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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Message from Beatrice Fihn, ICAN info@icanw.org

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 29, 2017 at 1:56 am

Yesterday, negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons under international law began in New York. The treaty is being negotiated based on the recognition that the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon use is morally unacceptable and that the weapons themselves represent a significant risk to human security.

The treaty will finally ban weapons designed to indiscriminately kill civilians, completing the prohibitions of weapons of mass destruction.

While the majority of the worlds governments gathered in the room, Trump’s UN envoy, Nikki Haley, held a protest together with the UK, France and a number of Eastern European allies outside the negotiations.

The very unusual protest by Ambassador Haley and others demonstrates how worried they are about the impact of the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This treaty will also affect countries that fail to participate, by setting international norms of behaviour and removing the political prestige associated with nuclear weapons.

Over 115 governments, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Pope and other faith-based leaders, over 3,000 scientists, and civil society agreed yesterday – this is the time to ban nuclear weapons.
There are many ways to follow the treaty negotiations:

Live stream from the proceedings in New York
ICAN’s blog
#nuclearban on Twitter
Daily video updates
This is a really exciting moment and negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would not have happened without the strong support from civil society around the world.

Could Gov. Jerry Brown be the new face of an anti-nukes campaign? He’s thinking about it

In Democracy, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on March 28, 2017 at 9:58 pm

By John Myers, LA Times, March 23, 2017
For Gov. Jerry Brown, the question isn’t why he spent so much time in Washington this week talking about the growing threat of nuclear annihilation — it’s why everyone else isn’t doing the same.

“Most people are kind of blithely unaware,” Brown said of the issue. “It doesn’t show up in the press. That’s why I say, ‘The end of the world is not news.’ ”

Brown, though, may be ready to launch a visible new effort to change that. His busy schedule in the nation’s capital this week was filled with discussions of disaster relief, transportation and healthcare. But those meetings were scheduled to accommodate time he spent with leaders of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the threat of nuclear war.

What the governor took from his Washington visit was an appetite for action, perhaps even a rebirth of his former evangelical fervor for nuclear disarmament.

“I’m looking for ways to generate more activism, to build the awareness and the momentum for more discussion between these hostile powers,” Brown said in an interview. “And I think that may involve more public activity.”

Brown was invited to join the group’s board of directors earlier this year, alongside some of the world’s most distinguished nuclear experts. His own views were shaped amid California protests over nuclear power and weapons research in the late 1970s, an era in which the young governor had tapped in to a broader national discussion.

That discussion, though, faded from the spotlight.

“It’s a hard subject and people don’t like to think about it,” said former Democratic Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, now chief executive of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Nunn said that he and Brown have talked about nuclear threats “on a number of occasions” over the years and that he was urged to enlist the governor’s help by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who served under President Clinton and President Reagan, respectively.

“Citizens have to be interested” in shrinking the risk of a nuclear incident, Nunn said.

The Washington-based organization prides itself on the network of connections its international experts can tap to take action. Its projects have included a “fuel bank” for countries interested in nuclear energy to receive low-enriched uranium without creating a program that could produce more weapons.

That proactive approach is one Brown supports.

“Nobody seems to be worried about the general trajectory toward disaster,” the governor said in lamenting the tepid reaction the topic inspires in the general public.

Gov. Jerry Brown heads to Capitol Hill and dives into Washington’s healthcare battle »

Should nuclear tensions spill over into conflict, there would be few politicians as justified as Brown in saying, “I told you so.” The issue was a staple of his platform during three failed races for president, though his earnest approach to the topic often produced ribbing among political writers.

“Vote for Jerry Brown or die,” wrote journalist Roger Simon in a 1980 column published by The Times after Brown railed against nuclear weapons in the run-up to the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Brown’s focus often shifted to other issues during the rebirth of his political career, when he was elected as Oakland mayor in 1998 and attorney general in 2006. Now in the home stretch of a final term as governor, he said he’s ready to again sound the nuclear alarm — a cause that he said has parallels to his efforts on climate change.

Why Trump’s budget may be ‘devastating’ to his supporters

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Politics on March 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky said his poor, rural district – which voted 80 percent in favor of Trump – would be hit harder than anywhere else in the country.

