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 ...

Saturday, December 24, 2016

2017 RESOLUTION: Visit Congress in Person

The best cure for the post-election 2016 blues (and coming-of-Trump trepidation is to go meet with your member of Congress (and/or other representatives) in person and feel your power . . . !

Alexander Calder's Mountain and Clouds
inside Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
(Richard Nowitz/National Geographic)
 I was just looking at the impressive array of posts on the Desert Beacon blog, and I saw this admonition:

Citizens Have More Power Than They Realize. Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on an undecided Member, more than any other influence group or strategy.

(All of the advice in this post is useful - see "Communicating With Congress: Some Advice".)

It inspired me to make a resolution: in 2017 I'm going to get in front of my representatives more. (I got a good start in 2016 - see On Nuclear Weapons: We Need Tenacity and  NUKES: Your Call to Your Congressman Matters.)

This reminds me that I once wrote some suggestions of my own for communicating with Congress. Here are some best practices for groups making office visits to representatives. I wrote it several years ago in connection with my work with No Drones Network.

(1) Build relationships

One of the secrets of effective lobbyists is that they know that the positions on issues that the politicians take rest on the shoulders of their staff.  To be effective, build relationships with the staff.

It is often confusing to find oneself in a meeting with a staff person, when one is under the impression that the really IMPORTANT person to talk to is the officeholder. However, the staff person is almost always the resident expert on a topic.  The road to "yes" has to pass through the staff person.

I have frequently found that it is the staff people who have the greatest appreciation for the issue knowledge that I am able to bring, and have the deepest commitment to doing the right thing on the issue.  And certainly they know the keys to convincing the officeholder.

Imagine the staff as your "inside" advocate . . . and then try to solve the problem of how to make that a reality.

So ... cultivate those relationships!

(2) Practice time management

One of the best ways to be taken seriously by the people you meet with is if they can see that you have prepared what you are going to say, and who is going to say it, and that you are going to make extremely efficient use of their time.

I have frequently seen how staff people begin to warm up to the group when they see this done.  In my experience, it is extremely effective to proceed as follows:

* start with a quick round of introductions: name, how connected to the district, affiliation;

* then present ~ 3 main points.  For instance, one person might give an overview of the presentation, then 3 other people in succession each speak BRIEFLY AND SUCCINCTLY to one of the main points.  Then the person you are meeting with should respond.

It is actually a good practice to have your talking points on paper, and to provide a copy to the people you are meeting with.  That encourages them to focus on what you want, and to try to give it to you.

It is extremely important to know what role each participant on your team is taking, and to have discipline.  Meetings become de-focussed if people are interrupting each other to make points and emphasizing issues that are not the most important one to emphasize at a given moment.

There should be a clear leader, and the team should take direction from the leader.

(3) Present logical arguments

Some of the best advice I ever received was, "Start to plan your meeting by writing a very well-argued, logical, informed letter of about two pages. You are talking to people who respect well-structured, well-thought-out argument."  This was very helpful to me, because I had somehow imagined other factors being more important -- for instance, impassioned rhetoric.

The other practices recommended here take their power from being done in connection with such a clear set of arguments.  This forms the core of the entire office visit.

And when you think about it, it makes sense: these are people whose work, day-in, day-out, involves laws, briefs, debate, and the process of legislation.  Naturally, they feel most comfortable when they can see a clear set of arguments presented.

(4) Speak from personal experience

People in congressional offices love to hear about the real experiences of real people.  I have very distinct memories of being in meetings, and when a member of our group started to say, "I've been interested in Pakistan ever since I went there for my junior year in college . . . " or "I've visited Pakistan every 2 years to visit my grandmother . . . " they perk right up and smile and start to ask questions. 

Think about how you can connect what you want to say to your personal experience.  Your lived experience matters!

(5) Emphasize community commitment

Ideally, you will be visiting with a small group, including multiple people who live in the district and/or have involvement in the district.  This is where your small-town location is an ASSET.

If you can, in the course of your remarks, rope in additional members of your community, that makes your position even stronger.  (e.g. "When we held an event about drones attended by 35 members of St. John's church, it was surprising to see how concerned all those people were about this issue . . . . ")

(6) Have an "ask" (or "asks")

Every visit should climax with the presentation of one or more "asks," and the response of the person you are meeting with. 

