leroymoore

Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Race on July 16, 2018 at 7:17 am
by PAUL STREET
 

The People as a Problem to be Contained

As the United States’ depressed, distracted, disorganized, and demobilized populace watches the vicious white-nationalist and authoritarian Donald Trump and the arch-reactionary Republican Party craft a Supreme Court yet further to the right of majority public opinion, the worst of the nation’s slave-owning Founders might just be heard chuckling in their graves.

Democracy – the rule of the majority – was the last thing the nation’s aristo-republican Founders wanted to see break out in their new republic. Drawn from the elite propertied segments in the new nation, most of the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention shared their compatriot John Jay’s view that “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” As the celebrated U.S. historian Richard Hofstader noted in his classic 1948 text, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It:“In their minds, liberty was linked not to democracy but to property.” Democracy was a dangerous concept to them, conferring “unchecked rule by the masses,” which was “sure to bring arbitrary redistribution of property, destroying the very essence of liberty.”

Protection of “property” (meaning the people who owned large amounts of it) was “the main object of government” for all but one of the U.S. Constitution’s framers (James Wilson), as constitutional historian Jennifer Nedelsky has noted. The non-affluent, non-propertied and slightly propertied popular majority was for the framers what Nedelsky calls “a problem to be contained.”

Anyone who doubts the anti-democratic character of the Founders’ world view should read The Federalist Papers, written by the leading advocates of the U.S. Constitution to garner support for their preferred form of national government in 1787 and 1788. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison argued that democracies were “spectacles of turbulence … incompatible with … the rights of property.” Democratic governments gave rise, Madison felt, to “factious leaders” who could “kindle a flame” among dangerous masses for “wicked projects” like “abolition of debts” and “an equal division of property. … Extend the [geographic] sphere [of the U.S. republic],” Madison wrote, and it becomes “more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and act in union with each other.”

At the Constitutional Convention, Madison backed an upper U.S. legislative assembly (the Senate) of elite property holders meant to check a coming “increase of population” certain to “increase the proportion of those who will labour under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings” [emphasis added]. “These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former.”

In Federalist No. 35, the future first U.S. secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, argued that the common people found their proper political representatives among the small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of people by persons of each class,” Hamilton wrote, “is altogether visionary.” The “weight and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes,” Hamilton proclaimed.

Somebody tell Lin-Manuel Miranda!

Checkmating Popular Sovereignty

The New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap captured the fundamental idea behind the U.S. Founders’ curious notion of what they liked to call “popular government.” “Let it stand as a principle,” Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, “that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves.”

It wasn’t just about teaching “the people” that they were incapable of self-rule, however. The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could. The rich white fathers crafted a form of “popular government” (their deceptive term) that was a monument to popular incapacitation.

The U.S. Constitution divided the federal government into three parts, with just one-half of one of those three parts (the House of Representatives) elected directly by “the people”—a category that excluded blacks, women, Native Americans and property-less white males (that is, most people in the early republic). It set up elaborate checks and balances to prevent the possibility of the laboring multitude influencing policy. It introduced a system of intermittent, curiously time-staggered elections (two years for the House, six years for the Senate, and four years for the presidency) precisely to discourage sweeping popular electoral rebellions It created a Supreme Court appointed for life (by the president with confirmation power restricted to the Senate) with veto power over legislation or executive actions that might too strongly bear the imprint of the “secretly sigh[ing]” multitude.

It sanctified the epic “un-freedom” and “anti-democracy” of black slavery, permitting slave states to count their disenfranchised chattel toward their congressional apportionment in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. president—even on the limited basis of one vote for each propertied white male. It is still in effect.

U.S. Americans did not directly vote for U.S. senators for the first 125 years of the federal government.  The Constitution said that senators were to be elected by state legislatures, something that was changed only by the Seventeen Amendment in 1913.

It is true that the Constitution’s Article V provided a mechanism technically permitting “We the People” to alter the nation’s charter. But the process for seriously amending the U.S. Constitution was and remains exceedingly difficult, short of revolution and/or  civil war. As the progressive Constitution critic Daniel Lazare observes,

“Moments after establishing the people as the omnipotent makers and breakers of constitutions, [the 1787 U.S. Constitution] announced that … [c]hanging so much as a comma in the Constitution would require the approval of two-thirds of each house of Congress plus three-fourths of the states. … The people did not assert their sovereignty in Philadelphia in 1787. Rather, the founders invoked it. Once they uttered the magic incantation, moreover, they hastened to put the genie back in the bottle by declaring the people all but powerless to alter their own plan of government.”

U.S. progressives have long advocated constitutional amendments meant to more properly align U.S. politics and policy with public opinion and basic democratic values. But Article V is too steep a barrier for that, on purpose. Under its rule today, 13 of the nation’s 50 states can disallow constitutional changes while containing just more than 4 percent of the nation’s population. (It took the secession and military defeat of the slave South between 1861 and 1865 [the Civil War] to pass amendments abolishing slavery and granting citizenship and the suffrage to former slaves (new forms of Black slavery and racist disenfranchisement nonetheless took hold in the South during and after the Reconstruction era).

Don’t like that?  Too bad. Simon – well a bunch of slave-owners and other really rich guys and their holy national charter near the end of the 18th century – says.

 

Indirect Selection

The U.S. Constitution was written and enacted late in the1780s, when the infant republic’s masters wore powdered wigs, slavery was still the law of the land (as it would for nearly eight more decades), and (speaking of powdered wigs) the Bourbons still ruled in France.  Here we are more than two-and-a-quarter centuries later, still dealing on numerous levels with the purposefully authoritarian consequences of the nation’s founding charter.

It’s a little, well, pathetic.

The Constitution is no small part of how a majority-progressive nation that votes primarily (though with little enthusiasm) for a centrist party, the Democrats (viewed unfavorably by 51 percent of U.S.-Americans) is ruled by an ever more right-wing  government led by an arch- reactionary white-nationalist party, the Republicans.  So what if the GOP is viewed unfavorably by 59 percent of the U.S. populationand backs a hated president who is disapproved of by a super-majority of the citizenry?

Look at the Electoral College system, designed to curb democracy and expressly crafted to elevate the power of the slave states. By giving each state an extra vote for both senators they send to Washington (no matter how small or large each state’s populations), it triples the clout of the nation’s eight smallest states and doubles that of the next six smallest states relative to their populations.

For the fifth time in history and the second in this century, the Electoral College in 2017 installed a president who failed to win the national popular vote. Donald Trump, the biggest popular vote-loser to ever inhabit the White House, is a racist, sexist, authoritarian, uber-plutocratic, and malignant megalomaniac and narcissist. He’s an ecocidal climate change-denier who should not be allowed anywhere near the nation’s energy policy or its nuclear codes. It’s not for nothing that even the depressing and highly unpopular “lying neoliberal warmonger”Hillary Clinton polled 2.8 million more votesthan he did last November.

The extensively despised orange monstrosity made it into the world’s most powerful and dangerous job thanks in no small part to the Electoral College, which renders presidential campaigning irrelevant (and close to nonexistent) in most of the nation, gives absurdly outsized weight to disproportionately white and right-leaning rural states and openly violates the core democratic principles of majority rule and one-person, one-vote.

Along with some help from the constitutionally super-empowered Supreme Court, the openly ludicrous Electoral College is also part of how popular vote-loser George W. Bush (who criminally invaded Iraq partly out of the belief that doing so was God’s will) ascended to the presidency in 2000-2001.

The Senate is even more skewed to the right. The GOP holds a majority in the upper chamber thanks in no small part to the simple and expressly anti-democratic slant the Constitution gives—in the name of “equal suffrage for the states”—the 2 percent of Americans who live in the nation’s nine smallest states have the same amount of senatorial representation as the 51 percent who live in the nation’s nine largest states.

Wyoming, home to more than 586,000 Americans, holds U.S. senatorial parity with California, where more than 39 million Americans reside. Due to “a growing population shift from the agricultural interior to crowded corridors along the coast,” Lazare explains, “it is possible now to win the majority of the U.S. Senate with just 17.6 percent of the popular vote.”

That is completely insane, from a democratic perspective anyway.

It’s all coming into ugly authoritarian and racist play right now to create a right-wing Supreme Court ready to rule in defiance of majority progressive public opinion for a generation at least. Thanks to Trump’s Electoral College victory, to the Republican-run U.S. Senate’s “check and balance” refusal to let Barack Obama appoint a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia, and to the resignation of two Supreme Court justice since Trump came in, the ultra-right GOP is about to solidify its control the appointed-for-life Supreme Court by getting its second hard-right justice appointed to the high court within one year.

