Friday, March 30, 2018

Remembering M.L. King and the Kerner Commission Fifty Years Later

In March 1968, President Johnson, who had successfully launched important voting rights and anti-poverty initiatives, under pressure from the military, decided to send additional troops to join the more than half a million already in Vietnam to fight and eventually lose a war that cost the U.S. $100 billion. That same month, the bi-partisan Kerner Commission, appointed by Johnson in 1967 in response to riots in dozens of American cities, concluded that a massive national investment, estimated at $80 to $100 billion in employment, education, welfare and housing was essential to prevent our Nation from becoming “two societies, one black and one white – separate and unequal.” The Commission briefly considered recommending reducing and reallocating resources from the war in Vietnam but decided that would be too controversial.
Fearing the political costs of losing the war in Vietnam and facing deepening racial division and white backlash at home, Johnson ignored the Kerner Commission Report and, in a televised address to the nation on March 31, announced he would not seek a second term as President.  Five days later, on April 4, Martin Luther King, who praised the Kerner Report, was assassinated in Memphis where he had come to support the struggle of striking sanitation workers.
A year earlier, in his famous Riverside Church sermon, “A Time to Break Silence,” on April 4, 1967, King carefully, yet controversially, explained why he opposed the Vietnam War, including how the U.S. supported France keeping Vietnam as a colony. He spoke about the triple threats of racism, poverty and militarism. Reflecting his view that the war threatened Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, King declared, “There was hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program, then came the build-up in Vietnam.”
Had he lived, there is little doubt that King would have opposed the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not only based on his principled commitment to nonviolence and against war, but because, like the Vietnam War, these wars robbed our nation of essential human and economic resources, estimated so far at more than $4 trillion - resources as desperately needed today as they were fifty years ago to address problems of poverty, racism, and growing inequality.
On the anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report, several articles appeared reporting on some progress over fifty years but also cataloguing conditions that have remained the same or gotten worse. Among the most revealing and troubling indicators is, while the overall percentage of Americans living in poverty has remained about the same since 1968, the percentage of American children living in poverty and the percentage of people living in “deep poverty” (on incomes less than half the poverty level have both increased. Shockingly, the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty of any developed country. While percentages of Black and Hispanic children in poverty are higher than for whites, one-third of all American children living in poverty are white.
 Fred Harris, sole surviving member of the Kerner Commission, and Alan Curtis, President and CEO of the Eisenhower Foundation, have edited a new book, Healing Our Divided Society, an updated review of the challenges our country faces and what can be done. The book includes two dozen articles by prominent economists, educators, journalists, sociologists and others, with recommendations for major national investments in economic development, employment, education, healthcare, housing and neighborhood investment. It also includes critical articles addressing crime prevention and criminal justice policy, and the need for effective messaging to engage the media, something the Kerner Commission failed to do fifty years ago. Clearly, given the current context, substantial investments are also needed to address the national opioid crisis and the challenge of global warming, and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. This Eisenhower Foundation book is even more convincing and useful because it includes several evidence-based essays documenting what federal programs actually have worked, what ones haven’t, and why.
Where this book and most of the articles updating the Kerner Report fail is in not addressing our country’s exceptionally high level of military spending (roughly half of the Federal government’s discretionary spending) and factors in U.S. foreign policy that, since the end of World War II, have gotten our country into wars we later regret. Currently, U.S. military spending is higher than that of the next eight countries combined. Ironically, the Eisenhower Foundation book totally ignores President Eisenhower’s wise moral insight that, Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” President Trump and his new National Security Advisor John Bolton, who seems eager to get us into more wars, want to increase military spending and decrease spending on social needs.                      
            There is no use pretending: if we are serious about healing our divided society, as Martin Luther King prophetically declared, we need a revolution in our cultural values and a radical shift in our national priorities, away from violence and militarism to nonviolence and effective policies and programs to meet people’s real needs for living wage employment, housing, healthcare, and education. Recent mass marches led by women and young people, combined with voter registration campaigns, offer hope that our country can make the right critical choices

