Saturday, December 31, 2011

In a million dollar minute

The Pentagon is currently charging the US taxpayers approximately $1.9 million per minute, 24/7/365 (24/7/366 in 2012). The American people are beginning to understand that this is a lot of money and that some of it might be better spent on other things. Y'think?
A glance at the graph showing the escalating per capita levels of US citizen (not taxpayer, we mean your 2 month-old daughter and your 83 year-old grandmother) mandatory commitment to paying for nuclear weapons pointed at...at....at the viability of the environment of planet Earth, for starters, is fairly overwhelming. We each, on average, pony up more than $4,000 each year to buy a range of services, largely devoted to forcing others to do what we want.

How it breaks down:

Budget Breakdown for 2012

Defense-related expenditure2012 Budget request & Mandatory spending[18][19]Calculation[20][21]
DOD spending$707.5 billionBase budget + "Overseas Contingency Operations"
FBI counter-terrorism$2.7 billionAt least one-third FBI budget.
International Affairs$5.6–$63.0 billionAt minimum, foreign arms sales. At most, entire State budget
Energy Department, defense-related$21.8 billion
Veterans Affairs$70.0 billion
Homeland Security$46.9 billion
NASA, satellites$3.5–$8.7 billionBetween 20% and 50% of NASA's total budget
Veterans pensions$54.6 billion
Other defense-related mandatory spending$8.2 billion
Interest on debt incurred in past wars$109.1–$431.5 billionBetween 23% and 91% of total interest
Total Spending$1.030–$1.415 trillion
Since the average US citizen pays approximately $8,500 in federal income taxes each year (again, this is deceptively low, since there are far fewer actual income tax payers than there are citizens), this means that half your income taxes, roughly, go to some aspect of the military. We can't put everyone to work, but we can pay for US bases in most of the nations on Earth. We can't have Medicare for all, but we can clutter space with military satellites. We are cutting public education and leaving our children in the lurch while we deploy thousands of troops to....Australia???

If the Occupy movement ever gets its focus, this is where you start. There is no greater single problem source than our military spending:
  • The more you spend on the military, the more you pollute.
  • The more you spend on the military, the fewer jobs you create or maintain.
  • The more you spend on the military, the less you can spend on the goods and services of life.

It is time. 2012 should be the year we get a grip on this. Resolved.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolved: We won't get fooled again

The armed forces have fleeced the taxpayers for decades via confidence games like cost-plus and no-bid contracts. This is so egregious and the secret is so open that, for example, the navy even incorporates a 'confidence level'--that is, a percentage--that admits they have some, little, or no clue whether their projected costs for a weapon or any other item will be met--and if they do have a clue, they are not telling us.
This corrupt system rewards sloppy work and careless bidding by passing off all costs associated with either to the taxpayer. When I was in the carpenters union in Minneapolis a few decades ago as a young man, I was taught bidding and it was hammered home that a bid is a bid, not an estimate. If you submit a bid, and then sign a contract to deliver on that bid, you ate any cost overruns. Bidding was regarded as a serious science, as honest competition, not a game to entice an investor into a rat hole money suck. Too bad the American taxpayers aren't granted the same honest policies. When the newest class of gargantuan aircraft carriers is considered, for instance, the confidence level is officially 40 percent, meaning that there is a 60 percent chance the navy's projected figures are low--and that is by the navy's own reckoning. My challenge to the navy would be, show us a list of projects that have come in at projected price. Chances are the real world confidence numbers would be less than five percent. And many of the projects are so far off that costs can double, triple, or even worse, revealing the extreme scam of the entire process.

But even more basic is the need for all these weapons in the first place, something any politician or even Secretary of Defense notes at his or her peril. Walter Pincus has been writing about the military forever in The Washington Post--in the 1970s and 80s we used his investigative reporting to bolster our case to shut down a navy nuclear command facility (which we did)--and he notes this threat to common sense:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates touched that third rail in May 2010 when he told a Navy audience that although the plan was to use 11 carrier strike groups through 2040, the service should “consider the massive over-match the U.S. already enjoys.” He then asked: “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one? Any future plans must address these realities.”
Gates was instantly attacked and condemned by politicians and navy brass for his stumble toward honesty. The realities to which he referred are firmly rejected by the conflict industry--the elite class of those who profit from war or war preparation. The contractors don't have to launch the attack directly; they have underwritten the campaigns of the congressional members who, they know, will take up that cudgel.

Meanwhile, a look through a typical day's Pentagon contracts--here is a list of those for 29 December 2011--gives a glimmer to many related problems.
  • The daily hemorrhage of the money taken directly from your paycheck is simply gushing. Contracts start at more than $100 million and go on and on from there. This is money committed sometimes well into the future, burdening us all for a long time.
  • Many of the contracts are add-ons to so-called fixed-price bids approved in the past. They are another form of corruption, another path to cost-plus uncontrolled spending, and they are not put out to open bidding, but simply awarded to the original contractor with a giant Approved As Usual rubber stamp.
  • The war system is so elaborate and has its tentacles around so many pieces on the board--corporate media, electoral politics, university research, local economies--that you can see its pervasive grip in the intentional diversity of its contracting locales, even including my 'peace' town, Portland, Oregon. This is how they guarantee their votes. What member of Congress will vote against the DoD budget and risk howling outrage over "lost" $millions in fed spending in the district? When you have a budget of $1 trillion it's easy to make sure than all 435 congressional districts are milking that one. Sure, many districts ring up massive net losses (tax money sent in to the Pentagon v tax money spent by the Pentagon in the district), but that doesn't quiet the special interests who are pocketing the porcine profits of death.
To help us understand all these numbers and trade-offs, the National "Yes--We're Wonks" Priorities Project creates tools and charts, the basic one being the discretionary budget 'pie' (see above). Yes, NPP is 'over-matched' by the Pentagon propaganda machine, but they hold their own with far fewer resources. They are one of the best of our ground-truthing organizations.

