Mission Statement

This blog is dedicated to tracking current events and developments that exemplify, support or discredit the
themes of City, Save Thyself! Nuclear Terror and the Urban Ballot.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Questions to Ask Political Candidates

Policy follows power. Whether the policy of the United States is to rely more on weapons and war for its population’s security than on preventing war and enforcing law, depend on who holds power.

For sixty-five years the United States and other nations have talked about ending reliance on nuclear weapons.  Their policy, though, has been continued reliance.  Destructive power has increased and more nations have obtained the weapons. The day approaches when non-deterrable terrorists will acquire the weapons.

Some of the power holders who have insisted on a policy contrary to common sense and contrary to announced intentions have been military strategists convinced that fire power creates security and law cannot be enforced. Some of the power holders have judged the United States exceptional in moral correctness and ability to run the world for the good of the human race.  Some power holders have been managers, stockholders and employees of the arms industry, obtaining power by selling weapons around the world and sharing that money with political power holders.  Some obtain their power from an ideological embrace of beliefs, hopes, and fears that make people prefer supremacy to order under law.

Power in a democracy is the fruit of either money or politics. Both buy policy.  If you do not have millions of dollars, politics is the only route to power.  Here are questions to ask candidates for public office, from your Board of Selectmen or Board of Aldermen or City Council (many of whom rise to higher office), to your statehouse Representatives and Senators and Governors, to Congress and the President. Who you elect determines power and policy. If you can elect and then influence those who hold office, you will have power. Ask:

Are you confident that the President and Congress put the security of populations ahead of political, economic, and ideological concerns?

Do you think that the United States could win a nuclear war?

How many nuclear weapons are required to deter terrorists?

If nuclear weapons will not deter them, what will? 

What do you think motivates terrorists against Americans, and could these motivations be dissolved consistently with pursuing essential U.S. interests?

What might influence the minds of children growing up in places that have spawned terrorists?

What Americans might have more influence communicating with places that spawn terrorists - soldiers, or civilian representatives elected in American cities and towns?

Do you think that the technologies of communication and travel now make it possible to experiment with people-to-people cooperation across national borders, with the long-term aim of creating the global democracy that will justify experiments with global law enforcement as the alternative to war?

Will you go out on a limb to support such experiments, and encourage your constituents to join in the initiatives?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ten Tests of Your Survival Instincts

 The recent Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference, current Senate hearings on ratification of the START Treaty, the four year fissile control effort, and a world-wide missile defense race (today’s arms race by another name) all combine to remind us of End-Time’s looming shadow.

Nuclear missile targeting of cities around the world remains in place, both ancient Cold War targeting of U.S., Russian, French, and British cities, as well as, presumably, more recent and ongoing targeting by China, Israel, India, and Pakistan. All operational with a pushed button or two. Perhaps North Korea. Iran soon. The targeted populations, which is most of us, ought to make common cause to pressure nations to do what they have failed to do over the 65 years since Hiroshima - achieve verified arms control and prevent war.  Here are ten local, doable assignments for those who would discard victimhood and  practice survival skills:

1.  Ask your municipal elected body to hold a public hearing on how your city (or town!) might help our national government assure that nuclear and other WMD weapons will not proliferate to additional nations or to terrorists, and motivate nations that possess them to verifiably discard them. A simple first step would be for your municipality to lobby for Senate ratification of the START Treaty.  
2.  Get local media to acknowledge the security risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, and to publicize why targeted populations should pressure their nations to achieve verified, enforced, arms control.

3.  Signal local office holders and political candidates that you think security is part of their job in view of national failure to achieve verified, enforced arms control and to prevent war.

4.  Make common cause with like minded people across state and national borders by putting a slot on the municipal ballot to elect a local representative to a global municipal security congress..

5.  Generate dialogue through local media, neighborhood organizations, and local elected officials about the risks of WMD targeting, both in war and by terrorists,

6.  Collect information from the media, arms control organizations, and books about the influence over national security policies that is exercised by economic and ideological interests, that influence and even determine what weapons are manufactured, the content of arms control treaties, what wars are fought, and the degree of effort (or lack of effort) that is devoted to security through enforced law rather than arms races and wars.
7.  Willingly engage in a perpetual power struggle with private economic and ideological interests that have a stake in weapons and war.

