Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Network Power and the Movement to Ban Nuclear Weapons

The majority of the world's nations voted to bring about a ban on nuclear weapons through negotiations in 2017.

The negotiations will be happening at the United Nations. But make no mistake: the real action will need to be out among the people. Because if we sleep through this, the political will to get to the finish line may just evaporate.

Here's how you can dive in . . . .

Activists worldwide . . .

(1) It's all about the network(s).

We're really not alone in this!

But our ability to achieve critical mass will depend upon how creatively and thoroughly we build and make use of multiple, intersecting networks of influence.

One small example: this list of activists worldwide helping to advance the cause of the nuclear ban.

Each person on the list connects you to their huge network of activists and thinkers.

Give them your attention for ten minutes a day: they'll give you phenomenal resources.

And then think: how can you add the leverage of your network to this effort?

(2) The central campaign.

Here are your core tools for working on the nuclear ban:

The site is provided by ICAN - the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Be sure to sign up for the campaign updates and activities.

(3) Many threads.

George Takei on Twitter:
Trump wants to expand our nuclear arsenal.
I think of my aunt and baby cousin,
found burnt in a ditch in Hiroshima.
These weapons must go.
It may sound simple -- ban nuclear weapons -- but it is a massive problem and will call on people from all walks of life, in every country in the world to help get the message across.

 . . . and many, many more . . .

Don't wait for someone to tell you your role. Decide how you can help and dive in!

(4) Anything can happen.

Donald Trump becomes the US president shortly.

As it stands today, the US (together with Russia) is the principal obstacle to global nuclear disarmament. That must change.

Activists and advocates should be prepared to be agile in the face of sudden (and possibly surprising) developments.

(See Messrs. Trump and Putin: CHANGE THIS MAP!)

(5) Show up.

A lot of power is in the hands of a few political powerholders - unfortunately.

 . . . AND . . .

The ultimate power is in the hands of the people. A massive popular outpouring will be necessary to move the US (and Russia) forward.

New York City, Central Park:  No Nukes Mobilization, 1982

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Time. (For a Demonstration Against Nukes.) (A YUGE One!)

Don't let it end with the Trump inauguration. The main event should be massive demonstrations of support for a global ban on nuclear weapons later in 2017 . . . .

It's encouraging that there will be demonstrations to coincide with the Trump inaugural.

It could be extremely productive to seize the opportunity and try to enlist the highly-energized protestors, many of whom will be newly-activated, to focus on the single most threatening problem we face, and one where they can make a difference just a few months from now.

Nuclear Ban Treaty Negotiations
United Nations, New York
27-31 March 2017
15 June - 7 July 2017
(For more information: ICAN)

Negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban go forward in New York City during one week at the end of March, and then for three weeks in June/July.  Most of the rest of the world is urgently pressing for this ban. The US (together with Russia, and both countries' key allies) are the holdouts.

A massive demonstration in New York -- carefully programmed -- could give visible evidence that people in the US are serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons.  (A visible display is what's needed to override the Trump "virtual reality" show.)

Can such a thing be brought about in the few months between now and June?

One thing's for sure: people are waking up.

. . . and . . .

We have done this before ...

New York City, Central Park:  No Nukes Mobilization, 1982

MORE . . . 

Who might be asked to perform a No Nukes Concert?

Materials from No Nukes conference/march in NYC April 2016.

Materials on the upcoming negotiations at the UN - from Reaching Critical Will -- a project of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

The global campaign - International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Friday, January 6, 2017

Connect the Dots: Obama Drones Threat Capital Inequality

By perpetuating the idea that we live under threat of terrorism, and that drones are the answer, Obama has guaranteed the economic inequality engine will continue to function unimpeded for a very long time to come . . . .

"Obama's embrace of drone strikes will be a lasting legacy."
(Graphic: @pariewolf)

Barack Obama is scheduled to give his farewell speech in Chicago on January 10, 2017.