It is time to clean house. The war profiteers have learned how to game us. They are the engine and we are the fuel. This is wrong. The ship of state should not be an aircraft carrier. We have other ways to relate to the people of planet Earth and 2012 should be the year we advance the latter and scuttle the former.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Irrational national belief and grief

Propaganda. That's what Hugo Chavez uses to cover his ugly tracks when he imprisons judges who don't rule the way he wants. That's what Fidel used for decades of enslaving the Cuban people and making them feel happy to be in chains. Josef Goebbels was the master of propaganda, turning an otherwise educated and cultured nation into goose-stepping genocidal maniacs who would cheerfully machine-gun crowds of civilians who tried to flee the Nazi clutches.

Of course, we would never engage in such lowlife practices here in the beacon of liberty's light, the United States of America. We know how to criticize our politicians (well, except for Dear Leader Ronald Reagan and other Founding Fathers).

Seriously, what is up with the North Koreans? Grown men and women gnashing and wailing in public as though their infant daughters had all suffered cruelly before succumbing to some dread plague--how can we humanize these nutbars?

In truth, we share much more with them than we do with some other people from other cultures.

Watch Fox News. As Stephen Colbert so ham-handedly spoofs it, the rippling American flags, screaming eagles and hagiographic idolization of all aspects of all Dear Leaders who embrace corporate-friendly postures is Just So North Korean.

And look at poverty caused by, amongst other factors, military spending. North Korea has the highest rate of militarism in the world. The DPRK spends a higher percent of its gross national product on its military than does any other nation and it has for years, even though various lists omit them or have incomplete data for their budgets. They have followed the Songun policy since the end of the Soviet Union, that is, military first. During famines those in the military suffered much less and officers not at all. Here in the US, we have the world's largest military budget and while unemployment remains high and home foreclosures stay rampant, we hold our military expenses as sacred--that budget dips last. Songun. It doesn't even need translation. Criticizing military expenditures is like dissing Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-Il. Just wait until the 2012 election campaign really heats up and you'll hear it beaten daily.

Watching the poor schmucks in North Korea now just breaks the heart. They live in a Stalinist totalitarian state. When else do they have a chance to express how much grief they feel about everything? Crying for Kim Jong-Il? Please. They are crying for themselves. They are left out of the world. They work hard and they just suffer and must remain silent. This is their rare opportunity to express themselves and let out all their pent-up grief about their wasted lives and ruined nation--and while it seems like unity behind their tyrannical leaders, it also looks like about an inch from a flip to a Pyongyang Spring. Let's not be too smug. As we continue to ruin our economy with massive military overspending we are given many more opportunities to express ourselves and our grief cannot compare--yet--with the impoverishment and iron-fisted enslavement of North Korea. They should be teaching us many lessons right now. Lessons that help us overcome our own vulnerability to propaganda.

Speaking up once is the first and last act of nonviolent resistance in a nation like North Korea. They each have an excuse for suffering in silence. If we fail to speak up, we who have so many more rights and so much more access to the goods of life, what is our excuse?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In the god of war we no longer trust

Over the decades, I've done a fair amount of direct counter-recruitment, from confronting recruiters at post-secondary fairs, tabling at such events, leafleting outside recruiter stations and supporting the outstanding efforts of Communities for Alternatives to Starbase and the War Resisters League as they work to end recruiting in public schools. But I've always acknowledged one point to the recruiters, even though it's one that never occurs to them. At some point I frequently say some variant of, "What I do know is that until we the people learn how to defend ourselves with nonviolence, we will always hire people like you to do it for us."

This never occurs to the recruiters because the assumptions are hard-wired ahead of that logic, which is to say, we need a military, period, so then the only questions revolve around how we run it. It would never dawn on them that a trained and committed citizenry would be willing and able to offer nonviolent defense. Why would it? That concept, civilian-based defense, is a marginal concept barely even taught in college courses on strategic nonviolence. Why? Because it is the last step in a long process of demilitarization and therefore way way down the road from teaching people how to organize a nonviolent campaign to affect some relatively minor public policy.

But if we frame it differently, we can at least show bursts of the possible. What about the nonviolent victories against opponents who have proven themselves capable of torture, assassination and ongoing brutality? For a moment, at least, the nonviolent masses awakened to their power and exercised it.

However, the problems come when we think about designing and developing a peace system, that is, a system that doesn't need a military. How would a nation without a military meet an invading force? How could a nation without a military stop foreign governments from just rolling over it and grabbing land, natural resources, and enslaving people? From a Euro-American, that is Western, point of view, it is illogical. We were the colonial masters of the world so we not only know what foreign governments do to innocent nonviolent friendly people--because our ancestors did it, again and again, all over the world--we know that we live materially opulent lifestyles as a direct result and changing all this will change how we get to live.

Sigh. This is all true. We will, however, either do the right thing (now that we've exhausted all the alternatives) or our nation-state will cease to exist in its present form. We can either plan for a post-military world or prepare for ecological and economic ruination, harbingers of which have been present and growing more pervasive for years.

War is not god, or, if it is, the end times are near. We are not hard-wired for war any more than we are hard-wired for peace. This is all about choice, even though path dependency suggests war and more war. It is past time to break out of that path, to stop being co-dependent on a military that is not about constructive conflict but preps for and commits destructive conflict.

Will this transition be easy? No. Some version of it, however, is required. Seven billion of us, now industrialized and consuming natural resources at an unnatural pace, can no longer afford this model of conflict management. Just when we are heading into more conflict on our crowded planet, the old ways of managing conflict are proving dramatically and disastrously unsustainable. Analysts like Michael Renner (and others at the Worldwatch Institute), Michael Klare, Michael Ross (we need a Symposium of the Michaels on Conflict and Sustainability) and many others have been connecting the dots for decades, but the splotches are now connecting themselves. Only truly out-of-touch nonviolent analysts ignore economic and environmental concerns and only the most provincial economists or ecologists fail to see the primacy of dealing with military impacts.

