What are the Omens for Peace?

Ever since I joined World Beyond War I have been watching events and commentary on the predicted future for the Earth and the Human Race. This post will feature comments from two men about the dangers of Climate Change that could ignite more war, and one who sees the natural evolution of international order making war no longer a political option.

 

I also have a link to the latest video from the World Beyond War organisation. This comes first: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mDiY8p8AAoU

You may watch it by cutting and pasting into your Internet browser.

 

The first of the articles I quote, by Nicholas Stern, Baron Stern, the Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, was printed in the Guardian on February 14th

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/13/storms-floods-climate-change-upon-us-lord-stern

 

“The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics, as the Met Office pointed out earlier this week.

This would be far above the threshold warming of 2C that countries have already agreed that it would be dangerous to breach. The average temperature has not been 2C above pre-industrial levels for about 115,000 years, when the ice-caps were smaller and global sea level was at least five metres higher than today.

The shift to such a world could cause mass migrations of hundreds of millions of people away from the worst-affected areas. That would lead to conflict and war, not peace and prosperity.”

The Second is from an article written by Meterologist Eric Holthaus and published December 20th 2013. He quotes Dr James Hansen, professor of Atmospheric Physics and a climate change activist.

 

“And if warming goes over 2°C, Hansen and his colleagues present a familiar litany of climate impacts: mass extinctions, stronger storms, and increasingly severe effects for human health, along with “major dislocations for civilization.”

Those dislocations mean the mass migrations of people from the affected areas, conflict and even war over living space and food.

The optimist is next.

Dr Hans Blix was the first Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission from 2000 to 2003. In short, his was the voice of truth that told the world that Saddam Hussein of Iraq had no nuclear weapons; while Bush and Blair were bent on war and lying to refute Dr Blix’s evidence. This comes from an interview in the Independent for February 16th.

“For Dr Blix, the game-changer was public horror over the Iraq war and its aftermath, in which over a million people are estimated to have been killed. “After the unsuccessful war in Iraq it’s my belief there will be fewer unilateral military interventions and fewer wars between states – the ‘big thugs’ – and we should expect greater global détente and more international cooperation. This is my hypothesis and my hope.”

But isn’t this what people said after the First World War – the war to end all wars? “Some will think I am as naïve as those who had similar views in 1918. But it is no longer romantic thinking to suggest that risk of wars between states – I am not talking about civil war or terrorism – is decreasing.” His reasons are these: with the end of colonialism, armed land-grabbing is over, most borders between states are settled and after the end of the Cold War, religion and ideology are no longer grounds for wars between states. At the same time, institutions such as the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, G8 and G20, and international courts are helping resolve controversies, and interdependence has increased exponentially.

“Remember Dag Hammarskjöld? Well, he used to say the UN was not created to bring us to heaven but to avoid going to hell.”

To summarise, we have two voices warning that unchecked climate change could lead to wars and one voice pointing out that wars are less likely in the future. We do not to need to judge who is correct because both can be if the human race will switch the huge sums of money from armaments and militarism to socially valuable spending as World Beyond War advocates.

 

The greater the danger of the mass migrations away from homes no longer habitable; of the mass extinctions of animals and plants stressed beyond adaption, that we depend upon for food; of the increased disease viability within the changed climate parameters; the more important it will be to spend our wealth ensuring we keep the planet habitable for life. If the rich countries do not lend a hand to the poor ones the risk of conflict is greater, but if we pool our resources and cooperate with our fellows we will attain the best possible outcome, as Mahatma Gandhi used to put it. Following some of the worst scenarios and going it alone to arm ourselves against the needy we will ensure not only a future of greater hardship but even the possibility that our human society will break down catastrophically.

We may not survive, individually or collectively, if we fail to create a World Beyond War.

The American Idol: the United States should ‘govern’ the world?

