Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bad Hombre

Watching the 2016 campaign is hypnotically akin to the gawker slowdown that affects traffic with the slightest accident. Rubbernecking the three most recent Trump offenses in any given week has given America an entirely new hobby.
  • ·         He might be insulting KIA Muslim American soldiers or their parents, as he did with Capt. Humayun Khan. That was brilliant. Tack on his clumsy idiocy about John McCain, telling us that he, Trump, prefers pilots who don’t get captured. Does he not realize he sounds like a sociopathic son of Saddam with these chickenhawk utterances?
  • ·         He might be mocking people with disabilities, as he did with reporter Serge Kovaleski. That took courage. Trump, for all his bluster and pomposity, is a profile in pusillanimity.
  • ·         Inexplicably meeting with Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, without bringing up The Wall he’s designed against all the rapists crossing the border now, The Wall that Trump decides unilaterally that Mexico will pay for. Ineffable.
  • ·         He really fixed that when he called Pope Francis “disgraceful” for the Pope’s critique of the proposed Wall. Just to continue with the Catholic vote, he managed to be the first candidate in memory to get booed at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation traditional candidate roast.
  • ·         Perhaps his basket of deplorable comments about women in general and specifically. Maybe he’s caught on tape bragging about his woman-groping. Donald! Basic Groper manners—get permission, then grope away. Calling Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, Miss Piggy. Women are loving you, Donald. Referring to Carly Fiorina, he said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” (OMG, Trump, look in the mirror when you say that and same thing when you call someone a “nasty woman.”)
  • ·         Luckily, he is on top of the refugees-as-terrorists-in-the-US crisis. Oh, that’s right. Zero terror attacks by refugees inside the US to date. Looks like they’ve all been vetted adequately, so far, despite his hysteria.

We could go on, but let’s just leave it with a secret for The Donald: Oscar Wilde was brilliant, but your devotion to his erroneous dictum, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” is your political undoing. You have your base of basket cases and that’s it.

Michelle, you get four years off for great behavior but we want to see you run in 2020. No one could heal this nation better. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Negative coattails good for Senate

Donald Trump is in love.
Like any narcissist, he sees his heart’s desire in the mirror and is pathologically incapable of transferring that love of self to others, except to love what they can do for him—financially, sexually, politically, or simply helping him be in the spotlight.
For Trump, everything is a contest and he is the best at every one. If he doesn’t win, others obviously cheated or his helpers failed him. He has made exactly zero mistakes in his life that weren’t caused by others, as he sees it.
It has all caught up with him at last, and the Trump circus tent is collapsing. Republican candidates for the US Senate are scrambling to escape the suffocating mess. Some renounce their endorsements, some express regretful continuation of support for the Trumpwreck, and some avert their eyes, curl up, and just hope to survive the election.
But imagine a US Senate out from under the blockading, bludgeoning control of the Republicans. I’m not suggesting the Democrats are particularly good for those who want peace and justice, but they are lightyears better than the likes of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and the rest of the corporate-loving, New Jim Crow, anti-education, war-profiteer-champions who have been running the Senate for the past two years. The Republicans running for Senate—mostly incumbents—who are most vulnerable include Johnson (WI), McCain (AZ), Portman (OH), Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Pat Toomey (PA) and Kelly Ayotte (NH). Congressman Joe Heck (NV) is running for the seat being vacated by retiring Harry Reid and Congressman Todd Young is running for the seat vacated by retiring Dan Coats (IN). All these Republicans are threatened by Trump’s tailspin. My operative word, I confess, is schadenfreude today.
Like any true narcissist, Trump is certain that everyone else is at fault for his poor performance and the only response is to attack, excuse, justify, blame, and lash out some more. If his dysfunctional displays cost both the White House and the Senate, we may see a decent US Supreme Court in the future and that could mean overturning Citizens United and other rotten, anti-democracy decisions. We might see the US join the rest of the world in signing and ratifying the International Criminal Court, the Comprehensive Test Ban and other international laws and treaties benefitting all of humankind. We might even see some glimmer of peace in our time as well as development of US infrastructure instead of the vast war machine that consumes half your tax dollars every year.
The Senate needs to flip for the good of all Americans. Thank you, Donald Trump, for your key role in all this. Carry on with your bellowing, blaming Tweetment!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Rethinking killing civilians

