Peace Now! War is Not a Natural Disaster

3 Aug

Department of Peace

Over at 3 Quarks Daily my current post reproduces a section of a slender book I’ve put together with the help of Charlie Keil and Becky Liebman. The book collects some historical materials about efforts to create a department of peace in the federal government, starting with at 1793 essay by Benjamin Rush, one of our Founding Fathers: “A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States.” It includes accounts of legislative efforts in the 20th century and commentary by Charlie Keil and me. The book is entitled We Need a Department of Peace: Everybody’s Business; Nobody’s Job. It’s available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and eBook formats.

Below the peace symbol I’m including the Prologue, which is by Mary Liebman, an important activist from the 1970s. The book include other excerpts from the newsletters Liebman wrote for the Peace Act Advisory Council.

one of them old time good ones

War is not a Natural Disaster

The human race knows a lot about how to make war. We should: we’ve been doing it since Biblical times. Experts define “war” as any conflict in which the dead number more than 3,000 people. Below that number – by revolution, insurrection, armed exploration, native uprising, clan feud, violent strikes, lynching, riot, excessive partisanship of soccer fans, or plain personal murderousness – none of that counts until more than 3,000 people have been slaughtered. Then it gets in the record books as a war. Disregarding our barbarian ancestors, the Attilas and Genghis Khans for whom war was a way of life; overlooking two centuries of carnage in nine Crusades, and the Hundred year’s War, which occupied France and England for 115 years, just looking at the world since Columbus discovered America, we find that the world has been at peace less than half the time, and the wars are getting bigger and worse.

Out of this collective experience with war, we’ve learned how to do it. Homer left notes. We have the memoirs of generals and statesmen from Caesar down to modern times to guide us. There are textbooks to study. And almost everyone in government has served in the armed forces or some other war-connected duty. They understand it.

By contrast, what do any of us know about how to make peace? Nobody has ever done it. Until Hiroshima, few people talked very seriously about doing it. The Bomb changed things forever. We began to realize that no nation would ever again fight through to glorious victory. The celebrations, the cheering crowds in Times Square, the church bells ringing and the bands playing – those are sounds that belong to history. They will never be heard again at the end of any war, anywhere, by anybody. So while we are not better men than our ancestors, and maybe not much smarter, we are faced with the necessity of making peace – and nobody knows how.

Well, let’s start with what we do know. In any public undertaking, from building a dam to putting a man on the moon, we start by hiring somebody to be in charge. We give him an office, a staff, a desk, a typewriter, a telephone. We give him a budget. We say, “Begin.” It may come as something of a shock to realize that in this vast proliferating federal bureaucracy, there is no one in charge of peace. There is nobody who goes to an office in Washington and works 9-to-5 for peace, unhampered by any other consideration or responsibility. […]

War is not a natural disaster. It is a manmade disaster, directed and carried out by ordinary people, who are hired and paid by other ordinary people, to make war. It will stop when ordinary people decide that, whatever satisfactions and rewards war may have offered in the past, the risk is now too high and the return too low. If you are ready to invest in a new and exciting American enterprise, you can start by spending an hour telling your Congressman why you want a Department of Peace.

* * * * *

Mary Liebman published these words on the first two pages of the February 1973 issue of PAX, the newsletter for the Council for a Department of Peace (CODEP). It was a message she had been honing for two years and would continue for three more. We note that back then it was true, as she said, “almost everyone in government has served in the armed forces or some other war-connected duty.” That’s no longer true. Conscription ended in 1973 with the eventual result that most people in government are too young to have faced the military draft or to have friends and relatives who did.

Table of Contents

Prologue: War is not a Natural Disaster
Mary Liebman 2

What’s in this Pamphlet?
Bill Benzon 4

A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States
Benjamin Rush 6

Comments on Benjamin Rush’s Proposal
Bill Benzon 9

Why a Department of Peace?
Fredrick L. Schuman 12

Peace is Everybody’s Business; Nobody’s Job
Mary Liebman, Bill Benzon 29

Waging Peace
Charlie Keil 36

Resolution for a Department of Peace
Charlie Keil 42

Appendix: List of Selected Peace Organizations 44
About the Authors 46

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Naomi Klein says the New York Times blew its massive story about the decade in which we frittered away our chance to halt climate change

9 Aug

Naomi Klein, Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”, The Intercept.

