Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians)

April 8, 2010: Obama and Medvedev sign New START
(Image: FT)
Barack Obama and Russia's (then) President Dmitry Medvedev signed the "New START" treaty in April, 2010, committing to reduce each side's deployed nuclear warheads to ~1,550 by 2018; the Senate ratified the treaty in December, 2010.

Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The award was about hoped-for results ("Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future . . . "), and some may have thought New START delivered on that promise.

By 2011, however, many of us had come to feel disgust at the number of the ways the Obama administration was perpetuating -- and expanding -- the warmaking of the previous administration.  In a ceremony on December 10, 2011, in Chicago, in front of Obama 2012 Campaign Headquarters, we stripped him of his Nobel Prize. (See "Obama Nobel Peace Prize - REVOKED!")

Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize - stamped "REVOKED"
(Photo courtesy FJJ)

At an event several days later, antiwar activist Tom Hayden was visiting Chicago.  We showed him the oversize facsimile of the Peace Prize certificate with the word REVOKED stenciled in big black letters.  "That's good," he said, "but maybe even better would be to mark it SUSPENDED instead. That way he'd have an incentive to clean up his act, so it could be reinstated!"

Politics in command

Campaign Biography
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices
I had a very interesting discussion with my son several months ago. I was suggesting that, with the early steps in the 2016 presidential election already beginning, the time is now to put pressure on the putative Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, to promise progress in nuclear disarmament.  I had already noticed that Hillary seemed to have discovered that she could make hay out of being a nuclear hawk, and that poses a problem.

My son had an interesting suggestion: Instead of putting your hopes in Hillary, who, during the election, will be in the weakest imaginable position to take a bold stance, expect a breakthrough from Obama. His logic? Obama's at the end of his term, he's not beholden to anyone, and he will want to do something big for his legacy.

It's taken me a while -- several months -- to get my mind around this suggestion.  It's the thick of the election season now, the airwaves are thick with lowest-common-denominator political ads, and I'm now seeing what he was talking about.

What -- if anything -- might it mean for the nuclear disarmament movement?

Here are three possibilities.

Milestone #1: NPT Review, May 2015

The United States, as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has promised to abide by Article VI of the NPT:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Every five years, the parties to the NPT meet for a review conference.  The next review conference will take place in New York in spring, 2015.

Trusteeship Council chamber, United Nations Headquarters, New York
Venue for "Prepcom" (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty/NPT
Preparatory Conference) sessions -- May, 2014
I attended the NPT review preparatory meeting at the UN this past spring, and it was clear to me that the failure of the US to honor its Article VI obligations is very troubling to the other parties to the treaty.

A lot of people are saying that the U.S. failure to honor its obligations is going to mean the collapse of the NPT.

Do we really expect Barack Obama to do anything about this? If he is going to, the time to do so is before the parties to the treaty gather in May, 2015.

Obama may be tempted to "run out the clock" on his presidency, and aim for some kind of action before he leaves office in January, 2017.

It's up to us to tell him he's out of time.

[UPDATE: Obama's January 20, 2015, State of the Union address seemed like a perfect opportunity to tell the whole country about his commitment to nuclear disarmament -- if, in fact, it existed. Many people believe his silence on the issue on January 20 means Milestone #1 has already been missed and it's time to move to other avenues for change.]

[UPDATE: "With its decision on May 22 to block the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference's consensus statement, the Obama administration gave the human species another hefty push toward nuclear catastrophe, shaking the foundations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)." - see "Obama Administration Sabotages Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference " by Joseph Gerson in Truthout, May 27, 2015. ]

Milestone #2: End of legislative session, fall 2015

Many people believe that it is actually Congress that holds the power to bring about nuclear disarmament - just as it is Congress (and not the President) who is the "decider" on matters of war and peace.

December 22, 2010: New START ratified
(Source: Citizens for Global Solutions)
At what point do we recognize that Congress either can't or won't exercise the power to eliminate the nuclear threat?

It is deeply disturbing the Congress is pouring more money into new forms of nuclear weapons. (See "The Cost of Teaching an Old Nuclear Weapon New Tricks" by Jon Letman, Truthout, August 6, 2014)

Even an outlet as conservative as The New York Times is fed up with the failure of Congress to reverse the buildup in nuclear weapons: "There has been little debate among members of Congress and the public about the decision by Mr. Obama and Congress to pour billions of dollars into new nuclear weapons systems — even as other government programs have been cut significantly." (See "Backsliding on Nuclear Promises" - New York Times editorial, September 22, 2014)

In any event . . . it seems clear to me that if Congress does not take steps to influence the President's behavior with respect to the NPT opportunity, and does not take steps to reduce nuclear weapons on its own in the months immediately thereafter, it will be high time for the people of the United States to recognize that "it's up to us" -- and us alone.

