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Socialism, Capitalism and Health Care

In Cost, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on November 28, 2017 at 8:22 am

James Petras

Introduction

The US political and economic elites have always bragged that capitalism is far superior to socialism in terms of providing people’s personal welfare. They claim that citizens live longer, healthier and happier lives under capitalism.

The debate between the supporters of the US Affordable Care Act or ‘Obamacare’ and its most vehement opponents under President Trump is not part of any larger system debate since both ‘sides’ base their vision and plans for medical care on private, for-profit corporate insurance schemes. This source of funding would ‘harness market forces’ to deliver quality medical care…in a marketplace of ‘free competition’, in which every American, even the most fragile, cancer-ridden patient, would be an engaged stakeholder, weighing a huge menu of free choices…

The real comparison of how these economic systems provide basic health care should be based on showing which provides the best population outcomes, personal satisfaction and community security across national boundaries. National health systems top the chaotic private system in these parameters.

On the other hand, the US tops all European countries in terms of the percentage of workers and family members who avoid necessary trips to the doctor because they fear financial ruin from the inflated costs of their private health care. In other words, majorities of people, dependent on private for-profit insurance schemes to provide health care, cannot afford to visit a medical facility, doctor or clinic even to treat a significant illness. The type of economic system funding health services determines the likelihood of a patient actually going to seek and receive important medical care that will preserve life, one’s ability to work and enjoy some level of satisfaction.

This essay will include a brief discussion of the social and political conditions, which gave rise to the socialized, and clearly more effective, health care system. And we will touch on the consequences the two health systems in terms of people’s life expectancy and quality of life.

Comparing Costs of Medical Visitation by Economic System

The US is the only developed country relying on a private, for-profit insurance system to fund and deliver medical care for its working age population. In contrast, all countries in the European Union have some form of publicly funded and delivered health plans for its workers.

One of the key quality measures of a health care system is a patient’s access to timely competent medical care.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OCECD) recently conducted a systematic comparison of seven countries, with different levels of GDP, and the percentage of people in each country who are able to afford medical consultations for necessary medical care.

The European countries all have established national public health programs with clear goals and measures in terms of outcomes. The US is the only nation to rely on privately administered and funded health care systems for its working age population.

The Results

Over one-fifth (22%) of the US working age population believe they cannot afford to consult a doctor or medical clinic – in the event of an illness or accident. In contrast, less than eight percent of European workers view themselves as unable to afford necessary medical care. For the largest EU nations, less than 5% of the working population avoids care because of a perceived inability to pay for essential services. US workers are five times more likely to voluntarily forego health care, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

If we compare the US with its ‘free market’ private insurance run system with any EU nation, we find consistent results: Access to competent, essential medical services in the US is far worse!

In Germany and France, the EU’s most developed nations, working age citizens and their family members have three to ten times better access to health care than the US. 8% of workers in France and 2% in Germany postpone necessary visits to the doctor because of a perceived inability to pay. Among middle developed EU nations, 4% in the UK and 4.5% in Italy cite financial reasons for skipping essential medical care – compared to 22% of working age Americans.

Even in the least developed EU nations, Spain and Portugal, with the highest unemployment rates and lowest per capita income, workers have greater access to health care. Only 2.5% of workers in Spain and 7.5% in Portugal view costs as a reason to avoid visiting their doctor.

High Tech Billionaires Speak of ‘Values’ while Maximizing Profits

‘Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits’, the multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg opined this month, after his company, Facebook posted its first ever $10 billion quarterly earnings result. (FT 11/16/17 P 8)

Zuckerberg and entourage had apparently ventured into Middle America discovering to their shock that American communities were in the midst of a narcotic addiction crisis, which had caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and disrupted the lives of millions of addicts’ family members. The natives of Middle America were more concerned about access to effective addiction treatment than their access toFacebook! Zuckerberg, with his legions of highly educated foreign workers on the West Coast, conveniently missed the chance to identify the source of the American addiction crisis: The over-prescription of opioid pain medications by tens of thousands of private US medical practitioners, pushed by the giant US pharmaceutical industry in a 2 decades-long medical genocide that the nations of Europe had so ‘miraculously’ avoided because of their centralized, regulated, socialized health systems.

While the US may have the least available and least affordable health care for working people, it can certainly boast about producing the highest number of super-rich in the world. Five of the world’s largest companies are US-owned with a combined market capitalization of $3.3 trillion for the top US tech giants. Europe’s largest tech company, SAP, is sixty notches below.

The US giant mega-billion dollar tech companies and CEO’s are also mega-billion dollar tax-evaders who stash their fortunes overseas and avoid the inconvenience of having to contribute to any national health programs for workers – whether in the US or elsewhere. The monopoly tech corporations’ wealth and power are one important reason why over a fifth of working age Americans cannot afford necessary medical care. As one acute observer noted, ‘The new high tech elite tend to cloak their self interest by talking about values which has the collateral benefit of avoiding talk about wealth.’(FT 11/17/17 P9)

The scarcity of European multi-billion dollar tech CEOs, like the American Zuckerberg and Gates, is linked to the domestic tax systems that provide public financing and management of effective medical service serving hundreds of millions of European workers.

In other words, the US, with its far more extreme concentration of wealth and social inequality, continues to have the greatest level of health care inequality among industrialized nations.

Europe is not without inequalities, monopolies and underfunded health programs but it delivers far better and more accessible care to its citizens than the private capitalist health system promoted in the US.

Historical Roots of the Superior European Health Care System

The power of monopoly capital is one of the key factors resulting in the deteriorating quality of health care for the US working population. Another factor is the lack of consistent working class struggle in the US compared to Europe. After the Second World War, there were huge waves of working class strikes across France, Italy and the UK. Various communist parties in continental Europe played a leading role within the trade unions demanding for publicly funded, national health care. In the UK, Socialists and the Labor Governments were pushed by their trade union members to craft a national health system to meet the needs of workers and their families. While Germany had a basic national health system dating from the time of Bismarck in the late 19th century, the socialist economy and public services developing in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after the Second World War provided an alternative for West German workers who then successfully pushed for the implementation of an advanced welfare state, including a socialized medical care system, within the thoroughly capitalist German Federation.

In the 1970’s Spain and Portugal shed their fascist past and post-war dictatorships. The militant trade unions and leftist parties ascended to power on promises to implement social-welfare programs, which, even with their economic limitations, included highly effective national health programs. Life expectancies rose dramatically.

The US has neither welfare nor national medical programs for its working population. Despite a brief interlude of American workers’ strikes shortly after WWII, leftist militants, communists and socialists were purged and corrupt business-linked trade union leaders took over. Rather than struggle for an effective national system of publicly funded medical care, the trade unions, linked to the Democratic Party, pushed their membership to struggle for ‘nickel and dime’ wage increases – accepting a system of the most expensive, and unaccountable private health care in the world.

The capitalist US has been the only country to deprive its working age citizens and their family members of an effective national health system. After over 60 years, the results are damning. Providing essential medical care for American workers, through the various forms of private, for-profit insurance schemes, has resulted in an uncontrolled health care cost inflation making manufacturing in the US far more expensive than its European, Japanese or Canadian competitors.

From 2001 up to 2018, under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the US taxpayers have spent $5.6 trillion dollars on privately delivered, for-profit medical care with unimpressive results in terms of population health and life expectancy. On a per-capita basis, this is twice the amount spent on citizens of the EU who have consistently enjoyed rising life expectancy and improving health parameters. Despite this enormous investment of money in a chaotic, ineffective private system, the US Treasury has steadfastly maintained it could not finance a National Health Program for the population.

Present and Future Consequence of a Capitalist ‘Health System’

Today millions of US wage earners can expect to suffer shorter and less healthy lives than their counterparts in other industrialized countries in Europe and Japan. The opioid addiction epidemic among US workers, caused entirely by uncontrolled prescription of highly addictive narcotics by private practitioners and pushed by the profit-hungry US pharmaceutical industry, has led to over 600,000 deaths by overdose and millions of lives shortened by the brutal realities of addiction and degradation. This legally prescribed epidemic is unique to the United States where an estimated 15% of construction workers need treatment for addiction, millions have dropped out of the labor market due to addiction and the medical plans of numerous US building trade unions are facing bankruptcy because of the cost of addition-treatment for its members. The anti-addiction drug, Suboxone, is the most expensive and heavily prescribed medication for some union health plans. The reasons for this atrocity are clear: Injured American workers were being prescribed long courses of cheap, but highly addictive opioids to address their pain during cursory visits to ‘medical clinics’, rather than providing them with the more expensive but appropriate post-trauma care involving physical therapy and rest. The bosses and supervisors, who just wanted ‘warm bodies’ back on the job, were oblivious to the impending disaster.

