Thursday, January 11, 2018

Guantanamo: What's the underlying condition?

Statue of Liberty - January 11, 2018
V @nat_riverascott

Since practically the day I started this blog, I have tried to contribute to reversing the injustices represented by the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

I have organized and participated in many events educating about and protesting against Guantanamo. (See website for The Response film and blog posts on Guantanamo and work with the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo.)

I am coming to realize that what Guantanamo says about the US goes very deep.

What's the underlying condition?

In the past year, I've dealt with a cancer diagnosis, and it's changed the way I look at things.

In June I went to the emergency room with a breathing problem that had been getting worse and worse for over a month. An X-ray quickly showed that I had a "pleural effusion" -- fluid accumulated in the lining of my lung. My left lung, itself, was like a deflated balloon, bunched up in the upper corner of the lung cavity, unable to expand because of the way the cavity wall was pressing up from below with all the fluid.

The quick fix was to drain the fluid. The doctor inserted a needle between the ribs in my back and drained away 3 liters of milky white stuff.

Voila! I could breathe again!

(Problem solved, right?)

And then they started taking more scans . . . .

Within a day, the ER doc dropped by to tell me: "It looks like you have lymphoma. It's a kind of cancer. It's treatable . . . but you've got to get on it."

It turned out the lymphoma I had, though low grade, had generated a troublesome mass in my abdomen. I had heavy-duty chemotherapy for the next few months. Things seem to be getting better, and I'm now on a course of lower-impact drugs.

Looking the other way

Now that I'm past the immediate shock of the cancer diagnosis, I have time to think. One of the things I wonder about is, "What if my cancer hadn't exhibited that lung problem? Maybe I would still be in the dark about the underlying condition . . . . "

I should mention that one of the things that was special about my case is that I had avoided all contact with a doctor for the past decade or so. Because, you know, I'm healthy!

In other words, I was not terribly interested in knowing what might be going on inside me.

Picking up on this detail, my doctors were perceptive enough to understand that they needed to start my treatment immediately, and not let me have a chance to slip out the door with the promise to deal with my condition "soon."

An unpleasant truth about US society

In the case of my cancer, I think my body helped with the process: it figured out a way to send me a message, one that I couldn't ignore.

For those willing to listen, Guantanamo is sending us a message. There is an underlying condition in this country, one that we are trying very hard to ignore.

It is up to each of us to search our hearts to see if we can figure out what it is that we really think is going on in this country.

For my part, I plan to dig deep . . . with a special eye for that which I feel afraid to admit.  I suspect that the underlying condition is going to turn out to be pretty scary.

To be continued . . . .

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Is Kim Jong-un giving the US its "Suez Crisis"?

An end to "business as usual"?
(Anthony Eden and his cabinet in The Crown (Netflix))

I wonder if it has occurred to other people watching "The Crown" -- as it has occurred to me -- that the tailspin into which the UK was thrown by the Suez Crisis might be compared to what is happening to the US in the course of the crisis over North Korea and nuclear weapons.

(See "The Crown: What was the Suez Crisis and why did it bring down Prime Minister Anthony Eden?")

Today I am sitting down to study the chronology of developments during the past year. But even before beginning, I'm aware of similarities:

* Before the Suez Crisis, it was just assumed that it was for the UK to decide the disposition of the canal. It never occurred to anyone that that particular piece of infrastructure might be controlled . . . by Egyptians!

* Before the Suez Crisis, it was just assumed that the UK could brandish its military might, and its allies would applaud it. UK leaders didn't expect the rest of the world to say, "What gives you the right?"

* Before the Suez Crisis, UK leaders (like Anthony Eden) never thought of leaders of other countries (like Gamal Abdel Nasser) as being entitled to stand up to them. That changed . . . .

The slow-boil crisis over North Korea and nuclear weapons is changing assumptions about how the US acts, and where it stands in relation to the other nations in the world.

As of today, there are 73 House members and 13 senators calling for restrictions on the ability of the US president to unilaterally call a nuclear first strike:

Co-sponsors of  HR.669 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" (introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu)

Co-sponsors of S.200 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" (introduced by Sen. Ed Markey)

AND . . . the UN treaty on a global nuclear weapons ban has been signed by 56 countries and ratified by 3 already: "Signature/ratification status of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons."

So I am beginning to wonder:

* Is the issue any longer: "How will the US control North Korea?"

* Perhaps the issue has become: "How has North Korea managed to change the position of the US in the world?"

Some of my previous posts on this topic:

Who Has Been "Begging for War"?

Korea: A History of Living Under Nuclear Terror

North Korea and #NuclearBan

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THIS is how you protest a Nobel Peace Prize!

Six years ago I stood in front of Obama re-election headquarters and impersonated the King Of Norway in the act of revoking Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize.