A good strategy is to include a doable "ask" in every visit.  This begins to establish a pattern of you making "asks" and them saying "yes." 

Sometimes an "ask" is very easy and concrete:  attend a community event (or send a representative).

Sometimes an "ask" is legislation-specific:  vote "YES" on such-and-such a bill.

Sometimes an "ask" is broader:  e.g. "work with your colleagues to hold hearings on the drone killings in (location)."

And, of course, there are overarching "asks," as well:  e.g. "work with us to bring about a total ban on drone killings."

(7) Be in it for the long haul

Every visit should involve the exchange of business cards, and a provision for follow-up.

It is a good practice to offer to supply specific information resources in the course of the meeting. (Example: I would like to send you the link to the article about our public meeting on drones killings in (town).)  This offers an opportunity for follow-up.

At a minimum, an email should be sent within a week of the meeting, thanking the people you met with for their time. 

If you are willing to put in a little extra effort, send a written thank you. (Believe me, it will be remembered!)

And then: get out your calendar and start planning in advance for your follow-up visit. ;-)

Related posts

When it comes down to a question of war, Congress must decide. And when Congress must decide, that means people's voices must be heard.

(See Illinois says "No U.S. Attack on Syria" (Is Congress Listening?) )

Let's focus for a moment: what might be accomplished if there was a concerted and effective push by antiwar people in precisely those states that swing election after election?

(See An Antiwar Thought Experiment: Swing the Swing States?)

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 )

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016: My 12 Favorite Posts

In 2016, I wrote a lot about nuclear disarmament and the global peace movement, church life and social justice, and trying to understand this diverse society we live in.


I did a close reading of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. It reminded me of the power of literature to help a society begin to see itself in the mirror.

(See PROBLEM: How does an entire country exorcise a national delusion?)


I started to listen, and to think about what I heard . . . .

(See Listening for Community (A Chicago Encounter))


Remembering a friend who gently opened my eyes . . .

(See Don't speak Spanish? "Sure you do . . . .")


I realized I have been powerfully influenced by some people I never even met.

(See Thanks, Ravi)


We need to stop "marking" dates . . . and start taking action.

(See OBAMA: First stop, Hiroshima; second stop, Moscow)


"We need to first acknowledge the genocidal origins of OUR nation’s history of ethnic cleansing and occupation."

(See Native American Rights: Acknowledge the Occupation)


It's time to start thinking about the saints in my life.

(See Who Ya Gonna Call? (Saints for All Times))


An important part of my life is the church I belong to, and its renewal as a strong force for social justice.

(See "Personal Success Story"? "White Privilege"? or Both?)


I spent a week in DC, and came back convinced we need to push harder to get nuclear weapons under control.

(See NUKES: Your Call to Your Congressman Matters)


I took time to think about what might be different about a movement directed toward a world beyond war.

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


This map provoked a lot of thinking about what will be the most important development of 2017: negotiations on a global ban on nuclear weapons.

(See Who would possibly vote "NO" to banning nuclear weapons???)


An idea that I have been developing throughout 2016: a globally networked peace movement.

(See How Does the "Internet of Things (IoT)" Bear on Global Peace Work?)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The US Embrace of Torture: Can It Be Broken?

Many people in the US accept the use of torture. Does this represent a confused attempt to lash out against broad swaths of the rest of the world for what they say and think?

Uncle Sam and Statue of Liberty
It is very frustrating to see data showing that 46% of US people think torture is okay. (See "Torture Can Be Useful, Nearly Half of Americans in Poll Say" by Somini Sengupta in The New York Times, December 5, 2016.)

Many of us have worked to change the practices of the US government with respect to indefinite detention and torture. In large part, we have been guided by the idea that the general public didn't have the facts and/or were not thinking clearly about what was really going on. We have believed that if people in the US looked hard at the practices of their government, there would be a hue and cry for change that could not be ignored.

January 11, 2017, will mark the end of 15 years of lawless detention and torture at Guantanamo. Over the coming weeks, there will be many attempts to call up the entire recent (and not-so-recent) history of US abuse, and to call for change.

I am beginning to wonder if we will continue to fail to accomplish change until we better understand why so many US people like the idea of torture.

*   *   *   *   *

I look at the image above and think: is it really about getting information? or is it about something else?

There is abundant expert opinion that torture is not an effective way to get information. (In recent weeks, Donald Trump's nominee to head the Defense Department, Gen. James Mattis, has said as much.)

