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International Youth Leadership Conference, Japan

From March 27th to April 5th, 2015 a group of student ambassadors from metropolitan New York City met with students in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan for a ten-day International Youth Leadership Workshop.

The focus of the workshop was to create and expand awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons; teach empathy, compassion and communication skills to youth from different cultures; and give the participants a chance to express their newfound connection and understanding through art.

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Winners and the Alternative

Installment 9 – Winners and the Alternative

A lot of you have responded to this blog series with some form of “I agree with you, but it’s impossible.” This comment is usually combined with “The winners have too much power” or “Winning is human nature” or both.

   In this context, I’m forced to reveal that I learned to ski in one night. I was fifteen. A friend invited me to join his family on a big mountain in Switzerland for two weeks of skiing over Christmas vacation. I was thrilled, of course, but when I got to the mountain, I discovered I had never skied, didn’t know how, and this was a problem.

   

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Winners and Syria

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Installment Eight – Winners and Syrian Refugees

I take up the issue of Syrian Refugees because it’s such an excellent example of the winner approach to problem solving. Just to review, last week a major terrorist attack took place in Paris. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack. One apparently false Syrian passport was found, but so far, all the terrorists confirmed to have taken part were Europeans. Nevertheless, the response by France and the US was to intensify the bombing of Raqqa, Syria.

   True, Raqqa is supposed to be “an ISIS stronghold”, but it’s also a city, a place that over 200,000 innocent civilians call home. This bombing, of course, will cause even more Syrians to leave their country, but the domestic response by many governments in Europe and 27 governors in the US is to close their doors to Syrian refugees. As I write, the US House of Representatives has just passed a law making it more difficult for refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East to get into the US.

   The American governors and legislators attempting to shut out Syrian refugees may actually believe they’re making their state or the US safer. But the rest of the world sees the US responding with surprisingly blatant self-centered cowardice. To make absolutely sure that no terrorist can possibly get into the US, Americans are shutting the door on innocent people who are suffering and desperately fleeing violence for which the US is largely responsible. Rather than accept a nearly nonexistent chance of harm coming to Americans, American leaders are closing their eyes and hearts to millions of human beings who are actually suffering terrible harm right now.

   This selfish cruelty is the hallmark of a winner. Where a decent human being would risk his or her own safety in an effort to help someone else, winners protect good ole number one. Winners instinctively use their power to protect themselves, regardless of the effects on those less able to protect themselves. Winners build castles, forts, walls, and gated communities to separate themselves from enemies and, especially, from the angry, suffering masses in their own territory. Winners accumulate as much money as possible, then buy palatial houses here and there around the globe, fancy cars for all their garages, private jets to take them from one house to the next, gold-plates to eat from, gold-plated toilets to swallow what they excrete, and private armies to protect it all. They delight in extravagance and take every opportunity to display their superiority, never giving a thought to the people on whose shoulders they so comfortably stand.

   Winners deeply believe they have earned their fabulous happiness by hard work and just being better than those less fortunate. They are unable or unwilling to see how their good fortune depends on the misfortune of others, including future generations and the Earth itself. Or if they see, they can’t afford to care.

   In order for a few people to be extremely rich, a lot of other people have to be extremely poor. In order for a few people to get rich without doing any productive work, they absolutely must exploit the people doing the productive work. In order for a few people to earn thousands of dollars an hour just by owning certain stocks, someone has to be earning a few cents an hour working for the companies that issue those stocks. In order for a few people to earn billions of dollars by manufacturing things from raw materials like iron, copper, cotton, and wood, someone has to let those commodities go for less than they’re worth.

   People in Africa, South America, Asia or Detroit are not poor because of some natural disaster, ethnic conflict or refusal to work. They are poor because the system we live under makes some people poor in order to make other people rich. The political-economic-social system we all live under makes a few people happy and the vast majority of people unhappy, and this is no accident or temporary malfunction. Our system does this inevitably, inherently, and unavoidably.

   Since we have all been carefully trained not to see this, let’s take a look at sports. There are billions of people in the world, and about 200 countries. Every couple years we have some great global sports tournament like the Olympics or the Winter OIympics or the World Cup or whatever. And every time, we know that a tiny handful of people in the US, Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, or a few other countries will win, while the vast majority of people in the vast majority of countries will not get anything. We know this because that is the way the system operates. That is the way the system is supposed to operate. It is inevitable, inherent, and unavoidable. It’s impossible for lots of countries to win the World Cup. The World Cup can only be won by one country.

   I’m not criticizing sports. I love sports. I love competition within a system that has universally accepted rules, impartial referees, and does not kill the losers. However, to accept and enjoy competition in sports does not mean we have to allow the world to be governed by this kind of competitive system. Life on Earth does not have to be competitive. It used to, of course, when we were animals. We didn’t know any better. Besides, we didn’t have nuclear weapons, and we weren’t a hair’s breadth away from making Earth uninhabitable, so we could enjoy the game. Who’s number one? The Spanish or the Incas? The British or the Indians? The Americans, British, French, and Australians or the Germans, Italians and Japanese?

   But now, we have to change the game. The goal of life on Earth is no longer finding out who is number one. The goal at this point is to find out how seven billion human beings can live here without killing the oceans, making the atmosphere poisonous, and irradiating ourselves to death. To do this, all we have to do is make two minor changes. First, we accept that our common goal is continued human life on Earth. Second, we stop electing and following leaders who don’t understand this and start electing and following leaders who do. In other words, we stop electing and following winners and start electing and following decent human beings. Is that so much to ask?

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Pure Evil

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Installment Seven -- Winners, Pure Evil, and Hypocrisy

 

US Senator Johnny Isakson (Republican, Georgia) is a winner. In a September interview reported in Creative Loafing, he said, "There's only one thing, and one thing only, that ISIS understands, and that's force. We've got to kill 'em and exterminate 'em, so they're gone and destroyed.” During a radio interview on November 11, in defending his belief that the US should send soldiers into Syria, he said, “Bombing won’t do it and negotiation won’t do it. You can’t negotiate with a group that beheads people and burns them in cages. These people are pure evil.” (approximate quote – just heard him on the radio, not even sure what station I was listening to.)

