Working towards peace and sustainability

Why Gather?

This Saturday evening, August 5, there will be a Peace Gathering at Stephens Lake Park marking the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (details below). Here are some reasons we hope you might decide to attend:

·        Because we empower ourselves when we come together. When we gather we build community and strengthen our shared resolve to address challenges including war, militarism, climate change, injustice, the entire misguided Trump Agenda and more.

·        Because there are still thousands of nuclear warheads threatening the future of humanity.

·        Because our nation is a highly militarized behemoth engaged in military action in many nations around the world, and, due to the fact that relatively few Americans are dying, the media and our fellow citizens are paying scant attention to the Permanent War.

·        Because the trillions of dollars squandered on war and militarism are not being invested or spent where they could and should be; to enhance our quality of life, invest in our people/education, revamp our aging infrastructure, clean up the environment, address the climate crisis and more.

·        Because we cannot afford to allow ourselves to become numb to the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were slaughtered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. Mass incineration of human beings, like the Holocaust, must never be forgotten. And in response to this horror we must reply, “Never Again!” and take action to prevent nuclear war.

·        Because the weapons used in Japan in 1945, as horrific as they were, are diminutive compared to those that could be used today, nuclear war truly represents an existential threat that must be addressed.

·        Because Donald Trump is calling for major increases in military spending, in general, and nuclear weapons spending, in particular; because he has said he would welcome a new arms race; because he does not seem to understand just how dangerous and destructive nuclear weapons are; and because his temperament and mental state do not seem compatible with the responsibility of averting nuclear war.

·        Because it feels good to break bread with others. Because it is good to share their company. Because the music to be shared will be uplifting. Because the lanterns we will make and float will inspire us.

For all these reasons and more we will gather as a community committed to peace and justice this Saturday evening. We invite you to join us.

Here are the details from our Facebook event:

Join us at the Gordon Shelter of Stephens Lake Park beginning at 6 p.m. for an evening of solidarity including a potluck dinner, music, lantern-making, speakers and the annual lantern float.

During the event, you will have the opportunity to create your own lantern. We provide the supplies and show you how. All you need is a wish for peace that you would like to send out at the evening lantern float. The float is a beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives in Hiroshima & Nagasaki, as well as our heart-felt wish for a peaceful future.

The event starts at 6. We potluck ~6:30. Lantern making and music follow. The formal program starts at 8 and we float the lanterns at 9. Speakers include Andrew Hutchinson and Mark Haim. Poetry will be performed by T'Keyah Thomas. Music will be provided by Robin Anderson and Marissa Wood and Friends.

Trump, Russia & the Movement

President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller

For months now, Trump-Russia has dominated the media, crowding out coverage of many substantial public policy concerns. How should we in the progressive community relate to this issue?

The Case Against Focusing on “Trump-Russia”

We hear from many respected friends, allies and progressive icons that we need to keep our eyes on the prize, not be distracted by the allegations of Russia connections or collusion, when the real and pressing concerns are the incredible harm the Trump administration is doing, or trying to do, on multiple fronts.

This includes, of course, everything from massive budgetary cuts that will grievously harm the least among us, attacks on human rights and public education, a full-throttle assault on the climate, deregulation right and left, the assault on healthcare that threatens to take away coverage from tens of millions of people, attempts to redistribute wealth and income upward through massive tax cuts for the already wealthy, huge increases in military spending and escalation of U.S. wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, etc., attacks on freedom of the press and an open internet, and, of course, the lifetime appointment of radical-right justices and judges to our federal courts.

These critics have some very valid points. We cannot allow these hugely destructive attacks to go unanswered or un-resisted. These critics make another very valid point that is often overlooked. The penultimate thing the world needs right now is a new, intensified Cold War II and a new arms race with Russia. And the very last thing we need is an actual war between the two nuclear titans, something that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe, and especially in Syria, is making more likely.

The focus on Trump-Russia fits well in the anti-Russia agenda of the hawkish neo-cons—including prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle—as well as their allies in the Military Industrial Complex. It really has no place on the progressive agenda. We need to make clear that, whatever we might think of Putin, the Russian nation and its people are not our “enemies,” and, in fact, we should be working, as we did during the many decades of Cold War I, to support and promote d├ętente.

Those who argue against focusing on Trump-Russia take this a step further, however. They maintain, first, that there is no smoking gun proving collusion, and, that, second, even if one was found and Trump was impeached, we might be no better off with Mike Pence in the Oval Office. They also point out how hard it would be to get the GOP-controlled Congress to vote with a super-majority, to remove Donald Trump from office, and some say that it would be worse to have Pence at the helm. Their bottom line is: let’s move on and address what’s really important, not what MSNBC, CNN, WaPo or NYT tell us it is.

The Case in Favor

But, of course, there is a flip side to this story—a case to be made that Trump-Russia should, indeed, concern us. Those in this camp point out that it’s not simply the huge number of contacts between key Team Trump players and various Russian officials and operatives throughout the campaign. Nor is it just the fact that many of these were not reported, or denied, when required to be disclosed, in confirmation processes, or in applying for security clearances.