When challenged about airstrikes that kill civilians—whether from drones or jets with “smart” ordnance—the excuses given by government and military officials are twofold. Either it was a regrettable error or it was a regrettable side effect of targeting a known “bad guy”—an ISIS leader, al Shabaab terrorist, a Taliban boss or al Qaeda commander. Collateral damage. The LOADR response. Lipstick on a dead rat. 
So committing a war crime is OK if you say it’s regrettable?
“Yeah, but those guys behead journalists and enslave girls.”
True that, and ISIS has well earned the hatred and disgust most decent people on Earth feel for them. As well, when the US military strafes and bombs hospitals, can we wonder at all why the US is hated with enough venom to overpower morality? Yes, it’s true, when the US slaughters civilians it calls it a mistake and when ISIS does so they crow like proud two-year-olds with zero sense of right and wrong. But my question is, when are the American people going to stop allowing our military—representing all of us in a democracy—to commit crimes against humanity?
The Obama administration claims that the only civilians worth worrying about are in countries not designated as war zones and that, in those countries the US has only killed between “64 and 116 civilians in drone and other lethal air attacks against terrorism suspects.” Those nations presumably include Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. No numbers need be given for Iraq, Afghanistan, nor Syria. Civilians there are presumably fair game. 
At least four organizations are keeping independent tallies and all are far higher in their assertions of minimum civilian deaths in those designated non-war zones.
What of the broader picture?
The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University frames the largest study and tracks civilian deaths from military actions; their study estimates from documented accounts that as of March last year approximately 210,000 noncombatants have been killed in the Global War on Terror launched in October 2001. 
So, at some point, we have to wonder; If the US intelligence services determine that an ISIS homegrown leader is living in a building in Queens or North Minneapolis or Beaverton, Oregon will it be OK then to target that building with a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone?
How ridiculous, right? We would never do that. 
Except that we do, routinely, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. When will this stop? 
It will stop when we are not only morally opposed to it but when we decide to be effective. Our violent response to terrorism escalates at every turn, guaranteeing that, in turn, terrorism against the US will also escalate. It is time to reject the idea that a nuanced, nonviolent approach is ineffective. Indeed, it’s a bit reminiscent of what Winston Churchill said about democracy, that it’s the worst form of government—except for all the rest. Nonviolence is the worst way to manage conflict—except for all the rest. 
We not only create more terrorists when we accidentally or mistakenly take out a hospital, almost more importantly, we create a widening, deepening pool of sympathy for any sort of insurgency against the US. While it is true that sympathy and support for terrorists is nowhere near the support for armed insurgency—and there is a great deal of difference—why on Earth would we continue to essentially guarantee that this global war on terror is permanent?
Why indeed? There are those who gain in status, power, and money by a continuation of this godawful war. These are the people who lobby hardest for more war. 
Those people should be absolutely ignored. We need to fix this with other methods. We can, and we should. 
If the US would rethink its methods of conflict management it might come to solutions without bloodshed. Some of problem is simply who is asked to advise the deciders. In some countries the officials consult with expert scholars and practitioners of mediation, negotiation, humanitarian aid and sustainable development. Those countries keep the peace much better. Most—e.g. Norway, Denmark, Sweden—have better metrics of citizen well-being than we do in the US. 
We can help. As an example in our hemisphere, the rebels and the government in Colombia waged a 52-year war, each side committing many atrocities and the well-being of the average Colombian suffered for more than a half-century. Finally, peace and conflict scholars from the Kroc Institute were invited to help—the first time any academic program in our field was invited to do so in the West. They introduced new ideas and the happy outcome is that finally—finally—the Colombians have a signed peace accord. Yes, the voters narrowly rejected it, but the principals are back at the table, not the battlefield, to work on a more agreeable agreement. 
Please. We have the knowledge to end this terrible dance of death known as war. Humankind now knows how. But do we have the will? Can we step up as voters and require our successful candidates to stop boasting about how tough and lethal they will be and instead insist that the successful candidate will explain and commit to a productive peace process that is proven to produce much more gain with far less pain?
Published by PeaceVoice and CounterPunch.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Trump the pigeon

