Monday, February 28, 2011

Baking a smaller pie

One of our standard tropes in the field of Conflict Resolution is that we conduct the best mediation if we help the parties in conflict "bake a bigger pie." What we mean by this is that perceptions of a fixed pie usually mean a zero-sum, win-lose struggle for more pie per party rather than honest efforts to brainstorm ways to get each party more of what it needs and wants. If, for example, I can give you something that means very little to me but which is dear to you, and in exchange you give me something that is of little import to you but is highly sought by me, we have baked a bigger pie. We each get more of what we want and give up little of consequence.

Now comes the federal budget wars. Time to bake a smaller pie.

Each year the War Resisters League develops a pie chart to show how the federal discretionary budget is spent. It includes all documentation and explanations of calculations, and shows a far more accurate picture of how our income taxes are spent than the standard budget of all federal income and expenses including social security and other trust funds, since both those funds fall outside the discretionary spending category.

What is so maddening about the mass media national discussions about the budget is that there are boundaries to what is discussable. We can chew on cutting home heating for poor elderly but not a Pentagon budget that is lost and wandering, completely obese and out of control. This conversation, however tightly controlled by government sources and corporate media, has not completely fooled the public. A recent study at the University of Maryland reveals that most average Americans are able to correct the federal deficit better than either the White House or Congress. We are taken for fools, but we are not. Oh, we have our misled Tea Party Animals, but most of us get it.

What is missing is that we have not made this a priority, probably because, in the past, gnashing and wailing over the debt and deficit has resulted in some painful cuts followed by prosperity but no massive changes in most of our lives. The politicians have predicted 27 out of the past two recessions and have cried Budget Wolf! so often that we yawn and hope most of the shrapnel misses most of us again.

However. We are actually seeing what happens with enough failure to stop the really massive hemorrhage, the Pentagon spending. Entire sectors of the American economy have plummeted into oblivion or startling lows with no prospects of return. There is no return on the Pentagon dollar because it tends to serve multinational corporations, not the American people. Back when we were a nation of freebooters whose military was used to globalize injustice for the easy profits for American businesses, America's workers and middle class benefited at the expense of the workers of other countries. Multinational corporations have discovered that they could train other countries' workers to do our jobs and have done so. Those jobs are gone forever; American workers are no longer the best or most productive and that is the basic antipathy by Republicans for any of our unions, public or private employed. It is painfully obvious that multinational corporations will shaft American workers faster than they used to, since the workers, they believe, will remain loyal to the war system no matter what. Just pour them some Fox News SpinJuice to wash down that smaller piece of the budget pie and you can redirect them against each other, as usual.

So we'll see how that all works. Can the misinformed continue to hijack our national discourse or will we slowly see the common sense most of us possess implemented at the top? That will depend on civil society here and what we will endure. The pie is smaller and our shift to sustainable simplicity will get out ahead of it or we will see deeper suffering ahead on a diet of poison pie.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

89 years since US women's nonviolent enfranchisement

On 27 February 1922 the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was unanimously upheld by the US Supreme Court, cementing it firmly as a complete victory for a nonviolent campaign waged politically beginning in 1878 and in the streets beginning in 1916 and continuing all during World War I. When an amendment survives a court challenge all the way to the Supremes it also has the solid backing from Congress (two-thirds of both houses) and the states (three-quarters of their legislatures). These legislative hurdles brought the 19th Amendment into being in August 1920. Then a serious and completely unsuccessful court challenge met by unanimity of the court completed that triumvirate.
(Map showing states with full suffrage for women--green--partial suffrage, and no suffrage--red--just prior to passage of 19th Amendment)
How often have we been told, "Yeah, you have your opinion, but you can thank the military for your right to express it and for all your other rights too"? Many times for anyone who challenges militarism in the US. I've heard it for decades and from coast to coast.

Really? Tell that to the women who, during World War I, led by Alice Paul, the Ph.D. Quaker scholar activist, stood in all weather, every day, outside the gates of the White House with banners that asked, "What about democracy at home, Mr. Wilson?" and those women were beaten by uniformed members of the US military. Nonviolence brings liberation despite, not because of, the military. Nonviolence gains and defends our rights despite, not because of, the armed forces.

Movements for liberation have proven that it is a poor tactic to make an enemy of the military no matter which country we consider, but neither should nonviolent actionists be dependent upon nor petrified of the armed forces. Women in Britain threw bricks and broke windows in their campaigns for suffrage and they started their street actions years before the US women. They won their suffrage in 1928, eight years after the American women. So much for the blinding speed of violence versus the slow plod of nonviolence. Turns out that the only thing blinding about violence is literally blinding eye for an eye.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

From Tripoli to Tripoli

Tripoli is a small unincorporated town in northern Wisconsin.


