’s examine how many people have died violent deaths at the hands of Americans.

Start with annual deaths from firearms in America, of which there are now roughly as many guns as there are people, even if the amount of households with guns in them is declining. Approximately 31,000 people every year die from firearms in America, with the annual rise eerily in tandem with the easing of gun ownership laws.

imageThe family that kills together, stays together

Then there’s the African American slave trade. The most conservative estimate for those killed in the trans-Atlantic slave trade starts at 6 million; however, the likeliest number of deaths falls somewhere between 15 to 20 million (the high end would be 60 million). Hitler of course, one of history’s greatest monsters, killed 6 million Jews. It’s not a comfortable comparison to think about.

imageSouvenir Portrait of the Lynching of Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp, August 7, 1930

Now let’s examine America’s wars. In all its existence America has only fought two defensive wars that actually threatened its sovereignty. The first was the Revolutionary War of Independence from Britain, in which 8,000 Americans died in battle, (and 17,000 from disease) with about 1,240 British killed in battle (about 18,500 from disease), 1,200 Germans killed, (and over 6,000 killed by disease or accident).

The second was the War of 1812, also with Great Britain, which, among other things, prevented the U.S. from annexing Canada from the British Empire. Roughly 20,000 Americans died. Incredibly, somehow Canada managed to throw off the yoke of British oppression without a shot being fired, although it did take a little longer.

Then there’s America’s Civil War, in which somewhere over 200,000 American soldiers died in combat, with another 400,000+ dying from disease, along with somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 civilians killed.

imageConfederate dead at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1863

In fact, if you add up American military deaths alone over two centuries of its history, the number is somewhere around 1.3 million. You can add in another 500,000 Iraqi civilian deaths to that tally, and I can’t even imagine how many more civilian deaths you’d get up to if you included the Korean War, Vietnam War, Afghanistan War, the Philippine-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican-American War, The War of 1812, World War I and II (a special mention for the 150,000-246,000 Japanese civilians slaughtered at Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone) or all the rest of America’s combat adventures. 

imageThe exact moment of detonation at Nagasaki (11:01am, August 9, 1945). 

And finally, let’s not forget the the untold numbers of military personnel - and civilians - killed around the world every year thanks to U.S. sales of small arms, mines, tanks, missiles, aircraft, and every other weapon modern industry can conceive of - such as the biological weapons Donald Rumsfeld and the Reagan administration sold to Saddam Hussein in the 80’s, which he then used to massacre Iraqi Kurds with. Now despite not facing a single remotely credible threat of invasion since the Cold War ended (America enjoys allies to its north and south, with vast oceans protecting its east and west flanks), the U.S. spends more on its military than the next thirteen countries combined - all bar one of which are ostensibly our allies - and remains the world’s largest arms exporter

I don’t think it’s improbable that being one the world’s greatest purveyors of death is having a substantially toxic effect on America, not just in lives lost, maimed, and ruined in America and around the globe, but also in the political functioning of the Republic. The Republican President and former five-star general Dwight Eisenhower famously warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex at the end of his term in 1961. Yet the world he warned against seems to uncannily match the very world we live in today.

There remains a loud rump of the American electorate to whom possessing the world’s greatest military means every problem or conflict must have a military solution. They are forcefully represented in public debate by the likes of Arizona Senator John McCain, but there are plenty of neocons and chickenhawks in both parties for whom military adventurism is a first, rather than a last resort. It’s hard to overstate the American cultural fetishization of guns and military force.

But we are now living through “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” accumulated by the various defense bureaucracies Eisenhower specifically warned against (the CIA and NSA leap to mind). We have “let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties [and] democratic processes.” We have “taken these developments for granted”. And if “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together,” well, we have failed in being alert and knowledgeable too.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence,” Ike pleaded, “is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.” 

America has a military that’s the best in world at breaking things and fcking shit up. But the anomalous cases of Germany and Japan aside, America hasn’t shown the same skill in “nation building.” Any time you go to war, both sides lose, because people - and invariably innocent people - die. So can we please stop constantly trying to rush to war with anyone who isn’t actually directly threatening America’s citizens or territory?