Mega billion dollar private drug companies manufactured and promoted highly addictive prescription narcotics and paid ‘lobbyists’ to persuade US politicians and regulators to ‘look the other way’ as the addiction epidemic unfolded. Corporate hospitals and for-profit physicians, nurses, dentists and others participated in a historic catastrophe of medical irresponsibility that ended up addicting millions of American workers and their family members and killing hundreds of thousands. A huge proportion of prescription narcotic addicts are white workers in poorly protected manual jobs (construction, factories, farms, mines etc.). They lack access to effective, responsible medical care. In new millennium America, their jobs would not provide for ‘time off’ or physical therapy following injury and they unwittingly resorted to the ‘miracle’ of prescription opioids to get back to work. In many cases, their private medical insurance plans blatantly refused to pay for more expensive non-addictive alternatives and would insist the workers receive the cheap opioids instead. The rare worker, who demanded to take time off to seek effective medical and physical therapy for an injury, would be fired. US capitalists could easily ignore the growing shortage of healthy American construction and other workers by importing cheap, skilled labor from abroad and sanctimoniously blame American workers for their disabilities.

Conclusion

Workers in even the poorest European Union countries have greater access to better, more effective medical care then their US counterparts. They continue to enjoy rising life expectancies and longer lives without disability. Their injuries are treated appropriately with rest and physical therapy. Injured European or Japanese workers are never prescribed ridiculously long courses of highly addictive narcotics given to Americans. Certainly any increase in overdose deaths from prescribed opioids in the European Union or Japan would have generated rapid public health investigations and corrective action – a marked contrast to the two decades of callous indifference within the US medical community that bordered on Social Darwinism considering the working class identity of most victims. In Europe and Japan, long-term narcotic therapy is reserved for terminal cancer patients suffering from intractable pain. It would never have been offered to rural or working class teenagers for sports injuries – a common practice in the US!

The European public medical care systems are the product of class struggle and socially conscious mass movements and political parties that produced welfare states where improving population health was a central goal of its social compact. In contrast, the private-for-profit health system in the US is the shining example of the triumph of capitalism – the consolidation and further enrichment of capitalist control and the subordination of labor in each of its phase – from low to high tech business. In this ultimate triumph of capitalism, the old class struggle slogans were revised – becoming – Long live the bosses! Early death to the workers!

Private health care and the drive for higher profits provided enormous benefits for the pharmaceutical industry, making billionaires out of the owners and CEOs. This spawned the ‘ultra-philanthropic’ billionaire Sackler family whose Purdue Pharmaceuticals peddled the deadlyOxycontin to tens of millions of Americans. For profit-hospitals, private medical practices and rapacious insurance companies all reaped the bounty of mismanaging a bloated, unaccountable system that has provided the American worker with an early death by overdose or a shortened life of despair and disability.

Private capitalist employers and insurance companies continue to benefit from the epidemic of pre-mature deaths of their former employees: Pension costs and health care liabilities are slashed because of the decreasing life expectancy – Wall Street is jubilant. There will be fewer communities to educate and protect and this will lower taxes. Cheap imported replacement workers (educated or trained on their own societies’ dime) can conveniently be deported or replaced.

It is undeniable: increasing life expectancy and a decent life free of disability has disappeared for the American worker. With poor health and inadequate care, maternal and infant mortality are on the rise especially in rural and de-industrialized areas.

By every health and living standard indicator, the history of successful class struggle led to the implementation of effective national welfare and health programs. Their societies have reaped benefits for their citizens that were clearly superior to corrupt boss-worker class collaboration under private capitalism in the US.

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Special Report: In modernizing nuclear arsenal, U.S. stokes new arms race

In Cost, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on November 26, 2017 at 3:15 am

Scott Paltrow, Reuters, Nov. 25, 2017

President Barack Obama rode into office in 2009 with promises to work toward a nuclear-free world. His vow helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

The next year, while warning that Washington would retain the ability to retaliate against a nuclear strike, he promised that America would develop no new types of atomic weapons. Within 16 months of his inauguration, the United States and Russia negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, meant to build trust and cut the risk of nuclear war. It limited each side to what the treaty counts as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads.

By the time Obama left office in January 2017, the risk of Armageddon hadn’t receded. Instead, Washington was well along in a modernization program that is making nearly all of its nuclear weapons more accurate and deadly.

And Russia was doing the same: Its weapons badly degraded from neglect after the Cold War, Moscow had begun its own modernization years earlier under President Vladimir Putin. It built new, more powerful ICBMs, and developed a series of tactical nuclear weapons.

The United States under Obama transformed its main hydrogen bomb into a guided smart weapon, made its submarine-launched nuclear missiles five times more accurate, and gave its land-based long-range missiles so many added features that the Air Force in 2012 described them as “basically new.” To deliver these more lethal weapons, military contractors are building fleets of new heavy bombers and submarines.

President Donald Trump has worked hard to undo much of Obama’s legacy, but he has embraced the modernization program enthusiastically. Trump has ordered the Defense Department to complete a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal by the end of this year.

Reuters reported in February that in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump denounced the New START treaty and rejected Putin’s suggestion that talks begin about extending it once it expires in 2021.

Some former senior U.S. government officials, legislators and arms-control specialists – many of whom once backed a strong nuclear arsenal — are now warning that the modernization push poses grave dangers.

“REALLY DANGEROUS THINKING”

They argue that the upgrades contradict the rationales for New START – to ratchet down the level of mistrust and reduce risk of intentional or accidental nuclear war. The latest improvements, they say, make the U.S. and Russian arsenals both more destructive and more tempting to deploy. The United States, for instance, has a “dial down” bomb that can be adjusted to act like a tactical weapon, and others are planned.

“The idea that we could somehow fine tune a nuclear conflict is really dangerous thinking,” says Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based think tank.

One leader of this group, William Perry, who served as defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, said recently in a Q&A on YouTube that “the danger of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War.”

Perry told Reuters that both the United States and Russia have upgraded their arsenals in ways that make the use of nuclear weapons likelier. The U.S. upgrade, he said, has occurred almost exclusively behind closed doors. “It is happening without any basic public discussion,” he said. “We’re just doing it.”

The cause of arms control got a publicity boost in October when the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in getting the United Nations General Assembly in July to adopt a nuclear prohibition treaty. The United States, Russia and other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations.

The U.S. modernization program has many supporters in addition to Trump, however. There is little or no pressure in Congress to scale it back. Backers argue that for the most part the United States is merely tweaking old weapons, not developing new ones.

Some say that beefed up weapons are a more effective deterrent, reducing the chance of war. Cherry Murray served until January as a top official at the Energy Department, which runs the U.S. warhead inventory. She said the reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles under New START makes it imperative that Washington improve its arsenal.

During the Cold War, Murray said in an interview, the United States had so many missiles that if one didn’t work, the military could simply discard it. With the new limit of 1,550 warheads, every one counts, she said.

“When you get down to that number we better make sure they work,” she said. “And we better make sure our adversaries believe they work.”

An Obama spokesman said the former president would not comment for this story. The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Asked about Trump’s view on the modernization program, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said the president’s goal is to create a nuclear force that is “modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.”

A BUDGET BUSTER?

The U.S. modernization effort is not coming cheap. This year the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program will cost at least $1.25 trillion over 30 years. The amount could grow significantly, as the Pentagon has a history of major cost overruns on large acquisition projects.

As defense secretary under Obama, Leon Panetta backed modernization. Now he questions the price tag.

“We are in a new chapter of the Cold War with Putin,” he told Reuters in an interview, blaming the struggle’s resumption on the Russian president. Panetta says he doubts the United States will be able to fund the modernization program. “We have defense, entitlements and taxes to deal with at the same time there are record deficits,” he said.

New START is leading to significant reductions in the two rival arsenals, a process that began with the disintegration of the USSR. But reduced numbers do not necessarily mean reduced danger.

In 1990, the year before the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States had more than 12,000 warheads and the Soviets just over 11,000, an August 2017 Congressional Research Service report says. Soon the two countries made precipitous cuts. The 1991 START treaty limited each to somewhat more than 6,000 warheads. By 2009 the number was down to about 2,200 deployed warheads.

