Thursday, June 24, 2010

Before walking...

For this new "adventure", a recent experience of mine is instructive. Several years ago, I decided to ride a motorcycle from the Arctic Ocean to Tierra del Fuego. It was a dream hatched over thirty years earlier. The only problem was I didn't have a motorcycle, nor a motorcycle license. I didn't have the skills to take a motorcycle on unpaved roads (or where there were no roads.) I was unfamiliar with international laws regarding travel and didn't even know if it were possible to ride from one end of the hemisphere to the other. However, once a goal is created (wherever it came from), the education begins and things seem to "miraculously" fall into place. It will almost assuredly take much more time, effort, money and (most importantly) support and assistance than anticipated, but with a focus, commitment and persistence it's possible to succeed. A step at a time. At least that was one of that journey's lessons.

So, just thinking about this concept of opposing wars, of "walking for peace" (both figuratively and literally), a flurry of daunting questions come to mind. Some must be sorted out early on, but other answers will certainly have to await discovery further down the road.

There are very general questions:
  • Is the goal worthwhile (or might it be simply naivete and foolishness?)
  • What do you think you (we) can accomplish?
  • What does the existing peace movement look like (locally, nationally, globally)
  • What institutions and resources are already dedicated to this goal?
  • What obstacles are to be anticipated?
  • Are there those who really want war?
  • Why have we failed to stop war?
Then there are more specific questions:
  • What does the global "war economy" look like?
  • How much does the U.S. spend on war and "defense" (distinguishing the two)?
  • What do we know of clandestine war-making?
  • How much do other nations spend?
  • What nations have privatized militaries or rely heavily on contractors?
  • What are the relative sizes of world militaries?
  • Who are the major suppliers of weaponry?
  • Who are the major manufacturers?
  • Who are the primary beneficiaries of war - who profits from destruction?
  • Who makes the decision to go to war?
  • Who are the nuclear nations?
  • Who are likely to become nuclear nations?
  • Who has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?
  • What nations are at war? (and how long have they been at war?)
  • What is the U.N.'s role in ending warfare?
  • Which leaders have been democratically elected?
  • Which leaders have come to power through violence?
  • Where do our politicians stand on the issue? (What are their voting records?)
  • How do my actions contribute to the problem?
And these are just a beginning. But I think it is no coincidence that as these questions arise, the means to find answers are gradually revealed. One remarkable opportunity is the U. S. Social Forum, currently taking place in Detroit, Michigan. Although the agenda is extraordinarily ambitious and the spectrum of workshops mind-boggling, many focus on questions many of us share concerning the human weakness that leads to war.

The action-oriented agenda is positive, constructive and inspiring. They are talking "nuts and bolts" about how to "git 'er done!" It sure beats whining and complaining.

And if you're a follower of the mainstream media, you would think nothing is happening.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And this word from Concord, Massachusetts...

As reported in today's New York Times, activist Jean Hill is leading a campaign to ban bottled water in Henry David Thoreau's hometown.

"I'm going to work until I drop on this," she said. "If you believe in something, you have to persist and you have to have a thick skin."

That pretty much sums it up. 

A replica of Henry David Thoreau welcomes us to a replica of Thoreau's cabin

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Know thy enemy

Last night, I watched a podcast of Democracy Now. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales interviewed filmmaker Oliver Stone and Pakistani British author and activist Tariq Ali regarding their new documentary film South of the Border. In making the film, Stone met and interviewed seven South American presidents. Here is an excerpt from his conversation with former Argentinean president Nestor Kirchner:

OLIVER STONE: Were there any eye-to-eye moments with President Bush that day, that night?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] I say it’s not necessary to kneel before power. Nor do you need to be rude to say the things you have to say to those who oppose our actions. We had a discussion in Monterey. I said that a solution to the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan. And he got angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war.

OLIVER STONE: War. He said that?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] He said that. Those were his exact words.

OLIVER STONE: Was he suggesting that South America go to war?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Well, he was talking about the United States. The Democrats had been wrong. All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by the various wars. He said it very clearly. President Bush is—well, he’s only got six days left, right?


NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Thank God.

For the complete interview, click here.


Turning to another relevant story, a remarkable exposé on General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, appears in the current issue of Rolling Stone. Here is described McChystal's new strategy:
From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency. COIN, as the theory is known, is the new gospel of the Pentagon brass, a doctrine that attempts to square the military's preference for high-tech violence with the demands of fighting protracted wars in failed states. COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation's government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps. In 2006, after Gen. David Petraeus beta-tested the theory during his "surge" in Iraq, it quickly gained a hardcore following of think-tankers, journalists, military officers and civilian officials. Nicknamed "COINdinistas" for their cultish zeal, this influential cadre believed the doctrine would be the perfect solution for Afghanistan. All they needed was a general with enough charisma and political savvy to implement it.