Filed under military-industrial complex Eisenhower genocide US Military freedom defense Crimea Ukraine Putin

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Why and How We Were Lied Into the Iraq War

Rachel Maddow has made two documentaries that are worth your viewing time, because they detail how America was lied into the Iraq war, and then answer why we were lied to. Long story short, as was obvious to many people throughout, yes, it actually was all about the oil - although not in the way most people think. Hubris, below, documents the selling of the Iraq war to the American people:

While Why We Did It explains why the Bush administration was so determined to march to war with Saddam Hussein, regardless of any mythical weapons of mass destruction. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith focus on invading Iraq was envisioned as a way to increase the supply (and thus lower the cost) of oil, thereby enhancing energy security for world markets and economic growth. None of which was mentioned publicly, obviously.

Three trillion dollars later, oil prices now entrenched at around $100 per barrel, hundreds of thousands of people maimed and killed, millions displaced and turned into refugees, the strategic influence of America’s greatest enemy in the region - Iran - massively enhanced, and a Sunni vs Shia schism unleashed that threatens to turn into a conflagration throughout the entire Middle East… Well, it’s hard not to get angry watching - even after all these years. 

It’s worth remembering that Iraq is not an isolated incident. The United States has been invading countries that pose no threat to its own borders for hundreds of years. Given the amount America has been spending on “defense” in the post WWII-era, not to mention what its own citizens spend on guns, let alone the arms America exports, is this country up there with history’s greatest ever purveyors of death?

Filed under Iraq War George W Bush Dick Cheney Paul Wolfowitz Doug Feith Energy Policy Middle East big oil Donald Rumsfeld propaganda war of choice

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Even without smoking it, some Conservatives get really confused by pot

Case in point: Conservative columnist S.E. Cupp in the New York Daily News. Sarah Elizabeth believes that “enthusiasm for marijuana legalization runs against liberal orthodoxies on other big issues,” such as gun control. 


The same argument used against guns is used for pot: that legalizing pot and making it more available will reduce crime. No good liberal would say the same of guns, though there is substantial evidence to prove more guns equal less crime. [Emphasis added]

Actually, the evidence shows there is a strong correlation between having more guns and having more injuries and homicides from gunshot wounds, as borne out by the gun violence statistics in the U.S. (or any war zone) compared to other modern industrialized countries, while the only evidence that more guns make crime rates go down is from a single academic, and is both ambiguous and disputed.

She appears to not realize that no liberals argue for the banning of all guns; they argue for better regulation of them to reduce gun violence - just like every other modern industrialized country in the world has managed to do, and just like they’re arguing for marijuana. 

There is zero evidence that an increase in marijuana consumption increases violent crime - other than that caused by its criminalization. On the contrary, the available data strongly suggests that legalizing and regulating marijuana would actually place restrictions on marijuana’s availability (such as to school children), and deprive violent criminal gangs, such as Mexico’s notorious cartels, of a significant source of the cashflow that underpins their power and capacity to inflict harm.

If S.E. would take the time to talk to almost any random teenager, she would discover that it is currently much harder for teenagers to procure alcohol than marijuana. Marijuana can have lasting cognitive effects on adolescent brain development, so this ease of availability should concern everyone, Conservatives included. 

Here’s something to think about: legalizing pot smoking actually means society has a greater ability to regulate the supply and consumption of it than when pot is criminalized.

Cupp then scoffs that,

We’re told pot users will “responsibly” use marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. But what barometer are they using to determine that persistent recreational drug users, who have presumably broken the law before by possessing marijuana, are responsible people? And why aren’t lawful gun owners afforded the same level of trust?

This is just fatuous. Lawyers, accountants, scientists, and Presidents smoke marijuana - in fact people of every age, profession, ethnicity, sex, income bracket, and religion smoke marijuana, the vast majority of which are happy, functioning, productive, responsible members of society. Cupp would no doubt be surprised to learn just how many of her fellow conservatives smoke pot on a regular basis and yet are somehow not dragging the rest of society down an apocalyptic wormhole in the process.

A new father getting fatally shot in a movie theater for texting during the previews is just one obvious example of why lawful gun owners aren’t afforded the “same level of trust” as marijuana smokers: because unlike a gun, you can’t kill someone with a joint. But, 

If progressives want to keep gun control in the crosshairs - and many have said they do - they’ll have to reconcile this intellectual incongruity.

There is no incongruity here; just an evidence-based harm-minimization approach, rather than an ideological approach. 

Cupp continues:

But for other Democrats who, like [Bloomberg], promote an expansion of the health nut state, but want to also support legal marijuana use, does it really work to rail against trans fats and restrict the smoking of cigarettes but allow pot smoking (and the sloth and munchy-induced snacking that comes with it)?