It is past time to take stock and start. God did not ordain the military to rule over us in the US, no matter what poor legislation Congress passes to the contrary. Allah did not grant the Egyptian military the right to conduct virginity tests on any women it fancies. We will launch the solutions from the grassroots or they will not be launched. We will invent, test, modify and maintain a nonviolent security system and we will prosper as a species, or we will stay with the model we now have and stick with a strategy we see is losing. The choice is ours.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Congress: Public service or self-serving?

I suppose by now the assumption is logical: those voters are STOOO-PID. We keep putting them in and back in and back in some more. Congress is a club of one percenters who are simply masters of talking the talk. Almost none of them walk the walk.
Most Americans have no real problems with someone getting rich. Hey, if it's done honestly, if it's because they are smart and learn how to produce something that we can all use, we don't seem to begrudge them success.

But we don't like it when they succeed because they are corrupt and that is exactly what we don't like about Congress. Many members are directly guilty of these corrupt behaviors:

  • They have massive stock portfolios that, by the laws they pass, remain largely hidden from the public. 
  • They own stock in war profiteering corporations and they vote to fund the wars.
  • They own stock in financial institutions and favor those institutions with laws that encourage wild gambling for high returns (from which members of Congress profit) and then they vote to bail out those institutions with hundreds of $billions.
This is corruption and it's systemic in Congress. We are not talking about bringing home a few taxpayer-funded pencils for their kids. The depth and breadth of this corruption is rivaling the worst dictatorships. We are ruled by a gang of Banana Republicans of both parties, millionaires who vote against the social safety net unless it is there for their corporate investments (like the wildly hypocritical Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania car dealer and Congressman who rails against taxes on the wealthy, and against unemployment benefits, and yet benefited handsomely from the GM bailout). And it's getting worse, not better, as documented by "an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group":
While the median net worth of members of Congress jumped 15 percent from 2004 to 2010, the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans remained essentially flat. For all Americans, median net worth dropped 8 percent, based on inflation-adjusted data from Moody’s Analytics.

When Congress accomplishes at least some of the following, we may finally find some trust in them:
  • link their pay to the national median pay.
  • get the money out of elections (there are many ways to do this).
  • stop accepting donations--and stop seeing lobbyists--from DoD or DoD contractors.
  • stop accepting donations--and stop seeing lobbyists--from for-profit corporations. 
  • mandate a freeze on all their wealth development for their period of service (no stocks, no bonds, just normal savings accounts).
If these conditions are too odious, these people should not serve. Our regulators need to begin with themselves. We can require this or we can continue to watch TV and worry about inconsequential irrelevancies. We can continue to act like redirected inmates of the mental health unit or we can start to control our own country. We live in a--hello?--democracy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Vietnam to Iraq: US tastes defeat again

The institution of war as practiced by the US was once a conflict management method used for two things. One, gain and defend sovereignty, which is to say freedom from foreign rule. Two, gain and defend land and natural resources that belonged to other people, which is to say become the foreign rulers.
Examples of the first sort of war might include the Revolutionary War and World War II.

Examples of the second sort of war include invading and seizing the sovereign nations of Native Americans, or overthrowing other nations and installing dictators (e.g. most Central American countries at least once, Hawaii, the Philippines).

But the new sort of war is what we saw in Iraq and largely in Vietnam. It is a function of the Doritos paradigm, that is, consume all you want, "We'll make more." Military profiteers from the private sector profit from a war win or a war loss. What hurts them is peace. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney profited quite personally quite massively from the entire Iraq debacle, beginning to end, as did their entire owner class of war profiteers supplying the military with ordnance, body armor, vehicles, weapons, privately contracted transport, and, no doubt, Doritos. The war system is poor for the taxpayer, since military spending creates far fewer jobs per $billion spent than other sectors. The war system is poor for the military members who bet their lives that they can survive long enough to enjoy the life they joined to enhance and who then lose that bet by suffering lifelong wounds to body, mind and spirit--or who are among those who die directly in the war.

So why do the elite owners get us into war instead of profiting from peaceful enterprise? Because war profits are obscenely high, corruption is massive, and the outright theft of taxpayer money is never easier and never so massive. "National security" is the magic phrase that occludes the view so this can all transpire and the taxpayer will either never know or, if there is a Julian Assange out there exposing the corruption, it can be treated as an aberration rather than a system feature. Too bad about Halliburton overcharging for gasoline in Iraq starting immediately in 2003, but let's keep using their contracting services. "Money in a gunnysack" diplomacy buys off local "leaders" who then feed the US media, bravely embedded behind bristling guns, all sorts of GIGO opinions and assurances. Garbage In, Garbage Out is the proud motto of the embed, or at least it should be.

At least we have Harper's Magazine and other challenger media who offer an unembedded POV and let us know that, oh, by the way, that Big Deal Official End of the War Ceremony in Bagdhad was a made-for-TV farce:
At a 45-minute ceremony in a fortified compound at Baghdad International Airport, U.S. military officials declared the end of the Iraq war. Iraq’s president and prime minister did not attend, and local reporters were not invited.
So our new sort of war is just Extreme Profiteering, even if we flee Vietnam with our tails between our legs or exit Iraq with their country and ours in shambles. There's a flag-waving pride in that, I'm sure, for the owners of the largest military contractors. For the rest of us, we pay for it and suffer, but our suffering is nothing alongside what the people suffer in the countries where we go to 'liberate' them.

War crime is redundant. Serving the country is something nonviolent peace, justice and environmental activists do. Serving the corporate war profiteers is the job of the military.

Can 2012 be the year we finally change that equation?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pentagon investigates itself: We are innocent

The US military message machine never sleeps, is everywhere, and spends $billions on being dominant in the category of conflict turn-to sources for members of the American mainstream media. Editors want experts and they want experts who have been on the ground and can offer informed analysis. Editors are also on a budget and don't much like forking over the travel funds to those experts. It's best when the experts are just on tap, free, funded by others, and who speak and write authoritatively.

So you pay for it, not CNN, not Fox, not ABC, NBC, or CBS. You pay for it out of your taxes, not The New York Times, not The Wall Street Journal, not The Washington Post. The Pentagon handles all these experts and they handle mainstream media. They do this in the name of a free press. Can you feel the smirk?

