Doing Our Best 1/24/18

Nuclear Deterrence, North Korea, and Dr. King:                                             A Talk Given by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

In my judgment as an interested citizen, there is a breathtaking degree of denial and illusion in the world of nuclear strategy, on all sides. Kim Jong Un deludes his people with crude propaganda about annihilating the United States. But Americans also underestimate American military strength, along with the strength of the other nuclear powers—a level of potential destruction that could be world-ending. Denial, unquestioned assumptions, and drift masquerade as rational policy. Putting war prevention first is overshadowed by a paradigm of casual bellicosity.

Granting that North Korea initiated the Korean war, 80% of North Korea was destroyed before it was over. The head of the Strategic Air Command, Curtis Lemay, dropped more bombs on North Korea than were detonated in the entire Asia-Pacific theater during World War II. The North Korean economy was decimated and has only partly recovered. There was famine in the 1990s. There’s no closure, no formal treaty of peace. The North Korean mind-set is that we are still at war—a convenient excuse for their leaders to scapegoat the U.S., distracting the minds of their citizens with an external enemy—a classic totalitarian trope. Our country continues to play right into this scenario.

Kim Jong Un’s family is complicit in illicit arms and heroin sales, currency counterfeiting, ransom ware that cruelly disrupted the work of hospitals around the world, assassination of relatives, arbitrary detention, and torture of dissidents in secret forced labor camps.

But our present crisis with North Korea is only a particular instance of a general planetary condition, one that is equally acute in the Kashmir conflict, for example, which pits nuclear India against nuclear Pakistan. As Einstein wrote in 1946, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Unless we find a new mode of thinking, we’re going to be dealing with more North Koreas down the time-stream.

All the complexity of nuclear strategy, can be boiled down to two inescapable potentialities: We have long surpassed an absolute limit of destructive power and no technological system invented by humans has been forever error-free.

A thermonuclear bomb exploded above any major city would in a millesecond raise the temperature to 4 or 5 times the surface of the sun. Everything for a hundred square miles around the epicenter would be instantly aflame. The firestorm would generate 500 mile-an-hour winds, capable of sucking in forests, buildings, and people. The soot rising into the troposphere from detonation of as few as 1% to 5% of the world’s arsenals could have the effect of cooling the entire planet and diminishing for a decade our capability to grow what we need to feed ourselves. Billions would starve. I have not heard of any congressional hearings addressing this interesting possibility—even though it is hardly new information. 33 years ago, my organization, Beyond War, sponsored a presentation on nuclear winter given by Carl Sagan to 80 united nations ambassadors. Nuclear winter may be old news, but its subversion of the meaning of military strength remains unprecedented and game-changing. Updated models suggest that in order to avoid nuclear winter, all nuclear–armed countries must reduce their arsenals to about 200 warheads.

But even such radical reductions do not resolve the problem of error or miscalculation, which—confirmed by the Hawaii false alarm—is the most likely way nuclear war with north Korea would begin. The public relations cliché is that the president always has with him the codes, the permissive action links, that are the only way nuclear war can be initiated. While this is hair-raising enough, the truth may be even more disheartening. Neither U.S. nor Russian deterrence, nor North Korean for that matter, would have credibility if adversaries believed that a nuclear war could be won simply by taking out the enemy’s capital city or head of state. These systems are therefore designed to ensure retaliation from other locations, and also down the chain of command.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Vasili Archipov was an officer on a Soviet submarine on which our navy was dropping what were called practice grenades, in order to get them to surface. The Soviets assumed the grenades were real depth charges. Two officers wanted to fire a nuclear torpedo at a nearby American aircraft carrier. According to Soviet navy protocol, three officers had to agree. No one aboard the submarine required a coded go-ahead from Mr. Khrushchev to take a fatal step toward the end of the world. Fortunately, Archipov was unwilling to assent. With similar heroic prudence, the Kennedy brothers restrained the above-mentioned General Curtis Lemay from bombing Cuba during the missile crisis. Had Lemay’s impulsiveness prevailed in October 1962, we would have been attacking both tactical nuclear weapons and intermediate range missiles in Cuba with nuclear warheads already mounted on them. Robert McNamara: “In a nuclear age, such mistakes could be disastrous. It is not possible to predict with confidence the consequences of military action by the great powers. Therefore, we must achieve crisis avoidance. That requires that we put ourselves in each other’s shoes.”

In the moment of relief after the Cuban crisis, the sane conclusion was “neither side won; the world won, let’s make sure we never come this close again.” Nevertheless—we persisted. Secretary of State Rusk blithely drew the wrong lesson: “We went eyeball to eyeball and the other side blinked.” The military-industrial juggernaut in the superpowers and elsewhere rolled on. Einstein’s wisdom was ignored.

Nuclear deterrence contains what philosophers call a performative contradiction: In order to never be used, everyone’s weapons must be kept ready for instant use, but if they are used, we face planetary suicide. The only way to win is not to play.

The mutually assured destruction argument is that global war has been prevented for 73 years. Churchill rationalized it with his usual eloquence, in this case in support of a cockeyed assumption: “Safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation.”

But nuclear deterrence is unstable. It locks nations into an endless cycle of we build/they build, and we drift into what psychologists call learned helplessness.

In spite of our professed assumption that our nuclear weapons exist only to deter, only as defense, many U.S. presidents have used them to threaten adversaries. General MacArthur apparently considered using them during the Korean war, just as Nixon wondered if nuclear weapons could change imminent defeat into victory in Vietnam. Our present leader says what’s the point of having them if we can’t use them? That is not deterrence talk. That is the talk of someone who has zero understanding that nuclear weapons are fundamentally different.

By 1984, intermediate-range missiles were deployed in Europe by both the us and the U.S.S.R. decision-making time for both Nato and the Soviets was shortened to minutes. The world was on edge, as it is today. Anyone who lived through the reds-under-the-bed hysteria of the McCarthy era will recall that mass assumptions about the Soviet Union as criminal, evil and godless were a thousand times more intense than what we feel today about Kim and his small benighted country.

In 1984, to honor the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, my organization, Beyond War, set up a live televised “spacebridge” between Moscow and San Francisco. Large audiences in both cities, separated not only by a dozen time zones but also by decades of cold war, listened to the pleas of the co-presidents of the I.P.P.N.W., for reconciliation between the U.S. and the Soviets. The most extraordinary moment came at the very end when all of us in both audiences spontaneously began to wave to each other.

A cynic wrote a scathing analysis of our event in the Wall Street Journal, asserting that the U.S., aided by beyond war’s useful idiocy, had been exploited in a communist propaganda coup. But the spacebridge turned out to be more than just a kumbaya moment. Developing our contacts, we brought together two teams of high-level nuclear scientists from the United States and the Soviet Union to write a book about accidental nuclear war, called “Breakthrough.” Gorbachev read it. The work of millions of demonstrators, NGOs like Beyond War, and professional foreign service officials began to bear fruit in the second half of the 1980s. In 1987 Reagan and Gorbachev signed an important nuclear disarmament treaty. The Berlin wall came down in 1989. Gorbachev and Reagan, in a poignant moment of sanity, met in 1986 at Reykjavik and even considered mutually eliminating all the nuclear weapons of the two superpowers.
Such initiatives from the 1980s remain deeply relevant to the North Korean challenge.
If we want North Korea to change, we need to examine our own role in the creation of the echo chamber of threat and counter-threat.

