Social movements and protest

Military budget& Social movements and protest& civil liberties14 Oct 2013 11:18 am

urban shield 2.jpg

Frame from video, Urban Shield 2012 Highlights, listed on Youtube as sponsored by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

by Andrew Lichterman

Urban Shield, a huge multi-agency emergency response drill, will be held at sites throughout the Bay Area from October 25-28, 2013. Although often presented to the public as useful for preparing the region to respond for everything from earthquakes and fires to school shootings, Urban Shield primarily is focused on preventing and responding to terrorist attacks. Urban Shield also features a trade show with vendors promoting products ranging from high powered weapons and surveillance equipment to protective gear for hazardous materials response teams. The trade show will take place at the Marriott, in downtown Oakland. The exercise also is a competition, with SWAT teams, hazmat teams, EMT’s and firefighters not only from the Bay Area but from around the world competing for top honors.

A coalition of groups centered in the East Bay is protesting Urban Shield. The law enforcement aspects of the exercise are emblematic of the militarization of policing that took root in the “war on drugs” and has accelerated and intensified in a post 9/11 era. Further, a trade show in downtown Oakland featuring guns and ammunition undercuts long-running efforts to stop the marketing of guns and ammunition, part of broader efforts to stem the tide of gun violence in the city through non-violent means rather than violent repression.

Urban Shield sometimes is portrayed as a general emergency response exercise, but its primary focus is anti-terrorism. There’s a consortium of agencies called the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) that administers Urban Shield. At recent public hearings on Urban Shield, Oakland city officials tried to give the impression that the city’s involvement was limited to hosting the firefighting elements of the exercise, even suggesting that Alameda County, not Oakland, was the proper agency for questions or criticism concerning Urban Shield. All major Bay Area jurisdictions, however, participate in UASI governance: the UASI “Approval Authority” includes “representation from each of the three major cities of Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose and the County of Alameda, County of Contra Costa, County of Marin, County of Monterey, County of San Francisco, County of San Mateo, County of Santa Clara and County of Sonoma.” (Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative, The Bay Area Homeland Security Strategy 2012–2014, January 2012, p.5).

A report to that group on last year’s Urban Shield exercise stated that “[s]cenarios must contain a nexus to terrorism” to comply with the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program. The Urban Area Security Initiative’s Bay Area Homeland Security Strategy 2012–2014 states that

“Threat assessment data indicates that the Bay Area is home to many international and domestic terrorist organizations, making it a prime location for potential terrorist attack.”

Despite the supposed multi-purpose nature of the event, anti-terrorism and military-style police response dominates the imagery, marketing, and substance of Urban Shield. Promotional videos put out by the Alameda County Sheriff’s office, which coordinates Urban Shield, have the kind of highly charged music and pacing normally associated with TV advertising for a football playoff game. The action in the video is dominated by explosions and heavily armed swat teams kicking down doors and engaging in simulated gun battles. Now and then a firefighter or EMT appears, dealing with the destruction one would expect in the wake of one or another scenario with a “nexus to terrorism.”

A frame from a video of highlights from Urban Shield 2012 appears to show heavily armed officers apprehending “terrorists” with banners saying “No war for oil” and “we are 99%.” (see image at top of page.) The frames just preceding show some kind of improvised explosive device. This raises disturbing questions of who our police are being trained to profile and target as terrorists. Both the anti-war and the Occupy movements have been overwhelmingly non-violent, and have involved no activity reasonably described as “terrorist.”

The trade show to be held at the downtown Oakland Marriott is more than just a side show. Exhibitors showcase an array of equipment including guns and ammunition, surveillance devices, software to organize the vast flows of information gathered by police agencies, and gear used by bomb squads, paramedics, and fire departments.

Participating vendors are invited to play an integral part in Urban Shield. Exhibitors pay up to $15,000 to sponsor the event, and those in the upper tiers get far more than a booth at the show. All but the lowest tier can attend one or more Urban Shield dinner events. Vendors who pay $4500 or more get tickets to a “VIP tour” allowing them to view at least eight of the exercise venues. Those that pay $7500 or more are entitled to a “Product Demonstration at a designated tactical scenario.” The vendor application warns that product demonstration opportunities will be filled on a first come, first served basis, and that “[t]o ensure your product is being utilized to its full potential, it is highly recommended you commit your product early during the scenario development process.” A 2012 Alameda County Sheriff’s Department presentation on that year’s Urban Shield exercise showed featured technologies and company logos in slides describing scenarios, for example, the Parrot-AR Drone for a scenario in which “[a] member of the Sovereign Citizen movement drove a truck into a government building which resulted in a partial building collapse and fire.”

urban shield drone scenario 3x5.jpg

Slide from Bay Area UASI Approval Authority Urban Shield 2012 Presentation, December 2012.

