IPS Blog

Love in a Time of Climate Crisis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgPUZX_hJ8g

Do yourself a favor and check out this amazing 8-minute interview with poet, architect, activist and director of Friends of the Earth International Nnimmo Bassey. It sums up the mood of the Cochabamba indigenous moment and the climate crisis — as a love story — better than anything I’ve seen.

Nuclear Weapons Are a Gift From God

Many of us who have become dependent on drink or drugs turn for help to support groups; others, to psychotherapy. If we persevere with either, before long we’re likely to discover that, while active, we may have been approaching a cul de sac. But once there, we find it opens to a path to a higher ground hitherto unbeknownst to us. In other words, the humanity and usefulness to society that we enjoy today might never have come to pass if substance abuse hadn’t demanded that we reinvent ourselves. We need, as they say in support groups, to reach our bottom.

You’d think that humanity had reached its collective bottom in the 20th century with World Wars I and II. What more havoc had to be wreaked before we got the message that wholesale conflict would lead to the end of civilization? But, instead of “letting go and letting God,” to borrow from AA lingo, states remained in a defensive crouch, none more so than the victors. As well, the United States and the Soviet Union sought to solidify their newfound dominance by building up their nuclear arsenals as if they we were still on a war-time basis cranking out munitions.

Viewed from the perspective of one who’s suffered from substance abuse, it was as if two winos had dragged themselves from the gutter and stopped drinking. But, hedging their bets on sobriety, they carried around pints of Everclear 190 proof grain alcohol in their pockets in case they really needed a drink, even though they knew it would kill him.

Meanwhile, however much those of us who advocate for disarmament question whether nuclear deterrence was critical to averting another world war, one has yet to occur. But nuclear weapons’ arguable status as the last word in national security wasn’t what I had in mind when I described nuclear weapons as a gift from above.

The true gift granted by the existence of nuclear weapons is that, as weapons, they’re essentially too big for the planet to contain. They’re more suitable to lighting off in outer space. In other words, they demand that, once and for all, we step back and look at the whole subject to which nuclear weapons are a sub-category — mass warfare.

We’ve failed to take the cue, however. Since nuclear weapons were developed, the bulk of the reflection by the national-security world has been over the unique strategy adaptations called for by the possession of a weapon that essentially can’t be used. Meanwhile, about the best example of deliberation that disarmament advocates can come up with is that the abolition of nuclear weapons will lead to demilitarization and the redistribution of military expenditures toward human needs and the environment.

We’re just too emotionally invested in them — as well as economically. The 13-percent funding hike that the National Nuclear Security Administration is due to receive next year — a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency — is a tribute to the power of pork: its allure to Congress persons and its perceived importance to their constituents. Besides, writes Bruno Tertrais, a “realist” about nuclear weapons, in the April Washington Quarterly:

The intellectual and political movement in favor of abolition suffers from unconvincing rationales, inherent contradictions, and unrealistic expectations. A nuclear-weapons-free world is an illogical goal.

In fact, winning the abolition debate is well night impossible, especially when it arguments such as this by Tertrais need to be refuted:

All three Asian nuclear countries — China, India, and Pakistan — are steadily building up their capabilities and show absolutely no sign in being interested in abolition, other than in purely rhetorical terms. [As well as this] Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons or a “breakout” option if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them.

You can be forgiven for wondering how we’ll ever talk ourselves off the ledge. It turns out that the existence of nuclear weapons has done little to induce us to reexamine the tendency of our species to resort to mass warfare. Quite the contrary, the prevalence of nuclear weapons, as well as their immensity, seem to have created a mental block, or placed a governor, on our minds. It’s as if we’re prohibited from cycling our thoughts up to a frequency at which we might see our way of clear of nuclear weapons.

Bless the little children. For they shall lead us to a nuclear-free world.

However crucial the disarmament movement — in all its manifestations from policy adepts to peace workers to radicals — is, it’s time to recognize the truth. The most it can hope for is to keep disarmament near the forefront of the national debate and to win minor policy points. In other words, in and of itself, the disarmament movement is incapable of precipitating nuclear abolition.

Sweeping change can only come from the bottom up — from, in fact, the depths of the human heart. Apologies if you’ve heard this from me before, but, except for a few enlightened pockets, child-rearing practices around the world need a significant upgrade. Otherwise, the planet will never produce a critical mass of humans to whom a national-security policy that puts the lives of tens of millions of people at risk is no longer tolerable.