Thirty years ago, my sister published a fundamental work on the topic, The Body in Pain, which "analyzes the political ramifications of deliberately inflicted pain, specifically in the cases of torture and warfare."

People allude the ticking time bomb scenario as a pretext for torture and other forms of abuse -- à la the TV drama 24 -- but that is fiction.

No, it's not about getting information. (Though that's a story people tell themselves to make themselves more comfortable.)

So what is it about?

*   *   *   *   *

The picture above looks to me not like getting someone to talk, but like getting someone to stop talking.

Is it possible that the support among US people for torturing people -- particularly when the people tortured have come to be people from the Muslim world -- has something to do with silencing them and people like them? In particular, is it a way of symbolically "gagging" the Muslim world, effectively gagging its members from offering a critique of the US that is difficult to hear?

*   *   *   *   *

The Muslim world is not a monolithic entity, and there is certainly no "authorized" critique of the US coming from it. And yet . . . .

Characteristics Associated with Westerners and Muslims
Traits associated with Westerners among Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries, and
Traits associated with Muslims among non-Muslims in the US, Russia, and W. Europe
(Pew Research Center)

I was fascinated to see data from a Pew poll comparing perceptions of people in the West about the Muslim world to perceptions of people in the Muslim world about the west.

I guess I wasn't surprised to see that 50% or more of the people in the West perceive people in the Muslim world as "fanatical" and "violent." (Hey, at least they also perceived them as "honest.")

I found it ironic that people in the Muslim world returned the favor, and then some. They perceived people in the West to be fanatical, too, and to a larger extent (58% vs. 53%). And they perceived people in the West to be violent to a much greater extent (66% vs. 50%).

I think I'll return to violence and fanaticism in a subsequent blog post, but for the moment let's set them aside.

The really interesting thing to me is the other traits that people in the Muslim world strongly associated with people in the West: selfishness, greed, immorality, and arrogance.





Well, that may resonate with some of us, but it is possible that the great majority of US people have no idea that this is how people in the Muslim world (and elsewhere) tend to view them . . . .

Or . . . even if some people know, they may just brush aside those perceptions.

But is it possible that a lot of people in the US do know that this is how they are viewed in the Muslim world?

Moreover, is it possible that deep down it agrees with their own critique of US society?

Come to think of it, socially conservative people in the US are certainly troubled by what they perceive as immorality in the US. And to some extent, at least some of them worry that we have problems with selfishness, greed, and arrogance in our society.

So maybe there is a critique to be made . . . .

But coming from those other people?

That's a tough pill to swallow.

*   *   *   *   *

The foregoing is written in recognition that we really are stuck in our confrontation with torture.

On all rational and objective factors, it should be possible to stop torture in its tracks.

We are achieving some "wins," but there is a troubling remnant of support for torture in US society.

Maybe we need to explore new avenues for change.

In that spirit . . .

Assume it is true, at least to some degree, that there is an embrace of torture by a large part of the US populace, and that embrace, at least to some degree, stems from a deep-seated conflict they are experiencing over the critique they perceive from the Muslim world. Might that not suggest that a much different approach than those we are currently using will need to be taken to break the grip of that embrace?

Related posts

Now would be a good time for people in the US to learn some facts about Islam, and about its followers (Muslims), and to reflect on the adversarial position the new president has promised to adopt toward it and them.

(See REFLECTION: When people say "the Muslim faith itself is the source of the problem")

Chicago was the site of major protests against U.S. detention practices in Guantanamo, as well as in Bagram, other prisons throughout Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world, on and around January 11, 2012. We called for an end to indefinite detention, unfair trials, and torture.

(See Chicago Protests Guantanamo Detention)

Thinking about the Holocaust Museum's depiction of the reliance on brutality and intimidation during the Holocaust, all I could think of was the repeated use of similar tactics by the U.S. military against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

(See Holocaust Museum: "Those Nazi Bastards!"

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Problems from Hell" and Real Options Under Democracy

The unending crisis in Syria has underlined the lack of processes in the US system for pursuing options other than military intervention . . . .

Petitions bearing over 1 million signatures being delivered to Congress.
I was struck by this photo when I saw it hanging in the cafeteria of the Hart
Senate Office Building. It underlines for me that representatives take direction
from the citizenry. This specific image relates to the demand for bonuses for
former service members c. 1922. (You can read more about it on Washington
Area Spark Flickr page from which I accessed the image.)