Tripoli is a big city, capital of Libya, and is under siege from an insurrection.

Of course, there is also Tripoli in Lebanon, a city about half the size of Libya's tumultuous capital, but also on the Mediterranean. The Med, a small sea compared to the Atlantic or Pacific, is ringed by Europe, the Middle East and Africa, quite a richly diverse, polluted, busy and contested body of water now and stretching back through history.

In Wisconsin, Tripoli is pronounced TRIPle-eye, and is as rural as you can get, generally quite peaceful, and they do play rocket launches for fun. Seriously.

But Wisconsin in general is experiencing its own insurrection as their new governor attempts to kill off collective bargaining for public employees. Governor Walker is a Tea Party Republican whose goals are not so much to balance the state budget as they are to destroy labor rights. The union essentially offered a package of concessions that would meet all the stated goals of the Republicans but the Republicans in Wisconsin will not rest until they have taken away the right to collective bargaining for public employees. It is no coincidence that this is happening during a recession; indeed, Walker is acting much like the governors of the 1930s in the Upper Great Lakes, who called out the National Guard to quell labor unrest as unions first organized there--in Wisconsin, in 1934, to crush the Kohler strike, specifically.

As a young man I knew that our region's governors had called out the National Guard to suppress labor and I recall talking to one of the Guard members, then retired, and he recalled being incredibly scared and ready to shoot, since strikers were not nonviolent. "I was not even 20 yet and they wanted to kill me, so I was ready to defend myself," he told me. That was in Minnesota, but the story is the same worldwide, then and now. Violence against the armed forces is just about the poorest tactic available to those agitating for social change.

In Tunisia and in Egypt, the contours of the resistance and democratic uprising were nonviolent, with occasional forays into the dysfunction of violence. In Libya, sadly, the resort to violence has been more frequent, and Gaddafi is all too happy to escalate and prolong the battle. He now fears for his life, his troops fear for their lives, and black Africans are being attacked and slaughtered because Arab racism has determined that all black Africans are mercenaries hired by Gaddafi to kill civil society resisters. This spiral is predictably tragic on all sides. Where there is little or no particular commitment to nonviolence nor discipline toward a nonviolent set of means, the means quickly transmogrify to violent battle and targeting based on a presumption of guilt, as we see again and again.

It was quite touching to read recently of the message sent by Kamal Abbas, General Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services in Egypt to the public employee union members of Wisconsin, including the beautiful line, "I want you to know that we stand with you as you stood with us."

And so, from the shores of Tripoli, to the other shores of Tripoli, to the lakeshores and streambanks of yet another Tripoli, the world is learning the lessons of nonviolence and methods of uprising. We harvest what we sow. Gandhi said the means are the ends and this is what we see.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tapping into creativity

Social conflict is both complex and organic, yet consists of identifiable ecological elements. Pruning a conflict by reaching an agreement between contesting parties will produce growth of that conflict elsewhere and once it has been determined where that growth has begun, good management can continue to transform that conflict from destructive to constructive.

Some struggles trend more toward an intense conflict but waged within legitimate bounds and by shared rules. Some conflicts are marked by such a fatigue that all parties are motivated to regard the agreement as an entree to continued progress. Some have known so many atrocities that the slightest spark can shift away from the agreement back to destructive conflict. Some situations reveal ersatz agreements that are really momentary and cynical pauses in ongoing hot conflict aimed at total victory. Some agreements manage to exclude or offend significant parties and thus become the basis for further destructive conflict. Some agreements are imposed as a victor's 'agreement' with vanquished foes, and may eventually produce the re-emergence of a reconstituted adversary.

Two features of a conflict are particularly significant for settlement and subsequent conflict sequences: the adversaries’ goals and the adversaries’ balance of resources (Kriesberg, 2007, p. 296).

This is where nonviolent struggle is so superior. Goals are transparently announced and ultimate goals are not obscured. Thus, Martin Luther King Jr was able to discuss complete freedom for African Americans as the ultimate goal, with incremental, winnable goals that obtained in any campaign. His opponents were not credibly able to say that he wanted African Americans to rule white people, that he wanted the Soviets to invade, or that his goals were at all unreasonable. When violence is used, credibility is damaged because the real goals are not trusted and even unreasonable ultimate goals seem possible.