Tom Collina, policy director of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control group, says that both Moscow and Washington are on track to meet the 1,550 limit by the treaty’s 2018 deadline. The treaty, however, allows for fudging.

At Russia’s insistence, each bomber is counted as a single warhead, no matter how many nuclear bombs it carries or has ready for use. As a result, the real limit for each side is about 2,000. Collina says the United States currently has 1,740 deployed warheads, and Russia is believed to have a similar number. Each side also has thousands of warheads in storage and retired bombs and missiles awaiting dismantlement.

The declining inventories mask the technological improvements the two sides are making. There is a new arms race, based this time not on number of weapons but on increasing lethality, says William Potter, director of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

“We are in a situation in which technological advances are outstripping arms control,” Potter says.

One example of an old weapon transformed into a more dangerous new one is America’s main hydrogen bomb. The Air Force has deployed the B61 bomb on heavy bombers since the mid-1960s. Until recently, the B61 was an old-fashioned gravity bomb, dropped by a plane and free-falling to its target.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE BOMB EVER

Now, the Air Force has transformed it into a controllable smart bomb. The new model has adjustable tail fins and a guidance system which lets bomber crews direct it to its target. Recent models of the bomb had already incorporated a unique “dial-down capacity”: The Air Force can adjust the explosion. The bomb can be set to use against enemy troops, with a 0.3 kiloton detonation, a tiny fraction of the Hiroshima bomb, or it can level cities with a 340-kiloton blast with 23 times the force of Hiroshima’s. Similar controls are planned for new cruise missiles.

The new B61 is the most expensive bomb ever built. At $20.8 million per bomb, each costs nearly one-third more than its weight in 24 karat gold. The estimated price of the planned total of 480 bombs is almost $10 billion.

Congress also has approved initial funding of $1.8 billion to build a completely new weapon, the “Long Range Stand-Off” cruise missile, at an estimated $17 billion total cost. The cruise missiles, too, will be launched from aircraft. But in contrast to stealth bombers dropping the new B61s directly over land, the cruise missiles will let bombers fly far out of range of enemy air defenses and fire the missiles deep into enemy territory.

Obama’s nuclear modernization began diverging from his original vision early on, when Republican senators resisted his arms reduction strategy.

Former White House officials say Obama was determined to get the New START treaty ratified quickly. Aside from hoping to ratchet down nuclear tensions, he considered it vital to assure continued Russian cooperation in talks taking place at the time with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. Obama also feared that if the Senate didn’t act by the end of its 2010 session, the accord might never pass, according to Gary Samore, who served four years as the Obama White House’s coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction.

Obama hit resistance from then-Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona. Kyl, the Senate’s minority whip, assembled enough Republicans to kill the treaty.

In e-mailed answers to questions, Kyl said he opposed the accord because Russia “cheats” on treaties and the United States lacks the means to verify and enforce compliance. Moscow’s deployment of new tactical weapons since 2014, he said, was a violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Russia denies violating the treaty.) Kyl also faulted New START for omitting Russia’s large arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons for use on battlefields, a subject the Russians have refused to discuss.

But Kyl proved willing to let the treaty pass – for a price. In exchange for ratification, the White House would have to agree to massive modernization of the remaining U.S. weapons. Obama agreed, and the Senate passed the treaty on the last day of the 2010 session.

Samore, the former White House arms control coordinator, says Obama did not oppose taking steps to refurbish superannuated weapons. He just did not plan the costly decision to do it all at once, Samore said.

DESTABILIZING THE STATUS QUO

While the number of warheads and launch vehicles is limited by the treaty, nothing in it forbids upgrading the weaponry or replacing older arms with completely new and deadlier ones. Details of the modernized weapons show that both are happening.

The upshot, according to former Obama advisers and outside arms-control specialists, is that the modernization destabilized the U.S.-Russia status quo, setting off a new arms race. Jon Wolfsthal, a former top advisor to Obama on arms control, said it is possible to have potentially devastating arms race even with a relatively small number of weapons.

The New START treaty limits the number of warheads and launch vehicles. But it says nothing about the design of the “delivery” methods – land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, hydrogen bombs and cruise missiles. Thus both sides are increasing exponentially the killing power of these weapons, upgrading the delivery vehicles so that they are bigger, more accurate and equipped with dangerous new features – without increasing the number of warheads or vehicles.

The United States, according to an article in the March 1 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has roughly tripled the “killing power” of its existing ballistic missile force.

The article’s lead author, Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project, said in an e-mail that he knows of no comparable estimate for Russia. He noted, however, that Russia is making its own extensive enhancements, including larger missiles and new launch vehicles. He said Russia also is devoting much effort to countering U.S. missile defense systems.

The U.S. modernization program “has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal,” Kristensen wrote in the article. “This increase in capability is astonishing.”

Kristensen says the most alarming change is America’s newly refitted submarine-launched Trident II missiles. These have new “fuzing” devices, which use sensors to tell the warheads when to detonate. Kristensen says that for decades, Tridents had inaccurate fuzes. The missiles could make a direct hit on only about 20 percent of targets. With the new fuzes, “they all do,” he says.

Under New START, 14 of America’s Ohio Class subs carry 20 Tridents. Each Trident can be loaded with up to 12 warheads. (The United States has four additional Ohio subs that carry only conventional weapons.) The Trident II’s official range is 7,456 miles, nearly one-third the Earth’s circumference. Outside experts say the real range almost certainly is greater. Each of its main type of warhead produces a 475-kiloton blast, almost 32 times that of Hiroshima.

RUSSIA’S DIRTY DRONE

Russia, too, is hard at work making deadlier strategic weapons. Ploughshares estimates that both sides are working on at least two dozen new or enhanced strategic weapons.

Russia is building new ground-based missiles, including a super ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. The Russian missile has room for at least 10 warheads that can be aimed at separate targets. Russian state media has said that the missile could destroy areas as large as Texas or France. U.S. analysts say this is unlikely, but the weapon is nonetheless devastatingly powerful.

Russia’s new ICBMs have room to add additional warheads, in case the New START treaty expires or either side abrogates it. The United States by its own decision currently has only a single warhead in each of its ICBMS, but these too have room for more.

Russia has phased in a more accurate submarine-launched missile, the RSM-56 Bulava. While it is less precise than the new U.S. Tridents, it marks a significant improvement in reliability and accuracy over Russia’s previous sub-based missiles.

A Russian military official in 2015 disclosed a sort of doomsday weapon, taking the idea of a “dirty bomb” to a new level. Many U.S. analysts believe the disclosure was a bluff; others say they believe the weapon has been deployed.

The purported device is an unmanned submarine drone, able to cruise at a fast 56 knots and travel 6,200 miles. The concept of a dirty bomb, never used to date, is that terrorists would spread harmful radioactive material by detonating a conventional explosive such as dynamite. In the case of the Russian drone, a big amount of deadly radioactive material would be dispersed by a nuclear bomb.

The bomb would be heavily “salted” with radioactive cobalt, which emits deadly gamma rays for years. The explosion and wind would spread the cobalt for hundreds of miles, making much of the U.S. East Coast uninhabitable.

A documentary shown on Russian state TV said the drone is meant to create “areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

Reif of the Arms Control Association says that even if the concept is only on the drawing board, the device represents “really outlandish thinking” by the Russian government. “It makes no sense strategically,” he said, “and reflects a really egregiously twisted conception about what’s necessary for nuclear deterrence.”