   But Isakson is not the only one who thinks like this. Googling “isis pure evil” got me 521,000 results. “Pure evil” is the cornerstone of winner philosophy and the basic justification for most violence. Winners begin with the assumption that they are good. Therefore, ipso facto, anyone who opposes them is evil. If the opponent makes the winner really angry, the opponent becomes pure evil.

   Labeling a group or individual pure evil is essential to winning because it opens the door to a whole new array of tactics and weapons. After all, if you’re fighting pure evil, winners believe, you can use any means necessary. Winners feel free to lie, cheat, steal, and kill when they’re fighting pure evil. They’re convinced that the only way to fight pure evil is to use methods that would be considered evil if you used them against good people, but which become good if used against evil people.

   The idea that some people are pure evil is the most dangerous and destructive concept or structure in the human mind. Actually, to call it an “idea” is inaccurate. Neither the premise that one’s self is good nor the assertion that one’s opponent is pure evil can be defended rationally. Calling someone pure evil derives not from thought but from feeling, from irrational emotion. These emotions—fear, anger, rage, and hatred—have killed billions of people, and the slaughter continues.

   The first part of the problem, our tendency to assume we are good, can be alleviated by an honest look at our own lives, our ancestors, and our history. Senator Isakson, who declared that ISIS is pure evil, no doubt believes that his country, the US of A, is pure good. It has made mistakes here and there, but it’s the world’s greatest champion of freedom, democracy, and universal wellbeing. To believe this, he overlooks a genocide of native Americans, an ongoing legacy of slavery and cruelty to non-whites, the fact that Hitler was created and supported to the end by American business and political elites, the fact that the US placed all humanity under the nuclear sword of Damocles, the brutal economic colonization of South America, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and the fact that, ever since the revolutionary war, hardly a year has gone by when the US did not send its soldiers out to kill someone somewhere to expand its empire and enrich its oligarchy at the expense of ordinary people.

   In the specific case of ISIS, Isakson overlooks hundreds of years of Western domination and control of the Middle East capped by the last fourteen years during which the US, from ISIS’ point of view, has created one chaotic, violent failed state after the next in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. He also overlooks the thousands of bombings and drone attacks that have killed, injured, and displaced vastly more human beings, including women, children and the elderly, than ISIS has. The US even supports the House of Saud (Saudi Arabia), which routinely beheads far more people than ISIS. My point here is not that the US is pure evil. It is not. But the US has no special claim to morality or goodness. Like everyone else, Americans are a jumbled mix of good and evil, a truth that winners are psychologically or institutionally incapable of comprehending.

   The second part of the problem, branding opponents as pure evil, can be alleviated by understanding why the opponent is acting so badly. As a decent human being, I certainly don’t condone the cutting off of anyone’s head. However, I know anger and rage. I know I have done evil things in the grip of those emotions, so I can, to some extent, put myself in the shoes of someone angrier and more brutal than I am. I can imagine what I might be like if I had seen my wife and children blown to body parts by a drone attack. If I were surrounded by people who had experienced similar horrors, and if I had nowhere to live because my house and the houses of all my friends lay in ruins due to US or US-backed bombing, and if my reference community was fighting for liberation from Western imperialists who have long been robbing my country while keeping my people under the icy thumb of political and economic oppression, I can imagine myself forgetting all about being a decent human being. I can imagine wanting to slice the head off every American I could lay my hands on.

   Again, I don’t condone this feeling or behavior. I understand it. Understanding an opponent’s feelings and motivations is crucial to resolving a conflict, but such understanding, even the desire to understand, lies beyond the emotional capacity of winners like Johnny Isakson. Winners make a point of refusing to understand or talk to anyone who is pure evil.

   Winners are utterly blind to their own hypocrisy. To fight the recruitment of youth for al-Qaeda and ISIS, President Obama said local leaders "have to stop the twisted ideology used to incite others to violence." In the past seven years, no one in the world has incited more people to violence than President Obama, but US officials and apologists routinely and with a straight face criticize violence because they truly believe that violence by the US military is not evil. It’s not even violence. Violence by good people is law, order and stability. Violence by bad people is evil. All winners on all sides of all violence fail to see that good and evil are in the eyes of the beholders.

   To actually resolve conflicts, we have to look through each other’s eyes. Winners prefer to kill “pure evil” opponents. But as long as we accept violence by good people as good, we will never put an end to violence. And until we realize that violence itself is the biggest obstacle to a decent world run by and for decent human beings, we will continue to walk meekly behind our elite winners down the road to self-extermination. 

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Not Solving Problems

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Installment Six – Winners Not Solving Problems

Watching the candidates for US president debate each other on TV, I’m struck by how fiercely they present themselves as winners. They are all so fantastically powerful. If we just elect them, they will force Mexico to build a wall between them and the US, they will put the Russians-Chinese-Muslims in their place, they will take money from the rich and give it to the poor, they will take this country back, put it on the right track, and get the economy growing again. They will do these things because they know that these are the right things to do, regardless of any idiots who don’t think so. The message is, “I’m a winner. Elect me and I will use my great powers of winning to win for you what you want.” The one thing they all have in common is, they are super-winners.

   The problem with winners is, as I keep saying, they are always fighting to win, as opposed to solving problems. Decent human beings, I assert by definition, eschew winning in favor of solving problems. So what does this actually mean?

  In the world of winners, the goal is to climb some ladder as high as possible, and winning is how you do that. If you win the competition to get hired into a good company, you want to get promoted. If you win the competition to be section chief, you want to be a department head, then vice president, then president. If you win an election to be mayor, you want to be governor or senator, then president.    

   Do you want to win the competition primarily to get more money? At the lower levels, where money is scarce, yes, money or security or escape from economic stress is a big motivator. But at the higher levels, winning itself is the object. If you have a million dollars, you don’t really need two million, but you want two million or a hundred million or a billion or however much you can win. If your ladder is money, you want as much as you can get because that is how you know you are winning. It’s your measure of success and value as a person. If your ladder is politics, you want to be president or prime minister. If your ladder is art, you want to be exhibited in the Louvre. If it’s boxing, you want to be world champion. And to climb to the top of any ladder, you have to win and keep winning.

    We all want to win and climb higher on our respective ladders because the higher we get, the more respect we get, the more money we get, the better we get treated, the more often we can get what we want, etc. When you’re at the top of any ladder, you get treated like a king. People open doors for you, carry your bags, give you stuff, and agree with whatever you say. Hence the saying, “It’s good to be king.”

   Prior to 1945, this whole ladder-climbing thing made sense. The pursuit of power structured our society, ensuring that our leaders would be winners. All groups naturally want to be led by winners. After all, we want our family, clan, tribe, political party, company or nation to win against our rivals, so it’s good to have a strong, smart winner as our leader.

   We (human beings, chimpanzees, wolves, even chickens) respect and obey our leaders because our success as a group depends on their strengths, skills, virtues, wisdom and luck. We believe our leaders are vital to our own success because, in winner society, the main method of solving problems is to have the leader solve it. He or she may consult his or her advisors (or legislature or board) or delegate down the chain or pray to God, but ultimately, he or she is responsible, makes a decision, and the group goes along. Most of us still consider this perfectly natural. We see no alternative. We see no need for an alternative. Most of us still don’t understand that our leadership needs reversed dramatically on August 6, 1945.

   More accurately, ever since 1949 (when the Soviet Union got the bomb), the world has had no leader and no prospect of finding one. When the Soviet Union collapsed and became Russia, certain American winners thought the US could become leader of the world. They did their best to take over (they are still trying, actually), but they failed. By now it should be clear that the US, with all its fabulous military might, can’t even control Afghanistan or Iraq. How will American winners conquer the rebellious winners in Russia, China, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Iran, Germany, France, etc.? The human family is beginning to realize that the US can make a terrible mess of just about anywhere, but it will never, ever be boss of this planet. Nor will Russia nor China nor India nor the Rothschilds nor any banking cartel nor the Illuminati nor the New World Order. The world is never going to be controlled by a winner. There will be no king or emperor or shogun of the world.

   That being the case, the winners’ method of solving problems (the leader decides) is unusable, impossible, can’t happen. No winner (person, political party, bank or country) is going to eliminate nuclear weapons. No winner is going to come along and make us all start using less fossil fuel. No winner is going to declare an end to our infinite-growth-based economy. No winner is going to make sure everyone on the planet has enough to eat, clean water to drink, healthcare, education and a decent job. No winner can do any of these things because we simply cannot solve our global problems through competition.

   As a species, we face several urgent, life-or-death problems (nuclear weapons, CO2, methane, ocean acidification, weaning ourselves from oil,) but our biggest problem is the fact that our current problem-solving methods (elections, litigation, amassing fortunes, building empires, spying, lying and killing each other) are inappropriate and inadequate. As a result, our problems go unsolved, and we edge ever closer to self-extermination. The only way the human family can survive is to cooperate, that is, identify the problems, discuss them openly and honestly, and come up with solutions that work for all of us, including plants, animals, and the Earth itself. In other words, we need leaders who are decent human beings eschewing winning in favor of solving problems.

   Let’s take some examples. Some people believe we should put less CO2 into the air and oceans, we should provide free education for all, health care should be controlled by insurance companies, abortions should be illegal, gay people should be cured, everyone should be Christian or Buddhist or Muslim except everyone in Israel should be Jewish, all corporations should have workers on their boards of directors, big banks should be bailed out, central banks should be eliminated—take your pick. And a lot of people disagree with all these ideas. Within our adversarial, winner-take-all system, the only way to do anything about any of these problems is for one side to win. Thus, huge amounts of money and energy are spent trying to get certain winners into political offices where they can help one group of winners at the expense of some other group. Unfortunately, no group ever has or ever will obtain enough power to solve problems like these.

   Problems like the above can only be solved by decent human beings using the most advanced techniques of peaceful resolution or transcendence of conflict. If there were enough decent human beings in the world to put decent human beings into elected office (instead of winners), our elected decent human leaders would bring all the stakeholders together to think and talk and talk and think until we come up with a solution that wins support from everyone.

    Because I’m not as smart as all the stakeholders, I can’t suggest transcendent solutions to the problems above. All I can say with certainty is that we will not find solutions by fighting to win the right to solve the problems to our own benefit. If two guys fighting over a bag of oranges discover that one wants to make juice while the other wants to use the peels for marmalade, the fight is over. If a couple fighting over what color to paint the kitchen discovers their house is on fire, the fight is over. If two countries fighting over the water in a certain river find water conservation and recovery measures that assure plenty of water for both, the fight is over. But winners focused on winning will make none of these discoveries. Solutions like these can only be found by decent human beings committed not to winning but to solving the problems in a way that satisfies all parties.

   The tricky part is that no decent human messiah will rise to the top and teach the rest of us to be decent human beings. We will only live in a decent world surrounded by decent human beings who elect decent human leaders when enough of us have become decent enough to make this happen. We each have to make the choice for ourselves and become the ones we’ve been waiting for. What are the chances? But as my mother used to say, “It’s that or nothing, whichever you like the best.”

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Winners and Violence

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Installment Five – Winners and Violence

Last week I said I would write this time about poverty and violence, but just as I took laptop in hand, a podcast assaulted me with an appalling report about bombings in Turkey that took over 100 lives. That report caused me to focus more narrowly and more angrily on the problem of violence.

   I still have no idea who killed whom in Turkey. I’m quite sure I haven’t heard the real story. I’m also quite sure that whoever sent suicide bombers into that crowd (if that’s really what happened), had, from their own point of view, excellent reasons for doing so. Certainly the guys who blew themselves up believed they were doing it for a good cause.

   Was it the current government holding on to power, for the good of the nation? Was it the Kurds fighting for freedom and democracy? Was it the Islamic State seeking to make the world a better place by killing off enemies of the One True Islam? Whomever it was, and whatever their justification, the minute they used violence to achieve their goal, they lost their status as decent human beings.

   So far, since I’m talking about terrorism and the Middle East, you’re probably still with me, but how far can we go together on this pacifist path?

  What about President Obama? Every Tuesday (I’ve heard) he updates the drone kill list, giving permission for some kid with a joystick to fly an unmanned aircraft over a distant country where he blasts a house or car to smithereens hoping it contains the targeted bad guys and not too many innocent bystanders. Of course, both Obama and the kid are doing this to keep Americans safe from the terrorists, so is this an acceptable use of violence?  

   What about the US, NATO or Saudi Arabia bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, killing hundreds of thousands, displacing millions, and turning nation after nation into failed states? All of this is to kill guys who cut off people’s heads and would cut yours off if they got a chance, right? So is this kind of violence justified?

   What about Palestinians stabbing Jewish settlers or firing rockets into Israel? Israel is obviously a rogue nation run by neocon Zionists keeping Palestinians on starvation rations in the world’s largest jail where they are periodically mowed down by the thousands. Are Palestinians justified in using violence to fight for their freedom? Are Israelis justified in killing Palestinians to defend Israelis? Has all this killing of evil people made life better for Israelis or Palestinians?

   Or what about a duly appointed policeman who orders someone to freeze or get down on the ground or put out a cigarette and that person deliberately disobeys the order, giving said policeman some impolite verbal resistance. Is that policeman justified in using a Taser, gun or other violence on someone who is clearly a rebel and fails to understand who must be obeyed for the good of society?

   Or what about a young black male who has done nothing wrong but is stopped by a bad cop. He knows from his own experience and the experience of dozens of others right around him that he is about to get a beating and end up dead or in jail. He has done nothing wrong and has every reason to believe the cop might kill him. If this innocent young black male can grab the bad cop’s gun, shoot him and get away, would he be justified in doing that?

   Or what about a black, transgender woman walking down a dark alley where she meets four drunk, white rednecks who pick up sticks and start speculating hilariously about her genitals. Should she have a semi-automatic in her purse that she can turn on those rednecks to protect herself? If she does, would she be justified in killing them? Wouldn’t the world be a safer, nicer place without those guys?

  Or, let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and see a couple guys breaking into your home with signs on them that say, “We are here to rape your wife and kill your children.” If you had a gun, would you kill those guys?

   When is violence justified? Where do you draw the line? How do you draw the line?

   First, can we stipulate that decent human beings don’t kill each other? If so, the question becomes, can a decent human being kill a winner, that is, someone who is not a decent human being? Under what circumstances can I kill a winner and remain a decent human being?

   Most people I know, many of them quite decent in many respects, are unwilling to give up violence. They don’t like violence, of course. They want to avoid it as much as possible, but they insist it’s sometimes necessary. To defend this position, they point to everything from Hitler to guys breaking in to kill children to the need to eat to the survival instinct in our DNA.

   I, on the other hand, believe we have to reject group violence altogether to loosen its grip on our collective throat, and the bombings in Turkey compel me to explain why.

   Let’s start with a definition of violence. For the purposes of this series about winners and decent human beings, violence starts when you win something without caring about the loser. If you hurt someone in any way, by word or deed, gun or money, legal or illegal, conscious or unconscious, you have “started it.” You have done something that can and often does lead to actions we all recognize instantly as violence, usually the inflicting of physical harm.

   By “winning”, I’m not referring to rugby or checkers. Games are excellent devices for safely enjoying the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The losers willingly take part, with losing the price competitors pay for playing the game and sometimes winning.

   And by rejecting group violence, I am not talking about guys who come into your house to rape your wife and kill your children. If someone breaks into your house, go ahead and shoot, see if I care. Individual criminals and the violence they perpetrate aren’t even in the same league with the class of winners and type of violence I’m urging you to reject.

   The winners I’m talking about are people with power acting institutionally and in groups to compete with other institutions or groups. In service to organizational competition, they negotiate, legislate, lie to the media and drop bombs in ways that benefit themselves without knowing or caring what it does to others. I’m talking about people who take from or pollute the Earth without caring what they’re doing to the ecosystem or future generations. These mindless, group-based winners are an existential problem for all decent human beings. Their activities are making our lives miserable and our planet unlivable. We have to stop them, but how?  

    The crux of my argument is practical, not moral. Decent human beings simply cannot stop winners by killing them. We can’t even defeat them. Winners are good at doing anything it takes to win. Decent human beings are not. Thus, as history and our current situation show, decent human beings rarely defeat winners.

   More importantly, winners are completely devoted to winning. They are not good losers. In fact, they have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to kill us all and make our planet uninhabitable rather than lose. (Recent case in point: The lying executives of Exxon may well have sacrificed the entire human family to preserve their positions and profits.) Winners are armed and extremely dangerous; they must be handled with great care.

   After decades of watching decent human beings win battle after battle (the New Deal, the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Vietnam War, don’t-ask-don’t-tell, a black president, marriage equality) only to keep decisively losing the war, I have come to the conclusion that we can’t beat the winners. We can’t even compete with them. After all, competition is their specialty; decent human beings don’t stand a chance. In the winners’ game, nice guys finish last. Our only hope is to change the game, and the only change that will accomplish what we seek – a world run by and for decent human beings – is to drop out of the competition, drop out of the winning, refuse to take part in or cooperate in any way with any group killing, and reject, despise and disobey any leader who advocates or even accepts the use of group-on-group violence.

   In the West, we have to make ourselves completely immune to the notion that North Koreans, Iranians, Venezuelans, Russians, Chinese, Muslims, immigrants, young black males, abortion doctors or anyone else should be killed. We reject killing by terrorists. We reject killing by drones, soldiers and states. We reject killing by good guys as well as by bad guys. We reject killing or any form of cruelty as an answer to any of our problems. We demand that all problems be solved through dialogue, negotiation, and the creative transcendence of conflict, with “solved” here meaning a solution enthusiastically embraced or at least willingly accepted by all stakeholders, from the most to the least powerful. Any solution that pleases any subgroup at the expense of any other is no solution, and we would rather die than accept or participate in that kind of solution. This is what it means to be a decent human being.

   Because we can’t force winners to participate in conflict resolution processes, decent human beings need, at this stage, to live as separately as possible in our own decent human communities. We need to demonstrate that cooperative life without winning is fun, safe, comfortable and productive. We need to show that a commitment to universal wellbeing is actually better (in every possible sense of this term) than the competitive, adversarial lives we are forced to live today. We need to build communities and businesses that are economically and environmentally sustainable while being safe, caring and enjoyable. And we need to do all this without relying on winners or giving them our money. To the extent possible, we have to buy from, bank with, and bank on decent human beings.

  If we can’t drop out of winner society and create our own better society, decent human beings have nothing to offer. We will merely be nice guys finishing last until the winners pull us all over the cliff. And, if we are willing to accept violent responses by any group toward any group for any reason whatsoever, we are not significantly different from the winners we are trying to educate and convert—except for being weaker and poorer.

   For at least two millennia human society has been attempting to defeat evil through violence. After all these years of good and bad people killing each other, we live in a violent, unsustainable society governed by selfish, lying, cheating, stealing, murdering gangsters who are gradually ruining our planet while keeping their fingers on buttons that could exterminate our species in an afternoon. Seems to me decent human beings ought maybe try something different. 

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Winners and the Environment

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Installment Four – Environmental Crisis

 Nuclear weapons are one of the two compelling life-or-death threats demanding that homo sapiens evolve from a bunch of competitive winners into a cooperative family of decent human beings. The Earth is the other. The Earth is a threat because it presents us with certain hard, physical limits that we either respect or die. (At the moment, we are not respecting them.) 

   Human beings need food. Most food comes directly or indirectly from plants that need a certain amount of heat, cold, sun and rain. If we change the Earth’s climate too quickly, our farmers and our essential plants will fail to adjust. Moreover, most food plants need to be pollinated by bees and butterflies. As we fill the Earth’s soil, water and air with pesticides, we are killing the bees and butterflies. We are also killing bacteria, fungi, and worms the plants need. We are actually diminishing our ability to produce food on this planet, and as we do, more people will starve. When people in advanced nations begin starving, global society will collapse into chaos. No police force, no matter how brutal, will control millions of starving people who know that life can and should be better. As civilization collapses, we will enter a dark and desperate struggle for physical survival leading, possibly, to an exchange of nuclear weapons that will take us right out.

   Human beings need fresh, clean water. If we fill our water with chemicals, poisons, and radioactive substances, the water we can’t live without will make us sick or even kill us. We can make fresh, clean water even from dirty seawater, but that requires enormous energy, which will, under present conditions, contribute to climate change. As a result of the climate change we have already caused, some of us live in areas that receive far less than normal, necessary amounts of rain, while others of us receive far more rain than we can safely and effectively handle. Flooding in one area does not make up for a drought elsewhere. Both are devastating, and both will increase as we increase the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

   Speaking of atmosphere, we need a certain percentage of oxygen in our air to stay alive. Fifty percent of that oxygen comes from the oceans. The oceans can absorb only so much carbon dioxide before becoming too acid to support normal sea life. When a living thing in the ocean dies, it falls to the bottom where it is decomposed by bacteria. This decomposition process uses oxygen. Thus, if too much ocean life dies all at once due to acidification, the oceans will stop releasing the oxygen we need, and we will all die.

   We have known about the greenhouse gas effect since 1859. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius published the first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2. In 1960, Charles David Keeling accurately measured CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere and detected an annual rise. The first big conference on climate change took place in Boulder, Colorado in 1965. Today, scientists are routinely presenting the rest of us with increasingly dire warnings about the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions as much and as soon as possible. And what have we done to solve this problem? Nothing or, at least, nothing that will have a significant effect on the outcome. We are still doing all the things we know perfectly well will make the Earth uninhabitable in a matter of decades.

   The reason we have done nothing to solve the above serious environmental problems is because our leaders are not decent human beings. They are winners. Wall Street winners know we have serious environmental problems, but are institutionally incapable of quitting their mad competition for money. Oil company winners know their industry is driving nail after nail into our collective coffin, but they, too, are unable to escape the hyper-competitive system that guides their decisions. Political winners are unable to win without money from the business winners whose competition is the driving force in our global economy, so they do what they’re told by the business winners.

   All of these winners compete for control of governments, politicians, laws and regulations, markets, labor, resources, and money because that is what they have been trained and hired to do. If they were suddenly to think about the Earth and take their eye off the prize (winning and profits), they would quickly be replaced by some winner who won’t. And who is it that controls this system? We do, the 99%.

   You have been carefully taught to think it’s the winners at the top, the 0.01% who actually make the decisions. The winners who control the boards of directors of the banks, energy companies, insurance companies, and all the major corporations that control the politicians and, through them, the militaries and police that control the people. It does, at first glance, appear that these hyper-ultra-winners are managing the world. But that’s what they want us to think—that and we’d be lost without them. Actually, we’re lost if we let them keep control.

  Dangerously few of the people at the top are decent human beings. We know this because they keep fighting to win instead of working decently to solve our climate and pollution problems. We know it because the meetings of global leaders that should be solving these problems (Davos, G7, G8, G20, COP, UNGA, etc.) inevitably end in abject failure to do anything meaningful. The smartest, most powerful leaders in the world content themselves with blaming each other or touting some carbon-trading fix that is too token to qualify even as symbolic. Time after time the winners who appear to be in control say clearly by their actions that continued competition and continued winning (by them) is more important than solving the problems that threaten to take their own species right off this planet.

   In this blog series about winners and decent human beings, I have been asserting that, instead of fighting, stakeholders should sit down and talk. But when it comes to climate change and environmental disaster, we ARE talking and yet, nothing is happening. After all, we had the much-maligned and ignored Kyoto Protocol. We’ve had COP meetings (Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) every year since 2007, and the next one will be in Paris this December. Many climate activists are hopeful that Paris will be different, that this time our world leaders will finally come to grips with the problem. I doubt it.