Dr. King’s death was a mortal blow to our greatness as a nation. He connected the dots between our racism and our militarism. Significantly, General Curtis Lemay, firebomber of Tokyo in World War II, scourge of Korea, near-trigger of superpower thermonuclear war during the Cuban crisis, reappears in history one more time, in 1968, the same year King was assassinated—as George Wallace’s vice-presidential candidate. Contemplating doing to Pyongyang in 2018 what we did to Hiroshima in 1945 requires a grotesque dehumanization of the 25 million people of North Korea. Lemay’s justification of mass death comes from the same mental space as George Wallace’s (and President Trump’s) racism.

The children of North Korea are as worthy of life as our own. That is not kumbaya. That is a message North Korea needs to hear from us. Were King still with us, he would be thundering that our taxes fund potential mass murder on a level that would make the Jewish holocaust look like a picnic. He would argue that it is moral evasion to assume that our nukes are good because they are democratic, and Kim’s are bad because they are totalitarian. Our country needs to at least surface the subject of double standards, where we prohibit nuclear weapons for Iran and North Korea but not for ourselves. North Korea and Iran should be prohibited membership in the nuclear club, but then so should the rest of us.

New thinking demands that we ask even unsavory characters like Kim Jong Un, “how can I help you survive, so that we can all survive?” Every contact, including the Seoul Olympics, offers opportunities for connection. If we are strategically patient, North Korea will evolve without another Korean war. This is already happening as market forces and information technology gradually work their way into their closed culture.

The ultimate prevention of nuclear war, with North Korea or with anyone else, requires the complete, reciprocal, verified reduction of everyone’s nuclear weapons, first down below the nuclear winter threshold and then, long term, down to zero. Our own country must lead. Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin could put their odd affinity to good use by initiating a permanent nuclear disarmament conference, gradually enlisting the participation of the other 7 nuclear powers. The whole world would be rooting for success, instead of being terrified of us as it is at present. Confidence-building unilateral moves are possible. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has argued that the United States would be more, not less, secure if we unilaterally eliminated our 450 ICBMs in silos, the land-based leg of our nuclear triad.

Writers like Steven Pinker and Nick Kristof have identified a host of trends that suggest the planet is moving gradually away from war. I want my country to help accelerate those trends, not slow them, or god help us, reverse them. We ought to have supported, rather than boycotted, the recent U.N. treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. 122 countries out of 195 have signed that treaty. Such an accord may at first seem to have no teeth, but history works in strange ways. In 1928, 15 nations signed the Kellogg-Briand pact, which outlawed all war. It was ratified, if you can believe it, by the United States senate in a vote of 85 to 1. It’s still in force, though it goes without saying that it has been honored more in the breach than in the observance. But that supposedly pie-in-the-sky document supplied the legal foundation for convicting the Nazis of crimes against peace during the Nuremberg trials.

The same engines which power our missiles have also propelled us into space, allowing us to see the earth as a single organism—a sane, powerful, complete picture of our interdependence. What we do to our adversaries we do to ourselves. It is the work of our time to seed this new thinking into even our most Machiavellian survival calculations—to put ourselves in each other’s shoes as Secretary McNamara said. The universe did not bring our planet through a 13.8 billion-year process for us to end it in a self-administered omnicide. The dysfunctionality of our present leader only serves to make clearer the dysfunctionality of the nuclear deterrence system as a whole.

Our representatives need to hear a lot of us ask for open hearings on nuclear policy, especially nuclear winter, the self-defeating madness of “strategies” like launch-on-warning, and the prevention of nuclear war by error.

The established worldview is that people of good will are trying to build King’s beloved community, and that nuclear deterrence protects that fragile community from a dangerous world. King would have said that nuclear deterrence itself is a huge part of the danger. If we here in the United States came to terms with the original sin of our racism and violence, we would look at the North Korean challenge with different eyes, and they might even see us differently too. We are either drifting toward unparalleled catastrophe or doing our best to build King’s beloved community—worldwide.

Winslow Myers, Martin Luther King Day, 2018

Jared, Ivanka, Money 1/24/18

Kushner and China: Where Money Talks  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Add Jared Kushner’s all-too-cozy relationship with the Chinese to the long list of Trump administration corruption, conflicts of interest, and unholy foreign entanglements. I have reported on Kushner’s extensive real estate holdings, his and Ivanka Trump’s wealth, their significant bank debts, and his by now well known efforts to cultivate ties with the Russians.

All these activities, including his lying about Russian contacts, should, I have argued, keep him from obtaining a national security clearance and bar him from involvement in official diplomacy.

Now, Adam Entous and Evan Osnos, writing in the January 29 issue of The New Yorker, point to Kushner as the likely target of an investigation into “a member of the president’s family” whom Beijing may be seeking to influence, doubtless with the lure of money-making opportunities. Kushner has had frequent contacts with China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, both during and since the transition. We don’t know anything about the substance of their discussions.

But the FBI counterintelligence division has warned Kushner that he is a leading Chinese intelligence target and that another Chinese national, Wendy Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch and a friend of Kushner and Ivanka Trump, might be a Chinese spy. Yet Kushner remains a major figure on Trump’s foreign policy team, and while he has yet to receive a top-secret clearance, he continues to have access to the same top-secret reports available daily to the president himself.

Kushner and Ivanka Trump have multiple investments with Chinese partners—he in real estate, she in women’s apparel. Like Donald Trump, the Kushners make no distinction between public service and private gain; the former is used to support the latter. Reportedly, Kushner sees no reason to curtail his China activities because he cannot imagine being used by Chinese officials and business people for purposes antithetical to US national security interests.

No evidence has been brought forward to show that Beijing has tried to manipulate Kushner’s commercial aims. Indeed, he supposedly stood against Steve Bannon’s hardline approach to China and believes, like Henry Kissinger (who introduced Kushner to Chinese diplomats) that regular high-level contacts with Beijing can ease tensions.

Done transparently and professionally, such engagement is fine. But Jared Kushner is a foreign-policy novice who seems, like his father-in-law, uninterested in expert opinion and all too interested in making lucrative deals. The way he has conducted his “peace plan” for the Middle East is indicative of both his amateurism and his greed, providing good reason for terminating his role as a representative of the United States.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Catcalls & Gestures 1/24/18

After #MeToo and #TimesUp  – by Laura Finley, Ph.D.

Laura Finley

I’m writing today about hashtags. In particular, I want to focus on what happens now that we’ve said #MeToo and #TimesUp.

Like many women and girls, I said Me Too. And, like most, mine was not a one-time experience but rather a lifetime of inappropriate comments, catcalls, and unwanted sexual contact. As I’ve written before, I’m glad the Hollywood and USA gymnastics scandals have us talking about powerful men who abuse that power. But it isn’t just men in power who commit these same acts of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Men harass women and girls in the streets, at the stores, in schools. Everywhere.

I am 45 years old. Not long ago, I experienced unwanted sexual conduct from someone half my age. The only power he has over me is that he’s a man who feels he’s entitled to say and do as he pleases to women. I have been catcalled by boys recently out of high school on the campus where I teach, a university with a commitment to social justice. A random guy at the gym thinks it’s OK to make a lewd comment about my weight, while another one at the market felt it was complimentary to mutter about my body to the poor female cashier, as if she wanted to hear his verbal diarrhea. As I drove to present a version of this piece at the Miami Women’s March second annual event, a man pulled up next to me so he could make a vulgar sexual gesture.