Francine Kiefer, Staff writer | @kieferf
MARCH 17, 2017 WASHINGTON —President Trump’s “skinny” budget proposal would make deep cuts in many government programs in the name of pruning the federal bureaucracy. But in doing so it might disproportionately (and surprisingly) affect a particular demographic sector of America: Trump voters.

“It’s unacceptable,” says Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, whose district voted about 80 percent in favor of Trump. “The president’s biggest support came from the rural and poor areas like mine…. And that area is going to be hit harder than anywhere else in the country quite frankly.”

That’s due to the plan’s focus on non-defense, discretionary spending – everything Uncle Sam does outside the Pentagon and mammoth entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

It includes many programs that are important to rural, lower-income areas that went big for Trump last November, such as subsidies for regional airports, funds to clean up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, and support for regional economic development.

It’s possible these proposed reductions wouldn’t hurt Trump much in his political heartland. Many of his voters view the president not as appropriator-in-chief, but as an agent of change who’ll bring heartache to Washington’s powers that be, whatever the consequences.
Trump’s biggest executive actions, explained
It’s also possible the cuts would hurt Trump. At the least, they’ve already driven a wedge between the White House and many Republican members of Congress. These lawmakers often get the credit or blame for federal efforts in their districts. While they support Trump’s aim to increase military spending while cutting elsewhere, their first loyalty is to constituents.

$69 billion in proposed cuts

Overall, the Trump budget proposal would cut funding for non-defense discretionary spending by $15 billion in fiscal 2017 (despite the fact that year has already begun) and by $54 billion in fiscal 2018. All of this money would be shifted to military spending.

Two departments outside the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, would get increases. All other non-defense discretionary programs would be cut by more than 15 percent of current levels on average, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Many of these areas have already borne significant cuts over the past seven years, due to the tight caps that the 2011 Budget Control Act placed on non-defense discretionary program funding,” writes CBPP director Robert Greenstein in a statement on the Trump budget.

At least 19 federal agencies would be zeroed out under the Trump budget. These include the Appalachian Regional Commission, founded to help promote development in an impoverished part of the US; the Delta Regional Authority, another economic development group; the US Trade and Development Agency, which promotes US exports; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is a main means of support for rural public TV and radio stations.

Job training programs, worker safety efforts, and federal housing and energy assistance would also face deep cuts, according to CBPP.

‘Devastating’ to Trump voters

Representative Rogers, a former chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, represents one of the most impoverished regions in the nation – eastern Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia’s coal country. The Trump budget proposal would be “devastating” to his district, he says in an interview with the Monitor.

Funding for two key regional groups that recruit businesses and jobs and help retrain laid-off miners for other work would be zeroed out under the president’s budget. Those programs are making a difference he says.

Nor is the Kentucky lawmaker alone. Some other GOP members shared his reaction. Take Rep. John Moolenaar, a former Dow Jones chemist who now represents a big swath of Michigan’s mitten.

Representative Moolenaar, a Republican, is unhappy about Trump’s proposal to eliminate almost all of the $300 million federal funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He vows to fight to ensure that cut won’t happen. The lakes are a “national treasure” that hold 80 percent of the US supply of fresh surface water, he says.

“We need to fund that,” he says. He adds that other Appropriations Committee members agree with him.

These Republicans and others say they agree with Trump’s general thrust of increasing military preparedness while restraining domestic spending. But they take issue with these specific reductions.

Moolenaar feels that voters are more interested in Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and keeping jobs in America than they are in the specifics of the budget proposal.

Not that Trump’s budget will pass intact, or even largely intact. As these members point out, Congress controls the purse strings. Much will change before the House and Senate cast final budget votes.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balert (R) of Florida, who is a member of the House Appropriations committee, told reporters: “It’s not the real thing,” speaking of the president’s budget. The budget process is lengthy, this appropriator points out.

Not-so-innocent hyperbole

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Race, War on March 10, 2017 at 10:35 am

By Dave Anderson –

Boulder Weekly, March 9, 2017
Only 11 percent of the media coverage of the 2016 presidential
primaries dealt with the candidates’ policy positions, leadership
abilities and professional histories according to a study by the
Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Instead,
there were stories of personality conflicts, gossip, scandals,
campaign strategy and polls.