This then relates to the transparency about the complex of resources at the command of the parties. If a violent force can assassinate key members of an adversary, it is assumed they would and security is mounted to prevent that. Everything is veiled by worst case scenarios. In a nonviolent movement, the worst case is that someone who has ill gotten gains may have to share them, either power or money or access to other resources. Surprise moves are feared and efforts are made to deny the adversary access to his resources. This encourages pre-emption and the descent back to destructive conflict.

We see now the improbability of honest agreements with constructive outcomes for someone like Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, who has been bombing and strafing his own people and who has foreign mercenaries slaughtering demonstrators in the streets. Gaddafi has been ranting death to all who oppose him and these ultimata have effectively precluded negotiation. His removal is virtually the only outcome acceptable to Libyans. On the other hand, even long-ruling strongmen like Hosni Mubarak can negotiate a peaceful transition to the extent they do not physically attack their own people. Mubarak goes to a resort and the army assumes temporary control while Gaddafi paints himself into a smaller and smaller corner. He has generalized the terror and so has generalized his opposition. His isolation is completing itself and his negotiating power is diminishing daily as he refuses to agree to anything except complete victory--which he has already lost.

Conflict resolution and nonviolence are all about creativity; it takes all our energy to brainstorm options that can give everyone enough of what they need. Someday our world will witness nonviolence so massive and disciplined that even morally bankrupt state terrorists like Gaddafi will be able to the wisdom of coming to agreement. We have certainly seen the strong hints of that in the current sea change in the Arab world, which is bound to move south into black Africa to begin to replace rulers who have arrogated decades and $billions to themselves. Tahrir Square and Tunisia have put them all on notice. I'm sure they are all trying to consolidate their resources now, so Horn of Africa and West Africa movements will need to anticipate that learning curve and get out ahead of it. Nonviolence requires step-ahead creativity.

Kriesberg, L. (2007). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ecology of struggle: Permanent change

We frequently hear and may even use phrases such as "settle once and for all," or "permanent agreement," "fix this for good." These may be meant to be metaphorical or tongue-in-cheek hyperbolic, but that seems unclear to many and the package of assumptions affixed to any such thinking should be unpacked and dealt with or nonviolent civil society may gain a bit of awkward power and quickly lose it, inviting unwanted results. In short, the fabulous gain of obtaining an agreement with another party in a conflict is a bit like buying an apple tree with the goal of espaliering it against your sunny south-facing brick wall. Just as training your apple tree to grow flat against the wall takes up to five years of close time-consuming pruning, monitoring, bending, tying, and blossom-picking, so too will your conflict require high maintenance post-agreement or it may grow inevitably back into destructive conflict.

The only permanent reality is change. Even a well made machine eventually rusts--"stainless" steel is not stain-proof. Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis and ecosystem management rely on shifting forces to maintain the appearance of homeostasis, or ecological stability predicated upon self-regulation. Diversity and systemic adjustments are the only constant requirement for best security and stability. If civil society finally discovers and uses its latent power, it will be best served to self-analyze and learn to keep that power in reserve. This is the difference internally between a healthy democracy and one that is more like two corn snakes in an otherwise empty terrarium, eying each other not as mates but as meals. Indeed, this is what we see increasingly in the US democracy, looking like a beta version of something that missed its chance to evolve.

An agreement may help prevent a conflict from deteriorating into a protracted destructive conflict. It can help to settle one contested issue among many or to manage how the conflict is waged. The conflict may escalate moderately and be settled and then escalate constructively again and be settled again repeatedly. The struggle remains within bounds the adversaries regarded as legitimate or as acceptable, oscillating in moderate intensity (Kriesberg, 2007, p. 294).

This constructive conflict that accepts and even requires periodic escalation is the difference between the assertion of a healthy relationship and the passive-aggressive dysfunction we see so often when we believe that we've solved something "once and for all." We are correct with the "once" but incorrect with either "for all time" or "for all parties." This is simply how our infinitely complex human systems operate and they require devotion to process or the process becomes explosive and toxic.

There are always conflict management systems in place or there are accumulating grievances. This axiomatic for a relationship of any kind. We all develop small grievances as we engage in any relationship and there are two places we can put them. One is on our stack of grievances that are openly heading for management. These are going on the agenda and will be handled in a civil and transparent fashion. The others are going into the trash can that never gets emptied, where they attract emotional rats and pathogens, festering and spreading out into other areas, affecting other relationships, and giving a false sense of security, much like recruiting an armed force of the poorest young men and women, training them to kill, and equipping them with a deadly arsenal, as though that will manage conflict. What we see instead is this loots our economy, prevents our growth as a mature society that can engage meaningfully with others, poisons our environment and sets up a dynamic of intimidation and resentment, invasion and resistance, between our society and others.