Thursday, March 1, 2018

“Just Kids” or Conscience of a Nation

“Just Kids” or Conscience of a Nation

Student survivors of the violent assault at the Parkland Florida High School that took seventeen lives are sad, frustrated, and angry. They took their protest for stricter gun control to the State Capital in Tallahassee and they’re inspiring popular protests by tens of thousands of youth and others across the country. The students are demanding universal background checks, banning assault weapons, like the AR-15, and raising the age for purchasing a gun to 21, all measures with substantial majority public support. They’re calling for a national protest on Saturday, March 24 and they’re warning politicians, many of whom face elections this year, not to cave-in to the NRA.

Many observers of the protests predict that youthful energies and enthusiasm will fade, and the protests will die down. After all, these are “just kids.” Some more critical conservative responses have alleged that the youth are being manipulated by adult anti-gun organizations. A particularly vicious response launched by an extreme rightwing radio talk show host and given a thumbs-up “like” from Donald Trump, Jr. accused one of the student protest leaders of being a “crisis actor” trained and played like a puppet by his former FBI agent dad.

What many commentators are failing to acknowledge is how many times, in how many countries over the past century, the world witnessed students and youth serving as the conscience of their nation and as the vanguard for major social change. It’s worth recalling a few of the many examples to appreciate the potential power of youth acting together based on their hopes for a better future, and on their bold belief and daring determination that they can help achieve it.

Watching the Olympics recently, I was reminded of how in 1960 in South Korea, facing brutal police violence, it was student protests that inspired broader mass popular protests which finally forced President Syngman Rhee, a corrupt, repressive dictator, to flee the country. Tapping into this same positive political, cultural vein, South Korea’s current President, Moon Jae-In, was elected on the back of waves of students protesting corruption. Moon believes in negotiating with the North and offers some hope that the two Koreas will find a way other than war to resolve their conflicts.

In South Africa, students and youth played a major role over four decades in the struggle to end Apartheid. While everyone knows the name of Nelson Mandela, many people may not remember how in 1976 high school students in Soweto organized a protest for a better educational system for blacks. Police responded with tear gas and bullets, killing 600 people. A year later, Steve Biko, one of the organizers of the Soweto protest, was arrested and died in police custody from severe brain damage, likely a result of police beatings. The Soweto story and continued action by students inspired worldwide anti-Apartheid protests. Nelson Mandela often is credited with inspiring the anti-Apartheid movement; and it is a fact when he was released in 1990, after spending 54 years in prison, Mandela led the movement and was elected South Africa’s first black president. It is equally true that the popular movement from below, especially the movement of South African students and youth, was responsible for inspiring and supporting Mandela..

The Arab Spring in 2010-11, sparked by the self-immolation of a young street vendor in Tunisia, was a wave of pro-democracy protests and uprisings against poverty, corruption, and repression in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt the uprising began on January 25, 2011 when diverse youth groups issued online calls via social media urging public protest against increasing police repression and brutality. The uprising consisted of demonstrations, marches, occupations of plazas, non-violent resistance, acts of civil disobedience and strikes. While tragically the Egyptian military eventually reimposed violent repressive rule, in the interim the Eygptian uprising forced the dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign and caused new free and fair elections to be held. A little-known story about the uprising is how The Montgomery Story comic book, originally published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1957, making the case for nonviolence, was translated into Arabic and thousands of copies distributed among Egyptian youth.

Reference to the Montgomery bus boycott reminds us of the major role played by students and youth in the American Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement to end the War in Vietnam. In Birmingham in 1963-64, both before and after the church bombing that killed four young girls attending Sunday School, thousands of black children and youth braved mass jailings and attacks from powerful fire hoses and police dogs. The dramatic events of the “Children’s Crusade” in Birmingham provided the context and impetus for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In March 1965, hundreds of black Selma high school students were joined by black and white college students from across the country, and Christian and Jewish clergy to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. for voting rights. Events in Selma, including the arrest of hundreds, beatings and killings of several young and older activists, and the successful Selma to Montgomery March led directly to President Johnson’s successful push for the Voting Rights Act and to his speech in which, taking a line from the movement’s anthem, the President famously declared, “And we shall overcome!”

