Thursday, October 31, 2013

Early in 2001, I decided to try to find a way I might contribute to the reduction of organized political violence. My first thought was to look for worthy research projects to fund. However, after funding such projects and immersing myself in the peace and security world, I observed that much was already known about the causes and cures of violence. Promoting the more effective use of what was already known seemed to merit more support than adding to the large amount of existing knowledge. Moreover, preventing violence can be much more cost-effective than trying to deal with situations in which violence has already erupted, to say nothing of the lives and suffering saved. So now I am initiating and funding activities aimed at the prevention of mass violence in fragile states, which is where most wars have occurred since WW II.

In 2003, after about two years of groping for something specific that I could do that might reduce the amount of armed conflict in the world, I convened a group of ten well-qualified people to consider what concrete actions I might take. The group recommended encouraging and helping local leaders to do what they thought would be most effective in preventing violence in their countries. That seemed to be much more likely to be effective than basing action on ideas developed by outsiders. Since then, I have been trying to follow that recommendation, but it hasn’t been easy.

In the first eight years, I succeeded in funding only three projects that focused in specific, current problems. The first was what we called a test case, a project in Guinea-Bissau, in 2005. Local leaders there ran campaigns to promote orderly national elections, which observers thought would trigger the kind of widespread violence which the country had experienced several years earlier. The elections were peaceful and an orderly change of government took place.

In 2006, I convened an international meeting to explore the possibility of launching an organized attempt to initiate other projects modeled after the success in Guinea-Bissau. By 2008, an organization named BEFORE was established, presumably for that purpose. It was headquarters at Swisspeace in Bern, Switzerland. A distinguished Board of Governors was formed. Guinea was selected as the first site for action.

A large group of local Guinean leaders was convened. They elected to focus on “structural reform” and commissioned studies of the parliamentary system, the judicial system, and security sector reform. Studies of each were done and presented to the government. I am not aware that they had any influence on events.

While BEFORE was active in Guinea, two situations which threatened to turn violent were brought to its attention. In each case, BEFORE convened local leaders to address the problem, and in each case, violence was averted.

BEFORE’s management and Board of governors were committed to the idea that more effective governments are required to establish sustainable peace. I, on the other hand, was skeptical about the ability of outsiders to accomplish the needed governmental reforms, preferring to fund the more modest objective of helping local leaders to address immediate threats to peace. Therefore, in the summer of 2011, I notified BEFORE that I would reduce my funding and would discontinue it entirely after 2012.

I am now funding the Purdue Peace Project (PPP). Its mission is narrowly defined as encouraging and assisting local leaders to address immediate situations that threaten to lead to political violence. PPP began operations in 2001. It initiated projects in which local leaders addressed disputes in two districts in Ghana, both of which were successfully resolved. It is now engaged in two projects in Liberia, two in Nigeria, and four more in Ghana.

Included in PPP’s mission are developing more understanding of how armed conflict can be prevented most cost-effectively and documenting what it does and what results it achieves. Graduate research assistants at Purdue are already assembling information on past work in West Africa. PPP will then prepare detailed reports for the academic community and more reader-friendly reports for practitioners and wider audiences. It will also maintain a repository of information about its experience to be available to other organizations interested in contributing to peace.

I am hopeful that, as PPP achieves more successes in assisting local leaders to address local problems, other organizations will begin to rely more on local judgment about how best to prevent violence in their countries. After all, local leaders understand local culture and relationships better than outsiders can ever expect to do.

Based on its experience in West Africa, PPP intends eventually to extend its peace-building activities to other regions.

You can find out more about PPP at

Nov. 1, 2013

Sunday, May 13, 2012

We're Killing Ourselves

The second amendment to our constitution reads, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The NRA and its lobbyists have successfully used it as justifying the possession of handguns by the hundreds of millions That certainly was not the intent of our forefathers. They meant to prevent the federal government from passing laws that would disarm the state militias that were made up of ordinary citizens who served as part-time soldiers. After all, there were no established police forces, National Guard nor a standing army when our county was founded.

These militias were regulated by the state governments. Keeping people in line and bringing a sense of safety were essential, but establishing workable boundaries went along with this. The militias were required to be "well-regulated." Without such behavioral boundaries, a frontier mentality might have ruled supreme for decades. It seems to be returning!