According to Rich, between the years of 1979 and 1989, the basic science of climate change was understood and accepted, the partisan divide over the issue had yet to cleave, the fossil fuel companies hadn’t started their misinformation campaign in earnest, and there was a great deal of global political momentum toward a bold and binding international emissions-reduction agreement. Writing of the key period at the end of the 1980s, Rich says, “The conditions for success could not have been more favorable.”

And yet we blew it — “we” being humans, who apparently are just too shortsighted to safeguard our future. Just in case we missed the point of who and what is to blame for the fact that we are now “losing earth,” Rich’s answer is presented in a full-page callout: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”

Yep, you and me. Not, according to Rich, the fossil fuel companies who sat in on every major policy meeting described in the piece. (Imagine tobacco executives being repeatedly invited by the U.S. government to come up with policies to ban smoking. When those meetings failed to yield anything substantive, would we conclude that the reason is that humans just want to die? Might we perhaps determine instead that the political system is corrupt and busted?)

This misreading has been pointed out by many climate scientists and historians since the online version of the piece dropped on Wednesday. Others have remarked on the maddening invocations of “human nature” and the use of the royal “we” to describe a screamingly homogenous group of U.S. power players. Throughout Rich’s accounting, we hear nothing from those political leaders in the Global South who were demanding binding action in this key period and after, somehow able to care about future generations despite being human. The voices of women, meanwhile, are almost as rare in Rich’s text as sightings of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker — and when we ladies do appear, it is mainly as long-suffering wives of tragically heroic men.

All of these flaws have been well covered, so I won’t rehash them here. My focus is the central premise of the piece: that the end of the 1980s presented conditions that “could not have been more favorable” to bold climate action. On the contrary, one could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet. Why? Because the late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendency for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life. Yet Rich makes no mention of this parallel upheaval in economic and political thought.

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Income distribution in Western Europe vs. USA

29 Jul

What happened to economics?

7 May
Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, “How Economists Became So Timid”, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Then:
Self-styled American and European radicals, for example, helped end monarchy and expand the franchise. The free-labor ideology of European radicals and American Radical Republicans helped abolish serfdom and slavery and establish a new basis for industrial labor relations. The late 18th and 19th centuries also witnessed the liberal reformism of Jeremy Bentham, Smith, James and John Stuart Mill, and the Marquis de Condorcet; the socialist revolutionary ideologies of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Marx; the labor unionism of Beatrice and Sydney Webb; and, influential at the time but now mostly forgotten, the competitive common ownership ideology of Henry George and Léon Walras. This ideology shaped the Progressive movement in the United States, the “New Liberalism” of David Lloyd George in Britain, the radicalism of Georges Clemenceau in France, even the agenda of the Nationalist Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen. The Keynesian and welfare-state reforms of the early 20th century set the stage for the longest and most broadly shared period of growth in human history.
Now:
The upshot is that economics has played virtually no role in all the major political movements of the past half-century, including civil rights, feminism, anticolonialism, the rights of sexual minorities, gun rights, antiabortion politics, and “family values” debates. It has been completely unprepared for Trumpism and other varieties of populism, having failed to predict those developments just as it failed to predict the financial crisis of 2008. And, until very recently, it has shrugged at one of the most politically charged and morally troubling issues of our time — the rise in inequality.
Even the recent attempts of the field to live up to its heritage have fallen flat. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, while widely perceived as a successor to Marx’s Capital, ends by half-heartedly proposing a modest global tax on capital. Where is the modern Smith, Marx, George, or Keynes? Other fields have not stepped up to fill the void left by political economy’s collapse. Sociologists and political scientists largely eschew specific policy proposals. And political philosophers, while offering bold visions of ideal societies, usually avoid dirtying their hands with the details of feasible policy design.

The demise of the nation state

6 Apr

I’ve been reading about this for several years now. Rana Dasguta has an article of that title in The Guardian for April 5, 2018. Here’s some excerpts:

The most momentous development of our era, precisely, is the waning of the nation state: its inability to withstand countervailing 21st-century forces, and its calamitous loss of influence over human circumstance. National political authority is in decline, and, since we do not know any other sort, it feels like the end of the world. This is why a strange brand of apocalyptic nationalism is so widely in vogue. But the current appeal of machismo as political style, the wall-building and xenophobia, the mythology and race theory, the fantastical promises of national restoration – these are not cures, but symptoms of what is slowly revealing itself to all: nation states everywhere are in an advanced state of political and moral decay from which they cannot individually extricate themselves.