Tragically, Johnson's commitments to civil rights, the War on Poverty and other socially beneficial programs were deeply undermined by decisions he made, despite not seeing any way of winning, to escalate the U.S. war in Vietnam.

As American doubts and debates about Vietnam heated-up, young people played a major role in building opposition to the war. The first large anti-war march on the nation’s capital was organized in April 1965 by Students for a Democratic Society, many of whose young leaders were already activist organizers in the Civil Right Movement. A few months later, inspired by Vietnamese Buddhist monks and student peace protests in Saigon, several young Americans publicly burned their Draft Cards, and a young Catholic seminarian, Roger LaPorte, immolated himself in front of the United Nations. Resistance to serving in the U.S. War in Vietnam grew, both as resistance to the draft and within the military in the form of soldiers seeking Conscientious Objector status, refusing to fight, going AWOL, or deserting, with some men escaping to Canada or Sweden. By Fall 1967, thousands of young men, many of them students who gave-up their privileged Student Deferments, turned in or burned their Draft Cards in large public protests as part of the “We Won’t Go” movement. In November 1969 500,000 people, most of them young, participated in the March on Washington for Peace in Vietnam. Another 250,000 participated in a parallel march in San Francisco. Thousands of high school and college students volunteered in nationwide summer door-to-door educational and organizing campaigns that eventually led Congress to stop funding the war.

Given the sad history of how little changed after mass murders at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, at churches in Charlotte North Carolina and Sutherland Springs Texas, and at the music concert in Las Vegas, it would be a mistake to think making change this time will be easy or certain. It would be an even bigger mistake, however, to underestimate the potential power of activist young survivors of the Parkland Florida massacre tapping into and helping to mobilize substantial majority sentiment in support of stricter gun control. The Florida students’ demands - requiring universal background checks, banning assault weapons, and raising the age for purchasing a gun to 21 - are achievable.

I think people are fed-up with the NRA’s stranglehold blocking sensible gun control. Recent responses by many companies distancing themselves from the NRA, including the announcement by Dick’s Sporting Goods that they no longer will sell military assault-style weapons, are encouraging. People should demand that Bass Pro Shops and its subsidiary, Cabela’s, do the same. Joining our voices with the calls from the Florida student survivors, we can achieve change this time. Elections are coming later this year. We all should pledge not to vote for any candidate who won’t support stricter gun control.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

How Many Deaths Will It Take ‘Til Politicians Support Stricter Gun Control?

How Many Deaths Will It Take ‘Til  Politicians Support Stricter Gun Control?

In the wake of many mass murders in our country, including the latest in Florida that took the lives of 17 people and the apparent planned assault by a student here in Everett Washington prevented by a caring, courageous grandmother, finally, public opinion among both Democrats and Republicans, including NRA members and national police organizations, has shifted to where majorities support expansion of background checks and restrictions on purchase of assault weapons. The question is whether politicians will pay attention to people’s views and support sensible stricter laws or, as most politicians have done up until now, march in lock step to lobbying by the NRA.

The NRA wasn’t always a big-moneyed lobby and wasn’t always against restrictions on guns. Growing-up in New Jersey as a teenager in the 1950s, I joined the NRA and remember its major emphases were on teaching good marksmanship and gun safety. In the1930s, responding to the deadly use of machine guns by gangsters, the NRA supported restrictions adopted in the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act. Following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the NRA worked with the White House and Congress to support extending and tightening gun control legislation.