The result of the current distorted interpretation of the second amendment is that well over 120,000 Americans have been killed in non-terror related homicides since 9/11/01. That is about 40 times as many as were killed at the World Trade Center and nearly 25 times the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, 70,000 have been injured but haven't died, with 3,000 of those being children.

There are over 280 million guns in this country. We don't use them to maintain a well regulated militia. We use them to kill each other. Isn't it time to grow beyond the outmoded mindset of having a right to keep and bear guns as citizen soldiers? A real shift in a fundamental attitude is required. Rather than arming ourselves to be able to kill, we would be safer if we developed a culture dedicated to the fostering of our innate qualities of cooperation along with the ability to resolve conflict without violence 

Shifting our focus from violence to peace will require dedication and hard work. Isn't the effort worth the saving of thousands of lives here at home and millions killed by American arms around the world?

I had some input from C. Fisk of Gloucester while formulating this article. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ethical Behavior

What is ethical behavior? For me, it is actions and words that reduce human suffering, facilitate cooperation for the general good of people here and abroad, and promote broadening the range of possibilities for everyone.

While we do what we can to follow these guidelines for family, friends and neighbors, what we can do individually is limited. Helping more of our fellow human beings requires collective action, much of it by governments, national, state, and local. So, for me, politicians' ethics involves how they behave with respect to the criteria listed above. Here are some examples:

Since WW II, the US government has killed, wounded, or driven from their homes many millions of people, and continues to do so. For example, its drones are bombing buildings believed to contain ”suspected militants”, regardless of who else may be inside. To me, politicians who support such savagery are behaving unethically.

The disparity of income in the US is the greatest in the developed world, and is greater than even in places such as Tunisia and Libya, where it has led to revolution. Poverty abounds in the US. Many children lack food and medical care. To me, politicians who support laws to make the super-rich even richer and to deny help to those in need are behaving unethically.

Millions of Americans suffer from disease because they cannot afford adequate medical care, especially preventive medicine. To me, politicians who oppose measures to give all citizens access to adequate health care are behaving unethically.

Education contributes to productivity, an informed electorate, access to opportunities, and a richer life. To me, politicians who work to limit educational opportunities for all Americans are behaving unethically.

Civilian injuries and deaths result from the use of weapons such as land mines, cluster bombs, and torture. Others result from small arms trafficking. The US has refused to join the international community in controlling such evils. To me, politicians who oppose such cooperation are behaving unethically.

Until recently, this country continued to improve civil rights for its citizens. In recent years, however, our government has imprisoned citizens without trial and tortured them. Its repression of dissenters is becoming more like that of the police states that we abhor. Now, our government has announced a justification for killing citizens on suspicion, without a hearing. To me, politicians who support these invasions of civil rights are behaving unethically.

Our planet is threatened by global warming, pollution, lack of water, and other aspects of a deteriorating environment. The US has dragged its feet with respect to both domestic environmental protection and refuses to cooperate with the rest of the world to protect our planet. To me, politicians who oppose reasonable measures to protect the earth’s environment are behaving unethically.

America could easily afford to take the ethical path if the super-rich and the military didn’t consume such a large fraction of our GDP.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Big Scam

Over and over, we hear politicians say that the way to prosperity is to cut out regulations so as to unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit. Even a brief glance at history reveals what nonsense that notion is. What cutting government regulations is really intended to do is to unleash profiteers to grab an even bigger share of what working people produce.

For most of our history, we had little government regulation. A nation of small farmers didn't need it. Then, as the country industrialized, we had monopolies, frequent economic "panics", tainted food, snake oil, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and unmitigated suffering of the poor. It culminated with the wild, speculative "roaring '20s" that led to the great depression.

Something obviously had to be done, and was. Unscrupulous profiteering was curbed. Unsafe banking practices were eliminated. Social Security was established to provide a modicum of security for those too old or unable to work. Labor laws were enacted to give a fairer shake to workers. There ensued four decades of unparalleled growth, the emergence of a thriving middle class, and relative freedom from the destructive economic ups and downs.

Then came deregulation and a return to unmitigated profiteering. In the three decades since the late '70s, as the government dismantled  its regulatory structure, the income of the top 1% went from about 9% of all income to 23%. Economic instability again reared its ugly head. That led directly into the Great Recession, from which we are only now beginning to recover. What deregulation actually unleashed was the predatory practices and profiteering of the financial community and giant corporations. 