Agreements are great beginnings. A well constructed agreement is one that provides for adaptive management and one that agrees to devote resources to managing the conflicts that are natural sequelae to any agreement between conflicting parties. A good agreement assumes that constructive escalation is a desirable phase of any nonviolent conflict management systemic design, a safety feature that ensures creativity forever, once and for all, permanently (ha). This is an ecology of peace, a system of dialectical structural nonviolence.

Kriesberg, L. (2007). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spending our way to solvency

Republicans are using a chainsaw to trim the discretionary spending this Year of the Scared Rabbit. One of the ways in which they are saving big money is ending the threat of peace research and conflict resolution training programs for Americans. What if such spending revealed the complete idiocy and ethical bankruptcy of continued armed occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the drone warfare conducted in those nations, Pakistan, and, soon, Yemen and Somalia?

The United States Institute of Peace is not a pacifist organization, nor is it leftwing, but still, in terms of exposing the poor cost/benefit outcomes of funding the Pentagon, it is a clear and present danger, so the Republicans killed lots of fluttering birds with one budget stoning. Looking at USIP as a percentage of the Pentagon budget request (untouchable by Ruling Republicans), we find that USIP is 0.008 percent of the FY11 DoD budget. That's about 0.079 percent of the FY11 State Department budget, or less than 18 cents per American.

Each soldier in Afghanistan costs American taxpayers about $1.2 million per year. Bring 39 of them home and you have the entire budget of the USIP, the only tiny piece of the US budget devoted to seeking alternative methods of conflict management. Put another way, call a pause to the war in Afghanistan for three hours and you've just saved more than the entire USIP budget.

So, it's a very good thing the Republicans are eagle-eyed sharp on this budget, slashing the real threats to corporate profits, such as USIP. Put some of that peace research into play and we might not need about two-thirds of the highly profitable war spending that currently makes certain that the wealthy increase the gap between themselves and the sinking middle class in America. Thanks for watching out for the war profiteers and making sure we continue to fund all bloody US interventions and occupations, Republicans. Under your leadership, we can plot our bright future straight back to a new synthesis of the Great Depression and the McCarthy Era. Outstanding.

Wikileaks lifts fig leaves

The sub rosa quid pro quo character that marks the relationships between MENA monarchies and the succession of the colonial British and imperialist US hegemons is in massive flux currently, thanks to that darn pesky civil society uprising that barely notices borders in the Middle East and North Africa. All parties are in Full Scramble mode, looking for duct tape to fix broken axles and aspirin for organ failure. Deals are proposed and rejected, made and reviewed, and nothing is steady. For the people who have suffered under these nested layers of robber barons, only major reform will prevent more revolutions, and the faces of despots will almost certainly be removed. The very same is true for the outliers who have been hostile to the US but oppressive to their own people. The Arab world is rightfully rejecting the likes of US puppet Hosni Mubarak as it also shakes off fake freedom fighters like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Those band aid bargains, thrown like golden apples at the justifiably enraged crowds, may produce momentary hesitation in reform and revolution, but a great deal will be required to produce eventual stability.

An agreement to settle a conflict may put the fire out for good, but too often it only suppresses the flames and leaves smoldering ashes that later burst into flames. An agreement may contribute to the conflict’s gradual constructive transformation, resulting in a stable and equitable relationship between former enemies. On the other hand, the settlement may turn out to be only a pause in a protracted destructive struggle (Kriesberg, 2007, p. 294).

To begin to understand the long overlord relationships in the region, and thus the long simmering and deepening resentments of the people, we can look to the contrails of the British dominance and then the replacement of American influence saturation. In Bahrain, for instance, the intelligence services were run for decades by a Brit, Col. Ian Henderson, a former British colonial police officer. Of course, Bahrainis knew this, and they knew in principle that the US had effectively taken over that role, but when Wikileaks revealed US diplomatic cables that proved that the current Bahraini head of intelligence, "Khalifa bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, another member of the ruling Sunni royal family, 'unabashedly positions his relationship with the U.S. intelligence community above all others,'" the Shia majority knows by the proven evidence that the oppression they experience is a product of the US. The US 5th Fleet bases in Bahrain and the Pentagon has been the military provider and supplier to the royal Sunni family's military.