Milestone #3: Primary season 2016

Ultimately, the power to eliminate nuclear weapons resides in the hands of the people of the United States. If our representative democracy worked, we could count on our representatives to act on our behalf to do so.

"This government does not represent us."
Protest against NATO in Chicago (May, 2012)
(Source: I AM is at the doors blog)
If they can't -- or won't -- then we need to raise hell.

Some of us have been raising hell already.

One's thing for sure, if primary season 2016 rolls around and we haven't seen steps to eliminate nuclear weapons, then that will be the deadline for us to make the politics-as-usual system grind to a halt.

Politicians don't give a damn about us most of the time -- I get that -- but the one time they are marginally interested in our support is when they gearing up for a victory lap.

Our message needs to be clear: it stops in 2016. No nuclear disarmament? No victory lap.

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen. 

I know where I'm laying my bets . . . .


Find an activity(s) on the
and get involved!

Lift your voice for
nuclear disarmament every week

Related posts

In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons, it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!

(See 5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday )

The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers -- Obama, Putin, the other agents of government -- hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

Please work with your colleagues (in Congress) and your constituents (here in the 5th district) to regain the People's control over war and injury, and bring to a conclusion the current crisis of our government.

(See An Open Letter to Congressman Mike Quigley: Can We Reduce (or Eliminate) the Nuclear Threat? )

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )

As Jimmy Carter has said, "As concerned citizens, we must persuade Washington to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years."

(See U.S. Drone Killing: "Without Dissent From the General Public"? )

Other related links

November 2, 2014 - The New York Times published a startling graphic that shows how reductions have stalled in the past six years. "A recent skewering by the Federation of American Scientists details how Mr. Obama, despite calling repeatedly for 'a world without nuclear weapons,' has reduced the size of the nation’s atomic stockpile far less than did any of his three immediate predecessors, including both Presidents Bush." ("Which President Cut the Most Nukes?" By William J. Broad)

The American Nuclear Stockpile
Click to view full size on The New York Times website.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Taipei People: Thinking of Home

Azaleas on the Taida campus
I have a very distinct memory of an evening on the campus of Taiwan National University ("Taida") in Taipei during the time I was a student there during the academic year 1979-80.

I was a student at the Inter-University Program for Chinese Studies (IUP), usually referred to as "the Stanford Program." Our program was housed in an old two-story wooden building on the southern edge of the Taida campus. The campus had a broad palm-lined avenue running down it's east-west axis, and there azaleas bloomed in the spring. (In China, one nickname for the azalea is the "thinking of home flower" (xiang si shu).)

On the evening I'm thinking of, I was on a walk on the Taida campus with my friend Melissa. Melissa was the niece of my landlady, and she and I would meet to do language exchange. As we were strolling along, enjoying the evening, we encountered an old man, who started to tell his story. I couldn't really make out what he was saying, though I had the impression that he wasn't all there; but Melissa listened to him for a long time, and afterwards she explained to me through her tears that he had been talking about his old home province of Sichuan, a place he had not seen since before 1949 and probably would never see again.  And, she lamented, this was the situation of thousands upon thousands of people in Taiwan.

"Taipei People"

Of course, I knew the history of the retreat of the mainlanders affiliated with the Kuomintang (KMT) government to Taiwan at the time of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) victory in 1949. But somehow I had not grasped the idea that people who had gotten out alive could still be tragic. Nor had I grasped the idea that every individual person's tragedy could have it's own particular flavor.

For a long time I've clung to a book called Taipei People as a sort of talisman. It is a collection of fourteen short stories by the author Pai Hsien-yung, each story about a person who ended up in Taiwan after the war. For a long time I had the book on the shelf, with a vague idea of what was in the stories; perhaps it felt like a violation to delve beneath the surface of each of those stories. I've just now started to study Taipei People line-by-line.

Making noodles
A story that feels particularly resonant for me is the one translated as "Glory's by Blossom Bridge": "'Glory's' is a restaurant, and the noodles it serves could stand as a tenuous link between distant Kweilin—the site of its predecessor—and Taiwan. All of the stories in the collection make use of allusions to particular regions in mainland China; this story's allusion to Kweilin is special, since that is the author's home province, Kweilin (Guilin). Through references to food, landscape, and the unique Kweilin opera, he suggests the particular poignancy of exile from that place." More than anything, the story is about the destiny of so many men who came from the mainland to Taiwan: ending up old and alone.

Noodles, Crimes of Passion, Birdcages

During our time in Taipei, my friends at the Stanford Center and I had a favorite hangout: a park on a back street, a few blocks north of the Normal University campus.

