Thursday, August 27, 2015

Arms Are for Hugging

Arms are for hugging. At least, they should be. But Oscar Arias Sanchez, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner notes that arms are also killing us.Oscar Arias Sanchez
He just published this opinion piece to accompany the First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (CancĂșn, Mexico,  August 24-27th, 2015).
Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons”.

We just recently passed the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, Most of us with a pulse realize the world is poised to enter into a nuclear arms agreement with Iran, if the U.S. Congress doesn't subvert diplomacy. Yet there comes news this week also of yet other 'illegal' arms being used in Yemen. The U.S. supplied cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, which is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. And of course, they are using them in opposition to the treaty.

In fact, as defense analyst William Hartung noted "the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion." This is the legacy of a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Hartung was reporting before the announcement earlier this month that the US was speeding up arm sales to the Gulf States. Hartung , in a piece published in Foreign Policy this year shared more insights into the growth in the arms trade, calling the Iran negotiations an "Arms Fair".

The latest data available from SIPRI - Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, five of the top six arms manufacturers are US based multinational corporations. Names familiar to most of us including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northop Grumman, and General Dynamics accounted for more than $120 billion in 2013, the last year for which data is available. The stakes are high and President Eisenhower warned us more than 50 years ago about the power of the "military industrial complex". No doubt, it is alive and well and driving foreign policy here and abroad. 

Oxfam reported recently, while calling for implementation of the International Arms Trade Treaty, that armed violence in Africa alone costs the continent $18 billion a year, the rough equivalent of the total amount of foreign aid they receive.

All this paints a backdrop for the debate over the Iran Nuclear Agreement reached with Britain, China, France, Germany Russia and the U.S. One side you have the Israeli government and its supporters declaring that to agree to this pact is the death to Israel. Of course, Netanyahu, the Israeli President has been making much the same claim for 20 years. Richard Falk, eminent international legal scholar exposes that narrative in a blogpost  last month. 

The fear mongering of those opposed to the agreement, and even some of the supporters, is wildly speculative. Iran is depicted as the axis of evil while Saudi Arabia gets a pass on their behavior towards both their citizens and neighbors, behavior that is arguably worse on both counts. And almost everyone agrees that the failure of this agreement would bring an escalation in violence, instability, and yes, of course arms sales!!!!

Which nations have nuclear weapons now and do they all allow 24x7 inspection of their nuclear facilities by the IAEA? I think we know the answer. Double standards based on raising fear levels escalates the manufacture, sale and use of arms. Let's not let diplomacy get in the way of that. president Eisenhower must be shaking his head and saying, "I told you so."

Let's move beyond the Iran nuclear agreement and get an arms reduction agreement for all arms and use our real arms for hugging and shaking hands.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thinking the Twenty-First Century

I stumbled on this one, Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, during one of my usual visits to the new book shelf at the MSU Libraries.

Thinking the Twenty­-First Century

I had not heard of the author, Malcolm McIntosh, before, but the title was intriguing and the praise on the book jacket was urging me to peek inside the covers. 

"This book has restless urgency which demands recognition...This is a powerful work by a man at his peak and will, in fifty years' time, be seen as a masterpiece." Tim Smith, co-founder of The Eden Project.

So I added it to the pile at home. I picked it up one morning and then was finished within a week, other books having been started had to wait. The opening sentences compelled me forward.

" This is a book about change, about change that is happening now--what might be called rapid evolution. It is transitionary, necessary, nascent and inelectuble. It is a book about the past, the present and the future and its about theory and practice. It contains evidence, anecdote, musings and passion. It is set in the second decade of the twenty-first century and has been written while I have been undergoing treatment for incurable cancer."