Trump the pigeon
By Tom H. Hastings

As the famous ethologist Konrad Lorenz told us in his classic 1963 book, On Aggression, we humans are closer to prey than predator—but that makes us more dangerous in some terrible ways.
A “real” carnivore—a massive cat with long razor claws and fangs measured in inches, or a wolf with a long row of exposed flesh-ripping teeth and jaws that can break bones—very rarely kills members of its own species. They have instinctive signals that allow for surrender and subservience. The dominant animal will almost never cross that signal to kill another of its species.
Prey, however, do not expose their jugular vein to fellow members of their species. And since they do not possess fearsome weapons with which to hunt, kill, and consume prey, they have no instinct to see that line of abject surrender. Prey, such as pigeons, if they can be induced to attack a fellow member of their own species, will “torture them to death,” wrote Lorenz, and this propensity comes down to the natural repertoire of humans too. Pigeons, if manipulated into attacking a fellow pigeon, will peck it into a sodden lifeless mass of bloody flesh and feathers. We humans only became fearsome predators by inventing weapons and we only develop proscriptions on annihilating each other by wrestling with conscience, social norms, and empathy in a long slow process of conscious evolution.
We see this complexity borne out in our societies from top to bottom, replete with exemplars from the convicted criminals in prisons, their guards, cops, soldiers, intelligence interrogators, billionaires on Wall Street, and including politicians. We struggle to control that inclination so we have laws, moral leadership, and public discourse such as happens in these very pages.
Lorenz goes a long way toward explaining Donald Trump’s unchecked tendency to peck at anyone in his way, from a reporter with disabilities who asks a tough question, to another journalist who happens to be a woman and asks a slightly challenging question, to Miss Universe who decides to endorse Hillary Clinton, to a judge who happens to have some Mexican ancestors, and on and on. He was not raised to deal with the social norms, courtesies, and accepted behaviors of civilized people—like royalty born into extreme privilege but never educated or disciplined toward decency, he is simply following his wiring and lack of training. He is a pigeon with zero idea that most people want to see a leader show authentic regard and respect for most others.
This is not a problem except Trump is now a serious contender to rule the US, be Commander-in-Chief, pick Supreme Court nominees, issue powerful unilateral Presidential Findings, as well as veto legislation. This includes the power to control the nuclear arsenal with launch codes instructing thousands of omnicidal weapons on submarines, bombers, and in ground-based missiles in the western US.
A responsible electorate would deny these capacities to someone like Trump. Let us pray that this prey never accesses that unbridled power. He shows all the signs of being capable of pecking the most powerful and apocalyptic destructive force on Earth into doing its worst.
So we must do our best.


Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tired of the same old war promotion?

We read in scholarly studies in the field of communications that our papers of record feature analysis after analysis justifying war, justifying bombing, justifying enforcing no fly zones with yet more bombs. We read that Obama hestitated on Syria and allowed millions of ruined lives. We read that Libya was the exemplar of presidential conduct, liberating oppressed people with a few sorties.


What methods of conflict management did the opposition choose? How serious was the initial repression of protest? What was the response of the protesters and their external friends? How did all that work out?

Ben Ali in Tunisia was the first down in Arab Spring. Then Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Both were clients of the US, both jailed journalists and clamped down on dissidents, including torture. Obama wisely STFU (kept quiet). US lack of interference allowed civil society to win.