The park was called Yong Kang Park, after the street it was on. (You can see recent images on this blog: My Kafkaesque Life

We were fascinated by a small noodle shop, where an old man who we dubbed "Donald" continually made fresh noodles. (I don't know if they were Kweilin style.)

(We also had a nickname for the park, because of a sensational murder that occurred in the vicinity around the time we arrived in Taiwan; the victim had been found . . . well . . . never mind . . . ! But this, too, had echoes in "Glory's by Blossom Bridge.")

We were also fascinated by the morning parade of old men walking their birds.  This was something that we encountered from time to time after passing the night eating noodles, drinking Taiwan Beer, and sitting in the park talking and enjoying the sensation of the heat easing hour by hour.  As dawn arrived, dark shapes would begin to fill the park, and we would realize that a parade of bird owners, holding their cages, had begun. They were walking their birds.

Men and their birds
(Source: China Daily)

As college students in our 20s, we were certainly incapable of understanding the sensation of aging; I dare say most of us were incapable of deep love for a bird, as well. These things change with time . . . .

Kweilin (Guilin)

Years later, when I worked for an import-export company, I traveled quite a few times to visit our supplier in Guangxi province. I made multiple trips to the provincial capital, Nanning; as much as I try now, I can hardly remember the details of that place. But there was one trip to Kweilin (Guilin); and that is unforgettable.

Kweilin (Guilin)

It's only now, when I can think back on Kweilin, that I can appreciate the subtle irony of "Glory's by Blossom Bridge":  although the story's narrator insists that Kweilin is a place apart, more beautiful than any other city in China; and although the author of the collection, Pai Hsien-yung, was from Kweilin and probably felt that way; and although any foreigner like me would probably readily agree that Kweilin is the most visually stunning and special place in China . . . the truth is that every person from China thinks that his or her home town is the most special place in the world. And that is the beauty and the tragedy of Taipei People.

Related posts

Ever since I went there to study Chinese as a junior in college, I've considered Taiwan my "second home."

(See Taipei c. 1979 )

The bright yellow pack was cheerful. The sentiment expressed in the name was hopeful -- if hopelessly ironic. The beautiful seal script in which chang shou was written on the package were a reminder of just how much all of us loved soaking up every beautiful detail of the traditional Chinese culture available all around us at that time in Taipei. But must of all, Long Life contained the promise of connectedness.

(See Long Life, Connected Lives)

Part of what I loved about Du Hai was the way it used large pieces of fabric to convey the sensation of being in a boat among billowing waves, and the multiple uses to which they put the fabric - sea, clouds, sail, and more. Even a newcomer to modern dance, such as myself, could grasp what was going on.

(See The 21st Century U.S. Vocation: Extending hospitality to the next wave of immigrants coming to our country )

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hélder Câmara and "Missa dos Quilombos": "Enough of all injustice!"

I'm grateful to DePaul University Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology (CWCIT) for a profoundly informative conference on Hélder Câmara these past several days.

I went hoping to learn a little more about "liberation theology" -- the events were entitled "The Sources and Future of Liberation Theology: The Legacy of Dom Hélder Câmara."

I came away something even better -- inspiration to think about how the work of popular resistance in Brazil in the 20th century can inform the work we are trying to do for justice in the U.S. in the 21st century.

Then and now (Rio, Chicago)

I learned that Dom Hélder -- someone I had never heard of before -- was an extremely well-known figure -- in Catholicism, in Latin American affairs, in the peace and justice movement. He is best known for his remark, ""When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."  He came to be known as the "archbishop of the favelas [slums]."

Hélder Câmara and community member
(From "A atualidade de D. Helder Câmara, 50 anos
depois, e as convergências com o papa Francisco"
He was thoroughly involved in the institutional life of the Church, with a close friendship with Pope Paul VI, and the height of his activism co-evolved with the period of renewal of thought known as Vatican II -- which happened to coincide with the period of great unrest in his home country of Brazil.

His focus was on the structures that cause suffering. By insisting that the structural failings of our society need to be spoken openly about, and that failed structures need to be changed, Dom Hélder identified a role for the Church that has many overlaps with other socially provocative and politically "dangerous" ways of being in the world.

This helped me recognize a unity between the mission that Dom Hélder defined for the Church and one that continues for us today, in places like Chicago -- a unity in the challenges (e.g. poverty, discrimination) that we are seeking to address, the means (e.g. popular mobilization), and the obstacles we must overcome (e.g. repression).

This also has me thinking about a kind of "liberation theology dance" (or capoeira?) in which the Church embraces its similarities to other movements -- and shared opposition to certain antagonists -- and gains energy and leverage from that embrace, while still cherishing its own particular point of view and way of working for liberation.