We live in a society where at all levels of government money too often drives policy, and that appears to be the case with Urban Shield. In a time when budgets for public services have been under attack for years, it’s hard for local agencies to find money for emergency preparedness. Homeland Security is a big pot of money–over 50 billion dollars annually throughout the Federal government. And that’s without including Defense Department homeland security spending–another $18 billion per year. But that money comes with strings, such as the requirement that exercises like Urban Shield have a focus on terrorism rather than hazards far more likely to inflict widespread devastation on the Bay Area, such as earthquakes, floods, and fires on the wildland-urban interface. The Urban Area Security Initiative’s 2012-2014 Bay Area Homeland Security Strategy reflects the way the quest for funding shapes this inversion of priorities:

“The purpose of the Bay Area Homeland Security Strategy (Bay Area Strategy or Strategy) is to ensure the Bay Area region has a comprehensive document and system that outlines the region’s risks, capabilities, vision, structure, goals and objectives for homeland security. Having such a Strategy will ensure the Bay Area is in the best possible position to clearly track and articulate its risk and capability needs to local leaders, the State of California and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when seeking resources and funding to enhance homeland security and public safety across the region. The Strategy is designed primarily to address terrorism risk faced by the Bay Area with an understanding that capabilities enhanced to combat terrorism often enhance the ability to also manage natural disasters, such as earthquakes, and man-made accidents, such as hazardous materials spills.”

All of this–the acceptance by local officials, even in a supposedly “liberal” region like the Bay Area, of funding tightly tied to an increasingly militarized internal security apparatus, the incorporation of corporate marketing directly into government activities–might have seemed shocking to many a decade or two ago. The “new normal,” however, is a surveillance-internal-security state driven by an intelligence-police-prison-industrial complex, a new Homeland Security wing of the military industrial complex. As I wrote six years ago regarding Bush-era domestic spying, the Cold War arms race was fueled in large part by power and profit interests having little to do with the common good, exploiting the climate of fear and to sell an endless and ever more sophisticated and expensive array of military technologies and services to the State. But for the emerging police-surveillance-industrial complex, our civil liberties will not be mere collateral damage in larger campaigns selling weapons and wars. They will be squarely in the sights of those who seek to sustain an increasingly two-tier society and to increase their profits by diminishing the freedoms of the rest of us.

The “war on terror” has led to a climate of fear and inflated threats. It has encouraged those in government to view the population as either victims or enemies. Training develops attitudes as well as exercising skills. The “homeland security” approach typified by Urban Shield emphasizes technology heavy, military-style rapid response. We are far better served by seeking solutions that strengthen our everyday public services and the economic and social health of our communities–the strongest basis for mutual aid and recovery in times of disaster. It’s time to end the war at home.

There will be a community witness and picket outside the trade show at the Marriott Hotel, 11th & Broadway, Oakland, October 25, 9am-5pm. For more information, go to

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest18 Apr 2012 04:44 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

The Reaching Critical Will project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has released a new report on nuclear weapons modernization. The report, titled Assuring Destruction Forever: Nuclear Weapon Modernization Around the World, can be downloaded for free and hard copies are available for $8 from the Reaching Critical Will website.

The report explores in-depth the nuclear weapon modernization programs in China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and analyzes the costs of nuclear weapons in the context of the economic crisis, austerity measures, and rising challenges in meeting human and environmental needs. It features three pieces by authors. Andrew Lichterman, senior research analyst for Western States Legal Foundation, wrote the chapter on the United States and a chapter on the role of civil society and social movements in creating the requisite political will for disarmament, and John Burroughs, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, wrote a chapter on international law and nuclear weapons.

The chapters also are available separately as pdf files. Below are the links to chapters written by WSLF staff and board members.

Chapter on U.S. nuclear weapons modernization, by Andrew Lichterman

Chapter on international law and nuclear weapons modernization, by John Burroughs

Civil Society, Social Movements, and Disarmament in the 21st Century, by Andrew Lichterman

There will be a launch event for the report in Vienna, Austria on Thursday May 3, one of a number of NGO events scheduled alongside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty preparatory committee meeting the first two weeks of May. The launch event will be in Room M2 of the Vienna International Center, May 3, 1:15–2:45p.m.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest20 Feb 2012 07:11 pm

Almost nine years after the start of the 2003 Iraq war, are once again seeing U.S. politicians and elected officials targeting an oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf, claiming that it might soon build nuclear weapons, a claim based on sketchy evidence provided by sources we never see. This time the target is Iran, and the U.S. is once more trying to drag its allies with it on a path that could lead to war.