So, yeah, MeToo. Speaking up matters. Shedding light on the scope of these problems to those who had inexplicably missed it, matters. Solidarity matters. And no, I do not believe this is fake feminism. But now what?

Celebrities like Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes have launched #TimesUp as perhaps a next step. With their attention, which wonderfully dominated the Golden Globes, they’ve also started a legal defense fund to help individuals come forward without fear of legal, career or financial retaliation. This is great, and they’ve pledged to help create a cultural shift that will end sexual harassment.

That’s where things get a bit more vague. What does that look like? And how does it happen? Stories and accountability are elements of it, but they alone do not shift the culture.

Perhaps some other hashtag ideas can be helpful here. I have to admit, I’m not that big of a hashtagger, so forgive me if some of these may already be in circulation. But, how about #Iwilldisruptit? Someone saw or heard all of the instances I mentioned earlier, and in most cases of harassment, abuse and assault, that is true. What if in addition to being committed to speak up as persons who have been victimized, we also committed to speak up when we see or hear troublesome comments or behavior? Some of us do this, others need to start doing it.

Or how about #teachkidsgenderequality? If we want to change our culture, we need to socialize both boys and girls differently. All kids need to know that no one is entitled to control your decisions and your bodies but you. I am guilty of being too nice, of too easily dismissing or forgiving. Many of us are. And yet I’m pissed off that I still have to live in this rape culture, and that my daughter does, too. As Barbara Kingsolver so importantly wrote, “Feminine instincts for sweetness and apology have no skin in this game.” As this last year has affirmed, when women channel their anger about gender inequality, amazing things happens.

I’m sure we can think of many more ideas—and they are that, not just hashtags—that will help transform our culture into one in which women don’t face these daily microaggressions. But in honor of the event I just spoke at, #powertothepolls. Let’s elect women, and the progressive men who support us, and make some political changes that will make male entitlement a thing of the past.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Think It Can’t? 1/17/18

The wisdom of mass salvation   –  by Robert C. Koehler

Incoming! Incoming!

Robert Koehler

Uh . . . pardon me while I interrupt this false alarm to quote Martin Luther King:

“Science investigates,” he says in The Strength To Love, “religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”

These words stopped me in my tracks on MLK Day. They seemed to fill a hole in the breaking news, which never quite manages to balance power with wisdom, or even acknowledge the distinction.

Our relationship to power is unquestioned, e.g.: “In the United States itself, there are around [nuclear] 4,500 warheads, of which approximately 1,740 are deployed,” Karthika Sasikumar writes at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Even more worrying, around 900 of these are on hair-trigger alert, which means that they could be launched within 10 minutes of receiving a warning (which could turn out to be a false alarm). . . .

“The threat to the United States is very real, but fattening the nuclear arsenal is not a rational response. The United States already has 100 times as many warheads as North Korea. . . .”

The U.S. has enormous power, but so what? Such data is almost never addressed in the mainstream media — certainly not in the context of . . . disarmament. That concept is sealed shut, barred from the consciousness of generals and news anchors. Certainly it didn’t come up in the coverage of what happened last Saturday in Hawaii, when an employee of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency hit the wrong link on his computer screen during a shift change and an incoming-missile alert went statewide, throwing residents and tourists into 38 minutes of panic: “Children going down manholes, stores closing their doors to those seeking shelter and cars driving at high speeds . . .”

Nor did it come up three days later, when a false missile alert went off in Japan, a country with a few memories of the real thing: “Within 10 seconds the fire that wiped out the city came after us at full speed. Everyone was naked. Bodies were swelling up. Some people were so deformed I couldn’t tell if they were male or female. People died screaming, ‘Please give me water!’”

So said Emiko Okada, who was a little girl living with her family on the outskirts of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Her older sister, who had just left for school, disappeared that morning and was never seen again. Emiko tells her story in the remarkable 2010 documentary Atomic Mom.

In a column I wrote about the movie at the time, I asked: “What if schoolchildren stood facing not the American flag every morning before class started but a photograph of a devastated Hiroshima, shortly after it was obliterated by our atomic bomb, and pledged their allegiance to the idea that such a thing will never happen again?”

What, I wondered, if we started facing our fears instead of living in fear? To do so, we have to find wisdom in the maw of power.

What we find instead is a president who shook up the whole planet when he called Haiti and the countries of Africa shithole nations — managing, as far as I can tell, to make the word “shithole” far more acceptable to utter in public than “disarmament.”

But the monstrousness of the word isn’t that it used to be obscene, but rather that it does what so many other words do: renders a segment of humanity soulless: the enemy, and therefore expendable. Japan is now our ally, but when we nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, its people were Japs or Nips and without value.

Is not the first step toward wisdom when it comes to a world still preposterously armed with weapons of mass destruction a national and international commitment never to dehumanize a living soul? With such a commitment in place, the obvious next step is committing never to launch a nuclear weapon, and therefore agreeing to get rid of the ones we have and, of course, refraining from developing new, more “usable” generations of nukes.

To put it another way, mutually assured destruction is not wisdom. It’s playing with global holocaust, an outcome that may be beyond the ability of anyone, at least anyone who is not a hibakusha — an atomic bomb survivor — to imagine. Free of such paralyzing awareness, national leaders postulate how they would retaliate if attacked, as though a counterattack, killing millions more people, is in any way a sane response to a nuclear attack (or apparent attack).

The Atlantic, in an article about the Hawaii false alarm, quoted one scholar’s tweet of a possible scenario: “POTUS sees alert on his phone about an incoming toward Hawaii, pulls out the biscuit, turns to his military aide with the football and issues a valid and authentic order to launch nuclear weapons at North Korea. Think it can’t happen?”

Come on. With this president?

I think it’s time to free MLK from his day of honor and put him back at the center of the national news.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Gas Lightning 1/17/18

Governance by gas lighting –  by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

My father once told me that a man who worked with him told him that his wife walked in on him in flagrante delicto with another woman and the man denied it. I said, well, what is the guy a pathological liar–you can’t deny the obvious fact. My father said he didn’t know but it somehow seemed to give the man’s wife enough to excuse, forgive, or lose herself in denial. They were still married. It was a new ontological perspective for me–a look at a nature of being that perplexed me.

Years later I learned the metaphorical expression for that sort of blatant horse puckey, gaslighting, or, Are you going to believe me or your stupid lying eyes? It was from a film with a plot that showed how a man made his wife start to believe she was crazy–she stopped trusting the facts.

Gaslighters use blatant lies, they deny they said something even when there is proof (it was another voice on that recording), they call everyone else liars or crazy (He lost his job and he lost his mind), they are narcissistic (“With the F-35 fighter plane – me, myself – I’ve saved hundreds of millions of dollars in negotiating.”) utterly false, they project onto others the worst qualities of themselves, and they thrive on chaos that keeps everyone confused, even tossing in random praise for their victims that will just be more lurching disequilibrium. In the end, they seem to be striving for a world in which they are the only happy ones, happiness dependent on others’ misery.

Welcome to the Donald J. Trump School of Rule. Governing by gaslighting.