It was during the 1970s, and dramatically in 1980 with its endorsement of Ronald Reagan for President, that the NRA reversed direction. Now, the NRA lobbies against any gun control measures and gives politicians grades which, combined with providing or withholding crucial campaign funds can determine if a candidate is elected or not. The conflict between growing majority popular support for some more controls and the NRA’s rigid opposition to any gun restrictions is dramatic and should be disturbing to all Americans who want to prevent violence and who believe in democracy.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA Public Communications director Dana Loesch rightly criticize Hollywood’s sick addiction to violence. While Hollywood provides culturally destructive inspiration for violence, by promoting massive gun sales and resisting even modest gun control measures, the NRA consistently contributes to more people possessing more and more weapons. Americans own more guns per capita than residents of any other country.

A few facts from reliable recent polls reveal how popular views have changed and how out-of-step the NRA is in relation to majority opinion among Americans. According to Gallup polls, just eight years ago the percent of Americans who believed laws controlling firearms should remain as they are was nearly equal to the percent who believed the laws should be made stricter. Today, almost twice as many Americans (60% to 33%) believe gun control laws should be stricter.

Polls in 2016-2017 by CBS, CNN, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and Washington University in Missouri show that between 84% and 94% of American voters (Democrats and Republicans) support requiring background checks on all gun buyers. A Pew Research Center poll reveals that 79% of Republicans or Republican-leaning gun owners who are members of the NRA would support measures “preventing the mentally-ill from purchasing guns” and 72% support “barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.” I assume similar or even greater numbers of NRA members would support keeping guns out of the hands of persons with serious criminal records.

A Pew poll in spring 2017 showed that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans supported banning assault-style weapons. While 80% of Democrats supported such a ban, sadly so far, while a majority, only 54% of Republicans supported a ban.

Appreciating how studies show that some stricter gun control laws can help protect police as well as the public, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which includes nine national law enforcement organizations, supports expanding required background checks. And seven of the nine national organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCC), also support a “ban on new semi-automatic assault weapons.”

The NRA opposes all of these sensible restrictions on guns, and will work with big money to defeat candidates for office who support them

In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, people should demand that every candidate for city, state or federal office declare support publicly for expanding background checks on all potential gun buyers and for banning purchase of assault weapons. Allowing the NRA to block these majority-supported sensible stricter gun control measures not only represents a threat to the lives of more innocent people, but also represents a threat to democracy.

Monday, January 22, 2018

“Friends” Like These Imperil Israel’s Survival

          President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his tweet that “we’ve taken Jerusalem off the table” clearly had more to do with keeping a promise to his billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson and to his and Vice President Pence’s evangelical Christian fundamentalist friends than it did with the Administration’s claim to be seeking a great peace agreement for Israelis and Palestinians. Trump’s moves on Jerusalem, taken together with his allies’ apparent support for the Israeli rightwing version of a “one-state solution” could doom chances for peace with the Palestinians and imperil Israel’s survival.
In the region, predictably, Israel’s Likud-led rightwing government welcomed Trump’s announcement, while Israeli supporters seeking peace with the Palestinians, including many senior retired Israeli military and security officials, opposed it. Trump’s move greatly angered Palestinian Muslims and Christians, as well as Saudi and other Arab leaders, on whom the Administration seems to be depending for support of its peace effort. 
At home, Trump’s politically motivated alliance with Adelson and Christian fundamentalists on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem disregarded the views of most mainstream American Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the clear majority of American Jews. According to an American Jewish Committee poll earlier this year, only 16% of American Jews favored making this move immediately.  Both the pro-Israel/pro-peace national organization JStreet and the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious denomination, raised concerns about the wisdom and timing of Trump’s move.
            What appears to matter more than peace to the President is that Sheldon Adelson gave $25 million to his campaign for the Presidency and another $5 million to his inaugural events. It’s an open secret Adelson was feeling frustrated that, after almost a year in office, Trump had not yet fulfilled his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s also widely known that, while Adelson sometimes is described as a “strong supporter of Israel,” his political leanings and loyalties in Israel are almost exclusively with the Likud and other rightwing Israeli factions that oppose a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Adelson has consistently been a loud supporter and source of funds for expanding Jewish settlements and for holding on to the Territories.
Even historically hawkish Israeli prime ministers have recognized that expanding settlements deeper into the West Bank and maintaining Israeli military control over all or large portions of the Occupied Territories would very likely make peace impossible. Both Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert broke away from Likud over their views of how keeping control of Gaza and the West Bank threatened the survival of Israel. Sharon withdrew Israeli forces from inside Gaza in 2005. In 2007, then Prime Minister Olmert publicly declared,If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished." Based on his view of the threat to Israel’s survival, in 2008, after multiple rounds of secret talks, Prime Minister Olmert offered a draft two-state peace agreement and Palestinian President Abbas came very close to accepting it.  Abbas declined to sign the draft because at the time Olmert was drowning in scandal, facing legal prosecution, and was about to resign from office. Reflecting progress, he and Olmert had made, President Abbas urged President Trump to restart negotiations based on that draft agreement. 
            If President Trump is serious about wanting to accomplish a great peace deal for Israelis and for Palestinians, and for important U.S. national security interests, it makes no sense at all for his Administration to align with Sheldon Adelson or with the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian leaders assembled as White House advisors. These leaders, who don’t speak for all evangelicals, arrogantly ignore the urgent pleas of Palestinian Christians; they support Israel largely based on arguable “end-times” theology, according to which Israel finally doesn’t survive; and they tend to understand “prophesy” in ways that promise the same eventual fate for Jews who don’t convert to Christianity as Christian anti-Semites have predicted over the centuries. In this view, Jews who don’t convert to Christianity go to Hell.
            What would make sense is that President Trump present a Framework for a two-state peace agreement to Israel and the Palestinians along the lines of that proposed by Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer (See Kurtzer, Parameters: Model Framework for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations) and, in coordination with the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia and the U.N. Secretary General), present the Framework to the U.N. Security Council for endorsement. That’s a plan of action for peace that I believe would evoke active, strong support from leaders and constituents of major American Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations, and majority public support among American Jews and Christian Evangelicals, especially among millennials whose views have changed, reflecting concern for Palestinians as well as for Israelis.
January 2018
Ron Young is Consultant with heads of twenty-five Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations that compose the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI). This commentary represents Ron’s personal views, not the views of NILI. Ron’s memoir, Crossing Boundaries in the Americas, Vietnam and the Middle East, was published in 2014. Ron lives in Everett, WA and can be contacted by e-mail at ronyoungwa@gmail.com


Friday, January 12, 2018

Jerusalem: Capital of One or Two Peoples?