Why is this happening? In brief, 20th-century political structures are drowning in a 21st-century ocean of deregulated finance, autonomous technology, religious militancy and great-power rivalry. Meanwhile, the suppressed consequences of 20th-century recklessness in the once-colonised world are erupting, cracking nations into fragments and forcing populations into post-national solidarities: roving tribal militias, ethnic and religious sub-states and super-states. Finally, the old superpowers’ demolition of old ideas of international society – ideas of the “society of nations” that were essential to the way the new world order was envisioned after 1918 – has turned the nation-state system into a lawless gangland; and this is now producing a nihilistic backlash from the ones who have been most terrorised and despoiled.

Once upon a time…

The reason the nation state was able to deliver what achievements it did – and in some places they were spectacular – was that there was, for much of the 20th century, an authentic “fit” between politics, economy and information, all of which were organised at a national scale. National governments possessed actual powers to manage modern economic and ideological energies, and to turn them towards human – sometimes almost utopian – ends. But that era is over. After so many decades of globalisation, economics and information have successfully grown beyond the authority of national governments. Today, the distribution of planetary wealth and resources is largely uncontested by any political mechanism.

But to acknowledge this is to acknowledge the end of politics itself. And if we continue to think the administrative system we inherited from our ancestors allows for no innovation, we condemn ourselves to a long period of dwindling political and moral hope. Half a century has been spent building the global system on which we all now depend, and it is here to stay. Without political innovation, global capital and technology will rule us without any kind of democratic consultation, as naturally and indubitably as the rising oceans.

Can we change?

It will be objected, inevitably, that any alternative to the nation-state system is a utopian impossibility. But even the technological accomplishments of the last few decades seemed implausible before they arrived, and there are good reasons to be suspicious of those incumbent authorities who tell us that human beings are incapable of similar grandeur in the political realm. In fact, there have been many moments in history when politics was suddenly expanded to a new, previously inconceivable scale – including the creation of the nation state itself. And – as is becoming clearer every day – the real delusion is the belief that things can carry on as they are.

The first step will be ceasing to pretend that there is no alternative. So let us begin by considering the scale of the current crisis.

Dasgupta then recounts how we got here, starting with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, moving through the 19th century, to the decolonization that followed WWII, leaving us with:

There is every reason to believe that the next stage of the techno-financial revolution will be even more disastrous for national political authority. This will arise as the natural continuation of existing technological processes, which promise new, algorithmic kinds of governance to further undermine the political variety.[…] Governments controlled by outside forces and possessing only partial influence over national affairs: this has always been so in the world’s poorest countries. But in the west, it feels like a terrifying return to primitive vulnerability. The assault on political authority is not a merely “economic” or “technological” event. It is an epochal upheaval, which leaves western populations shattered and bereft. There are outbreaks of irrational rage, especially against immigrants, the appointed scapegoats for much deeper forms of national contamination. The idea of the western nation as a universal home collapses, and transnational tribal identities grow up as a refuge: white supremacists and radical Islamists alike take up arms against contamination and corruption.

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The stakes could not be higher. So it is easy to see why western governments are so desperate to prove what everyone doubts: that they are still in control. It is not merely Donald Trump’s personality that causes him to act like a sociopathic CEO. The era of globalisation has seen consistent attempts by US presidents to enhance the authority of the executive, but they are never enough. Trump’s office can never have the level of mastery over American life that Kennedy’s did, so he is obliged to fake it.

Continue reading

Trump in Korea, and some more personal reflections

14 Mar

There’s no doubt about it, North Korea has been a knotty challenge for American foreign policy, not¬–mind you–that I’m a fan of that foreign policy, which has long seemed, shall we say, excessively bellicose. Until quite recently President Trump simply amped up the aggression and seemed entirely too sanguine about the prospect of war with North Korea. Then, all of a sudden, Trump tells us that he’s accepted an overture from Kim Jong-un to talk about Korea’s nukes.

What? Just like that! That’s a good thing, no?

That’s what I felt for maybe a day. And then I began reading commentary by those more deeply informed in such matters than I am. These worthies were not at all encouraging. Quite the contrary, they’ve been rather discouraging and disparaging.