How deep does this go? ("Missa dos Quilombos")

Dom Hélder, I learned, went from serving at the center of Church power in Brazil -- in Rio de Janeiro -- to serving in the northeast city of Recife. The new assignment was part banishment, part liberation. It certainly allowed Dom Hélder to go "all in" in his advocacy on behalf of those still waiting for justice.

At the conference we were told about how Dom Hélder elected to live in Recife not in the usual archbishop's residence, but in a small room behind the sanctuary at the Iglesia de las Fronteras [Church of the Frontier].

At the DePaul conference, Prof. Cathy Ann Elias shared some of her research on the mass  commissioned by Dom Hélder -- "Missa dos Quilombos."

"Missa dos Quilombos" asked for forgiveness and sought healing for the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Quilombo is a word denoting communities of formerly enslaved (and otherwise oppressed) people in Brazil, and refers to a rich history of resistance and liberation from about 1600 onward.

A 2011 celebration of Missa dos Quilombos
(Source: afrokut)

A highlight of Prof. Elias' presentation was listening to a recording of Dom Hélder give the invocation for the "Missa dos Quilombos" on November 20, 1981 at an outdoor mass for thousands in Recife. (Prof. Elias has graciously agreed to allow me to share her translation of the invocation.)

Here are several versions on Youtube:

Missa dos Quilombos-remembered

I found this description of that celebration by someone who was there:

"At that time, the Brazil people were demanding amnesty for political prisoners and exiles. We wanted our lives and freedom of expression back. Dom Helder celebrated the Quilombo Mass. He said: "Mariama [Mother Mary], we aren't here to ask that today's slaves be tomorrow's slave masters. Enough of slaves! Enough of masters! We want liberty!" The beating of the drums was overpowering, they exploded like the screams of our souls! I was there. A lot of fire, torches, drumming (batuque). It was held in the tricolor soccer stadiumâ - in those days religious retreats were in stadiums. The cultural and political climate of the time required the entire population- all the sectors, cultural, religious, political. The people had had enough of that oppression, that situation. That was a very educational time for everyone, for me. Our group had to use the religious space to get together, to converse. We couldn't meet in the public squares because the police would disperse us. The only place we had in which to talk, to build relationships was inside the Catholic Church."

(See In The Shadow of Freire: Popular Educators and Literacy in Northeast Brazil by Peter Lownds, UCLA dissertation, 2005)

It made me think about the renewed civil rights movement in the U.S. today - recognizing the existence of a "New Jim Crow," a condition of mass incarceration and a shocking number of police shootings of black men, and the need for the Church to commit itself to anti-racism.

Who is part of this? (Church, people, arts)

As I listened to some excerpts of the music, I couldn't help thinking back to the 1970s, when, as a high school student in New Jersey, I participated as a trumpeter and guitarist in jazz and folk services at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Summit. Perhaps it is the effort in these popular liturgies to stretch for the elements of song -- canção -- that really open people's hearts that feels so important. "Yes, that was good," I said to myself.

Milton Nascimento, piano, Grammys
(Source: "Milton Nascimento homenageia
Dom Helder em Belo Horizonte"
The music for the "Missa dos Quilombos" was composed by the phenomenal Brazilian composer and performer, Milton Nascimento. (Nascimento happens to be familiar to me for his hauntingly beautiful song "Anima" -- with lyrics that deserve a blog post all their own. )

So, on the one hand, it is listening to this invocation -- listen to the waves of applause and cheering, and the ethereal chord progressions that seem to lift us to another level, and the read the words in Prof. Elias translation -- that is renewing in me the belief that liturgy and liturgical music is an essential form of creative resistance.

On the other hand, even beyond the thought and oratory of a great priest, it is the music-making that has be enthused about liturgy as the work of the people. There is work for all of us to do.

More broadly, this had me thinking about the need in our movements of resistance for an openness to a much greater diversity of approaches. We need to recognize that there are an enormous number of tools at our disposal, and gifted people who are trying to wield them for peace and justice, and there are thousands of ways for all of us to support these efforts.

Related posts

God's old covenant with his people -- the Old Testament -- looked like this: "Here's the deal: You be loyal to me, and I'll make sure the earth produces enough food for you." Jesus came along to say: "Here's the new deal: God loves you enough that there's enough for everybody, AND he's given you what you need to figure out how to share it." (Dios nos ama suficiente y hay suficiente para todos, y el nos hay dado lo que necesitamos pero nuestros tenemos que encontratr la manera de compartirio.) That is the new covenant -- the New Testament.

(See Occupy Food Justice!)