 

High-Priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere on August 20, 2017 at 7:21 am

The Mainichi, Japan’s National Daily, August 16, 2017
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170816/p2a/00m/0na/016000c
A subterranean ice wall surrounding the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to block groundwater from flowing in and out of the plant buildings has approached completion.
Initially, the ice wall was lauded as a trump card in controlling radioactively contaminated water at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.
In a news conference at the end of July, Naohiro Masuda, president and chief decommissioning officer of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., stated, “We feel that the ice wall is becoming quite effective.” However, he had no articulate answer when pressed for concrete details, stating, “I can’t say how effective.”
The ice wall is created by circulating a coolant with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius through 1,568 pipes that extend to a depth of 30 meters below the surface around the plant’s reactors. The soil around the pipes freezes to form a wall, which is supposed to stop groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings where it becomes contaminated. A total of 260,000 people have worked on creating the wall.The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began freezing soil in March last year, and as of Aug. 15, at least 99 percent of the wall had been completed, leaving just a 7-meter section to be frozen.
Soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated water was being produced each day. That figure has now dropped to roughly 130 tons. This is largely due to the introduction of a subdrain system in which water is drawn from about 40 wells around the reactor buildings. As for the ice wall, TEPCO has not provided any concrete information on its effectiveness.
An official of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commented, “The subdrain performs the primary role, and the ice wall will probably be effective enough to supplement that.” This indicates that officials have largely backtracked from their designation of the ice wall as an effective means of battling contaminated water, and suggests there is unlikely to be a dramatic decrease in the amount of decontaminated groundwater once the ice wall is fully operational.
TEPCO ordered construction of the ice wall in May 2013 as one of several plans proposed by major construction firms that was selected by the government’s Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment. In autumn of that year Tokyo was bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the government sought to come to the fore and underscore its measures to deal with contaminated water on the global stage.
Using taxpayers’ money to cover an incident at a private company raised the possibility of a public backlash. But one official connected with the Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment commented, “It was accepted that public funds could be spent if those funds were for the ice wall, which was a challenging project that had not been undertaken before.” Small-scale ice walls had been created in the past, but the scale of this one — extending 1.5 kilometers and taking years to complete — was unprecedented.
At first, the government and TEPCO explained that an ice wall could be created more quickly than a wall of clay and other barriers, and that if anything went wrong, the wall could be melted, returning the soil to its original state. However, fears emerged that if the level of groundwater around the reactor buildings drops as a result of the ice wall blocking the groundwater, then tainted water inside the reactor buildings could end up at a higher level, causing it to leak outside the building. Officials decided to freeze the soil in stages to measure the effects and effectiveness of the ice wall. As a result, full-scale operation of the wall — originally slated for fiscal 2015 — has been significantly delayed.
Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, “It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind” — without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.
Maintaining the ice wall will cost over a billion yen a year, and the radiation exposure of workers involved in its maintenance is high. Meanwhile, there are no immediate prospects of being able to repair the basement damage in the reactor buildings at the crippled nuclear plant.
Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented, “The way things stand, we’ll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn’t very effective. We should consider a different type of wall.”
In the meantime, TEPCO continues to be plagued over what to do with treated water at the plant. Tainted water is treated using TEPCO’s multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process. Tritium is produced in nature through cosmic rays, and nuclear facilities around the world release it into the sea. The NRA takes the view that there is no problem with releasing treated water into the sea, but there is strong resistance to such a move, mainly from local fishing workers who are concerned about consumer fears that could damage their businesses. TEPCO has built tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 plant to hold treated water, and the amount they hold is approaching 800,000 metric tons.
In mid-July, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with several news organizations that a decision to release the treated water into the sea had “already been made.” A Kyodo News report on his comment stirred a backlash from members of the fishing industry. TEPCO responded with an explanation that the chairman was not stating a course of action, but was merely agreeing with the view of the NRA that there were no problems scientifically with releasing the treated water. However, the anger from his comment has not subsided.
Critical opinions emerged in a subsequent meeting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki at the end of July regarding the decontamination of reactors and the handling of contaminated water. It was pointed out that prefectural residents had united to combat consumer fears and that they wanted officials to act with care. One participant asked whether the TEPCO chairman really knew about Fukushima.
The ministry has been considering ways to handle the treated water, setting up a committee in November last year that includes experts on risk evaluation and sociology. As of Aug. 15, five meetings had been held, but officials have yet to converge on a single opinion. “It’s not that easy for us to say, ‘Please let us release it.’ It will probably take some time to reach a conclusion,” a government official commented.

Nuclear Modernization Under Obama and Trump Costly, Mismanaged, Unnecessary

In Cost, Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 20, 2017 at 6:49 am

By: Lydia Dennett | August 16, 2016

The United States maintains the strongest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. We currently have over 1,700 strategic and deadly nuclear warheads deployed at bases across the globe, with thousands more in storage plus thousands more intact and awaiting dismantlement.

It cannot be overstated how truly terrifying their capacity for destruction is. Each warhead is hundreds of times more powerful than the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that was before the United States began the largest and most expensive nuclear modernization effort the world has ever seen.

President Trump’s response to North Korea’s most recent nuclear posturing references plans to “renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal.” He’s talking about an effort to maintain and upgrade the nuclear warheads themselves, their delivery systems (like submarines and planes), and the infrastructure at nuclear weapons production facilities. It’s an effort that began under President Obama and is likely to cost taxpayers over $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

But if nuclear deterrence is the goal, a $1 trillion modernization effort isn’t necessary. “[T]he thing about a deterrent capability is it does not matter how old it is,” the Commander of US Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee this past April. “It just matters whether it works…The stuff that we have today will work.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has also questioned the scope of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) modernization plans, noting in 2016 that “it’s very, very, very expensive[,]” and asking if “we really need the entire triad, given the situation?”

The nuclear triad refers to the three ways the United States is able to fire nuclear weapons, and each leg will receive an update under the current plan. In fact, several different nuclear warhead types have already begun life extension programs to replace their components and add new capabilities. Those that are in process have followed a simpler, more traditional approach to modernization that involves replacing aging components but leaving the basic nuclear explosive package the same.

For example, the Navy’s W76-1 nuclear warhead, which is deployed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, has been upgraded to include a “super-fuze” device to make these warheads significantly more accurate so that they will explode close enough to hardened targets—like Russian inter-continental ballistic missile silos—and destroy them completely. Despite the addition of this new capability, the W76 life extension program is expected to finish on time in 2020 and will only cost approximately $4 billion. That’s likely because the changes were modest and didn’t include any modifications to the nuclear explosive package. The B61 nuclear warhead, deployed on the Air Force’s B-2 bombers, is also in the midst of a life extension program. This update will cost more than the bomb’s weight in solid gold—literally—yet is still less expensive than some of the other planned modernization efforts. $1.3 billion will be spent on the bomb’s new tail kit alone, which will add guidance capabilities to the weapons and make them far more accurate. This tail kit will also give the bomb a “dial-a-yield” capability, meaning the bomb’s yield can be lowered in order to attack very specific targets without as many unintentional causalities. Again, no changes will be made to the nuclear explosive package itself.

These enhancements are just the beginning of the nuclear modernization plan, a plan that extends far beyond the warheads themselves. But there are a lot of reasons to question what projects are being advanced in the name of a “modern nuclear arsenal.” The NNSA plans to take a much more aggressive and expensive approach to modernizing some warhead classes despite the fact that doing so will not improve the nuclear deterrence strategy or make the United States any safer. This will be incredibly expensive in and of itself, and will require huge, expensive new facilities to support that work. The agency has proposed building several new facilities to manufacture hundreds of new plutonium and uranium cores for the bombs. The NNSA’s cost estimates for these facilities have skyrocketed and would not be necessary for a more scaled-down, straight forward modernization plan.

While certain components of nuclear weapons must be remanufactured and replaced, the plutonium cores have a lifetime of 150 years and can be reused, dramatically reducing the need to build a brand new plutonium pit production facility. As for the uranium portion of nuclear warheads, sources have told POGO that hundreds of warheads going through the life extension programs have not required remanufactured uranium components.

Yet, the NNSA still plans to spend billions of dollars on new facilities capable of producing these nuclear components for weapons that may not even need them. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also concerned with the purpose of these facilities, asking the NNSA to clarify specifically what these facilities will do and why we need them, and to develop a

complete

and reliable cost estimate for each proposed project.

But there are a lot of reasons to question what projects are being advanced in the name of a “modern nuclear arsenal.”
NNSA’s nuclear modernization project overall could use some justification. For example, future warhead life extension programs will involve brand new nuclear explosive packages that have never before been tested. These new packages are part of a plan to replace four different missile-carried warheads, two delivered by submarine and two land-based, with three different warheads. They are known as interoperable warheads because they will have a common nuclear explosive package despite being part of different legs of the triad. Development of the first interoperable warhead began in 2012 but was halted in 2014, partially because the Navy didn’t particularly want a new warhead design. Despite their reservations, the NNSA plans to restart their work on the interoperable warheads in 2020.