Forget about Trump’s many personal flaws – lack of impulse control, narcissism, megalomania, etc. (Not to mention his misogyny, though that doesn’t seem directly relevant in this matter.) It’s not that these aren’t issues, they are; but let’s just set them aside. Rather, this just isn’t how these things are done. The right way to do this is to have underlings and deputies has things out for months and even years, ironing out all the kinks, and only then bring in Trump and Kim at the very end. They do a bit of sniffing about, find that it’s all good, and sign on the dotted lines their deputies have drawn. Very cautious, very deliberate.

Besides, for Trump to agree to talks with Kim is to give away half the game, or more, at the very start. Regardless of what the talks produce, if they produce anything at all, Kim wins prestige and legitimation points both at home and abroad. But is that so bad? Who knows, maybe that would settle him down. And maybe not.

But the fact is, business as usual – which is what the worthies want – hasn’t been working all that well, has it?

* * * * *

Meanwhile, I’ve had one of those moments I seem to have been having every few weeks or months. It’s generally during the night when I’m neither fully awake or fully asleep. They don’t last long, a matter of minutes at most. And they’re difficult to characterize.

It’s as though my mind were trying to detach itself from my person and become Mind Itself and thereby grasp the World Whole, if that makes any sense. On the one hand the world is what it is and cannot be escaped. It is utterly necessary. And at the same time seems utterly contingent, as though it could easily have been otherwise. All we need is for that butterfly over China to flutter its wings and history is changed. But what if it’s nothing but butterflies all the way down?

There’s so much human diversity in the world, so many different ways of life, so many different individual life histories. Taken individually, one at a time, each in its socio-historical context, they seem fixed and determinate. But when you consider the differences, each seems utterly contingent and arbitrary.

What if we could circulate minds freely from one to another?

* * * * *

Does The Donald have such moments? What I’ve just said seems rather too abstract and too intellectual for him. If he has such moments, they wouldn’t manifest in such terms. They terms would be different.

Is that what was going on in his insistence that more people attended his inaugural day than any other? In his absurd insistence that the photographs of people on the Mall were FAKE NEWS? Sure, his narcissism, his need to assert his power by forcing his deputies to participate in his delusion. All that.

But beneath it all, was he attempting to find a bit of freedom?

Count me among those who believes he didn’t really want to win–noting that there are various ways one can interpret that. But he won and now THUD! he’s stuck with the job. He’s trapped–in the White House, with all these obscure and difficult responsibilities. His world is changed, utterly.

What’s he think he can do sitting across a table from Kim Jong-un? Two men, with nuclear arms between them, and the world on their shoulders. Is that how they wrestle with the Real?

* * * * *

If I were a religious man I’d be praying for them to find peace in a handclasp.

The longue durée of human history is complicated

3 Mar
Conventional wisdom has it that over the course of, say, the last 50,000 years or so, human society evolved from small egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers through a series of stages of ever larger and more unequal forms of social organization as we moved through the agricultural and then the industrial evolutions. We are thus stuck with inequality forever. David Graeber and David Wengrow challenge this in an important article in Eurozone, How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened). Here’s their final paragraph:

The pieces are all there to create an entirely different world history. For the most part, we’re just too blinded by our prejudices to see the implications. For instance, almost everyone nowadays insists that participatory democracy, or social equality, can work in a small community or activist group, but cannot possibly ‘scale up’ to anything like a city, a region, or a nation-state. But the evidence before our eyes, if we choose to look at it, suggests the opposite. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace. Egalitarian families and households are not. Once the historical verdict is in, we will see that the most painful loss of human freedoms began at the small scale – the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude – the kind of relationships that contain at once the greatest intimacy and the deepest forms of structural violence. If we really want to understand how it first became acceptable for some to turn wealth into power, and for others to end up being told their needs and lives don’t count, it is here that we should look. Here too, we predict, is where the most difficult work of creating a free society will have to take place.

