Friday, September 30, 2011

Conflict skill #7: Transformation design toward the Holy Grail

In our adversarial culture we are frequently caught up in conflict, whether that is interpersonal or social conflict. It might be spontaneous and avoidable or in our face and threatening. There are steps and theoretical concepts involved in constructing some line of sight from destructive conflict to constructive conflict.

By definition, destructive conflict will hurt at least one party if not all, and implies negative impact on relationships, which will mean a more destructive starting point when the next conflict starts. Think of a deteriorating marriage or think Palestine Israel. The "trash can" of past grievances only festers when destructive conflict is not transformed to constructive conflict.

By definition, constructive conflict is problem-solving, reducing or eliminating losses for all parties, strengthening the possibilities of collaborative learning, building mutual respect if not fondness (this is not about taking vacations together--except in that deteriorating marriage, though that is exactly what some of the Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators did during the Oslo process, a remarkable if ultimately failed bid toward transformation), and possibly even creating a mutually acceptable win-win outcome.

Many conflict analysts describe the underlying issue to many conflicts--even those apparently about nothing but resource distribution--as perceived lack of respect, or disregard for "face" of the other and regard only for face of oneself or one's group. That is the first step toward a transformative conflict management design, then, to assert respect in all transactions, all contacts and contexts, and all characterizations of all parties.

The second step is ceasefire, interrupting violence or verbal attack, and deëscalation.

Third, apply the methods of principled negotiation.

Fourth, agree that in future conflicts there is an appropriate entry point into the transformative system that exists between two people, two groups, or any permutation of conflict parties. Make conflict avoidance a normative negative, even if it only means that the parties register the need to talk but note that current constraints make that a lower priority. Unannounced need to manage conflict--"gunnysacking grievances"--is the path to destructive conflict, passive-aggressive behavior and an unraveling relationship. Why persist in this? The end result is violence of the direct or structural sort and violence prevention is a key aspect of promoting nonviolence.

Each conflict system is unique and requires particularized design. Working out an organizational system of conflict management is a more complex undertaking than a dyadic conflict management agreement ("We agree to devote Sunday dinners to squaring away any conflicts that arise during the week"), often involving special offices and agreed-upon routes of grievance management.
As conflict management systems become commonplace rather than exceptional, society will shift toward nonviolence. This normative change will auger a transformation toward a peace culture and away from a war culture, the Holy Grail of Nonviolence. We can promote this systemic approach in our interpersonal, work, family, community, educational institutions and world lives. It is classic enlightened self-interest.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Conflict skill #6: Conflict forensics

How can we hope to develop our nonviolent effectiveness if we cannot grasp the basics of how conflict works? Failing to understand conflict and then trying to develop solutions is a bit like trying to stare at the inner workings of your computer or phone or watch or television and troubleshoot without a manual, without education, without guidance or instruction. The human mind and heart are not decipherable without learning something about how they function and malfunction. The same is true for groups of humans and their institutions.

We are often taught about handling conflict by our families, teachers, and peers, and we often also emulate what we see in media, even though much of the family instruction is quite idiosyncratic and underinformed. Teachers are not educated often in teaching conflict management, media conflict portrayal is often based on fiction and our peers often repeat the most dysfunctional ideas to us. Each conflict is thus unique, with its own conflict fingerprint.

Parsing out conflict on the individual level is best done by beginning with an understanding of nonviolent communication theory as developed by Marshal Rosenberg, who does a very good and easy-to-understand analysis of how we communicate and create misunderstanding and conflict. Add to that a good grasp of principled negotiation and we can begin to break down the totality of conflict into its elements.

How might this work? Someone says something that offends me and I rise up in anger. Then I turn to nonviolent communication knowledge and I understand that whomever is saying negative things about me might just be correct and I need to accept criticism with grace. Or, if I disagree with them, perhaps I need to ask for clarification and some evidence to try to understand what I've done to provoke them. I know that their message may be influenced by many factors, possibly having nothing much to do with me personally, possibly having to do with other pressures in life, other cultural practices that feel odd to me but normal to them, etc. In other words, until we have more evidence, we suspend judgment and thus the certainty of our response.

Conflict has many causal components, including but not limited to:
  • identity
  • resource competition
  • intercultural value differences
  • revenge
  • personality 
  • conflict industry (status or power)
  • grievance
  • respect
The beginning point of conflict is seldom commonly understood by all parties, that is, each party usually believes the conflict began with the other. The other did or said something that launched a conflict. My behavior is reasonable; your behavior is malicious and part of your nature or culture, inherently bad. When you blame me because I took something, you are wrong because it was legitimate for me to take it. Thus, performing our own objective forensic work on our own conflicts leads to the understanding that we all have a biased beginning, virtually guaranteeing an analysis that is unfair. Learning objectivity is the first step toward conflict forensics that can be accurate and helpful.

From that point on, parsing the causes and effects of components of conflict get increasingly complex. There are many theories and frameworks from which to choose. Dealing with that body of conflict research helps us analyze conflict so that it is broken into units and can be understood in that sort of division of manageable portions. So if I am your boss and I give an order and you don't perform up to my expectations, we have a conflict, but does my analysis include the perception I generate by how I dish out commands? If not, I am performing a poor analysis that will give me poor solutions.

Conflict is a richly productive way to improve our lives or it's a way to bring us all down. It is creative or it is destructive. It is shutting down each other or it is learning from each other. Conflict forensics is infinitely complex and the more complexity we seek to understand, the more conflict is transformed toward the creative side and away from destruction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Conflict skill #5: Facilitation

We have all been in classes or work team meetings or activist meetings or discussion groups or public hearings that have been facilitated poorly and some that have been facilitated well. The difference is agony and satisfaction, annoyance or enthusiasm. A poor facilitator can doom a process and a good one can enliven it.

Sometimes the facilitator seems like the Controller, responding to every comment made by anyone. That is the role of The Teacher and it is what a professor is paid to do and expected to do, though not in a pompous or longwinded fashion. It is not what anyone wants or expects on a work team or in a community forum, unless there is an expert brought in to help us all understand. Sometimes the facilitator seems like a Comforter, a person who makes me unafraid to express myself and interested in others.

What are the functions of a facilitator?

The best facilitator:
  • keeps the conversation focused on the topic at hand.
  • never lets a thread drop.
  • does not allow one blowhard to dominate.
  • draws out the shy ones.
  • moves the discussion forward when needed.
  • lets the discussion dwell when appropriate.
  • assists the group toward wise decision-making.
  • anticipates the end of the time allotted and draws the discussion toward conclusion.
  • allows time at the end for logistics (e.g. setting the next meeting, double-checking on tasks, if any).
  • sums up frequently with active listening to help the group learn collaboratively.
  • watches the nonverbal atmosphere of the individuals and the sense of the group.
  • checks in with the group to determine levels of agreement or dissension, satisfaction or tension.
  • ends the session on time and well.