8.  Identify local residents who are first, second, and third generation immigrants who maintain connections with the countries of their forbears, through family ties, travel, or politics.  Recruit them to help make common cause with municipalities in the old countries to achieve global law enforcement and arms control and prevent war.    

9. Inject these issues into politics and elections at all levels in order to force a national dialogue through local dialogues, and in order to elect office holders (that is, power holders) who will put the security of targeted populations ahead of every other issue.

10.  Self-select yourself to take on these tasks and expand the ranks of those determined that humanity and its civilization will not bow to the ultimate destruction of centuries of human progress.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Power's Arrogance and War's Embrace

General McChrystal’s know-it-all arrogance is nothing new in the power game of war.  Headquartered in a far-off land, listening to Yessir, Yessir all day from underlings bucking for promotion, it is no wonder that General Big Shot thought he was smarter than the President, or that he liked seeing his name in print, or that one person playing up to media triggers political jockeying by a lot of people.  It is all part of war’s embrace.

What is new is that war, all war, must no longer be embraced, because it confronts us with the terminal doom of nuclear war.

The Taliban are today’s wartime opponents. For the moment they must be confronted militarily. Longer term strategy, though, must confront them, and everyone, with global law and global law enforcement. A prerequisite for the supremacy of law is submission of all nations to law and law enforcement. That will have to be a gradual, staged process. The order-imposing capacity of Superpower, uncertain and unreliable as it is, can be surrendered only gradually, and only to institutions whose law enforcement capacity, and whose democratic accountability have developed in slow stages. Today’s question is, how to reach the first stage.

The future has grown so perilous that history will judge President Obama by whether he lays the foundation for global law. To preserve civilian control of the world’s greatest military force without further politicizing that  armed force certainly is one requisite. To aspire to international institutions of law and law enforcement requires the capacity to smother international disputes, including terrorism. The second requisite is global democracy evolved far enough to make it safe and therefore feasible to empower the means of law enforcement.

Plans for when and how the United States will withdraw from Afghanistan should accompany parallel plans for peaceful, legal ways to sort out the aspirations and rights of ideological, ethnic, and political sub-groups that challenge national authority, and figuring how to turn enforcement power over them to reliably strong and accountable international institutions. The Taliban is only one such sub-group.

I predict that Obama will do little or nothing to achieve this, because nations as presently composed are incapable of taking steps directed to ultimately reducing their own power. The Superpower of the United States renders this nation especially incapable of doing it. This is why a secure future for the human race depends on some number of individuals accepting the assignment to re-mold the nation system into an international system. Where power remains available to individuals and their NGOs to influence national policies is in the cities and towns of the world.

The nations have targeted urban populations with nuclear missiles, so urban populations are more than entitled, in fact they are obligated for survival, to think their way out of the doomsday box.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Broken Democracy and Its Perils

The Gulf oil mess may be unparalleled for intractability and environmental impact, but not for public helplessness.

Regulation of deep oil drilling has been inadequate, and even supposing the public knew the risks and BP’s history of safety disdains, citizens lack control over regulatory enforcement comparable to the regulatory evasive power of private interests.

Which need is greater, more government regulatory power or more public power over government so that private interests can’t evade powers that government already has?

Government needs tending by citizens. Private interests tend to government around the clock. The question is not relying on government, as Libertarians would have it, but knowing what government should do and making government do it.  Where Libertarians misjudge security threats and where they undermine democracy, is where they want to jettison reliance on government without insisting that citizens take up the slack.

One reason people pay too little attention to government is that they concentrate on national government, the headline maker, over which they have little influence. They stare at the President for entertainment and mistake that for democracy. The level that they could influence, and transform into a power wielder over the national government that might compete with the money and media power of private interests, is city government.

City governments, working together, could make national governments honest. Collaborating across borders, city governments could pressure all national governments to attend to the security of their populations by ending war, squelching terrorists, and protecting the planet.