A campaign exists to bring about a democratically-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago. The campaign would involve the people in electing the watchers of the police, and put the ultimate control of (and responsibility for) the police in the hands of the citizens of Chicago.

(See Does a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) need to be part of a "new plan of Chicago"? )

Eventually, in large part due to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the United States was converted from a country in which a small number of people thought slavery needed to be ended into a country determined to act to end slavery. This literary work took the movement wide, and it took it deep.

Why is a novel an important tool for creative resistance?

(See Creative Resistance 101: Uncle Tom's Cabin )

"Invocation to Mariama" by D. Hélder Câmara
(translation by: Prof. Cathy Ann Elias, DePaul University)

Mariama, Our Lady, Mother of Christ and Mother of men!
Mariama, Mother of men of all races, of all colors, from all corners of the earth.
Ask your Son that this celebration not end here; it will be beautiful to experience the final march.
But it is important, Mariama, that the Church of thy Son not just say the words, not remain a cheering spectator.
It is not enough to ask forgiveness for the errors of yesterday.
We have to take the right steps today, regardless of what they will say.
Of course, they’ll say that it is politics, that it is subversion. It is the Gospel of Christ, Mariama.
Of course, we will not be tolerated.
Mariama, dear Mother, the problems of black people end up being connected to all great human problems.
Connected to all absurd things perpetrated against humanity, connected to all injustice and oppression.
Mariama, let it stop, really stop, the accursed production of weapons. What the world must produce is Peace.
Enough of all injustice!
Enough of having some who do not know what to do with all their land, and millions without a handful of land to live on.
Enough of some having to vomit to eat more and 50 million starving in a single year.
Enough of some having corporations spreading over the whole world, and millions not having a corner where they can earn their daily bread.
Mariama, Our Lady, dear Mother, no need to go as far as in your hymn.
No need for the rich to leave empty-handed, and the poor with their hands full. Neither poor nor rich.
Say no to today’s slave becoming tomorrow’s slave-master. Enough of slaves. A world without masters and without slaves. A world of brothers.
Brothers, not only in word, not false brothers. Brothers in truth, Mariama.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ilan Pappé's Vision of the Broad Shape of Change in Israel/Palestine

Ilan Pappé
(Photo by Paula Geraghty in Ceasefire Magazine)
Israeli historian Ilan Pappé (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine) spoke in Chicago last night to a crowd of about 150 gathered in Lincoln Park.

Pappé speaks so authoritatively about the history of the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinian people that one feels a natural inclination to place a high degree of confidence in his predictions about the future as well.

Pappé expects the next decade to bring a "far  more cruel, racist Israel," which clearly will bring greater hardship for Palestinians who will bear the brunt, but, he believes, will ultimately drive the world to see the truth of the situation there.

He puts his hope in three developments:

(1) A growing BDS movement.

(2) The de-fragmentation of Palestinian society.

(3) More and more Israelis "coming along" (i.e. recognizing what is required for justice and acting accordingly)

There was so much valuable information and so many observations that require unpacking that I will start with brief comments on these three developments, as a placeholder for further consideration.

"An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards
the Gaza Strip on Saturday as Israeli forces pressed
ahead with a ground offensive."(Source: Baz
Ratner/Reuters/Landov,from 89.3 KPCC website.)
A growing BDS movement

Ilan Pappé says the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) movement is urgent and essential to stopping the destruction and injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government. BDS is something that we, on the outside, can bring about. He hastens to add that a second step will be necessary - to build the new post-apartheid society in Israel/Palestine -- and that work can only be done by the people living there, themselves.

I have concerns about "BDS" -- I think it throws together several distinct tactics in a way that is too brittle.

I'm particularly interested in the role of U.S. progressive Christians in acting for justice in the Holy Land. In certain ways, I believe, BDS oversimplifies the call, when in fact U.S. progressive Christians can be called to engage with the issue in a very deep and long-term way.  In other ways, I think BDS sometimes misses the most obvious area(s) on which particular groups should focus.

For instance, a particular focus of people in Chicago, I believe, should be the weapons supplied to Israel by local company Boeing Corporation. Boeing weapons include the Apache helicopter gunships and F-151 fighter jets used by Israel.

Stopping Boeing's role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine should be a priority for people in Chicago who are working for justice in Israel/Palestine.

Yasser Arafat 
"Early on, he had made it his personal trademark
to drape the scarf over his right shoulder only,
arranging it in the rough shape of a triangle, to
resemble the outlines of historic Palestine."
(Wikipedia: keffiyeh)
The de-fragmentation of Palestinian society 

Pappé had fascinating insights on the development of the Palestinian movement.  Again and again he praised Palestinian steadfastness, and had very clear-eyed comments about the relevance and utility of Fatah and Hamas at specific times.  He also said he thinks something new is evolving.