Now, the rich and powerful are calling for less regulation and lower taxes. They have already succeeded in getting the top tax bracket reduced from over 90% in Eisenhower's day, when the economy was booming, to 35% today. With all their money, they have funded a propaganda campaign that has been so successful it has persuaded millions of victims of their scam that they benefit from the rich taking an ever-growing share of our national income, even as the incomes of the less affluent have declined.

Now, with the Citizens United decision, and large corporations and billionaires spending hundreds of millions to elect minions to help them become even richer and more powerful, the ordinary working people are being taken to the cleaners. The end result may be the death of the middle class or worse.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


When we can't afford another war, we use sanctions - anything to demonstrate our power to force other countries to do what we tell them to do!

For 50 years, we have been imposing sanctions on Cuba. They have had an effect! They have impoverished the Cuban people and have entrenched the Castros in power. Where else in the Western Hemisphere has a single family been in complete control for half a century? The Cuban market for American goods that might have been never happened. And they still have Communism! 

We have done the same to North Korea. The results were similar. The people are impoverished and the Kim family is still in control. And they now have their nuclear weapons in spite of our sanctions.

We are using the same futile method that failed in North Korea to deny a nuclear capability to Iran. The people there are suffering as a result and the government uses the US  as a scapegoat to stay in power. People who know Iran says that there is a lot of opposition to the government, but that the US sanctions stifle it. If we aren't careful, we'll stumble into yet another useless war.

Tens of thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars have been spent demonstrating our power. What has it gained us? Our leaders tell us that we are fighting to preserve our liberty. What nonsense! We are fighting because our leaders enjoy their power games, and find that creating enemies gets political support.

No wonder that the US ranks Number 82 in the Global Peace Index!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Breaking Say's Law

French economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) is best known for “Say’s Law”. One simple formulation is “Supply creates its own demand”. What that means is that the amount paid to produce something for labor, raw materials, services, taxes, and profit goes to people who will spend it. Thus, supply and demand will be in balance.

In our present economy, we are breaking Say’s Law. The result is a depressed economy and high unemployment.

Currently, about a quarter of all income goes to the top 1% of our people. They cannot possibly spend all their billions. For example, Sam Walton bequeathed about $72 billion to his children, representing money that he accumulated rather than spending it. According to the Forbes survey, by last year, the childrens’ fortunes had grown to $84 billion, another $12 billion not spent. When the super-rich accumulate more money than they can spend, demand is reduced, representing a drag on the economy.

The rich argue that their wealth is necessary to fund investment to put people to work. The generalization the investment is needed to create jobs is certainly true. However, corporate America is awash in cash, as profits have soared with increased productivity and lower wages. They aren’t investing because there isn’t enough demand for their goods. With the decline in income of working people, that is not surprising. Where M. Say went wrong is in assuming that all the money spent producing things would be spent in turn, creating its own demand. He couldn’t imagine the kind of enormous wealth that today’s super-rich have.

When the recession hit, the federal government initiated a $700 billion stimulus package “to jump-start” a recovery. Unfortunately, that amounted to only about 5% of annual GDP, and was spent over the course of more than one year. It may well be that the money going to the top 1% and not spent was greater than the stimulus package, completely cancelling it out.

The income of the top 1% is roughly $3 trillion per year. If that income were taxed at 67%, it would yield $2 trillion, about three times the size of the stimulus package. It would be more than the entire federal deficit, and still leave the top 1% with an average of over $3 million per year to scrape by on. No one would suffer and we would have enough left over to invest in education, in our decaying infrastructure, and to provide health care to all.

The fundamental problem is the disparity of income in the U.S. It is not only greater than in any other industrialized country, but also greater than in such countries as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. If incomes were distributed more evenly, Say’s Law would apply, more would be spent, demand would increase, and people would be put back to work.

Unfortunately, the rich have acquired so much political power that the disparity in incomes is growing. They have managed to get the top income tax bracket reduced from 92% under Eisenhower to 35% today, with proposals to reduce it to 25%. The tax on huge estates has been reduced from about 50% under George Bush to 35% today. Meanwhile, the real incomes of even those lucky enough to have a job have fallen over the last ten years.