These long standing relationships have essentially funded state terror against civil society in all the leftover monarchies propped up by the US. Monarchies are easier to corrupt and control than are messy and shifting democracies, so the US, seeking control over the oil region, has always favored monarchies over democracies in the MENA, whether Arab or Persian, all the while trumpeting the false message that we are everywhere with our military to defend and promote democracy. Democracy is the last thing the US has wanted in that region and is now what the people will finally take, using the only power the militaries cannot defeat, civil society that is determined to be free.

Kriesberg, L. (2007). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Big cost, no benefit

Just like we've been saying all along, the false 'intelligence' used to justify invading Iraq was known then and being more and more confirmed now, with the following bit being the latest:

"I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that, and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."
— Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, aka "Curveball," admitting to WMD lies used to justify the Iraq War

So, Janabi is proud as any four-year-old of his great achievement. I'm sure we'll find the stub someday that shows he got his $million bribe from the neocons in power to lie about this. The disingenuous part, of course, is that only the ignorant believed him then, not the neocons who featured him, not the cowed and subservient intelligence officers and certainly neither men most likely to know, Hans Blix of UNMOVIC and Mohamed ElBaredei of the IAEA. Blix headed the most invasive inspection regime in history and ElBaredei had all true WMD information. They virtually begged Bush and his crime ring not to invade. Now we have the likes of Richard Perle claiming, like Bush ultimately did (after proclaiming his absolute faith in it in order to get into war), that this was an intelligence failure. No, it was a failure of integrity, not knowledge.

Indeed, Blix fought against this asinine and illegal invasion and noted caustically a month or two later, when no WMD were found (see Greenwald's "Uncovered" for much more):
It is somewhat puzzling, I think, that you can have a hundred percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction’s existence and zero certainty about where they are.

But just to note the analysis offered by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall as this thing ramped up, they claimed that Iraqis could do this themselves, using civil society nonviolent uprising. It was a brilliant plan, executed ultimately--by Tunisians, Egyptians, and is underway elsewhere in the Arab world. They had faith in civil society's latent but quite real power then, no matter which society chafed under oppressors--dictators friendly to the US, hostile to the US, military juntas, communist dictators, theocratic dictators, fake democracy dictators--and their analysis was ignored by the left who were against the invasion of Iraq but never have understood nonviolent power. Perhaps the first glimmer of light is appearing to them as Arabs have burst forth to force a tsunami of uprising where few thought they could do it. Students of strategic nonviolence never doubted it. The piece by Ackerman and DuVall, widely ignored then, should be seen as a massive forehead-slapping moment for the US and Iraq and all the critics of nonviolence.

Ackerman, P. & DuVall, J. (2002) With weapons of the will. Sojourners.
Greenwald, R. Uncovered transcript.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

War: The luxury Republicans can afford

The Tea Party is getting its way, jamming their Know Nothing philosophy into the very heart of our representative democracy with a budget out of the House cutting $61 billion from every life-affirming program they could slash. Widows, children, impoverished elders, people with disabilities--every vulnerable class of people we've struggled to protect from ravening marketplace cruelty over the pasts 75 years--the Republicans tell us they are forfeit to the God of War. Congress was kinder to Americans during World War II. The Republicans in control now, for the most part, have never known much but privilege, and have for the most part not lived in a society without at least a minimal safety net. So these brave free marketeers are perfectly prepared to sacrifice an old woman who cannot afford to heat her room or a child who has no health insurance. Who needs Consumer Products Safety? They are sanctimonious about the money that goes to their overlords who profit from war, however. Defense? Can't touch that.

Education for our children? Zap. Protection for our water, air, land and food? Poof. Not to mention the little frills like seeking peaceful methods of conflict management and trying to develop an informed public--the United States Institute of Peace and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are zeroed out with this batch of warmongers who never met a weapons system they wouldn't fund.

Where is the outrage? We need a Gandhi to call a general strike. The shutdown of the government is a great start and it's looking somewhat likely. Shutting down Madison is a fine response to that merciless governor's attack on working people. Let the model spread to the cities with representatives who vote for a budget that doesn't feature massive Pentagon cuts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Taxonomic challenges of struggle

The debate about whether a particular civil society struggle is nonviolent or not is interesting, I suppose--"I'll take Intifadas for $300"--but I think more to the point is attempting to estimate the effects of tactics. Did Egyptians win their struggle (at least this first major phase of it) as a result of, or despite, their relatively minor amount of stone throwing? Did that violence accelerate or retard their advance toward the goal of getting Hosni Mubarak to step down?

First of all, this great struggle will be known historically as a nonviolent uprising. The decision on the typology is fairly settled. So, given that, how will the tactics be understood?

