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February 19, 2014

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Bulletin #185: Movement to ban nuclear weapons gains ground; events; more

1.   Upcoming New Mexico events
2.   Work with us, here or wherever you are
3.   Report from Nayarit: movement to ban nuclear weapons “reaches point of no return”

Dear friends and colleagues –

The underlying theme of this Bulletin is building the infrastructure for nuclear disarmament, economic justice, and environmental protection.  We are inviting you to join us, whether you live in New Mexico or elsewhere, if the shoe fits.

It is a particularly propitious time, because of the surging new international movement to ban nuclear weapons (see below), the retrenchments in U.S. warhead modernization plans now underway, and, alas, our very sobering position in the triple vise of economic, ecological, and political decay.  This organization’s doors are wide open, literally and figuratively.

Another Bulletin will follow later today covering many of the substantive developments now underway in U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Some encouraging developments are better left undescribed for now, as they are not yet solid.

Please note that we are very wary of unwittingly encouraging education and opinion without action.  We don’t want to distract you.  We make some very simple suggestions below.

It is particularly important to build grassroots strength right now.  It is our perception that over the last few months, the regional and national news media have broken some more teeth in their gear boxes.  A dozen or so big stories have passed or are passing by invisibly, stories that would “normally” elicit interest.  The point is that we no longer live in “normal” times.  There has been a change for the worse, even since last year – a noticeable uptick in fear, bewilderment, and silence, both nationally and locally.  The bigger the story, the more silence envelops it – because to tell the story, cognitive frames must be broken.

Here in New Mexico, at this moment, there are no longer any active journalists that have a) time, b) editorial support, and c) enough background knowledge to pierce the fog of confusion that envelopes nuclear and lab issues fast enough to recognize and act upon even big news stories that appear from out of the fog.  This is now true as well for other “taboo” yet pressing topics in energy, economic development, climate, and politics.  When the “big lies” made famous by Herr Hitler are accepted, chewed upon, and digested for years, journalists can hardly see beyond them.  Even arithmetic is suspect, if the answer is politically unacceptable.  To speak any significant quantum of truth under these conditions apparently requires journalistic risks that are rather more likely to break one’s career than to make it.

At such a time we must form our own “committees of correspondence” and reach out beyond our blinkered local politics, as well as deeper into our own stores of value, conspiring together as to how we might best manifest the renewal we seek.

In New Mexico we very much live behind “the nuclear curtain,” which is gaining in opacity.  Once, the human resources director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) told me that the scientists at LANL were typically “as intellectually confined as those in concentration camps were physically confined.”  This confinement has expanded to embrace most of the state’s political class, and unless the fences are cut this state will continue to decline by every important measure.  The good news is that our proximity and relatively small scale also give us power, to the extent we use it.

1.     Upcoming New Mexico events

  • On Saturday, February 22, at 1:00 pm at the Highland Senior Center, 131 Monroe St. NE in Albuquerque, Greg will speak and lead a discussion at the Gray Panthers meeting on: “Partnership of the Generations, or Collapse.”  Many of those likely to be present have been serious activists for decades and the discussion is bound to be good.  There is no charge to attend and you do not have to be a Gray Panther to do so.  You can get one of our 25th anniversary mugs at this and other events!
  • On February 23 and 25 we’re having house meetings with some of our core members to report on recent national and international developments, and to discuss practical next steps in nuclear disarmament and related matters.  These meetings are by invitation only but there will be other meetings, some of them public.  Please call us at 505-265-1200 or write if you think you might want to get more involved with the Study Group.  There are exciting opportunities just ahead.  The sun is shining and we want to make hay while we can, while enjoying one another’s company in the process.
  • Simplify into spring!  We are having a garage sale February 28 through March 2 at the Study Group “World Headquarters” in Albuquerque.  If you want to donate items, bring ‘em!  We could use help before and during the sale.  We have a couple of spare beds if you come from out of town and want to stay overnight.  Call Trish, Greg, or Astrid Webster at the Study Group office, 505-265-1200.  William Morris’s 1880 advice is still good, however far we may be from following it at the moment: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  It is always and especially now a very good time to simplify, not just our material lives but our attention as well.  Distraction writ large is a way of describing our main political problem.  Distraction is how we lose; focus is how we win.

2.     Work with us, here or wherever you are

At last week’s “Deterrence Summit” (about which more in the next Bulletin), nuclear weapons advocate Peter Huessy, a former Reagan Administration official responded to one of my questions by volunteering his idea of where the money would come from for the proposed $1 trillion makeover of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  (See “New study of nuclear deterrent costs: current plans to cost $1 trillion over 30 years, therefore impossible, LASG press release, Jan 8, 2014.)

Huessy said the money could come from “welfare” and “entitlements” – that is, from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

He was quite right.  Significant new taxes are unlikely.  Even-greater-than-planned new debt to fund government is also politically blocked and very likely economically blocked as well.  Cuts to military programs sufficient to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars in nuclear modernization are also quite unlikely.  Domestic discretionary government programs are already pared to the bone.  It is difficult to see how to pay for $1 trillion in stockpile costs over 30 years – and pay for other huge military purchases as well – without cutting mandatory programs.

Such massive investment in nuclear rearmament is, as a Vatican spokesperson put it, “incompatible with the peace we seek for the twenty-first century.”  Indeed.  It could only come as part of an overall militarization of our society that would privilege these and other world-dominance-seeking programs at the expense not just of our tattered social safety net but also other critical security priorities such as a sustainable U.S. energy infrastructure and (world- and nation-saving) climate leadership.

Without an emergency change of direction away from U.S. empire, we can be absolutely certain there will be no economically-viable future for this country, no viable social contract, and no peace – no peace at all, not in our lifetimes or our children’s lifetimes, or ever.  Instead there will be perpetual war of varying intensity.  To a considerable extent such war has already started, with the U.S. by far the most engaged combatant.

There is in-fighting within the nuclear weapons community right now over which projects to save, which to delay, which to downscale, and which to cannibalize given the cost overruns in all of them.  The proposed W78/88 interoperable warhead is being canceled (“delayed” is just a euphemism), as we reported in early December, and in the words of one important government actor to me this month, the Administration’s latest nuclear modernization plan is “in the trash can.”  More program cancelations will be discussed in the next Bulletin.

More significantly for the long run, there is a struggle within the military and DoD over how much money to allocate to nuclear weapons from the defense budget overall, given the negotiated security programs caps of last fall’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and the underlying Budget Control Act of 2011.  The coming surge of procurements for nuclear delivery systems – brand-new ballistic missile submarines, long-range stealth bombers, and new-generation cruise missiles – will be competing with the massive F-35 Joint Strike fighter program, the rest of the Navy’s ship-building program, and every other defense “need.”  It already appears that a new land-based ballistic missile is a strong candidate for deferment, as the Air Force faces fiscal exhaustion.  Lo and behold, a useful summary of just this very thing has appeared overnight.

We will write about all this in greater detail on a later occasion, but already conservative groups like Cato (“The End of Overkill? Reassessing U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” Sep 2013) and the American Enterprise Institute (see slide 17 here) are talking about eliminating the entire land-based missile fleet – and in Koch-brothers-funded Cato’s case, the entire bomber-based nuclear arsenal as well.  Nuclear advocates like Huessy are meanwhile scrubbing nuclear modernization plans looking for fat to trim, in a rather desperate effort to modernize the whole stockpile.

Leaving details aside for now, the central political issue in all this is very simple: the military and other “security” functions of government, including nuclear weapons, cannot be allowed to grow further, and must be shrunk.  This is the message we want you to publicly take to our elected representatives and trumpet in any way you can.  It is a simple message and there are copious resources on the web which you can make your own with a modicum of study.

We want you to do this with others, in organizations to which you belong or may join.  In most cases, thoughtful, creative stridency is very likely needed, to re-set the meaning and norms of “civility” in the face of their continual abuse by the powerful.  (You might enjoy and expand upon the many reasons the sheep went so politely to the slaughter.)

We are engaged in a life-and-death struggle for human dignity, even for the survival of our communities in the face of economic, social, ecological, and climatological crises (“The ignored gravity of our civilizational crisis – and the majesty of a wholehearted response").  It is no exaggeration to say that we are engaged in a struggle for the continuation of complex life on earth.  We cannot afford the economic cost of our ruinously expensive military, the political cost of privileging it, or the intellectual and moral cost of reinforcing over-militarized, violent concepts of national security.  That is the path of collapse.

Our military is too expensive.  That is the simple message which all of us must take to our elected leaders.  Cut defense.  Fund what is actually needed in our society.

One need know nothing of nuclear weapons to advocate for such a simple reordering of priorities.  One’s potential allies include most people and most organizations and businesses in the country.

Our greatest enemy is perhaps the false hope, so long implanted by advertising and propaganda that it is by now almost unconscious, that we can have it all – that economic growth will feed all the pigs as well as all the children and so we need not substantially re-order our priorities.

Amongst some of our neighbors in Albuquerque, a popular parody of our politics and society, and of the great con that quiets the masses while they are fleeced and their families’ futures destroyed, is the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins and the two movies derived from them.  As President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says in the first movie,

Why do you think we have a winner [in the Hunger Games], Seneca?  Hope….A little hope is effective.  A lot of hope is dangerous.  A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.