Don’t like it?  Too bad. Simon, I mean the Constitution, says!

 

Gerrymander Rules

And then there’s the House of Representatives, where the widely hated Republican Party enjoys a 47-vote majority even though it outpolled the (admittedly dismal) Democrats by just over 1 percent in House races in 2016.  Even with the Trump-tainted GOP finding approval from just  one in three U.S.-Americans and with Republicans 17 percent less enthusiastic than Democrats about voting in the 2018 mid-term elections, it is not inconceivable that the rightmost of the two parties could retain its hold over the House in 2018 and 2020.

This reflects the widespread geographic manipulation of House district lines in such a fashion as to unduly advantage the Republican Party.  This partisan-geopolitical gerrymandering process is led by the nation’s mostly Republican-controlled state legislatures.  This is in accord with the federalist principle laid out in Article 4, section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which proclaims that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof…” Effectively, this means that state legislatures are granted primary authority to regulate federal elections, including how their congressional district lines are to be drawn.

It is true that Article 4 goes on to say that “the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.” Technically, then, Congress is the ultimate authority, and may supersede state laws on how districts are drawn.  It has done this in the past, requiring (in 1967) single-member districts (compelling voters to elect only one candidate to represent their district) and forcing states to enhance racial and ethnic minority groups’ representation. The federal courts have interpreted the Constitution to require that House districts hold roughly equal populations.

Still, Congress has never mandated a congressional redistricting process, something that has left states free to draw districts in accord with partisan considerations. And good luck getting “our” right-wing federal judiciary not to back  Republican challenges to any serious efforts at national democratic redistricting reform.

 

“The American People Have Input Every Four Years”

In some rich nations operating with parliamentary systems, terrible presidents or prime ministers can be forced to call or accede to new national elections. Such an action is of course unthinkable in the U.S.  Simon – I mean the slaveholders 18thCentury Constitution- says that qualified voters go to the polls to select presidents once every four years, national senators (apportioned two per state regardless of wildly different population sizes among the nation’s 50 states) once every six years, and (lower) House representatives (apportioned in accord with population but along now strictly gerrymandered geographical lines) once every two years. As George W. Bush’s White House spokesperson Dana Perino explained in March of 2008 when asked if the citizenry should have “input” on U.S. foreign policy: “You had your input. The American people have input every four years, and that’s the way our system is set up” [emphasis added].

Perino was on all-too-strong constitutional ground. So was Trump when he tweeted in response to the historic mass demonstrations that followed his inauguration: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?” Never mind that most of the marchers did vote (for the horrific “lying neoliberal warmonger”) or that most U.S. citizens think public opinion should matter to presidents between elections.

Constitutional Simon Says you get to select a U.S. president in a voting booth for two minutes or so once every 1,460 days. Well, except you don’t really vote directly for the president. The U.S. presidential vote is filtered through the explicitly anti-democratic Electoral College, which has (to repeat) delivered the White House to a loser of the popular in 2 of the last presidential elections.

You get to vote for a US House member in a voting both for a few minute once every 730 days. You get to vote for each of your US Senators once every 1095 days.

To make matters worse, the choices on offer to voters in U.S. presidential, Senate, and House elections are almost always (with painfully few exceptions) reflect a narrow selection  between two corporate and imperialist candidates, one a Democrat and the other a Republican – representatives of dollar-drenched political organizations that function as “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904). That, too, is related to the Constitution, as I will suggest below.

You don’t vote for Supreme Court justices, really. The president, for whom you don’t vote directly, does, subject to approval only from the upper Congressional body, the Senate, which absurdly overrepresents the rural and white populace. And the Supremes are appointed for life, which can be a long time.

 

Hello, Mike Pence?

You can push “your” Congressional “representatives” to advocate Trump’s impeachment (by the House) and removal (by the Senate). Trump has certainly given the House numerous grounds for impeachment, but the barriers to removal are high. The two houses of Congress, the absurdly gerrymandered House and the ridiculously unrepresentative Senate, are both under the control of the president’s broadly hated nominal party, the Republicans, and the Republicans are determined to get everything they can from Trump when it comes to advancing their radically regressive, racist, ecocidal and arch-plutocratic agenda. It takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a president. It’s never happened (though Richard Nixon would have likely been impeached and removed had he not resigned).

But what would impeachment and removal give the nation under the preposterously revered U.S. Constitution but the presidency of arch-right-wing Republican Mike Pence? You think Trump is scary? Pence is a white nationalist Christian proto-fascist under whose rule the hard-right agenda that most of the populace hates might be advanced more effectively than it is ever under Trump.

Constitution says that impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate makes the monstrous homophobe Pence POTUS.

Don’t like it?  Too bad. Simon, I mean the Constitution, says.

 

Money Is Speech: Simon Says

So “suck it up, buttercup” and get back in shape for the next strictly time-staggered and Constitutionally mandated quadrennial electoral extravaganza to vote a Democrat into the White House, right? Really? Why bother? Notice the quote marks I used three two paragraphs above (“You can push ‘your’ Congressional ‘representatives’”). Everyone who follows US politics and policy with more than three functioning gray cells knows very well that both of the nation’s reigning two “viable” political parties are controlled by the wealthy few in New Gilded Age America, where the top 1 Percent owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth and a nearly equivalent percentage of its “democratically elected” office-holders. As the distinguished political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Martin Gilens (Princeton) show in their important new volume Democracy in America?:

“the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless . . . The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves . . . Majorities of Americans favor . . . programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut ‘corporate welfare.’ Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs] (emphasis added).”

Whichever party or whatever party configuration holds power in Washington and the state capitals, mammon reigns in the United States, where, Page and Gilens note, “government policy . . . reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the pre-approved, money-vetted candidates for federal office” (emphasis added).

Thanks to this “oligarchy,” as Page and Gilens call it, the United States ranks at or near the bottom of the list of rich nations when it comes to key measures of social health: economic disparity, inter-generational social mobility, racial inequality, racial segregation, infant mortality, poverty, child poverty, life expectancy, violence, incarceration, depression, literacy/numeracy, and environmental sustainability and resilience

The Democrats are every bit as corporatized and sold-out to the financial plutocracy and its military empire—to the capitalist class and system that emerged out of national development under the rule of the propertied elite the founders worked so brilliantly to protect—as the Republicans. This is thanks in part to the outrageously outsize role that big-money campaign contributions play in determining the outcomes of the nation’s evermore absurdly expensive elections.

And that role is traceable at least in part to the U.S. Constitution. The ridiculously worshipped Founders created the Supreme Court as a critical appointed-for-life check on the popular will. And in two landmark decisions, Buckley v. Valeo(1976) and Citizens United(2010), the high court has ruled that private campaign contributions are “free speech” and that there are no “constitutional” limits to be set on how much the rich and powerful can invest in the giant organized bribery project that is U.S. campaign finance.

As the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is supposed to have said in 1941, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

Protecting and expanding “wealth concentrated in the hands of the few” was the central purpose of government as conceived by the nation’s idiotically honored Founders.  They brilliantly constructed a charter, a set of rules for national policy and politics, designed to advance that purpose.

 

Left Electoral Dreaming

Let’s imagine that voters were still somehow able to get a domestically progressive and egalitarian, social-democratic Democrat—imagine a younger, more telegenic and gutsier Bernie Sanders (who damn near made it even at his advanced age in 2016)—into the White House. How much difference would it make? Besides the obstructionist hell he or she would catch from the corporate media and the blockage he or she would face from the Supreme Court, he or she would likely face steady, additional, potent “check and balance” impediments from corporate-captive Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Along with corporate media ownership and big-money campaign-finance power – both among the many interrelated oligarchic outcomes of the capitalism brought to us by the propertied elite that the founders/framers carefully and skillfully safeguard from the populace in the name of “popular government” – the over-representation of right-wing rural states in the U.S. Senate militates against a progressive takeover of Congress. So does the widespread systematic gerrymandering of districts in the House of Representatives.

Want to form a politically relevant and more genuinely progressive and egalitarian third party beyond the radically regressive and reactionary Republicans and the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats? The founders’ holy charter is not on your side. It encourages winner-take-all, first-past-the-post elections tied to specific geographical district lines. There’s no provision for proportional representation to accommodate and make legislative room for third or fourth parties not yet miraculously ready to compete and win pluralities in their relevant electoral jurisdictions.

Around the planet, constitutions do not last very long. As Zachary Elkins, Thomas Ginsburg and James Melton noted in their book, The Endurance of National Constitutions (2009), “The mean lifespan [of national constitutions] across the world since 1789 is 17 years. … [Since] World War I, the average lifespan of a constitution … [is] 12 years.”