As we consider how we can move towards a world beyond war, it is obvious that one key is to change the way we make decisions about communal action:

The inflection point will come when our systems of group decision-making begin to include norms of "more wisdom, less violence" in proportion to the scope and size of the decision-making forum.

Our thinking about what to do about education and about infrastructure can be helpful in focusing our thinking about the process question. We're trying to imagine a world beyond war, and to work backwardsf rom there, and to imagine what exertions (spending, training) might be rendered moot by the arrival of such a new state of affairs, and what might advantageously be put in the place of those exertions.

It is somewhat more difficult to consider political process (and the exertions involved) because we often don't think of process in terms of the preparation required. We tend to think of it as something that merely happens in the moment.

I think this is what my sister, Elaine Scarry, was challenging in her book Thinking In An Emergency.  The practical lesson for me from the book is: making and carrying out the best decisions for communal action -- particularly in a pinch -- can and does happen . . . and/but . . .  intentional design and rehearsal are necessary prerequisites.  (You can see Elaine, herself, briefly introduce the book in a video greeting to incoming students at Evergreen College.)

Best decisions for communal action -- design and rehearsal -- how might this be applied to transitioning to a world beyond war?

One possibility is to consider articulating a broader set of options for communal action within the US Constitution itself.

Right now, there are two main provisions for process related to military action abroad. (Congress also has power over military action in the "homeland" setting: "[Clause 15] To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.")

Under Article I, Section 8, of the US Constitution, the Congress shall have Power...:

* [Clause 10] To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

* [Clause 11] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

I would assert that today the public understands the "to declare war" part - if that. The rest is obscure to almost everyone, and murky at best.

And so, in the murk, we plod along. The president conducts foreign policy; the Senate ratifies treaties; the US conforms (or not) with international law and collaborates (or not) within international bodies of which it is a member; the media vets the nuances of the US approach within selected arenas; and the citizenry (principally) twists in the wind.

If we seriously intend to hasten our arrival at a world beyond war . . . we need something better.

Shouldn't the US Constitution affirmatively (and clearly) articulate processes for entering into a range of possible actions in the international arena? For instance:

* participate in negotiations

* enter into / support multilateral conventions that provide for conflict resolution

* withdraw aid/funding

* contribute peacekeepers (personnel, funding, other support)

* impose economic sanctions ("economic war")

* declare war

As we process through the options, greater and greater levels of participation would be required. Participating in negotiations is currently within the authority of the executive branch. Perhaps the opposite extreme -- a declaration of war, in absence of a direct attack on the homeland -- should require a plebiscite? The intermediate options could require ascending amounts of formal vetting and deliberation.

This is not necessarily the best list; the process by which large numbers of people participate in coming up with the best list will be, itself, a valuable first step.

Of equal importance is what is omitted from the list. On the one hand, I would suggest, our governments should de-emphasize expressions of support or censure. Of much greater importance will be the ability of civil society to mobilize itself around such expressions from the people. On the other hand, we recognize that supplying weapons is just a subset of declaring war. Finally, once we have taken the step to support multilateral conventions that provide for conflict resolution (the NPT and the IAEA, for instance), the emphasis should be on honoring our promises and recognizing the authority granted thereunder, rather than actively trying to influence the direction of the related activities.

(And in the course of doing so, let us focus on moving toward processes that can be seen to be equally legitimate no matter what country carries them out -- i.e. learn to comprehend and then transition away from American exceptionalism. What we're talking about is a worldwide transition.)

A simple way to test what I am proposing: consider it in light of the widely-read book by Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide. To the best of my understanding, this book has come to stand for the proposition that it is unacceptable to stand idly by when armed conflict creates a humanitarian crisis, and that military force is a legitimate response to such situations.

In my view, "A Problem from Hell" succeeded in unsettling people, but failed to interest people in truly participating in choosing from among possible solutions when the next crisis arose.

So the question is: accepting that there are "problems from hell," does process like the one above, or one like it -- involving a ladder of options -- create a better framework for deciding about communal action?

Related posts

US Army Capt. Nathan Michael Smith has sued the commander-in-chief, President Obama, for ordering war in violation of the US Constitution. Therein lie 5 lessons . . . .

