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.

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.


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.

Living in Society

On Common Sense

Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense”

Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ recent statement about common sense would make sense if she demonstrated it in her votes.

She said she was “fighting for Iowan common sense values.” Instead of common sense, Miller-Meeks adopted right-wing policies of her Washington, D.C.  colleagues.

The lack of common sense shows in her no votes on the American Rescue Plan Act, Build Back Better Act, Invest in America Act, Infrastructure and Jobs Act, and on raising the minimum wage. The votes are a total disconnect from Iowans she represents.

If Miller-Meeks is interested in common sense, here are a few suggestions:

  • Tax the rich. Folks who have money to spare are able to contribute to reducing the deficit and paying down our national debt. The tax reductions of Republican administrations made no sense. Our history has been to tax the rich at a much higher rate than we do now. Corporations should be taxed as well.
  • Public funding of Congressional campaigns. Corporations are not people. Take the money out of politics by passing legislation to do so. It’s common sense that corporations and their lobbyists should not be able to buy elections.
  • Audit Defense Department Spending. The 117th Congress passed an annual defense budget valued at over $768 billion. Isn’t it time we looked to see how effectively the Pentagon is managing one of the biggest budget line items? Why haven’t we already taken this commonsense accountability step?
  • Eliminate nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons can never be used without dramatically altering life on Earth. They could literally end life as we know it on Earth. It makes no sense to spend money on nuclear weapons that should never be used.
  • Stop polluting. Earth has limited capacity to absorb the detritus of civilization. School children are taught to reduce, reuse and recycle. Our national policy should be to do the same and scale it up. It is common sense.

There are plenty of additional suggestions. Miller-Meeks’ votes demonstrate a different meaning of “common sense.”  It’s not the commonsense approach we need. I will vote for Christina Bohannan for Congress this November. You should too.

~ An edited version of this post was submitted to several newspapers and was first published by The Little Village on April 12, 2022.

Kitchen Garden

Turning the First Spade

Seedlings back inside the house while it has been cold.

Ambient temperatures are expected to rise by 20 degrees during the next two hours. Winds are down and skies clear. It is time to turn the first spade in the garden.

This is the latest I’ve begun gardening and there is a long to-do list. Once indoors chores are finished, I’ll get after it.

If the ground is frost-free the order of business is set up the first plot with row cover and plant seeds and seedlings for early harvest. Once that is finished, preparation for potato planting is next. I’m keeping the buried containers, although moving them. Also on the list is transplanting kale and other leafy greens to a bigger pot to help them grow before going into the ground closer to last frost. Any tear-down of fences and ground cloth from last year’s garden will be a bonus. I scheduled a five-hour shift and hope to work all of it.

Society is getting busy again. As the coronavirus pandemic appears to be normalized, my hope is people can be reasonable in preventing the spread of infectious disease. COVID-19 vaccination should be rolled into vaccine schedules that already govern our health.

Spring has sprung and people are anxious to get busy doing things they couldn’t during the pandemic.

That includes me.

Living in Society

Open Road

Open Road on the Lincoln Highway in Iowa, Sept. 8, 2012.

Sunday morning the road was clear and dry with little other traffic. While my spouse slept in the passenger seat, people attended church, and commercial traffic took a break, my mind raced with ideas about what should go next in my life. As we pressed toward our destination, there were no easy answers. The same is true for the return trip. It was a great day for driving and that had to be satisfaction enough.

During her move, my sister-in-law found an extra television and gave it to us. Its age is uncertain yet it is an early flat panel television, at least 12 years old. I brought it home and began configuring it. It will be an improvement over the tube set we had. The reason we keep cable television service is to view the weather in case of severe storms. We can’t pull in a signal with an antenna.

I discovered we have access to 119 channels. Who has time for 119 channels? I quickly learned how to control what shows up with the channel selector. The first hidden was FOX News, followed by religious ones. Next call is to the cable company to see if there is a plan that would cost less while providing access to local weather. Ten years away from television has me hating any time spent with the medium today.