He said the richness of communications media -- yes, including Facebook -- means that the efforts of Israel to fragment Palestinian society and prevent the formation of strong identity is being overcome. He referred to what is happening now as the "de-fragmentation" of Palestinian society.

This really gave me pause.  It made me wonder, "Are we in the U.S. really making any progress understanding Palestinian identity? What would it take to make progress on this?"

More and more Israelis "coming along"

The most challenging part Pappé's talk was when he described the evolution of opinion among Israeli Jews (as well as American Jews): Zionism, liberal Zionism, messianic Zionism, neo-Zionism, and more. On the one hand, he described a state dictum of Israel ("as much of Palestine as possible, with as few Palestinians as possible") that is so intransigent, and a trajectory of events that he predicts will bring about a "far  more cruel, racist Israel" in the next decade; and yet on the other hand he expresses hope in more and more Israelis "coming along," i.e. recognizing what is required for justice and acting accordingly.

Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, PA
(Photo: Balthazar Korab Ltd in Forward magazine)
I was struck when he said "It is high time we stop being intimidated by accusations of anti-semitism" and that we need to "dissociate Zionism from Judaism." I have written in recent weeks about this very perception.

I wonder if, for those of us in the U.S., what really matters is to be able to see (and encourage?) U.S.-based Jews who are "coming along."  Jews in the U.S. are our important point of engagement, and have a lot of input on this issue.

I suppose being a great historian only partially qualifies Pappé to predict the future. However, I think the 3-part framework he set out -- BDS, Palestinian identity, Israeli opinion -- usefully defines priorities to which those working for justice in Israel/Palestine should attend. For my own part, I intend to think more deeply about each of these and share my thoughts in future blog posts.

Related posts

Now that the Israeli government's killings in Gaza are front-page news -- particularly the way military aircraft is being used to mow down innocent men, women, and children -- Boeing's involvement is in everyone's face.

(See Boeing Has an Israel Problem . . . and Chicago Has a Boeing Problem)

Steven Salaita has forced us to speak quite openly about three rather distinct things that get treated (incorrectly) as if they were the same thing: the state of Israel (and whether you criticize it or support it); the ideology of Zionism (and whether you criticize it or support it); and the religion of Judaism (and whether or not you share in its values and beliefs).

(See "What good is a tweet?" (The Packing and Unpacking of Meaning and the Steven Salaita Case) )

When Chicagoans fully succeed in fully connecting the dots -- especially to the crimes being committed in their name with their tax dollars and the weapons produced by their favored corporate citizen, Boeing -- I think there will be some new and different phone calls taking place . . .

(See What's New in Chicago: Connecting the Dots - US Aid, Boeing Weapons, Gaza Massacre, Chicago Complicity )

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Which Boeing Are We Talking About Again?

Boeing 787 Dreamliner troubles build (2010-2013)
(image © Graphic News)
As far as anyone can tell, Boeing loses money on every Dreamliner it produces. (Apparently the plan is to make it up on volume.)

And so it is to questions about Dreamliner profitability that some attribute the disappearance of $3.5 billion in corporate value (poof!) when Boeing stock dropped 5 points on Wednesday after its latest earnings report.

Let's be clear: the announcement was of an earnings increase. And many analysts are sanguine about the number of orders Boeing has been getting for its commercial jets.

It's just . . . no one knows when (if ever) the bet-the-future-of-the-company product, the Dreamliner, will be able to be sold at a profit. (See "Why a Boeing 787-9 Costs $250 Million" by Paul Ausick on 24/7 Wall Street)

Which Boeing are we talking about?

Lots of analysts have opinions about Boeing. The confusing thing is that the opinions tend to alternate between commercial Boeing and military Boeing.

Some analysts emphasize the commercial airline business and they like what they see:

"The Slow Death Of 4 Engine Airliners Will Play Into Boeing's Hands"

"Update: Boeing's Widebody Aircrafts Are On A Roll"

"Boeing: Expect Upside To Be Driven By Commercial Airplanes"

Sounds good . . . life is good in the commercial airline sector! But . . . then we look at analysis that focuses on Boeing's position as a military contractor and we see things like . . .

"This Rival Makes Boeing Look Overpriced" [comparison with Lockheed Martin]

"Why We Think Boeing Could Lose Out To This Sector Peer" [comparison to Northrup Grumman]

The stakes are high
The Dreamliner comes to the rescue after years of market 
share reversalsin commerical airplanes for Boeing.
 (Reuters graphic)
So . . . which is it, anyway?  Boeing good or Boeing bad?