After some 2008 stories exposing some of this, Congress asked the Pentagon to investigate itself. More than three years later, the DoD inspector general says no problem. Like the torturers in Bahrain busily self-investigating and declaring that mistakes were made but we are a great government so shut up and stop your whining, the Pentagon finds that its propaganda machine may need some fine tuning, but it's working pretty well. DoD to taxpayers: Shut up and pay up and like it. From the NYT:

The inquiry found that from 2002 to 2008, Mr. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon organized 147 events for 74 military analysts. These included 22 meetings at the Pentagon, 114 conference calls with generals and senior Pentagon officials and 11 Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Twenty of the events, according to a 35-page report of the inquiry’s findings, involved Mr. Rumsfeld or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or both.

What's not to like? When you see these uniformed experts saying "I've been to Iraq nine times" or "I was on the phone with the Secretary," you can feel like you've personally contributed--because you have. If you work for a living, you are paying for this propaganda. And the military message machine employs almost as many in their various activities as does the entire US State Department and more than most major media corporations. Sales are booming. Social norms are putty in their hands.

Meanwhile, we have more than 500 members of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, most of whom are peace academics, who are funded to travel to controversial conflict zones by zero tax dollars. When we go, we hustle our own funds or pay out of pocket. We study, research, analyze, and teach. We actually know far more about alternative methods to violent conflict management than do all the military experts, active or retired, but editors rarely contact us for that knowledge, and it's hard to blame them. When a source has access, had been there, and is a retired member of an organization that specializes in conflict (never mind that it specializes in lethal force and destroying infrastructure), why not rely on them?

As usual, we on the peace side have our work well and truly cut out for us. We have experts who could save the US taxpayers hundreds of $billions and save hundreds of thousands of lives. There are alternatives to the military methods. When the editors are interested, they should look us up.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bowing to the future and to the past

video
I spent yesterday with Glenn D. Paige, 82, a man born just a half year after Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1929. He's a public peace intellectual, walks slowly but thinks fast ("I talk too much") and he took me to breakfast on a veranda restaurant overlooking the warm Pacific at the north end of Honolulu. I would need a few months of such meals with him to properly understand his life--so far--and his contributions to peace in the world. After breakfast he drove us to his temple, the Dae Won Sa Broken Ridge Korean Buddhist Peace Temple in the Palolo Valley. It is remarkable. It is how Paige quiets his racing intellect, which still sprints even as he ages into his 80s.

Paige's academic life as a political scientist began as a linguist and Korean expert, which naturally followed his military service in Korea, a nation that he says is a classic case of one culture split into two by war and politics. His dissertation dealt exhaustively with the decision-making processes that drew the US into that war and was informed by his own observations, access to top officials in both cultures, and his study of Korean culture and language, as well as two more germane languages, Chinese and Japanese. He was on the straightforward Political Science/Security Studies academic success path, with degrees from Princeton, Harvard, and Northwestern Universities.

He was enjoying his 'short stack' of pancakes in the warm trade winds ("I'm freezing") and he suddenly stopped. "Then, in 1974, I had a sudden change. It was like an electric charge ripping from the tips of my toes up through me to the top of my head. Three words came, but silently. I mean, it wasn't a burning bush where I fell over--I said nothing--but the three words were clear: 'No more killing.' And then I wondered, 'Now what?'"

Academically, Paige reviewed his first book, which was his dissertation, and critiqued his own conclusions. I can only imagine the academic nerve it took to do that. His political science research and his civic engagement ever since has been devoted to nonkilling. The integrity to embark into areas where political scientists fear to tread is another classic--it is why tenure exists. He was able to pursue his intellectual challenges without the usual trepidation of the anxious scholar, tiptoeing a half-inch into new territory with phobias about validity. Paige just decided to Go For It and did. He found his intellectual home at the University of Hawai'i and never looked back.

Well, maybe he looked back all the time, and forward too, but with a different goal and analysis. His central question has been, "Is it possible to have a nonkilling society?" His answer is "Yes." His research has been on 'how' that can be accomplished and maintained. He worried decades ago about "So, after we achieve a victory with either violence or nonviolence, how can we maintain a nonviolent society?" This is now beginning to be central to our field of Peace and Conflict Studies, with a great deal of research into the post-peace accord process. Paige did a great deal of the early work and continues to push for more publications via his Center for Global Nonkilling, now directed by a young scholar, Joám Evans Pim, who is busily edited a series of peer-reviewed books on the topic of Nonkilling from the viewpoints offered by various disciplines and fields of study.

As I entered my senior citizen years and am still struggling to learn more about how we can evolve toward nonviolence as a species, I am so buoyed and bolstered by spending some valuable time with one of the pioneers who helped put this into play. Paige's 2002 book on Nonkilling is now translated into 23 languages "with 16 more coming," he says, and is being used by people where they live around the world. "It was rejected by the normal academic political science publishers," he told me, "but with happy consequences. I just put it online for free downloading and now it's in use."

His ideal scholar is a "researcher, a teacher, and is involved in giving back to our world, in helping to spread the knowledge where it can be used." That makes Glenn D. Paige a model for how the academy can actually serve the polis. Mahalo, Glenn. Live long and may nonkilling philosophy prosper.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Firehose of your tax money gushes to Libya

So, how is that violent liberation working out for 'ya?
How much did the US spend trying to topple dictators Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt? Oh, that's right, like Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos, those brutal, corrupt, murdering leaders were essentially installed and supported by the US. We spent zero helping the nonviolent revolutions in those countries.

OK, so how about other nonviolent liberations, especially those who overthrew enemies of the US? Well, almost nothing. $25 million to bring down Milosevic in Serbia. Just about nothing on the entire Velvet Revolution, which finally succeeded after decades of $ trillions spent on superhyperApocalyptic weaponry all pointed at the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Can we pick out a pattern here?

On the other hand, when we tally up the pricetags for Iraq ($1 trillion and counting, as we leave 5,000 highly paid contractors behind), Afghanistan ($500 billion and counting), and, lately, Libya ($1.1 billion just on DoD armaments, not counting State Department security expenses nor unknown but substantial intelligence operations), we see some barebones beginnings of the explanation for our national financial meltdown.

