Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What a Racket!

Parts of the following appeared in a viewpoint published by the Lansing State Journal (9/19/2016).

The march to war continues unceasingly regardless of which of our two major parties holds the highest office in the land. Last month, President Obama, without any discussion with Congress, authorized air strikes into Libya. We have been in endless war since the passage of the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) was given to President Bush by a quiescent Congress after the September 2001 attacks on the US. Only Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) then cautioned that the road we were to embark on might make things worse.

There seems to be plenty of evidence to show she was right, as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have not brought peace but the opposite. Even many military leaders question the effectiveness of these assaults by air. Such actions have fueled the rise of more terrorists, not fewer. For everyone killed, especially civilians, by a bullet or a drone attack, more recruits are driven by hopelessness to fight against the unleashed power of the West. Besides the human casualties – dead, wounded, displaced millions -- the infrastructure, antiquities, and environment have been laid to waste. It will take many billions to rebuild yet never recover from the scourge of war. 

But this doesn't even begin to measure even the narrow focused US economic costs, which a recent Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University reports as $4.8 Trillion since the AUMF was passed. Add in the human, social and political costs and the picture gets grimmer.

Although it is by far the largest portion of the discretionary federal budget, neither of the two major party candidates are willing to confront the racket of endless war. In fact, they appear to see who is tougher. (Each of the two leading minor party candidates believe that military spending needs reduction.) Our fourth estate turns a blind eye to the endless war and the black hole of military spending it engenders. As admirals and generals retire, they walk through a revolving door into war room suites of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and other profiteers to six figure incomes and plenty of perks.

A report released a few years ago by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted 70% of retiring three an four-star generals joined military contractors, sometimes simultaneously sitting on the Defense Policy Board.

With all this cronyism and huge contracts  you might be surprised to know that the Pentagon is not audited - the only department to escape such oversight. Efforts to pass legislation to make an audit mandatory, have received no hearing, let alone a vote. You might think that both rock solid fiscal conservatives and bleeding heart liberals might join together on this one, but no. The senate version S.327 has only 8 co-sponsors - Democrats Joe Manchin and Ron Wyden, Independent Bernie Sanders, and Republicans Rand Paul, Charles Grassley, Ted Cruz, Kelly Ayotte, Mike Crapo, and Dean Heller. The House version H.R.942 was introduced by Democrat Barbara Lee has 11 co-sponsors, 8 Democrats and three Republicans. Rep. John Conyers is the only member of the Michigan delegation to be a co-sponsor.

As we move towards more remote trigger killing and destruction, from 30,000 feet or 5,000-10,000 miles away, our media and thus our society ignores the onslaught we reek elsewhere. Sometimes the devastation is done directly with US forces, other times by proxy with weapons we supply  This has been the dark side of our history, from our earliest days of conquest of the native peoples who lived here before Europeans ”discovered” America. We all share in this heritage when we elect representatives who cowardly rubber stamp the executive call to arms. Even our Nobel Peace Laureate President has called for a $1 TRILLION spending on nuclear weapons!!!

Anyone who dares challenge the violent response of our government is bullied as “unpatriotic.”  The dominant cultural norm is being tough and trouncing the enemy and too bad for any innocent civilians, essential community infrastructure, or cultural or historical heritage sites. Given Jesus’s call to turn the other cheek or his declaration that ”Blessed are the Peacemakers,” the hypocrisy of those who supposedly honor him as Christians but support war seems telling.

Our government chooses to spend many times more on war and militarism than on diplomacy, education and development. The winners in all this are those who profit from war. At a minimum we need a Congress, regardless of what party controls the various branches of government, to seriously discuss the options for war versus other approaches rather than authorizing whichever president is in office to run endless war. Rep. Lee continues to call for Congressional debate and a vote on the repeal of the AUMF .  This isn’t a left/right, conservative/liberal, or Republican/Democrat issue. It is the constitutional responsibility to declare war that our representatives have avoided. Let’s ask those in Washington now to have this serious public discussion and vote. And while they are at it, pass the Auditing the Pentagon Act. This alone won't bring us peace, but it is a necessary step along the way.

Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The legacy of war defines insanity. It requires us to challenge the automatic violent responses to end conflict. War is bullying on steroids. We citizens are funding it.  It is time for a new approach. It won't happen unless citizens demand it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Getting Wasted

I have been meaning for months to raise the issue of the great waste ignored by us in this community. There are numerous reminders, but the one that sets me off the most is the ongoing construction near the MSU Federal Credit Union’s headquarters off State Road and US 127.

Driving by the rising structure one can’t help but notice that there must be a minimum of 100 lights (it could be three times that number) burning 24/7 including all through the night and weekends  when no one is there.  For the sake of easy math let’s estimate those are 100 watt bulbs and that there are 100 of them. That means every hour they are using 10,000 watts. Let’s assume there are people working in that space 48 hours a week. That leaves 100 hours a week when no one is there. That means there are one million watt hours of electricity wasted weekly.

My memory tells me this has been going on for months, but let’s just say 10 weeks. So  over that time 10 million watt hours of electricity up in smoke. Some readers will say,” who cares”, the owners or the construction company are paying for it. But alas, we are all paying for it. Tell the folks in Baton Rouge suffering from 1,000 year rain event;  in Syria, where the droughts moved farmers into the cities creating the kindling for the eruption that is the Syrian tragedy;  in California, where wildfires destroy square miles of vegetation and homes. The cumulative impact of our consumption over time has changed our atmosphere.

It is one thing to use energy when we NEED to. But to waste it needlessly is a crime, or should be. I know those lights don’t need to be left on. Drive by a similar three story structure going up across in the area, where no lights are burning at night. Each of us of course, myself included, leave energy sucking items on when  they are not being used. Many of us recall our stern fathers telling us to turn the lights off when we leave a room. President Carter encouraged businesses to turn off their outdoor  lighted signs when they were closed during the oil embargo of the late 1970’s to save energy.