A current example of democratic power erosion is the bill in Congress to compensate for the Supreme Court’s holding in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. The Republicans’ Supreme Court majority gave corporations and unions the same political advertising rights as real people. The bill before Congress would require public disclosure of the source of political advertising money.  The bill’s sponsors, though, are revising the bill to exclude organizations like the National Rifle Association from oversight.  (NYT, 6-18-10)

Security in the nuclear age needs to be a daily chore, like it was for settlers on the frontier.  To usurp Native American land entailed risks, which early Americans, the pioneers, accepted.  Today, in an analogous power grab, the United States asserts Superpower perks for its corporations to exploit natural resources globally and for its consuming public to burn fossil fuel and exploit cheap foreign labor that manufactures cars and clothes and grows food. The risks that this creates, from degrading the Gulf of Mexico to the possibility of terrorist WMD strikes, will be suffered at the household level and need to be confronted there as well.

 The level of government that could to protect the public is the local level, not because cities can field armies and missiles, but because cities united across borders could make their nations substitute globally enforced law for war and resource exploitation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Next Day - Who Pays?

Nations have proved unable over 65 years to eliminate nuclear weapons. We must draw a conclusion from this overwhelming fact. The peril’s longevity and the nations’ tolerance of the threat steadily enlarge the danger.

Target populations once lived just in U.S. and Soviet cities, but with proliferation and the danger that terrorists will become nuclear armed, cities world-wide are fair game. Non-urban populations are equally exposed, from fall-out and the destruction of civilized infrastructure.

Now, it seems, the cost to prevent attack and to pick up the pieces after the curtain has fallen on this nation-conceived, nation-sustained horror show should be borne in part by cities.

Tara O’Toole, an Undersecretary of the Homeland Security Department, told a university audience with reference to an unconventional weapon strike, “We do have to start thinking very seriously about what we would actually do the day after an attack” Well, yes, and she went on to call it a “continuing, nagging problem” to decide who should foot the bill, whether the federal, state, or local government. (Global Security Newswire, June 10, 2010)

Decisions are made by people with power. Power belongs to those who profit from war and weapons, and to ideologically fixated national patriots and ethnic, economic, religious, and tribal zealots. The rest of us, which means most people, have not pursued enforced law as the substitute for war, available though it now is, thanks to accessible communication and travel that make global governance possible .

That we fail to do this, that we capitalize on modern communication and travel to make money and have fun but not to achieve security, is attributable to our continuing, misplaced reliance on our nations, or whichever one we live in, to look after us. But nations answer to their power holders, and the mass of humanity has not organized itself to wield power on behalf of security. To vote once in two or four years is the mere semblance of power.

The one place where targeted humanity might obtain power and consolidate efforts to overcome the sovereignty shibboleth that so blinds us to the requirements of authentic security, is in the cities and towns of the world.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nations Disunited

The way the world is set up, nations are assigned the job of solving the worst human problems and protecting people against the worst threats. There are other ways to organize human power and make decisions that affect humanity, but seven or eight hundred years ago the nation configuration was settled upon, and since then has been sustained and pumped up through ballyhoo patriotism and economic self interest.

The result begins to look like the end of humanity’s ascent, an ascent measured by increasing longevity, health, productivity, creativity, and fun. Now humans confront habitat decay, WMD agony, and debased civilization.

The BP oil disaster is a good example of our vulnerability. Not surprisingly, the nations involved - the United States and Great Britain - are called to account and turn on one another. Britain is blamed for tolerating a corporate monster that exploits natural resources and the environment while eluding safety and pollution regulation, while the U.S. is blamed for tolerating, even promoting, fossil fuel dependency more than any country, and for inadequate regulatory control.

Prime Minister David Cameron asserts that the economic value of BP to the British and American people should earn BP respite from blame. London Mayor Boris Johnson says that “It starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves.” (Financial Times, June 11, 2010)

The power centers of nations are relatively small coteries of people who constitute their governments, and the monied interests that facilitate their control. Corporate power centers are still smaller coteries, of investors and senior managers. The endangered, affected billions - most of us, in self defense, had better empower ourselves where power is available, which is by uniting the cities and towns of the world. Nations are here to stay, for the foreseeable future, but thinking, sentient, suffering humanity had better not leave it at that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jeb Brugmann

An old friend has written a book for which my City, Save Thyself! might serve as a companion volume. In Welcome to the Urban Revolution - How Cities Are Changing the World (N.Y.: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), Jeb Brugmann asserts that nations are “losing their centrality in the economic, ecological, and political end games that will play out in this century. The momentum of development has steadily shifted to the city, a territory still poorly understood by most nations.” (p. 274)

Brugmann provides fascinating case studies from cities in Brazil, Spain, Canada, India, and the United States, of urban growth and change, in some cases immensely productive, in some destructive, all in continuous flux. He describes the roles played by national and city governments, neighborhood associations, politicians, corporations, and city planners. Success for city residents as the world grows more urbanized, hinges on many factors. What city dwellers most have going for themselves is population density. Their power of association can be leveraged to overcome the destructive results of economic, technological, and individual mistakes made at the national level and in corporate offices.