We have three banker’s boxes full of movies on VHS. While connecting our Emerson VHS player to the new television I found it is on the fritz, as in it’s dead. That could be a problem. The movie industry made the last VHS cassette in 2006 and player manufacturers have moved on to other products. Walmart sold them recently, but even that source has dried up. Used and refurbished players are available on line. If I want to spend a couple hundred dollars, new ones are available combined with technology I don’t need like an additional DVD player. The world changed to online streaming and while I don’t like the idea of paying again for the same movie, technological obsolescence may force my hand.

I connected our SONY DVD player to the television and it works like new. The screen quality is good, as is sound. Over two days, to try it out, I viewed the Martin Scorsese picture No Direction Home Bob Dylan. We have a couple dozen movies on DVD, although outside our cult-like ones, like The Matrix, Blade Runner and The Lord of the Rings, I don’t envision watching most of them. I have a copy of Finding Nemo, in the unlikely event we have a person of an appropriate age over for an extended period of time. The movies our daughter watched when young are on VHS.

It is difficult to envision a return to television viewing. The next step is to turn in our tube televisions to the electronics recycling bin at the landfill. There is no going back.

It started to rain about half way home. Not enough to loosen dust on the road, and barely enough to turn on the windshield wipers. We need rain. Televisions, however, remain optional.

Living in Society

Nobel Peace Laureates Reject Nuclear Weapons

Open Letter From Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and Citizens of the World Against War and Nuclear Weapons:

We reject war and nuclear weapons. We call on all our fellow citizens of the world to join us in protecting our planet, home for all of us, from those who threaten to destroy it.

The invasion of Ukraine has created a humanitarian disaster for its people. The entire world is facing the greatest threat in history: a large-scale nuclear war, capable of destroying our civilization and causing vast ecological damage across the Earth.

We call for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukraine, and for all possible efforts at dialogue to prevent this ultimate disaster.

We call on Russia and NATO to explicitly renounce any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, and we call on all countries to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to ensure that we never again face a similar moment of nuclear danger.

The time to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons is now. It is the only way to guarantee that the inhabitants of the planet will be safe from this existential threat.

It is either the end of nuclear weapons, or the end of us. 

We reject governance through imposition and threats, and we advocate for dialogue, coexistence and justice.

A world without nuclear weapons is necessary and possible, and together we will build it. It is urgent that we give peace a chance.

Signatories list of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates:

His Holiness The Dalai Lama (1989)
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985)
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (2017)
Juan Manuel Santos (2016)
Kailash Satyarthi (2014)
Leymah Gbowee (2011)
Tawakkul Karman (2011)
Muhammad Yunus (2006)
David Trimble (1998)
Jody Williams (1997)
Jose Ramos-Horta (1996)
Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs (1995)
Óscar Arias Sánchez (1987)
Lech Walesa (1983)
American Friends Service Committee (1947)
International Peace Bureau (1910)

If you would like to join more than 780,000 other citizens of the world in signing this open letter, which will be presented to the leadership of NATO and Russia, click here.

Kitchen Garden

Garden Cycles

Red Norland seed potatoes.

“Extreme (weather) events are becoming more numerous in every season, so Iowans should anticipate more floods, droughts and heat waves,” Iowa State Climatologist Justin Glisan recently said.

Farmers and gardeners recognize this. What I didn’t realize is a third of the major natural disasters hitting Iowa since 1980 have occurred in the last five years. Tornadoes, derechos, severe thunderstorms, heat waves and drought have become commonplace. While adaptation in small garden plots like mine is possible, the scale of the problem is much bigger than any one person’s experience or ability to cope.

The last few days have been colder that usual. By that, I mean the historical average high has been 52.5 degrees and today the forecast is ten degrees colder than that. There is expected variation year over year, so it’s not time to wig out about extreme weather just yet. All the same, by now I’d have something in the ground besides garlic planted last fall if ambient temperatures were closer to normal. Adaptation serves gardeners as there is a wide range of suitable conditions for growth.

Ten days before Good Friday, I’ll cut seed potatoes for seasoning before planting. I have a notebook of previous gardening years that serves as an indoor planting guide. It is time to start Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, according to last year. Following the agenda is the kind of activity gardeners relish. It creates a sense of understanding that helps us get by in a turbulent society.