The U.S. is different. Its absurdly venerated and purposefully democracy-disabling Constitution has remained in place with occasional substantive amendments for 230 years. We’ve bowed down and prayed to the ridiculously fetishized, openly anti-democratic U.S Constitution for as long as I can remember.

 

Simon Says Suicide

It’s pathetic and self-destructive. Trying to advance democracy and protect the common good under the procedures of a slaveowners’ charter designed precisely to cripple and prevent popular self-rule and to protect and advance oligarchy is a fools’ game.  The rules of the game were written to guarantee popular defeat a very long time ago. It’s long past time to stop playing by those rules altogether – and to write a new rule book, a people’s constitution.

Surrender is not an option, however, given capitalism’s Constitutionally-encouraged war on the common good, with its now evidently grave ecological consequences.  In our struggles to save humanity and other sentient beings from the ever more imminent fate of capitalogenic Geocide, we must demand a new national charter, committed to the Holy Founders’ ultimate nightmare: popular sovereignty in defense and advance of the commons, broadly understood.  Playing “Simon Says” with Virginia slaveholders and merchant capitalists and their clever statesmen from the 1780s is mass suicide in 2018.

Advertisements

Socialism is No Longer a Bad Word

In Democracy, Human rights, Peace, Politics, War on July 15, 2018 at 10:20 pm

By Dave Anderson

July 12, 2018, Boulder Weekly

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t expect to become a “Democratic giant
slayer” as the New York Times would call her. The 28-year-old
bartender and waitress from the Bronx was running in a primary against
Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and one of the most powerful
Democrats in the U.S. House. He was a leading contender to become the
next Speaker of the House.

Crowley outspent Ocasio-Cortez 10-to-1, burning up more than $3
million on the race. His donors included Facebook, Google, JP Morgan,
Citigroup, Viacom, Lockheed Martin and Blackrock. But Crowley would
lose by a 57-42 percent margin.

The main differences between them were on issues of economic and
racial justice. Ocasio-Cortez had been an organizer for the Bernie
Sanders campaign and a member of Democratic Socialists of America
(DSA). Crowley was a liberal, but the more corporate-friendly kind.

Ocasio-Cortez was recruited to run by the Bernie-inspired Brand New
Congress (BNC) after she returned from an encampment at Standing Rock
in late 2016, where she was demonstrating to protect Native rights and
stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. She had an army of door-knocking and
phone calling activists from DSA, Black Lives Matter and Muslims for
Progress as well as BNC and two other Bernie-inspired groups, Justice
Democrats and Our Revolution.

Her platform was refreshingly bold: Medicare for All, a Green New
Deal, a federal jobs guarantee, the human right to housing, free
public college, a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico, an end to for-profit
private prisons, demilitarizing the police and abolishing Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

All of a sudden, Ocasio-Cortez was on numerous TV shows and profiled
in magazine and newspaper articles. Stephen Colbert on The Late Show
asked her what she meant when she said she was a democratic socialist.
She explained:

“I believe that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in
America should be too poor to live. What that means to me is health
care as a human right, it means that every child, no matter where you
are born, should have access to a college or trade-school education if
they so choose it. I think that no person should be homeless if we
have public structures or public policy to allow for people to have
homes and food and lead a dignified life in the United States.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked if socialism was
“ascendant” in the Democratic Party. She said no. She paused and
added, “it’s ascendant in that district perhaps. But I don’t accept
any characterization of our party presented by the Republicans. So let
me reject that right now.”

Her reaction was understandable. For decades, even quite conservative
Democrats have been called “socialists.” The word has been used as a
swear word. But times are changing. Bernie is the most popular
politician in the country. A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 35 percent
of Americans had a favorable view of “socialism.”

Interestingly, Democrats in that poll viewed “socialism” just slightly
more favorably than “capitalism.” However, an overwhelmingly majority
of Democrats and Republicans were favorable to “free enterprise” and
“entrepreneurs.”

In a different survey, nearly six in 10 Democratic primary voters in
2016 said socialism had a “positive impact on society,” and four in 10
Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa described themselves as socialists
(that included some Hillary Clinton supporters).

A number of polls show that socialism is increasingly popular among
younger Americans. That’s a big reason why DSA has grown from 6,000
members in 2015 to 43,000 today. There are 220 local chapters and at
least 35 DSA members have been elected to public office around the
country. They ran as Democrats.

Political scientist Corey Robin has noted that in the wake of
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, “there’s been a dramatic shift in mainstream
liberal opinion — in the media, on social media, among politicians,
activists and citizens — toward Bernie Sanders–style positions. People
who were lambasting that kind of politics in 2016 are now embracing it
— without remarking upon the change, without explaining it, leaving
the impression that this is what they believed all along.”

He says “this causes no end of consternation in certain precincts of
the Left.” But he argues that this change is good news and points out
that you build coalitions and mass movements by welcoming converts.

But the leftward shift in the Democratic Party began before
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. In September 2017, Bernie Sanders introduced
a Medicare for All bill, and he had 16 Democratic senators standing
with him as co-sponsors. A few months later, they joined Sanders in
calling for a government guarantee of full employment.

What’s going to happen next? Conflicts will continue between
Democratic Party factions over ideas and programs. It might be useful
to look back at another period of hard times. During the Great
Depression, the labor movement pushed the country — and the Democratic
Party — to the left through militant direct action. A fair number of
the activists in that movement called themselves Socialists,
Communists and Trotskyists.

Franklin Roosevelt borrowed many ideas from the Socialist Party to
create his New Deal. In 1954, a New York Times profile of Norman
Thomas, the six-time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party,
described him as an influential figure who made “a great contribution
in pioneering ideas that have now won the support of both major
parties,” including “Social Security, public housing, public power
developments, legal protection for collective bargaining and other
attributes of the welfare state.”

Can something like this happen again? As a card-carrying member of
DSA, I sure hope so.

Nuclear Weapons Pose the Ultimate Threat to Mankind | The Nation

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on June 25, 2018 at 6:39 am

Ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the peace movement has seemed moribund. But in the wake of the US–North Korean summit, there are glimmers of hope that something new is stirring, with a focus on the ultimate threat to humankind: the use of nuclear weapons.

This new momentum has been sparked by some of the dark times of the past 17 months. In January 2018, citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its iconic Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, the nearest to the symbolic point of annihilation that the clock has been since 1953, at the height of the Cold War. The world seems off its axis as new political forces have rekindled old animosities between nuclear rivals. The president’s disastrous decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has led to new dangers in the Middle East. Trump’s choice of John Bolton as national-security adviser jeopardizes the prospect for enduring peace with North Korea; Bolton was one of the most rabid proponents for the invasion of Iraq and has pushed for regime change in North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Meanwhile, the nuclear-armed states are undertaking new weapons programs, and the possibility of stumbling into a calamitous war with North Korea and/or Iran has never been more real. There are nine nuclear-armed states with a combined arsenal of around 15,000 nuclear weapons. Another 59 countries possess nuclear materials and the capacity to create their own weapons programs. Even a small regional nuclear conflict could inflict catastrophic global damage. The probability of lost or stolen nuclear material, the accidental use of nuclear weapons (or terrorists acquiring them), and the threat of full-scale nuclear war all rise each time a new country decides to make weapons-grade nuclear materials.

Last year, President Trump declared that he wanted the US nuclear arsenal to be at the “top of the pack,” asserting preposterously that the US military had fallen behind in its weapons capacity. In his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump again stated his determination to modernize the nation’s nuclear stockpile. His appointments, statements, and actions—combined with the knowledge that the president has sole launch authority for these weapons—have raised global anxieties to a level not seen in a quarter-century. Google searches for “World War III” hit an all-time high in April 2017.

In response, movements for nuclear disarmament around the world are reviving the kind of activism that’s been missing for a very long time. Take Korea: The American media make too little of the role of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the domestic movements that propelled him into office. Moon did not emerge from a vacuum; he was backed by numerous progressive forces in South Korea. Women Cross DMZ and other Korean women’s groups were part of that electoral muscle. In 2015, on the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division by the Cold War powers, Women Cross DMZ led 30 female peacemakers from 15 countries, including two Nobel Peace Prize laureates and the American feminist Gloria Steinem, across the Korean Demilitarized Zone. They held peace symposiums in Pyongyang and in Seoul, where hundreds of women discussed the impact of the unresolved Korean conflict on their lives and shared stories of mobilizing in their communities to end violence and war. They walked with 10,000 women on both sides of the DMZ, in the streets of Pyongyang, Kaesong, and Paju, calling for a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War, the reuniting of separated families, and a central role for women’s leadership in the peace process. Women are still pushing with meetings, marches, and political engagement across the Korean Peninsula. Moon’s election was partly a mandate to move forward with a new relationship with North Korea.