IR (international relations) types may argue that the human psyche comes in a distant second to political considerations as a cause of war. But the influential and recently deceased Swiss psychotherapist and author Alice Miller wrote (emphasis added): “The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence . . . sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence.” In other words — surprise, surprise — abusing a child predisposes him or her toward violence and, arguably, an inclination to advocate or support violent solutions to international conflict.

How do we turn that ocean liner around? Measures such as these have already been implemented: laws banning corporal punishment, community centers to teach parenting skills, and programs that teach high-school students childrearing; others provide children with empathy training. The more they’re implemented, the more children will grow up unmarked by abuse. In short order, fewer individuals in positions of authority will find that strategies that put enormous numbers of individuals in harm’s way make sense.

At the end of the day (let’s hope not — that cliché is infused with frightening new meaning when applied to nuclear weapons), there’s still time to accept the gift of the message that nuclear weapons is trying to impart to us and stare mass — and all war — down. As Jonathan Schell writes in the Nation:

The bomb is waiting for us to hear the message.

Global Activists Coordinate Actions to Tax Speculators

From Sydney, Australia to Vancouver, Canada, activists are taking to the streets in cities around the world this week to hold the financial sector accountable for the costs of the global crisis.

A key demand: tiny levies on trades of stock, derivatives and currency that could help curb speculation and generate big money for good things, like job creation and fighting poverty.

K St protest. In Washington, DC, thousands rallied on May 17, calling for such a “financial speculation tax” – as part of a broader financial reform agenda. Organized by the AFL-CIO, SEIU, National People’s Action, and Jobs with Justice, the rally took place on K Street, the office building corridor notorious for its high concentration of corporate and financial industry lobbyists. Under a steady cold rain, protestors in plastic ponchos struggled to juggle umbrellas in one hand and soggy placards in the other.

K Street protestTheir determination reflected the high level of anger over Wall Street’s continued excesses at a time when ordinary working families are still suffering from the crisis. Our video captures diverse perspectives on why financial speculation taxes are one piece of the solution.

Since the pending financial reform bill does not include financial speculation taxes, this will be a key piece of “unfinished business” after Congress concludes the current debate on Wall Street regulation.

In many of countries, coalitions have adopted Robin Hood imagery to emphasize how even miniscule levies on financial transactions could generate massive revenues for to fight poverty and other urgent needs. As you’ll see in the photos and videos below, this has kicked up good business for Robin Hood costume and horse rental businesses.

United Kingdom

Robin Hood Tax rally, LondonDressed as Robin Hood, campaigners on May 19 marched across the Westminster Bridge in London to deliver giant mosaics of pictures of more than 3,400 supporters to new members of Parliament, urging them to make a Robin Hood Tax one of their top legislative priorities. New Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is already a supporter. Let’s hope he can persuade his Conservative Party coalition partners. Activists in Scotland, carried out a similar action in Glasgow.

Germany

Fired up by recent supportive statements from their government leaders, Berlin activists performed a stunt in front of the Brandenburger Tor on May 19, aimed at a meeting in the city of several G-20 heads of state and finance ministers. In the video on their campaign site, Campaigners dressed as Robin Hood and merry people attacked a bankers’ carriage with big bags of money. An activist playing Robin Hood boarded the carriage and reloaded small bags of money out of the big ones and placed them into a bucket labelled Fight poverty, Finance development and protect the climate.

Canada

Canada protest tug of war.The Canadian campaign carried out events on May 19 in major cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Saskatoon, Ottawa and St. John’s. In Ottawa, activists staged a tug-of-war in front of the Parliament building that pitted bankers against “the people” (plus one polar bear), with G-20 leaders looking on. The activist team carried signs suggesting how revenues from the tax could contribute to financing different issues, including maternal health initiatives. The Canadian coalition has a big challenge ahead, as conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to block progress on bank taxation at the G-20 leaders summit, which he will be hosting in Toronto in June.

France

On May 18, a new coalition of labor, environmental, and development groups received widespread media coverage when they launched a petition to G-20 leaders, asking for support of financial speculation taxes. The petition is available in multiple languages (including English) and citizens of the world are invited to lend their endorsements. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been one of the most vocal supporters of the global campaign.