Over the past six years, I have written again and again about the expansion of drone killings under Obama. The graphic above reminded me that I should not let the occasion of Obama's "legacy" speech pass without saying what his real legacy will be.

As Mark Landler explained in The New York Times this past summer, Obama's legacy really does seem to be the use of military force by the US around the world in an uninterrupted way, while still operating beneath the notice of the vast majority of US people.

The use of drones perfectly encapsulates the Obama legacy: as long as you keep boots off the ground, you can assert US military power anywhere and everywhere without alarming the public. If a few spoilsports object, you can point out that drones are limited, cost-effective, high-tech. (And did we mention there are no boots on the ground?)

As someone who has called written about this phenomenon as "permawar" . . . and worked with drone warfare opponents throughout the country . . . and even tried revoking Obama's Nobel Prize . . . I enjoy a kind of satisfaction in seeing other voices affirm my reading of the situation.

 . . . HOWEVER . . .

I've come to the conclusion that it is not enough to simply protest drone warfare.

We need to connect the dots between this new way of war and the economic crisis that has brought Donald Trump to power.

Inequality: "Where's Mine?"

WHERE'S MINE? Inequality in the US
and the Military-Industrial Complex
About a year ago, I took a stab at connecting the problem of inequality in the US to the problem of military spending and war.

I shared data on the real extent of economic inequality in the US, and noted that this information is widely available. "I'm wondering when people are going to decide to do something about it," I wrote, "and when they're going to begin to ask about the connections between inequality and the military-industrial complex."

I think we got the answer to the first half of my query with the election of Donald Trump.

How US Military Spending Contributes to Economic Inequality

US government spending:
military vs "all other"
(More details here.)
To many of us, it seems obvious that the connection between the enormous levels of US military spending and economic inequality is that tax money is used for war instead of to make the lives of people in the US better. ("Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation.")

As a very loyal but honest critic of the antiwar movement has said, "We just can't seem to get any traction with the money argument for opposing war."

We're not getting traction with the simple argument -- "Stop spending so much money!" -- and we're also not getting traction with the more sweeping argument that takes the form of a critique of "Neoliberalism."

In my opinion, the former argument fails because it is too simplistic: it's just too difficult for people to detach their idea of today's military spending from the idea of the "Good War" and the "arsenal of democracy" -- the notion of "security" validated for them by WWII. They know just enough about today's regional conflicts and militant activities -- i.e. the warlike ways of "those people" and their resort to "terrorism," but nothing about the role of the US and other countries in fomenting same -- to reinforce the idea that military spending is unavoidable. In-district military spending (jobs) seals the deal.

(Put another way: Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex is too abstract to be helpful.)

The latter argument -- the critique of Neoliberalism -- is, in contrast, too wide-ranging and diffuse. At its core, it plays into exactly the psychology that perpetuates inequality, even in the face of grotesque inequities: people hear "freedom of opportunity" and they imagine it means "freedom of opportunity" for ordinary people. They imagine themselves, and people like themselves, getting a break.

No, we need a different argument.

Ideally, something with a conspiratorial edge to it.

Stacking the Deck

In my "Where's Mine?" post, I alluded to the work of Thomas Piketty. But it wasn't until I read Joseph Stiglitz's gloss on Piketty in his book The Great Divide that I was able to connect the dots.

Stiglitz explains that what Piketty is pointing out is that the 1% keeps getting richer and richer because something's out of whack. The wealth that they invest is able to keep earning super high returns, despite the normal expectation that, at some point, returns weaken. In particular, they have the ability to keep pumping money into emerging, high-growth economies, which will pay a higher return on capital, compared to older, low-growth, stable economies (read: the US).

Net Capital Flows to Emerging-Market Economies (1980-2015)
(Source: Advisor Perspectives)

(As the graph above shows, the past few years have seen phenomenally high levels of capital flow into emerging markets.)

Stiglitz says this can't go on indefinitely, but by the time it peters out, there is likely to be extreme inequality globally -- i.e. much worse than there is now.

