|Issues||Winter 2004 Newsletter|
A BAD YEAR AND THE JOB AHEAD
It has been quite some time since our country has lived through a year as bad as 2004.
An immoral, ill-conceived, ill-executed, and ultimately unwinnable war in Iraq is taking a serious human toll, not only of the lives of our own and allied forces, but also and to a much greater extent, of Iraqis (mainly innocent civilians) as well. And the political, psychological, and economic costs have been enormous. What is the war doing to the souls of the men and women caught up in the action? Consider what the war has done to America's standing in the rest of the World. How have our policies weakened the UN? How have our enormous military expenditures impacted our domestic economy? Finally, how have our actions made us safer from terrorism? Do not our actions throughout the Middle East provide the basis for recruiting far more terrorists than we manage to eliminate? And how little do our leaders seem to understand the harm they have wrought.
In an election that they should have won in a breeze, the Democratic Party failed to articulate a persuasive case for a change of course or leadership. A new multi-lateral strategy based on the best of America values and on recognition of the need for understanding the concerns of the rest of the world and cooperation with other nations is needed. And the UN's institutional framework needs to be strengthened to make it capable of performing vital tasks that nations cannot execute on their own.
There are, happily, a few bright spots on the horizon. The organization of activists and the formation of new networks, largely through electronic media, offer hope for new democratic inputs into the political process. In Europe, the march toward federal union moves steadily forward; and many are beginning to recognize Europe's potential to become a counter-force to American neocon aspirations for global hegemony. Within the UN, the High-level Panel on Threats, Security and Change has put forward a package of proposals, which, while far from adequate, seek seriously to address some of the most pressing of planetary concerns, the "soft", as well as the "hard" threats to human welfare. I'll be discussing the report at our Third Thursday Global Issues Forum on January 20.
Sadly, the year ended with the devastating tsunamis that swept across the Indian Ocean. The suffering inflicted reminds us of our shared humanity. Many worthy relief organizations will put your contributions to good use. Please respond generously.
To all of our readers I extend my wishes for a fruitful and happy new year.
Joe Schwartzberg, President, MN Chapter, CGS
KOFI ANNAN: IS HE 'HISTORY'?
I was a beginner in teacher union staff work in late 1972, when I took basic training in union organizing at the National Education Association in Washington D.C. Earlier the same year, Minnesota school teachers, including myself, had experienced the true novelty of really negotiating our first binding contracts with a real grievance procedure whose final step was arbitration by a neutral outsider. It was both heady and confusing. Both 'sides' to the bargaining process weren't sure what to do.
At the NEA workshop, the methods of a crusty organizer of low-end laborers in Chicago were conveyed to us. We were taught the methods of Saul Alinsky. He organized the truly powerless, and his tactics were marvelously effective.
One of the lessons I vividly remember was this: "personalize, polarize and publicize". In organizing, we were told, you had to have a person to organize against - an object didn't do. You then had to spotlight your victim as evil (or at minimum, incompetent) and you as good; and then you had to publicize the daylights out of this good versus evil comparison. Of course, in those early days of collective bargaining for teachers, the enemy naturally became the superintendent of schools (not the more amorphous "school board" or "school district"). And so we went into bargaining.
Two years later, I learned how it felt to be on the other side of that organizing equation, when a rival teachers union tried to wrest bargaining rights from our union in a large suburban school district, and I became one of the main targets. They didn't succeed, but they, too, did the same things to us as we had learned earlier, probably taken from the same playbook. Years later I actually saw the "playbook" their national organization used against us…every strategy and tactic was very familiar to me.
But what does this have to do with Kofi Annan and people like Senator Norm Coleman who seemed, temporarily, to get some mileage out of his attacks on Annan a short time ago? Everything, I feel.
Political tacticians Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and their ilk perfected the same organizing techniques I have just described, about the same time I was learning them; Newt Gingrich used them to get a majority in the House of Representatives in 1994; Rove and his cronies are still very effectively identifying and publicizing enemies for people to hate. Fear and loathing are common themes. We are living the results. The tactics are reprehensible, but they work.
Kofi Annan? In my opinion, he's just one of the more recent examples of this tactic of "personalize, polarize and publicize". The UN is too amorphous to be cast as an identifiable enemy - it is a thing; Kofi Annan can be made visible as a symbol of whatever evil his enemies wish to demonstrate about the United Nations. Whoever orchestrated Norm Coleman's recent rant knew that Annan would be a juicy target - red meat for the radical right. And they knew that attention on Annan would help deflect criticism away from the administration.
I suspect that Mr. Annan is well advised and aware of what is going on, and has handled himself well.
He has a tough job, and doubtless his every move is viewed as a mistake by someone. Probably even Coleman knows that Annan is a good and even effective leader. Unfortunately, someone has made Mr. Annan their target.
When he's no longer useful in this 'target' role, he'll be replaced in the bullseye by someone else. It's Politics, U.S. style: very, very high stakes politics on the world stage.
Is Mr. Annan "history"? If he is, my opinion, it will not be because of performance, but rather because of the exercise of the rawest of power politics, probably by our own government.
Oh, one final note: I noted above that our opponent "didn't succeed" in ousting us in 1974. I wish I could say it was genius on our part, but it was simply dumb luck. We negated their strategy and tactics by not playing the game by their rules, working from our own strengths. Perhaps there is a lesson in that on the political and global scale….
Dick Bernard, editor
JOE SCHWARTZBERG PRINCIPAL SPEAKER AT CONFERENCE ON WEIGHTED VOTING AT UNITED NATIONS
On December 10, under the joint sponsorship of the center for UN Reform Education and the Center for War/Peace Studies, a conference on weighted voting in both the General Assembly and the Security Council was held in the Secretariat building of the UN. Representatives of all 191 Member delegations to the UN were invited and thirty-eight indicated their interest in taking part. As it happened, however, the conference time coincided with a meeting of Committee 5 of the General Assembly, which preempted the participation of many who might otherwise have attended. Hence, delegates from only thirteen countries actually took part and they were, for the most part, relatively junior staff. Also in attendance were several Secretariat staff members and non-UN observers from a number of NGOs concerned with UN affairs in addition to those from the sponsoring organizations. A videographer flew in from California to film the entire event, with the intention of preparing a video suitable for presentation to lay audiences with an interest in UN affairs (Rotary Clubs, chapters of CGS and the UNA, etc.)
Following opening remarks by Don Kraus, Executive Vice President of CGS, there were brief presentations by Stephen Schlesinger, author of the highly recommended Act of Creation (recounting the history of establishing the UN), and Juan Federer, who explained Dick Hudson's "Binding Triad" proposal for voting reform in the General Assembly. The main presentation, accompanied by numerous graphics, was Joe's exposition of his proposals for reform of both the General Assembly and Security Council, based on a system of weighted voting. Copies of his monograph, Revitalizing the United Nations: Reform through Weighted Voting, and a subsequent paper of his on Security Council reform were distributed to all conference participants. An hour of spirited discussion followed.
While disappointed in the official turnout, Joe was heartened by the fact that a high ranking participant from the Secretariat observed afterward that an important dialogue had been begun that day. Additionally, he was pleased to receive two invitations in the following week from persons in attendance; to be a speaker at the Unitarian-Universalist annual meeting in June in Fort Worth, Texas and also to attend a privately sponsored dialogue on Global governance at the home of a wealthy Canadian philanthropist in February.
Joe has studied the recently released report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2003. Although many of its proposals have considerable merit, those relating to the General Assembly and Security Council are far from satisfactory in Joe's view. In his presentation to the Third Thursday Global Issues Forum on January 20 (described elsewhere in this Newsletter) Joe will discuss the pros and cons of the Panel report and also discuss the December 10 UN Conference and how the ideas put forward there relate to the Panel's recommendations. Copies of Dr. Schwartzberg's monograph will be available at his forum presentation.
PEACE ONE DAYThe description on the jacket of this new DVD documentary produced in association with the BBC and Passion Pictures says it well: "Any individual genuinely can make a difference…Peace One Day is the story of one man's attempts to persuade the global community via the United Nations to officially sanction a global ceasefire day; a day of nonviolence; a day of Peace." The story in this one hour 20 minute video is a marvelous one. www.peaceoneday.org for more information. Watch for more information about a possible Twin Cities screening this winter or spring.
|Citizens for Global Solutions
Citizens for Global Solutions-Minnesota Chapter
5145 16th Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55417
info at globalsolutionsmn.org