Yet while the U.S. government lectures and threatens Iran and North Korea about the evils of nuclear weapons, it routinely test fires its own long-range nuclear Minuteman missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California. Almost 450 Minuteman missiles remain deployed and on alert, part of a U.S. nuclear arsenal still large enough to end civlization in a day. The next Minuteman test launch is scheduled for February 25, 2012.

A nonviolent protest is planned at Vandenberg at five minutes to midnight, Friday February 24.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has chartered a Green Tortoise bus that will leave for Vandenberg from Oakland at 5 pm, Feb. 24, returning by 7 am the next day, picking up people along the way.

Plan to get on the bus! $40 requested; no one turned away! Contact MacGregor Eddy:; 831 206 5043

If you live in Southern California, please join a protest from 12 noon–1 pm on Feb. 24 at the Los Angeles Air Force Space and Missile Center, 262 N. Douglas Street.

Wherever you live, please sign the petition calling on President Obama to cancel the test and start negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons. click here to see the petition.

For more about Vandenberg Air Force Base, see the Spring 2012 Western States Legal Foundation Information Brief, Vandenberg Air Force Base: Where the Present and Future of U.S. Warmaking Come Together

Social movements and protest& civil liberties27 Oct 2011 01:17 am

by Andrew Lichterman

Occupy everywhere.jpg

Oscar Grant Plaza, Occupy Oakland

Early Tuesday morning, hundreds of police officers descended on the Occupy Oakland encampment, driving campers from their beds. The police arrested those who stayed, gassing some and shooting others with “non-lethal” projectiles. Their property was confiscated, the small temporary village, with its kitchen and library, medical tent and children’s area, was destroyed.

kids corner occupy oakland.jpg

Children’s play zone and medical tent, the kind of threats to public order that required hundreds of heavily armed police to subdue.

But that was just the beginning. When Occupy Oakland residents and supporters attempted to reclaim the plaza– with a march that from most reports appeared, with the exception of scattered incidents, to be nonviolent on the part of the protesters– police responded with overwhelming force. It is clear that large quantities of tear gas and various “nonlethal” rounds were fired at unarmed civilians. I was not there Tuesday night. But I would note that I have been present at many, many demonstrations, including a number that involved objects thrown at police in which the police response was considerably more restrained. I find it difficult to believe in this case that police officers, present in very large numbers, armed and in full riot gear, ever were in significant danger from the demonstrators. It seems more likely that those who decided to deploy the kind of force we saw Tuesday wanted to send a strong message, and perhaps one that would be heard beyond Oakland. (more…)

Social movements and protest& civil liberties21 Oct 2011 03:17 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

These are some reflections on the occupations, having spent time at several and followed many others from afar. The occupations share similarities, but also have local characteristics. I can not speak for any or all of them, but as a participant in the debate they have sparked I can speak, and that is the point. This is some of what I have heard, and some of what I want to say. It is not a time to speak with one voice. The conversation is only beginning. The more it grows and the longer it goes on, the more reason for hope.

Occupy everywhere: reclaiming public space

The occupation movement is a response to internal colonization, to a sense that there is no space in our cities and towns and lives that has not been invaded by immense organizations in which we have no voice. In most aspects of our lives we are commanded or exploited, presented with pre-made, limited choices or no choices at all. And even that is only if our existence is either useful or profitable to the huge organizations that control both the necessities of existence and most social space, real and virtual. If we are neither useful as workers nor profitable as consumers, we are thrown away, pushed aside, squeezed out. Soon there will be no place left to go.

A popular trope used by the mainstream media and in professional political circles to denigrate the Occupy movement is to express puzzlement about “what those people want,” to say they have no “demands.” Yet the immediate “demands” of these occupations are clear. The first is that we have the right to reclaim public spaces (regardless of their legal definition) for their rightful purposes, which are the discussion necessary for the construction of communities that are fair, democratic, and work for all of us, and for the physical activity of constructing such a community. The second demand, equally important, is not really a demand but a call, addressed to all who hear in their capacities as human beings. It is “join us.” It is a call that appeals first to all of us who are politically homeless in the current order of things, who lack the wealth or the position in an increasingly rigid, polarized, and inequitable society to have a voice.