On December 6, President Trump announced, “It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” For twenty-two years Presidents, both Democrat and Republican, including President Trump six months ago, signed a security waiver postponing this move to avoid complicating and harming prospects of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Last week, President Trump declared boldly, “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.  This is nothing more, or less, than recognition of reality.” 
What President Trump and his White House team failed to recognize is that “reality” about Jerusalem is complicated by the city being the geographical and cultural center of legitimate bone-deep national aspirations of not one, but two peoples – Jews and Palestinians, and the heart of three religious traditions. That reality has led everyone involved in seeking peace to agree that the status of Jerusalem realistically can only be resolved in the context of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reaching an agreement on a formula for sharing the City.
According to a recent University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose the U.S. unilaterally making this move now, and even Republicans are closely divided. According to an American Jewish Committee poll, less than 20% of American Jews support taking this step immediately. The Union of Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious denomination, and pro-Israel/pro-peace JStreet both raised concerns about the wisdom and timing of the move. President Trump did deliver on a promise to some of his base, including his rightwing billionaire big donor Sheldon Adelson and a slim majority of fundamentalist Evangelical Christians.
 In the Middle East, while the President’s announcement pleased supporters of Israel’s current rightwing government, many Israeli advocates of peace opposed the move.  The announcement deeply angered Palestinians and frustrated Saudi and other Arab leaders on whom the White House appears to be depending for help in reaching a peace agreement.  The announcement completely ignored examples of two popular Israeli national heroes, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, who understood the complex, sensitive realities about Jerusalem.
In Fall 1967, shortly after Israel won the Six Day War and occupied Jerusalem, a young impetuous Israeli soldier raised the Israeli Flag over the city. General Moshe Dayan immediately ordered the flag to be taken down, warning that Jerusalem was too sensitive to be treated in such a cavalier manner.
Five decades later in 1995 during the Oslo negotiating process, Republican Senator Bob Dole and Representative Newt Gingrich introduced a Bill to mandate moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Bill won overwhelming support in Congress. Despite strong support for the Bill from AIPAC (viewed as the American lobby for Israel), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and many Israeli and American Jewish supporters of the peace process were worried by the Bill. Rabin, who staunchly supported Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, was concerned that the Bill could derail peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Motivated by Rabin’s concern and her own, Senator Diane Feinstein, a dedicated supporter of Israel, successfully introduced an amendment to the Bill that enabled the President to sign a waiver every six months, postponing moving the Embassy based on “national security considerations.”
Attempting to reassure critics who viewed his Jerusalem announcement as provocatively partisan, President Trump declared, “This decision is not intended, in any way, as a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.  We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. Positively, the President did also nuance his announcement by stating clearly, “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.  Those questions are up to the parties involved.” On January 2, appearing to contradict this nuanced position, President Trump tweeted, “We’ve taken Jerusalem off the table.”
The Jerusalem announcement and this latest tweet have cast a dark cloud of doubt and pessimism over the Trump Administration’s promise soon to unveil a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace and over U.S. creditability as mediator.  The simplest step the President could take to clarify the U.S. position and help restore confidence and creditability would be to announce that as the U.S. currently recognizes (West) Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel, so as part of a mutually acceptable two-state peace agreement, the U.S. will recognize (East) Jerusalem as the Capital of Palestine. Such an announcement would help mitigate the harmful effects of the move and could, indeed, kick start negotiations for a realistic two-state peace agreement