Increasing taxes on the very rich so that the middle class could have more would increase spending, increase demand, and create jobs.
But if we continue to break Say’s Law, the unemployment problem may continue to be with us indefinitely.

Give 'em an inch . . .

After 2 1/2 years of futile efforts to compromise, Obama just doesn't get it. The rich and powerful see no need to compromise: they are on a roll! Since Eisenhower's day, when the top income tax bracket was over 90%, they have gotten it down to 35%. In the late '70s, the top 1% got less than 10% of all income. Now they get about 25%. The estate tax, which used to be about 50% is down to 35%. And Obama is trying "to compromise" by offering them even more.
And they do want more, much more! They propose cutting the maximum income tax bracket to 25% (for now), cutting the estate tax and the capital gains tax to zero, and doing awa y with Medicare and Social Security as we know them. As the rich and powerful have grabbed an ever-increasing share of GDP, middle class incomes have been declining so that just surviving is a challenge, to say nothing of coping with major health problems or sending their kids to college. And when the middle class has no money to spend, the economy tanks.
With their money, effective propaganda, and a pliant president, the super-rich continue to increase their share of what others produce. Since Obama won’t do it, the voters will have to wake up to what is happening and put a stop to it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When George Washington Lay Dying

When George Washington lay dying, he instructed an employee to bleed him. When the doctor arrived, he bled him some more. When that did not help, the doctor removed still more blood so that Washington lost about half of his blood supply in the course of a day. The more that bleeding failed to do any good, the more they bled him. Then he died.
For over a century, the American economy was unstable, afflicted by repeated financial “panics”, ending in the crash in 1929. Under FDR, tight regulations were imposed on the financial system. Establishing what economists call “automatic stabilizers” in the form of Social Security and Medicare followed. For 30 years after the end of WWII, our country enjoyed financial stability and unprecedented growth. The middle class thrived.
Then, deregulation set in and instability returned. There was a “Savings and Loan Crisis” in the 1980s and 1990s. Under President Bush, deregulation proceeded even further, along with a reduction in the top income tax bracket to only 35%, contrasted to over 90% under Eisenhower. Middle class incomes declined. Then came the crash in 2008 and the worst recession since the Great Depression. 
Like Washington’s doctors, politicians are trying to cure the economy by using the same counter-productive remedies that have consistently failed to work before. They are pursuing further deregulation and still lower taxes on the super-rich. They are attacking the automatic stabilizers that keep money flowing to those who will spend it even in a downturn. They have even threatened to violate the Constitution by making it impossible for our country to pay its debts.
Will the next election spell the end of the American middle class? Or, did the last one?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where Is All the Money Going?

The idea that the richest country in the world cannot afford a decent living for working people, the elderly, or the infirm, and provide easy access to higher education, or even to maintain the past level of public schools and public safety, is preposterous. But governments at every level are strapped for cash. Where is all the money going?

In the late ‘70s, the top 1% were able to afford their mansions and yachts on less than 10% of all incomes. Now they are taking almost 25%. The 15% increase in their share amounts to about $2 trillion per year, or $20 trillion over the next decade.
The US spends about 17% of its GDP on health care, and rising. Other countries have government-run systems that cost less than half of what we spend, cover all of their citizens, and produce better results. If we had a system as cost-effective as those countries, we would save well over $1 trillion per year.

Cutting military expenditures by $500 billion annually would still leave us spending more than twice what any other country spends and completely safe from invasion from any quarter.

That’s where over $3.5 trillion is going. That’s over $10,000 per year for every U.S. resident, or over $40,000 for a family of 4. The power elite like it that way, and are working to decrease taxes on the super-rich and emasculate Medicare and Social Security. The rest are struggling just to get by, and poverty is increasing in the richest country in the world. But the way we are headed, we won't be for long!
Redistribution of wealth is what has been happening for last several decades, with the super-rich taking from the middle class. They appear to have enough political power, aided by an effective propaganda machine, to continue to take even more and expand the numbers of idle rich until it is impossible for the workers to support so many. The head of a large hedge fund (which produces nothing people can consume) had income after taxes (at the capital gains rate) of 35,000 productive workers last year. It's like the pharaohs who produced nothing having thousands of workers build pyramids for them.
With the much more progressive income tax schedule that existed in the decades after WW II, the economy was healthy. It was fueled by the spending of the growing middle class, which had money to spend. Now, with so much going to the super-rich who can't possibly spend it all, the economy is sick. The layoffs of so many government workers and spending cuts are adding to the problem and driving the economy into another recession. That’s where even more money will be going.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Is Big Government Evil?