December 10, 2010, in Chicago in front of Obama Re-election HQ:
"King Harald" regretfully revokes Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize
(Photo courtesy FJJ)

I bring this up because the Nobel Prize will be awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Oslo on Sunday. The US objects and says it won't send its Acting Ambassador to the ceremony.

From ICAN:
"The U.S., Britain, and France have decided not to send
their ambassadors to Norway to the #NobelPeacePrize ceremony.
It’s time to engage with the #nuclearban treaty and catch up
with the rest of the international community. #FOMO ?"

The United States government has a lot of resources at its disposal. I would expect that if it's really serious when it says that the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons will not bring peace, it would do something more than just have its diplomats stay home.

Especially when the world will get a stark reminder at the ceremony of the unique role of the US in using nuclear weapons.

From The Nobel Prize:
"On 10 Dec Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow will accept the
Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on behalf of @nuclearban."

The US could hold a press conference outside the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony, saying how much it objects to the nuclear ban treaty. Of course, the US tried that when the treaty was being negotiated, and all it got them was 122 countries voting to approve the treaty text . . . .

Maybe it's time for the US government to up the ante.

Hmmm . . . . the US has a lot of planes. How about skywriting? Has anyone thought about skywriting?

Related posts

USA: Bringing a Trumpian Posture to the Nuclear Ban Talks. (Bankruptcy.)

Obama's (and Putin's) Missed Opportunity at Hiroshima

133 Is a Lot of #Nuclearban-Supporting Countries

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Monday, December 4, 2017

To Do This Week: More letters to Congress

Last week's plan -- a letter a day to Congress to support HR.669/S.200 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" -- turned out pretty well.

At a busy time of year, it's helpful to set a few simple priorities and get those tasks done.

I'm going to try it again this week, focusing on senators I watched in the video of the November 14 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons." In that hearing . . .

* There was strong affirmation from everyone in the room that Congress (not the president) has the sole authority to authorize a (non-defensive) nuclear first strike through its power to declare war, AND/BUT continuing silence by Congress about its authority tends to have the practical effect of leaving the president completely in control.

* The three experts who testified were deeply knowledgeable and answered all questions to the best of their ability. But, when it was all said and done, as pointed out by Senator Markey, they could not provide satisfactory assurance that the president -- particularly the current president -- could not unilaterally cause the launch of a (non-defensive) nuclear first strike i.e. without Congressional authorization.

Below are the tasks I have set myself for the week. Each is a letter to a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee.

What would happen if a large number of people picked up their pens and took control of this issue?

Monday: Sen. Bob Corker (TN)

Senator Corker chairs the committee. He showed a great deal of leadership in calling the hearing, and he is to be commended. Now ... given the conclusions cited above, what does being a leader call for him to do now?

Tuesday: Sen. Ben Cardin (MD)

Senator Cardin is the ranking member on the committee (i.e. the senior member from the Democratic Party).  I noticed that he zeroed in on the shakiness of any real constraint on the president. (See minute 58:00 of the hearing.)

Wednesday: Sen. Tom Udall (NM)

Viewing the hearing, I got the distinct impression that Senator Udall is not satisfied with what he was hearing. I hope he'll move to support for S.200. (See minute 1:13:00 of the hearing.)

Thursday: Sen. Tim Kaine (VA)

Senator Kaine's exchange with the witnesses zeroed in on the key point: Congress (not the president) has the sole authority to authorize a (non-defensive) nuclear first strike through its power to declare war, AND/BUT continuing silence by Congress about its authority tends to have the practical effect of leaving the president completely in control. (See minute 1:44:00 of the hearing.)

Friday: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

I found it very noteworthy that Senator Shaheen focused on the phrase "civilization-threatening consequences" in the testimony of the witnesses. (See minute 2:03:00 of the hearing.)

It's time for Congress to re-assert its rightful power over nuclear weapons. S.200 is a critical first step.

Who will you be writing to?

Related posts

Notes on how to talk to your representatives in Congress

"Nuclear Citizenship" by Elaine Scarry in Harper's

On Nuclear Weapons: We Need Tenacity

Please share this post . . . .

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thanks, Pat Hunt!

Pat Hunt - ready to march! (May, 2012 - NATO Summit protest, Chicago)

In 2011, I was interested in getting involved in antiwar work . . . but I didn't really know where to find it. Then I met Pat Hunt. As so many people have testified in recent days, the minute you met Pat, there was no longer any question about that.

Pat welcomed people into the movement, and made sure they continued to feel welcome.

Pat's sudden passing has made me stop and notice how important she has been in my life. I met her at a time when many people in Chicago were involved in planning protests marking the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan and the NATO Summit, and in supporting the Occupy movement. Many of those people are important in my life. But Pat was special.