Many who feel we should press forward with the investigations point to what they see as circumstantial evidence suggestive of collusion, like Trump’s campaign-trail announcement that he’d soon be revealing damning information regarding Hillary Clinton, made between the time that Don Junior’s meeting with Russian operatives—ones he believed were representing the Russian state and their declared interest to aid his father’s bid for the White House—was arranged and when it was held. Or the fact that said information release unexplainedly never happened, when apparently the promised info was not produced.

Those who make the case for pursuing Trump-Russia also point to a much larger pattern of secrecy and obfuscation. It seems that Donald Trump is desperately trying to avoid scrutiny, and this “smoke” is likely indicative of some “fire.” They point to the obvious efforts to derail the FBI investigation, including the pressure placed on James Comey, and his subsequent firing, an action which Trump, himself, acknowledged to NBC was taken due to Trump-Russia.

They also point to the dismissal of Sally Yates, apparently to derail her testimony before a Congressional committee. And red flags go up in regard to the canning of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who had been assured by the administration that he was going to keep his position. Bharara has a stunning track record of pursing financial malfeasance, obtaining a record number of convictions of Wall St. insiders. 

And then there is the current round of attacks on his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, focused on his recusal from Trump-Russia, something the POTUS says he should not have done, despite the fact that Justice Dept. rules required him to do this. There is serious speculation in the news daily as to whether Trump will fire Sessions and whether he is contemplating doing this in order to remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Where this all gets really interesting is that it seems Mueller is investigating more than simply possible electoral collusion. We all recall clearly how Trump refused to release any of his tax returns; how he falsely claimed he couldn’t, due to being under audit; how he promised he would release them later, and then did a U-turn, saying no one but the “fake-news” media was interested.

Well, now it turns out that Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation is apparently looking into Trump’s finances, including said tax returns. Adam Serwer, in a July 21 Atlantic article writes “President Trump is reportedly apoplectic over the possibility that Special Counsel Robert Mueller might look into his finances—specifically his tax returns . . . .” Trump indicated in an interview with the New York Times that such an investigation might be a “violation,” although it is unclear what the President thinks is being violated.

There have been numerous allegations. Some accuse Trump of connections to Russian “mob figures.” Others say real estate deals with the Trump organization have been a vehicle for money laundering, done in the service of Russian oligarchs and crime figures. Whether or not any of this is true is, at this point, unclear. What is clear as day, however, is that Donald Trump, like Nixon during Watergate, gives the appearance of someone who’s got something to hide.

Peaceworks’ Take on This

Moving forward an investigation of Trump and his associates, including their contacts during the campaign and, more broadly, their finances, seems eminently in the public interest. So too, does continuing to push back on the multiple assaults mentioned above. These are not mutually exclusive. While we, most assuredly must focus public attention and concern on issues of substance—climate, war and militarism, healthcare, budget cuts, etc.—we should also support the Mueller investigation. And we should certainly be prepared to rally behind it, should there be an attempt to fire the Special Counsel or otherwise derail the process.

Regarding the claims that should Pence replace Trump things would be no better and even possibly worse, here are a few things to consider. First, Trump is an erratic and unpredictable figure. His mental health seems to many to be in question and who knows how he would react in a crisis? It certainly would behoove us to do what we can to remove his fingers from the nuclear “button.”

Impeachment presents a high bar. Trump will not be removed from office by a GOP-controlled Congress unless it turns out that there is clear and unequivocal evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing. This coming out would discredit more than Donald Trump. There would be a serious cloud over his movement and their agenda. It would likely lead at least some of his ardent base to rethink their loyalty and lead many more centrist voters who supported him to question their allegiance to the Trump agenda (as the polls seem to indicate many are already doing). It would also undermine the credibility of the administration officials Trump has put in place and lead some in the Congressional majority to feel the need, as a matter of political survival, to create some distance between themselves and the MAGA (Make America Great Again) agenda.

We need to recognize that impeachment is relatively unlikely, and would not solve all our problems, in any case. Rather, we must work as hard as we can to stop the pernicious Trump program wherever we can. We need to reach out to our neighbors and all our fellow citizens sharing with them our perspectives as to why the Trump prescription for this country is the wrong one, and sharing our own vision as to what would lead to “greatness” and how we might get there. Along the way, we should not vilify Russia. But we certainly should support efforts to find out what connections the President and his associates have had to Russian officials and financial figures.

Ultimately, we will create a more just, peaceful and sustainable future if, and only if, we can win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens and garner their strong support for an agenda that calls for more than a rejection of Trump. We need to win support, too, for a rejection of the failed neo-liberal policies that made Trump’s appeal to voters possible. And, most importantly, we need to find common ground upon which we can come together to build a truly workable, progressive future.

Just What are We Celebrating?