I believe they will be regarded as a very minor departure from a similar display of nonviolence used in Serbia in 2000 and in the Philippines in 1986 and in South Africa in the late 1980s, and throughout the Eastern and Central European Velvet Revolution. I do not believe it will be thought of like either Intifada in Palestine Israel. In those struggles the rocks were pelted at Israeli Defense Force, an occupying armed force. In Egypt, the stones were thrown at attacking thugs paid by or otherwise beholden to Mubarak's machine. The rocks were not hurled at the military. Indeed, the military was treated well and in turn generally treated the civil society uprising with relative courtesy. The difference is significant.

Israelis and Americans reacted negatively to Palestinians winding up and hurling rocks at the heads of IDF troops, especially since Palestinian fighters were also sometimes sniping at the same IDF troops and, it was felt, the suicide bombers who blew up kids at the university or in pizza joints were from the ranks of the stone throwers. True or false, it was a logical assumption.

Everyone understood almost immediately that the aggressive violent attackers in Tahrir Square were the same men seen at past demonstrations and election polling places, intimidating and committing violent acts. They came in swords swinging, pistols drawn and pointed, on horseback or camelback, for heavensake. It was thuggery, organized violent crime, and that was far too obvious. The image of the protesters was not nonviolent when they responded with stones, but everyone sympathized--everyone Egyptian and from the outside. The protesters never claimed to be Gandhian or Quaker nonviolent sufferers. They are Egyptians using strategic liberatory nonviolent civil society struggle and they essentially pushed the pause button on nonviolence to defend themselves with crude projectile objects when they were brutally attacked without provocation by criminals well known to them. This did very little to erode their image as sympathetic to most people domestic and foreign.

The other kerfuffle about how much Gene Sharp affected their struggle is a bit like asking how much the Wright Brothers influenced the Russians as they work on a new jet design. Sharp never claimed his teachings were necessary to do this--otherwise, how did Gandhi manage to achieve what he did, how did MLK do the Civil Rights movement, how did Kwame Nkrumah ever manage his nonviolent liberation of Ghana? All those preceded Sharp's scholarship on the power, methods and dynamics of nonviolence. Sharp is proud of his life's work, as he should be, but he is the last one to claim that anything other than culturally specific and locally led nonviolence will accomplish anything. His teachings have helped and any Egyptian who denies this may live by the Nile but also lives in denial.

We are simply humankind trying to help each other understand this force, this power that is always there, usually latent, normally cloaked, and far more complex than Gandhi or Sharp or Ackerman or Stephan or Schock or Kurtz or Popovic or Presbey or Helvey or True or Chenoweth or Zunes or Nagler or Burrowes or or Boaz or Clark or Cortright or Weber or any of our outstanding analysts can describe. Describing nonviolence is like describing an ecosystem; it is always far more complex than our most intricate explanation and all our complicated exegesis is absolutely helpful and necessary.

War on war

I've lived through the War on Poverty (poverty won), the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese kicked us out of their country), the War on Drugs (drugs prevailed), the Gulf War (Iraqis will eventually get us all out of their country), the War on Terror (up for grabs but the first side to choose nonviolence will win and right now it looks good for the Arab street as they figure out how to outfox all sides in this inane war). While my father's generation virtually worshiped war as the way to manage all conflict, it has been decidedly unimpressive to my generation. Perhaps there are legions of glorious victors of the Great War to Liberate Grenada drinking together across the land, but I haven't heard reports. So I hesitate to call for a declaration of war, but I am just an old fogy who can't help but want to defeat my enemy. We need a War on War.

War already declared that it targets everything we love. War targets our children and our ability to make a living. War targets our families and our very homes. War targets nature and nature will strike back with a fury that will turn humankind into collateral damage. The question is not whether this war should be declared, but whether we should notice that war is waging it and that we are losing.

Listening to the most liberal of national news sources, National Public Radio, is like listening to reports from the campaigns. The European Union, for all its glitches and personality disorders (France on the couch, Italy in the bordello, Greece in anger management therapy), is edging ahead of war in this battle. Africa is gaining. The Arab countries have found a path to defeat the worst of war as they learn to separate the armed forces from the dictators and join them with the people. The US lags.

Republicans and Democrats discuss the budget and the 1,800-pound gorilla squats in the living room, eating off of everyone else's plate, and no one from either party or the mainstream media seems to notice. NPR goes over the painful details of cutting non-defense discretionary spending, which is already losing bone--fat was gone back in the time of the Clintstones, and all muscle was excised in the Bush Junior years. Nothing is left of that budget but pain management and we are watching war strip away that.