A peek under the hood of the agency’s cost estimates for the entire modernization effort, which includes both the new warhead designs and the new facilities, shows that additional oversight is needed. Earlier this year, the GAO released a report on the modernization numbers and found NNSA’s plans do not meet realistic budget estimates. The Office of Management and Budget has approved budget estimates for the next five years of the modernization plan so that they align with the President’s 5-year overall federal budget estimates. However, the NNSA has claimed they will need at least an additional $5 billion for some projects between 2018 and 2021. If the agency cannot reconcile the differences between what they say they’ll need and the approved budget estimates, they will have to defer some of the modernization work. “Misalignment between estimates in NNSA’s budget materials and modernization plans raises affordability concerns,” the GAO concluded.

NNSA’s management of contractors, including those conducting this modernization work, has also been notoriously bad—and on the GAO’s list of projects at high risk for waste, fraud, and abuse for years—leading to huge cost increases in the past. This is particularly worrying given that 90 percent of the modernization workforce are contractors, not government employees.

The NNSA’s long history of contractor mismanagement has led to things like budget misalignments, plans to build facilities without a clear mission or complete design, and significant delays in the more ambitious aspects of the nuclear modernization plan. This could leave the NNSA without the resources to fulfill their basic mission: ensuring the US nuclear stockpile is safe and secure. “Program instability poses a significant threat to NNSA’s mission critical capabilities,” an independent advisory group concluded in their review of the nuclear modernization plan.

The NNSA has not proven themselves to be effective stewards of taxpayer dollars, yet they ask Congress to hand over billions of dollars before demonstrating what capabilities they need and before even submitting an accurate cost estimate. It’s time to take a look at how much of this nuclear modernization plan is truly necessary for maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent and how much is just expensive window dressing designed to give nuclear contractors something to do.

lydia dennett
By: Lydia Dennett, Investigator

 

Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia works on safety and security of nuclear weapons and power facilities, foreign lobbying and influence, and works with Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers.

It’s Official: Nuclear Power Can’t Compete With Renewables

In Climate change, Cost, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on August 6, 2017 at 1:38 am

Nuclear News,August 4, 2017, By Paul Brown, EcoWatch

Nuclear power now is really losing the race against renewables
The nuclear revival the global industry has been hoping for took another hammer blow this week when two reactors under construction in South Carolina were abandoned, only 40 percent complete.
The plan had been to build two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors to lead the nuclear revival in the U.S., but cost overruns and delays dogged the project and will have the opposite effect. This is a further humiliation for Westinghouse, the U.S. nuclear giant that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy because of the costs associated with this new design. Hopes that a new generation of reactors could be built in the U.S. and sold to the rest of the world rested on the success of this project, and it has spectacularly failed.
By this week, construction had already cost $9 billion, almost the entire original budget, with years of building still to go. The reactors were originally scheduled to begin producing power in 2018, but this had been put back to 2021. Cost overruns had meant the final cost could be $25 billion. Around 5,000 construction workers have lost their jobs.
Changing context
The two owners of the project who had taken control after the Westinghouse bankruptcy, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper, announced they would halt construction rather than saddle customers with additional costs……..
Nuclear power did find favor in some quarters in the U.S. because it was regarded as a low carbon source of electricity. But President Trump is trying to dismantle legislation that would have helped the industry get credit for this.
The repercussions of the decision to abandon the building of the South Carolina reactors will be felt across the Atlantic in the UK, where three reactors of the same design were due to be built in Cumbria in the northwest of England. NuGen, the UK company that planned to build them, is, like Westinghouse, a subsidiary of the Japanese giant Toshiba. It was already reviewing its plans to build them before this week’s news broke.
Officially this is still the position, but it seems unlikely that the company would gamble on trying to build reactors of a design that could not be completed successfully in the U.S.
All big nuclear companies have new designs being constructed on home turf. Their plan has been to demonstrate how well they work and then export them. But this is currently not working anywhere, most spectacularly in Europe, where the French giant EDF is in deep trouble with its flagship design, the even larger 1,600 megawatt pressurized water reactor.
Rapid delay
Prototypes under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France are, like the AP 1000, years late and over budget.
Construction has started on two more at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England, but already, within weeks of the first concrete being poured, a delay has been announced.
Although the British Government still supports the project, it has already been questioned by the UK National Audit Office, which polices government finances. The NAO said consumers will be paying far too much for the electricity even if the project is finished on time, which on the industry’s past record seems extremely unlikely.
With renewables providing more and more cheap power in Europe and across the world, it seems unlikely that any of the new generation of large nuclear plants will ever be able to compete.
Phase-out planned
Japan, still suffering from the after effects of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, is unlikely to be able to resuscitate its nuclear industry, and South Korea, with arguably the most successful nuclear construction record, has a new government which wants to phase out the industry.
Only China and Russia, where what is really happening in their nuclear industries is a closely guarded secret, remain as likely exporters of new nuclear stations.
Both countries offer to supply fuel to countries which buy their reactor models. As well as building them, they offer as part of the package to get rid of the spent fuel and waste, so any country that buys nuclear power from China and Russia is effectively tied to them for a generation or more.
So for Russia and China, selling nuclear power stations is a political decision to extend their influence rather than an economic one—and it could be an expensive option for all concerned. From a purely economic perspective, however, it appears the nuclear industry is reaching the end of the road.

Income Inequality Will Survive the Nuclear Apocalypse. The class responsible for the lucrative rush to war can literally buy its way out of annihilation, thanks to the boom in luxury bunkers.

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Politics, War on July 16, 2017 at 3:12 am

By John Carl Baker, Terravos.com, July 14, 2017

A decommissioned nuclear bunker “deep inside a granite mountain” in Switzerland has been put up for sale, according to the Financial Times. Fully hardened against an electromagnetic pulse, the 15,000-square-foot military facility sleeps 1,500 people and features “vehicular tunnels, reservoirs and ‘limitless’ digital bandwidth”—and though the price is secret, the amount is surely obscene. “Your casual nuclear bunker enthusiast,” Judith Evans writes, “need not apply: potential purchasers must demonstrate the capacity to spend £25m before they can receive any further information, including any details of the bunker’s location.” Presumably that knowledge must be closely guarded from the irradiated hordes of our dystopian future.

Such reports have become increasingly common of late: “Armageddon architecture: upmarket bunkers for the worried wealthy.” “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich.” “Billionaire Bunkers: How the 1% are Preparing for the Apocalypse.” “Bunker Sales Spike as Some Prepare for Worst Amid Uncertainty.” Flush with cash and nervous about societal instability or even civilizational collapse, the wealthy are increasingly investing in a form of apocalypse insurance: posh shelters where they can ride out the coming calamity, whatever that happens to be. While this trend has obvious appeal, given Americans’ overlapping fascinations with wealth, real estate, and Armageddon, it also illuminates the intersection of two seemingly distinct problems plaguing society: economic inequality and the threat of nuclear war.

Today, nuclear tensions are rising along with profits, but the class responsible for this lucrative rush to war has little reason to fear. It can literally buy its way out of annihilation.

The most famous owner of a bomb shelter today is none other than Donald Trump, whose private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, has three of them. They were added by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post during the Korean War, but Trump decided to use them for storage—and his butler’s office—after purchasing the Palm Beach estate in 1985. Those shelters are relics of the Cold War, but renovated and newly built bunkers have become popular with Trump’s compatriots in the upper crust. Which is only fitting, since he’s partly responsible for the boom: As the Independent reported earlier this year, “Americans [are] building doomsday bunkers in ‘record numbers’ since Donald Trump’s election.”

Back in January, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos published an extended profile of these new elite preppers:

Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

Tellingly, fear of a new October Revolution is driving many of these rich paranoiacs to purchase swank subterranean bunkers or beachfront property in New Zealand. But they’re well prepared for nuclear war, too, and are certainly in a better position to survive than the rest of us in the 99 percent.

Surviving the nukepocalypse in style, while the world burns above, does not come cheap. The Survival Condo Project charges $4.5 million for a two-level penthouse bunker; if you need to economize, there are half-floor units for a reasonable $1.5 million. (The entire compound—a former Atlas missile silo—is currently sold out, but the company is already developing a second location.) CEO Larry Hall claims his compound can support 75 people living entirely off the grid for 5 years—and in theory, could “function indefinitely” through hydroponics and underground fish farming.

But what about jealous outsiders? What if a roving band of mutant proletarians suddenly shows up at the front door? They’re prepared for that, too: The facility has a well-stocked armory, a sniper post, and, per their website, “a military grade security system that includes visible spectrum cameras, infrared cameras, proximity sensors, microphones, trip sensors, passive detectors, as well as confidential defensive systems both automated and manually operated.” If the wretched of the scorched earth miraculously make it through all of that, they will then face walls up to nine feet thick, plus a series of blast doors “designed to withstand sizeable explosives.” Now that’s a gated community.