Remember in the early days of justifying the invasion of Iraq, when we were told again and again that this would eventually cost the taxpayers nothing because the grateful people of Iraq would gladly pay us back with the massive oil revenues that would obviously start flowing their way once liberated? Similarly, I recall Libyan dissidents in diaspora confidently assure us on National Public Radio interviews that Libyans would obviously repay NATO for all expenses once Gadhaffi was removed and Libyans controlled their own oil money.

The lies don't get much more transparent and egregious than these, yet they continue to be told and, amazingly, believed, apparently. At least it's working out for China. They are snapping up that Iraqi oil. At last it's being used for a government that really supports human rights...

The facts are that liberation using nonviolence is not only far less bloody, far less expensive, far less destructive to infrastructure and the environment, but it has no blowback (well, unless you count the Occupy movement as blowback from Arab Spring, but the US didn't fund any part of the Arab Spring anyhow). The blowback from supporting or launching violent liberation is tremendous, as we saw on September 11, 2001. We will likely see much more, sadly, from all the violence we since unleashed or in the Central Asia, Middle East, North African region. Six thousand US mortalities and more than $1.5 trillion so far, all to do what nonviolence could have done for a tiny fraction. And the costs will go on and on.

The news today is just one example. Now, after wasting that $1.1 billion+ on violently getting rid of Gadhaffi, the US is going to pay untold $ millions to buy up weapons from the insurgents. You can't make up stuff like this. Cosmic karmic account registers are ringing all over the place. The US piece of the Arab Spring is a costly, bloody, ongoing farce.

We are so radically in need of a rapid evolution in our methods of conflict management. Hello? Earth to Obama! Earth to the military! Come in! Humanity here--can we talk? Nonviolence can do all the good things you say you want done without any of the bad things that only violence can trigger. Can we make 2012 the Year of the US Nonviolence Conversion? It is overdue.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our great debts, some eternal, some related and fixable

Thanks to our addiction to war and war preparation, as well as the costs of war that drag on long after all US troops are out of the invaded country (whatever that country may be), we are in debt, massively. Our first debt is not financial, it is a debt owed to the Iraqi people for inflicting an invasion that brought in violence and took the stops off other violence. Just as al Qa'ida can never repay the debt they owe to victims of 9.11.01, the US can never repay the debt to Iraqis for our 2003 criminal invasion and all the violence that continues to erupt even after we are officially gone. That debt is eternal.

As to our financial debts, some think it's due to overconsumption. That's true, but you have two sorts of overconsumption and they have a dialectical, mutually exacerbating relationship.

One, military overconsumption. We have built and manufactured the most gargantuan arsenal ever assembled on Earth with the most military bases on the sovereign soil of the most nations in human history.

Two, consumer overconsumption. Americans are all about shopping and less about producing. They choose lower prices and thereby often support sweatshops and child labor. Wal-Mart's Big Lie about buying American is a bit like a jihadis faith in being a suicide bomber as his path to paradise and 69 virgins--an easy sell to addicted consumers who desperately want to believe.

The sick positive feedback loop (with negative consequences) is clear: We build more guns and bombs so we can enforce the global theft of human and natural resources that enriches us unfairly and through the use of violence and intimidation, resources that feed our consumer habits, which in turn make our militarism necessary.

Guess what, shoppers? Guess what, militarists? The feedback loop is shutting down, slowly but surely. Why is this? For a number of reasons, including (but not limited to):

  • a long nonviolent push against devaluing nonAmerican lives from the Global South.
  • a peace movement that has featured valuing the lives of US troops as well as foreign civilians.
  • a long, strong rise in a global movement by the oppressed to insist on fairness.
  • the slow acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • demonstrations of alternative methods of liberation using nonviolence.
  • case studies of peace processes that are teaching humanity other ways to resolve conflict.
  • case studies that show, again and again, how violence costs everyone (except the profiteer and power-seeking elite, as the Baghdad man-on-the-street says clearly in this short video, following more escalation of post-US withdrawal violence).

So, we can do it nice or we can do it rough, but we need to push ahead with alternatives to both negatives, to overconsumption by both the military and civilian sides. What better time to do it than now, when we can stop supporting sweatshops and child labor by giving holiday gifts that come from other sources? Vote with your holiday shopping and later on in 10 and one-half months, vote with your ballots for more peace and justice, radically reduced military, and boycotts of all goods from all countries who are in violation of basic human rights.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Capital punishment: Robert Reich v Corporadoes

Review: Reich, Robert B. (2010). Aftershock: The next economy & America’s future. New York: Vintage.

At 4 feet, 10 inches, Robert Reich really needed to be named David, since his tendency is to go after at least some Goliaths. His 12th book, Aftershock: The next economy & America’s future, is a quick read and helps a Peace and Conflict Studies guy understand a bit more of the historical threads that have joined in our collective fiscal noose tightening around our national neck as we stand at the cusp of an unknown future. He has some interesting notions about cutting us down from that dangerous place and getting us moving more positively--and some missing information that should be in his analysis.



His framing of American capitalism history is instructive. He writes that the 1870-1929 and 1980-2010 periods were mostly about concentrating wealth into ever smaller, ever richer, numbers of owners. The brief 1947-1973 period of greater equality and more robust social safety net, when wealth disparities weren't as dramatic, is what he calls the Great Prosperity.

We are just about where we were in 1928 in terms of concentration of wealth and Reich says that's no coincidence. He is a certified smart guy (summa cum laude from Dartmouth, J.D. from Yale and editor of the Yale Law Review, Rhodes scholar at Oxford) (where he was buds with Bill Clinton), and he'd make a great Secretary of Labor (as he was in Clinton's administration), though he gives too many passes to bad US foreign policy and fails to connect some big splotchy dots. Is that because he longs to be back inside an administration and can't get there by fingering the military budget as the real Goliath? 