Politics has been treated as entertainment for a long time but Donald
Trump made things worse. As a celebrity and TV star, he developed the
skills to manipulate the media. His business career taught him to
“play to people’s fantasies,” as he (or rather his ghostwriter) wrote
in The Art of the Deal. He added, “People want to believe that
something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I
call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration —
and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”

The Trump circus continues to dominate the news with everybody
discussing his latest outrageous insults, lies and conspiracy
theories. Meanwhile, the Republicans quietly plan to turn back the
clock several decades now that they control the presidency, the
Congress, 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. Many noticed
this and a resistance was born.

It was organized spontaneously on social media. On the day after
Trump’s inauguration, about 5 million Americans turned out for the
Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and the sister marches in over 600
other cities. This was one of the biggest protests in U.S. history.
Less than a week later, huge crowds marched again opposing Trump’s
Muslim ban. When people from the banned countries were being detained
at airports, lawyers and protesters showed up.

Widespread protest has continued at the offices of Republican members
of Congress and at town hall meetings. Can we keep up the pressure? It
is difficult to sustain a sense of outrage and indignation over four
years.

Right after the election, progressive economist Max Sawicky tweeted,
“With a Democratic win, we’d be listing stuff to hold them to. Now we
have to list things we don’t want destroyed.” But Trump wasn’t the
usual rightwing Republican. He tapped into a populist fever. He
promised to bring back jobs, rebuild the middle class and end stupid
trade policies. He presented a classic rightwing populism that
directed his supporters’ anger at (some of) the rich and powerful and
a violent criminal underclass who are ruining the country. He claimed
that his solutions — tax cuts for the rich, decimation of business
regulations, Obamacare repeal — would bring back the American dream.

Actually these solutions would make the lives of ordinary Americans even worse.

We progressives have to resist, but we need to be pushing a strong
alternative. The ideas and programs are already there: Medicare for
all, tuition-free college, expanded Social Security benefits,
progressive taxation and a Green New Deal that will start a “just
transition” from fossil fuel jobs to jobs in renewables. That was
Bernie’s message in the primaries.

Hillary had a similar if milder bunch of proposals. But in the general
election she figured she would emphasize the perfectly sensible notion
that Trump was spectacularly unfit to be president. She calculated
that people would prefer a good manager with a “steady hand” who would
continue the Obama status quo.

There are furious debates over why Trump became president. The Clinton
campaign was criticized for not campaigning much in the Rust Belt, and
the Republicans for engaging in voter suppression of racial minorities
in many parts of the country. Hillary won the election by three
million votes but lost in the Electoral College. You can cite many
more factors.

But where do we go from here? Longtime union organizer Marshall Ganz
argued that progressives need to start at the grassroots. In an
interview on Talking Points Memo, he said, “Conservatives successfully
created a more or less coherent network of organizations linked to
local, state and national politics, which is a traditional form of
effective political organization in the U.S.” They organized in
evangelical churches, the religious schools that Betsy DeVos helped
sponsor, the gun clubs, the NRA, the Koch brothers network and ALEC.

He argued, “Many Democrats confuse messaging with educating, marketing
with organizing. They think it is all about branding when it is really
about relational work. You engage people with each other, creating
collective capacity. That’s how you sustain and grow and get
leadership.”

Ganz wants progressives to learn from the unions. He said, “When you
are organizing a union, a workplace, you have got to organize who’s
there. One of the troubles with the progressive groups is that they
respond to those who already agree with them, but don’t have much
incentive to actually go out and build a base by persuading and
engaging and converting those who don’t. If you are organizing a
union, you have to do that, because that’s how you win. Now ignoring
all these red and purple states is like pretending you don’t need them
to win, but you do.”

It isn’t easy. We need to resist. But we will win if we present an
alternative moral vision of how we can create a better society.

Note from Inside the EPA

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Public Health on March 10, 2017 at 1:38 am

This just came to me from one of my daughters.