If you leave the room angry, the facilitator may have done something to irritate you or may have failed to stop others from doing so. There are groups and individuals who make facilitation without annoyance nearly impossible, but a good facilitator can reduce that greatly. The skill bank includes, but it not limited to:
  • setting ground rules for inclusion (varies with the sense of the group and facilitator).
  • moderating gently but firmly.
  • frequently telling the group what it has said or decided ("What I am hearing is...")
  • respectfully insisting on fewer contributions from the most voluble.
  • gently asking for perspectives from the quiet ones.
  • reminding the group of its goal.
  • reminding the group of its time limits.
  • reminding the group of its logistical needs.
  • sensing when a break is needed.

Unless the gathering is a classroom with a professor or a work meeting without an outside facilitator, the facilitator should not express opinion about the content nor say much at all except to function to help the group stay on task and performing well. Even in a working meeting, the facilitator is often the person who has the least to say and who can focus on the group expressing itself.

At the heart of the facilitator challenge is group process, not ego of the individual. It is care for all, not just the bright ones or the garrulous ones. If a group leaves the meeting with more cohesion, that is a strong sign of great facilitation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Conflict skill #4: Strategic planning

Transforming a conflict from destructive to constructive, the heart of nonviolence, is a great thing to do. But it is only going to work, generally, with careful strategic planning. What are the basic elements of a strategic plan?

One, achieve unity.

Two, maintain nonviolent discipline.

Three, be resilient.

Achieving unity with a tiny group of true believers in exactly the vision you have for a solution is fine if you prefer a life of fruitless struggle, or of what Jonathan Schell rejected when he said, "I'm tired of going down in noble defeat." When you build a coalition you don't need to look for your clonal replicates, but rather for all those who can agree on one simple, definable, achievable goal. When we were stopping the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from spraying a Dow chemical, Tordan 10K, in our state forests, we didn't perform litmus tests to make sure that only vegan treehugging organic crunchy granolaheads were standing with us. We lined up with hunters, loggers, the tribes, the trout fisher folk, the trappers and everyone who normally fought against us on some issues and with us on others. Unity on one issue and focus on only that gave us a swift and decisive victory. Plan for this.

When we resisted Honeywell in Minneapolis in the Vietnam War era for their production of anti-personnel (civilian killer) cluster bombs, police agents infiltrated our ranks and were violent. Our leadership was not committed enough to nonviolence to insist that it be maintained. We lost and were effectively disbanded. Some years later we found out via the then-useful Freedom of Information Act (the one Reagan and Bush destroyed and which is now more or less useless) that the police had done this. It's one of the reasons I tell those in any movement who advocate "diversity of tactics" or "violent self-defense" that, "I am sure you are not a police agent, but you may as well be, since this is what our opponents would like us to do." Maintaining nonviolent discipline, as we saw in the Civil Rights movement, in the United Farmworkers movement, in the Philippines, in Serbia and in other places where nonviolence prevailed, is key. You will be tested. It will feel unfair and in fact that is exactly when it is crucial to recommit to that discipline or risk escalation and high costs and loss. Plan for this.
Knowing that you may lose again and again is part of the struggle. If you aren't resilient, that is, if you don't persist and adapt, your loss becomes permanent. Diane Nash, one of the original Sit-In Kids in the South, told author David Halberstam that they were always trying to anticipate what the possibilities and obstacles and potential solutions might be as they proceeded. Cesar Chavez said that each step forward, as they held the candle of freedom, lighted the way for the next step. The analytics and realistic alternative plans will help you face difficulties together much less hysterically with more disciplined assurance. Plan for this.

Plan to create and defend your image.
Plan to raise all necessary funds.
Plan to recruit internally and externally.
Plan to support your participants.
Plan to win.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Conflict skill #3: Mediation

Some people envisage a career in Conflict Resolution as either volunteer or minimum wage, a labor of love based on value affinity with transforming destructive conflict into constructive conflict and making for a better, happier, more just and less bloody world. That is indeed very often the case. We are a field of true believers in living lives toward the common good, even if it redounds poorly upon our career or earning capacities. I remember transitioning from construction work to community organizing and it was a financial downshift that I would not have been able to handle while I was a single parent, but finally made my full time move and learned to live with much less.

However, professional public policy mediators who handle cases with multiple parties with overlapping jurisdictions and a welter of interests, positions, parties, laws, environmental considerations and a litigious society, these professionals can make quite a good living, certainly far more than my little fixed-term faculty position at a state university in a state with a nearly nonexistent taxpayer support for public universities. My friend who does such public policy mediations will earn far more than most tenured full professors because--why?--because she saves the parties so much in legal billable hours. She assesses the conflict in detail, determines what the interests are for each party, learns about their fallback positions (best alternative to a negotiated solution, or BATNA), and she brings them through a process that results in a legal agreement created by the parties together and that is constructed to maximize gain for each party while minimizing loss and reducing or eliminating resentment and desire for revenge.

This is not easy work. Mediation is practiced in various ways by various professionals and there is no cookie cutter approach, but mediation can simply be the process of facilitating principled negotiation.

So, one path to mediation is to follow this procedural sequence:
  • assessment
  • gathering the parties
  • establishing groundrules for participation
  • eliciting everyone's story
  • brainstorming options
  • agreement on fair standards
  • synthesizing potential agreements
  • evaluation
  • final negotiation of voluntary agreement
  • signed agreement
Mediation can happen between family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers, intra-institutionally, in the community, and in larger collectives all the way to transnationally and internationally. The stronger the mediation skills and the stronger the commitment and motivation toward a mediated agreement of the parties, the more successful and sustainable the final agreement.

Mediation requires recognition of the conflict industry elements that exist in almost all conflicts, that is, the parties that tend to benefit from ongoing conflict, and that open conversation and acknowledgment helps the parties to craft a much more realistic agreement that can withstand the pressures brought to bear by those who profit, whether they are lawyers who can earn more by appealing cases to higher and higher courts or whether they are ambitious fighters who wish to portray themselves as the champions of those who need their protection. War profiteers of all sorts must be identified or they will contaminate and eventually unravel the process, even if they are apparently working for the good of all. In other words, the coalition of those who would most benefit from an end or radical reduction of a conflict need to be the parties pushing the process forward and need to devise safeguards to protect everyone from "the protectors."

Thus, mediation is a unique combination of careful, respectful diplomacy and crucial transparency. Individuals who thrive on problem solving rather than dramatic battles for victory over someone are more likely to be drawn to mediation. Still, there is no mutual exclusivity. Sometimes mediation will reveal the necessity for ongoing struggle, but the mediator's work is to gradually convince everyone to shift from battling each other to battling the problem together.

This is all easily said and is very tough work. Reaching a good mediated agreement saves much more destruction, usually, than it gains for each party. Understanding this is why smart people choose mediation and why really smart people become mediators. Mediators who work hard for a positive peace outcome are some of the most competent creators of what we might call enlightened self-interest for all.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Conflict skill #2: Principled negotiation

We all negotiate every day. We come in three basic models.

Some of us are Minnesota Friendly soft accommodaters who give in so that we can (we think) preserve our great relationships (OK, so Jesse Ventura and Michelle Bachmann have destroyed that image). We surrender to make nice.

Some of us are Louisville Sluggers who regard anything other than ultimata to be clear and present danger signs of weakness. We get elected to Congress nowadays and grind the economy and the government to a dead halt. No deals! Our way or the (rapidly crumbling) highway.