This article from Professor Richard Falk is posted here as a foundationary source of discussion on the intricacy and problems of discussing a World Beyond War under international law and international relationships. It is not intended to be a blueprint for any specific action or plan of such.

 http://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/an-american-idol-the-united-states-should-govern-the-world/

(Prefatory Note: this post consists of a much expanded text of an opinion piece that was published by AJE on January 18, 2014; it seeks to discredit imperial and neoliberal claims that the United States is a benevolent hegemon, providing global public goods to the world as a whole, including  supposed geopolitical and ideological rivals)

 

            It might not have seemed necessary in the 21st century to ask or answer such a ridiculous question. After all, in the last half of the prior century European colonialism collapsed politically, morally, and even legally, its pretensions and cruelties thoroughly exposed and totally discredited. As well, the Soviet empire fell apart. And yet there are those who muster the temerity to insist that even now it is only the global governing authority of the United States that underpins the degree of security and prosperity that currently exists in the world. Without such a role played by the United States, this reasoning alleges, there would be widespread chaos, economic stagnancy, and far more frequent international warfare. Not surprisingly, the proponents of this conception of world order as dependent on U.S. military, economic, diplomatic, and ideological capabilities are themselves exclusively American. It is even less surprising that the most articulate celebrants of this new variant of a self-serving imperial approach to global security and prosperity are situated either in mainstream academic institutions or in supposedly liberal media outlets.

 

            I consider Michael Mandelbaum to be the most unabashed and articulate advocate of this American ‘global domination project’ that he felicitously calls ‘the world’s de facto government.’ He champions this role for his country in book after book starting with The Case for Goliath: how America acts as the world’s government in the twenty-first century (2005), followed by Democracy’s Good Name: the rise and risks of  the world’s most popular form of government (2007), and then by Frugal Superpower: America’s global leadership in a cash-strapped era (2010). Mandelbaum’s one-eyed approach has been repeatedly endorsed and embraced by the neoliberal media star, Thomas Friedman. They even partnered as guru and pundit to collaborate on a tract (That Used to be Us: how America fell behind in the world it invented and how we can come back (2012)) arguing ever so coyly that the world is far better off to the extent that others leave their political destiny in the trustworthy hands of White House and Pentagon policy planners. Such an outlook would certainly please the global snoopers in the National Security Agency (NSA). For those with some institutional memory, it adopts the general outlook in the notorious 2002 document of the Bush White House, entitled “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” Actually, the Bush text, while as self-serving as Mandelbaum/Friedman, is less pretentious, appealing to U.S. strategic interests and its tortured construction of China’s self-interest when explaining why it would be best for others to leave global security in American hands while limiting their own international ambitions to trade and development.

 

            Recently Mandelbaum has restated this grandiose argument in a short essay, “Can America Keep Its Global Role?” that appears in the January 2014 issue of Current History. His thesis is straightforward: “[America] provides to the whole world, not only its allies, many of the services that governments furnish to the countries they govern.” Or more simply, “..the United States stands alone as the world’s de facto government.” It is crucial to take note of the claim that unlike past empires and hegemonic states, the United States has undertaken a systemic or structural role, and is not to be understood as serving only those states that are allied by friendship, values, and binding arrangements. In this respect this novel form of world government although administered from its statist headquarters in Washington, is according to its promoters, meta-political, and unselfish. It should be appreciated by all people of good will as contributing to the betterment of humanity. It should be a cause of some embarrassment, then, to explain cross-national polling results that indicate time after time that the United States is viewed by virtually the entire world as the most dangerous country from the perspectives of peace, security, and justice.  I suppose the best riposte from the Mandelbaum true believers is that ‘they just don’t know how lucky they are!,” and like those who vote Republican in Kansas, non-Americans are unable to pursue their own interests in a rational manner.