Hall isn’t the only developer designing ruling class refuges. The Rising S Company of Murchison, Texas, has an entire series of luxury bunkers, the cheapest of which (“The Venetian”) goes more than $3 million and includes a four-car garage, a gym, and a greenhouse; “The Aristocrat,” which costs more than $8 million, features a bowling alley, swimming pool, game room, home theater, sauna, and gun range. There’s also Vivos, whose planned Europa One facility in Germany advertises “life assurance” and accommodations “comparable to a mega-yacht.” In the event of an impending catastrophe, Europa One members will take their private planes to a nearby airport, where they and their staff will be whisked away by helicopter to the underground compound. Vivos promises that once Europa One has been placed in lockdown, its members will be “safely secured from the general public.”

It’s true that life underground after nuclear war would be a step down from the utopian existence currently lived by the super rich. But it would be immeasurably better than the hellscape populated by those left above, who would face radiation sickness, climatic disruption, virulent plagues, mass starvation, and the complete collapse of law and order. There would be no comparison between the catastrophe above and the plush if somewhat claustrophobic life of the wealthy below. The post-apocalyptic divide would be an extreme, almost absurdist example of inequality—a bit like Fiddler’s Green in George Romero’s Land of the Dead—but also a fairly logical extension of the present state of affairs.

Eight men currently own as much wealth as half of all people on Earth. In the United States, economic inequality is currently at levels comparable only to the 1920s. Productivity and compensation have completely diverged, the former continuing to trend steadily upward while the latter has been effectively stagnant for decades. Even the economic gains of the so-called recovery have gone overwhelmingly to the rich—and if Trump and the Republicans get their way with health care and tax reform, things will get even worse.

While working people struggle, the wealthy are pampered by society—materially, legally, even emotionally. As Vox’ Matt Yglesias pointed out recently, these conditions essentially gave us Trump, whose infantile behavior is as much a product of national policy decisions as his own peculiar psychology. To a large extent, the rich have already segregated themselves into a world free from the complications and suffering of everyday life, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when private airport terminals give way to heavily fortified doomsday bunkers.

It has been a longtime trend in arms control and nuclear disarmament discourse to heavily imply that nuclear war will be the “great equalizer,” impacting all of humanity across the board. This claim is usually employed to depoliticize an admittedly controversial issue and make disarmament seem like simple common sense. Nuclear weapons, after all, don’t function like traditional weaponry and are effectively indiscriminate tools of mass slaughter. Since a nuclear explosion would not distinguish between combatants and civilians, doesn’t that imply universal impact? And wouldn’t a nuclear war result in the end of human civilization? Doesn’t everyone, therefore, have a stake in preventing it?

At a purely abstract level, this argument has some validity. Nuclear war would be an unparalleled catastrophe, and it is clearly better for all concerned if the missiles remain in their silos. But neither the rhetorical notion of a “shared stake” nor the arbitrary effects of the bomb equate to universal impact in the real world, which is defined by truly staggering levels of economic inequality. As long as the wealthy possess considerable resources and can invest their surplus wealth in “life assurance,” nuclear war will never impact everyone equally. The inequalities of our world will not vanish after the flash of a nuclear weapon. They will simply become more extreme.

More disturbingly, the narrative of universal impact posits a harmony of interests that may not actually exist. If the wealthy choose to invest in individual survival rather than collective prevention, which side are they on exactly? The thriving market for luxurious mansion-shelters and calamity-proof island real estate comes at the same time the U.S. is embarking on a $1.2 trillion “modernization” of its entire nuclear arsenal. With plutocrats buying up bunkers and defense contractors lining up to produce the next generation of nuclear weapons, it’s difficult not to think of C. Wright Mills’ famous line: “The immediate cause of World War III is the preparation for it.”

We live in very grim times, but if we get out of our silos, as it were, we might even be able to cooperatively push back against the apocalyptic tide. “If I had a billion dollars, I wouldn’t buy a bunker,” Elli Kaplan, a tech CEO, told Osnos of The New Yorker. “I would reinvest in civil society and civil innovation. My view is you figure out even smarter ways to make sure that something terrible doesn’t happen.” Kaplan’s point is couched in the business-friendly language of neoliberal thought leaders, but his basic argument stands. Economic justice—redistribution and reinvestment—would lower the risk of nuclear war because the two issues are inextricably linked. And since “The Aristocrat” is slightly outside my budget, I’d say it’s about time we brought them together.

Why Single-Payer Health Care Saves Money

In Cost, Democracy, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on July 10, 2017 at 12:38 am

By Robert H. Frank, New York Times, July 7, 2017

Lingering uncertainty about the fate of the Affordable Care Act has spurred the California legislature to consider adoption of a statewide single-payer health care system.

Sometimes described as Medicare for all, single-payer is a system in which a public agency handles health care financing while the delivery of care remains largely in private hands.

Discussions of the California measure have stalled, however, in the wake of preliminary estimates pegging the cost of the program as greater than the entire state government budget. Similar cost concerns derailed single-payer proposals in Colorado and Vermont.

Voters need to understand that this cost objection is specious. That’s because, as experience in many countries has demonstrated, the total cost of providing health coverage under the single-payer approach is actually substantially lower than under the current system in the United States. It is a bedrock economic principle that if we can find a way to do something more efficiently, it’s possible for everyone to come out ahead.
By analogy, suppose that your state’s government took over road maintenance from the county governments within it, in the process reducing total maintenance costs by 30 percent. Your state taxes would obviously have to go up under this arrangement.

But if roads would be as well maintained as before, would that be a reason to oppose the move? Clearly not, since the resulting cost savings would reduce your county taxes by more than your state taxes went up. Likewise, it makes no sense to oppose single-payer on the grounds that it would require additional tax revenue. In each case, the resulting gains in efficiency would leave you with greater effective purchasing power than before.

Total costs are lower under single-payer systems for several reasons. One is that administrative costs average only about 2 percent of total expenses under a single-payer program like Medicare, less than one-sixth the corresponding percentage for many private insurers. Single-payer systems also spend virtually nothing on competitive advertising, which can account for more than 15 percent of total expenses for private insurers.

The most important source of cost savings under single-payer is that large government entities are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with service providers. In 2012, for example, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery was more than $73,000 in the United States but less than $23,000 in France.

Despite this evidence, respected commentators continue to cite costs as a reason to doubt that single-payer can succeed in the United States. A recent Washington Post editorial, for example, ominously predicted that budget realities would dampen enthusiasm for single-payer, noting that the per capita expenditures under existing single-payer programs in the United States were much higher than those in other countries.

But this comparison is misleading. In most other countries, single-payer covers the whole population, most of which has only minimal health needs. In contrast, single-payer components of the United States system disproportionately cover population subgroups with the heaviest medical needs: older people (Medicare), the poor and disabled (Medicaid) and returned service personnel (Department of Veterans Affairs).
In short, the evidence is clear that single-payer delivers quality care at significantly lower cost than the current American hybrid system. It thus makes no sense to reject single-payer on the grounds that it would require higher tax revenues. That’s true, of course, but it’s an irrelevant objection.

In addition to being far cheaper, single-payer would also defuse the powerful political objections to the Affordable Care Act’s participation mandate. Polls consistently show that large majorities want people with pre-existing conditions to be able to obtain health coverage at affordable rates. But that goal cannot be achieved unless healthy people are required to join the insured pool. Officials in the Obama administration tried, largely in vain, to explain why the program’s insurance exchanges would collapse in the absence of the participation mandate.

But the logic of the underlying argument is actually very simple. Most people seem able to grasp it if you ask them what would happen if the government required companies to sell fire insurance at affordable rates to people whose houses had already burned down.

No home insurer could remain in business if each policy it sold required it to replace a house costing several hundred thousand dollars. Similarly, no health insurer could remain in business if each of its policy holders generated many thousands of dollars in health care reimbursements each month.

That’s why the lack of a mandate in the alternative plans under consideration means that millions of people with pre-existing conditions will become uninsurable if repeal efforts are successful. An underappreciated advantage of the single-payer approach is that it sidesteps the mandate objection by paying to cover everyone out of tax revenue.