Australia

The Australian coalition is planning a film/photo stunt with campaigners dressed as Robin Hood, shooting arrows at the campaign target in the Central Business District of Sydney today. More photos from the DC rally and actions in other countries are being pooled on this flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1381757@N25/

From the Frontlines: May 20th, 2010

Today’s action: Join our allies in urging Congress to support the Feingold-McGovern Bill for a military withdrawal timetable.

To that end, the U.S. is investigating allegations that its soldiers were responsible for the unlawful death of Afghan civilians.

Dennis Kucinich introduces legislation to prohibit killing U.S. citizens without due process, presumably to remind some government organizations they’re not above the Constitution.

Elvis Costello is the latest artist to cancel performances in Israel, in solidarity with the Palestinians. “I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security,” he wrote in an open letter.

Montgomery County, MD passed the nation’s first carbon tax.

The cloture vote on financial reform failed, and it looks like that was probably a good thing. However, Kevin Drum says that waiting too long might make things worse.

Your moment of Zen: Blog This Rock’s poem of the week.

Filthy Factories Won’t Help Sick Kids

Conditions at the Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, Johnson & Johnson factory that produced now recalled children’s medicines including children’s Tylenol, Motrin, and Benadryl were apparently appalling. “This inspection report is pretty close to being the worst I’ve seen. It suggests that basically the FDA found an issue with almost every system at the plant,” said Temple University professor of pharmaceutical manufacturing, and former Johnson & Johnson employee David Lebo, according to CNN. Fortunately, the FDA report and subsequent recall preceded any reported incidents of sickness among children. That investigation is one big reason why we should value government regulation and involvement. There are too many vested interests at play in modern medicine, William A. Collins observed in his Getting Sick Can Be Darned Risky OtherWords column on April 19.

From the Frontlines: May 19th, 2010

The victories of Sestak and Halter sent a clear message that the people are sick and tired of the establishment (whether Democrat or Republican) capitulation to special interests. Glenn Greenwald elaborates. And the new GOP candidate for Kentucky, Rand Paul, is against Wall Street giveaways, so that’s something.

Haitian farmers are furious at Monsanto’s donation of genetically modified, pesticide-laden seeds.

Younger people are more likely to oppose restricting immigration, more likely to disagree with the AZ bill (Via Wiretap/Campus Progress).

Small oil and gas companies line up to file lawsuits against BP and Goldman Sachs.

Ugh. Hundreds of tiny fish wash up on Louisiana’s marshes.

Glenn Beck’s ties to gold mania. In case you were wondering why Cash 4 Gold stopped advertising on his show.

Mark Souder is the best thing to ever happen to Richard Blumenthal. Who’s Richard Blumenthal? Exactly.

Bonus: Apparently straight women also play softball. Who knew?

The Lost Chapters of Malcolm X

Malcolm X. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsToday in honor of the 85th birthday of Malcolm X, I’m participating in an hour long discussion on the living legacy of Malcolm X and what Malcolm means in Obama’s America.

This discussion will occur on the Marc Steiner show 5pm to 6pm on 88.9FM for those in the Baltimore area. For those not in the Baltimore area, go to Marc Steiner’s website tomorrow and catch the podcast.

Also participating in the show will be:

  • Minister Akbar Muhammad, who was in the Nation of Islam under Malcolm X;
  • Omar Musa a Washington DC community activist, and
  • Lalit Clarkson from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

In honor of this birthday the lost chapters of the Autobiography of Malcolm X are to be revealed in New York City. These chapters are said to highlight Malcolm’s view of the means to overcome the racial divide in the United States. During this time of America’s war against Islamic terrorism, I believe further discussion on one of the country’s most well known radical, anti-Western Muslims will be quite enlightening.

Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?

Whew. I feel so much better now that POTUS has assured us the US has, “begun to reverse the momentum of the insurgency,” in Afghanistan.

Oh. Sorry. Just kidding.

What it really made me think is that Mr. Obama needs to find advisors who haven’t already drunk the Kool-Aid. And / or get his own meds checked.

Here’s why . . .

Afghanistan is not a failing state. It is a non-state — a network of tribes that alternately compete and collaborate. It is a landscape of “sink holes” into which our idea of governance has fallen.