 

            What makes Mandelbaum so cocky about the beneficence of the American global role? It is essentially the traditional realist conviction that it is American military power underwriting the established order that avoids wars and protects countries against aggressive behavior by states with revisionist foreign policy goals and irresponsibly aggressive leaders. More concretely, Europe can rest easy because of the American military presence, while Russia as well can be assured that a resurgent Germany will not again seek to conquer its territory as it tried to do twice in the last century. Similarly in the East Asian setting, China is deterred from imposing its will regionally to resolve island and territorial disputes, while at the same time being itself reassured that Japan will not again unleash an attack upon the Chinese mainland. There is some slight plausibility to such speculations, but it seems more like the supposed dividends of alliance relationships in historical settings when recourse to war as a solvent for international conflicts seems more and more dysfunctional. And it doesn’t pretend to work with a rogue ally such as Israel, which has insisted, for example, on its willingness to attack Iran whether or not the White House signals approval, presumably with the political clout in the U.S. to drag a disbelieving America in its bloody wake.

 

            The complementary claim about providing a template for global economic prosperity is also misleading at best, and likely flawed. The United States presides over a neoliberal world order that has achieved cumulative economic growth but at the cost of persisting mass poverty, gross and widening inequalities, unsustainable consumerism, cyclical instability, and a rate of greenhouse gas emissions that imperils the human future by giving rise to dangerous forms of climate change.  The management of the world economy, entrusted to groupings such as the G-20, seems unable to modify these inequities and dangers, and United States influence seems marginal and neither sensible on issues of sustainability or sensitive on questions of fairness and distributive justice.

 

            Beyond this, the American role is praised by Mandelbaum for using its capabilities “to counteract the most dangerous trend in twenty-first century security affairs: the spread of nuclear weapons to countries and non-state actors that do not have them and would threaten the international order if they did.” What is not mentioned by Mandelbaum, and suggests strongly the absence of anything resembling ‘world government’ is the inability of existing global policy mechanisms, whether under U.S. or other auspices, to solve the most urgent collective goods problems. I would mention several: poverty, nuclear weaponry, fair trade, and climate change. Neither imperial guidance nor the actions of state-centric policymaking initiatives have been able to uphold the human or global interest, which would demand at the very least nuclear disarmament, enforceable restraints on carbon emissions, and the end of agricultural subsidies in North America and Europe.

 

            The U.S. Government is not even able to get its own national act together, being constrained by the military-industrial-complex, vested economic interests in the energy field, and paralyzed by powerful lobbies (e.g. AIPAC) that pull many of the strings of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Considering that the United States it itself unable even to align its foreign policy with global equity, peace, and sustainability, how can it possibly pretend to do this for the entire world? Mandelbaum and followers suffer from a geopolitical malady that I would diagnose as ‘normative hubris,’ the false consciousness associated with being a planetary benefactor while in fact being unable even to adopt policies that serve national interests. It should not shock us that humility is the most unappreciated virtue in the imperial mentality.

 

            If we put aside this awkward inability of America to pursue a policy agenda that uphold its own national interests, an inability that Mandelbaum fails to acknowledge, and perhaps does not admit. Mandelbaum, and similar outlooks that conflate national and global interests, seem utterly blind to the tensions between what is good for the United States and its friends and what is good for the world and its peoples. And no more serious blindness, or is it merely acute myopia, exists than does the Mandlebaum contention that the greatest danger from nuclear weapons to the human future arises from those political actors that do not possess these weapons rather than from those that do, have used such weaponry in the past, and continue to deploy nuclear weapons in contexts of strategic concern. To obsess about proliferation risks while ignoring disarmament imperatives is to ensure the enduring illegitimacy of world order, whether or not led by the United States. To live contentedly with a world of nuclear haves and nuclear have not countries couples hierarchy with arrangements that over time embed unacceptable risks of an apocalyptic future.

 

            Aside from the use of the atomic bomb against Japanese cities in 1945, the American-led crusade against proliferation served as the main rationale for aggression against Iraq in 2003 and is the pretext for continuing unlawful threats of a military attack directed at Iran’s nuclear facilities over the course of the last decade. Recall also that some decades ago the United States had few qualms about the nuclear program of the Shah’s Iran, and even fewer, about Israel’s covert acquisition of capabilities and weaponry. Such discriminatory behavior confirms the primacy of America’s identity as an alliance leader, and the weakness of its credibility as a political actor inclined to act altruistically for the benefit of the whole rather than to promote the interests of its part. In discussing global security in the current historical moment, one can only wonder about the absence of the word ‘drone’ in Mandelbaum’s account of why the world should be grateful for the way the United States globally projects its power. A question is posed. Should Mandelbaum to be viewed as naïve or as a dogmatic advocate of empire? In effect, the wardrobe of world government seems to function as a disguise.