The political classes–government officials elected or appointed in or out of uniform, party operatives, NGO professionals, propagandists masquerading as reporters and analysts in the corporate-owned media– can not–will not–hear either the demand or the call. They cannot hear the call because it is not addressed to them as they demand to be addressed– in their status as officers, officials, or professionals. The demand for the moment only says to those who insist on their roles and prerogatives in the machinery of destruction: you have done enough damage. Leave us alone, while we figure out what to do about it. This demand leaves no place for them so long as they remain within their well-paid roles and does not pay homage to their status, so they refuse to hear it.

The call, on the other hand, addresses people differently and presents us with different choices. For those with no organized power or voice, the choice is: remain silent, and sooner or later one or another of the immense organizations that dominate the life of this planet will take what little you have left. The system we inhabit is inexorably using up the world, and those in the upper echelons of organizations deploying great power plan to be the ones who remain comfortable as long as there is comfort to be had. For those with some measure of power, privilege, and status, the choice is: Come down from your office towers and out of your fortresses, shed your uniforms and your suits, your guns and badges, abjure all claims to status and privilege. Begin with us a new conversation about how we can make a democracy, and how we can find a different path forward for a society gone terribly wrong. Here you can claim to be no more than one more human being with one voice, but also will be no less. (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Nuclear power& Social movements and protest05 Oct 2011 07:17 am

by Andrew Lichterman

I’m here in Washington D.C. with my Western States Legal Foundation colleague Jackie Cabasso for a number of events, all potential strands in a movement bringing together those working for peace, for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable economy, and for a political system in which every person genuinely has an equal voice.

We spent the weekend at the New Priorities Network planning meeting. That network focuses on bringing together coalitions at the local and regional level to raise awareness of the impacts of war and military spending and inequitable economic policies on the ability of state and local governments to provide for the basic human needs of their residents. Those attending represented local and national organizations throughout the country, and there was a general feeling that the frozen politics of the past two decades is beginning to thaw–from the bottom up.

Thursday we will be joining what likely will be thousands of others at the peaceful occupation of Freedom Plaza here in the District of Columbia. Although we must return to California at the week’s end, we hope that occupation will build on the momentum generated by the Wall Street occupations and those that already are following from it.

We have prepared a short piece on the place of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the context of the broader global political, economic, and ecological crisis; a pdf version can be obtained by clicking the link: Nuclear Connections: Weapons and Power in the Age of Corporate Globalization.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest20 May 2011 05:11 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

Publication note:

I have a piece titled “Nuclear Disarmament, Civil Society, and Democracy” in Disarmament Forum, 2010 No.4, full text available at

A short excerpt:

Twenty-five years ago there were vigorous and diverse disarmament movements in the United States and elsewhere. In the United States today, those movements are largely gone. What remains is the “arms control and disarmament community,” an insular subculture of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focuses most of its resources on policy debates and proposals in national capitals and international negotiating forums. These groups mainly deploy the standard repertory of interest group political pressure techniques, with expert policy analysis and top-down publicity and public opinion mobilization used to muster support for proposals initiated by segments of governing elites that can be portrayed as moving toward disarmament.

The disappearance of the movements and the gradual transformation of most of the institutions left behind into professionalized single-issue pressure groups, I believe, are less the result of choices by the particular people and organizations than manifestations of deeper trends affecting not only disarmament work but other efforts for a more fair, democratic and ecologically sustainable way of life. These broader transformations have left us with less voice in the decisions that affect all of our lives than we had two or three decades ago. If we want to have an effect on something as central to the order of things as the ultimate weapons in a system underwritten by overwhelming violence, we must at the same time address the fragile state of what little democracy we have.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Social movements and protest17 Dec 2010 09:49 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The battle over ratification of the new START treaty is in its final stages, yet from a disarmament perspective the debate over its meaning has barely begun. The treaty will have little effect on the material institutions of the arms race. It will have only minimal effects on current nuclear weapons deployments, and places no meaningful limit on the modernization of nuclear arsenals or the development of strategically significant weapons systems such as missile defenses and conventional “prompt global strike” weapons with global reach. The principal purported benefits of new START, given that it requires only marginal arms reductions over seven years, mainly fall into two areas: resumption of on-the-ground verification measures, and re-establishment of a negotiating framework for future arms reductions. The concessions extracted by the weapons establishment in anticipation of ratification, in contrast, will have immediate and tangible effects, beginning with increases in weapons budgets and accelerated construction of new nuclear weapons facilities. These increased commitments of resources are intended to sustain a nuclear arsenal of civilization-destroying size for decades to come, and will further entrench interests that constitute long-term structural impediments to disarmament.