When John Kerry made competing claims about his positions on invading Iraq, he was rightly ridiculed for it, and Trump did the very same thing, provably, on the record. The significant difference is that Trump refuses to acknowledge that he was ever in favor of it. Gaslighting.

Is everyone feeling calm and stable? Is anyone? Trump doesn’t seem satisfied unless he’s shot off some vertiginous tweet or statement. Sports? Stay off balance. Allies? Insult them. Dictators? Praise them. Gaslighting.

When real geniuses deny they are in fact that smart, the less bright narcissist calls himself a stable genius. Gaslighting.

Trump tweeted that Rosie O’Donnell was fat, adding to his long list of attacking various women with those sorts of cheap shots, ignoring what he sees in the mirror and demonstrating his predilection for projection. Gaslighting.

Ignoring his own precarious mental conditions, Trump calls Morning Joe crazy and dumb as a rock. Gaslighting.

Multiple lies daily, just a tiny sample of which include his bogus claim that 3-5 million illegal votes cost him the popular vote victory; his fraudulent claim that a Pew report documented illegal votes; his notorious prevarication that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever in the US despite clear photographic evidence showing the opposite; his hoax that two people were shot dead in Chicago at an Obama speech (no murders in Chicago that day); multiple fake claims that The New York Times apologized for erroneous coverage of Trump, which it never has; his factually backward assertion that the murder rate in 2016 was the highest in 47 years; Trump’s fictional claim that Obama had Trump’s hotel room wiretapped or bugged; his blatant falsehood that he, Trump, finally convinced NATO to “fight terrorism” when NATO has been engaged in counterterrorism for more than 30 years; multiple documentably historical whoppers that he has signed more legislation by certain periods in office than any other president, and the list of these outright phony claims goes on. His list of inflated claims is also overwhelming. How can you tell if Trump is lying? His lips or his thumbs are moving. Gaslighting.

How long will we tolerate the lies, the chaos, the relentless attacks on the most vulnerable, the evisceration of programs we have paid for, the dalliance with death by nuclear war, and the wholesale harvesting of your hard-earned money to the deep pockets of the rich? It is a remorseless assault on epistemology, on how we calculate the very validity of knowledge.

We have a few ways to end this–a hard reign’s a-gonna fall, to tweak the old Bob Dylan line. Trump could stroke out (no, I am not hoping for this), he could resign, he could be impeached, or he could be declared unfit and the 25th Amendment could be deployed. Let’s push for it. Any nonviolent port in a storm. This is the most piercing and urgent item of American business for all of us, not just the gerrymandered corporate-funded office-holders.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

Free White Person 1/17/18

Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy             by Jose-Antonio Orosco

Jose-Antonio Orozco

The condemnation of Trump’s remarks on immigration has been swift and widespread. Most of the denunciations cast his ideas as seriously out of line with American ideals on immigration. The problem is that they aren’t really. From the very beginning of our nation, there has been a white nationalist core driving our immigration priorities. Even as we struggled to be a “nation of immigrants,” most of the people we allowed in were chosen on the basis of national origin from the “whitest” parts of Europe.

The first US naturalization law of 1790 required that anyone who wanted to become a citizen had to be a “free white person.” At its start, the Framers envisioned the US as a political society for members of a specific racial caste. This requirement stayed in place until the mid-20th century.

In 1924, the US passed the Johnson Reed Act, one of the most significant comprehensive immigration reform bills in our history. It limited the number of immigrants each year and those allowed were selected on the basis of their country of origin. Immigrants from North and Western Europe (such as Norway) had almost no restrictions on entering, while Southern and Eastern European immigrants were severely controlled. Immigration from Asia had been almost completely prohibited for several decades by this point.

The shocking issue with the act is its little known origin story. The law was the brainchild of a notorious white supremacist named Madison Grant. In 1916, Grant wrote a book, The Passing of the Great Race, which argued that the truly white people in the US, the Nordics, were at risk of going extinct because of the massive influx of Poles, Italians, Greeks, and Jews who Grant did not consider white. Grant’s book became a bestseller and reading groups were formed among members of Congress. Grant chaired the committee to advise Congress on immigration. The result was Johnson Reed. Grant went on to inspire the Racial Integrity Act for the state of Virginia that prohibited interracial marriage. It was widely copied throughout the US. So for almost 40 years of the 20th century, US immigration policy and marriage law was specifically designed to create a white majority population.

Congress didn’t remove this system until 1965, replacing it with one that shifted the demographic makeup of most immigrants. Since 1965, the large bulk of immigrants have been from Asia and Latin America. The new policies today favor creating a diverse pool of immigrants rather than one based on national origins, and they encourage immigrants, once here, to bring their family members from their former home countries in a process called “chain migration.”

Trump’s remarks, and the policy proposals on immigration that he has released in the past year, indicate that he wishes to return US immigration policy to the way it was under Grant. Clearly, his preference for individuals from Scandinavia versus Africa or Latin America would have pleased Grant immensely.

Trump’s advisors have also proposed to reduce the total number of immigrants that can enter each year and those allowed would be selected by a merit system. Those immigrants demonstrating English proficiency and the right job skills would have a preference. This obviously will favor immigrants from those countries with the educational systems that can give people experience with the American way of life. Such a system will drastically limit immigration from Latin America, Asia, and Africa by eliminating chain migration.

About a century ago, Americans struggled to find a language to describe what a multicultural, racially diverse, and democratic society would look like. One group of progressive thinkers, led by figures such as John Dewey, Alain Locke, and Jane Addams, urged us to imagine a nation where immigrants were not forced to assimilate to a single mold, but encouraged to keep their traditions and enlarge the possibilities of what it means to be an American. This theme is missing from public discussions on immigration today. But if we are looking to the past for hints today about what to do with our immigration policy that do not involve reinventing a white nationalist vision, then perhaps this is a conversation we need to remember.

José-Antonio Orosco, Ph.D, writes for PeaceVoice and is Associate Professor of Philosophy: School of History, Philosophy, and Religion; Director, Oregon State University Peace Studies Program. He is the author of Toppling the Melting Pot: Immigration and Multiculturalism in American Pragmatism (2016) and other scholarly works.

Not The Only One 1/10/18

The button, the wall and the myth of nations  – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

“Mr. Kim may be partly motivated by an intense need to roll back sanctions that, by all accounts, have begun to bite.”

Whoa and ouch. This was my wakeup paragraph. I was sitting at Starbucks, reading the New York Times, feeling confusing old emotions wash over me on the first day of the New Year, when suddenly these words hit me like a sucker punch: The sanctions against North Korea “have begun to bite”?

Compare this throw-away fragment of international news with a brief analysis of the effect of U.S. and global sanctions against North Korea by the Council on Foreign Relations: “Sanctions are often felt most by ordinary families, not the power elites who are the intended targets. . . . Sanctions and extended periods of drought have left many of North Korea’s twenty-five million people malnourished and impoverished.”

The wakeup bite for me wasn’t that the New York Times was wrong, simply that, as it presented the latest bit of international news to its global audience, the context of its reporting wasn’t factual data but 21st century mythology.

In our contemporary mythology, the defining gods, especially here in the “developed world,” are hulking, dangerous entities called nations, which stomp across the planet endlessly pursuing their interests. They are alleged to be conscious beings, usually with human faces — Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un — and their power rivals that of Zeus or Yahweh. But the effects of their behavior, even when it kills actual humans, is trivialized by the scribes as the equivalent, for instance, of a divine a bee sting.