 

            Before dismissing Mandelbaum’s conceptions altogether, I would agree that he is convincing when he selects the United States rather than the UN as the political actor with the best global governmental capabilities, credentials, and ambition. The UN lacks the hard power capabilities to implement its decisions unless backed by relevant geopolitical forces; its constitutional makeup is also deferential to the sovereignty of states, and its formal role is to prevent war between states, but not to interfere with war within states. As a result, the UN has been largely a spectator in relation to the broad trends of security, democracy, and development, a handmaiden of the United States in most settings, but hampered in even this questionable undertaking by the veto power exercised by Russia and China in many peace and security situations, and obstructed by the United States whenever the Organization seeks to induce Israel to live up to its international obligations. When the United States and a few allies failed to persuade the Security Council to back its proposed attack on Iraq in 2003, the coalition of the willing went ahead anyway flaunting the authority of the UN and ignoring the constraints of its Charter.  As such, it underlined the weakness of the UN to fulfill its constitutional role and the willingness of the United States to behave as an unaccountable superpower whenever so disposed, a perception strengthened after the fact by the disastrous aftermath of the Iraq War during the lengthy occupation and withdrawal phases, and the strife-ridden country that the departing forces have left behind.

 

             There are additional difficulties with Mandelbaum’s global vision, including a glaring internal contradiction. He praises America for exerting a pro-democracy influence throughout the world, which is partially deserved, but fails to note either the inconsistencies in its application or the complete failure to consider the consent of the peoples and other governments in relation to U.S. de facto world government. I doubt that there would be many supporters of the Mandelbaum vision of governing the world in Moscow and Beijing despite the benefits that are supposedly bestowed upon Russia and China. Somehow, the politics of self-determination and procedural democracy are fine for state/society relations, but when it comes to governing the world, democratic values and procedures should be abandoned.  It is quite okay to base global government on an authoritarian logic that is not dependent on any kind of procedure of consent or approval, but governs by arbitrary and non-accountable fiat, relying heavily on military clout. The United States makes extensive use of killer drones, and refuses even to take responsibility for ‘accidents’ that end the lives of innocent civilians. This is a metaphoric message as to what kind of world government is being provided by the United States.

 

            In depicting the future Mandelbaum calls our attention to three scenarios that bear on how his thesis will play out. In what he calls “the most favorable of these,” those that have most to gain by receiving free protection, namely, Europe and Japan would assist the United States, and lighten the burdens of world government. Such a prospect is really a thinly disguised alliance-oriented approach, although in a presumably less overtly conflictual global setting. He does not view this pattern as the most likely one. The least favorable scenario would mount a challenge from China that would induce a return to balance of power world order in which countervailing alliances produce a security system that resembled international relations during the Cold War, but it is assumed by Mandelbaum contends that the Chinese are too wily to opt for such a risky future. What Mandelbaum views as the most likely future is a continuation of present arrangements without great help from allies or much hindrance from adversaries. He properly acknowledges as a major unknown whether the American public will continue to finance such a system of world government, given recent setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as growing domestic pressures to cut public spending, reduce taxes in response to the burdens of a rapidly aging population, and the absence of much enthusiasm among the citizenry for devoting resources to internationally idealistic projects.

 

            It is well to appreciate that this new discourse of imperial duty and prerogative is framed as a matter of global scope. This is genuinely new. Yet it is quite old, present throughout the entire course of modernity. The West has always cast itself in the role of being the savior of the whole of humanity even if the actual reach of its influence was not previously capable of embracing the globe. In the colonial era Europeans described their gift to humanity  in the language of ‘white man’s burden’ or proclaimed their role to be the ‘civilizing mission’ of the West. As those throughout the global South are well aware, this lofty language provided the cover for a variety of sinister forms of violent exploitation of the non-West. For Mandelbaum the new rationale for Western dominance is ‘de facto world government.’ It purports to be a service institution for the world, yet at no point does Mandelbaum pause to admit that America bears responsibility for a disproportionate amount of the violence, militarism, and appropriation of resources that goes on under its hegemonic aegis.