"I support anti-war candidates! (Know any?)
Pat Hunt style activism -- with a dash of wit included.
I remember Pat coming to meet me numerous times at the Panera in Lincoln Park (where I used to sit hour after hour, working on my laptop) to ask about what I was working on and to encourage me. B.P. (before Pat) I wasn't always so sure about whether it was worth it to do all that blogging and tweeting and everything else I was doing. A.P. (after Pat) there was a voice in my head saying "keep at it!" Even after I was two thousand miles away in Berkeley, Pat found ways to nudge me forward with encouragement on social media.

I remember the way Pat made meetings run smoothly. In a room full of people with strong opinions and strong feelings, she found ways to keep everybody working together. (Her tremendous good will and hearty laugh were two of the secrets of her success.)

I remember Pat's willingness to entertain new ideas. To this day, whenever I'm feeling fearful about suggesting something new, I hear Pat's voice in my head: "If the 'way we've always done it' hasn't gotten the job finished -- maybe we should consider something new!"

I often find myself wondering: how can we encourage more people to devote themselves to the antiwar movement? I'm realizing today that most of the answers to that question have come from Pat Hunt.

Thanks, Pat!

MORE: Pat Hunt Improver of the World on Facebook

Monday, November 27, 2017

To Do This Week: One letter a day to Congress

Does anybody think we no longer have to worry about Donald Trump's unilateral authority to use nuclear weapons?

This week I will be writing letters to representatives and senators in the US Congress to urge their support of  HR669 "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" (corresponding Senate bill: S200).

Last winter I suggested people call and write Congress on this vital issue. As of today, there are 73 co-sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives and 13 in the Senate. We need more.

Two weeks ago the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the issue. (You can watch the hearings here.) This is a startling step in a Republican-controlled Congress and a major step forward in moving this bill forward.

Below are the tasks I have set myself for the week.

What would happen if a large number of people picked up their pens and took control of this issue?

For people in California, the consequences of nuclear conflict
seem just a little bit too real, as the publication of this image
on the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle suggests.
Monday: Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)

I will urge the second of my two senators, Kamala Harris, to co-sponsor S200. (Senator Feinstein was one of the first co-sponsors.)

Tuesday: Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52)

My district is represented by Barbara Lee, who was the first of the eighteen (18) other California congressmen supporting the House version of the bill (HR669), introduced by her colleague from Los Angeles, Rep. Ted Lieu.

Now I will be writing to Scott Peters, who represents San Diego, to encourage him to join his California colleagues in co-sponsoring the bill.

Wednesday: Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-5)

During my years in Chicago, I frequently communicated with Rep. Quigley. (See, for instance, this letter from two years ago.) It's time to write to him again to urge him to join his Chicago-area colleagues in the House, Bobby Rush, Jan Schakowsky, and Luis Gutierrez, in co-sponsoring HR669.

Thursday: Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)

Senator Cory Booker sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His support for S200 -- together with committee members Ed Markey (the original sponsor), Jeff Merkley, and Chris Murphy -- is vital.

Friday: Sen. Rand Paul (KY)

Senator Rand Paul also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is an independent voice within the Republican party, and a strong advocate for Congress' war authority under the U.S. Constitution. His support for S200 will all so be vital.

Who will you be writing to?

Related posts

Notes on how to talk to your representatives in Congress

"Nuclear Citizenship" by Elaine Scarry in Harper's

On Nuclear Weapons: We Need Tenacity

Please share this post . . . .

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Congress, Experts Question Trump’s Nuke Authority


What: Public forum on constitutionality of presidential first use of nuclear weapons
Where: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (Science Center Hall C)
When: Saturday, November 4, 2017

Contact: Prof. Elaine Scarry, Harvard University --  m 617-519-9735,
   or    Cole Harrison, Mass Peace Action -– m 617-466-9274,
   or    Prof. Jonathan King, MIT -– m 617 803 8683,

Congress, Experts Question Trump’s Nuke Authority
Long-held Doctrine May Be Unconstitutional

As President Donald Trump travels to China and other Asian countries, where his first priority will be negotiations over handling of the confrontation with North Korea over threats of nuclear strikes, a crescendo of voices in the US is questioning the constitutional authority of the US president to conduct a nuclear first strike.

On Saturday, November 4, at Harvard University, Congressman Jim McGovern (co-sponsor of “H.R.669 - Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017”) will join former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former missile launch officer Bruce Blair, constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman, and other experts for a public forum on “Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just?”

“This event is intended to bring together the range of voices that will be required to rein in the nuclear threat – members of Congress, defense experts, legal scholars, philosophers, activists … and the general public,” said Harvard professor Elaine Scarry, conference co-chair and author of Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom.

The conference takes place Saturday, November 4, 2017 (9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) at Harvard University, Science Center Hall C, Cambridge, MA, and is co-sponsored by Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center,  Harvard’s Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, and MassPeaceAction Education Fund.


Full conference program at:

H.R.669 - Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017:

S.200 - Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017: