Time to Take a Step Back from the Brink

Actor Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Photo Credit – Getty Images

Iowans are legitimately worried about the risk of detonation of nuclear armaments as a result of increased tensions in the world. The war in Ukraine is perceived by some as a proxy war between the United States and Russia. While it’s true our two countries have the majority of nuclear weapons that exist in the world, both Putin and Biden have said they seek to avoid a nuclear exchange. The assertions about a proxy war do not seem accurate.

Dr. Robert Dodge, posted the following article at Common Dreams on Friday. It explains how I feel: We need to take a step back from the brink.

Ukraine, Existential Threats, and Moving Back From the Brink
We can no longer continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world.

First published on Common Dreams by Dr. Robert Dodge.

This spring, as those before, beckons a season of renewal and opportunity for the future. We have just witnessed the major religions of the world celebrate Easter, Passover, and Ramadan and in the words of Ambassador El Yazidi of the Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany, “We are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good.”

This is also a time when the world celebrates Earth Day with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our world and the intersectionality of mankind’s actions on the survival of our planet. Yet our world is in peril with many intersecting crises from the continued global pandemic, now in its third year, to climate crises that continue to inflict progressive epic storms and devastation. Add to that the two-month-old Russian war on Ukraine with threats and nuclear posturing by the superpowers bringing us closer to nuclear war by intent, miscalculation or cyber-attack portending the greatest threat of a global near-death event since the end of the last Cold War.

Against this backdrop, it is also tax season in the United States when the nation funds its priorities as we look to the future. In the words of Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, “Budgets are moral documents.” And so what are those priorities and how do nuclear weapons factor in?

The 2022 fiscal year budget, the first by President Joe Biden, will see the U.S. rob our communities of precious resources spending nearly $77 billion on all nuclear weapons programs, exceeding the expenditures of the last budget from the Trump administration. In total, the U.S. will have spent approximately $219 billion on all nuclear weapons programs in the last 3 fiscal years while fighting a global pandemic. To see the costs to your community, see the annual Nuclear Weapons Community Costs Project just released by Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Current global nuclear arsenals contain about 12,700 nuclear warheads, with the United States and Russia having near 90% of those. The use of even a tiny fraction of these weapons threatens life as we know it. A regional nuclear war using 100 Hiroshima size weapons (less than half of one percent of the global nuclear arsenals) over cities in India and Pakistan—South Asia’s nuclear powers who have had a tumultuous relationship for decades—could cause a global famine threatening 2 billion people due to the devastating nuclear winter and climate change that would follow. A larger nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia targeting the major cities in each nation could possibly lead to the extinction of the human race.

This is not a situation that has to be. The existence of nuclear weapons and the continued dependence on fossil fuels with the destruction of our environment result from our way of thinking and behavior. We cannot continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world. We must end our dependence on fossil fuels that threaten destruction of our life sustaining ecosystems. Instead, we must recognize our interdependence as one human family. Nuclear weapons have been made by man and can only be eliminated by man. Ending the subsidy and our dependence on fossil fuels while transitioning to sustainable renewable resources is also in reach given the political will.

The United States can and must lead on these issues. There is a rapidly growing national intersectional movement in the U.S. called Back from the Brink. It is a coalition of individuals, organizations, and elected officials working together toward a world free of nuclear weapons and advocating for common sense nuclear weapons policies to secure a safer, more just future. Endorsed by over 400 organizations, 326 U.S. elected officials, 58 municipalities and 6 state legislative bodies, it calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

  • Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
  • Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first.
  • Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack.
  • Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.
  • Cancelling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.

All are invited to endorse and join this movement. We have a way out. There is hope for the future and that of our children’s children. At this moment in history we must understand the threat and opportunity before us. Let this be a time when we choose hope for all of humanity.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Kitchen Garden

Last Frost

Double Ruffled Daffodils, I think.

It is difficult to know when winter’s last frost will occur. I believe it passed, and especially after Mother’s Day, risk of frost will be minimal. The garden is as far behind as it has been since we moved to Big Grove Township in 1993 and dug the first plot the following year.