(See Confronting Permawar: 5 Lessons from Captain Smith)

"Humanitarian intervention" -- the great pretext for US intervention in Africa. Glenn Greenwald gave an outstanding talk in Chicago in May, 2012, in which he warned against humanitarian interventions: "The US -- no, everybody -- always says the reason for military intervention is 'humanitarian.'  . . . "

(See Greenwald Was Right: "Humanitarian" War in Syria? It's Just More War)

It's way too easy to launch U.S. missiles. (Maybe if it were a little more costly, challenging, or painful to carry out these attacks, they would at least require someone to give an explanation that makes sense first.)

(See AMERICANS: Happy As Long As They're Blowing Something Up )

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Deterrence": As a strategy, it makes about as much sense as "proliferation"

The doctrine of deterrence -- and the preferential comfort it affords a few nuclear weapons states -- will not survive the 2017 Nuclear Ban Treaty Negotiations . . . .

The biggest global event of 2017 will be the negotiations on a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons.

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

I have just read a very provocative analysis of what the nuclear weapons ban treaty is all about. It asserts, in part:

"The ban treaty, then, is
an instrument to disrupt the comfort
of those who still believe that deterrence logic
(or mutual assured destruction)
provides a security rationale for nuclear weapons."
(emphasis added)

(See "The ban treaty: An interim step, but politically profound" by Joelien Pretorius in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.)

This was a revelation to me, taken in concert with my current re-reading of Mohammed ElBaradei's The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times."That's right!" I thought. "'Deterrence' is only the chosen logical paradigm for those who already control a massive advantage AND have a way of maintaining that advantage. They -- the nuclear weapons powers - have managed to attach a taboo to proliferation, but not to deterrence. It's bogus."

"Deterrence" is the back-door concept by which nuclear weapons states, having undertaken a treaty obligation to give up their nuclear weapons in exchange for a promise by others to not acquire them, over and over and over again make excuses for doing so. "And yet . . . to achieve deterrence . . . maintain strategic balance . . . and keep in mind global security . . . . "

It slowly began to dawn on me that, because I live in the US, and have been inculcated with more than 50 years of pro-deterrence propaganda, at some deep level I have bought into the deterrence argument. Logically, of course, I have rejected it; but that's not the same thing as the visceral disdain for the idea that is felt by every person living in a non-nuclear weapons state.

If you think about it, it is only one set of parties for whom deterrence is okay, and for whom proliferation doesn't make any sense at all. Those without nuclear weapons don't have the luxury of being comfortable with it.

In fact: is it possible that those without nuclear weapons -- and facing the nuclear weapons monopoly of the "haves" -- may see proliferation as a preferable option?

In fact: if you really believe in deterrence, don't you believe in deterrence for everybody? Don't you achieve perfect deterrence when you achieve total proliferation?

Before you say "of course not," please consider: proliferation can never be more taboo than deterrence.

In 2017, the nations of the world will make that clear.

Related posts

It is a stunning lesson in global civics to observe who voted "YES" and who voted "NO" (and also who abstained) on L.41 - "taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations."

(See Who would possibly vote "NO" to banning nuclear weapons???)

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 Age of Deception deserves close reading by anyone who wants to understand why a nuclear ban will be negotiated in 2017.

(See HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: ElBaradei's "Age of Deception")

Friday, December 16, 2016

A CIA Critic in the White House?

Trump NSC appointee Michael Flynn is a critic of the CIA, and of the Osama bin Laden killing. And that makes sense to me . . . .

I read the other day that Donald Trump's choice for national security advisor, Michael Flynn, is highly critical of the CIA, and of the way the Obama administration trampled the law. In fact, it got my attention because he expressed almost exactly the same opinions that I have expressed in this blog.

Michael Flynn, Trump's national security advisor pick (Source: NBC)

It caused me some cognitive dissonance because just a few weeks ago I wrote a piece expressing my deep opposition to Flynn's statements about Islam. (REFLECTION: When people say "the Muslim faith itself is the source of the problem")

And yet here we have Flynn tearing into the CIA:

“They’ve lost sight of who they actually work for,” Mr. Flynn said in an interview with The New York Times in October 2015. “They work for the American people. They don’t work for the president of the United States.” He added, speaking of the agency’s leadership: “Frankly, it’s become a very political organization.”