While individual actions matter, especially when added up by the thousands or millions, larger organizations, like the  example I began with, have a more dramatic impact. The electricity wasted in two months by that building would power our house for 2,500 years or 2,500 homes like ours for one year.

But waste is not limited to just electricity and power. Food waste is another major problem that we have failed to address adequately.  By some estimates 30-40 percent of food grown is wasted.  USDA is calling for 50 per cent reduction in food waste by 2030. Locally, Woody Campbell of Compost Katie, is trying to rescue food waste from the landfill and turn it into compost that could be utilized as soil amendments, thereby closing the loop.
Compost Katie

Campbell, who started the successful local Green Cab company years ago, is trying to develop a model of rescuing surplus food that is not edible from households and businesses and stimulate more waste reduction. Talk about entrepreneurship that is really needed, this is a great effort. His weekly  pickups of your food waste has 5/25 gallon options. In nature, there is no waste. Campbell is taking a 'waste' and turning it into compost for enriching the soil, completing nature's cycle.

Of course, recovery of edible food has long been the focus of “Food Movers”, a program of the Greater Lansing Food Bank since the early 90’s that works with local restaurants, bakeries,  grocery stores, and catered events to get surplus edible food to those who need it in shelters and community kitchens.

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 12.51.56 PM
The mantra that has guided the recycling community for decades is “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle”. Notice that recycling is the last of the hierarchy. Reduction and reuse are of a higher order in reducing the impacts of our consumption. To waste is to squander or to use carelessly or inefficiently.  We can’t afford to waste materials or human lives. The over consumption, especially among the developed countries of the world cannot continue without suffering further consequences from Mother Nature and the dispossessed.

We can either choose to work with nature and becomes its partner, or to allow the consequences of our wasteful habits to be hoisted on to the backs of our children and grandchildren. The bumper sticker slogan, "Nature Bats Last" is a fundamental truth.

Waste Not!!

Turn it off when not being used!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Speeding Past Complexity and Nuance

As the handful of readers who have visited this blog a few times are likely to notice, I write a lot of things sparked largely by what I read. While some of those reflections are sparked by essays, articles, blogs or shorter pieces, the majority I believe ( although I haven't done a content analysis of the 200+ blog entries scratched out over the last four years) are from books. I've been averaging about 20-25 non-fiction books a year for the past four years or so. And any frequent visitor to this site will note they cover largely political science, philosophy, economics, psychology, theology, environmental science, and international relations.

I finished Thomas Weiss's 2014, Governing the World: Addressing Problems without Passports today.

 I am partly through the following titles I alternate between:

Jan Scholte, et. al New Rules for Global Justice: Structural Redistribution in the Global Economy

John Harris, How to be Good: The Possibility of Moral Improvement
Cover for 

How to be Good

Anthony Flaccavento, 
Radhika Balakrishnaan, Rethinking Economic Policy for Social Justice

William Guadelli, Global Citizenship Education
Global Citizenship Education: Everyday Transcendence (Paperback) book cover

I note this not to display how widely read I am, but to note my own curiosity to better understand the world we share and how we might better reshape it. In each of these books and in all that I have noted in this blog over the years, they share at least one thing in common.

They are willing to wrestle with complexity and nuance. 

Let me cite just one example from Weiss' book this morning. Weiss is a Presidential Professor of International Relations at CUNY Graduate Center. Weiss' book is a relatively short 101 pages of text looking at the feasibility of creating a more effective global governance system. To support his ideas he marshalls more than 240 references, some of course from the same source, but a quick review shows the vast majority of references are unique citations. Reading books with this type of serious thinking and scholarship opens the reader up to complexities and nuances on the topic we would likely miss without the more lengthy space to develop the ideas. (I was told in a former position that if I wanted my reports to be read by upper level administrators they had to have a one page bullet-point summary. The likelihood of them reading the entire report was about nil).

With social media we're now down to 140 characters. Lost in this fast paced race to decide is any real ability to investigate complexity and nuances. Busy administrators, CEO's, elected officials rely on the shorthand version of reality, where those at the table or who have the loudest voice get to have their points raised, but others are left out.

I am fearful as I watch this presidential election campaign move forward, that there will be no room for educating voters about complexity or nuance. The world is painted as black or white, red or blue. Campaigns are built largely on sound bytes to fit the 30 second advertisement, the bumper sticker, the brand and much of it aimed at how bad the other candidate is. Even the upcoming debates (?) promise nothing much different. There is absolutely no commitment to build any deep understanding about issues and the type of decisions and processes we need to employ to come up with workable solutions.

It is perhaps, at least partly, but I would suggest, significantly, because politics has become more of a game, where winning is the only thing. Any way one wins is acceptable. I don't see any long-term benefit from this approach to governing. The process celebrates, if not feeds, public ignorance. Our mass media is in part to blame. The purchase of elections through media sound bytes is surely part of the problem. 

But if we could see elections as a chance for candidates to find common ground instead of bludgeoning their opponent for a misstep, we might increase our chances to craft solutions that stand before us as a human family on a finite planet.Scoring points from simplistic statements is a poison that we might hope education could provide and antidote. 

Appreciating scholarship and how it can help us see the complexity and the interdependencies that surround us,I am reminded of  a fine little film my wife and I watch last night, The Man Who New Infinity, a 2015 film on the life of Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan who lived in the early 20th century. We see the struggle of using rigor to strengthening our understanding of the world we share. Reading book length analyses can help us all gain a needed does of humility. We have much to learn, together.

Beware the simplistic statements from candidates.