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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Preventing War in Korea:
Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Deal
The possibility of war in Korea presents the greatest danger of nuclear war since the Cuba Missile Crisis.  The danger is compounded by the fact that both North Korea and our own country currently are headed by erratic and potentially irrational leaders.
Despite clear differences in the two situations, there are lessons from successfully negotiating the Iran Nuclear Deal that can provide guidance for what we need to do related to North Korea.  Here are six lessons:
First - Just as urgency to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons provided impetus for negotiating a deal, so dangers of war on the Korean Peninsula provide urgency for resolving this crisis by diplomacy.
·        In 1950-53 the Korean War, memorialized in David Halberstam’s book, The Coldest Winter, caused 4 million deaths. And the war never ended. Estimates of how many would die in war in Korea today range from tens of thousands to millions, if nuclear weapons are employed, which then also would risk worldwide nuclear war.
·        Experts agree that a preemptive U.S. attack on N. Korea would have unpredictable but likely catastrophic consequences. Congress should act immediately to prevent President Trump from starting a war without congressional authorization, by supporting H.R.4140/S.2016 and S 2047.
Second - Remembering history accurately is essential, and not something we Americans are good at doing.
·        Our tendency to see the world as “good vs. evil” (and, of course, we are “the good”) leads to dangerous misunderstanding and unrealistic policies. In his 2002 State of the Union address George W. Bush ignorantly and dangerously declared “Iran, Iraq and North Korea the “axis of evil.”
·        In relation to Iran, most Americans bitterly remember the hostage crisis of 1979-80, but tend to forget that in 1953 the U.S. orchestrated the overthrow of the elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh and in 1988 we shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing 300 people.
·        In relation to North Korea, Kim Jong-Un’s and Donald Trump’s wild rhetorical threats are scary news, but news media mostly fail to remind us that in 1950 President Truman publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the North, and that the US introduced nuclear weapons into South Korea in1958, apparently violating the Armistice and ignoring the warnings of our allies. That was fifty years before the North developed its own nuclear weapons. Remembering this history is essential to understanding North Korea’s fears of us
Third - Both unilateral and multilateral communications are important.
·        We learned from the Cuban Missile crisis and from the Iran negotiations that one on one communication between leaders is very helpful and that having a direct “hotline” is vitally important in a crisis.. The US needs a hotline with North Korea.  (Frankly, I’d prefer if Secretary Tillerson or Mattes were on our end of the hotline.)
·        Multi-lateral negotiations P5+1 (Five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, with the U.S. delegation headed by a woman, Wendy Sherman) were key to achieving the Iran Nuclear Deal.
·        Six-Party talks involving China, N. Korea, Japan, S. Korea, Russia and the US succeeded in reaching agreement in 1994 that delayed N. Korea’s weapons program for a decade. After that agreement broke down, neither side pursued new talks with sufficient creativity and determination. Negotiations involving all these parties are needed again now, aimed at reducing the immediate threat of war and, in the longer run, aimed at finally ending the Korean War and achieving permanent peace.
Fourth – Popular Movements and People-to-People Diplomacy Can Help Push Governments Toward Peace
·        Growing international momentum to abolish nuclear weapons, including the July 7, 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and Pope Francis’ recent declaration condemning not only the use, but possession of nuclear weapons provide powerful positive pressure for resolving the Korea crisis.
·        The most dramatic and important people to people initiative in relation to Korea is “Women Cross DMZ,” endorsed by the National Councils of Women of both South and North Korea, urging a three point program:
“A freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program in exchange for a US security guarantee and suspension of US-S. Korea joint military exercises; start of a peace process, including significant involvement by women, to end the Korean war; and a liaison office in Washington and Pyongyang to heal legacies of the war, including retrieving remains of soldiers killed in the war and helping reunite Korean families.”
·        South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-In who favors pursuing talks with the North makes the women’s initiative even more relevant and timely. The U.S. should more actively seek President Moon’s advice.
Fifth - Sanctions can serve a useful role by increasing pressure for reaching a resolution, but without diplomatic efforts and negotiations, sanctions will not be sufficient.
·        Sanctions were useful in pressing for a deal with Iran, but clearly it was the serious give and take of multilateral negotiations that produced the agreement.
·        Rather than trying to pressure China to increase sanctions on North Korea, the U.S. needs to cooperate with China, and with South Korea, Japan and Russia to develop a common strategy for multilateral negotiations.
Sixth - Effective serious negotiations require both parties to give as well as get and “the gives” and “the gets” have be perceived as being equivalent.

  • It is totally unrealistic to expect N. Korea to agree to the US ultimate goal as a precondition for negotiations. Indeed, it seems negotiations have to begin realistically acknowledging N. Korea already possesses nuclear weapons.
  •  Some version of “Freeze for freeze,” as in China’s view or the Women’s Call makes sense and is a more realistic goal.
·    Negotiations to reduce tensions and prevent war should be combinedwwith developing a process aimed at the longer term goal of ending the war and achieving peace and normalization on the Korean Peninsula.

*A Hopeful Scenario Involving the Iran Nuclear Deal, North  Korea and Israeli-Palestinian Peace.  Preserving the Iran Nuclear Deal is essential both for what it accomplishes related to Iran and as an example to encourage a negotiated resolution of the crisis with North Korea. President Trump has promised to kill the Iran Deal, in part because of Iran’s support of threats to Israel from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, though these issues were never part of negotiations with Iran. Killing the Iran Deal would very likely kill the prospect of negotiating a deal with North Korea.