Almost immediately the uprising spread to Syria and Libya and suddenly Obama was loudly declaiming about it all, much to the detriment of everyone on the ground. Colonel Qaddafi was the most despised US enemy in the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) and the previous despised enemy--Saddam Hussein--suffered a horrific endgame fate. As these known enemies of the US thought it through, they realized they might not be afforded the golden parachute of Ben Ali. As it went down, Osama bin Laden was added to that image-of-terrible-death in the middle of Arab Spring, on May 2. Then when Qaddafi was slaughtered, Assad knew what he had to do, slaughter all opposition. So instead of focusing our causal headlamp on US backfiring violence, we instead blast Obama for not attacking Syria.

Where is the peace scholarship on Libya and the effect of Obama's disastrous bombing policy? Mostly MIA. Instead of noting that Libya is now a failed state exporting jihadis to Europe, having killed the US ambassador Christopher Stevens, we read that it was "decisive" and a military success.

The relative costs of these uprisings have been overlooked by most, with some public peace intellectual exceptions, such as Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, who point out in Foreign Affairs that the nonviolent Arab Springs were costly but the violent uprisings have been orders of magnitude worse, with zero positive results.

Tunisa, 300 dead; Egypt, 900 dead; Libya, 30,000 dead; Syria, 150,000 dead plus nine million refugees internally and crossborder. Really? We can't see a difference?

The moral rhetoric justifying military responses is bankrupt. It never ends. Major media sources these people day and night. We need Chenoweth, Stephan, Patrick Coy, Cris Toffolo, Elavie Ndura, Linda Johnston, Michael Nagler, Erin Niemela, Lawrence Wittner, Rachel Cunliffe, Patrick Hiller, Laura Finley, and many many more peace intellectuals in the major media, not the same tired losers who cost blood and treasure.

Can we tell our media to help instead of being dupes? That would be the best start we could make.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day seized for peace

Remember Armistice Day? No, of course not; it was hijacked by the militarists and transmogrified into Veterans Day. A peace holiday stolen and flipped to war.

Remember Mothers Day, the day when, in 1872, Julia Ward Howe issued a proclamation, an appeal, to all mothers of the world? Now, instead of the radical peace holiday of its origins, we find it a sentimental Hallmark holiday, free of all thought except thanks, Mom, for sacrificing your full humanity so you could enable your sons to achieve their dreams. 'Preciate it.

OK, fine. Thirty years ago, some of us decided to make a move the other way. We chose Memorial Day in 1985 as a day of nonviolent resistance to militarism, and as a day to memorialize past, current, and future civilian victims of war. Yes, civilians. Remember them, war hawks? They are forgotten on all your war days, even though the vast majority of those who die at the hands of warriors are not, in fact, other warriors, they are civilians.

We did our commemoration at a thermonuclear command center in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a facility opposed, in counted official referenda votes, by more than 80 percent of the citizens of the UP. It was linked to another command center in Wisconsin, where the overwhelming majority of citizens and their elected officials also opposed that facility. Further, just three years prior, in the largest exercise of direct democracy in US history, the citizenry of almost half the states--every state except one (Arizona) in which the issue could be on the ballot--voted overwhelmingly to call for a nuclear freeze.
The original transmitter in Wisconsin linked by underground cable to the Michigan site.

Democracy had spoken; the Pentagon and President Reagan flouted that voice of the people, so we did our level best to act in nonviolent resistance to the anti-democratic nature of our own military and Commander-in-Chief. Four were arrested in nonviolent blockade of the military base. I went out with some hand tools, dismantled a portion of the command center, and turned myself in at the sheriff's office the next morning (had to enjoy some last pizza and beer with peace buddies before going to prison for an indeterminate period of time).

Does it get any more sentimental than that? Memorial Day 2015 is my personal 30th anniversary of my First Felony for Peace celebration. This time I'll have pizza with some peace families and enjoy my role as peace grandpa.

My country claims to be spreading democracy. But it takes all of us, on the ground, in civil society, to reify that, to renew it, to make sure that we practice what we preach, and we stop regarding war and warriors and bombs and guns as tools of democracy. The best tools are the nonviolent actions and commitments from our people.