(Scarry: Here's an idea: SHUT IT DOWN! (Reading the Report on CIA Torture))

Flynn zeroing in on the Osama bin Laden killing:

In killing Bin Laden, he said, “we created a new version of Allah.”

(Scarry: Why Have We Built A Monument To Bin Laden?)

Flynn on the benefit of applying the law:

“What we should have done is shown him to be a decrepit old guy, put him in a freaking cage, in a cell, and put him on trial,” Mr. Flynn added. “Make it a big messy trial, make it global.”

(Scarry: TRIAL OF THE CENTURY: United States v. Bin Laden )

The lesson for me is: in the Age of Trump, we'll have to learn to work with people who speak their minds, and deal with their opinions one by one. We may actually find points of agreement. And opportunity.

Related posts

In the film "The Response," as military judges are debating the fate of a detainee at Guantanamo, one of them says, "Okay, if 9/11 is the measuring stick, are we a great nation because of the blow we took? Or because how we, as a country, respond to that blow? The response matters. Our response defines us . . . . "

(See Why Have We Built A Monument To Bin Laden?)

The U.S. government and its military talk constantly about the new world of "asymmetric warfare" -- which basically boils down to how "unfair" it seems to them that individuals can wield any meaningful amount of power, given how minuscule their numbers or the firepower available to them. But what what we should spend much more time focusing on is "asymmetric policing" -- i.e. the overwhelming power that the U.S. state wields in every encounter with individuals.

(See Too Much State Power? (Asymmetric Warfare and Asymmetric Policing))

The story of the past decade-plus has been the story of the assertion by some that the conception of law that our society has is not sufficient. Simply put, there are those who say that there is a third, "in-between" category of behavior -- and legal status -- that is not civilian (subject to criminal law) and not military (subject to military law and the laws of war). And since there are no rules about how to deal with that third category . . . .

(See Using the Good, Old Criminal Justice System: Worth a Try?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Coming Trump-Climate Train Wreck

Climate Science 101
1. It's warming
2. It's us           
3. We're sure   
4. It's bad         
5. We can fix it
(@billmckibben comment: "When scientists
protest, their picket signs have footnotes")
When Donald Trump and climate science and the financial markets collide, who wins?

Donald Trump is packing his cabinet with people who stand for the proposition that climate change is a hoax and we can go on ransacking our environment forever.

Capping off a week that saw him nominate a known climate skeptic to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and put forth a fossil fuel CEO as potential secretary of state, President-elect Donald Trump said in a Sunday interview that "nobody really knows" if climate change is real. (See "Stacking Cabinet With Deniers, Trump Says 'Nobody Really Knows' on Climate")

But what happens when he changes his mind?

All it is going to take is one briefing -- the right briefing -- to send him off in a new direction.

What will he do then? Tell them, "You're fired"? Or make a deal with them . . . ?

(And what about the federal employees who have been persecuted by that time for their conscientious efforts to combat the climate crisis?)

*   *   *   *

I'm particularly fascinated by the choice of the head of ExxonMobil to head the State Department.

Many people are focused on Rex Tillerson's role in the efforts by XOM (as ExxonMobil is referred to, after its stock symbol) to subvert the science on climate change. I'm more interested in Tillerson's handling of the company in the months since people started to realize that the jig is up with the oil companies.

XOM stock performance over past five years
(Source: Google Finance)

This is material for a more extended treatment in an upcoming blog post, but the short story is: XOM has had to figure out a way to convince people to continue holding its stock even after it became apparent that the old formula would soon become obsolete. After all, holding stock that represents the value of oil that is stuck in the ground (a "stranded asset") isn't worth much; better to unload it on someone else (quickly). From what I've been able to detect, XOM's immediate answer has been to say, in effect, we'll stop spending money on finding more oil, and start handing out bigger dividends. (Cash covers a multitude of sins, and XOM has plenty of cash.) (See, for instance, "ExxonMobil Confronts the 'Carbon Bubble'" and "Chevron, Exxon Cut Spending on Oil Price Slide")

How much is just froth?
The imponderable question is: at what point do people stop saying, "Sure, I'll take my turn holding this asset (and collecting dividends)" and start saying, "I'm afraid no one's going to want to be the next buyer of XOM"? It has a lot to do with the uncertainty of oil holdings and the uncertainty of coming regulation of fossil fuels and carbon emissions. You can think of XOM as a big, frothy ice cream soda, with a straw running into it. A succession of people are invited to step up and pay for their turn to take a suck at the straw, and then sell their position to the next person in line. It gets harder and harder to tell just how much soda is left in the glass, and how much is just air. That means at some point the line is going to fall apart.