One would think that the START deal, with a treaty constituting at best very small arms reductions coming at the cost of material and policy measures that are explicitly designed to push any irreversible commitment to disarmament off many years into the future, would spark considerable debate within the U.S. “arms control and disarmament community.” Most U.S. arms control and disarmament organizations, however, have obediently lined up behind the Obama administration, parroting its talking points and saying little or nothing about the budget increases and policy promises provided to the nuclear weapons establishment. The vast majority of the e-mail blasts I receive from disarmament groups ask me to tell my Senator to vote for ratification without mentioning these commitments at all. The occasional message that mentions them seldom mentions their significance, despite the fact that it is quite clear that without these commitments–which, furthermore, have constantly increased as the ratification battle has dragged on–the chances for approval by the Senate are nil.

From the disarmament perspective, do the vast concrete negatives of the START deal outweigh its considerably more intangible positives? The “arms control and disarmament community” has concluded that the answer is yes, but has done so without any visible debate.

I have written a piece in which I examine the START treaty and deal in more detail, and also offer some reflections on the implications of the absence of debate on the matter among those who work for disarmament. That piece, published as a Western States Legal Foundation commentary, is available at the link below.

The START Treaty and Disarmament: a Dilemma in Search of a Debate

A shorter version of the piece is forthcoming in Wissenschaft und Frieden.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Social movements and protest02 Jul 2010 07:21 pm

Andrew Lichterman

(based on a talk given at a protest outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, June 5, 2010).

We are now several years in to a deep global economic and political crisis that shows no sign of abating. Those in command of the world’s political systems seem capable of doing little beyond protecting the immediate interests of privileged elements in their societies. At the same time, the familiar forms of oppositional activity seem spent, unable to pose a coherent and convincing alternative to the current order of things. Movements for peace and for a society that is more fair economically and sustainable ecologically can be found everywhere, but often are fragmented by specialization or particularized grievances and mired in habitual forms of thought and action. It is essential that all of us in these movements try to develop a broader understanding of this time and its challenges, starting from our particular work and location in the world and sketching the connections, however tentatively, to the larger whole. This will be one such sketch, with its starting point in disarmament work in the heartland of the U.S. aerospace-military-industrial complex in California.

Disarmament “progress” in the United States: rhetoric vs. reality

Last month in New York, the states that are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty met to review the status of the treaty and the performance of its parties, a review that occurs every five years. After opening the conference with general endorsements of the concept of nuclear disarmament, the United States (together with other nuclear weapons states) spent the remainder of the month doing its best to weaken or eliminate language in drafts of the Review Conference final document that would impose any substantive disarmament obligations on the nuclear weapons states, such as time limits or definite commitments to negotiate a convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile in Washington D.C., the Obama administration proposals for increases in nuclear weapons spending were moving through Congress, the only significant opposition coming from those who claim that the budget increases are too small.We now have a flurry of elite rhetorical enthusiasm for disarmament, and much celebration of a U.S.-Russia treaty that will have little effect on the thousands of nuclear weapons they currently deploy, and even those requirements aren’t mandatory until 2017. But a few hundred nuclear weapons can destroy any country on earth, and a thousand are more could have effects that destroy much of the world’s civilization, killing a significant portion of its inhabitants.

And in this year’s budget request, the Obama administration, if anything, seems determined to outflank its Congressional critics from the right, proposing a 10% increase in nuclear warhead research and production funding and further increases for future years. And that’s just the Department of Energy budget. The Defense Department budget also has sizable increases for nuclear weapons and delivery systems. In evaluating the level of commitment to disarmament of this administration, it might be wise to remember the observation repeated by several economists of the last century, that “the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies.”

In early June I spoke at a protest at the gates of Vandenberg Air Force Base, a vast installation sprawling for miles along the southern California coast. Unlike the rest of the U.S. economy, Vandenberg is thriving, playing key roles in both the present and the future of this country’s war cycle, fighting endless wars in the present while striving endlessly for dominance in all imaginable wars to come. Vandenberg represents a kind of microcosm both of the gigantic U.S. military machine and of the upper echelons of U.S. society, tending ever more towards a perpetual exercise in maintaining power over others through violence while hiding behind layers of gates, guards, and guns.