Under row cover almost everything looked good. Radishes and spinach are up. The transplanted lettuce and Pac Choi are doing well. One type of radish seed did not germinate so I planted lettuce seedlings in its place. One can never have enough lettuce. I weeded and rearranged the row cover supports to make enough for a second row for herbs and vegetables needing protection from flea beetles like Tatsoi and arugula. Radicchio is new to me and last year it grew well under row cover, so I’m planning a couple of heads there. Row two will be in the same plot as the first with celery planned in between covered rows.

It rained most of Friday and the forecast is for more today. There are plenty of political events to attend if I can’t get in the garden. If there is one close, I’ll attend, but otherwise focus on garden tear down (removing fences and cleaning them), seeding in trays for the greenhouse, and laying out the garage floor with garden stuff. It’s time to park the vehicle in the driveway where it will stay for a few weeks until the garden is mostly planted.

The next major planting is onions. I removed last year’s ground cover from the planned plot and am waiting for rain to end long enough for the ground to dry, burn brush, and turn, till and plant. The onion and shallot seeds are getting a bit long in the trays and need to go in the ground. Onion starts from my supplier need planting as well. Onions are an important crop and if I can get in the ground, I’ll plant more this year than last.

Tomato, pepper, celery and eggplant seedlings need some growing time in the greenhouse before they are large enough to plant. A week of sunny days would help. The fruit trees are late producing leaves. I was worried the Red Delicious tree was a goner after being damaged multiple times in wind storms. It is not expected to fruit this year, yet it survived winter and that’s a positive sign.

The yellow flowers I brought from Indiana are beginning to bloom. They are also late, yet there are some beautiful blooms coming out after a lackluster season in 2021. My spouse is with her sister in the state capitol. I sent a bouquet via email to celebrate the end of April. The blooms don’t last long.

Living in Society

Support Senator Kevin Kinney

Woman Writing Letter

A highlight of the new electoral districts is State Senator Kevin Kinney is in Senate District 46 which includes where I live in Big Grove Township.

Senator Kinney is a quiet, competent member of the state legislature who farms in Johnson and Iowa Counties. If he is reelected in November, he would be the only full-time farmer in the legislature. This is Iowa. We can use an experienced farmer with a commonsense approach to lawmaking.

With Kinney’s past experiences in the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, he focuses on important issues that are not flashy or in the news.

For example, Kinney recently told me the Civil Statute of Limitations for sex crimes should be extended to match the Criminal Statute of Limitations. This may be a bit in the weeds for most, yet if his idea becomes law, a teenage victim of sex crimes might be able to seek justice where today they can’t. Kinney will work with anyone to change the law.

I have known him since he was first elected and can say he’s an honest person, not afraid to do legislative work Iowa needs. I will vote for him in November. You should consider him too.

~ Submitted as a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist and other newspapers.

Living in Society

We Hold These Truths

Edge of Lake Macbride, April 17, 2022.

I had the second discussion of what to do about missing tooth #14 at a recent, routine dental appointment. The same dentist who extracted it answered my questions. I don’t plan to get an implant or a bridge to cover the gap. I’ll be gap-toothed, I guess.

I recounted my experience working as an admissions clerk at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry where what seemed like a lot of patients complained of dental implants gone wrong. Doc said cultural aspects of getting and living with an implant were as important as proper use of the technology. In other words, many implant patients are part of their own problem.

This conversation is basic to being an American. There is the idea of something and the actuality of that same thing. The idea of a dental implant and the loading and living with one are culturally separate. Increasingly, Americans seem more focused on ideas, to the extent the social context in which ideas are found is one of neglect, misinformation and bad habits. Hence failed dental implants and other things.

On several occasions people said to me of their decaying teeth, “I’m going to yank them all and get plates.” One hoped such yanking was done by an oral surgeon rather than in the tool shed or kitchen with common household pliers. There were a share of folks who took the tool shed approach to relieving tooth pain. It created more business for our clinic to remove broken roots their pliers couldn’t reach.

The distinction between ideas and their social context is applicable to things besides dentistry. For example, we know we should moderate simple carbohydrates in our diet to prevent onset of weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. There is a science to this. At the same time it is easy to prepare a simple spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) at home when pinched for dinner. It’s cheap and tastes good if properly prepared. It can seem convenient to order take-out pasta or pizza from a restaurant via GrubHub or Uber Eats without regard for portion size. Moderation is in remission in American society.