Notice how quietly, how smoothly, most geopolitical reporting shifts back and forth between actual individuals and the imaginary beings called nations:

“The statement emphasized the roles of the two Koreas in resolving the nuclear crisis. President Trump, in contrast, has pursued a tougher approach . . .”

“But Mr. Moon also agrees with China and Russia that talks are needed to resolve the nuclear crisis. Mr. Kim’s sudden peace overture on Monday will probably encourage both Russia and China to renew their calls for some kind of ‘freeze for freeze’ — a freeze on North Korean tests in return for a freeze on all American-South Korean military exercises. Presumably, under that situation sanctions would begin to ease.”

OK. Nuclear freeze — very important. The Times story contained sober and responsible data, but I still felt tormented by it. Slowly it began occurring to me: The jargon here is mythical. And such reporting does nothing but perpetuate the status quo that keeps these belligerent, increasingly unstable gods in power.

In such a context, the only peace that’s possible is tense and temporary. To long for lasting, transcendent peace — to imagine that it’s possible — is to marginalize yourself. Come on. Read Trump’s latest tweet: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

The voice crying out is bigger than Donald Trump. It’s the voice of the mythical nation desperately shrieking: I’m not going away!

My response: Yes, you are.

The most toxic force on Planet Earth is nationalism. I’m not against collective consciousness. I believe with all my being in a human identity that transcends self and ego, but the concept of “the nation” is poisoned by the worst of who we are.

Addressing the question what is a nation, the Global Policy Forum explains: “National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity.” But they leave out the most important element. National identity of the Trump sort — and as quietly revered in the New York Times and the rest of the status quo media — requires a shared enemy. Without it, there’s no news.

A year ago, after Trump’s election, I suggested he may be the poster boy of nationalism’s last gasp, that a larger consciousness is waiting to lay claim on American politics.

“Trump says build a wall. Even if the wall is mostly a metaphor, the effect of that metaphor is to lock in consciousness, as though ‘America’ is the only truth Americans are capable of understanding: Fifty states and that’s it. We’re exceptional and the rest of you, keep out. Locked-in consciousness never keeps people safe, but it does keep them scared. You might call it patriotic absolutism, which yields fear, violence and war.”

The latest manifestation of the border wall is in relation to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the law protecting some 700,000+ people — a.k.a., “the dreamers” — born outside the U.S., brought here as children, which could expire in March. Trump says he won’t renew DACA unless he gets congressional approval for his lunatic wall, estimated to cost between $68 billion and $158 billion to build. “We need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall,” Trump said.

Besides the cost, there’s another overlooked detail: “Environmental groups have also expressed concerns over the potential impact of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to Newsweek. “Aside from the massive carbon footprint associated with the transport of raw materials, the U.S.-Mexico border is also home to many endangered species that routinely move between both sides of the Rio Bravo. The jaguar is one these species. As reported in Science earlier this year, the border wall would decimate the jaguar population across North America.”

If only for the sake of the jaguar, it’s time to expand our consciousness, to create a myth called One Planet.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one . . .”

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Diplomacy Not Snark 1/10/18

North Korea Diplomacy Needs Defending, Not Snarky Tweets                                           by Kevin Martin and Gabe Murphy

As the U.S., the Korean Peninsula, and the world stare down the barrel of what would be a devastating war between the U.S. and North Korea, President Trump’s reluctant, kinda sorta endorsement via Twitter of proposed talks between North and South Korea triggered a collective sigh of cautious relief. Of course, the president’s claiming credit for the diplomatic opening was absurd given his frequent statements disparaging the diplomatic path and habitual squandering of opportunities to walk it. But Trump was right to support the proposal. He was also right to agree to a delay in joint military exercises with South Korea at least until after the Winter Olympics, which could help create the space needed for a productive conversation. The initial talks, scheduled for January 9th, will address ways to improve relations between North and South Korea as well as North Korea’s participation in the Olympic games.

While slowly warming to the prospect of dialogue with North Korea, the administration has been taking a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ approach. Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. was ready for direct talks with North Korea. He even went so far as to drop the nonsensical precondition that North Korea agree to completely denuclearize prior to negotiations. Shortly thereafter, first the White House and then Tillerson himself walked back that statement, saying that North Korea would have to “earn its way back to the table.”

Now that Trump has taken this positive step forward—supporting an initial meeting between North and South Korea—we can hope the administration refrains from taking another two steps back.

Unfortunately, a contingent of news and policy makers seem to be encouraging just that. Following Kim Jong-un’s initial overture to South Korea, in which he voiced North Korea’s interest in talks and participation in the Olympics, a story emerged that the speech was nothing more than a trap. New York Times columnists argued that the overture was all about “driving a wedge into its [South Korea’s] seven-decade alliance with the United States.” The Atlantic ran a story titled, “Kim Jong-un’s Trap for South Korea.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted: “Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet… I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.”

If history is any guide, should these initial talks with North Korea bear fruit and lead to broader, multilateral talks, or even direct U.S. participation, diplomacy will come under further attack.

A little over four years ago, the U.S. and other world powers reached an interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, a precursor to the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Under this first step towards a broader deal, Iran suspended its uranium enrichment in exchange for partial relief from economic sanctions. Even that interim accord, just a baby step back from the brink of war, was hard won after months of intensive diplomacy. Yet despite its obvious benefits, the agreement came under immediate attack from Republicans in Congress.

On the bright side, political expediency could work to benefit diplomacy this time around. As long as the Trump administration is actually pursuing diplomacy with North Korea, or not blocking it, we can at least expect Republican criticism of talks to be more muted than it was during the Obama administration.

Case in point, despite Lindsey Graham’s initial reaction to North Korea’s overture, following Trump’s backing of talks he softened his stance, tweeting that he supports “talks and dialogue with North Korea about their nuclear program and provocative behavior.” But if you read the rest of the thread, he goes on to chastise the Olympic committee for considering North Korea’s participation, and to state that “It’s a big-time bad idea to send a message to North Korea that there will be no repercussions for behavior which is among the most despicable in the history of the world.” Of course much of North Korea’s behavior is deeply troubling, but what repercussions is Graham suggesting? Would they serve to support or undermine diplomacy?

As the diplomatic process finally begins, there will be countless opportunities for the Trump administration to undermine it, and countless voices telling it to. As was the case with the Iran agreement, public support for diplomacy is what kept the negotiations alive, and what allowed it to make its way through a hostile Congress. Thankfully, most of the country supports pursuing diplomacy. According to a mid-December poll, 64 percent of Americans support direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea. We need to turn that support into action. Concerned citizens can call their members of Congress today and ask them to speak out in favor of direct diplomacy with North Korea without preconditions, and also to rein in Trump’s authority to wage war, even nuclear war, absent congressional authorization. The Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121.

Gabe Murphy

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, the

Kevin Martin

country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Gabe Murphy is a communications associate at Peace Action.