Peace movements in the non-nuclear states are on the rise too. In December 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to advance a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear arms. In all, 122 countries have voted in favor of adopting the treaty thus far, and many are on the path to full ratification. On May 17, Vietnam became the 10th nation to ratify it; the treaty requires the ratification of 50 countries before it acquires legal standing. No nuclear state has expressed support for it yet, but the treaty stands as a moral document and is galvanizing peace movements in many countries.

Meanwhile, peace activists are taking a page from the fossil-fuel divestment movement. Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies corporations that produce key components for nuclear weapons and presses major institutions to divest from them. The Dutch pension fund ABP, the fifth-largest in the world, announced in January that it would divest from all nuclear-weapons producers. Twenty-two major global institutions have already done just that.

Back home in the United States, Beyond the Bomb is a new effort focused on grassroots advocacy to reduce the threat of nuclear conflict. To date, the campaign involves Win Without War and Global Zero, but it aims to enlist a much broader network of groups. The primary focus is to pass emergency legislation that will curtail the president’s sole authority to use nuclear weapons. Few things are more terrifying than Donald Trump’s continual proximity to the so-called nuclear football—a briefcase with codes for launching nuclear missiles. When Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea, Beyond the Bomb gained momentum. The campaign is also working with others to block the United States’ proposed $1.7 trillion nuclear-weapons modernization program, and to support the adoption of no-first-use declarations as well as increased funding to clean up nuclear contamination in frontline communities.

The current global dynamics of fear, dysfunctional governments, and capitalism run amok are helping to drive the nuclear-arms race. But long-standing groups like Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Tri-Valley Cares, located near nuclear labs and production facilities, are mobilizing with a new intensity against the restarting of industrial-scale plutonium-pit manufacturing. On May 8, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, gave a groundbreaking speech in Washington, DC, that was reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s 1967 anti-war speech at Riverside Church in New York City. Barber invoked the moral necessity to resist militarism, the war economy, and nuclear weapons. Iraq Veterans Against the War is speaking forcefully against Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal, while Veterans for Peace has condemned the continuing US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Young progressives are linking their concerns about the violence directed against women, immigrants, indigenous communities, and African Americans with their outrage over gun violence, ecological destruction, and US militarism. John Qua, senior campaigner for Beyond the Bomb, observes that “many young people see a seamless connection among these movements,” including the need to address the ultimate form of violence—the use of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, many older Americans perceive a unifying theme here: the need to press for and protect a safe future for our children. Together, this incipient network of old and young alike is beginning to challenge government policies that have left us stranded for too long on the brink of nuclear conflict.

Betsy Taylor helped found the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and Iraq Peace Fund and is the president of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions.

Presbyterian Church says no to nuclear weapons, yes to Ban Treaty!

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on June 23, 2018 at 7:37 am

By Ralph Hutchison

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, the largest presbyterian ecclesiastical body in the United States, has called on the US government to “begin immediately the process of complete, irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament in compliance with our obligations…and the requirements of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” passed last summer at the United Nations.

The General Assembly took its action by adopting an Overture entitled “On Seeking God’s Peace Through Nuclear Disarmament in the 21st Century;” the Overture was approved on the consent agenda of the General Assembly on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at the church’s biannual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Overture, which originated in the Peacemaking Committee of the Presbytery of East Tennessee, was sent to the General Assembly by New Hope Presbytery in Raleigh, North Carolina, in February, and received concurrences from the Presbytery de Christo and Muskingham Presbytery before arriving at the church’s national assembly.

Building on the church’s long-standing position of opposition to nuclear weapons, the General Assembly’s action recognizes the urgency of the present moment, when nuclear weapons present a greater threat than at any time in the last fifty years, and the equally unprecedented opportunity presented by the movement to ban nuclear weapons. One hundred twenty-two nations approved the Nuclear Ban Treaty last summer at the United Nations; the United States boycotted the treaty negotiations at the UN and the vote.

The Presbyterian Church also calls on its members to “take actions in defense of God’s creation and our own security, which is inextricably bound to the security of the rest of the world,” and calls on the church to provide resources to educate and mobilize its members in collaboration with other faith communities to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the earth.

The Presbyterian Church’s action coincides with budget deliberations in the US Congress. The church calls for the elimination of funding for the Life Extension Program for existing nuclear weapons as well as plans for new nuclear weapon production facilities—the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and plutonium pit fabrication facilities proposed for Los Alamos (NM) and the Savannah River Site (SC).

“The action of the Presbyterian Church follows on the strong statements coming from the Vatican over the last three years,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance which provided resource support during the drafting of the Overture. “We hope it will serve as a model for other faith communities to reawaken a powerful voice that can press our government to make the world safer and more secure.”

The Overture also calls for the Presbyterian Church to work collaboratively with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, and other nongovernmental organizations working for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Trump’s Military Drops a Bomb Every 12 Minutes, and No One Is Talking About It

In Cost, Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on June 20, 2018 at 11:29 pm

By Lee Camp, June 19, 2018, truth dig

Pixabay

We live in a state of perpetual war, and we never feel it. While you get your gelato at the hip place where they put those cute little mint leaves on the side, someone is being bombed in your name. While you argue with the 17-year-old at the movie theater who gave you a small popcorn when you paid for a large, someone is being obliterated in your name. While we sleep and eat and make love and shield our eyes on a sunny day, someone’s home, family, life and body are being blown into a thousand pieces in our names.

Once every 12 minutes.

The United States military drops an explosive with a strength you can hardly comprehend once every 12 minutes. And that’s odd, because we’re technically at war with—let me think—zero countries. So that should mean zero bombs are being dropped, right?

Hell no! You’ve made the common mistake of confusing our world with some sort of rational, cogent world in which our military-industrial complex is under control, the music industry is based on merit and talent, Legos have gently rounded edges (so when you step on them barefoot, it doesn’t feel like an armor-piercing bullet just shot straight up your sphincter), and humans are dealing with climate change like adults rather than burying our heads in the sand while trying to convince ourselves that the sand around our heads isn’t getting really, really hot.

You’re thinking of a rational world. We do not live there.

Instead, we live in a world where the Pentagon is completely and utterly out of control. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the $21 trillion (that’s not a typo) that has gone unaccounted for at the Pentagon. But I didn’t get into the number of bombs that ridiculous amount of money buys us. President George W. Bush’s military dropped 70,000 bombs on five countries. But of that outrageous number, only 57 of those bombs really upset the international community.

Because there were 57 strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen—countries the U.S. was not at war with and places that didn’t have ongoing internal conflicts. And the world was kind of horrified. There was a lot of talk that went something like, “Wait a second. We’re bombing in countries outside of war zones? Is it possible that’s a slippery slope ending in us just bombing all the goddamn time? (Awkward pause.) … Nah. Whichever president follows Bush will be a normal adult person (with a functional brain stem of some sort) and will therefore stop this madness.”

We were so cute and naive back then, like a kitten when it’s first waking up in the morning.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that under President Barack Obama there were “563 strikes, largely by drones, that targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. …”

It’s not just the fact that bombing outside of a war zone is a horrific violation of international law and global norms. It’s also the morally reprehensible targeting of people for pre-crime, which is what we’re doing and what the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report” warned us about. (Humans are very bad at taking the advice of sci-fi dystopias. If we’d listened to “1984,” we wouldn’t have allowed the existence of the National Security Agency. If we listened to “The Terminator,” we wouldn’t have allowed the existence of drone warfare. And if we’d listened to “The Matrix,” we wouldn’t have allowed the vast majority of humans to get lost in a virtual reality of spectacle and vapid nonsense while the oceans die in a swamp of plastic waste. … But you know, who’s counting?)

There was basically a media blackout while Obama was president. You could count on one hand the number of mainstream media reports on the Pentagon’s daily bombing campaigns under Obama. And even when the media did mention it, the underlying sentiment was, “Yeah, but look at how suave Obama is while he’s OK’ing endless destruction. He’s like the Steve McQueen of aerial death.”

And let’s take a moment to wipe away the idea that our “advanced weaponry” hits only the bad guys. As David DeGraw put it, “According to the C.I.A.’s own documents, the people on the ‘kill list,’ who were targeted for ‘death-by-drone,’ accounted for only 2% of the deaths caused by the drone strikes.”