Some of us strive for an alternative to either of these styles. Fortunately, these bookending dysfunctional approaches of negotiation have been easily and blessedly surpassed by Principled Negotiation, the heart of a little book first published in 1981called Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in, by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

The method is four basic parts:
  • Separate the people from the problem.
  • Focus on interests, not positions.
  • Invent options for mutual gain.
  • Insist on using objective criteria.

Try it. Next time you are in a conflict, instead of emulating Caveman Obama (caving every time the Republicans shout 'Shut It Down!'), be assertive. Or, instead copying Dubya the Decider by telling your opponent that he's either with you or with the terrorists, see if you can reframe the conflict as a problem for both of you, which should be easy, since that's exactly what it is.

Then let your opponent know what you really want, not your unalterable position ("It's not that I want your people to die, I just want my people protected"). A position is "Kill them." An interest is "Protect my children from danger." Find out what your opponent's actual interest is ("It's not that I want your people to die, I just want my people protected"). Sometimes it's a radically different position but a very closely related interest.

Then find options for mutual gain--this is actually a much longer process than a Quick Fixer might like. Take a bit of time and actually explore, brainstorm, see about all the wild ideas and then evaluate them by two criteria, fairness and practicality.

When you seek fair independent standards you do so together. The law, a mutually respected authority, or some negotiated standard is the filter through which all solutions must successfully pass.

Really. This stuff works. Give it a go. It works on the street and it works in the suites. Some say principled negotiation is a conflict causation theory in competition with other theories, and that is one helpful view, but in fact principled negotiation can help us in conflicts with very different etiologies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conflict skill 1: Deëscalation

In the great documentary The Interrupters, Ameena Matthews describes her inner escalation during her desperado years--coming out of her segregated gangland neighborhood with no real opportunities for much beyond hustling in a nearly lawless environment--as going from zero to full rage in 30 seconds.

All of us have seen that happen, many of us have experienced that, and it goes to understanding our emotional triggers and those of others. What are the techniques of deëscalation, then, that might help in those dicey situations? If we can learn to have a positive effect on that sort of episode, we can apply deëscalation skills to many other situations that might appear to suddenly erupt in our world.

One of the responses that is never advised is: "Calm down." The response to that is likely to be a bellowed, "I AM CALM!" Why? Because if I do that to an enraged person I have shown no appreciation for why that person's triggers have been pulled. I am patronizing and that only increases the frustration and, very quickly, the rage. If I was not one of the targets of that person's rage before, I am one now.

The efficacy of deëscalation is something many of us have experienced first-hand and some have studied it professionally.

Alison Mueller, as part of her graduate practicum at Nova Southeastern in 1995, designed and implemented a series of verbal deëscalation trainings for staff working with young children in an agency. In her report, she noted that not only did staff use physical containment or restraint much less, the incidence of aggressive behavior in the children decreased.

Stopping the escalation from zero to full rage is like much of nonviolence, that is, using the force of the aggressor to effect the transformation. Rather than rising up against someone who is quickly losing his or her temper, use what is known in the world of nonviolence as psychological jiu jitsu, which in this case is most often most effectively done by pulling on it, i.e., validating that escalation rather than pushing back. Pulling it forward by eliciting information rather than pushing against it by issuing information is far more effective in most cases.

Tell me more about this. I'm interested. I want to know the sources of your anger. What is frustrating you? OK, can you tell me more? Ask a follow-up question. Show you hear. Show you are participating. Show the person whose opinion has been so ignored and trampled over that, for once, s/he is being actively heard. You don't have to say, "I care." Your inquiries will show that you do.

Of course, there is much more to deëscalation, and one might learn a raft of such skills by reading, by attending trainings and by engaging in minor deëscalation and roleplays. Practice this with family and friends, co-workers and fellow activists. Many of us tend to escalate and learning how to deëscalate others can help us on our own journey, with our own problematic behavior. I will testify to that. I need training frequently. I think many of us do. And if we can proliferate that training with realism and humility, we can change our culture.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

10 conflict competencies

Whether you are a nonviolent activist or employed in the public, private or nonprofit sector, you need these ten skills to be the best you can be. No one is perfect at all of them, but the most effective people and organizations never stop working to improve.

1. De-escalation. When tempers are flaring, who will damp down the fires and help everyone work together?

2. Principled negotiation. In a fight for power, control, autonomy, resources or rights, this is the basic method that reduces asymmetry and achieves more fairness.

3. Mediation. Here is humankind at its problem-solving best, helping the parties achieve a satisfactory outcome everyone can live with.

4. Strategic planning. Organizations form to achieve something and need help in developing an adaptive plan to make that happen.

5. Facilitation. From a simple meeting to a complex controversy, there are techniques to help the event go smoothly.

6. Conflict forensics. Analyzing conflict is a major step in how we can understand the factors that cost us.

7. Conflict transformation system design. Constructing a hypothetical program to turn around a destructive conflict is important in an adversarial culture.

8. Intercultural communication. All conflict is intercultural. We are all a member of multiple cultures. Translating from one culture to the next--whether it's a translation from Uzbek custom to American practice or learning gender sensitivity in messaging--is as important to conflict management as bringing the correct fittings and adapters is to plumbing.

9. Nonviolent communication. This is a set of skills that avoid traps and escalation into destruction, based on ownership of one's responses and respect for others.

10. Reconciliation. Whether reconciling ourselves or assisting others to do so, this is how we push that reset button and reboot relationships, again and again, in order to simply work together.

This set of skills takes education, training, drilling, reflection and refinement. It is the most ignored set of skills in most organizations and many organizational failures can be traced to a failure to develop these competencies in organizational members. Take that precious time from the daily nuts and bolts of your business to learn and improve this constellation of conflict skills and the sustainability and stability of your organization will escalate, instead of the destructive conflict that stops so much good work.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Revolt bubbling along

What is the correlation, if any, of income disparity to rebellion, revolution, insurgency and civil society unrest? We can look at a map of the world by color-coded representations of income inequality (Gini coefficient) and say--what? That it is a factor, but not the dispositive variable.
China and the US have more income inequality than the other northern temperate nations, from Canada to Kazakhstan (and Australia). Indeed, China and the US are more unequal, internally, than India, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan or Algeria, never mind northern and western Europe. Clearly, this factor is only one contributory cause of social upheaval, not the one that decides the fate of a nation.

Still, dissatisfaction is increasing alongside poverty, homelessness and foreclosures and unemployment in the US. Looking at the list of how the most well off 10 percent of a nation's populace by income compares with the poorest 10 percent by income, the US is very unequal, and in fact places right between Nepal and Cote d'Ivore, two nations experiencing violent revolution very recently. Increasing nonviolence trainings and education is a prescribed inoculant from now on.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Secret of Richistan: We want unemployment

The simplest, most helpful definition of positive peace is "peace and justice by peaceable means." This is a better definition than the far longer and more contextualizing definitions of Johan Galtung and others, since it's easy to remember and it is accurate. It means that we fight for justice using peaceable means, which falls within the clear framework of positive peace. Fighting for justice with violence is how the empire frames peace. Fighting against a particular war with violence is how some 'progressives' frame peace. Both are misleading.