Of course, having to pay taxes is itself a mandate of a sort, but it’s one the electorate has largely come to terms with. Apart from fringe groups that denounce all taxation as theft, most people understand that our entire system would collapse if tax payments were purely voluntary.

The Affordable Care Act is an inefficient system that was adopted only because its architects believed, plausibly, that the more efficient single-payer approach would not be politically achievable in 2009. But single-payer now enjoys significantly higher support than it did then, and is actually strongly favored by voters in some states.

Solid majorities nationwide now favor expansion of the existing single-payer elements of our current system, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid cuts proposed in Congress have been roundly criticized. Perhaps it’s time to go further: Individual states and, eventually, the entire country, can save money and improve services by embracing single-payer health care.

Robert H. Frank is an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Follow him on Twitter at @econnaturalist.

Viking Economics: Review

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race, War on June 8, 2017 at 9:17 am

Review of George Lakey’s Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right – and How We Can, Too (2016)

By LeRoy Moore, June 2017

In  January 1979 I met George Lakey at a two-week nonviolence workshop of the Movement for a New Society in Philadelphia. Lakey is a Quaker who for many years taught at Swarthmore College. Author of many books, the latest is Viking Economics. He writes on this topic because we in the U.S. can learn much from the Scandinavian countries about revamping our economy, strengthening democracy, abolishing poverty and creating a society which is fair and just for all.

At the turn of the 20th century the Scandinavian countries were marked by economic hardship, lack of jobs, low wages, long working hours, no security, no health care and education only for those who could pay for it. In the 1970s, when Lakey visited Norway, he found full employment, scant poverty, an efficient infrastructure, plus free health care, education and retirement benefits for all its citizens. His book is a history of what happened, with pointers on how the U.S. might follow their example.

The biggest recent change in the economy of the U.S. and Britain was the 1980s move of Reagan and Thatcher to free corporations to make money that purportedly would trickle down to benefit everyone. This “neoliberal gospel” rapidly spread across the world. By the end of the 20th century it was practiced in the U.S. not only by virtually all Republicans but also by many Democrats, like Bill Clinton. “Too often,” Lakey says, “governments have implemented support measures without charging those responsible for the problems properly,” resulting in “privatization of profits and socialization of costs.”

After the global economic collapse of 2008 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged austerity, “bailing out the owning class at the expense of the majority of the people.” Iceland countered this with its own strategy: “Increase taxes on the rich, reduce taxes on the working class, force banks to write off mortgages for households under water.” The IMF, referring to health care as a “luxury good,” urged the Icelandic government to cut its health-care funding. Challenging the IMF, ordinary Icelanders refused “to accept responsibility for the frenzied behavior of their bankers.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, said, “Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net.” Iceland was the hero of the 2008 economic crisis. It survived better than any other nation.

Norway’s story is quite distinct. Late in the 19th century its workers union created the Labor Party that admitted only union members. They rejected the Marxist idea of collectivizing agriculture in favor of protecting family farms. After the Russian revolution of 1917, they joined the Communist International at Lenin’s invitation. By the 1930s the country was highly polarized, as evidenced by Vidkun Quisling’s founding a pro-Nazi political party with a uniformed paramilitary wing that attacked striking workers for their employers. This spurred an increase of conscientious objection which in time led to the Labor Party’s “completely socialist society” that laid the foundation for what Lakey found in Norway in the 1970s. A U.S. economist wrote, “The three things we Americans worry about – education, retirement and medical expenses – are things the Norwegians don’t worry about.”

Researcher Markus Jantti wondered about the chance for upward mobility for young people. How could those from families in the bottom fifth of earners leap to the top fifth. He found that both males and females in Norway, Denmark and Sweden had a much better chance of making this leap than their counterparts in the UK and USA. In Lakey’s words, “It turns out that freedom (shown by mobility and innovation) and equality are not necessarily opposed. In fact, . . .equality supports freedom.” In the Nordic economic design, “the more equality, the more freedom.”

Scandinavian countries had powerful trade unions at just the time unions were being weakened and destroyed in the U.S., England and other countries. They also had far more cooperatives, including banks. “Co-op banks,” says Lakey, “are financially more stable and less likely to fail than shareholder-owned institutions, . . . since they aren’t driven by a need to make profits for investors and huge bonuses for managers.” There are co-ops in all realms: industry, agriculture, dairy, housing, utilities, as well as wholesale and retail operations, and more.

The Nordic countries have virtually wiped out poverty. How did they do this? When it comes to work and poverty, these countries are refreshingly different. In Norway, “jobs, free training and support are available, and working is important for self-respect and the economic productivity of the country. In short, the government’s policy is full employment.” Single parents are encouraged “to hold jobs by having free or affordable childcare available at the work site or near the home.” In addition, “all babies can be born in birth centers and hospitals without regard to income, and all moms and dads can take time off from work with pay to care for the young ones. All parents have access to day care. All parents, whatever their means, get a family allowance for children below the age of 18. . . . Education is free for all. . . . Public transportation is subsidized for all.”

Scandinavians rejected the welfare state and replaced it with “universal services” – “a cooperative system for meeting needs that most people have at various points in their lives.” Instead of regarding the poor as needy, they treat everyone as equal. All work, and all benefit. How they treat crime is important. Rather than punish those who have done wrong, they rehabilitate them, so they can rejoin the community and become taxpayers as soon as possible. The best way to eliminate crime is to give the criminal a job. A study showed “a high association between employment and staying out of trouble.”

Getting everyone to work actually reduces the hours that an individual works. Norwegians work the least number of hours of all the countries of Europe. They are entitled to 25 vacation days every year. There is gender equity. Fathers get a paid leave to care for children. Parents receive a total of 52 weeks of parental leave with full pay. A new mother “has the right to two hours of break time each day to permit breast-feeding.” Also, “either parent has the right to stay home with sick children at least twenty days per year.”

Health care is available to everyone, paid for by the community, not the individual. Lakey says the “so-called ‘market efficiency’” of the U.S. “is actually ‘market wastefulness’ So wasteful in fact that despite the Affordable Care Act (so-called ‘Obama Care’) tens of millions of Americans don’t get covered at all, and countless others who are insured still don’t get the treatment they need.”

Of course, quality health care, free education, good housing, convenient transportation, etc. are expensive. Taxes are high in the Nordic countries. But for them “it’s a truism that paying high taxes results in getting high value.” They seek equality by reducing taxes of the working and middle classes and increasing taxes on the rich – the opposite of what the IMF recommends and what often happens in the U.S. British researchers found that “inequality highly correlates with negative statistics in physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, violence, teenage pregnancy, and child well-being.”

To again consider violence, Norway experienced a terrorist attack in 2011, when Anders Breivik massacred 69 young people of the Workers’ Youth League and injured 110 more. Labor Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, in a speech the next day, said “the proper response to the violence was ‘more democracy, more openness.’” At the memorial service he quoted a girl in the Youth League: “If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together.”

Lakey’s final chapter focuses on the U.S. He thinks the reason we don’t have universal health care is “because special interests prevented the majority from getting what it was ready for.” He says so much of the U.S. government is out of touch with ordinary citizens. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United decision . . . opened the floodgates for billions of dollars to enter the electoral system.” But the problem is deeper. An AARP study found that where there are differences “the economic elite – and not the majority—almost always got their way. . . . (T)he majority does not rule – at least in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

“It is obvious,” Lakey says, “that the United States is falling in international ratings of equality and freedom and that the policies of both parties are dominated by the economic elite.” But he sees hope in our history of social change by nonviolent means, our growing experience with worker-owned cooperatives, our increased positive appraisal of socialism, and our increasing awareness of the Nordic alternative (to which his book contributes much).

“Change,” he says, “requires hard work. . . . Movements need organizers, communicators, advocates, funders, nurturers, musicians and artists, nonviolent warriors, and ‘foot soldiers,’ as well as visionary designers. All those were present in the Nordic movements that challenged a thousand years of poverty and oppression, took the offensive, and built democracy.”

Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits?