Two percent. Really, Pentagon? You got a two on the test? You get five points just for spelling your name right.

But those 70,000 bombs dropped by Bush—it was child’s play. DeGraw again: ” Obama] dropped 100,000 bombs in seven countries. He out-bombed Bush by 30,000 bombs and 2 countries.”

You have to admit that’s impressively horrific. That puts Obama in a very elite group of Nobel Peace Prize winners who have killed that many innocent civilians. The reunions are mainly just him and Henry Kissinger wearing little hand-drawn name tags and munching on deviled eggs.

However, we now know that Donald Trump’s administration puts all previous presidents to shame. The Pentagon’s numbers show that during George W. Bush’s eight years he averaged 24 bombs dropped per day, which is 8,750 per year. Over the course of Obama’s time in office, his military dropped 34 bombs per day, 12,500 per year. And in Trump’s first year in office, he averaged 121 bombs dropped per day, for an annual total of 44,096.

Trump’s military dropped 44,000 bombs in his first year in office.

He has basically taken the gloves off the Pentagon, taken the leash off an already rabid dog. So the end result is a military that’s behaving like Lil Wayne crossed with Conor McGregor. You look away for one minute, look back, and are like, “What the fuck did you just do? I was gone for like, a second!”

Under Trump, five bombs are dropped per hour—every hour of every day. That averages out to a bomb every 12 minutes.

And which is more outrageous—the crazy amount of death and destruction we are creating around the world, or the fact that your mainstream corporate media basically NEVER investigates it? They talk about Trump’s flaws. They say he’s a racist, bulbous-headed, self-centered idiot (which is totally accurate)—but they don’t criticize the perpetual Amityville massacre our military perpetrates by dropping a bomb every 12 minutes, most of them killing 98 percent non-targets.

When you have a Department of War with a completely unaccountable budget—as we saw with the $21 trillion—and you have a president with no interest in overseeing how much death the Department of War is responsible for, then you end up dropping so many bombs that the Pentagon has reported we are running out of bombs.

Oh, dear God. If we run out of our bombs, then how will we stop all those innocent civilians from … farming? Think of all the goats that will be allowed to go about their days.

And, as with the $21 trillion, the theme seems to be “unaccountable.”

Journalist Witney Webb wrote in February, “Shockingly, more than 80 percent of those killed have never even been identified and the C.I.A.’s own documents have shown that they are not even aware of who they are killing—avoiding the issue of reporting civilian deaths simply by naming all those in the strike zone as enemy combatants.”

That’s right. We kill only enemy combatants. How do we know they’re enemy combatants? Because they were in our strike zone. How did we know it was a strike zone? Because there were enemy combatants there. How did we find out they were enemy combatants? Because they were in the strike zone. … Want me to keep going, or do you get the point? I have all day.

This is not about Trump, even though he’s a maniac. It’s not about Obama, even though he’s a war criminal. It’s not about Bush, even though he has the intelligence of boiled cabbage. (I haven’t told a Bush joke in about eight years. Felt kind of good. Maybe I’ll get back into that.)

This is about a runaway military-industrial complex that our ruling elite are more than happy to let loose. Almost no one in Congress or the presidency tries to restrain our 121 bombs a day. Almost no one in a mainstream outlet tries to get people to care about this.

Recently, the hashtag #21Trillion for the unaccounted Pentagon money has gained some traction. Let’s get another one started: #121BombsADay.

One every 12 minutes.

Do you know where they’re hitting? Who they’re murdering? Why? One hundred and twenty-one bombs a day rip apart the lives of families a world away—in your name and my name and the name of the kid doling out the wrong size popcorn at the movie theater.

We are a rogue nation with a rogue military and a completely unaccountable ruling elite. The government and military you and I support by being a part of this society are murdering people every 12 minutes, and in response, there’s nothing but a ghostly silence. It is beneath us as a people and a species to give this topic nothing but silence. It is a crime against humanity.

Trusting Trump Shows a ‘Divorce from Reality’ The original Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg on government lies, public trust and when to break an oath

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on June 20, 2018 at 10:10 pm

Before Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, there was Daniel Ellsberg. In 1971, Ellsberg leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers, secret Defense Department documents showing that U.S. presidents had been lying to the public about the war in Vietnam. The revelations helped speed the end of the war, but they also changed the image of leakers. For the first time, releasing secret government documents could be viewed — by some Americans, at least — as an act of patriotism.

Ellsberg didn’t take his act lightly. For years, he had worked at the heart of the national security complex and was privy to some of the country’s most closely held secrets, including the operational plans for nuclear war, which he helped draft. When he decided to leak the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg wasn’t just risking life in prison. He was breaking promises he had made — and kept — his entire professional life.

“I shouldn’t have been asked to keep secrets when they were about concealing crimes or reckless and murderous policies.”

Ellsberg avoided jail time and has spent the years since as a political activist, warning Americans not to blindly trust their leaders. Now 87, he’s sounding the alarm over the threat of nuclear war. In December 2017, Ellsberg published a memoir, The Doomsday Machine, about his time as a nuclear war planner in the 1960s. In it, Ellsberg once again exposes the lies the U.S. government has told its citizens — this time, about the possible end of the world.

Ellsberg spoke to me by phone about his fear of nuclear annihilation, the moral calculus that led him to leak the Pentagon Papers, and how challenging it will be to rebuild the public trust that President Donald Trump has helped shatter. (This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Medium: Knowing what it could cost you, how did you ultimately decide to leak the Pentagon Papers?

Daniel Ellsberg: When I began copying them in October 1969, it was with the belief that the public was being misled by the administration as to its aims in Vietnam. I thought that if the public understood that they’d been misled in the same way by four previous presidents — Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson — that they would at least look more seriously on the possibility that I believed they were being misled in that way by a fifth president, Nixon.

The willingness to go to those lengths to enlighten the public in terms of my readiness to go to prison for life, as I expected to, came from the immediate example of young Americans who were already going to prison — not for life, but for years — in order to make the strongest message they could that the war was wrong.

How did you come to terms with releasing government secrets?

I had taken an oath of office in the government, and earlier in the Marine Corps, but that was not to keep secrets or to obey the president. That was a different oath: “To protect, support, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

That was a real, “so help me God,” right-hand-raised oath, which I had been violating along with the president and all of my colleagues for years. I just didn’t see it right away in those terms.

At the time, there was no question that I was breaking promises I’d made as a condition of employment. But I came to realize I had been mistaken to give that unconditional promise. I shouldn’t have been asked to keep secrets when they were about concealing crimes or reckless and murderous policies.

Countless people in government had access to the same information you did, who might have even felt the same sense of outrage you did, but they did nothing. What made you different?

It seemed to me, as it does to other whistleblowers at the time, that the information obviously needed to be out. You’re asking why so few do it, and that’s been puzzling me for 50 years now. One factor, I think, is that it was critical for me to meet people that I could identify with, like [Vietnam War activist] Randy Kehler, who otherwise had a similar background and who were doing this as draft resisters. If I hadn’t met them, the idea of doing this, I think, would not have come into my mind at all.

It comes down to whether you’re willing to take this risk, and it turns out that, empirically, almost no one is willing to do that. That seems to be the way humans are. That’s why the human species and all other large species are in very great danger.

“What I came to see was that several presidents had systematically broken trust with the public and with their promise to obey the Constitution.”

What would you tell someone who finds themselves in that kind of position?

If we’re talking about information that is being wrongfully withheld from the public by the government, with very high stakes involved, then I would say to them, “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until bombs are falling, and thousands more people have died, or the Constitution has been irreparably violated, before you consider putting the information out.”

I’m not exactly saying, “Do it.” I’m saying consider being willing to pay any cost to your life if we’re talking about stakes in which many, many other lives are involved or a major rule of law is involved.

Why did you wait?

I thought of leaking as betraying, breaking a promise, being wrong, embarrassing the president in ways that I had no intention of doing. I actually trusted the president to do the best thing under the circumstances, what I would have thought was wise or appropriate. Any divergence between us, I trusted, was just a matter of human error on his part or mine.

What I came to see was that several presidents had systematically broken trust with the public and with their promise to obey the Constitution. They did not deserve this kind of benefit of the doubt that I was actually giving them.

In your book ‘The Doomsday Machine’, you write about the horror you felt when presented with U.S. nuclear war plans that scoped out the deaths of 600 million people worldwide. What is it like to be in that machine? Why didn’t more people react?

What’s your guess on that?

Maybe they convinced themselves it was necessary to check the Soviet Union. Maybe they just put it out of their minds. Maybe they treated it as an intellectual exercise rather than something that could actually happen in the real world.