These paragraphs will give you a feel for their argument:

Why are these seasonal variations important? Because they reveal that from the very beginning, human beings were self-consciously experimenting with different social possibilities. Anthropologists describe societies of this sort as possessing a ‘double morphology’. Marcel Mauss, writing in the early twentieth century, observed that the circumpolar Inuit, ‘and likewise many other societies . . . have two social structures, one in summer and one in winter, and that in parallel they have two systems of law and religion’. In the summer months, Inuit dispersed into small patriarchal bands in pursuit of freshwater fish, caribou, and reindeer, each under the authority of a single male elder. Property was possessively marked and patriarchs exercised coercive, sometimes even tyrannical power over their kin. But in the long winter months, when seals and walrus flocked to the Arctic shore, another social structure entirely took over as Inuit gathered together to build great meeting houses of wood, whale-rib, and stone. Within them, the virtues of equality, altruism, and collective life prevailed; wealth was shared; husbands and wives exchanged partners under the aegis of Sedna, the Goddess of the Seals.

Another example were the indigenous hunter-gatherers of Canada’s Northwest Coast, for whom winter – not summer – was the time when society crystallised into its most unequal form, and spectacularly so. Plank-built palaces sprang to life along the coastlines of British Columbia, with hereditary nobles holding court over commoners and slaves, and hosting the great banquets known as potlatch. Yet these aristocratic courts broke apart for the summer work of the fishing season, reverting to smaller clan formations, still ranked, but with an entirely different and less formal structure. In this case, people actually adopted different names in summer and winter, literally becoming someone else, depending on the time of year.

Perhaps most striking, in terms of political reversals, were the seasonal practices of 19th-century tribal confederacies on the American Great Plains – sometime, or one-time farmers who had adopted a nomadic hunting life. In the late summer, small and highly mobile bands of Cheyenne and Lakota would congregate in large settlements to make logistical preparations for the buffalo hunt. At this most sensitive time of year they appointed a police force that exercised full coercive powers, including the right to imprison, whip, or fine any offender who endangered the proceedings. Yet as the anthropologist Robert Lowie observed, this ‘unequivocal authoritarianism’ operated on a strictly seasonal and temporary basis, giving way to more ‘anarchic’ forms of organisation once the hunting season – and the collective rituals that followed – were complete.

Scholarship does not always advance. Sometimes it slides backwards. A hundred years ago, most anthropologists understood that those who live mainly from wild resources were not, normally, restricted to tiny ‘bands.’ That idea is really a product of the 1960s, when Kalahari Bushmen and Mbuti Pygmies became the preferred image of primordial humanity for TV audiences and researchers alike. As a result we’ve seen a return of evolutionary stages, really not all that different from the tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment: this is what Fukuyama, for instance, is drawing on, when he writes of society evolving steadily from ‘bands’ to ‘tribes’ to ‘chiefdoms,’ then finally, the kind of complex and stratified ‘states’ we live in today – usually defined by their monopoly of ‘the legitimate use of coercive force.’ By this logic, however, the Cheyenne or Lakota would have had to be ‘evolving’ from bands directly to states roughly every November, and then ‘devolving’ back again come spring. Most anthropologists now recognise that these categories are hopelessly inadequate, yet nobody has proposed an alternative way of thinking about world history in the broadest terms.

Toward the common GOOD (Global Organization Of Democracies)

2 Mar

by Charlie Keil

The big world conferences on climate every 20 years (1972 Sweden, 1992 Brazil, 2012 Denmark) have failed. Bill McKibben and 350.org are raising consciousness and prodding consciences daily, but the big lever of “world opinion” needs a pivot point or fulcrum, a forum or year round parliament of small and responsible democracies so that all the rapidly growing threats to species and cultural diversity can be addressed rationally and continually. I believe that dramatic steps toward nuclear and general disarmament are both necessary and possible at this time. This will open the way to much reduced or eliminated “war budgets” and a release of funds for rapid reforestation & permaculturing of the planet.

Since I witnessed Biafra going under in the 1960s, the UN has never stopped a war, or an “ethnic cleansing,” or an “administrative massacre” (Hannah Arendt’s precise term replacing ‘pogrom’, see her Eichmann in Jerusalem), or an “attempted genocide.” Many wars by states against nations (e.g. U.S.A. against the Six Nations confederacy, China against Tibet and nation peoples of Sinjiang Province, Russia against Chechnya) have gone on for centuries. Described very precisely by Bernard Nietschmann (“The Third World War: Militarization and Indigenous Peoples” Cultural Survival Quarterly 11(3), 1987) many are still ongoing a quarter of a century later. From Nietschmann: “Every nation people that has resisted state invasion has been accused of being terrorists: Karens (all 5 million), Miskitos, Kurds, Palestinians, Basques, Irish, Oromo, Tamils, and so on. From the state point of view only terrorists resist state ‘integration’.”