I think my reservations about Reich--as much as I would seriously wish for him or someone as pro-labor as him to be Secretary of Labor--are mostly around my bewilderment at his willingness to almost default to a Kennedyesque "he may be a sonofabith but he's our sonofabitch" attitude about many of the horrific foreign dictators we installed and supported during his period of Great Prosperity, which was the period I'd call the Height of American Empire. Reich doesn't use Kennedy's phrase, but he paints that period so golden and rosy when, in the reality of that time in so many places, there was real violence and structural violence with the US at the helm. His frame on the time was that it was a period of containment of the communist menace, which, if that is the entire story of the Cold War military, would be closer to the Just War doctrine, but instead it was a period of huge extractions of human and natural resources at by a process called robbery.

Reich would be a great policy czar for our American labor force--he is quite pro-union, he urges and economically justifies universal Medicare, he calls for and logically supports a massive extension of the Earned Income Credit in what he calls a reverse income tax to subsidize lower incomes, and he argues cogently for free public universities. But he should not be allowed to meddle with foreign policy, because that brutal extractive style of US imperialism did create the Great Prosperity for just one working class--the US American working class--and that is a Bad Deal for everyone else, as virtually all the Global South will attest.

His heroes are almost all rich men of a pragmatic self-enlightened sort. Marriner Eccles, for instance, was the capitalist to whom Franklin Roosevelt eventually turned to help think about getting out of the Great Depression. What Reich calls "Eccles insight" was basically that the government needed to go into more debt to pull out of the economic doldrums. Reich accurately notes that the FDR administration did great things with the social safety net as a result--Social Security, etc.--but that his spending on job creation wasn't nearly enough until everyone was employed in World War II. 

So read Reich's book. He is tough on the greedheads like Henry Paulson and the other Robert--Rubin--who served alongside him (Secretary of Treasury) with the Clintstones. He has many great and defensible ideas, though I cannot call him a peace and justice person based on this book. His understanding of growing American resentments is helpful, for example when he notes, “Societies whose living standards drop experience higher levels of stress than do societies that never had as much to begin with—and the deeper the drop, the higher the stress” (Reich, 2010, p. 90). He looks at a great deal of research, but in an accessible way, making him a public intellectual with great ability to translate jargon into readable ideas.

But also be aware of the history he glosses over. To be fair, he has exposed the military in other writings, including calling the current DoD a "jobs program" that we cannot afford, since it creates few jobs per $ billion spent. This is not a holistic approach, but his ideas are worth keeping alive in our national conversation. He says we need to make fundamental changes and he's more right than he even displays in this book.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Selective long term memory

As we listen to saber rattling and information about Iran's threat to Israel, to the Saudis, to Iraq, to the US and to the entire world, let's remember a few things, a problem for many Americans in some cases.
  • "All the suspected hijackers were from Saudi Arabia (fifteen hijackers), United Arab Emirates (two hijackers), Lebanon (one hijacker) and Egypt (one hijacker)" (Wikipedia). All were Arabic. None were Iranian.
  • The CIA was complicit in the Bush regime lies about Saddam Hussein's WMD.
  • The highest members of the Bush circle--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, Powell, plus press secretary Fleisher and Judith Miller of The New York Times--all lied about Iraq's nonexistent WMD.
  • These liars said Saddam had thrown out UN WMD inspectors. Never happened.
  • The Bush regime team lied about Saddam's alliance with Osama bin Laden. As if. Saddam outlawed al Qa'ida and bin Laden issued a death fatwa on Hussein.
  • This same group of liars told us the invasion of Iraq would be relatively inexpensive and that, with all their oil, the Iraqis would repay us anyhow in just a couple of years.
  • They either failed or feigned failure to anticipate the robust insurgency from Iraqis who wanted their country back.
  • The Bush neocons did just about everything possible to encourage a Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq and they got it.
I vigiled with others every Tuesday outside the large multi-branch armed forces recruiting center on Broadway in Portland all during the worst of the war, when Fallujah was set on fire and casualties on all sides were terrible every day. I told many recruiters, all bound to argue with me, that "eventually, you will leave Iraq, and for that matter Afghanistan, and you will not leave a peaceful country behind. They will violently sort themselves out for themselves and you will have only accomplished getting more people to hate America." This, more or less, was the very message that the very conservative warrior, Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor, offered us when we brought him here to Portland State University to speak. 

This is exactly what is happening and will happen in both countries. War is simply not the answer. Just Say No. Remember. Never Forget. We are a smart species and can find alternatives, as we saw in Tunisia and, for the most part, in Egypt and across much of the Middle East and North Africa (except where we offered our military 'help' in Libya). 

We can remember the things that matter--we are all deeply informed about the Kim and Kris Konflict, the details of the NBA lockout, Lindsay Lohan's addictive self-sabotaging record--so let's get on our knees and pray we don't get fooled again. No one except the one percenter elite from Richistan can afford it and no one can morally or ethically justify any more war. Let's start a season of peace that lasts for years. Let's put our people back to work by redirecting the first 75 percent of the Pentagon budget to job creation and universal health care. We can do this if we decide upon it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Invisible woman and choice

When I want a real lesson in conscience and the power of nonviolence, I turn to--comics and movies. Excuse me? Yes, Hollywood and comic books are real gold mines, though most of it is pyrite at best.

So, when Earth is under threat of destruction in the film Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and the henchbeing of the Destroyer Galactus (Silver Surfer)  is prepping our planet for His palette, Invisible Woman confronts the space dude:

Silver Surfer: I have no choice.
Invisible Woman: What do you mean, you don't have a choice? There's always a choice.
There it is. We make our choices and we are responsible for them, if not to Galactus, at least to ourselves. While we have a Universal Declaration of Human Rights to help us think about some of our rights and responsibilities, we also have societal pressures to violate what we might suspect is good behavior. Isn't this true for all of us?