What makes American society frustrating is we live in the actuality of ideas developed and promulgated by others. Some of the ideas coming out of media figureheads and politicians are outrageous. What people do based on such ideas affects us all.

We feel little ownership of ideas prominent in our lives. Our country is based on ideas in a certain world view. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, the first seven words of the second paragraph spoke to their world view, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” There were truths and it was possible to know them and verify them: they were self-evident. If most founders believed there was a God, the new nation was not founded in religion. Quite the opposite. Following the philosophy of John Locke, human understanding considered the natural world, rendering any relationship with God unknowable and unverified. What was true was evident in the natural world and could be observed if one had the will and mental acuity. We’ve entered a realm where any idea can be viewed with suspicion regardless of its inherent, observable truth.

As I told my dentist, the missing tooth is not depriving me of nutrition. Its position is far enough back so I don’t appear to be a gap-toothed fool when I smile. A missing tooth is not what I wanted. The truth is I can go on living in the American experiment.

Kitchen Garden

Working Outdoors

After being damaged in a windstorm the greenhouse is back up… and full.

Everything takes longer than expected. It took about two hours to assemble the replacement frame for the greenhouse and transfer the seedlings from the dining room floor where they landed after a wind storm ruined the last one.

Overnight temperatures were forecast to drop to freezing. At 3 a.m. I checked the weather’s progress then ran an extension cord for a space heater to keep tender plants from freezing. It was warm enough inside the greenhouse they would have survived, yet better safe than sorry.

Yesterday I transferred kohlrabi and arugula seedlings to their rows, pounded fence posts into the ground, and installed a temporary fence to deter deer. I had planned to do more yet ran out of hours on my shift.

Republicans keep yammering about food and gasoline prices yet that’s not what is killing my budget. Big percentage increases in insurance, natural gas, broadband, electricity, and telephone service are. Each increase is the result of a large company’s accounting department. Go figure.

Weather looks good for more time in the garden today. I’d better get organized.

Living in Society

Speed Dating the Candidates

Table decoration at the Cupcakes, Cookies and Candidates event in Amana, Iowa on April 24, 2022.

Now that I live in a house district that includes Iowa County, I participate in some Iowa County Democrats’ activities, including yesterday’s Cupcakes, Cookies and Candidates event in Amana. It was a good time for people interested in politics.

The idea of the event was to divide attendees into table groups and have the candidates rotate between tables and answer questions posed by each person. I would prefer to hear all of the answers in the room, yet the format proved to be a success. I enjoyed the efficiency of short answers to many questions. The small groups facilitated getting to know candidates and their personality. The dynamic made it easy to tell who knew their policy, who was full of political malarkey, and who wasn’t ready for prime time.

Democratic candidates present were:

  • Deidre DeJear, Governor
  • Michael Franken, U.S. Senate
  • Glenn Hurst, U.S. Senate
  • Christina Bohannan, U.S. Congress
  • John Norwood, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture
  • Kevin Kinney, Iowa Senate District 46
  • Elle Wyant, Iowa House District 91
  • Kristie Wetjen, Iowa County Board of Supervisors

Of these, only Franken and Hurst have a primary contest on the June 7 ballot. The third U.S. Senate candidate, Abby Finkenauer, was invited to the Amana event and did not attend. This is the time for counties to get organized for the general election. Events like this kick off the process.

When I returned home, I cancelled my registration to participate in a Zoom event with the three U.S. Senate candidates. One can take only so much of politics in a weekend. I would have preferred to be working in the garden. There was standing water there Sunday morning so I went to this event. What else would I do?

Living in Society

Politics in Person

North Liberty Lightning logo in bricks on April 23, 2022.

The Iowa First District Democratic convention was held at North Liberty High School on Saturday, April 23. It was a hybrid affair with 50-60 attendees on Zoom and another 85 or so people in person. The technology worked and could serve as a model to make Democratic gatherings more inclusive going forward.

I attended in person and was thankful to connect with people I’ve known since 2004 yet haven’t seen since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The garden was too wet to work the soil, so what else would I do?