This “war on terror” became World War Three immediately after World War II (circa 1948) when Burma invaded 5 nations within its borders, India invaded Nagaland, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran divided up Kurdistan, Israel was given a piece of Palestine, etc. etc. etc. etc. and now World War Three has become the unwinnable War on Terror again. None dare call this progress.

War doesn’t work anymore. Big expensive tech is easily destroyed by low cost tech. Think roadside bomb. An old mortar can destroy any nuclear power plant. The greatest aircraft carrier is undone by a half ounce of anthrax, bioengineered smallpox, bigpox, or by radiation, or by chemicals. Think drone attack blowback. Any one person can use all three kinds of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Finally, big states, power politics, growing populations have come up against walls of limited resources and vast pollution. The American Empire or “global economy” will shrink steadily or collapse quickly, whatever we call it. China, all other states (and nations trapped within them) face limits to growth and limits to destroying Nature.

Smaller democracies like Denmark, Costa Rica and Vermont are doing well. The Swiss Confederation is doing very well. Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine/Lebanon could figure out how to share water, basic resources, and thrive economically as Confederations. Indigenous nation peoples all over the world require something like the Swiss confederate model to survive in peace and prosper.

This proposal aims to conserve both species and cultural diversity on this planet:

For the Common GOOD

To stop the ecocatastrophe and build world peace processes a Global Organization Of Democracies (GOOD) supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) could coordinate efficient regional police to help prevent “administrative massacres” and terrorism, thereby enhancing the security of all peoples and encouraging states to redirect a growing portion of their military budgets to economically sustainable and resilient problem-solving over time. Continue reading

The Story of Civilization: Stuck in Traffic

22 Jan

Are things too big and out of hand? I’m bumping this one from September 2012 to the top of the queue.

One day I waited an hour in traffic to go a quarter of a mile so I could enter the Holland Tunnel and cross under the Hudson River to my home in Jersey City. While sitting in the cue and kept thinking why why why? Why?

In answer the question with a boiling-frog story, a parable about Happy Island. I conclude by suggesting that the world is happy island and we’re stuck in traffic.

Tunnel Traffic

I live in Jersey City, New Jersey, which is across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. Whenever I go to Manhattan I use public transportation, which is reasonably good, though just a bit inconvenient from my present location.  Driving my car through a tunnel or over a bridge and parking it on Manhattan, that’s VERY inconvenient. And so I avoid doing it.

But I had to go to rural Connecticut to meet Charlie for a trip up to Vermont. I could have taken public transportation to a point where Charlie could pick me up. But that’s a longish walk and four trains, or a longish walk and three trains and a long walk or a cab. Which was a hassle. So I decided to drive. Yes, I’d have to cross the Hudson River, but the Holland Tunnel’s nearby and I could avoid rush-hour traffic on both trips, too and from. And driving on Manhattan was a bit of a hassle, but not too bad on this trip because I’d be mostly on the West Side Highway.

So I drove. I left on Thursday morning at, say, 9:45 AM. By 11:30 I’d crossed off the northern end of Manhattan and was headed toward Connecticut. That’s an hour and forty-five minutes to go the first 15 miles, and probably an hour to go the first four miles, from my place in Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel and onto the West Side Highway headed North.

And that wasn’t rush-hour.

Nor was it rush-hour mid-afternoon on Saturday when I made the return trip. It took at least 45 minutes to get from West Side Avenue and 12th street into the tunnel, and traffic was unusually slow inside the tunnel, for whatever reason. Continue reading

When Ravi Bhalla was sworn in as Mayor of Hoboken US Senator Cory Booker spoke of love

4 Jan

Sometime in the late summer or early fall of last year, 2017, I noticed that Ravi Bhalla, who was running for mayor of Hoboken, where I live, was holding a meet and greet at a coffee shop near the supermarket where I do much of my shopping. I went, talked with Ravi and others on his team, including James Doyle, who was running for councilman-at-large, and liked them. Some, come November, I voted for him. And he won.

And so I decided to attend Bhalla’s inauguration on January 1, 2018. I had no particular expectations about what this would be like, but I was a little surprised to see a packed auditorium with the aisles ringed with TV cameras. This, apparently, was a big deal.