Linking justice to peace in this way also helps, since justice is almost always the rationale presented for violence from any side, whether the insurgent religious/ethnic/identity party or the hegemonic nation-state. "We are defending freedom." "We are seeking justice." "Their attack demands justice." "We only use defensive violence."

Hiding the real agenda is how injustice and violence alike are promulgated. In the case of the dominant culture in any society that uses violence to enforce its laws, more spin is used to mask the intent of the ruling class, which means that speculation is a matter of investigation.

For instance, why do Republicans favor privatization of all the functions we used to hope the government might assume?

The answer is fairly obvious: Privatizing government functions allows for profiteering, which is what Republicans are best at. It means that few jobs are created, since profiteers are against full employment for two related reasons. One, spreading wealth amongst more people means less wealth and power for the elites. Two, a large unemployed class will keep unions weak and competition for scarce jobs strong, thus keeping the market much more profitable for elites who offer low wages and limited or no benefits--if jobs are easy to find, more workers can use collective bargaining to get a more equal share.

This produces the other sort of violence: structural violence, which is the maintenance of structures of inequality and exploitation by the use or threat of violence. The threat of  violence is best effected within a system by passing laws that favor elites and then using violent law enforcement to maintain injustice. This is why insurgents who use violence hate the police so much and regard the police as lackeys, inseparable from the elites, but it presents an opportunity for challengers who use nonviolence, as they work to separate the violent enforcers of unjust laws from those who profit from that injustice.

As an observer of US politics, then, who grew up in an era when the Democrats were the party of the working person, it is troubling to start to learn the particulars of the Obama proposal to create jobs. It is almost all about profiteering and privatization. Rather than a public works project that rebuilds infrastructure as a government project that keeps costs low and creates many jobs, this plan hands over the money, for the most part, to yet another set of contractors who will create as few jobs as possible in order to keep their profits high. This screws the taxpayer yet again and puts relatively few people back to work, even as it produces what is essentially 'lemon socialism," "welfare for the rich," best described as "privatize profits, socialize losses."

We are approaching the day, or perhaps we are there already, when there is no viable political party for average working Americans. This is why we find inchoate responses from the right--e.g. the Know Nothings in the Tea Party or in the Rick Perry "Hate Higher Ed" camp (this is a guy who earned mostly Cs or Ds at Texas A & M)--or sullen despair from the left, as those who identify the Ds with the common person slowly give up on that now righteously ridiculed Obama-word, hope.

If we want justice, we will collaborate for peace, that is, massive demilitarization and all the radical savings that will generate. If we want peace, we will work for justice, that is, an end to the theft of taxpayers' hard-earned wages and salaries into the overstuffed pockets of the owner class as they hijack all the political responses from both parties. At some point, the increasing poverty and its manifestations in higher unemployment and shredded social safety net (homelessness, denial of medical care, extreme debt for education) will produce real rebellion. Our task on the nonviolent side is to help with the methods, to help that rebellion learn and use the best and most effective, least destructive nonviolent strategies and tactics. This will produce the most gain and the least pain for Americans and it's what we can offer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's only natural: Violence and corruption or peace and life?

The blowback never stops. We fund the Taliban in the 1980s and they harbor al Qaida, leading to 9.11.01. We fund the armed rebellion to overthrow Qaddafi knowing that a wing of that rebellion is associated with al Qaida. And we paid tens of $millions to the Taliban last year so they would let some of the supply trucks through in Afghanistan, money that was then used to arm Taliban fighters who kill Americans--and the military plans to do it all over again in the coming year.

Violence. What a great method of conflict management. It's the only practical plan when confronted with unreasonable people, right? It works for Rocky, Jean Claude von Damme, and the Terminator and it has always worked for us--except when it hasn't.

Violence was a giant loser in the war of my generation, the war the US lost in Vietnam.

Violence was a total loser when racists from the Deep South punished African Americans for their uppity ways in the Civil Rights movement.

Violence was a complete failure when many African Americans lost their nonviolent discipline and changed the Civil Rights movement--based on nonviolence and inclusivity--to the Black Power movement, rooted in rioting and violent self defense and based in hatred.

Violence can force compliance if enough of it is applied on a permanent basis. Great. What a sustainable solution that is. Israel occupies Palestine. China occupies Tibet. The US occupies Iraq and Afghanistan. All this is done through violence and requires permanent application of violence to maintain. Without US military aid, Israel would have been unable to do this and would have needed to negotiate in good faith. Next week in the UN we will see the results, as Palestine seeks recognition as a sovereign nation, albeit under occupation or siege.

And the new world order that the US has been attempting to impose by violence is about to give way to a very different newer world order that either relies on nonviolence or a new world chaos that sticks with the old trusted method of destroying lives and property in order to make others do our bidding.

Violence is Just So Olde Millennium.

Nonviolence is the Way of the New Millennium. 21 is the age of adulthood, if not real maturity. The 21st century is the Age of Nonviolence as we struggle toward a mature culture. It's the Age of Reason 2.0 and reasonable societies learn to resolve their differences using nonviolent methods. This is the difference between the New Scarcity or the New Stable Sustainability, not based on stasis, but on a new ecomind, as Frances Moore Lappé describes in her new book by that name, about which she spoke at Portland State University.

Lappé notes that ecology is about living relationships, not a dead static tableau. We live on a planet of enough if we are smart enough. She says we are already good enough, and if we avoid the thought traps of defeatism we can outsmart our old mechanistic selves and synthesize the old indigenous with the new appropriate tech. It comes down to avoiding the trap of certainty. I know we've reached ecological disaster. I know we will collapse of our own militaristic inflexibility. Or, on the other hand, I know God will save us. I know that Mother Nature will be fine. She says to go from the certain victory or certain defeat to "This is possible." Indeed, she calls herself a "possiblist."

How can we stop our insane bloodletting in Afghanistan and our fiscal hemorrhage to both sides of all these wars of occupation? Listen to Lappé. Refocus on sustainable ecological thought process. As John Muir wrote a century ago, When I pick up anything I find it hitched to everything else in the universe, and as Aldo Leopold titled one of his bellwether essays that augered his Land Ethic, "Thinking like a mountain." Lappé is telling us to think like life, like ever-growing, shifting, changing relationships rather than like a frozen moment.

If we do, the world will shift to nonviolence rather than lurching and staggering under the weight of violence.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The B word rises again

When civil society rises up, the US government has some choices, most of which are available, and they all have costs and benefits:

US response to civil society uprising
accusations of collusion with oppressor
nothing provable
rhetorical support
accusations of moral abdication
citable support
$ to nonviolent CSOs
contamination of resistance with US meddling
citable and efficient
military support
  • ·         blowback
  • ·         costs to US taxpayer
profits for war profiteers

And so, here we are with Libya, a bit like another Afghanistan waiting to happen, since we backed the military uprising and Islamists are now emerging as the leadership, including allies with al-Qaida. Though Chalmers Johnson is an expert on blowback and says it only applies to covert ops, I think that definition has morphed and we can apply it now to the overt Libyan mess.