  • Oh, I had to join the military. I was poor. I wanted a college education. I had no job. It was the poverty draft. 
  • I had to kill those people, even though some were children. I had orders. In the military, there is a chain of command and harsh discipline for failing to obey a command.
  • I need to drive a car. That's just how it is.
  • Obviously, I had no choice--I had to call the police. How was I to know they would shoot the guy dead?
  • I'm a cop. The guy had a knife. I had to take him out--what other choice was there?
  • He hit me. I had to defend myself. No other option outside of just getting smacked down more.
But choice is always present, even in a dictatorship, even in dire circumstances, and certainly in a society with multiple options for getting an education, for getting work, for surviving and thriving without joining an organization that uses violence, even lethal violence.
Thank you, Invisible Woman. I wish more invisible women would help us confront these choices we attempt to evade or deny.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Klarity: No Newts is good Newts

Four key trends will dominate the future of American energy behavior: an increasing need for imported oil, a pronounced shift toward unstable and unfriendly suppliers in dangerous parts of the world; a greater risk of anti-American or civil violence, and rising competition for what will likely prove a diminishing supply pool.

—Michael Klare (2004, p. 23)
Michael Klare is a well known expert on the intersection of war, peace and energy policy. His analysis and predictions have been accurate and sought after by alternative and mainstream media (at least the outliers such as National Public Radio, or at least the occasional host such as Terry Gross, who interviewed Klare on 30 June 2010 during the worst of the massive BP oil spill). Listening to Michael T. Klare and following his advice when he began his analysis into this confluence of problems would have saved the world a few wars, some killer sanctions, lots of global climate catastrophe, and the global economy.

What? Isn't that a bit hyperbolic?

Not really. The first time I heard Klare speak was in the late 1980s and I have been following his work ever since. He is a mentor to many of us in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies and his work has opened vistas for many of us who have sought to work to better connect and intersect the vast studies of environmental problems, energy source and consumption issues, conflict management methods, war, and peace. Yes, it's true that many others, from Margaret Mead to Bucky Fuller to Paul and Anne Ehrlich to Noam Chomsky and more have come before Klare, connecting some of these parts of the larger whole. But in his niche--energy policy and foreign conflict policy--Klare is the turn-to expert in our field. Others are in there squarely with him with their own niche expertise--e.g. Ian Bannon, Michael Ross, Len Siegel, Paul Collier--but he remains at the leading edge of analysis and comprehensive scholarship in this particular confluence of subjects.

Some might try to put the likes of Al Gore into this group, but the inconvenient truth about his analysis is that he is not a peace person, makes no mention in his Nobel Prize-winning Powerpoint of methods of conflict management, and simply leaves out the question of militarism, the eight-ton crossbred elephant gorilla in the global room. Klare looks straight into the giant addict's eye and delivers straightforward rational analysis based upon the data from the environmental impact side, the war costs abyss, the geopolitical struggle for hegemony power circus, and he makes eminently sensible policy recommendations that would mitigate the downsides of all these areas of concern.

Time to make Michael T. Klare Secretary of Energy and Gene Sharp Secretary of Defense. We need some serious change, informed by decades of serious study and real world application. US democracy needs to be far better informed to be effective and to avoid the poor decisions we make when we are informed by corporate militarist intelligentsia such as Newt Gingrich, a Ph.D. without a conscience who operates cleverly and remorselessly. We could use some Klarity because No Newts is good Newts.

References
Klare, Michael T. (2004). Blood and oil: The dangers and consequences of America’s growing petroleum dependency. New York: Henry Holt.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Inspiration as strategy

“Feeling good, not engaging in violence, or being willing to die, when you have not achieved the goals of your struggle, does not change the fact that you have failed” (Sharp, 2005, p. 436).

I am a veteran of the Plowshares movement, that is, a tiny global campaign to disarm directly, by hand, using simple hand tools, in an effort to do a few things, including (this is not the same list for each of us who have done this, but it is meant to include the rationales I have heard from others and written about myself, though I am in the minority view with regard to some of these overarching goals):
  • to bypass all the military, legal, and governmental barriers to disarmament and decide to simply start the process by hand, unilaterally.
  • to act in accordance with one's most profound ethical, moral, or faith and spiritual obligations.
  • to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice one's freedom, one's material possessions, one's property, one's business relationships, one's time with loved ones, one's health and even one's life in order to begin disarming ourselves.
  • to challenge others to do something, even something minor or relatively easy.
  • to refuse to be a part of a war system.
  • to use the most powerful nonviolent methods at our disposal to show that not all power comes from bombs and guns.
  • to tell the rest of the world that there are some who disagree completely with the model of violence and threat of violence.
  • to make and take a stand for the children, for the next ones to come, to hand off a better world to them.
While the movement has anti-nuclear weaponry roots and the majority of the acts of direct disarmament have been directed at components of the nuclear arsenal, several of them have been done on 'conventional' weapons. The idea at heart is to personally interpose, do something real but effectively symbolic, and then to take personal responsibility for one's actions.

There have been more than 80 of these sorts of acts of direct disarmament since the original King of Prussia act by eight radical nonviolent peacemakers on 9 September 1980. The chronology of the actions from 1980-2003 was compiled by Catholic Worker and Plowshares resister Art Laffin. My own efforts were from 1985 and 1996, the first alone and the second in partnership with Donna Howard. Artie gets a few facts wrong in both of these descriptions, but he captures the sense of all the actions he describes. He is our movement historian and we are all grateful to him and his collaborator on the book about the movement, Sr. Anne Montgomery.

What I have come to realize over the years is the strong connection between mass movements of low or no risk--such as peace demonstrations, vigils, electronic organizing--and the high-risk nonviolence such as Plowshares or international accompaniment--is that the high risk actions can help convince others to also get involved in some way. Every Plowshare action resets my commitment to peace more firmly than if all I ever saw was a street demonstration or a social media posting. Every time I read about a Muslim Peacemaker or Christian peacemaker or Peace Brigades International or Nonviolent Peaceforce action I am far more challenged to carry on than when I learn about a petition or a peace march. This is just how we are. The peace warriors help us act in smaller ways, just as Rosa Parks helped Montgomery African Americans boycott the buses and walk every day for a solid year. The actions of the many are vastly more effective than the actions of the few, but the 'concentrated' acts of a Phil Berrigan or Susan Crane can draw us to the 'dispersed' acts like walking, talking and writing for peace.