What Stiglitz doesn't explain is this: what has prevented the market from correcting this situation?

In particular, I wondered about the risk of investing in those emerging markets. Having spent a large part of my career doing business in China (and other parts of Asia), I have always been very focused on the degree to which investments are put at risk by the absence of good information in those societies. (It has often seemed to me that there is a bubble in China, supported by perception that the overall market is growing so fast that the inability to monitor the true performance of individual investments is a minor concern.)

Stiglitz gives a clue that we should be looking in a different direction. He invites us to think about "rents." This refers to the idea of sources of assured returns -- think of an oil well or music royalties -- where the underlying asset is not involved in a complicated, risky operation like manufacturing or providing a service.

I think the answer to how the rate of return on capital all around the world can continue to remain high, despite the expectations of market theory, is that capital is able, in effect, to find unnatural ways to shield it from risk in those "other" countries. The returns are more like "rents" than they are like "dividends."

Moreover, I think the most important "unnatural way" involves the threat of military force to protect capital -- i.e. the investments of the 1% from the US (and the rest of the West).

"America's most elite troops deployed to 138 nations in 2016 . . . ."
(Source: Nick Turse in Truthout)

Conveniently, Nick Turse just published a piece with the updated map above of elite troops deployments and US military installations around the world.

To complete the picture, all you need to do is think about the fact that the places in-between are all covered (or coverable) by drone flights.

This picture is not keeping the world safe for democracy; it's keeping the world safe for capital.


As someone who has grown up in the US, it is not automatically possible for me to understand that the presence of US military forces around the world necessarily translates into the message: "No US financial losses allowed here." Do people in foreign countries really think that accepting US investment means they have to guarantee the returns of those US people? Shouldn't foreign investors have to face normal financial risk, just like everyone else?

By coincidence, I noticed a reference the other day by Howard Zinn to "Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad." A few of the examples Zinn cites:

1853-1854 - Japan. Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his naval expedition made a display of force leading to the “opening of Japan."

1859 - China. July 3 I to August 2. A naval force landed to protect American interests in Shanghai.

1860 - Angola, Portuguese West Africa. March I . American residents at Kissembo called upon American and British ships to protect lives and property during problems with natives.

1893 - Hawaii. January 16 to April 1. Marines were landed ostensibly to protect American lives and property, but many believed actually to promote a provisional government under Sanford B. Dole. This action was disavowed by the United States.

And the list continues . . .

1912 - Honduras. A small force landed to prevent seizure by the government of an American-owned railroad at Puerto Cortez. The forces were withdrawn after the United States disapproved the action.

1917-1922 - Cuba. U.S. forces protected American interests during an insurrection and subsequent unsettled conditions. . . .

1922 - Turkey. September and October. A landing force was sent ashore with consent of both Greek and Turkish authorities to protect American lives and property when the Turkish Nationalists entered Smyrna.

1965 - Dominican Republic. The United States intervened to protect lives and property during a Dominican revolt and sent more troops as fears grew that the revolutionary forces were coming increasingly under Communist control.

1988 Panama. In mid-March and April 1988, during a period of instability in Panama and as pressure grew for Panamanian military leader General Manuel Noriega to resign, the United States sent 1 ,000 troops to Panama, to “further safeguard the canal, U.S. lives, property and interests in the area.” The forces supplemented 1 0,000 U.S. military personnel already in Panama.

Don't take it from me. The official US history says that the US military intervenes again and again and again to protect US capital. ("Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2015" by the Congressional Record Service.) And that doesn't include CIA operations (e.g. 1953: Iraq, oil; 1961, Cuba; 1980s: Central America) or much of the post-WWII intervention in the name of "fighting Communism" (Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), "humanitarian" purposes, or for fighting "terrorism" (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen) and "weapons of mass destruction" (2013: Iraq, oil).

Its easy to see why countries around the world understand that using the capital proffered from the US comes with a proviso: "You will guarantee that this cash injection brings nothing but upside. We expect rents in perpetuity."