Once again some are cheering the news that the U.S. has killed the leader of ISIS in Afghanistan. Word reached us today that the U.S. military had announced they’d killed Abu Sayed. He is “the third ISIS-K (the Afghan affiliate of ISIS) leader killed in the last 12 months by U.S. forces,” according to MilitaryTimes.

In some ways this is like a deadly game of Whack-A-Mole. You kill one, and another pops up. Surely, the group will have a new leader in a matter of days.

In our minds there are really two issues here.

First, is the Pragmatic Question: Is war-making enabling our government to make headway toward its stated objective of ending “terrorism?”

The U.S. has been killing those branded “terrorists” in Afghanistan since 2001, and yet despite dramatically escalated drone attacks, counter-insurgency warfare, the use of U.S.-trained and advised government forces in combat (with access to U.S. artillery and air support), and the use of powerful aerial munitions including the so-called “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB), these indigenous opposition groups are as strong now as they have been at any point since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Are we not dealing with the very same issue that plagued the U.S. war on Vietnam five decades ago; the failure to win “hearts and minds?” Will killing even more Afghans, including Taliban and ISIS combatants, and, with them, a great many non-combatants (generally dismissed as “collateral damage”), wipe out opposition to the U.S. and the U.S.-installed government? Or is it more likely to alienate the populace and make it even more difficult to win their support?

We are once again forced to address the question “Are we making more enemies than we’re eliminating?” And its corollary: “Is there any valid reason for a war that requires us to ‘kill the village to save it?’”

And generalizing, for a moment, it must be recognized that it’s not only Afghanistan where U.S. intervention has failed to bring peace and prosperity, let alone meaningful democracy. We can look at Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya for starters. All are, after many years of intervention, still caught up in ongoing, deadly conflicts, costly in life, limb and treasure. These interventions have dislocated many millions, leading to an enormous number of refugees, including internally displaced persons and those who’ve fled across borders in search of sanctuary.

Second is the Moral Question:  Are these U.S. wars—conflicts that lead to death and destruction—consistent with our values and moral/ethical grounding?

While some are cheering the death of Abu Sayed, due to the organization and the ideology he fought for, we question celebrating the killing of anyone, and are especially disturbed by this when the killing done in our name; paid for by our tax dollars.

Some Peaceworks members are pacifists who eschew all use of violence. They follow the notion of turning the other cheek when encountering violence.

Most of our members, however, embrace last-resort use of force to protect lives and avoid invasions or the imposition of tyranny. We would seek, whenever possible, to resolve conflict through negotiation and mutual accommodation, but would accept defensive violence if all other alternatives have been exhausted. Ultimately, any time nations go to war it is indicative of a tragic failure; the failure to effectively pursue a non-violent resolution to whatever conflict the war is addressing.

Now, the sort of killing people in our name, as has been done throughout the so-called “War on Terror” has not been defensive; it has neither been necessary, nor has it protected our country. In fact, it really has not even been about fighting “terrorism.” Rather, it has been about the projection of power in the pursuit of geopolitical imperatives; the domination of resource-region regions and the establishment and maintenance of U.S. hegemony and the dominance of U.S./Western-based transnational corporations.

Another moral dimension that should be considered is: What we give up when we decide to collectively kill other people by making war on them? Many would answer: At least a portion of our humanity and our respect for life. And they are, of course correct.

There is another aspect, however, that needs to be considered. The world today spends upwards of $1.7 trillion annually on its militaries and its wars (more than one-third of this is spent by the U.S.). And sums of comparable magnitude have been spent every year for decades. While this number is so big it is virtually meaningless to most of us, this sum, or even half of it, invested in people, infrastructure, efforts to address the climate crisis and, more generally, in sustainable development, would go a long way to addressing the interconnected crises humanity faces.

Even if the weapons were not being used—if hot wars weren’t occurring—there is a moral bankruptcy in spending these many trillions on the military, while allowing poverty, the wasting of lives, the destruction of the environment and the climate crisis to go largely unaddressed. Allowing the Military Industrial Complex in our country and comparable interests in other nations around the world steal from the mouths of the hungry and rob future generations of their rightful inheritance is unacceptable, plain and simple.

When the media and our fellow citizens celebrate the snuffing out of an ISIS leader in Afghanistan, or the killing of any such figure, anywhere in the world, it’s worth pointing out that they are celebrating war with no end; a cycle of violence projected to be with us for decades to come, at the very least. They are celebrating policies that are calculated to keep our economy on a permanent wartime footing and to enable profiteering by those Bob Dylan, decades ago, labeled as the “Masters of War.”

They are also celebrating our collective failure, including a failure of the imagination, to vision and create a world in which humanity lives together cooperatively, sharing the Earth, rather than fighting over it.

This calls to mind the words of former President Dwight Eisenhower who, in a 1953 speech, famously said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children . . .”

Our questions for you are: Do you share a sense that this war without end must be challenged and stopped? And are you willing to get involved in building an effective movement that can address the concerns laid out above? If you are, we’d love to work with you.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

—Bob Dylan, “Masters of War