McIntosh, has quite the interesting pedigree as noted at his website at Griffith University (Australia) where he teaches:

          Dr Malcolm McIntosh FRSA is the Founding Director, and a Professor, of the Asia Pacific Centre               for Sustainable Enterprise at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, which he joined in 2009. He started teaching and writing on corporate responsibility and sustainability in 1990 after             previous careers in television production and journalism with the BBC, peace research at Bradford        University, and business and language teaching in Sweden, Japan and Australia. He has worked at       the universities of Warwick and Coventry and been a visiting professor at the universities of Bath,          Bristol, Stellenbosch, Waikato, and Sydney. He is the producer, author or co-author of more than        twenty books and numerous articles for journals, magazines and newspapers and he has been a           frequent commentator on television and radio around the world on social issues, business                    responsibility and sustainable enterprise. He has been a special advisor to the UN global Compact         and was the founding editor of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship. In the last two decades he              has advised governments, corporations and international NGOs as well as working at a                         community level to establish local initiatives. In the words of one reviewer ‘in a world of siloed              thinking he has concentrated on getting people to talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to’             and built partnerships for innovative research and publishing projects, pioneered the teaching of           business, human rights, and sustainability in business and management schools, and been at the          heart of many corporate responsibility initiatives. He loves working across boundaries and                     breaking the institutionalised rules that prevent the growth of human and Earth-centred                          development.

Given his circumstance of fighting incurable cancer, it should not be surprising to sense an urgency pulsing through this book. Sometimes that urgency could use some editing, but even where some clarity is missing, McIntosh takes us to visit the weeds on the forest floor, but he's also giving us an ecosystem level analysis. Having danced in the world of journalism, research, business, and teaching over a number of decades he brings all those experiences to bear as he synthesizes what he has learned and what direction he encourages us to follow. It is clear he has thought deeply about the Twenty-first Century and we would be wiser if we listened to what he has discerned. Some examples:

     Events come and go. Some commentators have argued that activities around the world in the 1960s achieved little, and the Occupy movement in the 2000s fizzled out without much perceivable success. But, as with the Middle East demonstrations, in each case, the ability to meet and break free of the shackles of government or corporations is a liberation; and the questions that are raised by these free and sometimes random voices echo through social discourse long after the demonstrators have been beaten back by tear gas, truncheon, Injunction, dissipation or exhaustion. It is often to these people that we owe human progress in the face of intransigence or inertia on the part of the institutions that have arisen around power, money, religion or other vested interest. (pp.73-4)

     ...Our current model of capitalism is still, even in this century of growing planetary awareness, based on a model of expansion and limitless resource extraction. Physicist Fritjof Capra's 1982 book The Turning Point drew on the idea of the balance of yin and yang in all things to make the point that the world is currently unbalanced. It is too yang: too masculine,right-brained, aggressive, individualistic, and conquering. This has led to the earth being plundered, not respected. We have forgotten (or did we ever know?) that we are not above nature, but part of it. The yin has become inferior and we are out of balance. We need to balance the whole and introduce awe, wonder and respect in our relationship with that which sustains us. Yin has been regarded as a lower-order function.
     Yin and yang are not a question of either-or but a respect for balance or a holistic view of all issues. Too much yang is implicit in 'scientific/rational' research and management theory and has led to too little light being cast on subjects such as trust, love, and spirituality in business and management. (p.129)

     ...Capitalism and economics did not fail in the 2008/9 crash because capitalism and economics has no memory, soul or conscience. It is simply an idea given substance by its political context. It was that context that failed then and continues to fail now. The dominant model of economics that dominates many large national economies and international trade and banking is illusory, but, in the eyes of commentators such as Philip Morowski, the logic of neoliberalists is that the market 'is the ultimate information system'. It is omnipotent and superior to human intelligence and should, like god, be beyond our control because, if we dally with it, it will fail us. Mirowski, Yvonne Roberts, Picketty and others observe that this model, which espouses freedom through liberalization, marketization, commodification and objectification, has enslaved us all by quantifying all human activity only in financial terms. It would have us trade every tree, all the Earth's resources and our love for one another in worship of the market. It has infantilized us all in the pursuit of the false god of financial growth. (pp. 166-7)

...Our global economic system needs new rules, and not NO rules; and our supra-territorial corporations, whether state-, mutually or shareholder-owned, need new rules on governance, transparency, responsibility, rights, reporting and accountability. So, how did we get to this state?
     Let's distinguish between two issues. First, we all believe in markets, exchange and trade. Who wouldn't? Second, it is recognized that society is made up of institutions and organizations. Both are made in our own image, but both are now in need of rigorous examination to see if they deliver public and social good and to see if they conform to the principle of 'do no harm' and 'the precautionary principle'. (p.175)

McIntosh does his best to help us see the connections and the possibilities that might build a better future for our heirs. His spirited inquiry just might inspire some to get involved. Hope he lives to see a better day.