Connecting the Dots: Obama - Drones - Threat - Capital - Inequality

I propose that the global movement against war should celebrate the departure of Barack Obama.

We should seize upon the recognition that the economic inequality that vast numbers of people in the US are angry about stems directly from the way the US military is used. (Including, in its newest form, the move toward drone warfare.)

If We the People have any gumption, we will see that the very reason we are becoming more and more impoverished, while the super-rich get richer and richer, is that our taxes are being used to stack the deck for the rich.

That giant sucking sound? It's the investment dollars that we need to refresh our productive economy fleeing to "rents" in distant parts of the world. And OUR tax dollars are paying for the military that guarantees the economic inequality engine will continue to function unimpeded for a very long time to come.

Please share this post . . .

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: Why was everyone reading these posts?

Posts on nuclear disarmament, the global peace movement, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), social justice, and more.

Well, okay, not everyone . . . but a lot of people read an unusual combination of posts on Scarry Thoughts on 2016. Here's what I'm discovering . . . .

Can "Lutheran" Be a
#BlackLivesMatter Denomination?
Three Popular Posts

The post that lit up the most was a report on a letter about the need for anti-racism work, and for examining white privilege, within one of the mainline Protestant denominations in the US: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

(See below for two other ELCA-related posts in my 2016 top ten.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the second most frequently read post was from three years ago: "Ownlife" - A Notion Too Dangerous for the State to Tolerate? I think the reason it continues to strike a chord with people is that people feel life accelerating, and their personal space shrinking. This become terrifying in an age of big data and government surveillance.

Drones, 1984, and
Foucault's Panopticon
And in a related development . . . 

The third most frequently read post is even older: it was one of the first posts I ever wrote, back in 2010.

I'm not sure whether so many people read it because they're concerned about drones, or because they are disciples of Foucault, or because they are realizing we live in a surveillance state. Maybe all three.

Nuclear Disarmament

I have written a lot on the need for nuclear disarmament in recent years. Four posts attracted a lot of attention:

Meetings in DC in September, 2016, led me to write NUKES: Your Call to Your Congressman Matters.

What Would a Nuclear
Weapon Do to Chicago?
(Go ahead, guess . . . )
A post from 2 years continues to help people the grasp the terror of what nuclear weapons promise to do where they, themselves, live: What Would a Nuclear Weapon Do to Chicago? (Go ahead, guess . . . ).

And a post from my trip last year to the cities where atom bombs were used: Nagasaki: Impressions.

People continue to use this page to learn about my sister's book: Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry .

(A lot more to come on this in 2017.)

PEACE DAY 2016: What comes first?
Demilitarization? or Development?
Global Peace Movement

This past year, I wrote a number of posts related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the peace movement.

I have a lot of work to do in the coming year to develop ideas that will be helpful to the global peace movement.

More on Church and ELCA

In addition to the #BlackLivesMatter post mentioned above, people read two other posts a lot:

ELCA Resolution on Palestine / Israel: What Does It Mean for Us?

"Personal Success Story"? "White Privilege"? or Both?

I have high hopes that we are going to see exciting things in the ELCA and other denominations in 2017.

Please share this post with others . . . .

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2017: Which Way for the Church? Anti-Racism? or Comfort?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) -- and other US denominations -- can and should choose to emphasize anti-racism work in 2017. (I think it is a critical moment.)

From @scarry:
What if we all did a personal inventory of how our "personal
success story" was built on white privilege? #ELCAcwa

(Image: ELCA presiding bishop Rev. Elizabeth Eaton and quote:
"When my dad came back from the war, the GI bill meant he and
my mom could get a low interest loan. That was not available to
African American veterans. That's white privilege. It's baked into
the system. Now, we didn't create it, but if we don't work to
change it, we are complicit."

The tweet shown above was very heavily shared when I posted it during the churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) this past summer.

I have been very hopeful that the Church -- Lutheran and other denominations -- will be a leading force in working against racism. (If not the leading force.)