From the discussion about non-defense discretionary, the discussion quickly leaps to "entitlements." These are trust funds that are being raided by the most untrustworthy of all humans, the war promoters. Social Security fixed an age old problem of old age and we are now fixing to sacrifice more and more elders to the needs of war. Health care is also being fed to the maw of war and neither party can do much besides cluck their tongues. The Republicans from Richistan are grinning and the Ds are wringing their hands impotently.

At some point, just to show us that they know it is in the room, the NPR interviewers mention the gorilla in passing, calling it politically unfeasible. They may claim, in accordance with the gorilla's rhetoric, that the military gorilla will also be cut. The gorilla smiles and grabs more from other people's plates. He can live with that lie.

So, out of sheer desperation, I am calling for war on war. No one will notice, but I will have the personal satisfaction of making that call. And I know that, as my friend George Crocker once said, "We are going to win, and if we don't, it won't matter, since no one will be around to worry about it." Humankind and war are like host and parasite, host and disease. War has seemed to be like the common cold or a leech to many--a temporary problem that we overcome and get back to good health. But it is actually more like cancer. It will destroy us if we don't race for the cure.

The cure for war is a world of structural nonviolence, from the family to the schools to religion to politics to law enforcement to the economy to all security apparatuses and all social institutions. Like fighting cancer, prevention is key and the cures are many for different types of war. We just need to decide to engage. The rest of the world seems to be ahead of us, and our fate is unclear. Our choice right now is war and that hurts us every day, every month, every year. These choices produced our Great Recession and are fueling the erosion of our base of natural resources. These choices drop us farther behind in the race every time we make them, and the budget reflects yet another year of making exactly the wrong choices.

So I shout this call into the wilderness: time to wage war on war and race for the cure.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Palin to rule planet Earth (a legend in her own mind)

Sarah Palin has announced that "we should not stand" for an Egyptian government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. She courageously made her stand on the Christian Broadcasting Network, virtually guaranteeing that all Muslims who heard her proclamation would be rightfully offended at her disrespect for everyone's freedom except her own and that of her kind. Sarah Palin is in some sort of race to the bottom with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck for the Ugly American Award, given to Beck in 2010, Limbaugh in 2009, and now comes Palin to make a play for gender equality, presumably.

What would Sarah say if a candidate for back-up ruler (vice-president in the US) in another country declared that "we should not stand" for a particular party or candidate or governing group coming to power in the US? If Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister of China, starting spouting about which party the Chinese would "not stand" for, imagine the rhetorical blasts from Palin. There would be crosshairs all over her website and she's be clamoring to go wave our nukes in a circle around China. But she gets to pontificate about what government a completely sovereign state should have, and which kind we "should not stand" for.

When Mohamad ElBaradei claims that there is no worry about the Muslim Brotherhood being the party of jihad, we should relax a little, take a deep breath, and just cheer for the Arab street, which has been valiantly out resisting US puppet Mubarak for more than a week and a half. These brave people have not left and that is simply more courageous than anything Sarah Palin has ever done in her entire entitled life. It's more than Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh (or Sean Hannity, or Tom DeLay, or Dick Cheney, et alia) have done in their benighted existences; it is hardly the mark of a brave person to personally never risk what they expect others to risk.

As the US slides in global stature it is long past the point when we should display just a little humility. We don't rule Earth. We are showing what happens when we decide we do not stand for a particular government; we are botching the two invasions and occupations we've undertaken, they are financially ruining this country, and we are alienating huge swathes of the populations of sovereign citizens all around the world. The uprising in Egypt is theirs, not Sarah's, and it's their country and their government, not hers.

Time for a new path based on equality and humility. We had an embarrassment for president for two full terms in the first decade of this millennium; "we should not stand" for an arrogant attempt to embarrass ourselves again.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Jobs or war profiteering?

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been spending approximately half the military expenditures in the entire world. We see the results--civil society around the world dislikes us more and more and we have hollowed out the US economy, currently breathing on partially collapsed lungs.

What could Oregon's new governor--well, the old governor who sat out a couple of terms and is now back--John Kitzhaber do with $213 million? How many jobs could he create in Oregon, a state with high unemployment and a shortfall?