Reagan gave military support to the Taliban, al-Qaida and the other mujahedeen in Afghanistan, $hundreds of millions every year in the 1980s. Thanks for your role in setting up 9.11.01, Ronnie (didn't hear about that at Ground Zero ceremonies, did we?). Clinton gave tiny amounts of financial support (ca. $25 million) to the nonviolent resistance in Serbia (after his failed $billions in a 78-day military attack). Obama did almost nothing for anyone except the armed Libyan rebellion. Brilliant.

As ever, backing the nonviolent horse will give the best sustainable results. Are Obama's advisers so clueless? Is the CIA urging this sort of ahistorical analysis and action? Meanwhile, US-friendly oppressors, such as the royals in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, continue to get away with murder of--oh, that's right--civilians, the ones Obomber said he was protecting in Libya. The only hope of replacing the state terrorist Qaddafi with a decent Libyan government was by using the financial aid to civil society organizations that Clinton used in the 2000 Serb case. That was a victory, but the war machine thrives on conflict. Now more of that promises to emanate from the "new" Libya, which will look a lot like the old Libya, only possibly worse.

It is one thing for the spooks to miss the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ben Ali and Mubarak. They just don't get nonviolence. It is another thing for them to fail utterly to learn and to continue the military model that has multiple costs in the short and long terms.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Insurgency: Think globally, finance locally

Rene Dubois famously told us to 'think globally, act locally.' This dictum was meant to help us be more sustainable ecologically, and can be adapted to our insurgencies, as Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) tell us, “Insurgencies that obtain resources from elsewhere—such as from natural resource deposits or foreign donors—are much more likely to abuse the local population, thus undermining the ultimate goals of the insurgency” (p.55).

When we also consider the relative cost of violent uprising v nonviolent civil society resistance, we can predict that, generally, having few marketable, exportable valuable resources might make nonviolence more likely.

Bannon and Collier (2003) affirm that certainly having rich natural resources favors violence: "Violent secessionist movements are statistically much more likely if the country has valuable natural resources, with oil being especially dangerous" (p. 5).

These are not immutable rules, just probabilities. We see the results in the last year, certainly, though not perfectly. The countries with the most civil strife that also have rich natural resources--Libya is the salient example--tend to get outside financing for the rebellion. Nations without much fungible natural resource booty--e.g., Egypt--are on their own and tend to be more reliant upon nonviolence. This is not a perfect predictor, but is a variable of importance.

Even Hollywood gets at least some of this. In the film The International, the evil banks are financing an African warlord who, sure enough, tosses over his nation's government, and is then in debt to the bankrollers who expect considerations when it comes to cheap human and natural resources. The banker is explicit in a confessional conversation when he notes that, "whoever controls the debt, controls everything.” The other relevant filmic moment is from the 2006 movie Blood Diamond, when an African village is laid waste by a battle and an elder later comments that it is terrible, but just imagine how much worse if they had oil.

And so we are challenged in the field of conflict forensics to understand the infinite variables in their particular contexts so that we can try to promote a transformation to nonviolence. That has become the paramount project for all who would attempt to help prevent the bloodshed that accompanies too many of our human activities in this era of rising population, diminishing resources, globalized arms production and corrupt financing. It is a very big challenge and loss is not an option unless a terrible crash of human society is an option. Nonviolence is our only hope and studying its openings and opportunities is our duty.


Bannon, Ian and Collier, Paul (Eds.) (2003). Natural resources and violent conflict: Options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank.
Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dialog v debate: Retraining the Old Dawgs

My father began to tell me as a boy, at the conclusion of an argument between us, that, "You are going to be a lawyer." I probably lost the argument, but he wanted to at least acknowledge that I scored a few debating points on my road to defeat.

As I grew up, the value of debating skills was high. Entering the world of activism at age 17, I learned quickly that the adversarial approach was favored, capping on your opponent was how you won, and all the old war stories from the elders who learned to organize in the Great Depression centered on beating your opponent into submission, rhetorically. Of course, I carried these lessons into my community organizing.

Maturation is a process. Mostly, it's related to a combination of experience, education and helpful mentorship from those with different experience and education. American males often struggle to mature, and I am certainly no exception. Learning another way and letting go of the old are tricky steps, requiring admission of error and in some ways starting all over. I have needed to do this around the question of debate and dialog, which goes to the essential difference between adversarial community action and principled negotiation-based approaches.

Debate is a zero-sum activity at best. One winner at the most, sometimes multiple losers.

Dialog can construct a win-win outcome.

Debate tries to shut down the opponent's story.

Dialog elicits more about the opponent's story.

Debate listens only to probe for weaknesses in order to plan attack.

Dialog listens compassionately, using critical thinking but also seeks problem solving with empathy.

All the elements of dialog strengthen collaborative nonviolent conflict management.

All the elements of debate divide and weaken nonviolent conflict management.

There's much more, with thanks to Shelly Berman of the Boston chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility.

Watching a messy, fractious, mean debate, such as Bill O'Reilly and Bill Maher, isn't even entertaining, let alone enlightening. Watching Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly kid each other as much as spar is at least entertaining, even if no clear victor emerges with the other's head on a metaphorical pike.

Does this mean we never fight? No, it means we fight for fairness using fair methods, we fight for compassion in a compassionate fashion, we fight for inclusivity using inclusive strategies and we fight for sustainability using a process that acknowledges and best prepares for a sustained partnership, not a new regime of power-over.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Now comes the unindicted war criminal

Condoleeza Rice is coming to Portland to deliver a keynote address at a Portland State University function this October 19. She was part of the team of top officials who told lie after lie to persuade the American people to allow her boss, Bush, to order the illegal invasion of Iraq. International law expert Francis Boyle has filed charges against six officials, including Rice, for ordering rendition and, ultimately, torture. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom supports Boyle's filing in a story in their newsletter (p. 18).

The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice team made sure that the US 'unsigned' the Rome Treaty--joining Sudan and Israel in that gesture--that created the International Criminal Court (which currently has 116 of the 193 UN member states as ratified signatories), so it is unlikely that Boyle's filing will result in any trial for war crimes or crimes against humanity, but that only shows, again, that the US is in the minority who refuses to prosecute war crimes if they are done by top US officials.

What I haven't found out is whether Dr. Rice will get an honorarium. If not, I support her appearance, especially if she will dialog with others who wish to respectfully question her about her activities on the world stage. If so, I am aghast. To pay money from a university that struggles financially every year to bring in someone who helped engineer a war and justified torture is beyond reason to me.

Decade race to the bottom

On September 11, 2001 I was teaching an 8 a.m. class at Pacific University, just for that semester for a colleague on sabbatical, which meant that, since I teach on the West Coast of the US, the attacks of terrorists had already happened but news was confused and incredible. Students burst in before class and told me to turn on the TV. I said, well, it's rigged to a video cassette player and has no actual TV reception.

During the next two hour class session the Dean stopped by twice to update everyone and students challenged me to tell them what a nonviolent response might be, since I was teaching an intro course in Peace Studies and had told them that nonviolence was the starting point in our field. I told them that I would have to think more about it, but that two things struck me right away. One, a massive humanitarian aid response to the poorest peoples on Earth would be better than a military response, since we would need to show that our strength was meant to help, not hurt, others. Two, I told them, better watch out for your civil liberties because they are now under threat.