The Brave Ones 1/10/17

Death at the Gate   – 
by Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
Kabul, January 2017
The number of visitors passing through the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ (APVs’) Borderfree Nonviolence Community Center in Kabul is incredible. Each afternoon, nearly sixty high-school-age students attend free classes to prepare them for the rigorous KanKor test, required of every Afghan desiring to attend public university. By 8:00 this morning, women from neighboring districts had begun arriving on foot, by taxi, or on bicycle, bringing hand-sewn duvets which the young APV’s will distribute to the city’s poor. There is no sign on the door; the address is not published; there is no central telephone number. And yet they come.
Almost immediately following lunch this afternoon, a young university student arrived, bringing unexpected news concerning the recent bombing of a Shia cultural center which had killed 45 people and injured many more. Well-dressed in jeans and warm sweater, he told us that three female relatives had been at the center at the time of the blasts. Two had been killed; the other was expected to recover. A fourth victim, the young man’s friend, had also perished.
As always happens when news of this sort arrives, the room went quiet. Each of the young women and men turned aside and wondered, in the words of our guest, “When is my time going to come?”
It has only taken a week, but I am beginning to realize just how intense life in Afghanistan is for each one of its 36 million citizens. Several times a week, in one guise or another, death walks through the gate.
How do Afghans react to the ongoing violence? In talking to young visitors to the Center, the impression is that the noose of fear is tightening. Friends tell us of thinking twice before going out on unnecessary excursions.
The insurgents whose only weapon is violence are clearly gaining sway here, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers are adamant in their knowledge that violence solves nothing. They struggle daily to practice and teach nonviolence, which their charter maintains “is a [personal] value and a way of living, relating, and acting,” a positive force for change in our own lives and in the life of our planet.
The world has moved on from Afghanistan. The ongoing conflict in this small nation has lost our interest. As I was departing from my first visit here, a 15 year-old friend said, “Goodbye, Mr. Ken. You are very brave to come here.” “No,” I replied. “You are the brave one. I can go home. You live here.”
In the borderfree world envisioned by the Afghan Peace Volunteers, we are all citizens of Afghanistan. We cannot let the noose be tightened any further.
For more information about the Afghan Please Volunteers, please visit their website: ourjourneytosmile.com.
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi has been representing Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) as a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul.

Impulsive Leaders 1/10/18

An Olympic Glimmer on the Horizon – North Korea and South Korea Stepping Down the Escalation Ladder – by Patrick T. Hiller

Patrick Hiller

The world is a month away from the PyeonChang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. My friends in South Korea have already bought tickets for multiple events. What a wonderful opportunity for the parents to expose their two boys to displays of athletic skills and friendly competition between nations in the Olympic spirit.

All is good, except for the fear of nuclear war triggered by impulsive leaders in North Korea and the United States. Recent rare talks between North and South Korea give us a glimmer of hope that the Olympic spirit transcends the games into politics. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games is quoted saying that “the most important thing is not to win, but to take part.” This is even more important in the current conflict between North Korea and South Korea. The most important part is not to agree on everything, but to talk.

The Olympics offer a unique moment to de-escalate tensions and promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. The first talks already led to agreements on North Korea sending a delegation to the Olympics, to hold talks on lowering tension along the border, and to reopen a military hotline. Any small step away from the brink of war deserves support from all nations and civil society. Conflict resolution professionals always look for openings in intractable conflicts such as this one. The opportunities of direct dialog between Koreans need to be realistically addressed.

First, non-Koreans should let Koreans talk. The Koreans are the experts on their interests and needs. The U.S. especially should take a back seat, making support for continued Korean-led diplomacy clear. President Trump has already tweeted support, which is helpful but fragile. With a single belligerent tweet, the President could derail the entire effort. It is therefore important for peace advocacy groups, legislators, and the American public to voice their support for diplomacy over war.

Second, even the smallest successes are in fact big ones. The mere circumstance that after about two years of not meeting, high-level delegations from both sides came together is a win. However, this is not the time to expect grand concessions, like North Korea suddenly halting its nuclear weapons program.

This is the time to positively acknowledge both Koreas successfully stepping away from the brink of war, which could have gone nuclear with the involvement of the United States. These small beginnings have already reduced immediate tensions and open pathways to long-term improvements around broader issues such as a North Korean nuclear freeze, the suspension of military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea, the official end of the Korean war, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, and long-term reconciliation efforts between the two nations.

Third, beware of spoilers. The Korean conflict is complex, enduring and influenced by the pressures and dynamics of geopolitics. There will always be individuals and groups trying to undermine constructive steps. As soon as the Korean-Korean talks were even mentioned, critics accused Kim Jong-Un of trying to “drive a wedge between South Korea and the U.S.” in order to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon from South Korea draw the picture of a dangerous North Korea and demand that its denuclearization is the key talking point.

The basic principles of successful dialog historically suggest that talking without preconditions is the most likely way to gain traction among the conflicting parties. Lastly, the current support for dialog by U.S. President Trump might be undone with a tweet. We cannot dismiss the possibility that a demonized North Korea provides a needed diversion from poor performance and low approval ratings. It is therefore important to continuously point to the necessary small and positive steps.

No one knows what the outcome of the current positive small steps and will be. Destructive spoilers can accuse diplomacy advocates of giving a free pass to the North Korean nuclear weapons program and human rights abuses. Somewhat more moderate voices might refuse to acknowledge diplomacy as an effective tool to lower current tensions. Moving out of a large-scale conflict like this one takes a long time and many more small steps will be necessary before any bigger issues can be addressed. Setbacks are also to be expected. What should be obvious though, is the fact that the long duration and the uncertainties of diplomacy are always preferable to the certain horror of war.

Last year, President Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” over North Korea marked an escalation just short of war. The talks between the two Koreas in the context of the Olympics are a positive pivot away from fire and fury and toward the hopeful light of an Olympian torch. In the conflict’s trajectory, we are looking at a crucial point—are we moving toward new and even greater escalation or are we stepping onto a constructive path with realistic expectations?

Let the Koreans talk. As a nation the U.S. has done enough damage, as Americans we can make sure that our country is supportive now and beyond the Olympics. This mantra should ring in the ears of our elected officials: Americans support diplomacy over war. Then I can tell my friends in Korea that we have tried to make sure that their teenage boys can visit the Olympic Winter Games and then go back to school without worrying about nuclear war.

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, served on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (2012-2016), member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

From the Heartland 1/10/18

Appeal to the Heartland – by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

I’m from the Heartland, from the lakes and woods of Minnesota. I lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin for almost all of the first half century of my life and I turn to you who make your lives working hard in the woodlands and farmlands and towns big and small and ask you, for goshsakes, can we unite and end this godawful Trump experiment?

There is a chemical, norepinephrine, released into our brains that dials us toward alertness but also potential anxiety. When we sleep and hit the dream state, it is dialed way back in our brain and we can wander mentally in whatever our subconscious ways we do. But if traumatic emotional residuals push it back into our brain we have nightmares. This Trump business is the longest lucid nightmare in our country’s collective mind and it’s time to wake up and smell the 25th Amendment.

Failing is one thing–Trump has done so many times but haven’t we all? This goes way past that into literally mortal danger for millions. This man literally is taunting another fake leader over in North Korea, daring him to kill your children so he can obliterate another country full of humans. My button is bigger than your button? Is this a bad episode of Get Smart? Who writes his material? Oh, that’s right, he does, at least the spontaneous stuff.