As McChrystal leaned on Obama to ramp up the war, he did it with the same fearlessness he used to track down terrorists in Iraq: Figure out how your enemy operates, be faster and more ruthless than everybody else, then take the fuckers out. After arriving in Afghanistan last June, the general conducted his own policy review, ordered up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The now-infamous report was leaked to the press, and its conclusion was dire: If we didn't send another 40,000 troops – swelling the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by nearly half – we were in danger of "mission failure." The White House was furious. McChrystal, they felt, was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president's ass.

Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. "I found that time painful," McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. "I was selling an unsellable position." For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks. "The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.

In the end, however, McChrystal got almost exactly what he wanted. On December 1st, in a speech at West Point, the president laid out all the reasons why fighting the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea: It's expensive; we're in an economic crisis; a decade-long commitment would sap American power; Al Qaeda has shifted its base of operations to Pakistan. Then, without ever using the words "victory" or "win," Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, almost as many as McChrystal had requested. The president had thrown his weight, however hesitantly, behind the counterinsurgency crowd.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

New project: "Walk Against War"

(It occurred to me after having coffee with my daughter Jessica this afternoon, then hiking in the local hills. I wanted to just keep walking – out across the country.)

“Walk Against War” ( [ed. - obsolete link]: an international grassroots organization that encourages members (like me) to not just blog and twitter about ending war, but actually go out into their local communities (and beyond) to intentionally raise the topic. Getting up off their butts, off their computers, and into face-to-face dialogue with other humans, occasionally walking en masse but not particularly causing spectacles. It needs to start more low-key and organically, but be insistent and persistent and build momentum, until it cannot be resisted. (The fall of the Iron Curtain comes to mind.) There wouldn’t be periodic or isolated events, but continual activity. (Think Jehovah’s Witnesses, with cooler clothes and a more noble agenda.) No demonstrations or marches, where everyone goes back to sleep afterward.

The tag line could be “there are more of us than them”. (On the back of the t-shirts!)

These “missionaries” would be “armed” with the information, skills and understanding of the specific steps needed to influence the political system. (Like Obama’s campaign – but this wouldn’t be “virtual”!) They would have all the necessary personal contacts and links for representatives, support and activist group contacts, “field manuals”, access to databases, etc. All for teaching fellow citizens how to defund wars in particular, and the military-industrial complex in general (and the economic opportunities of having that newly-available wealth to address society’s critical challenges – like global warming, hunger, clean water, housing, etc .) They would know things such as what companies to avoid patronizing and investing in, be able to compute exactly how much of an individual’s income supports the military and war, the “opportunity cost” of this investment, who to vote for in support of these goals, etc.

It could link to all the activist politicians like Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich, media outlets like Pacifica, Pro Publica, Huffington Post and activist groups like Code Pink, Greenpeace, MoveOn, etc. (and hopefully be supported by them, at least in spirit.)


The platform would be clear, beginning with the U.S. (the biggest war-maker of them all):

  • Spotlighting the “war politicians” (and their “war scorecard”)
  • Spotlighting the war corporations and industries
  • Publishing actual costs of war for each citizen of each nation (already being done here in the U.S.)
  • Demanding year-over-year military budget reductions
  • Withdrawing military installations from foreign countries
  • Ending the use of “supplementals” to fund war, covert operations, etc.
  • It must be international – with representation in all militant nations at minimum
  • Establish Dennis Kucinich’s proposed “Department of Peace” in the President’s Cabinet
  • Demand immediate decommissioning and elimination of nuclear arsenals
  • Promote higher education credential programs focused on skills essential to peacemaking (Doctor of Demilitarization, Masters of Military Mothballing)
  • Bottom line is to starve these military “adventures” of their funding by helping populations vote with their wallet
I am going to divert my attention to this project, and reserve this blog for topics outside of this new campaign.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Rep Alan Grayson Introduces the War Is Making You Poor Act

    President Obama vowed to eliminate the financing of our wars through "supplemental" funding requests. With his recent request for an additional $33 Billion in "emergency" war funds, he has broken that vow and eroded our trust.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Rand Paul thinks mountaintop removal improves landscapes

    Here is Rand Paul's idea of landscaping:

    Mountaintop removal at Oven Fork, near Whitesburg, Letcher County, Kentucky (from )

    I just have to wonder what planet this fellow came from.