You’re looking at the simple effects on your personal life and your identity as a high-level official. Your career prospects, your children’s education, your ability to get further jobs. It all depend on your willingness to keep company secrets. It’s also possible to [talk yourself out of] the beneficial effect of revealing this stuff. Will the public really take action? Will anything come of it? Will Congress or the president actually respond? It’s certainly realistic to be skeptical about that.

If, for example, someone were to leak a report about what it would be like to have a nuclear war with North Korea, is there a risk that the American public simply wouldn’t believe it?

Oh yeah, definitely. President Trump is willing to deny any fact, no matter how well based on evidence and scientific explanation. And he has a base of people who think there are no facts except what the president says. That’s a misplaced trust that is very dangerous, not just to democracy, but to our continued existence as a civilization and even as a species.

How much should we be trusting a president in general?

Well, not as much as I did. I gave too much trust to the president. Trump, of course, is in a class by himself on this one. Trusting Trump, which about a third of the population does, shows a divorce from reality. And our democracy is not benefited by having that kind of misplaced trust.

“Trump is willing to deny any act, no matter how well based on evidence and scientific explanation.”

In the future, do you think another president could restore that trust? Or has it been fundamentally broken?

That has to happen. It won’t be a quick matter. But it could be done by people with a will to change it, who act in accordance with what they’re promising. It would take a period of time. It would be by earning it, by acting more truthfully—and I don’t mean just the executive branch of the government. I mean Congress and the courts and the media.

You’ve written about your great fear that we won’t escape nuclear war. How do you continue to do your work, your activism, believing that there’s such a great chance that our species won’t make it?

How do I live with that? It’s a reality as much as my own mortality is. I don’t say that I’ve done everything, by any means, that I have used my time as effectively as I could have. But I’m trying to do my best, and I’ll continue to do that, because I think it’s worth it. Even with all of its ills of past and current times, inequality, famine, cruelty, tyranny—I still think civilization and democracy and the rule of law are worth struggling to preserve.

Is it worth risking prison or permanent exile for a small chance of improving our chances of survival—and for the survival of democracy? I would say yes, it is.

written by

Bryan Walsh

Journalist, author, dad. Former TIME magazine editor and foreign correspondent. Writing END TIMES, a book about existential risk and the end of the world.

Banal Nationalism

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on June 20, 2018 at 9:38 am

Lisa Wade, PhD on July 4, 2014
Flashback Friday.

In his book by the same name, Michael Billig coined the term “banal nationalism” to draw attention to the ways in which nationalism was not only a quality of gun-toting, flag-waving “extremists,” but was quietly and rather invisibly reproduced by all of us in our daily lives.

That we live in a world of nations was not inevitable; that the United States, or Sweden or India, exist was not inevitable. I was born in Southern California. If I had been born at another time in history I would have been Mexican or Spanish or something else altogether. The nation is a social construction.

The nation, then, must be reproduced. We must be reminded, constantly, that we are part of this thing called a “nation.” Even more, that we belong to it and it belongs to us. Banal nationalism is how the idea of the nation and our membership in it is reproduced daily. It occurs not only with celebrations, parades, or patriotic war, but in “mundane,” “routine,” and “unnoticed” ways.

The American flag, for example, casually hanging around in yards and in front of buildings everywhere; references to the nation on our money; the way that the news is usually split into us and everyone else (e.g., US News and World Report); the naming of clubs and franchises, such as the National Football League, as specific to our country; and the performance of the pledge of allegiance in schools and sports arenas:

So, what? What could possibly be the problem?

Sociologists have critiqued nationalism for being the source of an irrational commitment and loyalty to one’s nation, a commitment that makes one willing to both die and kill. Billig argues that, while it appears harmless on the surface, “banal nationalism can be mobilized and turned into frenzied nationalism.” The profound sense of national pride required for war, for example, depends on this sense of nationhood internalized over a lifetime. So banal nationalism isn’t “nationalism-lite,” it’s the very foundation upon which more dangerous nationalisms are built.

 

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College.

After decades of secrets, Rocky Flats still gives me pause

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Politics, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 17, 2018 at 1:19 am

Denver Post, June 16, 2018

I most likely owe my very existence to the atomic bomb.

My father was in what was supposed to be the first wave of soldiers to occupy Japan in World War II. Based on the battles of Iwo Jima, Guam, and Okinawa, they had been told by their commanding officers that there was little chance they would survive. It had been estimated that the U.S. would lose at least a million soldiers in the occupation. My father figured he would be one of them.

My father strongly believed that more lives were saved than were lost by our use of nuclear weapons. Over the years he convinced me that was true.

I am, however, opposed to nuclear contamination.

Rocky Flats has become infamous for nuclear contamination. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and anyone else who has studied Rocky Flats admits that there was massive nuclear and hazardous waste contamination at the site. They also admit that the contamination was both inside and outside the boundaries of the plant.

The contamination, mostly from plutonium fires and corroding drums full of nuclear hazardous waste, was kept secret from the public by the DOE and its contractors until 1969. The highly visible billowing black smoke from a fire that year made it obvious to outside observers that nuclear contamination was escaping from the site. Independent tests were performed to assess the extent of contamination. When the civilian monitoring teams challenged government officials with the observed measurements, they were told that actually, most of the offsite contamination had come from a more catastrophic fire in 1957. It was the first time anyone in the public had been made aware of that disaster.

Due to Cold War fears and the growing number of military targets identified behind the Iron Curtain, DOE pushed its contractors hard to produce more and more plutonium triggers faster and faster. Safety for workers and the community was secondary, or an afterthought. The contractors were given blanket immunity by the federal government for most lawsuits, should problems occur. This attitude led to numerous accidents and unnecessary exposures for workers, as well as growing piles of waste that had to be stored onsite. Plutonium was handled in such a haphazard fashion that more than a ton of it was eventually lost, or unaccounted for. This culture led to Rocky Flats being ranked by the DOE as the most dangerous nuclear site in the United States. Two of its buildings made the list of the ten most contaminated buildings in America. Building 771 at Rocky Flats was number one.

In 1989, based on information from a plant whistle-blower alleging environmental crimes, the FBI and EPA raided Rocky Flats. This eventually led to the closure of the site and a special grand jury which, after more than 3 years of testimony, sought to criminally indict three government officials and five employees of the plant contractor. The Department of Justice refused to indict, however, and instead negotiated a plea bargain with the contractor, who was required to pay an $18.5 million fine. This was less than they collected in bonuses from the DOE that year, despite more than 400 environmental violations being identified. The evidence and findings of the grand jury were sealed by court order.

When Rocky Flats closed, the DOE estimated that it would take over $35 billion and 70 years to adequately clean the site. Congress appropriated them only $7 billion, and clean-up began.

What is contested is how much contamination remains on- and offsite after the clean-up, and what risk, if any, may persist. The government has reams of data and multiple exhibits supporting their claim that the risk is low. Concerned community groups and anti-nuclear activists also have data supporting their claim that the risk is not negligible.

I do not know where the truth lies. There is credible science and support on both sides. What I do know is that two of the men who have seen the most evidence concerning the level of contamination at Rocky Flats, the lead agent for the FBI raid and the foreman of the grand jury, continue to advocate for the prohibition of public access to the site. This gives me great pause.

When I was a kid, I guess I watched too many westerns.

They led me to believe that it was a noble thing to stand up to powerful forces when you thought they may be wrong, or when you felt you needed more information before you could support them. They lied to me. In real life, what I have found is that when I have the temerity to question the government’s claims, or ask for additional, independent information to help me decide where the truth may lie, I am labeled a “general of the scare brigade”, “reckless” and “irresponsible”.

I just wish I had the level of certainty that they have who feel so confident in publicly shaming my search for truth.

Mark B. Johnson, MD, MPH, is executive director of Jefferson County Public Health.

Ban Treaty on Track to Enter into Force

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

By Lydia Wood on Apr 30, 2018

Last week, I had the privilege of attending, on behalf of NuclearBan.US, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) campaigners’ meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting brought together over 130 ICAN campaigners from around the world to discuss campaign progress and strategy for making the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty successful.

Since 122 nations adopted the treaty at the United Nations on July 7, 2017, 58 countries have already signed and 7 countries have ratified the treaty. Once 50 countries have ratified the treaty it will enter into legal force, becoming binding under international law. Many countries across the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia are working through their governmental process of officially ratifying the treaty. This exciting progress means we are on track to have the treaty enter into force sometime over the next two years!