After that I went on the hunt for information and guidance, received a mix of both from the activist community and the academic community alike, and produced the first book that went to that theme, titled Nonviolent response to terrorism. I've since produced chapters for other, more scholarly and more complete volumes on that general topic. Upon reflection, I stand by everything I wrote those years ago and, in fact, I now believe the course taken by the US government has been so disastrous it would be hard to imagine a more dysfunctional response. It took George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell and that set of GWOT arch-criminal architects to make me look smarter than I really am.

The United States was attacked on 9.11.01 and the Taliban offered to negotiate about bin Laden, which George Bush refused to do. If he had just been a calm and statesmanlike leader, the US would have been so much better served. We came out of the Clinton era in outstanding financial shape, into an era of national prosperity. The global war on terror was a choice, not something forced upon us, as the neocons claimed and pretty much everyone seems to accept as received wisdom now, though up to that point terrorism to the US had been a matter of law enforcement for the most part, certainly not a boots-on-the-ground military response.

It has been a decade of the most adversarial, retributive, bloody, costly response to a heinous crime, and the lives lost now dwarf the number taken by the outlaw al Qa'ida criminals on 9.11.01. It cost the terrorists 19 lives and less than $5,000 (they claim, though the figure had to be much higher). The response has cost the US literally about six orders of magnitude more in dollars we don't have (financed by a great deal of China's purchase of US Treasury bills, ironically) and has cost Afghanistan and Iraq enormously.

What a poor response. I am not a brilliant thinker, but it doesn't take one to come up with a far better response to the criminals of al Qa'ida. If we continue without learning basic lessons from a decade of this rotten road, what does that say about our hopes for the future of the US? More people are recognizing this dysfunction and beginning to think more creatively about it. After so much destruction, I am hopeful that, indeed, the response is finally creative.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Prospect theory and the presidency

Barack Obama, many say, has no chance for re-election. This may be accurate, gauging by his approval ratings and the erosion of his base as his message of hope wears thinner by the day, shading into despair for more and more who lose homes, lose jobs, lose health care and lose educational opportunities.

His only hope in this snapshot moment--which will change, no doubt, over the coming 18 months before the next election--is what psychology researchers call the prospect theory, that is, our alternative may not be perfect, but it's far better than the near certain disasters which will occur if we choose any of the other alternatives. Yes, it's far more technical and complex, but this is one rudimentary application of the theory to political reality and messaging. As theory co-founder Daniel Kahneman puts it, "people hate losing much more than they like winning," adding that people can also be "delusional" about chances for victory--which he also describes as "the emotional tail wags the rational dog," which is the countervailing force, of course.

At this time, a Democratic primary opponent of serious challenging consequence and a truly threatening third party candidate seem outside probable consideration, though that could change. We are left to wonder how Obama would most effectively frame a campaign against his Republican opponent, who might be Perry or Romney, based on what has occurred to date--again, subject to wild revisions over the next period.

Romney poses the most serious threat to Obama from the prospect theory standpoint, since they each can employ it against each other, but neither is likely to gain a huge advantage solely with that approach.

But Rick Perry, clearly radically different than Barack Obama in so many fundamental ways, would almost mandate such an approach and Obama's campaign would either succeed in that way or prove to the world that America is losing its grip on reality, losing its status as a nation interested in human rights, and becoming just another theocratic, retributive regime with its limbic system wagging it cognition.

Big advances toward a peace system under this scenario are unlikely at the national level. While weighing in at that level is always valuable, it seems to me that our biggest opportunities for systemic change will be at the local and state level for some time to come.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Bipolar disorder and the cave man

Jobs. Watching the 33-minute speech President Obama gave was more of the same. He threw out offering after offering to corporate America, including tax cuts for businesses. His vague talk about creating jobs was accompanied by no estimates of how many would be created and what that might do to the unemployment rate.

His rhetoric about producing some help for Americans drew obligatory ovations from Democrats and virtual sit-down silence from Republican House and Senate members glaring at him with near murderous hostility--these people should think about how they look when the camera zooms in on them at critical moments. Some oozed a porcine self-satisfaction that makes us absolutely understand how we have come to regard Congress as a combination of snake oil salesmen and shills for elite interests.

The most telling moment was when Obama called for "reform" for Medicare, which is to say, cut benefits to elderly Americans who have worked hard all their lives and who have earned all the health care they get. For his willingness to throw more senior citizens under the bus, he finally got his standing ovation from the Republican side of the aisle.

These people are shameless.

It was a highly nationalistic speech, fawning over veterans (the other time Republicans stood to applaud), repeatedly focusing on private sector, private sector, private sector. The only public works done by government employees he mentioned were rehiring some teachers and some kids in the summer.

Nothing substantive, nothing really different, then, in this speech, except his surrender to Republican demands to cut Medicare. When we said we need a real cave man who will fight for a massive and immediate jobs bill that will put millions of Americans back to work (not the "thousands" he mentioned) we didn't mean someone who caves to the party of the corporado elites.

While some of his rhetoric was strong, each time it really challenged the Republican undivided loyalty to the owner class you could feel the chill and hear the derisive laughs and murmurs of opposition from the rightwing. He claimed he would preserve environmental and health regulations, even though he has just weakened them. He claimed he would defend collective bargaining rights. I wonder what public sector employees in Wisconsin feel about that.

So we shall see about the particulars of the American Jobs Act, long overdue and sounding relatively insipid, and we will see how Republicans fashion their opposition. I may not have faith in Obama's abilities to do much for the average American, but I do have faith that Republicans will revert to type and launch bitter attacks on every element of his proposal. The parts of it that benefit average Americans will be labeled as class warfare and unwanted spending. The parts that benefit their patrons from Richistan will not be--burp--enough.

It is times like these I reflect on The Tao of Lily Tomlin:

I try to be cynical, but I can't keep up.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

From the "Loose nukes? I wouldn't worry" Dept.

The US Government General Accountability Office looks at governmental functions, budgets, results, efficiencies, potential problems and impacts. They issue a substantial number of reports on a nearly infinite array of topics. These are available to the citizenry, normally, and we wish Congress would actually pay some attention to some of the more alarming findings. Today, 8 September 2011, is one of those times. From one of the GAO reports issued today:

DOE, NRC, and State are not able to fully account for U.S. nuclear material overseas that is subject to nuclear cooperation agreement terms because the agreements do not stipulate systematic reporting of such information, and there is no U.S. policy to pursue or obtain such information.

How is that for bureaucratic buck-passing? This is not the first time the government has noted missing or otherwise unaccounted for nuclear weapons materiel, specifically including highly enriched weapons-grade uranium and weapon-usable separated plutonium, with 1,160 kilograms gone missing. Since a kilo of PU can kill a maximum of just 2.5 million people, there is probably only enough out there to kill all humans on just this one planet. Easy to ignore until a loved one gets cancer or gives birth to a radiation-contaminated and mutated fetus.
When will we begin the citizen shutdown of this arsenal that has no moral, humane, military, national security or any other 21st century role except that of state terrorism? The Republicans, in their infinite wisdom, are cutting the nuclear proliferation oversight budget while making strange deals to actually increase funding for nuclear weapons. This Wild West feckless reckless approach is precisely backward from what might enhance our national security.