 

            With a measure of historical perspective, American since its earliest beginnings claimed that its domestic reality and international behavior were superior to what Europe had to offer, with not even a thought as to whether non-Western ideas and actors might have anything to contribute to a more humane world order. In the last century is was Woodrow Wilson, in the aftermath of World War I, who projected an American vision of world order onto the global stage with disastrous results, although it too was motivated by the sense that what America represented, if globalized, would lead to a positive future for everyone. The disasters that befell the world, eventuating in World War II, death camps and atomic bombings, did not pour cold water on America’s global ambitions, giving rise to a more geopolitically humble United Nations that assigned the major tasks of keeping the peace to the leading states and their coalitions. In this respect, Mandelbaum’s preferred world builds on a long tradition of American hubris, which is tragically impervious to the historical record, and thus bound to repeat past mistakes.  In the meantime, Michael Mandelbaum and Thomas Friedman will likely be welcomed as honored guests of corporate gatherings and bankers’ retreats,whether at Davos or at the confidential meetings of the Bilderberg Group.

 

Professor Falk’s bio from his blog Richardfalk.wordpress.com

 

Richard Falk is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He initiated this blog partly in celebration of his 80th birthday.

 

1814…1914…2014

Two hundred years ago the whole of Europe, and much of the world that European nations interacted with, were on the cusp of the ending of wars that had been waging almost continually since 1789. After a disastrous campaign led him to Moscow and the loss of an army in 1812, and the loss of the “Battle of the Nations” at Leipzig in 1813, the French Emperor Napoleon was obliged to abdicate before the armies of his enemies on April 4th 1814. (That would have actually been the end if he had not returned the following year to rule France again in the “Hundred Days”; before the loss of the Battle of Waterloo and a second abdication that sent him to St Helena for the rest of his life.)

Through the Napoleonic wars the people of Europe had learned to abhor war, particularly huge conflagrations that threatened entire populations and the social order. The wars stemming from the French Revolution were the first to employ huge armies, a legacy of the levee en mass the revolutionary governments could raise. Napoleon mobilised some 600,000 troops to attack Russia in 1812, not that they and their contributing governments were all as anxious as the French to see Napoleon succeed. When only somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 returned to their homes, depending on who’s counting, all sectors of European society suffered. They learned from like disasters; not that there were no wars in the following hundred years…they still happened…but until 1914 they did not involve the whole of the continent nor huge assemblages of armies. On the 28th of July 1914 the madness started again.

One cannot help but notice the passage of another hundred years and the threats of new wars today that could involve the whole world again. In Asia there is conflict brewing between China and its neighbors over the control of the East China Sea…a conflict made more dangerous by the presence of US Naval carrier groups in support of China’s rivals. In the Middle East a potential war situation has almost been cooled by the diplomacy between Washington and the new President of Iran—almost— because those in Israel who want no peaceful agreement with Iran are pressuring their lap dogs in the US Senate to torpedo the diplomatic agreements with the imposition of more sanctions. Since Israel is a nuclear weapon state the arguments about the Iranian’s allowable degree of uranium enrichment could easily turn the conflict from a discussion of allowed Iranian peaceful nuclear developments into a nuclear arms race and war.

Are the lessons people learned from the legacies of 1814 and 1914 to be forgotten again?

While some aspects of the immediate future seem bleak there are new attempts to take the control of warmaking from the hotheads and impose strong oversight to prevent military options remaining a solution to international disputes. I received an invitation from a friend to join a new international group called “World Beyond War” that aims to start a new campaign against warfare. A goal the League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1945 were intended to address. At the moment the Global Movement is drawing in supporters—anyone who wants to be a part of the new initiative can go to http://worldbeyondwar.org/ and join. There is a list of luminaries who have already stood up to be counted on the site. They cannot succeed without help from the rest of us.