Maybe it would help to know which Boeing we're talking about.

This Ain't No Hedge

There was a time when the business world would have bought the argument that commercial Boeing + military Boeing = diversification.  The ups and downs of military Boeing could cushion the downs and ups of commercial Boeing (and vice versa).

Today, however, investors want to see companies focus on their core business.  If there's risk-offsetting to be done, hedges can be set up by risk managers, thank you very much.

(And how does the risk-strewn field of military contracting amount to a hedge for risk in commercial aviation?)

The time has come for Boeing to be split up, so that investors can figure out what they're buying.

Related posts

Isn't the time fast approaching when Boeing recognizes that it's not just one or another of their weapons systems -- or weapons systems customers -- that's the problem? Isn't Boeing's entire defense systems division "bad Boeing"?

(See BOEING: "Breaking Up Is (Is Not) Hard to Do" )

Now that the Israeli government's killings in Gaza are front-page news -- particularly the way military aircraft is being used to mow down innocent men, women, and children -- Boeing's involvement is in everyone's face.

(See Boeing Has an Israel Problem . . . and Chicago Has a Boeing Problem)

People are talking about cuts to the military. It couldn't happen to a more deserving half of our national budget.
HOWEVER . . . we need a lot more people jumping into this debate, because the cuts being talked about are too timid . . . AND because the most dangerous and illegitimate (and frequently illegal) forms of military force are being advocated for the "efficiency" and "cost-effectivneness."

(See Talk of the Town: Shrink the Military )

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Obama's Tribute Mission to China

Barack Obama is scheduled to visit China in November.  I suppose the hope is that it will be a sort of victory lap.

In a recent article, Orville Schell neatly summarizes the expectations going into the trip:

Will the Western democracies ever be able to accept China as it is, the better to deal with the host of new global problems that menace us all, like climate change, pandemics, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation?

("China Strikes Back!" in The New York Review of Books) Schell's article is largely devoted to how embarrassingly wrong trips to China can go, a case in point being Jimmy Carter's recent visit there.

Now, I'm no Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama, but I've also made plenty of high-expectation trips to China. Even small fry like me can have our hopes dashed in excruciating ways.

A foreigner travels to China, seeking advantage
(camel optional)
Tang dynasty
It seems to me that the best way for Obama's November trip to meet expectations, is to model it on the kind of visit that the Chinese like: a tribute mission.

As I recently wrote about elsewhere, historians have observed that in many different examples of relations with (nearby) neighbors, traditional Chinese rulers exhibited little interest in outright control or even material advantage, but did angle successfully to obtain nominal submission, accompanied by explicit, universally readable symbolism. The classic form this took was the tribute mission, in which ambassadors came and offered gifts to China -- frequently resulting in the receiving of substantially greater gifts from the rulers of China. (See The Chinese World Order: Traditional China's Foreign Relations, edited by John K. Fairbank.)

In fact, Schell comments on this exact institution:

China’s new power now enables it to resist almost all forms of foreign pressure. When visitors like Carter now arrive from “barbarian” lands, China’s top officials would far prefer to confine them to something like the old dynastic system of “tribute” (jingong), which prescribed strict rules for visiting foreign emissaries from subsidiary countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Burma. Such ambassadors were allowed to come to Beijing, await an imperial audience, proffer their ritual gifts to the Son of Heaven as “tribute,” and then quickly leave. Never were they accorded equal status, because, after all, there were no powers “equal” to China, only lesser ones.

Orville Schell seems to rue this new (old) stance on the part of the Chinese. But might it not be a way for the U.S. to face reality?

What Obama Should Bring

What would be an appropriate form of tribute for a U.S. mission to bring to China?

The first thing that leaps to mind is "an aircraft carrier." China has been modernizing its navy, and giving a ship would be the perfect way to let China know that we welcome their desire to be in this -- as in everything else -- just like us. (Besides, we have so many of them just lying around . . . !)

Boat of Purity and Ease (Qing Yan Fǎng)
Summer Palace in Beijing, China.
On second thought, however, this might have some negative associations -- I'm thinking of the marble boat that the Qing emperor paid for with money that was supposed to go for naval development in the 19th century. Best avoid the topic of ships . . . .

Perhaps the same intent can be communicated with a gift of something intangible.  I'm thinking perhaps some kind of signals intelligence sharing? This could have numerous advantages.

For one thing, it could serve as a veiled apology for continuous U.S. spy plane activity along China's coast - with the associated incidents that engenders.

It could also serve as a veiled apology for U.S. spying on China that was revealed by Edward Snowden. (Oh yeah, people in China still remember that!)