I would add that, just as national and corporate planners create misery when they manipulate the economy for narrow, short term profit aims, exploit natural resources, relocate populations without regard for the necessities of association and community, and build infrastructure in disregard for human scale and use, so they perpetuate the war system. They fail to control and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and spawn terrorists, because they make populations targets for fighting war instead of links to overcome grounds for conflict and to prevent war.

City, Save Thyself! argues that the worst national mistake is to prepare for war while neglecting globally enforced law that could prevent war. The target populations, leveraging their numbers in the manner that Brugmann describes, but adding direct elections to a global municipal security congress, could force the nations to remedy that neglect.

Jeb Brugmann and I were together in 1986 in Cambridge’s first sister city delegation to Yerevan, capital of Armenia, then still part of the U.S.S.R. Twenty U.S.-Soviet sister city pairings did as much to end the Cold War as Reagan’s arms race escalations, and without the ruinous economic and terrorist side effects of the nuclear arms race. Both Jeb’s book and mine describe these city initiatives.

Jeb made further trips to the Soviet Union and describes how powerless the Soviet government was to repress citizen initiatives, try as they often did. It is interesting to reflect that both the Gorbachev and Reagan governments encouraged the U.S.-U.S.S.R. sister city movement, and that, when it comes to security, Soviet cities may have freed themselves from national constraints better than our American cities that now, because of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons, may be more in danger from weapons of mass destruction than cities in any country.

Friday, June 4, 2010

People Not Presidents

American political discourse concerns what the President and other big shots should do or not do. What citizens should do is seldom addressed. Interchanges in conversation, on the internet, and in writings of authors, columnists, and bloggers, generally treat the general public as onlookers, not participants.

This is not effective democracy. The President is not a stand-in for the people. He is the creature of contributors, political workers, department heads and advisors, media coverage, personal instincts, prejudices, and history. He is not, anywhere near to the degree that citizens might think and wish, a free thinking, free acting, empowered actor.

This relates to a separate but connected reality. That reality is the differences that exist between people - in their instincts, thinking patterns, training, assumptions, and beliefs. I cannot say how many basic types or patterns of human thought and instinct exist, but the number is not large, at least if we are talking about the public issues that people decide about at election time. Consider possible responses to the following questions:

- Are people basically aggressive or basically cooperative, and are these traits influenced by teaching and experience?
- To what extent should one’s survival and comfort level depend on personal effort and to what extent on need?
- Are some ways of life, religions, and societies more deserving than others, or are all equal, assuming they do not prey on one another?

These are a few issues that people have different positions on, usually without consciously attributing them to their basic assumptions or instinctive beliefs. Because we differ instinctively on some matters, because our basic assumptions differ on them, success and progress, especially in the nuclear age, necessitates that we be aware what instincts and basic assumptions affect our beliefs and decisions. We need to discuss the issues back to the basic assumptions so that when we disagree it will be clear what we are disagreeing about.

Question is, where and how can we have these discussions, around what nodes, whether geographical or electronic? What discipline can we impose on ourselves to assure that public discourse is productive rather than harangues of you’re wrong, no you’re wrong? What are schools doing to prepare us? What new forums might we devise? Above all, how might we make the dialogue global so it will influence the war centered nations?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Half The Population

Back in the 1960s war planners wanted to know how many nuclear weapons they “needed.” Buying some of RAND’s brilliant thinking, the Pentagon decided that if a nation, any nation, faced the certainty that half its population would die, it would decline going to war. (Dangerous Ground - America’s Failed Arms Control Policy, From FDR To Obama, Scott Ritter, New York: Nation Books, 2010, p. 103)

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who in old age declared that his nuclear weapons decisions had been “insane,” asked RAND how many nuclear war heads it would take to kill half the Soviet population. RAND thought 400 warheads would do the job. McNamara rounded up to 500 and doubled, and proposed to the Soviets a mutual top figure of one thousand warheads for each country. The U.S. Air Force at the time was proposing that this country acquire 2400 ICBMs, in addition to bombers and submarine missiles.