Firstly, despite some socially liberal tendencies, Bloomberg is a self-professed Conservative, and he’s not in favor of marijuana legalization. Secondly, “sloth and munchy-induced snacking” indicates Cupp’s source for marijuana information is That 70’s Show. Thirdly, we have the same situation with pot as the “noble experiment” of Prohibition. Except unlike alcohol you can’t die from consuming pot, it doesn’t cause people to become violent risk takers, and it has significant benefits in treating a wide range of medical ailments, from glaucoma to mitigating the suffering of cancer patients.

Pot is far less harmful than alcohol (and tobacco), and the data suggests that as marijuana use goes up, alcohol use declines. So on a health basis, you could argue that its net effects are neutral to beneficial. (The effects are definitely negative for the young and mentally ill however.)

Moving on to taxes, Cupp asserts that:

there are already complaints in Colorado that pot is over-regulated and over-taxed. There’s a 15% excise tax levied on “average market rate” marijuana, a special 10% sales tax and the state’s general 2.9% sales tax will also apply. Yikes.

Economists suggest this could make Colorado’s pot industry too costly for the state and the consumer, in which case users rely on an inevitable black market to pop back up, making Colorado a tourism-only pot state. Will progressives really admit, in that case, that their own high taxes and burdensome regulations crippled an industry with so much potential?

Now you might think with such prohibitively high taxes and burdensome regulations, demand for weed would be disappointing. Except demand in Colorado is far outstripping supply. You might also think that conservatives with a focus on aligning government revenues with expenditures would be happy that revenue generated from an activity they wouldn’t even participate in (ahem) is helping to reduce budget deficits. And you’d probably also conclude that if the taxes were shown to be high enough to inhibit demand and create a black market - then taxes would be lowered. 

It’s hard to tell if these arguments stem from a simple lack of familiarity with the facts, or from a selective reading of them due to ideological blinkers. Either way, the confusion is real. 

Filed under legalization pot marijuana drug law se cupp conservatives

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In Conversation: Antonin Scalia

Wow. The New York Magazine interview between Jennifer Senior & Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonin Scalia highlights the link between his very literal, ultra-conservative thinking on Catholicism and his Constitutional textualism and originalism. This is a man who’s obviously extremely smart, yet somehow has this massive blind spot in his intellectual and ethical development thanks to his views on religion, which strongly colors how he interprets the Constitution. Your views on religion will no doubt inform whether or not you think I’m completely missing the mark on this:

Antonin Scalia

Scalia: “Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it as a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.

You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Oh, my.

Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Wait, to heaven or hell? 
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it? 
Of course not!

Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

What happened to him?

He just got wilier.
He got wilier.

Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.

Fast forward to Scalia’s similarly reverent, unquestioning attitude towards the Constitution:

Scalia"I truly thought I’d never see an originalist on the faculty of Harvard Law School. You know, everybody copies Harvard—that’s the big ship. There are now three originalists on the faculty, and I think I heard that they’ve just hired, or are considering hiring, a fourth. I mean, that’s amazing to me. Elena Kagan did that, and the reason she did it is that you want to have on your faculty representatives of all responsible points of view. What it means is that at least originalism is now regarded as a respectable approach to constitutional interpretation. And it really wasn’t twenty years ago, it was not even worth talking about in serious academic circles.

An area where I think I have made more progress is textualism. I think the current Court pays much more attention to the words of a statute than the Court did in the eighties. And uses much less legislative history. If you read some of our opinions from the eighties, my God, two thirds of the opinions were discussing committee reports and floor statements and all that garbage. We don’t do much of that anymore. And I think I have assisted in that transition.”

Fifty years from now, which decisions in your tenure do you think will be heroic? 

Oh, my goodness. I have no idea. You know, for all I know, 50 years from now I may be the Justice Sutherland of the late-twentieth and early-21st century, who’s regarded as: “He was on the losing side of everything, an old fogey, the old view.” And I don’t care.

Do you think you’re headed in that direction?
I have no idea. There are those who think I am, I’m sure. I can see that happening, just as some of the justices in the early years of the New Deal are now painted as old fogies. It can happen.

Wow, it’s amazing your mind even went there. I ask about a triumph, and you give me another answer entirely, about the possibility of failure. I was expecting you to end on a high note. Do you want to try another stab at a heroic decision?
Heroic is probably the wrong word. I mean the most heroic opinion—maybe the only heroic opinion I ever issued— was my statement refusing to recuse.

You should read the whole interview, which is fascinating.