Perhaps more important than either of these points, however, is that intelligence sharing fits with Chinese ideas of what modern day allies do for each other. And it is abstruse enough that China can spin it in whatever way they wish -- no one can kick the tires.

What Obama Should Expect to Get

The great thing about tribute relations with China is that the visiting country usually garners gifts whose value is well in excess of those they presented. What might Barack Obama expect in return?

Friends and acquaintances know that I have long been angling for a team of expert Chinese landscape designers to come to Chicago and recreate the famed garden from the classic book, Dream of the Red Chamber. (And Chicago is Obama's home town.) But perhaps I am being selfish . . . . 

Siberian weasel
China has been very successful with high-speed rail. And the U.S. needs high-speed rail. (Now don't you wish we had given them an aircraft carrier?)

Perhaps the perfect gift for China to bestow on Obama and his delegation would be some of the precious kolinsky brush hair that is produced in China.  Kolinsky is world renowned for its fineness and softness, and sells for hundreds of dollars a pound. It's the perfect raw material for making the precision brushes used by technicians to clean and polish the camera lenses on the bellies of Obama's killer drones.

Luckily, the Siberian weasels that kolinsky hair comes from are no longer considered endangered. (Not that anyone would let that stand in the way of the market for drone camera lens polishing brushes.)

It Cuts Both Ways

Lest anyone think that what I am describing is a reversal of roles, or some kind of come-down for the United States, let me hasten to say that it cuts both ways.  That is, in the modern version of tributary diplomacy each party eventually gets to play both roles: a China tribute mission will come to the U.S. bearing gifts someday soon, with the expectation of receiving an even greater boon from their host. Where Orville Schell emphasizes that under pre-modern tributary relations there were no powers “equal” to China, only lesser ones, I think the necessary emphasis today should be on no powers “superior” to China -- leaving each to draw their own conclusions about "equality."

What about the big issues to which Schell points? Aren't there important bilateral agreements to be signed?

World Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles
(click to see full size image)
(Source: Ploughshares Fund)
In most of those areas, the best thing the U.S. could do is to take the log out of its own eye before asking for China to take the speck out of its eye.

* China is dealing with minority unrest in several areas, most notably in ethnic Uighur (and Muslim) Xinjiang province. While that unrest cannot be laid totally at the feet of the U.S., it is certainly the case that the insurgencies that the U.S. has stirred up in the Mideast and Central Asia since 1990 have complicated China's domestic politics.

* China would like nothing better than to cut its carbon emissions. By all means, let the U.S. demonstrate how this can be accomplished -- while maintaining standards of living at the same time, if you please --  and China can be counted on follow the U.S. lead (as in so many other areas of development).

* China has nuclear weapons, it is true. But their arsenal is minimal. Again, let the U.S. demonstrate that it is serious about nuclear disarmament -- if not fully living up to its obligations under article 6 of the NPT, at least bringing its stockpile down to just 5 or 10 times the Chinese number -- and China can be counted on follow the U.S. lead.

The U.S. is not in a position to chide China.  While there is a profound need for advocacy on behalf of dissidents in China, the U.S. government is the least qualified of anyone to engage in that advocacy.

Related posts

China is new and different and complicated. Thinking seriously about it may require more of our brains than we have been prepared to devote to it. We may have to get used to ideas that require more than 140 characters to express.

(See Figuring Out China: The Struggle Continues )

The United States may set the standard for human desire -- for the mindless pursuit of the bright and shiny object -- but, heaven knows, China is not to be outdone.

(See China and USA - Like a Moth to the Flame)

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

The U.S. narrative goes something like this: Somebody "bad" (e.g. ISIS) is doing bad stuff . . . . The U.S. wants to "help" -- without overcommitting. We'll just start with a few advisers (to instruct, not to fight) and a few drones (to survey, not to kill) . . . .One thing leads to another and there's yet another fight. (Lucky we were there . . . )  Does it every occur to us that we've got the narrative (and the causality) backwards?

(See Drones, ISIS, and Permawar )

Even if the current Obama administration approach of releases were to succeed in bringing about the release of everyone at Guantanamo, it would not have begun to address the wrong that has been committed.

(See US to its Humans Rights Violations Victims: "Shut up and take what you're given!" )

The problem: the U.S. "pivot to Asia."

The opportunity: asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we revised our myths of Asia?"

(See U.S. Militarism in Asia: THINK DIFFERENT!)

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping were together in California about a year and a half ago. I have a mental image of Obama and Xi, sitting around with nothing to talk about -- at least after the much-touted cybersecurity topic turned uncomfortable in the midst of the firestorm over the Snowden leaks about NSA domestic surveillance . . . .  "Hey, how about that global warming, huh?"

(See Two Sides to the Obama-Xi Bargain on HFCs )