    Tragedy in Arkansas and forest "management"

    This past Friday, a devastating flash flood took the lives of at least eighteen campers in the Albert Pike Recreation Area (flagged on the above map) of Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. I was curious what kind of terrain could contribute to such a tragedy. A closer look reveals a threadbare landscape destroyed by over a century of clearcut logging. The once heavily-forested terrain has been stripped, severely compromising the land's ability to capture and retain water. There is a solid cause and effect line here from forest practices to the loss of innocent lives.

    Amazingly, such forestry practices continue (with some moderation), across North America, and indeed around the world.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Let's Get Beyond Petroleum

    It's time we start boycotting BP and its subsidiaries. When so many Americans are proclaiming "let's take our country back", we have here a perfect opportunity to do just that.

    While the environment bleeds oil, BP operates with near-impunity and exercises dictatorial control of the spill zone. The company is prepared to spend billions of dollars for PR campaigns on television and in other media. Its lobbyists are hounding Congress to retain the oil spill damages cap at its current token level of $75 Million (rather than a newly-proposed cap of $10 Billion). BP has bought priority positions on internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. This is to put its "sanitized" version of events at the top of the page when internet users search for terms related to the spill. At every stage of the crisis, BP has intentionally underestimated the impacts of the disaster. It has impeded and then denied the results of scientific investigations at every stage of this crisis (only to later admit the research was correct.) They have ignored health hazards for clean-up workers, fishermen and residents of the impacted areas and have employed proprietary disbursing agents known to be harmful to humans and wildlife. They are currently working behind the scenes with loss prevention experts to minimize their liability to the American people. And they have even gone so far as to order our U.S. Coast Guard to deny the press access to "sensitive areas" of the disaster scene. The list is unending. (And if history is any example, they will continue to evade liability for decades to come.)

    Make no mistake, every American will pay for this disaster. BP will amortize its liabilities across its costs-of-goods. They'll even make a profit on these expenses! The consumer will pay more. (Even for non-BP brands.) In the long run, unless the company collapses, BP's shareholders will not be denied.

    Yes, I share the Tea Party's sentiment. "It's time to take our country back (from multinational corporations immune to U.S. law, that is!)"

    Further reading: "The Spill, The Scandal and the President: The inside story of how Obama failed to crack down on the corruption of the Bush years – and let the world's most dangerous oil company get away with murder" - Rolling Stone Magazine.

    Related AP story: Gulf Awash In 27,000 Abandoned Oil And Gas Wells

    Thursday, June 03, 2010

    A nation without a conscience

    (Letter to the White House and State Department)

    The news continues to bring bring anger, frustration and outrage. Israel's attack upon unarmed humanitarian activists, and America's tacit approval of Israel's continuing moral misdeeds is criminal in every sense of the word.

    Israel essentially pirated the flotilla's ships on the high seas (an act of war against the Turkish- and American-flagged ships), kidnapped the activists, took them to Israel, then had the gall to accuse them of entering Israel illegally. Israel claims to be exercising its right to defend national security, however they knew or (had they wished to) could have known exactly what was carried upon these ships. Inspections were performed prior to the flotilla's departure.

    Israel calls the humanitarian activists armed thugs who attacked and shot their commandos with their own weapons (previously described as “paint ball guns” by one Israeli diplomat). Israeli soldiers merely acted in self-defense, they say. The activists reported the commandos were heavily armed. And the evidence is strongly in their favor, as nine of them were murdered!

    There is a way to board ships for inspection. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have routinely interdicted ships in war or exclusion zones. It does not involve pre-dawn commando raids utilizing heavily armed soldiers, "flash-bang” grenades, tear gas, snipers and machine guns.

    What would you do if being assaulted under such conditions? You would defend your friends and family. This is what some of the activists chose to do.

    This incident is yet another in a long series of Israeli humanitarian outrages (the ghetto-ization and blockade of Gaza, white phosphorous use against Palestinians, extensive deployment of cluster bombs in Lebanon, the illegal appropriation of Palestinian lands to build Israel's 400-mile "wall", the "Operation Orchard" raid on Syria and political assassination in Dubai being among more recent violations of Geneva Conventions.)

    Israel has lost all credibility. Their leadership has no moral compass. And the World is led to conclude that America is so compromised by its own guilt in similarly violating Geneva Conventions that it can only remain mute in the face of such crimes.

    Each of us is first and foremost a citizen of the world. We have a responsibility for all humanity, not just for our little tribe. Americans can no longer defend international criminals, regardless of who the criminal is.

    For a recent summary of World Health Organization and U.N. findings on the impact of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, follow this link.

    The resilient Israeli spirit has seized the occasion to find humor in their high seas escapades. The parody "We Con the World" has been removed from YouTube, but here's another sample of the levity to be found in summary executions.