But what would we do without nuclear weapons to protect us?


Parenting for nonviolence

There is a new fascinating video, Better This World, available online, with many themes that relate directly to the formation of a violent terrorist from a young person who is given some good values in a vacuum by parents who offer platitudes but no emulative examples and leave the young person to find those examples elsewhere. The results are tragic.
Two young men from Midland, Texas, are the central characters of an incidence of domestic terrorism, a plot to build and detonate bombs in the 2008 Republican convention in Minneapolis. They went to prison and clearly wanted to do this.

The mother of one of them tells us that she taught him to stand up for his beliefs. She also tells us that, "I'm not political. I really don't care about that." The father says that he taught his boy to stand up for those who are vulnerable. He did not show or teach him how to do that.

Who will take over from the parents when they bring the children this far? Mass media will serve up movies that show how to handle bullies--nearly 100 percent of their 'solutions' are violent. The military, affirmed to mythic proportions by society, will teach youth how to accomplish defense of democracy, human rights, and how to stand up to tyrants. Children are saturated in the violent methods and they seldom get serious instruction from parents or teachers of the preferable alternatives, the nonviolent commitment and skill sets. So, as the film also shows, the politico heavies from left or right are also ready to more seriously instruct idealistic youth how to engage in conflict--you go straight to what the enemy understands. that is, violence.

Finally, in the US, the FBI is all set to finish off the process for any who have been convinced that the violent methods might be for them. Whether it's a young Somali American angry at the US militarism killing Muslims--as we saw in my town, Portland, Oregon, last Christmas season--or young men from Texas who want to stop US attacks on others overseas, the FBI responds to ideation with entrapping provocation and enabling operational support.

The lesson, I think, is clear. It is not only not enough to give children as sense of anger at injustice and a notion that they should do something about it, it is clear that parents and teachers (yes, even kindergarten teachers, though Ann Coulter has labeled them 'useless public sector workers') will either teach children the methods of nonviolent conflict practice or risk losing them to the terrible practices of the far left, the far right, or the religious zealots, and then into the clutches of the FBI. The boys in this film were regular kids from normal American homes. The caveats should be obvious. Teach your children well; nonviolence is both an imperative value and a set of competencies every child can learn. As a peace educator, I can report that those who engage in violence--either military veterans or former inmates--enroll in my classes quite often, trying to find more appropriate methods that they were never taught before. I'm happy to try, but these methods are best taught beginning at infancy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What we've squandered with violence

Nonviolence is naive, unrealistic and when someone attacks you, just a sign of weakness. That is the common perception.

But what is the uncommon perception of nonviolence? Using prospect theory, it is far better than violence. Prospect theory suggests that framing our alternative as the best from amongst lousy alternatives is actually more persuasive than trying to claim too much for our preferred direction.

It's true. Nonviolence would have been a lousy response to the atrocities of 9.11.01. It would have given no cathartic help to a wounded nation, to a damaged national assessment, to a self image of a pitiful giant unable to defend against 19 nihilistic nutcases with box cutters, let alone to the families of the nearly 3,000 who perished in these unconscionable attacks. It would have been the worst response.

Except for all the rest.

In the aftermath of such low-down attacks on noncombatants (with the exception of the Pentagon, a legitimate target if you like the Just War doctrine) the world sympathized strongly, including the Arab world and even Cuba. Most of us knew just how short-lived that would be, since Bush was clearly a rightwinger whose bread and butter was a violent reaction to threat. We held our breath for a month and, sure enough, he ordered the attack on Afghanistan, civilians were amongst the first casualties, and the planetary goodwill was destroyed along with our 'make the rubble bounce' air strikes on an impoverished nation already supine from years of anti-occupation insurgency followed by warlord civil wars fueled by tribal animosities.

All the lives, all the natural resources, all the money--squandered along with the goodwill. All the trust in government, all the robust civil rights, all the ideas about America being above conduct like torture--squandered along with the rest. The total catalog of all we squandered by our violent response to the horrific acts of terrorism far outweighs the lack of vengeful glee we were supposed to get, or the sense of justice that is so often the excuse for violence. Indeed, getting justice with nonviolence is becoming the norm in so many arenas of life, from the political to the interpersonal to the international, yet we squandered it all.

There is one way forward. Nonviolence, as unsatisfactory as that may be to many. It squanders little and gains a lot, even as it makes the next atrocity much less likely. It is the future. The recent decade is the past. Let's leave it and move on.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Toward a nonviolent transformative federal budget

As Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry joust over who can propose the deepest cuts in the portions of the federal budget that serve human needs and who can propose the fewest cuts in the portions of the US government budget that serve ruling class greed, we will either ignore it all, be mere spectators, or be players.

If we ignore it, will it go away? Yes, the parts of our budget devoted to health, education, infrastructure, environmental protection and safe energy will indeed go away. The National Priorities Project, a public interest research group focused on federal budget implications for the lives of Americans, offers one recent and currently contentious example, the fate of the Pell grants for low-income students who qualify for enrollment in academic programs but who lack the resources to pay for our expensive higher education. This is up for grabs as Congress returns from their recess and takes up the annual fall budget appropriations.

Will Congress cut some of the fat out of the obese Pentagon budget that enables us to wage wars all over Earth, to keep hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground or drones in the air on or above so many countries? Will Congress cut budgets for overseas US military bases that intrude on the sovereign soil of other peoples' nations and irritate so many people from so many lands?

Or will they look at the vulnerable ones, the ones without lobbyists, the ones who represent bright minds trying to emerge from poverty? Will Congress take the cowardly bully road, cutting programs that benefit those who have no apparent power, or will they take the high moral and, frankly, truly enlightened national self-interest path that will require courage and high ethical standards?

I think we all know the answer, if left to their own devices, sad to say.

This is why any transition to nonviolence in our conflict management methods is tied to a transition in our participation or lack thereof in our political process. That power is on the table. Will we cede it once again to the greedy class or will we use nonviolence to move toward more nonviolence? Congress is coming to their decision point and it will depend entirely upon our reaction to our choice point, here and now.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hi-tech dinosaurs heading for well armed extinction

The lessons of nonviolence are many, obvious, recurring--and counterintuitive to most people in war system cultures. Sadly, those cultures comprise a great deal of humanity, since we have a war culture history that has dominated for thousands of years. We see the results.

One attack on US soil by 19 suicide mass murderers that killed three thousand noncombatants has led us into a permawar, sacrificing our economy, killing at least two orders of magnitude more humans than the original attack, and wrecking the job market as well as the security of home ownership for millions.

 Meanwhile, nonviolence has quietly shown the alternative, succeeding far more often than does violence and at a tiny fraction of the cost. What are the lessons of September 11, 2001, and the response to it?