One thing is for sure: when XOM craters -- together with the other fossil fuel companies -- it will not be a slow, gentle ride down. The disappearance of buyers tends to be instantaneous.

*   *   *   *

Which brings me back to Rex Tillerson. If, as an ordinary "insider," he dumped his XOM holdings, the market would take it as a signal -- a very bad signal -- for XOM.  However, if he is compelled to divest his holdings, to avoid conflict of interests as Secretary of State, that's a different matter . . . .

So which will it be?

Related posts

Far more important than the historic performance of fossil fuel stocks is the future correlation of fossil fuel stocks to generalized, systemic risk in the market, and their negative correlation to the few sectors of the market that stand apart from that risk.

(See The Feel-Good Folly of Fossil-Fuel Valuation )

We need a zero-carbon USA and a zero-carbon China. Anything less is planetocide.

(See #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide? )

Oil companies are valued by the market based on their reserves. The problem with this approach is that the total reserves claimed by the oil companies is FIVE TIMES what can possibly be burned without driving up the temperature of the atmosphere up by a catastrophic amount and, as McKibben puts it, "breaking the planet." How can the value of oil companies be a function of reserves that can never be used?

(See The REALLY Big Short: The Jig is Up with Oil Companies)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How Does the "Internet of Things (IoT)" Bear on Global Peace Work?

Peace technology ("peacetech") will make its greatest contribution by applying the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) to global peace work, I believe.

Several months ago, I observed:

That part about "we're getting networked" is not just talk - I've learned more and more each day about the way people worldwide are using technology to connect the disparate parts of the peace community.

"I☮T" - Internet of Things for Peace
In my own work, I've been particularly interested in the role of web communications (think: blog posts about protests against drone warfare or protests against torture or protests against the occupation of Palestine or protests for fair wages or protests against nuclear weapons or . . . you get the point) in helping people connect across time and space. With this little thing called the Internet we are able to find each other and connect, even when we're not focused on the exact same task in the exact same place at the exact same time.

I see a connection between this phenomena and what technologists have come to talk about as the "Internet of Things (IoT)." The idea, as best I understand it, is that we recognize the immense power of connectivity, and use the devices available to us to shift the paradigm:


do something
  ( then maybe remember to tell the story )
   (( then possibly get heard ))
     ((( and influence the person doing the next thing ? )))


do something and simultaneously transmit the story, simultaneously getting heard (and influencing?) others

(You can read a more formal definition of the "Internet of Things" on Wikipedia.)

Often we think of IoT in terms of the "T" - things like toasters that can talk to your alarm clock to make sure your breakfast is the perfect temperature when you reach the breakfast table. But I tend to think that the peace movement will find it useful to go up one level of abstraction and think about objects in a more conceptual sense -- "peace objects," if you will. That will enable us to see the information architecture, and from there it will be an easy matter to connect devices.

A peace object can be a demonstration, an essay, a poster, an act of civil disobedience. (For starters, we can include all 198 items on Gene Sharp's list of Methods of Nonviolent Action.)

We've already begun to see how Internet practice connects disparate peace objects. How many of us have used the hashtag #NoDAPL during the Standing Rock protests to connect with others?

A case in point: in 2017, people all over the world will be working in a concerted effort to realize a global ban on nuclear weapons. Will the IoT be harnessed to catalyze those efforts?

There is much more to be worked out about how the IoT can be used to spur the global peace work.

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

Related posts

The strategic challenge we face is to wake up to the fact that -- globally -- we are pursuing peace work in diverse ways . . . and then figure out a way to take advantage of the inherent strength in the existence of these diverse approaches.

(See Global Peace Movement: Big, Networked, Diverse)

It is a stunning lesson in global civics to observe who voted "YES" and who voted "NO" (and also who abstained) on L.41 - "taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations."

(See Who would possibly vote "NO" to banning nuclear weapons???)

What I'm feeling particularly energized about is the potential for the thousands of people who have already signed on as supporters of World Beyond War -- as well as millions more who are expected to do so soon -- to become active participants in spreading this good news.

(See News Worth Spreading: "There IS An Alternative to War!" )