Reports from around the district were that traditionally Democratic strongholds flipped to Republican in 2020. It’s a problem for Iowa Democrats. My precinct in Johnson County flipped to red, although as a whole, the county remains a liberal bastion. Attendees had ideas about how to address this issue, yet there were no definitive answers.

A number of candidates sent a video message that played on screens. Among them were Deidre DeJear for Governor, Rob Sand for State Auditor, and John Norwood for Secretary of Agriculture. Christina Bohannan, presumptive nominee and whose district this is, chose to drop a video and skip the convention while campaigning with former Congressman Dave Loebsack in Lee County. If there were only video messages, it would have been better to join the delegates on Zoom.

Three remaining Democrats in the race to become the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate — Abby Finkenauer, Michael Franken and Glenn Hurst — spoke in person and worked attendees. Of the three, Franken and Hurst seem more grounded in the reality of what needs to be done to win the general election. Franken recounted likely parts of his resume Republicans are expected to attack, including his rural roots, military service and even his coaching a Special Olympics team. Hurst is a physician and member of the Minden City Council. He is also chair of the Iowa Democratic Party rural caucus and well versed in what faces Democrats working to regain a foothold in Iowa. Both of them have an active schedule of events around the state.

Finkenauer’s way of speaking may play well among liberal audiences, yet there are not enough liberals in the state for Democrats to win without bringing like minded non-Democrats into the fold. To the extent urban areas favor Democrats, Finkenauer has a strong base there. She is leading the primary race in recent polls.

I would feel better about a Finkenauer nomination if she had won her last congressional race. I do not support her campaign position of term limits. If we get a good, Democratic U.S. Senator, why would we arbitrarily say after two terms they are done. Each election could limit time in office. It was annoying that she disregarded the time limit on her speech to the convention, but she’s a politician. What are you going to do? She is not my first choice. I told Franken I would be in his corner for the primary.

Whoever is our nominee, Republicans are expected to rally around incumbent Chuck Grassley, and political action committees will dump millions of dollars into a campaign. If Grassley doesn’t die first, he will be difficult to defeat.

I ate lunch with a number of long-time Democrats, including John Dabeet who is well-known for promoting international cooperation and understanding. He recently received the Palestinian Person of the Year award from the Palestinian Lady of the Earth Foundation. His brother, who lives in Palestine, accepted the award on his behalf due to travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

We shared stories of our interaction with Grassley and my question was whether the senator was his own person on international affairs or took his guidance from others. At an event, Grassley told me he took his advice on nuclear weapons issues from then Senator Jon Kyl who was the Republican advocate during Senate ratification of the New START Treaty. Grassley said he didn’t invest much time in the issue and followed Kyl’s lead. Dabeet said he had been having personal conversations about Palestinian issues with Grassley for 20 years. Dabeet believes Grassley takes his guidance on Palestine from others, including the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. No argument at our lunch table that Chuck Grassley needs to go.

The two Democratic Secretary of State candidates running in the June 7 primary also spoke in person. Joel Miller of Robins spoke first and had good ideas to undo parts of recent Republican restrictions on voting. Eric Van Lancker of Clinton spoke later and assessed how to fix voting laws Republicans passed. Van Lancker discussed issues with delegates in the convention hall for quite a while after his speech. I am leaning toward Van Lancker yet could support either in the general election. Incumbent Paul Pate needs to go.

After voting for state central committee members I packed my bag and headed home. The only remaining item was platform, something which seems increasingly irrelevant in 21st Century politics. The electorate has become so diverse, and we need substantial support from non-Democrats to win elections. The usefulness of having a platform has seen better days.

I can’t say I read the entire platform since the ancient days when I was newly married and on the platform committee. Once we regain a more permanent majority in governance we can talk meaningfully about having a platform. It wont be during the 2022 election cycle.


Earth Day Has Been a Bust

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

In retrospect, Earth Day has been a bust. It turned into an annual reminder among privileged Americans to do something about environmental degradation. It became a do-nothing tradition that had little material impact on the environment.

It would have been better to pursue social justice, elimination of poverty, or equal protection under the law, right from the beginning. All paths would lead to improving the environment regardless of the starting point.

Charles C. Mann wrote about the elitist nature of Earth Day in his book The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World:

So ineradicable was the elitist mark on conservation that for decades afterward many on the left scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. As late as 1970, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day as Wall Street flimflam meant to divert public attention from class warfare and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.”