   The problem is, our leaders talk the way winners talk. Winners get together and pretend to negotiate toward a solution, but actually, they go into the talks absolutely determined not to give up anything of value. They go in with strategies and tactics designed to win. “Winning” means appearing to do something about the crisis without actually taking any steps that might reduce the profits of an oil company or a major political donor. They want to solve the problem, but any solution has to let the winners keep winning.

   Most tellingly, our winner leaders are not talking enough. The problem they face is maintaining an ecosystem that supports human life on Earth, and the COP meetings are about 6 to 15 days a year. In Paris, the schedule calls for solving the world’s most urgent and difficult problem in 10 days (Nov. 30 to Dec. 11). I realize that lower level staff work on the problem before and after the conferences, but whatever they’re doing, it’s not enough.

    If a group of people were in a raft floating down the Niagara River toward the falls, they would spend more than a few minutes now and then talking about what to do. Of course, if these people were winners, they would be shooting and throwing each other out of the raft, but if they were decent human beings, they would be talking continually, focused intently on all paddling together to get the raft to one side of the river and onto a rock or something.

   A problem with the depth and complexity of climate change takes more than a few days a year, and a problem of this life-threatening urgency should receive continual high level, high profile discussion until a reasonable solution has been achieved. The current negotiation pretense is worse than nothing. The winners meet just enough to convince the rest of us that adults are in charge and a solution is just around the corner. If they simply did nothing, we would all see clearly that the ’toons have taken over the asylum, which might inspire more decent human beings to run for office.

   Regardless of the reasons and the deep flaws in my analysis, the fact is, our world is ending if we fail to act, and our leaders are failing to act except in their own interests as winners.

   So here is where I get radical, so radical I have trouble following my own advice. First, environmental issues are the perfect context in which to demonstrate that the winners are not really in charge. The billionaires and generals who appear to rule the world are 100% dependent on the power we, the 99%, give them. Rich people need poor people, but poor people do not need rich people. History has repeatedly demonstrated that when poor people are frustrated and angry enough to unify, they easily eliminate their rich rulers, replacing them with new rulers who gradually get richer and crueler until they, too, have to be eliminated. Thus, we poor people get the rich people we deserve or are willing to put up with.

   Next, the only way any of us are going to get out of our environmental predicament alive is to stop trying to be winners and start being decent human beings. And, we have to make this transition as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

   If we want the winners among us to stop winning for themselves at the expense of the 99% and our ecosystem, we have to stop playing their game. We have to stop competing for money and start living in a way that removes the incentives that drive winners to compete. We also have to take from them the tools they are using to kill us. 

   So what does this mean? At the easiest level, it means ceasing all efforts to become or appear rich. In fact, it means withdrawing our respect and admiration from people who are rich and not devoting their wealth to protecting the Earth. It means not buying a big car or house or fancy clothes or doing anything to appear successful in material terms. It means buying as small and efficient a house and car as you can possibly live with. It means boycotting Monsanto and Wal-Mart, of course, but really, it means boycotting everything, that is, buying as little of everything as possible. If we stop buying what the winners are selling, they will soon understand where the real power lies.

   At a more difficult level, it means drastically reducing our use of energy and resources. If we want the winners to stop warring over oil, we have to stop using so much of it. If we want to stop the proxy wars in Africa over precious metals, diamonds and other valuable resources, we have to stop buying them. One thing we’ve learned from the decades long, totally ineffective war on drugs is that demand will be met. The only way to weaken gangsters or banksters is to weaken demand.

   At an even more difficult level, we have to stop working for and cooperating with winners. We have to take our money out of stocks, bonds and big banks. We have to put whatever we have into small community banks or credit unions. We have to stop working for any company that does not in some way ensure that workers have significant influence over all corporate decisions. We have to stop working for companies run by a board of directors that serves only the interests of shareholders. In fact, we have to stop buying from such companies, paying more if necessary to buy from worker coops, local businesses and any decent human beings we have the opportunity to support.

   At the most difficult level, we have to get out of cities and move back to the countryside. There, we have to make ourselves useful in some way until we can learn to grow our own food, make our own tools, and greatly increase our level of self-sufficiency. One day, it may be possible to build cities that don’t destroy our ecosystem, but today, cities are utterly dependent on exploiting the hinterlands and mistreating the Earth. Cities are energy sinks and heat islands. Relatively wealthy consumers in cities who want cheap food make it impossible for farmers to survive. They hand all their power over to trading companies that impoverish farmers. By blindly buying cruelty- and chemical-based food substitutes, city consumers with no idea what they’re eating, empower Monsanto, Cargill, ADM and the other industrial giants that destroy our soil, our water, our seeds, our plants, our food, and our bodies, while making it impossible for decent human farmers to grow decent natural crops to be served as real food.

   If we would like to see winners weakened and decent human beings strengthened, we need to strengthen the countryside, restore our land and water, grow our own food, and learn to live as much as possible without petroleum and without cities.

  Cities are full of winners. These winners look down on the rest of us because they have great penthouses, lots of servants, lots of gadgets, and lots of parasites telling them how great they are. But if people in the countryside began growing food for themselves, making clothes and tools for each other, and dramatically reducing what they buy from corporations and ship to cities, those citified winners would soon learn the value of food and the great out of doors.

   Most cities have only about three days of food on hand. If shipments fall dramatically, cities will empty out quickly. True, the winners in the highest penthouses will be the last ones to feel the pinch, but the systems on which their obscene winnings depend will collapse long before they actually get hungry. The pleasure of living in a penthouse will fade considerably when the rest of the building is empty.

   Are you crazy? What planet are you living on? We can’t change the system by recycling and changing to LED light bulbs. Me using less oil will make no difference at all if everyone else is using it. I’ll just suffer for nothing.

   All of these objections are legitimate. I certainly admit the possibility that I am crazy, but it seems to me that decent human beings will never defeat the winners and save the Earth through marches, vigils, demonstrations or even violent revolution. The winners are ready for this. More importantly, making demands of winners leaves them in charge. And if decent human beings turn to violence, we are no longer decent human beings. A new world order established by violence will be unable to make any of the needed changes because it will be led by winners. We decent human beings need to take over and do something better, which we will find through decent human problem solving.