I met energized and creative campaigners from Kenya, Costa Rica, Nepal, The United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and The United States among many other countries who are bridging generational, national, religious, gender, and ethnic differences to build a thriving coalition against nuclear weapons. They talked about their efforts to lobby governments, politicians, faith organizations, and people and institutions at the grassroots level to take a stand against nuclear weapons.

The biggest challenge moving forward is getting the nine nuclear weapons countries and their NATO allies to support the treaty and eliminate their weapons. ICAN’s approach is to focus on consistent and clear messaging highlighting the humanitarian and existential risk that nuclear weapons pose to humanity. It’s a risk that we all share regardless of our national, political, or ethnic affiliations.

Here in the United States, it is a challenge to get people to think more internationally, but that is specifically what is needed for the Nuclear Ban Treaty to be successful. Grassroots mobilizing will be vital for turning the tides from nuclear posturing towards nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition. By working in our communities to educate others on nuclear risk, and by personally and collectively divesting from, and boycotting, the 26 companies making nuclear weapons we can help chip away at their legitimacy.

Cities, institutions, businesses, schools, faith organizations, and individuals across the US and abroad have already started committing themselves to divesting and boycotting from nuclear weapons, and many more are in the process of doing so. The treaty compliance campaign that is the centerpiece of NuclearBan.US is one way individuals and communities large and small can take on the nuclear threat and contribute to the success of the Nuclear Ban Treaty. It’s also offers a scalable strategy that other nuclear weapon and NATO countries can adopt to mobilize their citizenry. Furthermore, by mobilizing public support for the treaty we also signal to the international community that there is grassroots support for the Nuclear Ban in the US, further encouraging other countries to ratify the treaty.

After attending the ICAN campaigners’ meeting I am more convinced than ever that this movement will be successful. As we saw with the historic agreement that made vital progress towards ending the Korean War and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, diplomacy is good foreign policy. We need not wait for morality and rationality to creep into our political systems. As ICAN’s success to date reminds us, change starts within ourselves and our communities. It is possible to alter the course of history.

Accusing Russia – Listening to History

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on April 26, 2018 at 6:52 am

by Ted Snider
https://original.antiwar.com/Ted_Snider/2018/04/19/accusing-russia-listening-to-history/

The prophet Cassandra’s curse was that when she told the future, no one listened; history’s curse is that when it tells the past, no one does.

The West has no shortage of charges it hurls against Russia, but most of them can be grouped into one of three categories: that Russia intervened in the American elections, that Russia is dragging the world into a new cold war, and that Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. Sometimes when charges are brought against you, the best witness you can call to your defense is history.

Election Intervention

This history of Russia, America and political intervention begins right at the beginning of the history of the Soviet Union. But, it was not the Soviet Union doing the interfering.

The story of America and the West’s interference in the birth of the Soviet Union is not well-known. It began with propaganda but metastasized well beyond words. By mid 1918, 13,000 American troops were on Soviet soil. They would remain there for two years, killing and injuring thousands. Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev would later remind America of “the time you sent your troops to quell the revolution.” Churchill would record for history that the West “shot Soviet Russians on sight,” that they were “invaders on Russian soil,” that “[t]hey armed the enemies of the Soviet government,” that “[t]hey blockaded its ports, and sunk its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed for its downfall.”

America would interfere more specifically in Russian elections upon the death of the Soviet Union. In late 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin won a year of special powers from the Russian Parliament: for one year, he was to be, in effect, the dictator of Russia to facilitate the midwifery of the birth of a democratic Russia. In March of 1992, under pressure from a discontented population, parliament repealed the dictatorial powers it had granted him. Yeltsin responded by declaring a state of emergency, re-bestowing upon himself the repealed dictatorial powers. Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that Yeltsin was acting outside the constitution. But the US sided – against the Russian people and against the Russian Constitutional Court – with Yeltsin.

Intoxicated with American support, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament that had rescinded his powers and abolished the constitution of which he was in violation. In a 636-2 vote, the Russian parliament impeached Yeltsin. But, President Clinton again sided with Yeltsin against the Russian people and the Russian law, backed him and gave him $2.5 billion in aid. Clinton was interfering in the Russian people’s choice of leaders.

Yeltsin took the money and sent police officers and elite paratroopers to surround the parliament building. Clinton “praised the Russian President has (sic) having done ‘quite well’ in managing the standoff with the Russian Parliament,” as The New York Times reported at the time. Clinton added that he thought “the United States and the free world ought to hang in there” with their support of Yeltsin against his people, their constitution and their courts, and judged Yeltsin to be “on the right side of history.”

On the right side of history and armed with machine guns, Yeltsin’s troops opened fire on the crowd of protesters, killing about 100 people before setting the Russian parliament building on fire. By the time the day was over, Yeltsin’s troops had killed approximately 500 people and wounded nearly 1,000. Still, Clinton stood with Yeltsin. He provided ludicrous cover for Yeltsin’s massacre, claiming that “I don’t see that he had any choice…. If such a thing happened in the United States, you would have expected me to take tough action against it.” Clinton’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said that the US supported Yeltsin’s suspension of parliament in these “extraordinary times.”

In 1996, America would interfere yet again. With elections looming, Yeltsin’s popularity was nonexistent, and his approval rating was at about 6 percent. According to Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, Stephen Cohen, Clinton’s interference in Russian politics, his “crusade” to “reform Russia,” had by now become official policy. And, so, America boldly interfered directly in Russian elections. Three American political consultants, receiving “direct assistance from Bill Clinton’s White House,” secretly ran Yeltsin’s re-election campaign. As Time magazine broke the story, “For four months, a group of American political consultants clandestinely participated in guiding Yeltsin’s campaign.”

“Funded by the U.S. government,” Cohen reports, Americans “gave money to favored Russian politicians, instructed ministers, drafted legislation and presidential decrees, underwrote textbooks, and served at Yeltsin’s reelection headquarters in 1996.”

More incriminating is that Richard Dresner, one of the three American consultants, maintained a direct line to Clinton’s Chief Strategist, Dick Morris. According to reporting by Sean Guillory, in his book, Behind the Oval Office, Morris says that, with Clinton’s approval, he received weekly briefings from Dresner that he would give to Clinton. Based on those briefings, Clinton would then provide recommendations to Dresner through Morris.

Then ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering, even pressured an opposing candidate to drop out of the election to improve Yeltsin’s odds of winning.

The US not only helped run Yeltsin’s campaign, they helped pay for it. The US backed a $10.2 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan for Russia, the second-biggest loan the IMF had ever given. The New York Times reported that the loan was “expected to be helpful to President Boris N. Yeltsin in the presidential election in June.” The Times explained that the loan was “a vote of confidence” for Yeltsin who “has been lagging well behind … in opinion polls” and added that the US Treasury Secretary “welcomed the fund’s decision.”

Yeltsin won the election by 13 percent, and Time magazine’s cover declared: “Yanks to the rescue: The secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win”. Cohen reports that the US ambassador to Russia boasted that “without our leadership … we would see a considerably different Russia today.” That’s a confession of election interference.

Fifteen years later, Russia would accuse America of meddling still. When protests broke out over flawed parliamentary elections in December 2011, Putin said that Hillary Clinton “set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal.” He accused the State Department of supporting the protesters. The accusation could be dismissed if the State Department hadn’t declared its intention to “establish a direct relationship with the Russian people over the Kremlin’s head.”

A New Cold War

Western political discourse and the Western media constantly repeat the charge that Russia is pulling the world back into the Cold War. But, it was America that put the Cold War on life support when Russia wanted to let it go. In his new book Russia Against the Rest, Russian expert and Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent, Richard Sakwa, argues that, at the close of the Cold War, Russia wanted to transcends the blocs and divisions, but America insisted on preserving them. Russia wanted to join a transformed international community freed of blocs and made up of equal partners who cooperated with each other; America offered Russia only an invitation to join an enlarged American led community as a defeated and subordinate member. Russia wanted to end the Cold War and transcend blocs; America wanted to maintain the Cold War and simply enlarge its bloc. Russia sought to end the Cold War. If was America that couldn’t imagine a new paradigm and continued it.

Gorbachev offered the world Russia, but Bush could still only see the Soviet Union. But Gorbachev had brought about what Sakwa calls a “self-willed disintegration of the Soviet bloc” in favor of transcending blocs and ending the Cold War. Sakwa says that “it was not Western pressure that forced the Soviet leadership to end the Cold War but a decision of the Soviet leadership . . . that accepted the possibility of a stable and enduring cooperative relationship . . ..”