Some of the things I've written:

How Might the White Church "Die to 'Whiteness'"?

"Personal Success Story"? "White Privilege"? or Both?

Can "Lutheran" Be a #BlackLivesMatter Denomination?

Decolonize Lutheranism -- A Northern California Installment

At the same time, I think there's a lot in the Church that makes it just want to turn its back on the world and seek comfort. I think that impulse is acute as 2016 draws to a close.

Which will it be?

From where I sit, it seems that the choice to emphasize anti-racism work is a matter of life and death for the Church.

My personal belief is that it will require a choice by the entire membership -- and not just isolated acts of leadership by a few people in the churchwide office, or a handful of charismatic pastors. It certainly can't be left to a few stalwarts on the "Social Justice" committee.

It needs to be the work of the whole Church.

The Church, after all, is the people.

Please share this post . . .

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Globally-Connected Peace Movement: What's Stopping Us?

The biggest obstacle to a truly global peace movement may actually be the structures upon which we've leaned for so long . . . .

A globally connected peace movement?

I wrote several weeks ago suggesting that the "Internet of Things" could be a useful framework for thinking about how to network the global peace movement.

To accomplish this, I think we will need to take a step back from things (devices) and even programs and data structures, and begin with the question: what is the problem we might hope to solve?

I was reminded of this in a community organizing meeting recently, when the participants quickly got off and running with talk of websites and databases and user accounts and administrators, and lots of ideas about what we could do, until we realized we were all talking about different things because we had not yet reached a shared statement of what the problem was that needed to be solved.

In my earlier post, I referred to the nuts and bolts of peace work -- the conceptual components, or what computer science people sometimes call "objects." For a long time, much movement activity -- at least the most organized parts of it -- has centered around a few objects: organizations, campaigns, supporters, actions. For a long time, these were the objects that the available technology could best support. (To a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.)

I have noticed that more and more people are finding the strength in peace and justice work that is found in affinity groups. That seems to me to be a reminder that the formal attributes of (often rigid and relatively static) organization are actually less important than the powerful benefits that people get from informal, flexible (and often highly dynamic) affinity.  I think there's a lot more to be said on this subject.

For now, I'll tee up a proposal for what is the problem we might hope to solve:

how might we help people to
maximize the benefits of affinity,
while minimizing possible costs or burdens?

(Put another way: how can our work for peace go viral, without getting bogged down in national or organizational or other differences?)

Vote on resolution to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons in 2017 (L-41)
Green - Yes (123, 76%)
Red - No (38, 24%)
Beige - Abstained

Here's a practical example: peace advocates in every country in the world have the opportunity to work for global nuclear disarmament in 2017. How can we harness the available technology to get everyone plugged into what will necessarily be a massive effort? Many people will channel their efforts through the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and its partner organizations. But I think that's just the tip of the iceberg . . .

To be continued.

Please share this post . . .

Monday, December 26, 2016

We can reach a world beyond war if we work for it

Believe it or not, 2017 can be a year of great progress toward a world beyond war - Trump or no Trump. It starts by listening to our own minds . . .

"Most of us have been conditioned . . .
Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable;
in general nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting
it is criminal attitude. In fact we have been brainwashed.
War is monstrous.
Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering."
- The Dalai Lama
(Share on Twitter)

In 2017, get away from the noise. Move toward what you know is true.

We can reach a world beyond war. It will happen as more and more people decide they want it, believe they can achieve it, and commit to the day-in, day-out work that will get us there faster.

Food for thought:
Where to Put Effort for a World Beyond War

WAR: Headed for the junkheap, yes . . . but how quickly?

The Mind of the "World Beyond War" Activist

Where to Put Effort for a World Beyond War

An Educational Alternative to Rivalry

An Infrastructural Alternative to Military Spending

"Problems from Hell" and Real Options Under Democracy

You've taken the first step: you know war is monstrous. The rest of your un-brainwashing will come in the course of the day-in, day-out work of bringing about a world beyond war.

Please share this post with others ...