   Sadly or luckily, we can’t defeat the winners by defeating them. We have to convert them, and we can only do that by quietly, politely but firmly withdrawing our cooperation, money and power, and by demonstrating a viable, more enjoyable alternative way of life. We have to stop competing, stop pursuing money, stop buying what they are selling, stop being violent, and stop accepting violence of any kind against anyone for any reason. If we can do this, we may earn a few more centuries on Earth, and an Earth full of decent human beings would be a peaceful, sustainable, warm, loving and beautiful place to live.

   Next week, I will address violence, the problem of poverty, and the gap between the rich and poor, I mean, winners and losers. 

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Immigration

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Installment Three – Immigration

I was planning to write this time about CO2, the second monster threat to human existence that winners are failing to address. However, the immigration crisis in Europe has leaped ahead of global warming in the news and in my heart. As a decent human being, I am so upset, I can’t help turning to it now.

First, let’s be clear. The refugee problem is caused by winners, that is, by people who compete to win something at the expense of someone else. Some are competing for oil and other resources, some for money, some for territory, some for status, and some are just happy selling arms to all the sundry would-be winners. To be fair, most of the competitors probably do sincerely believe they are good while someone else is bad and, therefore, should be killed. Winners are quick to think someone else should be killed.

For the most part, it’s winners competing to win oil in the Middle East who are causing the violence, chaos, and misery that have sent all those refugees to Europe. If, instead of blazing away with guns and bombs, world leaders had gotten together at any point to talk like decent human beings about how much oil is left, who needs it for what, how to share it, how to share the proceeds, and how to safely and quickly transition to a post-petroleum society, no refugees would be streaming into Europe. It is the catastrophic effort to win rather than solve problems that turns ordinary people into refugees.

And now, winners are applying the same winning (and losing) philosophy to solving the refugee problem. Some want to let all the refugees in and take good care of them. Some want to build walls and fences to keep them out. Some are putting them in jail. Some are compromising by setting quotas. Americans are hiding out on the other side of the Atlantic hoping the refugees won’t get there. What is not happening is a series of conferences that include all the stakeholders, including the refugees and the official and unofficial leaders in the countries they are escaping. What is not happening is a comprehensive effort to identify the root problems and solve those problems to the benefit of all involved.

This kind of conflict resolution effort is not taking place because our societies (in and out of the war zones) are still so completely dominated by winners. Even the nice people who want to accept all the refugees and take care of them are focused on trying to win. Yes, they are trying to win for the sake of others, which is nice, but they are appalled and disgusted by the people who want to keep the refugees out and have made no effort to include those people in any problem-solving effort.

In Germany, President Merkel has been great, from the point of view of the refugee accepters. She is willing to accept 500,000 of them. But what if 510,000 of them show up at her door? What will she do then? Send the extra 10,000 home? More importantly, she is seriously infuriating the German Nazis, and we know how dangerous those folks can be. In fact, although Hungary is the most overtly closed nation in Europe at the moment, all European nations have substantial right wing parties that could very well use this refugee issue to grow in numbers and power.

The sudden appearance of large numbers of new people in any community is a frightening, potentially explosive phenomenon. With winners handling this problem, we will soon see Europeans at each other’s throats, with hundreds of thousands of poor, desperate refugees caught in the middle. This is not the way decent human beings solve problems. 

 To most of you reading this blog, the good folks working to welcome and care for the refugees are decent human beings. I understand and share this sentiment, but to the extent that they are ready and willing to ram refugees down the throats of fellow countrymen and women who are genuinely frightened, these decent human beings are acting like winners.

In this case, decent human beings should be calling for town hall meetings, national and international conferences, UN Special Assemblies and other opportunities to discuss, deliberate, problem solve, and implement solutions supported by the vast majority of people on all sides of the issue. Decent human beings should be clamoring for dialogue aimed at actually solving the refugee problem, which would lead inevitably to the deeper problems that caused the refugee problem.

Impossible? Utopian? What planet am I living on? You react this way because you are unable to imagine a world not dominated by winners. If Obama, Putin, Xi, and other key players were to sit down to solve this problem in a civilized manner, it could be done. The flows of arms into areas of violent conflict would end, and most of the refugees would stream home determined to rebuild their own countries, with US, European, Russian and Chinese help. As a wonderful side benefit, world leaders might even find themselves entering critical talks about oil resources, global warming, and our post-petroleum future.

If, instead of fighting to win, our leaders sat down to solve our common problems, we would all reap enormous benefits, including, possibly, continued human life on Planet Earth. We fail to solve problems because winners keep insisting on winning. We have to stop fighting like winners and start talking like decent human beings. This means you and me. We can’t wait for our leaders to turn into decent human beings, nor can we wait for our governments to promulgate human decency legislation. We all have to overcome our urge to win, strengthen our determination to be decent human beings, and promote decent human being-ness.

This change is already happening, much more quickly than our win-lose corporate media can reveal or even comprehend. We will continue this transition, one by one, invisibly, until the 100th monkey has become a decent human being. At that point, winning will suddenly appear grotesque, bizarre, ridiculous and out of the question. Suddenly, we will stop electing warriors and start solving problems. In the meantime, I am hereby clamoring for an international conference on the refugee problem, with speaking roles offered to refugees as well as the captains of industry who pay politicians to wage war in the Middle East.

Next week I will definitely take up the issue of CO2 emissions and how winners are making our planet unlivable.

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Installment Two

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Installment Two – No Winners with Nuclear Weapons

If you haven’t read my opening statement, please do. This piece will make more sense that way. But assuming you find that to be too much trouble, let me summarize. In my opening statement I promised to: 1) take all (or most) of the world’s problems and explain exactly how winners are screwing up a perfectly manageable situation, and 2) help you graduate from being a winner to being a decent human being enhancing the chances of human survival on Planet Earth.

   So why is winning so evil? Let’s start right at the top of the enemies-of-humanity hierarchy. Nuclear weapons are dangerous, expensive and not a good return on investment (from the taxpayer point of view, as opposed to the nuclear industry point of view). According to Global Zero, nukes cost the human family about $100 billion per year (that’s a trillion dollars every ten years). With that much money, we could end hunger, which is what we would do if winners weren’t in charge, but I’m sliding into a future topic.