When I was working full time, there was no time to work through seasonal climatic variation in the garden. Vegetables either made it or they didn’t. Attention to earning an income in a career blinded me to what was going on around me. We each avoid unpleasantness in order to preserve the secure bubble we create and in which we live most of our lives. This type of insularity is a main reason governments take inadequate action on climate change: people are caught up in their personal world construct. The real world is too ugly to contemplate so we avoid thinking about it and in some cases enable disaster.

Even with climate change and increased frequency of extreme weather events, garden cycles remain. We work through them each year and recognize variations. Producing a harvest is always rewarding. A garden can give us grounding in reality. It’s something sorely needed in this household and in society more broadly. At present, most are oblivious to garden cycles as Earth continues to orbit the sun, grocery stores have food on shelves, and our nest seems protected from the ravages we see on media coming into our devices.

It is easy to turn away from garden cycles, yet we shouldn’t.

Living in Society

Joint Statement Condemning Nuclear Threats from Russia

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

March 2, 2022

Joint Statement from the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group Condemning Russian Nuclear Threats

WASHINGTON, DC— Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representatives Don Beyer (VA-08) and John Garamendi (CA-03), co-chairs of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, today issued the following statement condemning Russian nuclear threats:

“On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear deterrent forces to be put into an alert status, further intensifying his unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by threatening a nuclear attack.  

“We, the Co-Chairs of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, condemn President Putin’s threats to escalate a conflict of his own creation into nuclear war. His invasion of Ukraine has already resulted in the tragic loss of life, and an escalation to nuclear war would bring untold additional suffering. 

“President Putin should recall what he said in January, along with leaders from the United States, France, China, and the United Kingdom, that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’

“We applaud the Biden administration for trying to deescalate against such provocative actions and for making clear that America’s own alert status has not changed. It is in the fog of war that there is the greatest risk that a conventional conflict escalates into a nuclear one. That is why it is imperative that the United States, Russia, and all nuclear powers back a No First Use nuclear policy and affirm that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of nuclear weapons. The crisis in Ukraine is evidence that there are no plausible military options for direct confrontation between the United States and a nuclear armed adversary – and the folly of investing $1 trillion in unusable new U.S. nuclear capabilities. 

“At the same time, as the U.S. works in lockstep with our European allies to rebuff Russian aggression, we must coordinate closely on our nuclear policy as well. The U.S. Department of Defense should also continue its efforts to open military communication channels with Russia, as they have done in other theatres where the Russians are present, so that “red-lines” are not inadvertently crossed. 

“President Putin has already made his country a global pariah by launching an unjustified and unprovoked war against Ukraine. His threat to escalate his meritless invasion of Ukraine into nuclear war would cross a line from which our world cannot return. The United States and its allies must do everything in their power to disincentivize this dangerous and costly mistake.

“We continue to stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in this crisis as they fight to preserve their sovereignty and democracy,” the lawmakers said. 


Book Review: Bet the Farm

The craftsmanship of Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America by Beth Hoffman is good, better than many books I read. For people unfamiliar with the challenges of Midwestern, sustainable agriculture, it is a good introduction, covering most issues.

Hoffman is a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa and so am I, so there are some connections. Even though we never met, I know people she mentions in the book and we would likely have friends and acquaintances in common. The PFI community is not that big.

For nine seasons, I worked with beginning and experienced farmers who operate community supported agriculture projects, large vegetable or fruit farms, and raise livestock, so I know some of the work and the challenges. In total, I worked on or did interviews for newspapers on a dozen or so of them.

As she mentions more than once in the narrative, she is from the coast and the land was owned outright by the Iowa family. The former is more typical of beginning farmers, the latter isn’t. It is a good book, yet I hoped there would be a connection to the author and her narrative. There wasn’t.

Bet the Farm was a quick read and if a person is interested in this topic, there are a number of other works by beginning farmers I’d read first.

I wish Beth and John good luck on their farm and would read another book about their progress after they have been farming five or ten more years.