We see the results here and abroad. Our violence, our bombs, our warriors, have produced ISIS. The harder we act, the more we kill, the greater the pushback. It took the lying, rogue Bush regime and the mighty American military killing enormous numbers of Muslims to bring back a caliphate, and yet the call is for more bombing, ground troops, more expense and destruction. Perhaps it's time to try a new path that might actually work. I am sick of Memorial Day glorifying war and honoring those who kill. They are killing noncombatants and turning even more noncombatants into violent insurgents. Time for more Peace Memorials and no more war memorials.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Glimmers of justice in the justice system

Does the US justice system work? Yes, if you are in the one percent. Yes, if you are a white cop. Yes, if you are white and your adversary is not. But that is not the story we hear from elites. They control the government. They control corporate media. It's not a conspiracy; it's simple self-aggrandizement, self-interest, self-absorption by people who have been getting away with a great deal for a long time. It's time to stop letting them control our minds.

For us to keep faith, they have to appear to give us one now and then. They did today, May 8, 2015, at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, when the three-judge Appellate Panel reversed the lower court's conviction of 85-year-old Megan Rice, a nonviolent nun, and two of her nonviolent co-defendants, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, all three of whom have been incarcerated since they spraypainted messages of peace on a nuclear weapons facility 28 July 2012, nearly three years ago, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Michael, Sr. Megan, Greg just before prison
The Sixth Circuit ordered resentencing on a lesser charge--depredation of government property--which will almost certainly mean the three will be free to go just as soon as that resentencing happens.

Lions 500, Christians 1. Yay!

I'm a long-time friend of Greg, and his amazing wife Michele Naar-Obed. They are amongst the most dedicated, peaceful, faithful people I've ever known. I will be so happy when they are reunited. They have been separated by their resistance to war and nuclear bombs for much of their married life, with one or another in prison for nonviolent resistance or Michele off to work for peace in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, where she was very nearly killed. They shared the raising of their daughter Rachel with the peace community, Sister Carol Gilbert more than any of the rest of us. I met Rachel when she was a curly-headed four-year-old, mom Michele just out of prison for hammering on a nuclear missile. We went canoeing. I got her a little Barney dinosaur life jacket.

I've been honored to host Sister Megan Rice a little bit in my peace house. She is a driving peaceforce of nature, gentle as the stream that rounds and polishes the jagged rocks of militarism. We are pen pals now.

One of the best observations I've seen on a justice system was in the film A Dry White Season, a tough one to watch about apartheid, made when apartheid was at its most furious worst, in the 1980s, starring Donald Sutherland and Marlon Brando. Watch this scene and then, if you want some sense of how elated I feel at this rare indeed court ruling, pay attention at about 3:20 in this 1980 Peter Gabriel song. "You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire. Once the wind begins to catch, the flames just go up higher." Another great version (with the best lines at about 3:35), also from during apartheid, making it urgent, not just nostalgic. Perhaps the candle of resistance is approaching inextinguishable flame. I'm not sure how many hundreds of years of prison we who have spit in the eye of the nuclear beast have collectively served, but we are ready for more victories. We want nukes to go the way of apartheid. Gone.

My own history is that I have done two of these acts of direct disarmament, in my case dismantling a portion of a thermonuclear command facility. The first time it took the jury 13 minutes to convict me. I learned. I went out again and this time got some of the greatest lawyers possible. My co-defendant and I faced 15 years in prison and our amazing legal team worked for four months while we sat in jail awaiting trial. They beat the major charge--sabotage--for exactly the same reasons the Sixth Circuit just vacated the conviction for that charge, which is that none of us interfered with the defense of the nation. We addressed the most unsoldierly weapons ever invented--weapons that are far far far more destructive to civilians than to the military--and the courts had to recognize that if the lawyers manage to get the evidence actually admitted.

Congratulations, Sister Megan, Michael, and Greg!