Fortunately, we can reframe our high risk actions when we connect them to mass actions. Did Rosa Parks succeed? No, she was arrested and fined. She failed. But the instant that masses acted in smaller ways to support her goal, she was a wild success and she changed American history. It is this dynamic that the Occupy movement overlooks when it sticks to a 'leaderless' dogma. We need inspiration in order to get masses of us to give our perspiration. So failure and victory are often a matter of framing and persistence. Learning these skills is strategic. Being strategic will give us more nonviolent victories.

References
Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nonviolence, natural resources, and secession: The Congo case study

When the people of Congo cast out the outrageously cruel and corrupt Belgian colonial occupiers in 1960, they did so mostly nonviolently and they elected Patrice Lumumba, charismatic populist leader who refused to play the standard colonial handoff game of praising their former masters. He instead excoriated the unjust imprisonment and torture that he and others had endured in their struggle for liberation. It was a speech that straightened the backs and stirred the spirit of Congolese as they listened to tiny transistor radios all over their large country.

It was a speech that started a chain of events that ultimately cost Lumumba his life and cost the Congolese their future of peace and prosperity they had earned and deserved. The speech rightly shamed the Belgians all the way back to their corrupt King Leopold, a nineteenth century cruel megalomaniac who arrogated the region to himself, demanding free labor and natural resources, and simply acting monstrously, without human conscience. The Belgians were embarrassed by this lack of decorum by Lumumba and conspired with the CIA and some corrupt Congolese, primarily from the mineral-rich Katanga region, and assassinated Lumumba on 17 January 1961. Eventually, the Mobutu Sese Seka regime operated for decades, pretending Congolese nationalism but conspiring endlessly with foreign corporations--and U.S. military aid--to profit enormously from oppressing Congolese and extracting their natural resources at bargain basement prices. Those resources were so abundant that Sese Seka enriched himself so massively that his regime was labeled a "kleptocracy." 

The rise of the leaders of Katanga, primarily Moise Tshombe, was largely due to influences from foreign mining corporations and the business-friendly CIA. Katanga declared itself sovereign on 11 July 1960, intending to take full advantage of its natural resource wealth, but Sese Seka subsumed them successfully. Freedom for Congolese and the life of Lumumba were forfeit in the deal. The violence and corruption continue in Congo, where they suffered the largest land war since World War II, mostly over a combination of resource capture, especially copper and cobalt, and the misuse of tribal and ethnic conflict to fan the flames. Listen to Wangari Maathai for a wise and accurate analysis.

Ian Bannon and Paul Collier note that "resource wealth tends to promote civil wars...by giving people who live in resource-rich areas an economic incentive to forum a separate state" (p. 27). We see de facto separate states in many regions where guerrilla armies capture territory and gain from resource extraction. We have yet to see a nonviolent insurrection based on greed for natural resources. Violence is the best way to go after valuable natural resources for private profit. Nonviolence is good for the public interest. The difference shows up with remarkable frequency of pattern.


References

Bannon, Ian and Collier, Paul (Eds.) (2003). Natural resources and violent conflict: Options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We don't need no stinkin' jobs (Need to secede)

Every time Congress spends another $billion on the Department of Defense, jobs are created. That is what the Republicans and all good hawks claim. Mitch "Broken Record" McConnell, their leader in the Senate, rails against any tiny incremental tax on the rich as a tax on the "job creators." And if Obama dares propose that a bill of his would hire anyone to do any actual work that results in benefits to society (e.g., building high-speed rail that brings us more in line with a European infrastructure for moving people and goods far more efficiently, in which China is investing heavily, for excellent reason), he is labeled as tax and spend.
Meanwhile, the US pulls out of Iraq, thus saving $billions for the taxpayer, right? Wrong. Those troops are parking in Kuwait. The net number in the region is the same. Troops who come home are being replaced by troops going over. It is a farce.

While we continue to watch the fiscal Niagara Falls thunder your money into the deep Pentagon Pool of Liquid Assets, we are told that economic drought is forcing massive drawdowns in the relative trickle of government assistance to every class of Americans except the rich. Hundreds of thousands of poor people, primarily single mothers seeking to simply work for a living, are now told that the one most critical piece of their tiny slice of government help--a subsidy to their child care provider, who makes it possible for them to work or go to school--is cut off.

How much do child care workers make? Very little. How much do the single mothers make? Very little, or they wouldn't qualify for this small but crucial amount of help. So, for a very small investment, we create many jobs. Or, thanks to Congress, we destroy them. Congress: the Job Destroyers, led by the likes of John "Don't Dare Tax the Rich" Boehner. Astonishingly, these people refer to the $662.4 billion they just authorized for the Pentagon FY 2012 budget--far more than any other military on Earth and a figure that does not include many military items, such as, oh yes, nuclear weapons and veterans' benefits--that obese budget is called a 'cut.'

In the midst of this set of grotesque machinations, the new "defense" authorization has violated and vacated much of the Bill of Rights, so be ye advised that Congress is making a bid to overturn what the Founders sought to enshrine in the Constitution 220 years ago. It will be legal to 'detain' you or any other American indefinitely without charge or trial, or kill you if deemed desirable. It is the next step toward tyranny, the very sort that precipitated the American Revolution. And watch the others who claim to love the Constitution so much, like Chief Justice Roberts, when this matter comes before them. This is a litmus test and we are seeing the essential anti-democratic colors of Congress and Obama revealed with this latest.

If the Occupy movement has any legs, it will pick up this critical issue and walk toward a nonviolent New American Evolution. We need to secede (this is not a new idea, especially in places like Vermont, home of our most robust secession movement). Time to care for each other, since the federal government is abdicating that role in favor of enriching the one percent. Really. We don't need a government that steals jobs instead of creating them, that seizes and tears massive chunks out of your paycheck in order to feed those who are already bloated, and which now empowers itself to lock away those it decides are inconveniently opposing those policies or otherwise irritating it. Something is quite, quite wrong and we need to make it right.