   Even a limited nuclear war would instantly end civilization as we know it. A war involving hundreds of hydrogen bombs could exterminate human life. If you don’t believe me, check out www.nucleardarkness.org. And yet, the US and Russia still have over 2,000 warheads on hair trigger alert.

   Nuclear weapons are an imminent threat to our collective survival, but unlike the other threats I’ll address in this series, we could easily end it. Nine countries could free us from this threat in a week or two if they wanted to. Other problems, like global warming and the gap between rich and poor, will be difficult, even with everyone doing their best. The nuclear threat is the easiest global problem we face.

   Disarmament ambassadors, especially those representing the nuclear-weapon states, never tire of telling us how extremely complex and difficult this problem is, but there is nothing the slightest bit complex about disabling the weapons. They can be rendered permanently harmless in a few minutes, to be safely dismantled and disposed of at leisure. End of threat.

   The complexity derives entirely from winners. The highly competitive winners in charge of nuclear weapons are more interested in winning than in liberating us from that threat. They all claim that they are forced to risk making Earth uninhabitable for human beings because of each other, that is, winners have to deter their rival winners. See what I mean? Winners are the problem.  

   Are nuclear weapons required to make this planet a safe, comfortable place for all of us? No, they are required by a tiny handful of winners to deter other winners, all of whom are seeking to establish or maintain dominance over certain territories, resources and much larger groups of people. This competition for dominance prevents problem solving.

   For winners, the pursuit of dominance trumps the pursuit of sustainable peace and happiness for all. Winners are quick to declare that happiness for all is impossible. This belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy because it leads winners to focus narrowly on the pursuit of happiness for themselves or a tiny sub-group. To obtain happiness for self at the expense of others, you must compete and win. This is the type of winning that is obsolete and dangerous in the nuclear age.

   Ever since the first atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wise men and women have begged the political and military leaders in control of nuclear weapons to sit down, negotiate, and solve the problem of world-destroying weapons. The leaders have promised repeatedly to do so, most notably in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The International Court of Justice found unanimously in 1996 that the nuclear-weapon states are legally obligated to negotiate in good faith to achieve total nuclear disarmament. Given this legal obligation, have the nuclear-weapon states gathered somewhere and given it the good ole college try only to discover that the problem is too complex?

   No. In seventy years, the leaders of nuclear-weapon states have never spent one second sitting around a table talking to each other about how to get rid of nuclear weapons. In fact, my data-free guess is that most have never spent one second seriously thinking about it. The last thing they want to do is solve this problem. They are winners. What they want is to use nuclear weapons to win something (a negotiation, a power struggle, a big budget, an obscene profit). Some want to win so badly, they would rather kill us all than lose.

   This situation demonstrates clearly why winners are enemies of humanity. The difference between a winner and a decent human being is the willingness to sit down and talk with an enemy, rival, opponent, or someone with whom one has a problem, especially a problem like mutually assured destruction. Decent human beings are willing to pursue mutual safety and satisfaction through dialogue and creative problem solving. Winners are not.

   The case of nuclear weapons brings this critical difference into high relief. If the nuclear-weapon states wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, they could easily do so. If they all sat down together to discuss how to institute an effective inspection and verification system, they could get it done in a few days. They know this perfectly well, which is precisely why they’ve never tried. The problem is so totally easy to solve, they’re forced to refuse to try, even though they’re legally obligated to do so. They refuse to sit down to solve the problem because they’re determined to keep their nuclear weapons. They’re determined to keep using fear and nuclear weapons to suck money out of the pockets of taxpayers, so they continue to act like enemies and threaten us all with sudden death.

   So are the leaders who refuse to sit down and negotiate an end to nuclear weapons all evil people? Heavens no! Decent human beings are careful to distinguish between people and the problems they cause. We have to give people space in which to change. Just because some leader is a winner today doesn’t mean he or she can’t be a decent human being tomorrow. Decent human beings have to be nice to everyone because we know that everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about.

   For example, I am profoundly disappointed in President Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, then tripling the US nuclear weapons budget. However, it might be that Obama understands in a way I cannot that, were he to launch a sincere effort to negotiate an end to nuclear weapons, he would soon be as dead as President Kennedy. Bad things do happen to folks who stand up against winners. In fact, it might be that I’m completely wrong about nuclear weapons. Maybe we do need them for some reason I don’t see. This uncertainty principle is why decent human beings must always be ready to sit down with those who see things differently. But this is what winners refuse to do. They don’t talk. They win (or lose).

   Unfortunately, winners have veto power over peace. It takes all sides to discuss and resolve a problem. It only takes one winner with a nuclear weapon to make that impossible. So does the veto power of winners mean peace is impossible? No, but it does mean that President Obama and all decent human beings have to be prepared to die to bring the evil of winning to light. I’m afraid the only way we can stop the winners is by doing some deliberate, transparent, and painful losing. If Obama were willing to risk death or even a Republican victory in the next election, he might be able to get us to the brink of a nuclear-weapon-free world before they get him.

   Or, maybe he could bring the whole threatening situation into the open. He could use his bully pulpit to confide in the American people, telling them what he would like to do about nuclear weapons and what he thinks might happen to him if he tries, thus initiating a massive public debate about nuclear weapons that would make killing him difficult, dangerous and too late. This discussion would be happening already if our leaders were decent human beings. Sadly, we are still led by winners who eschew open discussion in favor of secret machinations.

   Luckily, even winners (most of them) would prefer that the Earth remain habitable for human beings. It may be that nuclear weapons are so powerful and threatening they will eventually turn winners into decent human beings. Or, the human family might suddenly stop following winners and start following decent human beings. I know, that sounds extreme, but we live in interesting times.

   More about global warming and interesting times next week. 

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Alice Slater

Hey,

Alice Slater is a leader in the effort to abolish nuclear weapons. She's written a cool article about the Iran Deal. Thought you might be interested.

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