The window to shift that reality (if it ever truly existed) certainly closed with the onset of the global economic implosion. The western commitment to Afghanistan would have died of ‘donor fatigue’ and overstretch sooner or later anyway, but the meltdowns and bailouts have pushed that moment up. It is better, therefore, to leave now.

What’s the downside of an immediate departure?

Loss of prestige? The US has none to lose with any of the groups they’re attempting to defeat.

Loss of deterrence? Misapplied force encourages rather than discourages resistance.

The Taliban take over? Let them. If they succeed in governing and create development and stability, the US wins. If they fail and destroy their popular support, the US wins. (Yes, it will be difficult for some of the Afghan people, but let’s tell truths — the US didn’t care about them before 9-11, and actions have pretty well demonstrated they haven’t really cared since. And, honestly, would you rather have to wear a beard / burqa, or get smoked in an air strike?)

That al Qaeda will flourish? It’s more an identity than an entity, and you can’t defeat ideas with firepower.

The instability in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan? Too late. That outcome was pretty much assured when the US underwrote the original Muj back in the 80’s and then walked away after the Red Army bolted. (If not in 1947, when parts of Pakistan were incorporated by force, while others were excluded by whim, such as splitting the Pashtun nation.)

The Pakistan government falls and loses control over its nukes? We’re not sure to what extent such control exists today. Nor that US presence and assistance to that government are not more destabilizing.

That heroin will flood the world? Legalize drugs and kill a major funding source for criminals and insurgents. Then shift the DEA budget to recovery and development work.

That Afghanistan will become a training ground (again) for terrorists? As long as there is a sea of disaffected people in which to swim, terrorists will exist. The solution is development and equity — not combat.

Even if all the above were to occur, such outcomes are not necessarily more or less likely whether the US stays or goes.

Science tells us it that “complex adaptive systems” (which include all human organizations, whether your family, nation states, the Taliban or the LA Lakers) cannot be precisely predicted or controlled. The behaviors and outcomes manifested by the system emerge from the complex interactions among the ‘initial conditions’ (which continually “refresh”), the rules of the system, and the relationships among the ‘agents’, or members of the system.

So US prestige / deterrence may be damaged far more by overstretch than by withdrawal.

Al Qaeda may become irrelevant even if the US leaves, or may flourish because of events far from Afghanistan.

The Taliban may win simply by outlasting the invaders. (Remember, the US has to win. They only have to not lose.) Or it may lose because a US departure robs it of legitimacy, and what’s left is a bunch of ignorant thugs the tribes eradicate.

The Pakistani government may fall because of US support, or lack of it. Or simply implode from its internal inconsistencies.

The Pak nukes may be captured by the OG’s in such a collapse, or covertly handed over by the ISI in its ascendance. (Remember A Q Khan?) Or spirited away by a brilliant covert op.

None of these outcomes necessarily emerge because of US presence or absence. They are not really within US control. (Though American policymakers cling to that illusion.)

Most important, AfPak is nowhere near as great a strategic threat to the US as another $10 trillion of national debt. American military adventures in west and south Asia appear on course to add $3 trillion plus. A bloated ‘defense’ budget, corporate welfare and bailouts are on course to add the rest.

When American voters finally figure out how to crunch those numbers, it’s turn out the lights time, because the party’s over.

Better to bail now.

The above is an update of a response to David Kilcullen’s 2/09 piece in Small Wars Journal titled, Crunch Time in Afghanistan-Pakistan, in which he called a “Prevent, Protect, Build, Hand-Off” strategy the only viable option. I suggested “Option C” — bail immediately.

When Leaders Sleep Do They Dream of Peace?

So I’m walking to work today and I suddenly start thinking about Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli PM. Sharon went into a coma back on January 4, 2006. To my knowledge, the man is still alive. Correct?

What an interesting story here. What if Sharon came back to us and wanted to work on a Middle East solution?

Monsanto Seed Delivery Angers Haitian Activists

Small-scale Haitian farmers are furious about Monsanto’s efforts to “help” their country, Beverly Bell writes. The company is donating 475 tons of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, “some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides,” she says It’s prompting the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) to plan on burning Monsanto’s seeds. The group is also calling for a protest against Monsanto on June 4, for World Environment Day. As Bell explained in an OtherWords op-ed, Haiti has “a highly organized grassroots movement that has never given up the battle its ancestors began more than 200 years ago.”

Rescuing Haiti
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