While there have always overwhelming obstacles to keeping the peace, this year and the next four, filled with memories of the horrors of the years 1914 to 1918, will be drawing more attention around the world to the overarching threats of war. We must do what we can to lay the issues before our fellows. The obstacles that stood in the way of success before still exist before us. We can do no more than engage them again, certain in the knowledge that our actions are honorable.

Perhaps this time we may achieve success.

To End all Wars.

This year we will be marking the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the cruel disaster that was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars’. The trigger that started the war was the assassination at Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by Gavrilo Princip the South Slav Serbian revolutionary.

Before the audience becomes filled to surfeit with articles on the war, its start, its carnage, and its end, I’d like to draw a little attention to the similarity of the situation then and now…the end of the world systems of 1914 due to the war, and hopefully the beginning of the end of the disasters that in 2014 have resulted from uncontrolled and rampant capitalism. The planet we live on is currently expected to be too hot to support life by the end of the century…there may be no one around to mourn the losses of WWI when 2114 rolls around.

I also have a personal interest in marking the anniversary. My paternal grandfather, Samuel Hoare, was gassed in the trenches on the Somme in that war…my mother’s brothers both served in the British Navy in that war. Sam Hoare survived the gassing, but his disablement was such that he was never able to support his family again…Cliff Cook was so disgusted with his experiences in the navy that he foreswore the patriotism that marked British society of that age forever…his brother Len so loved the navy that he stayed in after the war and served at sea until he went down with the minelayer HMS Welshman when it was torpedoed in 1943.

I would also like to note that 1814 was the first year along the road to ending the Napoleonic Wars, when Napoleon made his first abdication as Emperor of the French when a Grand Alliance of all the other powers of Europe invaded France and caused its plea for a truce and a negotiated peace. It was this Peace Conference in Brussels that was interrupted by the return of Napoleon from Elba and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Lately I have been researching these two years and the second abdication of Napoleon after Waterloo for my steampunk/Regency novel “Steam and Strategem” and its sequel “Spies and Subterfuge”, somewhat gentle rearrangements of history of that age, from Tyche Books at http://tychebooks.com/. Go to my other blog at thewildcatsvictory.wordpress.com for updates of these novels.

Before I end this I will give a few pointers to origins of the First World War that might aid your own searches for the historical background. I am using a couple of volumes from the first post-WWII Encyclopedia Britannica to start the search—I don’t know, but suspect the old volumes will have more detail than the current—but the articles on WWI start with a comparison of the technical and human characteristics of the main armies involved, and the relevant period of the articles on Europe give a rundown of the political and social climate of the times.

Since I can see the poor South Slavs and the Serbians will get more than their share of the blame for the disaster this year I will summarise the struggles of those peoples to break free of first the Ottoman Empire and then their struggles against the heavy hand of the Austrian Empire. Under the pages for Serbia, Wikipedia notes the start of the rule of the Ottoman Empire over the Serbs was firstly the loss of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and then the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The recovery of independence beginning in the wars of 1804 and 1815 against the Turks and gradually evolving into the self governing Principality of Serbia in 1862. The wars against the Turks did not end there but the Austrian Empire also participated in the carve up of the formerly Ottoman Balkans, and the Kingdom of Serbia took shape after the ‘Year of Revolutions’ in 1848. Several Balkan wars in the early 1900s were fought when Bulgaria became the Austrian’s ally—blocking the amalgamation of other South Slav communities from joining Serbia—and leading directly to the assassination of the Archduke by Gavrilo Princip.

Hard or Soft Learning

When I had been operating GPS survey receivers for some years, starting when the system was in its early form and continuing into the time when the GPS system was declared fully operational, it finally occurred to me that what I had been striving to master was no more than a human-created device of limited duration and limited application. I contrasted my efforts to game the system to glean maximum accuracy and utility from a foreign creation against the learning of the engineering principles, pure science, and mathematics in the syllabus when I was a student in the 50s and 60s. What I learned then, and even earlier in school, were universally applicable principles, while those I had just acquired were applicable only to the technical configurations of the system built by the US Department of Defence and subject to their future changes and denials of service. I had acquired only soft knowledge, not something that would be true forever.

