David Swanson: Oneonta
By David Swanson
There's a small college town in New York state called Oneonta. Some of the students at the state university there organized an event Monday night that had terrific turnout, and for once the crowd at a college political event was made up of mostly college students. I'm used to seeing adults in the majority at campus events related to political activism.
I was one of 10 speakers on a variety of topics related to the influence of campaign "contributions". My topic was war. The other speakers were excellent, and the students were well informed. That is, some of them were. One anonymous person submitted this question on a card during the Q and A part of the event:
"Mr. Swanson – Can you address the counter-argument to your idea. That if we leave Iraq a worse leader will take power and attack the US again?"
After pointing out the problem with that word, I replied primarily by speaking to the damage being done by the occupation, the inability of the occupation ever to come up with a strategy that would avoid making conditions worse and even worse, the need for withdrawal and for UN assistance if Iraq is to have a chance.
I wish I had focused more on the word "again." I wish I had asked for a show of hands by people who imagined that Iraq had attacked the United States at some point in the past. The idea comes to me as if from some other planet. How differently this criminal war would look to me if I shared the false belief that Iraq started it!
These were, roughly, my opening remarks in Oneonta on campaign money and war:
Were it not for the influence of war profiteers, there would be no war. Not the war in Iraq. Not the possible war in Iran. Not virtually any war.
One way in which the war profiteers influence our policies is through legal bribery.
$16 million in 2004 from weapons makers, 63 percent of it to Republicans
$53 million in 2004 from energy companies, 75 percent of it to Republicans – and that includes the companies pretending to reconstruct Iraq
Lockheed Martin's PAC, to take one example, has given at least $1.7 million in 2006, including $4,000 to Sherwood Boehlert, the local Republican Congress Member. Boehlert has also taken money from Raytheon, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, and General Electric, and from the President of this university.
G.E. gives more money than most, and it gets a lot of it back. Much of the money goes to NBC (owned by G.E.) and other media outlets in the form of advertising.
And the war profiteering companies buy lots of ads too, for their products and for their images.
The owners and directors of many media companies also have interests in weapons and energy and "reconstruction" companies.
The TV companies get higher ratings during wars.
And the think tanks whose voices are used to sell us wars are tied to the war profiteers. PNAC's deputy director has been hired by Lockheed Martin.
The media will not stand for opposition to the war machine. They'll permit opposition to a particular war or to the way a war is fought. But opposition to the whole machine is strictly forbidden.
Kucinich was shut out and Howard Dean made the anti-war candidate before polls or dollars separated them. But once dollars separate the candidates in an election, that is used to justify distorted coverage and to justify avoidance of covering the issues. Half the news we get about campaigns is about their money and the ads they're buying with their money.
[I want to insert an additional comment here. John Nader, the Mayor of Oneonta, spoke on the panel as well and told those listening that within their lifetimes Oneonta had gone from a town with several local radio stations each providing their own news departments, and three newspapers competing with each other, to a town with no media competition and almost no substantive news reporting. Nader challenger anyone to learn from the media what the congressional candidates' positions were on any important issue.]
It's important to keep in mind that the war machine is a major driver of the U.S. economy. It creates jobs. This, I think, helps explain support for it even among politicians not funded by it and not relying heavily on earned media. But it's a very inefficient way to drive an economy. And there is no oversight, because it's war, with flags and music and ribbons, which have been scientifically proven to prevent honesty.
The Democratic challenger to Boehlert is Michael Arcuri (preferred by the Democratic Party to progressive primary candidate Les Roberts). Arcuri's website says the war has been a great success and has "toppled a brutal dictator and helped the Iraqi people establish a democratically elected government."
Never mind that Iraqis say they are worse off now. Never mind that their president has to call our president to check whether he's going to be removed from power or not. Never mind that toppling a brutal dictator is not a legal or a moral justification for launching a war or killing 650,000 people or torture or rape or murder or detentions or warrantless spying or the rest of what this war has brought, including a bill of $6,300 for each additional second.
And so on, as fast as you can say it.
That's $34 billion so far just for New Yorkers. How much college tuition could that cover?
[Most of the students I spoke to were studying political science or teaching. Many of them knew soldiers who'd died in Iraq. Many of them had no health coverage. Many of them worked at restaurants while attending college. Many of them worried they would have no teaching jobs because so many teachers are being laid off at public schools for lack of money to pay them.]
Arcuri wants to slowly end the war, but a lot of Democrats won't even go that far. Look at Hillary Clinton, whom the corporate media has already appointed the designated loser in 2008 because of her money, plenty of it from war profiteers. And the DCCC has carefully directed its '06 dollars to Democrats who support the war, a strategy that has proven politically as well as morally unwise. Democrats are doing especially well where they strongly oppose the war and even better where they demand accountability for the President and Vice President who lied us into it. We may even see races where the candidate with less money wins. But that will never be the norm under the current system.