These days, most Americans are finding it difficult just to get by, to say nothing of affording adequate health care or sending their kids to college. Is big government to blame? Or have we allowed the super-rich to undermine the functions of government to serve their own ends, leaving the rest of us to struggle?

Big government can work! People in other industrialized countries use their governments to make their lives better. They live longer have better access to good health care and higher education. Some other countries have already passed the U.S. in income and college graduates per capita. Recent studies indicate that in Western Europe, young people have more opportunity to rise economically than do those in the U.S. By almost any measure, people do better in countries with relatively larger governments and higher taxes than do those in the U.S.

To make our government to work, we can use our votes to make our government serve all of the people rather than just the wealthy. Given the billions they are spending to reduce the power of government, that will be a tall order.

Elections: To get the government to serve all of the people, we need election reform to stop big money from having so much influence on our political process. Organizations should not be allowed to spend to influence elections. Contributions to candidates, campaigns, or political advocacy should be limited to $1000 per person or less. Representatives’ terms should be extended to 4 years so as to eliminate the need for constant campaigning. Election campaigns should be limited to 8 weeks.

Taxation: To achieve a fairer distribution of income, the tax structure should be changed drastically. It should be greatly simplified. Rates should be much more progressive, so that increments of incomes over $5 million would be taxed at 90% and increments over $100 million at 99%. Capital gains should be taxed as ordinary income. Taxes on estates larger than $50 million should be taxed at 90%, and on those over $100 million at 99%. Incomes below $30 thousand should not be taxed at all. Such changes could yield the federal government over $2 trillion each year, eliminating the deficit, and leaving hundreds of billions for investment in education, infrastructure, and social programs. The super-rich would still have more than enough for their yachts and mansions.

Health Care: The government should provide free access to health care to all. A single payer health care system as cost-effective as those in some other developed countries would reduce health cost in the U.S. by over $1 trillion each year.

Education: Our economic progress, past and future, depends on having an educated work force. Higher education ought to be easily available to all. The super-rich are taking so much that there isn’t enough left for good public education.

Wars: The U.S. should not enter any war except when attacked. It should withdraw from the wars it is currently fighting. It should close all military bases on foreign soil. It should reduce spending on the military by more than $500 billion per year.

Financial regulation: The government should enact strict regulation of banks and other financial institutions as it did in the ‘30s. Until deregulation of the financial system, beginning in the ‘70s, the economy performed well, was stable, and the middle class thrived. Now instability has returned.

The Environment: The government should be much more aggressive in protecting the environment.

Civil rights: Abridgement of civil rights should end. Torture, imprisoning without charges or trials or access to legal help should be absolutely prohibited.

Income: Laws should provide for workers to get a living income. Minimum wage laws help. Limiting the total income of top executives to perhaps 40 times what the lowest wage-earner in a company receives would make for more fairness.

Immigration: Provision should be made for children of illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Adult illegal aliens should also be given that opportunity by meeting stiff requirements that don’t give them a significant advantage over legal immigrants.

Global cooperation: As the world grows smaller, more and more problems are international in scope. The U.S. must cooperate with the rest of the world in addressing common problems, such as the use of land mines, global warming, dumping toxic wastes, and supporting the International Criminal Court.

Economic stability: The federal government should do much more to stabilize the economy through fiscal policy and to assist those suffering from downturns, such as those who have lost their jobs and homes.

Leadership: The U.S. needs political leaders who will put the well-being of the population ahead of getting reelected.

Enemy of the people: The rich and powerful in the U.S. want to be free of governmental regulation to be able to continue to increase their wealth at the expense of the rest of us and of our future. They spend billions promoting the myths that big government is bad and that the rich provide for the economic well-being of the rest. They use their wealth to influence elected officials to do their bidding. They have managed to increase their share of GNP enormously at the expense of the middle class and the poor.

Rather than emasculating our government, we need to prove its effectiveness to provide more opportunity for all. No good end will come from a small group dominating our society as the nobility once did in Europe.