We Can't Live with Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power Plants

The annual peace walk to the Ground Zero Center in Bangor is wrapping up today with a talk by Dennis Kucinich at 6:30 pm. I was able to speak with Senji Kanaeda for a few minutes on July 31st and am finishing up a short video with Senji’s thoughts front and center.

I still have a little tweaking to do on the video, but it’s almost finished and I wanted to get this up. I am also using the video to publicize the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant event at Traditions on Monday, August 8th at 7 pm. We have to stop nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. This is a road that leads nowhere.

More Notes on the Fragility of Empire

“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the
American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially
unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be
an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”
— George F. Kennan (1904-2005) US advisor, diplomat, political analyst, and Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study and former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. 1987

So Kennan understood clearly in 1987 that the American economy was built around military industry. The need for an enemy, the threat to the US economy from not standing in opposition to an enemy had become an end in itself. Americans and the world had learned to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation (the thermonuclear war variety, not the poor engineering variety demonstrated at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and most recently at Fukushima). We got desensitized to that “hard rain” threat over a couple of decades and all attempts to reduce nuclear weapons around the world have been effectively thwarted by the US failure to lead, to comply with our obligation to reduce our nuclear stockpile as an important part in the non-proliferation treaty. We continue to upgrade and adapt nuclear weapons for use in changing battlefield scenarios. Need an example? Look at depleted uranium ammunition. We have avoided the issue of safely disposing of the uranium tailing produced in enriched uranium processes by turning the waste material into a heavy projectile weapon that can be used to pierce armor, kill enemy combatants and coincidentally expose a population in foreign lands to a chemical agent. If these were exploded on American soil by some party I think they would be called a dirty bomb. But they are just armor piercing DU shells when we use them.

A “good” thing for the American economy, I suppose. Lots of profitable economic activity dedicated to enriching uranium and a win-win for the military industrial complex to be able to turn the waste material into another profit opportunity in du sales to the American war machine.

But where does it get us? Does it make us safe? I think our distance, our continental isolation, from the peoples we exploit economically and oppress culturally is the dominant factor in the American experience of security and stability. I believe that our choices to build economic stability on the rock of military weaponry makes us less safe. As empires have historically discovered, the price of maintaining a standing army capable of taking on all comers (and even all comers at the same moment) is the oppression and exploitation of foreign nations and peoples. The formula is not stable. Great Britain chose to step back from empire at the end of WWII. Was it a choice or had GB had been so depleted by its proximity to the war in Europe that its time at the top of pyramid was over? I am not sure about that question, but the long term outcome was the shift to GB as servant to American hegemony, a bit of role reversal for the two countries, notwithstanding some notable disagreements between the two nation-states including a fracas in 1776 and another in 1812.

Here’s another thought from Kennan, from an earlier date:

US State Department 1948, Review of Current Trends in U.S. Foreign Policy: …We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population… In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction. George Kennan, US State Department 1948

Clearly, Kennan was not just a sophisticated insider and observer of the American Empire, he was an architect or engineer in the construction of empire. If there is a section of hell reserved for the dogs of war George Kennan has earned his place there. But these things are beyond human knowing or understanding. A person like Mandela spends decades in jail and a guy like Kissinger has yet to be arrested. Justice in our time is a chimera, a roll of the dice, a happenstance, not a predictable outcome of any human process that I can identify.

The US and Obama had an opportunity to put our feet on a different path. The collapse of the Wall Street megabanks, the banksters (financial wizards with conscience comparable to Kennan’s) who have arisen to lead the military economy were momentarily vulnerable. Coincidentally, the climate, the planet itself is starting to respond to our species hubris in ways that will force change, but sadly, Obama played it safe and propped up the banksters and chose to double down on the military economy instead of committing resources to an employment program based on clean energy and energy independence. The door was open, a path away from military empire and back on industrial and environmental stability lay on the other side through that door. Obama is not a dumb guy. He must have recognized the opportunity, but he appears to be a really cautious guy who just could not take bold steps. An effective orator and ineffective politician. I was never sold on the guy, so I don’t have to deal with the betrayal factor, but I am certainly disappointed. My energy and passion are with candidates like Kucinich and Dean. Do these guys have a chance in the big money politics arena? David, meet Goliath. He’s the big guy with heavy armor. Good luck with that guy.

Well, Goliath sometimes loses. It’s historic when he does, it’s history when Goliath prevails as he most often does.

Alternet is running a piece by Noam Chomsky today. Noam continues to respond to the “Obama Kills Osama” story in the same way that I do, by wondering how the country has moved forward into the realm of lawless, rogue states with so little outcry.

Noam asks When Did America Completely Jettison the Rule of Law? It’s a good question.

So we move forward into the post-rapture-disappointment week with Obama wearing the armor of Goliath. Somehow we have to find a way to reach Goliath. To persuade Goliath that might does not make right. That is the real David versus Goliath battle. Persuade Goliath to lay down his arms.

Happy Monday to all!