President Trump also has promised to achieve the "unltimate deal" between Israel  and the Palestinians. If there is progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace in the form of a mutually acceptable two-state solution with peace and security for both peoples; and the U.S. positively builds on accepting West Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel by announcing it will accept East Jerusalem as the Capital of Palestine, this would have significant positive effects in the region and on Iran. It would strengthen President Rouhani and moderate elements in Iran and very likely lead to Iran supporting the peace agreement and ending support for threats against Israel. That, in turn, would contribute to preserving the Iran Nuclear Deal and encourage a diplomatic deal with North Korea.

December 2017


Thursday, November 9, 2017

On GUN Control: People are More Principled And Practical Than Many Politicians

            In the wake of many mass murders in our country, including the latest last weekend at a church in the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs, public opinion, among both Democrats and Republicans, including NRA members and national police organizations, has shifted to where majorities support expansion of background checks and restrictions on purchase of assault weapons. The question is whether politicians will pay attention to people’s views and support sensible stricter laws or, as most politicians have done up until now, march in lock step to lobbying by the NRA. 
         
          The NRA wasn’t always a big-moneyed lobby and wasn’t always against restrictions on guns. Growing-up in New Jersey as a teenager in the 1950s, I joined the NRA and remember its major emphases were on teaching good marksmanship and gun safety. In the1930s, responding to the deadly use of machine guns by gangsters, the NRA supported restrictions adopted in the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act. Following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the NRA worked with the White House and Congress to support extending and tightening gun control legislation.  

It was during the 1970s, and dramatically in 1980 with their endorsement of Ronald Reagan for President, that the NRA reversed direction. Now, the NRA focuses on lobbying against any gun control measures and gives politicians grades which, combined with providing or withholding crucial campaign funds can determine if a candidate is elected or not. The conflict between growing majority popular support for some more controls and the NRA’s rigid opposition to any gun restrictions is dramatic and should be disturbing to all Americans who want to prevent violence and who believe in democracy.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA Public Communications director Dana Loesch rightly criticize Hollywood’s sick addiction to violence. While Hollywood provides culturally destructive inspiration for violence, by promoting massive gun sales and resisting even modest gun control measures, the NRA consistently contributes to people possessing more and more weapons to commit violence. 

            A few facts from reliable recent polls reveal how popular views have changed and how out-of-step the NRA is in relation to majority opinion among Americans. According to Gallup polls, just eight years ago the percent of Americans who believed laws controlling firearms should remain as they are (approximately 43%) was nearly equal to the percent who believed the laws should be made more strict. Today, almost twice as many Americans (60% to 33%) believe gun control laws should be more strict.

            Polls in 2016/2017 by CBS, CNN, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and Washington University in Missouri show that between 84% and 94% of American voters (Democrats and Republicans) support requiring background checks on all gun buyers. A Pew Research Center poll reveals that 79% of Republicans or Republican-leaning gun owners who are members of the NRA would support measures “preventing the mentally-ill from purchasing guns” and 72% support “barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.” I assume similar or even greater numbers of NRA members would support keeping guns out of the hands of persons with serious criminal records like Devin Kelley who committed the mass murder in Sutherland Springs Texas.

A Pew poll in spring 2017 showed that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support banning assault-style weapons. While 80% of Democrats support such a ban, sadly so far, while a majority, only 54% of Republicans support a ban. 

            Appreciating how studies show that some stricter gun control laws can help protect police as well as the public, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which includes nine national law enforcement organizations, supports expanding required background checks. And seven of the nine national organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCC), also support a “ban on new semi-automatic assault weapons.”

            The NRA opposes any and all of these sensible restrictions on guns, and will work with big money to defeat candidates for office who support them
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            In this election season and in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, people should demand that every candidate for city, state or federal office declare support publicly for expanding background checks on all potential gun buyers and for banning purchase of assault weapons. Allowing the NRA to block these majority-supported sensible stricter gun control measures not only represents a threat to the lives of more innocent people, but also represents a threat to democracy.