It didn’t occur to me that we would say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the ceremony. It’s possible that high school was the last time I stood, hand over heard, saying those words. I remembered the words, and felt a lump in my throat as I said them.

A big chunk of the (progressive end) of the local Democratic establishment was in the audience, and several of them were on the stage, along with New Jersey’s two US Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker; the Governor-elect, Phil Murphy, sent Gurbir Grewal, his nominee for Attorney General, as his representative. Grewal, like Bhalla, is a Sikh. The opening prayer was offered by a Sikh, Giani Raghvinder Singh, and a Jew, Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, offered the closing prayer. A Roman Catholic offered the benediction, Monsignor Michael Andreano. This was an all-nations program.

As it should be, for Hoboken, along with its southern neighbor, Jersey City, the whole of northern New Jersey, and metropolitan New York, is an all-nations region. That was the theme of Senator Cory Booker’s remarks. As background he referred to the divisiveness and “darkness” in the country in 2017; he didn’t name names, but we all knew who and what he was referring to. Against that he talked of America’s ideals, fully acknowledging that our founding documents did not reflect those ideals – women were not mentioned and African-American’s were said to equal only 3/5s of a person – he argued that, in time, those ideals having been winning against the darkness.

It’s in that context that he talked of love. I was a bit surprised and shocked when I first heard the word, love; it’s not one that politicians use very much (if at all), and I forget his exact phrasing. But he must have used the word at least half a dozen times – love love love love love love – though obviously not in immediate succession (he wasn’t channeling the Beatles). His point was that when Robert Menendez was the first Latino elected to the New Jersey General Assembly, that was not merely a victory for Latinos, it was a victory for American ideals. Love. And when Barack Hussein Obama was elected President of the United States, that was not only a victory for African Americans, but, and more importantly, it was a victory for American ideals. Love. Nor is the victory of Ravi Bhalla – a “towel-head” at a time when He Who Shall Not Be Named legitimized and valorized such epithets on the national stage – only a matter of pride for his fellow Sikhs and Asian Indians. That victory is something for which all Americans can be proud, for it exemplifies and further amplifies the ideals equality and justice on which this nation was founded. Love.

Love is not all we need. We need hope, imagination, courage, and determination as well. But, yes, we do need love, for it is the foundation on which the others rest.

* * * * *

Cory Booker on The Conspiracy of Love.

President Trump, Thank you! Thank you for all the women who have come forward with stories about being harassed and raped

30 Nov

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Yes, citizen Trump has played a major role in the parade of accusations, albeit an indirect and unintended role to be sure.

The president of the United States serves two functions: 1) he governs the nation and, 2) he’s a symbol of the nation. The British separate these functions. The monarch is a symbol of the nation, but has no power to govern. The monarch doesn’t introduce legislation or sign it, doesn’t negotiate and sign treaties, doesn’t issue regulations, and so forth. Those are functions of government, and those functions belong to the prime minister. But the prime minister is not asked to shoulder the burden of being a national symbol.

It is in his role as national symbol that citizen Trump has motivated and energized these women to tell their stories. As a symbol of the nation citizen Trump represents our ideas and ideals, our hopes and aspirations, our values and commitments. These women are telling us that they do not want a sexual predator as the symbol of our nation, and they are saying this in the most powerful way that they can, but outing the powerful men who have preyed on them.

No more!

To be sure, citizen Trump is not the first president with unsavory sexual attitudes and actions. But he has come to office at a time when the press, for whatever reason, has decided that it will no longer look the other way. Moreover, he has come to office, not from a career in politics, but from a show-biz career. Thus it is fitting that men in show business are among the most prominent predators being called to account before the public, if not before the law.

Yes, Ronald Reagan was a movie star. But he came to the presidency after two terms as governor of California. And he knew something that 45 does not, he knew there was a deep and fundamental distinction to be made between his personal interests and activities and his actions as head of state. Citizen Trump treats that distinction with utter contempt and disdain, the way he treats women.

By ignoring the distinction between his person and the nation he governs, citizen Trump dishonors and damages the nation. Powerful men ignore a similar distinction, perhaps even, when you think about it, the same distinction, when they prey on women who serve them. When these women speak out to demand recognition, redress, and above all, dignity and respect, they are by that fact speaking on behalf of the nation. Let them and their actions symbolize these United States of America.

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