Sanity, Power, Values and More

“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”
— David Brin
(1950- ) Author

I don’t know much about sane folks, but I get the drift here from Mr. Brin. I figure the realm of politics attracts opportunists the way a basketball court attracts tall folks. It’s just obvious that this realm appeals to a certain population. One population that is called to politics are reformers, utopians, philosophers who want to see if their ideals can be put in practice. That is probably the best of the lot. Another group are or become pragmatists who think they can see a way to move a body politic toward an ideal through compromises and the politics of the possible. And yet another group are simply political functionaries who understand the political realm as primarily a playing field for exercise of power. All of the experimentation that attends the exercise of power and is done without the counterweight of the human values captured by Eleanor Roosevelt’s master work, the declaration of universal human rights is fraught with risk. Perhaps it is done in the context of a different philosophical realm – the social darwinism of Ayn Rand or the puritanical criminality of folks who come to power with the idea that ethnic cleansing of society is a means that is justified by their dream end of a pure society. And really, this ethnic cleansing model is simply operationalizing social darwinism. It is an impatient social darwinism that doesn’t even have the moral conscience to enact policies of neglect and exclusion that will achieve a similar end more slowly. I will give those folks points for efficiency. The trains will run on time or the conductors will be thrown under the wheels.

So, in an exercise of brutal or brutish efficiency, our country now engages in some horrendous stuff and there is not much outcry. Waterboarding? Is it ever ok to torture beings? I don’t think this is a tough question. Our efficiency (misunderestimated imho) overcomes our values and we are drawn into questions about whether torture works? Does torture work? Of course it works. The work product is tortured individuals on both sides of the equations. Torture creates monsters.

The correct question is should we torture beings? Is there ever a justification for torture? The simple and correct answer is no. Kick the question to ethics philosophers, to religious leaders, to large political bodies, the answer is the same. Torture is wrong. Don’t bother playing around the margins with sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions etc. This is torture. Subject any of the individuals who favor these “pragmatic” options to skirt the clear moral and legal prohibitions to torture to enhanced interrogation techniques for 72 hours and let’s see if they continue to think this is ok. Of course, that is a rhetorical proposition. Unless the proponents of enhanced interrogation techniques volunteer for the treatment to show that is not inhumane, we who believe the treatment is inhumane cannot cross that line. It’s just that simple.

public domain Wiki CommonsHow about murder? Is murder ever ok? “Thou shall not kill” seems to be a pretty common principle in religions and moral philosophies. Geopolitics continues to find justification for wholesale violation of this principle in decisions to enter into wars or “police actions.” Intentional destruction of life is delivered through our proxies, the drones, that circle above us. The finger that pushes the button is isolated from humanity by electronic screens, the screens of violent computer games, the screens of electronic drone control panels, the human screens that allow this murderous activity to be conducted anonymously. Murder from behind the screen of anonymity. Pay no attention to the man behind the screen or curtain. The drone attacks are surgical and intelligent. We get the illusion of smart bombs when we need the reality of smart leaders, smart policies, smart action.

So, this country recently sent a team of assassins into another sovereign country in the dead of night to murder an unarmed man. Our agents captured a man who had been convicted of no crime and it is said they shot him in the face, possibly in front of his family members. Are we ok with that? Is that an event for celebration?

I say no.

So what are our values? Why do other folks around the planet find themselves in conflict with us? I will let John Foster Dulles have the last word:


“Somehow we find it hard to sell our values, namely that the rich should plunder the poor.”
— John Foster Dulles former Secretary of State

More on the Libyan Question

Juan Cole has an interesting post up at Informed Comment on the current state of affairs in Libya: Top Ten Accomplishments of the UN No Fly Zone.

I find Juan’s analysis of the current state of affairs to be a little encouraging. I understand the break that exists between the folks who do not believe military force should have been used and those of us who were clamoring for protection of the people who were being targeted by the Libyan armed forces. This seems to be posed as an either or situation: either we stand by and let the Libyans settle things themselves or we attack Gaddafi and set up for an Iraq-style invasion. But maybe this is not an either or situation, but a “both and” situation. Maybe there are more options than the either or analysis suggests?

Gaddafi is like Mugabe is like Mubarak is like Papa Doc, he is a guy who has seized and wielded power over a country for decades. People in charge become principles unto themselves, they transcend principles like autonomy or economic justice or populist ambition for a better life. People in charge for decades become institutions and it’s hard to change institutions and yet change will occur. The arc of history bends toward justice because human beings want justice and will work and sometimes fight for it. In any given moment, the arc of history may suggest retrograde movement, but I believe it is two steps forward and one step back. It would be great to never see a step back, but the forces that support and benefit from the status quo fight the human beings who work for expansion of justice, for expansion and protection of human rights because the impact often occurs in a zero sum game where human progress comes at the expense, a pinch on the lifestyle of the ruling class.

It has been a mistake to embrace Gaddafi over the past decades. Even though democracies may embrace retrograde politics at times (Michelle Bachmann anyone?) they do allow for changes in the political direction of a country when enough voters/activists decide a new direction is needed. Leadership that does not answer to the will of the people on a regular basis is a tyranny even when it is popular.

In terms of the “both and” option mentioned above, I am hoping that the international community can identify and commit to means other than military attacks to convince Gaddafi that his time has passed.