In Cost, Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 15, 2017 at 3:02 am

Introduction: Trump and Nuclear Weapons — Rhetoric Versus Reality
In an interview with Reuters conducted a month after he took office, Donald Trump asserted that the U.S. had “fallen behind on nuclear capability” and that he wanted the United States to be at the “top of the pack” on nuclear weapons once again.
As usual, Trump had not done his homework before speaking out on a crucial, life-and-death question. The United States is already at the “top of the pack” in nuclear capacity, with nearly 6,800 nuclear warheads, including 4,000 in the active stockpile. That’s a huge number when you consider that independent experts have determined that 300 or so nuclear weapons are a sufficient number to deter any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. We have thirteen times that in our active stockpile, and more than five times that amount deployed and ready to fire at any given moment.
So the United States is already at the “top of the pack” in nuclear weapons — so high, in fact, that our huge arsenal is more likely to spur a nuclear arms race than it is to protect us from a nuclear war.
In the same Reuters interview, Trump described the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty as “just another bad deal the country made,” comparing it to the multilateral agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which Trump has repeatedly disparaged despite the fact that he has shown no indication that he knows what the agreement entails.
This knee-jerk opposition to any agreement that Trump himself has not negotiated is dangerously short-sighted. New START cuts deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads by one-third, and it includes a detailed monitoring and inspections regime to make sure both sides keep their word.
The Iran nuclear deal has already resulted in a 98% reduction in Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the disabling of a plutonium factory that could have produced bomb-making materials, and a regime of regular international inspections.
Solid agreements like New START and the Iran nuclear deal take a great deal of time and effort to negotiate. Throwing them away on a whim would be the height of recklessness.
Trump’s Twisted Budget Priorities
The issue of whether to buy a whole new generation of nuclear warheads and nuclear delivery vehicles will be debated against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which calls for a $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending and comparable reductions in spending on diplomacy and domestic needs.
Even before Trump’s proposed increase, Pentagon spending is at historically high levels. At roughly $600 billion per year now, Pentagon and related spending is higher than the peak of the Reagan military buildup, and larger than the combined military budgets of the next eight largest spenders in the world combined, most of them U.S. allies. So the Pentagon may have problems, but a lack of funds isn’t one of them.
Trump’s proposed increase alone is a huge sum by global standards. At $54 billion, the Trump increase is almost as large as the entire military budget of France, and larger than the total military budgets of the United Kingdom, Germany, or Japan. And it’s only $12 billion less than Russia’s whole military budget.
The Trump increase is also a huge sum compared to the domestic programs that are on the chopping block to pay for the $54 billion in increased Pentagon funding. When Trump’s budget blueprint was first taking form, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney announced a “hit list” of eight programs or agencies that would be zeroed out in the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. The list included the National Endowment for the Humanities; the National Endowment for the Arts; Legal Services; Americorps; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the U.S. Institute for Peace; and Planned Parenthood. Gutting all of these agencies and programs combined would save $3 billion per year — that’s one-half of one percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget, before the proposed Trump add-ons. The $3 billion for all of those programs is also less than one-eighth of the $25 billion the Pentagon wastes on bureaucratic overhead every year.
And of course the budget director’s hit list is just a small part of the larger assault on spending for diplomacy and domestic needs that is part of the Trump budget blueprint. The Environmental Protection Agency is slated for a 31% cut; the State Department budget is proposed to be cut by 29%; and support for humanitarian aid through the United Nations — mostly refugee and food assistance at a time of massive refugee flows and near famine in parts of Africa and the Middle East — could be cut by up to 50%.
Three block grant programs that provide services like heating aid to low income households, homeless housing and services, ands support for Meals on Wheels programs are scheduled to be eliminated altogether, at a cost of $8 billion. The $8 billion cost of those programs is less than the cost of one new ballistic missile firing submarine — and the Pentagon wants us to pay for twelve of them.
The Pentagon’s $1 Trillion Nuclear Buildup: What Are We Buying?
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies has done a report on the “trillion dollar triad” — the plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles, complete with new warheads to go with them, at a cost of roughly $1 trillion over three decades.
Here are the major components of that proposed $1 trillion nuclear weapons buildup:
— New nuclear warhead facilities, and new nuclear warheads, $350 billion, spent through the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA);
— 12 new ballistic missile submarines at over $8 billion each, or roughly $100 billion in total
— 100 B-21 bombers for up to $1 billion each, or $100 billion total
— Hundreds of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), at a cost of up to $120 billion
— A new nuclear-armed cruise missile, at a cost of up to $20 billion for the whole program
Things could change — fewer systems could be bought, and the $1 trillion price tag could go down. Or, as usually happens, the original estimates could go up as a result of the cost overruns that are almost inevitable in any major weapons program.
Who Profits from Spending on Nuclear Weapons?
A handful of companies will be the main beneficiaries of the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons spending binge.
B-21 Bomber: Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor; the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies will build the engines; and BAE Systems, a global defense firm based primarily in the UK and the United States, is a major subcontractor.
Ballistic Missile Submarine: General Dynamics will be the prime contractor, with major assistance from Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.
ICBM and nuclear-armed cruise missile: Contracts have not been awarded yet for these systems, but bidders will include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Raytheon.
Nuclear warheads: The biggest beneficiaries of spending on nuclear warheads are the contractors that run major facilities for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), including Honeywell, which runs the Sandia nuclear weapons engineering laboratory in New Mexico, and a consortium that includes the University of California and Becthel, which run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories.
The best list of major nuclear weapons producers is maintained by Don’t Bank on the Bomb, a campaign that presses banks to withdraw support for companies involved in developing or producing nuclear weapons. Their web site profiles over two dozen major nuclear weapons supplying companies.
Opportunity Costs: What Can We Buy With $1 Trillion?
Not only is it unnecessary to embark on a three decade, $1 trillion effort to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, but it’s dangerous. As noted above, a tiny fraction of the existing U.S. stockpile is enough to dissuade any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. Anything beyond that just encourages other countries to modernize and expand their own arsenals. And the more nuclear weapons there are the more likely one will be used. In fact, the only guaranteed protection against nuclear weapons is to get rid of them all. That’s a daunting challenge, but as a first step we have to stop building new nuclear weapons at a time when the United States and the other nuclear weapons states possess vast nuclear overkill.
The ultimate cost of the trillion dollar buildup is the risk it poses to the future of life on earth.
There are also huge opportunity costs associated with spending vast sums on nuclear weapons we don’t need. The Future of Life Institute has created an online tool that lets you choose alternative ways to spend that trillion dollars. I tried it, and I found out we could buy the following things instead of wasting a trillion dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapons:
— 100 Million School Lunches: $235 million
— 10,000 High School Science Teachers for one year: $553 million
— Salvage and Protect All Superfund Toxic Waste Sites for one year: $681 million
— Provide Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood for one year: $528 million
— Health Insurance for 1 Million Families for one year: $16.8 billion
— End Homelessness for one year: $20 billion
— Fix All Deficient Bridges in the U.S.: $71 billion
All of the above investments represent only about 10 percent of the $1 trillion the Pentagon wants to spend on nuclear weapons over the next three decades.
There is one option offered by the Future of Life Institute tool that would put a serious dent in the $1 trillion spending total:
— Burn a $1 Million Pile of Cash Every Hour for Thirty Years: $262 Billion
Burning piles of cash would be a waste of money, to be sure, but it would be a far better, and far safer, use of the funds than spending them on extending a nuclear arms race that puts us all at risk.
This article is adapted from a presentation made by William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, at a conference on “Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War” that was held at MIT on May 6th, 2017.

Climate Change as Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2017 at 12:17 am

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives.

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.

Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%. It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen’s food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference. This is complicity in mass extermination.

Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. “That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” he told reporters. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.” In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen — or has ignored — equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don’t merit White House sympathy.

Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017? It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism. It’s a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.

Here’s the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like — one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?

Famine, Drought, and Climate Change

First, though, let’s consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen — interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.

In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent.” Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an “overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas” on that continent. With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising — precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.

It’s seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty. Such things happen with or without climate change. Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you’re in a new climate era.

It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn’t this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?

History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society — warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like — will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage. “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict,” points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program. “Climate is an added stress factor.” In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.

The Selective Impact of Climate Change

In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe — that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it’s certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don’t for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably. It won’t even be a complicated equation. As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society — the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge — will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.

As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America — home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.

Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight. In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades.

Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way. As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones. If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the “Okies” from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today’s climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or “informal settlements,” as they’re euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew. Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change. As the latest IPCC report noted, “Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects.”

The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. “The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events,” the IPCC indicated in 2014. “Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks.” It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).

Inaction Equals Annihilation

In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.

Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios — the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas — will become everyday reality.

In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible. If the world’s response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.

In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change — to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power — means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what — not to mince words — is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?

And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot — as many of us are — more is needed. Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.