Washington Post columnist Dylan Matthews put together a couple of graphs showing the recent track record of the Fed and the Congressional Budget Office in their hopeful prognostications (“This graph shows how bad the Fed is at predicting the future, June 19, 2013).  Such predictive failure appears to be a necessary artifact of revising past quarters’ growth downward so that current growth appears larger, as John Williams (“Shadow Government Statistics”) has discussed.

Hope.  Surely it will all work out, won’t it?  We can have it all, right?  J.M. Coetze: “One thought alone occupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era.”

Last spring, I summarized the case against the hope of economic growth here.  Some of you may find this recent qualitative presentation by Gail Tverberg quite accessible, or better still this column by the excellent Nafeez Ahmed in the Guardian (“Former [senior] BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will 'break economies'”).  Another highly-readable, erudite discussion of the energy/economy nexus can be found in Tim Morgan’s new book, Life after Growth: How the global economy really works - and why 200 years of growth are over, available for perusal at our office.  The point is that the political contest between “guns and butter” has never been sharper or more important than today.  Worse, there is real international competition for scarce resources again, and more war is likely.  In our view, the probability of dangerous geopolitical confrontation between nuclear-armed powers has been rising and will keep on rising.

We believe President Obama’s budget will be released in outline form on March 3.  Details will be released on March 11.  Already 16 senators have written to President Obama urging him not to offer to cut Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare.  He may do so, as he did last year..

Here are other ways to help.  You know your own situation and will know what to do better than we.

  • Read some of our recent Bulletins if you haven’t yet done so.  Get informed.

  • Host a discussion at your church, environmental organization, or other group.  If you are in New Mexico we will try to answer your questions and the questions of your friends, face to face if at all possible.  We want to be of use to you.  Above all, let’s talk about tactics for fairly dramatic social and political change.  Why?  Because that change is coming to us, like it or not, and very fast too.

  • Host a get-together of like-minded friends.  Every such meeting will have several purposes – education, networking, sharing of personal experiences and insights, brainstorming, political strategizing, and at least some fundraising, because this is a professional organization and we want others (most of whom need some money to live indoors) to work with us too.

  • Volunteer with us.  If you live outside Albuquerque, think about visiting for a period of a few days and working with us.  We have spare rooms at the World Headquarters for this purpose and we will feed you.  Expect to work hard and to meet friends new and old.  This is not for everybody.  Your skills and interests must be a good fit.

  • Consider a longer-term volunteer commitment with us.  We are especially thinking of local retirees in this connection, whose work skills and broader life skills are often at their very peak.  Those skills are very valuable in general and also potentially valuable to our work here.  As Trish put it recently, “Don't set yourself aside to gather dust like some once-valued, but now forgotten set of encyclopedias.”  Basically, the world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren is in profound crisis.  “Retirement” is an obsolete concept at best.  It’s quite possible that the work you did up to now was simply preparation for the far more important work you can do now, with the precious skills and maturity you have acquired.  We need to expose our young interns to that maturity and knowledge.

  • Support our work financially.  Make a one-time contribution or become a sustaining donor.

  • Contact any potential Study Group supporters that you might know.  Urge them to make a small contribution, or at least join our mailing list.  We are more than 1,600 strong.

  • Fund a staff position or a group of interns.  There are many talented people who would jump at the chance to work with us, but our funding is so soft that we usually can’t see more than a month or two ahead.  We’ve usually accomplished a lot with a little – often more than organizations many times our size and funding – but sometimes stern realities step in and we can only do a little with a little.  We pay the same bills as every other small office except for office rent, which Trish and I have to pay in other ways.  Our successes could be multiplied many times over if we could afford just one or two more highly-skilled people working with us full-time.

3.     Report from Nayarit: movement to ban nuclear weapons “reaches point of no return”

Last week Trish attended the second conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Nayarit, Mexico.  Study Group board member Ray Acheson, as well as last year’s Study Group Disarmament Fellow Mia Gandenberger, were among the organizers of this major international event.  Ray delivered the closing statement on behalf of over 350 NGO organizations in 90 countries.  Representatives from 146 countries were present and the outcome was very positive.

The pace of the international disarmament movement is quickening.  You may be interested in this CNN op ed about the conference by Desmond Tutu; here is a summation of the conference by Ray and two colleagues.  Press releases filed by Trish are here, here, and here in reverse chronological order; Flickr stream and Vimeo can be found here.  This international movement, which is not hostage to pressures from the U.S. and with which the Study Group is closely associated – shows particular promise.

We will be increasingly working not just here in New Mexico and in Washington, DC but also with our close colleagues in New York, Geneva, and elsewhere.  We are time-limited, but this is a pivotal moment.  Help if you can.

Very best wishes to all,

Greg and Trish, for the Study Group


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