Security policies in both the U.S.S.R. and the United States have been contorted away from logical analysis for sixty years, by politics, weapons profits, military planners, technological “advances,” and geo-political considerations. Ritter, and David Hoffman in The Dead Hand, describe endless U.S. and Soviet Union war strategies, negotiating strategies, sincere proposals, insincere proposals, threats, bluffs, ploys, and stratagems, and lies, decade after decade, born variously of political ambitions, elections based on accurate or inaccurate public assessments, accidents, and ambitions.

John F. Kennedy won the Presidency partly by claiming that there was a “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which the secret U-2 overflights had told incumbent President Eisenhower was incorrect. Kennedy came into office to find no missile gap, but preparations far along for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. After this embarrassment, Viet Nam beckoned as an alternative battleground where Kennedy might fight Communism with more success and acclaim. Meanwhile, the Soviets wanted to close off Berlin because it served Eastern Europe as a window into more successful capitalist countries. The Cuban Missile Crisis was just around the corner.

Later, Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, who was running for a second term, partly due to public misconception of which candidate would try harder to achieve nuclear arms control. Reagan staffed key posts with arms control opponents, then decided that God had spared his life when John Hinckley tried to assassinate him, so that he could “reduce the threat of nuclear war,”(Dangerous Ground, p. 253). He proceeded to further postpone mutual arms control because he dreamed up the illogical, unscientific, impossible Star Wars defense to nuclear attack.

So much was still ahead - so many risks, so much expense, so many proxy wars, so little preparation for the ambitions of countries like today’s Iran and North Korea. The Dead Hand and Dangerous Ground describe countless occasions when this or that event, change of personnel, new invention, budgetary factor, political ambition, and pure chance blocked progress toward a world based on law instead of weapons. The nations were almost entirely war oriented. Little wonder that citizens, who as the targets ought to have been driving the agenda, wound up as nothing more than a measuring rod for overkill.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jack Van Impe

We all have the same voting power at election time. That does not mean we all have the same responsibility for democratic decision making. Civic responsibility corresponds to one’s understanding of the issues, compared with the understanding of others. The better I understand, or think I understand, and the less I think others understand, the more compelled I am to act.

This is why, in City, Save Thyself! I call for self selection of initiators who will work to end the monopoly that nations hold on issues of peace and war.

Jack Van Impe’s television show the other night illustrated what I mean. The Reverend Van Impe is a dangerous fellow. He reminds me how many are beyond hope of persuasion that we might achieve a world of enforced law. He leads thousands of followers toward a glorious, ordained end time when Christ will lift them to perpetual glory while everyone else burns in hell. The influence of Van Impe and other extremist religionists has to be compensated for by citizens with a sense of humankind’s mutual responsibility for what happens to us.

Van Impe inveighs against weapons in space, but welcomes the holocaust that such weapons will bring, on the grounds that a space war is foretold in the Book of Revelations. He spits out a denunciation of efforts of the five year non-proliferation conference because it cannot, and apparently he thinks, should not, succeed, presumably because it would thwart God’s will.

Van Impe denounces efforts to pressure Israel to treat with Palestinians, on grounds that Israel is a democracy. When his eagerly awaited end time occurs, though, not being Christian, Israelis presumably await fiery destruction along with Muslims and atheists. He displays mockingly a color cartoon of Obama drawn like a Stepinfetchit clown, one of many blatant political comments, made absent any discernible frame of reference to issues about what is good for the country, and in clear violation of his religious 501(c)(3) tax exemption.

Followers of this demagogue cannot be expected to apply rational judgment to public decision making. Van Impe’s ministry of irresponsibility is so transparently self-contradictory, irrational, and destructive of civic discourse, that his followers have to be assumed incapable of rational political thought, due to emotional predisposition, lack of education, or whatever. If the rest of us fail to compensate for their disregard for what the nuclear arms race is likely to bring, Van Impe’s predictions will come true, except that his followers will burn right along with Muslims.