In a global sense, the primary lesson should be that a violent response is counterproductive and guaranteed to keep the spiral of tit-for-tat in play. Yes, you can take the fight to 'them' by overwhelming kinetic kill force that puts your military in the front lines, committing atrocities and eliciting a guerrilla fighter response, especially when you reduce civil liberties in the homeland (and eliminate them entirely for some who have been profiled) and commit the economy to war until it collapses. But when the economy does collapse--and it is slowly imploding now as a direct result of how we responded to 9.11.01--then what?

Then, perhaps, we can finally do the right thing, as long as we have exhausted all the other options. We can become global citizens committed to nonviolent justice for all, fair trade, human rights, democracy, safe energy and common security based on sustainability. Right now we are seen by much of humankind as a war machine willing to steal and kill, pollute and violate human rights and prop up warlords who are loyal to us. Is this actually the image Americans want the rest of the world to have of us?

I know it's not. No other country has provided more volunteers to civil society organizations around the world. My students are eager to help and to live fulfilling lives in service to others. The majority of Americans are ready to do the right thing. We need to take back our culture, our political system, and then we need to recraft our methods of conflict management so that we can collaborate with the vast majority of the seven billion of us alive on Earth instead of launching attacks from Fortress America.

There are literally thousands of detailed lessons from 9.11.01 and the alternatives that could have been employed. Those alternatives cannot bring back the dead nor retrieve the squandered resources, but they still await our consideration, ready to help us transition from a war system to a peace culture. Unlike the knowledge available to us 50 years ago, when President Eisenhower warned of the influence of the military industrial complex in his 1961 Farewell Address, we know far more about alternatives. Time to engage them.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

No guts, no second term

The Tea Party could have been a tiny afterthought, ridiculed or ignored by the many Republicans who switched to supporting Barack Obama.

President Obama could have been riding high on approval ratings that virtually guaranteed his re-election in 2012.

These two things would have been logical sequelae to his brilliant first term if his first term had featured serious political courage instead of mere charismatic speechmaking. Barack Obama is a coward, unfortunately, and unfit to really lead. He might have made a fine president in an easy era of prosperity and fat surpluses, but he is a poor choice when it comes to choosing a champion, someone who will fight for the people instead of caving in to the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and the other crackers. Indeed, Barack Obama could have shown the world how to eclipse the job growth rate of Texas under Rick Perry only by making the environment cleaner, not dirty like Perry, and by improving health care, not making it inaccessible like Perry, and by strengthening education rather than cutting it and dumbing it like Perry.

How? How could our first black president have possibly achieved all those things in the aftermath of a Bush warmaking spending spree that wasted so much of the gas from the tank?

Well, he would have needed to come in swinging, ready to fight, politically, for the people, instead of ready to compromise. I teach in the field of Conflict Resolution and the basic negotiating lesson here is that you always compromise on those items which can be shifted around until everyone gets a fair deal, but you never compromise on basic ethical principle. Barack Obama could have had the principle that the welfare of the people comes before the welfare of the owner class. He could have assembled a scrappy team that knew how to frame legislation that would be radical in its shifts toward benefiting average working people. There are historical precedents, of course, and he could have used them and improved them.

Barack Obama inherited a major economic mess, created for the most part by the Bush regime. When Franklin Roosevelt inherited a disastrous economy created by Republican lack of governmental regulation, he made bold new policy that put millions to work building infrastructure still enjoyed by all Americans and everyone who visits, from park lodges and trails to beautiful bridges. Roosevelt didn't do that by turning over $ trillions to the same financiers who had created the Great Depression. He created government programs that put people to work, making the most of the skills they already had and teaching skills to young ones.

The Civilian Conservation Corps operated from 1933-1942 and focused on providing work for some 2.5 million young unmarried men, on projects that conserved and developed natural resources on public lands. The Works Progress Administration operated from 1935-1943 and provided about eight million jobs, focusing on the goal of one job per family where they had been unemployed for a long period. Updating these sorts of programs to reflect our current gender mores, population growth, and infrastructure needs would be a hard sell to a Republican Congress. But Barack Obama is going to to have a harder sell to the vastly hurting and disappointed America electorate if he can't make those sorts of hard sells to other politicians.

Roosevelt gave folks what they needed. His base was so huge he couldn't lose, even though corporate officials dreamt of his ouster. His radical executive moves provide a blueprint and that blueprint has so far been ignored by Obama. His paradigm is closer to Rumsfeldian--privatize everything that the government does in order to massively enrich the owner class--than Rooseveltian, which angered the owner class and saved working families.

Can Obama grow a backbone and save anything at his late date? Stranger things have happened, but so far all his moves have been classic cave-ins to bullies. We usually elect people who will stand up to bullies. We thought he would and, so far, we have been wrong. We'll see how this plays, starting with his upcoming speech. It will either be a revolutionary departure from his corporate bailout model or it will fall flat in failure, and his fate will be sealed.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

United $tate$ of A$$a$$ination

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the most massive terror attacks on the US, it is time to reflect on how we, as a nation, have changed in that decade. In many ways, it is hard to be sanguine about any of those changes.
  • The military budget is mushroomed, eclipsing everything else and dragging the economy down.
  • We are making more enemies in other lands than we have in a good long while and even creating domestic terrorists faster than we can kill Yemeni operatives or Pakistani children.
  • Oil has polluted our atmosphere, oceans, rivers, groundwater and foreign policy.
  • Thanks to corporate-designed and implemented trade laws and global agencies, jobs have fled to countries with no real enforcement of labor and environmental laws.
  • Militarization is so profoundly saturating our culture now that we virtually worship the warships while we bow and scrape to soldiers, sailors and SEALS.
  • A social safety net that was never close to complete is now unraveling and the politicians argue that it should shred even faster.

Now comes a book from Bill Arkin and Dana Priest, Top secret America: The rise of the new American security state. In a Washington Post piece adapted from one of the chapters, the authors describe the post-9.11.01 spectacular but cloaked growth of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, known by the acronym JSOC, into a massively funded kill force with even more reach and less visibility than the CIA. 

It is an illegal operation, ordering and committing killings wherever deemed desirable. Arkin and Priest write:
Two presidents and three secretaries of defense routinely have asked JSOC to mount intelligence-gathering missions and lethal raids, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in countries with which the United States was not at war, including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Syria.
And coming soon to a homeland near you.

We are living in a rogue nation. If another country did this sort of thing we would be outraged. Instead, we fawn over each member of the military in 'service' to 'the country', ignore the routinely scandalous war profiteering by corporations who get away with gouging the wink-and-nod Pentagon, and re-elect the politicians who authorized all of it. We pay our federal taxes without a murmur (except to grouse about too much soft-headed liberalism that gives a comparatively tiny amount to those in need) and we remain quiet and willfully ignorant. The past 10 years have moved us in precisely the wrong direction in almost every way possible.

But what can we do?

Last night we watched Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a film about how the women of Liberia Just Said No to any more war. One social worker and one cop--a Christian woman and Muslim woman respectively--launched a campaign that ended one of the most brutal civil wars and regimes on Earth. They were poor. They were just folks. They were powerless until they decided they weren't. They changed their world. Hello? It's about unity and persistence, not about waiting for those in power, who profit fabulously, to change. We must do it if we want it done.