Artful Dodger Stephen Miller does his real speeches, you know, where he says things that include multisyllabic Latinate phrases and more literate insults. One wonders, by now, when Miller will join Steve Bannon in the Sad (!) affinity cloister of vindictive tell-all ad hominem Bromance Breakups.

After millions of Americans working so hard to make progress in slowing climate chaos, and to recover from floods and fires intensifying from climate change, Trump is doing everything possible to accelerate toward more and worse hurricanes, bigger and more destructive forest fires, more frequent and massive floods, and the rising seas which will wipe out entire coastal cities. Inundation nation. I mean, when National Geographic, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and so many of the staid button-down institutions we trust are all–all–clamoring for some return to a bit of progress against this backslide, can we please recall what Mo Udall said years ago, “Nature bats last.”

I’m old and have enjoyed my decades. Everything now, however, is at risk for the young ones, and that is the crime against humanity being perpetrated right now, with clear intent, by an outlaw regime that just led us into a new tax-you-for-his-benefit era. I think about my favorite little ones–three-year-old Amolika, four-year-old Oliver, and five-year-old Xyler–plus a lot of other precious children–and I know you worry for your favorite small ones too.

This is bizarre beyond belief as we are treated to one shallow bit of petulant braggadocio after the next. He governs by immature, trash-talking tweets, calling himself “a very stable genius.” Is he 12? Indeed, I know no 12-year-old who is like this. By that age, most have learned humility and empathy. Not our Dear Leader.

Can we fix this? I think it will take the folks from across the US who are represented by rock-ribbed Republicans to handle it. Trump is highly unpopular across the country but this is not reflected in our embarrassing reality. Politics are one thing; playing with fire and fury and the fate of millions is another. It’s like watching a toddler pick up a loaded unlocked handgun, except this is a global gun, literally. This is a moment in the history–and especially in the future–of the country and the people. A moment of unity. If we can’t join to terminate this poor rule and go forward together there may not be much left to worry or disagree about.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

Dream Come True 1/3/18

Welcome to Kabu  l
by Ken Hannaford-Ricardi

December 31, 2017

It is a dream come true being back among friends in Kabul! Streams of dented Toyotas (They are all Toyotas!) with windscreens cracked like bolts of lightning still jockey for position on roads where traffic lights and common sense hold little sway. Carts of vegetables drawn by donkeys or dragged by men without dreams continue clotting the already stuttering traffic, forcing it almost to a standstill. Stucco houses remain stapled to mountainsides, one tripping over the other as they race to the top. And smog, as thick and foul-smelling as only winter in Kabul can conjure up. It felt wonderful being home!

As a team-building exercise, three of us chose this afternoon to clean the chimney of one of our wood stoves. Four lengths of sooty pipe and two elbow joints later, the stove was ready to refire and all three of us needed a good bath. We laughed (mostly young ones) and swore (mostly me) in almost equal proportions.

As we got ready for bed last night, we heard a sustained series of what most of us thought was gunfire. The wail of a siren followed shortly thereafter and caused us to wonder if we should head to the basement for a bit. We waited it out on the second floor. We were brave, or not.

This morning brought rumors of three explosions nearby. We scrambled for information, but little was forthcoming. Later, we were forwarded an email from a friend working near us. The attack, it appeared, had centered on a Shia mosque. “It is more than sad,” our friend said. “Latest update showed 45 people killed and 85 wounded. Going to the scene, there is nothing more than blood, flesh, meat, dust, and fear. We again see Afghans die for nothing and families lose their loved ones because of ongoing US-backed war.” My young co-workers are physically okay.

Tonight, after dinner, I had the chance to talk with a young Afghan friend about his family. Married for just a brief period, his wife conceived. They were happy. Their families rejoiced. One night during their son’s fourth month, he woke up sick enough to be taken to the doctor’s. After an examination, the doctor gave the boy a number of injections, and the family was sent home. Later that same evening, the child’s condition worsened, and the parents took him to a hospital, where he died. My friend and his wife still do not know what claimed their son’s life.  Welcome to Kabul.

Ken Hannaford-Ricardi is in Kabul representing Voices for Creative Nonviolence. While there, he is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Global Greatness 1/3/18

A Scenario of Planet Earth’s Survival: Far-out Thoughts at the New Year- by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

What does the future hold for our planet? It is easy to prophesy doom: a nuclear war, irreversible climate change, hordes of dispossessed people converging on well-to-do cities, a contagion with no cure. I’m going to buck the tide with a scenario of planetary survival, on the assumption we can avoid mass destruction in the next 50-100 years.

My scenario is founded on the willingness of governments to surrender substantial elements of their sovereignty. At some point of global crisis, a consensus will emerge among national leaders that the planet is on a suicide mission so long as every country responds in its own way to military, environmental, and economic threats. The only way forward suddenly becomes clear to all: surrender national control on these fundamental security issues to an international authority they will have to construct together.

In this scenario, nation-states would still have important regulatory tasks within their own borders—policing, budgeting, taxes, industry, health care. But now those tasks will have to be undertaken in the context of a global decision making authority that sets direction on military affairs and the various elements of globalization. The upshot of this framework is (or should be) that national leaders are severely constrained from war making and motivated to develop peacetime economies and more just societies. After all, they will have been relieved of budget planning that emphasizes military spending and international competition.

As we begin the new year and survey the quality of national leaderships, this survival scenario seems absurdly distant. Leaders of every major country are profoundly ill-equipped to imagine a new world order in which the wellbeing of the global community prevails over national and self interests. For them, preparing for war is more sensible than preparing for peace. Injustice and inequality are inevitable while freedom is relative. They view their job as making their countries “great again”; the notion of a global community is pure idealism.

Such narrow-mindedness—madness, really—helps account for why the current global situation is unsustainable and intolerable. To be sure, in every country there are activists at work on energy conservation, human rights, social justice, immigration reform, and so many other causes in the human interest. But governments make the rules, and at any moment they may crush those who work for humane change. What might replace them? A world federalist system? A United Nations with legislative authority? A group of international wise women and men? I cannot say, but I feel certain that finding an entirely new structure of global governance is the key to sustaining our fragile planet.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Dishonest Refusenik 1/3/18

From Swamp to Cesspool – by Wim Laven

Wim Laven

“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!” Donald Trump, Tweet, Dec. 28, 2017.

There is something that has bothered me about Donald Trump’s dishonesty and refusal to face reality, and China has it right: “This is not how a U.S. president should behave.” You know things have gone south when it’s easier to agree with the Chinese autocratic rulers than a US president. Ouch.

Trump labels himself a master of marketing; he prides himself in his use of slogans. “Build the wall,” “Lock her up,” and “Drain the swamp” all fell under the “Make America Great Again” umbrella. His marketing taps into base emotions: anger, confusion and fear. He makes promises that replace proof and evidence with indignation for the time when white men ruled over women and people of color. When no one worried about “the environment.”

When Trump tweets about global warming he showcases his ignorance and lack of care about the difference between “weather” and “climate.” In November the Washington Post reported he’d made “1,628 false or misleading claims over 298 days” on a marvelously rich diversity of topics. Repeatedly, climate chaos is one.

Climate change is a big deal, so crucial that our military has been responding to the security threats it poses for over a decade. But maybe Trump doesn’t know that weather is more short term and climate is more long term. Maybe he doesn’t know that it can rain in a drought year, and maybe he didn’t get the memo in 2014 that you can still make a snowball even though it is the hottest year on record (when Senator Inhofe brought one to the Senate floor in a spectacular display of willful ignorance).