Many people are filled with admiration for the way their grandchildren can unerringly set up a smart phone for them when the manuals appear to be so much gobbledegook. They fail to realize that the kids possess no more than soft knowledge that will become obsolete when the next must-have toy comes along. Why would I waste my time and effort to memorize the specific functions of this particular device when it will be in the landfill in a few years? I need know no more than allows me to carry out the basic functions for which I acquired it.

But hold on, you might say. The kids are required to know all these things today—schools would hardly be able to teach if they relied upon the old fashioned methods we were taught with. But what are they teaching today…hard knowledge or soft?

When we came out of engineering school fifty years ago we could have recreated every technical advance of our age from the first principles we had learned. It might take us a time, but we could do it. How many engineers, teachers, nerds and whiz-kids today know enough of the internal workings of their world to be able to reproduce the items they use in their day to day working lives? Have we not created an experimental world where, for the first time in human history, the people running the show are not capable of understanding or recreating the essential principles of the technology civilisation depends upon?

Why would they need to, you might ask? We are now living in a perfect digital world where we know everything there is to know about everything, and where nothing can possibly go wrong…go wrong…go wrong….as the old joke has it. Remember the Y2K panic at the turn of the century, when software had to be rewritten to allow power stations to continue functioning when the calendar turned to 2000/01/01? I remember my old math teacher in engineering school who would proudly relate his wartime story from the Burma front where he was faced with calculating the height supplies could be dropped from an aircraft safely without the parachutes they didn’t have. He had no trig tables or logarithm tables needed for the calculations, but he wrote his own in the jungle from the first principles every mathematician knew. How many of us in a similar situation today could even read these tables?

The final report of the accident to Air France 447 that fell into the Atlantic three years ago was released today. One of the findings was telling—if the two co-pilots in charge of the plane when the air speed indicators failed had relied on the basic flight skills they had learned during their training instead of following the commands of the compromised computerized flight system the aircraft would have never crashed. In fact, the aircraft was flying safely without the air speed indicators—until the pilots started obeying the faulty orders of the computer. As the report in Der Spiegel says, “In this stressful situation, Bonin and the second co-pilot forgot an old aviation rule: controlling the pitch and the engine thrust. If both are normal, the plane is not in danger.”

I’d suggest that when the next crisis hits our ever-more efficient but tightly balanced technological society it will be imperative that those in charge can use their ingrained hard knowledge to pull us out of the downward spiral instead of relying on the soft computer instructions written in less critical times.

Occupy Wall St – Naomi Klein

Occupy Wall Street: the most important thing in the world now

by News Source on October 7, 2011

Link to War in Context to see the Video: http://warincontext.org/2011/10/07/occupy-wall-street-the-most-important-thing-in-the-world-now/

Naomi Klein: I was honored to be invited to speak at Occupy Wall Street on Thursday night. Since amplification is (disgracefully) banned, and everything I say will have to be repeated by hundreds of people so others can hear (a k a “the human microphone”), what I actually say at Liberty Plaza will have to be very short. With that in mind, here is the longer, uncut version of the speech.

I love you.

And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.

Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.

If there is one thing I know, it is that the 1 percent loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate and no one seems to know what to do, that is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.

And there is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99 percent. And that 99 percent is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”

That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.

“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”

Many people have drawn parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the so-called anti-globalization protests that came to world attention in Seattle in 1999. That was the last time a global, youth-led, decentralized movement took direct aim at corporate power. And I am proud to have been part of what we called “the movement of movements.”

But there are important differences too. For instance, we chose summits as our targets: the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the G8. Summits are transient by their nature, they only last a week. That made us transient too. We’d appear, grab world headlines, then disappear. And in the frenzy of hyper patriotism and militarism that followed the 9/11 attacks, it was easy to sweep us away completely, at least in North America.

Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.

Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.