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann, page 81.

As data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicates, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase. The latest reading was yesterday at 420.25 ppm. We may not have understood the significance of such a small part of Earth’s atmosphere on the first Earth Day, but we do now and the numbers continue to roll upward at what can be described as a steady pace. It is as if the environmental movement accomplished nothing.

Screen capture from The Keeling Curve website.

A climate crisis is happening in plain view. The folks at The Dark Mountain Project described it like this in their April newsletter:

The climate disaster unfolding around us is itself a convergence between the breakdown of ancient organic matter and modern industrial ambition, technology, greed and carelessness, a calamitous meeting of worlds. 

Email from The Dark Mountain Project, April 15, 2022.

However one describes the climate crisis, part of our problem in taking action to remediate it is we don’t have the intellectual skills to understand environmental degradation or what actions would be effective in reversing it. Likewise, current society has limited functioning methods to take action without a calamitous incident precipitating a need big enough to gain political consensus.

When in 1985 the scientific journal Nature revealed that over Antarctica, a hole in the ozone layer had formed, exposing humans to the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, reactions were mixed.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Environmental policy hadn’t been a priority for him and his advisers, who were more focused on fighting the creep of Cold War communism or federal involvement in issues they believed the states should handle. Even the revelation of the ozone hole didn’t change things–or at least not right away. In fact… Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel was ridiculed in the press for reportedly saying in a meeting that an international treaty wasn’t necessary to address the damage and that Americans should just put on sunscreen and wear hats.

Reagan Administration Officials at First Dismissed the Ozone Hole. Here’s What Changed by Olivia B. Waxman. Time Magazine, April 10, 2019.

As we know now, the Montreal Protocol, the first-ever global treaty to reduce pollution and phase out chlorofluorocarbons, gained Reagan’s support and was agreed in 1987. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty unanimously the following year. Our current political environment has degraded to a point where such common-sense action is no longer possible.

Bill Anders’ Earthrise photograph reminds us of Earth’s suspension in the vast darkness of the universe. We are unique, and dependent on each other on this our only home. For complex reasons, we understand the risks of further environmental degradation and the warming of the atmosphere. We have been unwilling to take adequate action and Earth Day isn’t helping.

Kitchen Garden

Getting Started in the Garden

2022 garden composter.

The kitchen and garden composters are in position for the 2022 growing season. The pace of my garden work slowed in recent years yet I keep at it. Yesterday I made progress in the plot to be used for leafy green vegetables. Plot prep work has become straightforward, routine. I work for a while and then take a rest. Quickly the work is done and the soil ready for planting.

Rain is forecast today, beginning around 9 a.m. and continuing most of the day. I hope to get an hour or two of spading done before it begins. After that I’ll go to the grocery store for provisions.

I made a second burn pile and ignited it. The intent was to clean up the area around the plot. I burned deteriorating pallets and brush. While I was working the fire, an ember got caught in my jeans and burned a hole through them. I didn’t notice until it began to burn me. No harm done, though. My clothing became imbued with smoke.

Eventually, I will make a commitment about what vegetables and herbs go where. Thursday is forecast to be a great day for gardening and I set aside a full six-hour shift. If all goes well, by the end of it, the next plot will be finished.

There is a lot going on in society right now. So much there is inadequate time for reflection. For the time being, I’ll write about gardening while I consider the rest.

Kitchen Garden

Planting Day

Early vegetables under row cover.

High winds blew the row cover off the frame multiple times on Monday. I went outdoors and fixed it. I ended up using landscaping stakes to secure it in 40+ miles per hour wind. By sundown, the wind slowed. It was too late to get back to the garden.

By the time I return home after a morning appointment in Cedar Rapids, it should be warm enough to try gardening again. The good part about the delay is I had ample time to evaluate how to rearrange the next plot for planting. I decided to move the large composter over the remaining roots of the now gone locust tree to assist in its decomposition. I plan to get rid of the pallets that have been on the plot for a few years and store fence posts in the garage. This will increase the planting area, something sorely needed this year.

If I can get seeds in the ground, tomorrow’s rain will be good for them.