But Trump is unwittingly correct that his policies do drain healthy swamps. Problematically, they substitute toxic cesspools.

Swamps are rich in abundance. They are valuable pieces of ecosystems. Critically important for freshwater and oxygen, spawning grounds for fish and other wildlife, and a natural mechanism for flood control and carbon storage. They may reflect low commercial values but awareness of their importance is no secret… aaand this was a key metaphor in the Trump campaign. He promised he would “drain the swamp.”

Instead, he has made a cesspool. Cesspools are places to dispose of pollutants and sewage. There is causal linkage to decreased public health and increases in mortality.

And so, this is what we see Trump has created. He’s been unrelenting in taking away important protections and regulations. Simultaneously Trump’s administration has left numerous key positions vacant and has seen increasing numbers of vacancies due to the toxicity of the environment. The U.S. Science Envoy, for example, spelled out IMPEACH in his resignation letter, and the remaining members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned en masse with a resignation letter spelling out RESIST.

Trump is bringing “that good old Global Warming” and he’s shown no interest in protecting life. It isn’t a secret. These are promises he campaigned on, and he’s been unfazed by the mandate of the popular vote or public opinion. He only gets away with this damage when we let him. We can resist and we can impeach.

Part of the resistance will require that we refuse to make enemies of those who have different ideological positions. This is what the preeminent scholar in my field of Conflict Transformation calls resisting cultural violence.

Common ground in shared values and interests is the greatest way to resist Trump’s efforts to divide America. But, we can come together—without party affiliation—in condemning this administration’s behavior on the world stage. Just like I was critical of drone warfare civilian casualties under the Obama administration (even though I voted for him), Trump supporters do not have to defend any of his mistakes.

None of us have to let his lunacy change who we are, but we can’t be lazy. He is trying to erase “E pluribus unum”—out of many, one—with his recycled slogan that asks us to go back in time but we can demand common good and human dignity. Now. Or else.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.

Count Upon a Friend 1/3/18

The “Merchants of Death” Survive and Prosper  – by Lawrence Wittner

Lawrence Wittner

During the mid-1930s, a best-selling exposé of the international arms trade, combined with a U.S. Congressional investigation of munitions-makers led by Senator Gerald Nye, had a major impact on American public opinion. Convinced that military contractors were stirring up weapons sales and war for their own profit, many people grew critical of these “merchants of death.”

Today, some eight decades later, their successors, now more politely called “defense contractors,” are alive and well. According to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, sales of weapons and military services by the world’s largest 100 corporate military purveyors in 2016 (the latest year for which figures are available) rose to $375 billion. U.S. corporations increased their share of that total to almost 58 percent, supplying weapons to at least 100 nations around the world.

The dominant role played by U.S. corporations in the international arms trade owes a great deal to the efforts of U.S. government officials. “Significant parts of the government,” notes military analyst William Hartung, “are intent on ensuring that American arms will flood the global market and companies like Lockheed and Boeing will live the good life. From the president on his trips abroad to visit allied world leaders to the secretaries of state and defense to the staffs of U.S. embassies, American officials regularly act as salespeople for the arms firms.” Furthermore, he notes, “the Pentagon is their enabler. From brokering, facilitating, and literally banking the money from arms deals to transferring weapons to favored allies on the taxpayers’ dime, it is in essence the world’s largest arms dealer.”

In 2013, when Tom Kelly, the deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Political Affairs was asked during a Congressional hearing about whether the Obama administration was doing enough to promote American weapons exports, he replied: “[We are] advocating on behalf of our companies and doing everything we can to make sure that these sales go through. . . and that is something we are doing every day, basically [on] every continent in the world . . . and we’re constantly thinking of how we can do better.” This proved a fair enough assessment, for during the first six years of the Obama administration, U.S. government officials secured agreements for U.S. weapons sales of more than $190 billion around the world, especially to the volatile Middle East. Determined to outshine his predecessor, President Donald Trump, on his first overseas trip, bragged about a $110 billion arms deal (totaling $350 billion over the next decade) with Saudi Arabia.

The greatest single weapons market remains the United States, for this country ranks first among nations in military spending, with 36 percent of the global total. Trump is a keen military enthusiast, as is the Republican Congress, which is currently in the process of approving a 13 percent increase in the already astronomical U.S. military budget. Much of this future military spending will almost certainly be devoted to purchasing new and very expensive high-tech weapons, for the military contractors are adept at delivering millions of dollars in campaign contributions to needy politicians, employing 700 to 1,000 lobbyists to nudge them along, claiming that their military production facilities are necessary to create jobs, and mobilizing their corporate-funded think tanks to highlight ever-greater foreign “dangers.”

They can also count upon a friendly reception from their former executives now holding high-level posts in the Trump administration, including: Secretary of Defense James Mattis (a former board member of General Dynamics); White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (previously employed by several military contractors); Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (a former Boeing executive); Secretary of the Army Mark Esper (a former Raytheon vice president); Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson (a former consultant to Lockheed Martin); Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Ellen Lord (a former CEO of an aerospace company); and National Security Council Chief of Staff Keith Kellogg (a former employee of a major military and intelligence contractor).

This formula works very well for U.S. military contractors, as illustrated by the case of Lockheed Martin, the largest arms merchant in the world. In 2016, Lockheed’s weapons sales rose by almost 11 percent to $41 billion, and the company is well on its way to even greater affluence thanks to its production of the F-35 fighter jet. Lockheed began work on developing the technologically-advanced warplane in the 1980s and, since 2001, the U.S. government has expended over $100 billion for its production. Today, estimates by military analysts as to the total cost to taxpayers of the 2,440 F-35s desired by Pentagon officials range from $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive procurement program in U.S. history.

The F-35’s enthusiasts have justified the enormous expense of the warplane by emphasizing its projected ability to make a quick liftoff and a vertical landing, as well as its adaptability for use by three different branches of the U.S. military. And its popularity might also reflect their assumption that its raw destructive power will help them win future wars against Russia and China. “We can’t get into those aircraft fast enough,” Lieutenant General Jon Davis, the Marine Corps’ aviation chief, told a House Armed Services subcommittee in early 2017. “We have a game changer, a war winner, on our hands.”

Even so, aircraft specialists point out that the F-35 continues to have severe structural problems and that its high-tech computer command system is vulnerable to cyberattack. “This plane has a long way to go before it’s combat-ready,” remarked a military analyst at the Project on Government Oversight. “Given how long it’s been in development, you have to wonder whether it’ll ever be ready.”

Startled by the extraordinary expense of the F-35 project, Donald Trump initially derided the venture as “out of control.” But, after meeting with Pentagon officials and Lockheed CEO Marilynn Hewson, the new president reversed course, praising “the fantastic” F-35 as a “great plane” and authorizing a multi-billion dollar contract for 90 more of them.

In retrospect, none of this is entirely surprising. After all, other giant military contractors–for example, Nazi Germany’s Krupp and I.G. Farben and fascist Japan’s Mitsubishi and Sumitomo –prospered heavily by arming their nations for World War II and continued prospering in its aftermath. As long as people retain their faith in the supreme value of military might, we can probably also expect Lockheed Martin and other “merchants of death” to continue profiting from war at the public’s expense.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

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