Something else this movement is doing right: You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality. Which we saw more of just last night. Meanwhile, support for this movement grows and grows. More wisdom.

But the biggest difference a decade makes is that in 1999, we were taking on capitalism at the peak of a frenzied economic boom. Unemployment was low, stock portfolios were bulging. The media was drunk on easy money. Back then it was all about start-ups, not shutdowns.

We pointed out that the deregulation behind the frenzy came at a price. It was damaging to labor standards. It was damaging to environmental standards. Corporations were becoming more powerful than governments and that was damaging to our democracies. But to be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.

Ten years later, it seems as if there aren’t any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.

The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.

These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.

We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite—fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful—the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.

The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society—while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.

That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and proving health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, “I care about you.” In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.

A few final thoughts. In this great struggle, here are some things that don’t matter.

§ What we wear.

§ Whether we shake our fists or make peace signs.

§ Whether we can fit our dreams for a better world into a media soundbite.

And here are a few things that do matter.

§ Our courage.

§ Our moral compass.

§ How we treat each other.

We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets—like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.

Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.

Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.

This speech also appeared in Saturday’s edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal.

Occupy Wall Street

The corporate media are attempting to ignore and belittle the Occupy Wall St. protestors. Join other bloggers to get their messages out.

Sign Up to Broadcast the Occupation Movement with Firedoglake

http://action.firedoglake.com/page/s/occupy-press?source=email&subsource=v1

What started as a small gathering on Wall Street is becoming a nationwide movement.

Unsurprisingly, the corporate media continue to ignore and deride this movement. It will take independent outlets like Firedoglake and citizen journalists like yourself to give these protests the attention they deserve.

FDL has been covering Occupy Wall Street since day one, and the Dissenter’s intrepid Kevin Gosztola has been the premier source of information for those following the protest. He’s in Washington D.C. right now and will be heading to New York to report live from Occupy Wall Street.

But the movement is spreading – across the nation and even the globe. We need more eyes and ears to capture these protests. Signup as a citizen journalist and help FDL broadcast the occupation movement.

If you’re taking part in a protest, click here to sign up as a citizen journalist with FDL. We want to share your stories photos and videos of their occupations as part of our coverage.

–OR–

Pitch in $5 or more to help us broadcast these movements and overcome the mainstream media blackout.

The “Occupy” movement is an expression of the outrage and despair millions of Americans have felt towards our corrupt political system. People are gathering from New York to Los Angeles to voice their discontent, and their numbers are growing by the day.

Firedoglake has been one of the few sources of extensive coverage of Occupy Wall Street since the beginning, and Kevin’s work has already been featured on outlets such as Russia Today.1Salon’s Glenn Greenwald even cited Kevin’s “excellent analysis” of the movement.2

Kevin’s coverage has shamed the mainstream media for their smug condescension toward protestors. His work is exemplary of what real reporting should be. Now is your chance to join him: FDL wants to build a corps of citizen journalists to amplify the message of the Occupy movement.

In Washington and New York, Kevin will be there — talking to these activists as they call for an end to the corporate-military machine that dominates U.S. politics. But we need you to report as well and make sure these protests don’t go unnoticed.

If you’re joining an occupation, click here to sign up as a citizen journalist with FDL. We want to share your stories photos and videos of their occupations as part of our coverage.

–OR–

Pitch in $5 or more to help us broadcast these movements and overcome the mainstream media blackout.

Thanks so much. The occupation won’t end until the corporate and political classes are held to account. And with your help, neither will FDL’s coverage.

Deepest thanks,

Jane Hamsher
Founder & Publisher
Firedoglake.com

P.S. We’re trying something new — since Kevin will be reporting live, every day, from the protests in DC and New York: you can make automatic weekly donations of $3 or more to our coverage fund.

1. Left Attacks Occupy Wall Street The Alyona Show, 9/28/11.

2. What’s behind the scorn for the Wall Street Protests. Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, 9/28/11.

——————————————————————————–

Firedoglake’s community of 350,000 activists is supported by small donations from people like you.
Can you chip in to keep us strong? Click here to contribute.


Pages

Archives