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.