As it happens, the Institute for Southern Studies notes that $213 million is the amount that Lockheed Martin got last year to deliver 20 F 16 fighter jets to Egypt. This $213 million creates about 2,000 jobs, using a methodology described by a U-Mass Economics study from 2007. These two economists concluded that "spending $1 billion on personal consumption, clean energy, health care, and education will all create significantly more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military." John Kitzhaber might want to lobby our Oregon federal elected officials to vote to stop military aid to Egypt, thus gaining many friends in civil society in Egypt and throughout the Arab world and reducing the antipathy felt by so many Arabs toward the US. Use some of that $1.3 billion in saved military aid to Egypt to instead fuel job creation in Oregon and other states.

What benefits are derived from military aid to Egypt?
  • We get a dictator loyal to the US.
  • We can render suspects to Egypt for torture.
  • US Navy warships can use the Suez Canal.
  • Egypt helps starve and imprison Gaza.
  • Egypt refrains from attacking Israel.

Are these actually benefits?
  • We build up hatred toward the US for propping up dictators. Tear gas, buckshot and other "crowd control" materials are all made in the USA and each victim knows that.
  • We create fanatical enemies when we torture anyone or hand them over for torture.
  • We could draw down the wars, pull back the Navy, and stop relying on the Suez, saving outstanding amounts of US taxpayer funds.
  • If the border opened between Gaza and Egypt based on our cessation of subsidizing it, the Arab world would thank us and Gazans would be treated like actual humans.
  • Egypt knows that attacking Israel is like suicide by cop at the nation-state level.

From a study done by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University:
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would take $2.2 trillion from all levels of government to bring America’s roads, bridges, and water-related infrastructure into a state of good repair.

Ending the sordid relationship between Egypt and the US crafted by Jimmy Carter at Camp David in 1979 would help fund job creation in the US, make many friends where the population has reason to hate us for funding their oppression, and enable more progress on peace in the Middle East. So, why do we continue this? Because the American people have not decided that they are a more powerful and important lobby than the Lockheed Martin and other war profiteering corporations. This is a basic problem for those interested in promoting nonviolence. We will not see it succeed unless we learn to activate that power, that lobby with muscle from civil society. We see brave Egyptians trying right now, paying even the ultimate price. They are uprising. Can we get a rise out of US civil society?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Tunisia and invisibility

What lessons are we beginning to consider as worth learning from the uprising in Tunisia that has prompted such change from the grassroots to the rulers and back again in the Arab world? I doubt we've actually 'learned' much yet, except the advisability of paying attention, not to mainstream assessments of what might be afoot, but to think about the causes and correlates to civil society uprising. I would imagine self-immolations are on the Pay Attention Screen by now. The normal assessment of hot conflict likelihood is tied to indices that are basically relevant to those who carry or command guns. So, for the standard political scientist or CIA analyst, the tea leaves they read told them Tunisia was stable, highly unlikely to experience hot conflict. Boop! Missed the Tunisian Trigger, but thanks for playing!

So, we need a nonviolent civil society science discipline and a Decentral Intelligence Agency if we hope to be out ahead of that curve in the future. By we, I don't mean the intelligence apparatuses (nor apparatchiks) of the nation-states, I mean global civil society, which ought to be tuned in enough to see these things coming over the horizon. There are, of course, individual examples, the lone geniuses whose civil society noses are so sensitive they can sniff it coming long before the rest of us. Johan Galtung has shown that, and Stephen Zunes and a few others in the world of those who study civil society. Thomas Homer-Dixon showed how to set up a systemic set of predictors with regard to environmental or resource conflict, but we need to institutionalize all the Conflict Early Warning Systems in order to facilitate our effectiveness in supporting civil society, civil rights, human rights, nonviolence and justice. The days of US intelligence peremptory credibility should have been long gone since they sort of missed the Philippines nonviolent overthrow in 1986, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and a few other Big Deals, but more importantly is that we of global civil society simply have our own interests that we share and we need to learn to operationalize meeting those interests.

When we begin to learn to see the factors that produce a sort of Tunisia Trigger we can learn to get out ahead, to focus support where support would tend to enable nonviolence and attenuate violence. This ought to be a UN goal and a UN mandate, but the obvious problem is that a United Nations is an organization of nation-states, not a UGCS, a United Global Civil Society. The interests of nation-states are not a great overlap with the interests of civil society and it's almost fatuous to bemoan that. We need to simply see it and create our own parallel institutions that serve our needs. Yes, many of the markers are studied and reported out by the UN and that should make our work a bit easier--what is the Gini coefficient, what are the public health flags, how healthy is civil society in an area, who are the social capitalists, and so forth. But peace and justice by peaceable means as a driving directive is otherwise missing from our structural radar.

It would be a good starting point project if we want a nonviolent world.