Gorbachev’s vision preceded the end of the Cold War: it was not a concession that came after. It was the Soviet Union, and not the United States that ended the Cold War. James Matlock, the US ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time, complains that American politicians were only able to see “the end of the Cold War as if it were a quasi-military victory rather than a negotiated outcome that benefited both sides.” Matlock tries to remind the West that “it was Gorbachev’s initiatives and not Western military pressure that ‘defeated communism’.” Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, says that Gorbachev ended the Cold War “well before the disintegration of the Soviet Union.” But the US was unable to recognize the Soviet invitation to exit the Cold War world structure and refused to reciprocate: “the Cold War [had] ended in Moscow,” Cohen says, “but not in Washington.” It was the West, and not Russia, that resumed the Cold War after disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact voluntarily dissolved on March 31, 1991. NATO never did.

As recently as 2000, Putin was still answering the question of whether Russia would join NATO with “Why not?” He saw Russia as part of a transformed community where Russia was “part of European culture . . . part of the ‘civilized world,’” where “seeing NATO as an enemy is destructive for Russia.” Sakwa says that in the early 2000s, Putin entered seriously into informal talks about NATO membership until the US vetoed the idea.

Sakwa says that Putin continued to engage the West and to attempt to forge a post Cold War partnership. Immediately after 9/11, Putin offered America logistical and intelligence support and helped take out the Taliban. Sakwa quotes an American official who rated Russian support after 9/11 as “as important as that of any NATO ally.” Rather than taking the hand Russia was offering in partnership, America slapped it by pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and announcing that it would now welcome the Baltic States into NATO.

Despite Russian attempts to integrate Europe and the international community into a world order that transcended Cold War divisions, pacts and rivalries, Europe and the West continued to maintain and expand those divisions. 2008 saw the creation of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Sakwa explains that the aim of the EaP was to draw Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia into the Western sphere. WikiLeaks has exposed a US cable that confesses that the aim of the EaP was to “counter Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe,” and admits to looking “for ways to enhance western influence beyond NATO’s eastern border.” Russia was trying to end, to transcend, the Cold War; America kept trying to push it.

Gorbachev and Putin always hoped the West would reciprocate Moscow’s voluntary dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and the ending of the Cold War. George Keenan, the American diplomat and father of the “policy of containment” of the Soviet Union, mourned the missed opportunity in a 1998 interview: “Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.”

When Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union, he hoped to dissolve it into a transformed world that was no longer separated into rival blocs. It was Washington and the West that lacked the vision to leave the Cold War behind and that continuously failed to seize that transformative vision because they were ossified in a Cold War way of seeing the world.

Aggression and Expansionism

Russian interventions, especially in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, have repeatedly been offered in evidence of the Western charge that Putin’s Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. But Russia’s interventions have never been expressions of policy. Instead, they have been isolated responses to a larger systemic Western policy of expansionism.

The West wasn’t supposed to expand. At a February 9, 1990 meeting, George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, promised Gorbachev that if NATO got Germany and Russia pulled its troops out of East Germany “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction one inch to the east.” But according to Sakwa, this promise meant only that NATO would not spill over from West Germany into East Germany. The promise of not “one inch to the east,” meant only that NATO wouldn’t militarize East Germany.

But the logic of the specific assurance implies the larger assurance. Russia wouldn’t have it as a security concern that East Germany not be home to NATO forces if there were NATO forces in all the Soviet Republics between East Germany and the western border of the Soviet Union. The value of the promise not to militarize East Germany is contingent upon the understanding that NATO won’t militarize east of East Germany.

So the question of militarizing east of Germany never had to explicitly come up: it was implicitly understood. Sakwa says that “It was clear that [the promise] did not refer just to the former German Democratic Republic.”

The promise was made on two consecutive days: first by the Americans and then by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. According to West German foreign ministry documents, on February 10, 1990, the day after James Baker’s promise, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told his Soviet counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze “‘For us . . . one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

Former CIA analyst and chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch Ray McGovern reports that the US ambassador to the USSR at the time of the promise, Jack Matlock – who was present at the talks – told him that “The language used was absolute, and the entire negotiation was in the framework of a general agreement that there would be no use of force by the Soviets and no ‘taking advantage’ by the US … I don’t see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but ‘taking advantage. . ..”

Mikhail Gorbachev certainly thinks there was a promise made. He says the promise was made not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the east.” Putin also says the promise was made. Putin has asked, “And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.”

Putin then went on to remind his audience of the assurances by pointing out that the existence of the NATO promise is not just the perception of him and Gorbachev. It was also the view of the NATO General Secretary at the time: “But I will allow myself to remind this audience what was said. I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. [Manfred] Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.’ Where are those guarantees?”

Recent scholarship supports the Russian version of the story. Sakwa says that “[r]ecent studies demonstrate that the commitment not to enlarge NATO covered the whole former Soviet bloc and not just East Germany.”

The promise made to Gorbachev was shattered: NATO engulfed Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999; Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004 and Albania and Croatia in 2009. It was the West, and not Russia, that was being expansionist.

When, in 2008, NATO promised Georgia and Ukraine eventual membership, Russia perceived the threat of NATO encroaching right to its borders. It is in Georgia and Ukraine that Russia felt it had to draw the line with NATO encroachment into its core sphere of influence.

Sakwa says that the war in Georgia was “the first war to stop NATO enlargement; Ukraine was the second.” The Georgian war was less an example of Russian expansionism than a defense against Western expansionism. And, even in the attempt to stop Western expansionism, Russia was not the initiator of aggression.

When Georgia declared independence from Russia in 1991, South Ossetia sought independence from Georgia. In August 2008, separatists responded to the massing of troops on the border of South Ossetia by attacking. Hours after a cease fire had been declared, Georgia launched a surprise attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. An estimated 160 South Ossetians were killed in the attack, as were 48 Russian soldiers.

Swarka says that Russian forces arrived and defeated the Georgian army “in response to the Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali.” Russia was not the initiator. The EU’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini condemned the Georgian attack: “None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack” were legitimate. Nor, she found, was the bombardment “necessary and proportionate.” She concluded that, though, the conflict had long been simmering, the “full-scale” hostilities were started by Georgia.

Russia responded, it did not initiate. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers saw no evidence that South Ossetia attacked Georgia before Georgia attacked Tskhinvali in violation of the cease fire.

Ukraine was the second Russian intervention to stop NATO enlargement and encroachment. The catalyst seized upon for the Western backed coup in Ukraine was President Yanukovych’s abandonment of an economic alliance with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia.

But, the economic alliance with the EU was not the benign one presented to the Western pubic. It was not just an economic offer. According to Stephen Cohen, the EU proposal also “included ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.” The provisions compelled Ukraine to “adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies.” So, the proposal was not a benign economic agreement: it was a security threat to Russia in economic sheep’s clothing.

Russia had no problem with EU expansion. Sakwa says that “there was no external resistance at this point to EU enlargement. On its own it posed no security threat to Russia, and it was only later, when allied with NATO enlargement . . . that enlargement encountered resistance.” And that is why the E.U. offer to Ukraine is an example of Western expansionism: it was allied with NATO.

Sakwa says “EU enlargement paves the way to NATO membership” and points out that, since 1989, every new member of the EU has become a member of NATO. It’s not only that the EU package subordinated Ukraine to NATO, since the EU Treaty of Lisbon went into effect in 2009 all new members of the EU are required to align their defense and security policies with NATO.

The EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine was no simple economic agreement. Article 4 says the Agreement will “promote gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine’s ever-deeper involvement in the European security area.” Article 7 speaks of the convergence of security and defense, and Article 10 says that “the parties shall explore the potential of military and technological cooperation.”

So, the annexation of Crimea was not part of a larger, consistent policy of Russian expansionism. It was a defensive reaction to Western encroachment deep into its sphere of influence and right up to its borders. It was a specific response to a threat, not a general hunger for expansion. That may be why when the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine tried to follow Crimea back to Russia, Putin tried to prevent their referendums, while accepting Crimea’s. When they went ahead with their referendums anyway, Putin refused to accept or be bound by their results. Crimea wasn’t Russian expansionism. It was a specific response that Russia felt was forced upon it by a Western coup that was intended to escort Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence and into an expanded NATO that stretched right to Russia’s door step.

The two cases offered by the West in evidence of its claim that Russia is increasingly aggressive and expansionist were really specific defensive responses forced on Russia by Western expansionism that had taken earlier NATO expansionism too far.

Like the charges against Russia of election interference and aggressive expansionism, the charge of inciting a new cold war requires a blinding dose of hypocrisy and a strong case of historical amnesia. The witness that gives the defense the best chance of answering the charges is history itself. But, only if we listen.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.