The United States is continuing a broad effort aimed at developing new generations of strategic weapons and refining the techniques for using them, spending far more on high-tech weapons than any other country. This effort today includes upgrading existing intercontinental ballistic missiles and planning for work on next generation long-range missiles. For decades, Vandenberg Air Force Base has tested new generations of long range missiles, and continues to flight test those now operational.

Vandenberg is both a test range and one of the first two deployment sites for mid-course ballistic missile defense interceptors. And just a few weeks ago, the Air Force launched a Hypersonic Technology Vehicle from Vandenberg aimed at a target area at Kwajelein Atoll in the Pacific. That test was part of a program to develop a new generation of maneuverable gliding delivery vehicles that will be able to hit targets anywhere on earth within an hour or two. If deployed, these systems are intended to carry highly accurate non-nuclear payloads, permitting destruction by missile at global ranges with non-nuclear weapons for the first time. And one of the sites being considered for deployment is Vandenberg Air Force Base, supposedly to avoid confusion with the launch of nuclear-armed missiles from their bases in the Midwest.

Vandenberg is where the present and future of U.S. war making comes together. Many of the military satellites used for surveillance, to target weapons and to provide communications for current U.S. wars are launched here. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg does day to day planning of missions for the positioning and use of military satellites in those ongoing wars. (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Social movements and protest17 Apr 2010 02:24 pm

Andrew Lichterman

In May, disarmament organizations will assemble alongside government delegations meeting for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. Coming together in side events between attempts to pursue and persuade diplomats has become a familiar practice among the world’s nongovernmental organizations, and should provide an opportunity to reflect and to develop strategies together. The focus on governments, however, often overshadows our own discussions, limiting their scope to what those in power might be persuaded to do in the near term and how we might persuade them to do it.

As we gather this year, humanity is confronted with several crises, each different but all ultimately intertwined. We face the decline of our natural environment, with climate change being only one of the human-induced transformations destroying natural and man-made systems from which we draw our sustenance today, and limiting our options for how we will live in the future.

These changes strike the poorest first–those who cannot afford to move, build expensive new infrastructure, or import the means of existence from afar when their locale is devastated by a global mode of production dedicated to short-term growth heedless of the long-term consequences. As competition for key nonrenewable resources intensifies, essentials of food and energy devour an increasing portion of their income, creating a rising cycle of misery exacerbated by a two tier global economy in which immensely powerful private corporations destroy local markets while ultimately raising the price of many necessities, pumping up profits by pushing costs off on ecosystems and future generations.

At the same time, the economic crisis persists, precipitated by the collapse of the latest and largest financial bubble and prolonged by the immense gulf between those few who control most of the world’s wealth and productive assets and the millions who can neither find productive work nor pay for what might be produced by others. What recovery there has been consists mainly of securing more of the world’s wealth and social product for the top 20 percent or so, the increasingly self-contained top-tier economy of government organizations and giant corporations that buy and sell most of the world’s goods to each other and their upper echelons, inhabiting fortified islands of wealth amidst a global sea of poverty.

The growing chasm between the minority who hold secure places in the economy of large–and largely authoritarian–organizations and the rest of humanity is the defining social fact of our time. Unless it is directly confronted and overcome it will define the limits of the politically possible, driving increased conflict and with it expenditure by the wealthy sectors of society on “security.” Both pervasive conflict and the misdirection of ever more resources in an effort to contain it (rather than removing its causes) will make the transformation of global energy, transportation, agriculture, and industrial systems essential for long-term human survival more difficult, perhaps impossible.

In the first decade of the new century, we have wars and threats of wars, with nuclear weapons moving ever closer to the center of conflict. Nuclear weapons and nuclear “nonproliferation” serve as the justification for wars and as the stalking horse for the economic and geopolitical agendas of largely unaccountable elites who control the most powerful states. They are already nuclear armed and have shown themselves, as in the case of the United States, ready to threaten nuclear weapons use against those who have none. And nuclear weapons–the all too real national arsenals, not the theoretical ones that the demonized states du jour or “terrorist” groups might or might not be trying to acquire–remain the machinery of ultimate catastrophe. They are still there, waiting at the end of some as yet unforeseen chain of great power elite contention and confrontation as those in power attempt to “manage” the multiple crises in ways that apply ever more technology and violence, while stubbornly refusing to address the fundamental causes of deteriorating ecosystems and proliferating social conflict. This systematic exclusion of discussion about root causes, enforced myriad ways in forums world wide, creates a pervasive feeling of inertia, a sense that political systems everywhere are not working. (more…)

Next Page »