From friend of a friend of a friend, I guess. Because the EPA staffers can’t talk to the media, and…we need to know this stuff:
From a friend in DC: Sharing with permission. From an Environmental Protection Agency staffer:
“So I work at the EPA and yeah it’s as bad as you are hearing: The entire agency is under lockdown, the website, facebook, twitter, you name it is static and can’t be updated. All reports, findings, permits and studies are frozen and not to be released. No presentations or meetings with outside groups are to be scheduled.
Any Press contacting us are to be directed to the Press Office which is also silenced and will give no response.
All grants and contracts are frozen from the contractors working on Superfund sites to grad school students working on their thesis.
We are still doing our work, writing reports, doing cancer modeling for pesticides hoping that this is temporary and we will be able to serve the public soon. But many of us are worried about an ideologically-fueled purging and if you use any federal data I advise you gather what you can now.
We have been told the website is being reworked to reflect the new administration’s policy.
Feel free to copy and paste, you all pay for the government and you should know what’s going on. I am posting this as a fellow citizen and not in any sort of official capacity.”

 

 

 

There’s no such thing as ‘limited’ nuclear war

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 5, 2017 at 3:05 am

By Dianne Feinstein

The Washington Post, March 3 at 7:25 PM
Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, represents California in the U.S. Senate.

Last month, it was revealed that a Pentagon advisory committee authored a report calling for the United States to invest in new nuclear weapons and consider resuming nuclear testing. The report even suggested researching less-powerful nuclear weapons that could be deployed without resorting to full-scale nuclear war. This is terrifying and deserves a swift, full-throated rebuke.

The report comes from the Defense Science Board, a committee made up of civilian experts. The board recommended “a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use.”

Let me be crystal clear: There is no such thing as “limited use” nuclear weapons, and for a Pentagon advisory board to promote their development is absolutely unacceptable. This is even more problematic given President Trump’s comments in support of a nuclear arms race.

As Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work testified in 2015, “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

Nuclear weapons present us with a paradox: We spend billions of dollars building and maintaining them in the hope that we never have to use them. The sole purpose of nuclear weapons must be to deter their use by others. Designing new low-yield nuclear weapons for limited strikes dangerously lowers the threshold for their use. Such a recommendation undermines the stability created by deterrence, thereby increasing the likelihood of sparking an unwinnable nuclear war.

Congress has stopped these reckless efforts in the past. During the George W. Bush administration, attempts to build a new nuclear “bunker buster” weapon were halted thanks to the leadership of then-Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio).

Today, proponents of building new low-yield nuclear weapons claim that our nuclear arsenal is somehow insufficient to meet evolving threats around the globe. That is simply not true.

First, we already have low-yield weapons: One such bomb, the B61 gravity bomb, is currently being modernized at an estimated cost of as much as $10 billion. Second, our existing arsenal of deployed strategic weapons is more than adequate to deter aggression against us and our allies.

Our nuclear arsenal consists of approximately 4,000 stockpiled warheads, enough to destroy the world several times over. That’s roughly the same number of warheads as Russia and almost four times more than all other countries combined.

We currently have two warheads in reserve for every warhead deployed, a “hedge” of 2 to 1. As we modernize our stockpile, we should strive to reduce both hedge and deployed warheads. In fact, a 2013 report by the Defense Department stated that our deployed arsenal could be further reduced by one-third while maintaining deterrence.

The Defense Science Board also suggested we should consider resuming nuclear testing to have confidence in our nuclear deterrent. That is also a wrongheaded position.

The Energy Department has ensured the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear stockpile for decades without conducting nuclear tests. The department’s work has taught us more about our stockpile than we could ever learn from relying primarily on explosive testing. In fact, the National Nuclear Security Administration has reported that the country is in a better position to maintain the nuclear arsenal than it was before the testing ban went into effect more than 20 years ago.

Resuming nuclear testing would only encourage others to follow suit. The world is made far less safe if other nations begin testing and continue to pursue new nuclear weapons and capabilities. Instead of following the panel’s recommendations, the Pentagon should follow its own 2013 guidance and further reduce our nuclear arsenal in concert with other nations.

To start, we can lead the way by working with Russia to develop a global ban on nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. These weapons are particularly dangerous because they can be mistaken for conventional cruise missiles, increasing the likelihood of an accidental nuclear exchange.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, victory is not measured by who has the most warheads, but by how long we last before someone uses one. This latest proposal may lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and the secretary of defense would be wise to reject it.

In Cost, Democracy, Peace, War on March 3, 2017 at 7:31 am

By Abby Phillip and Kelsey Snell, Washington Post, February 27
President Trump will propose a federal budget that would significantly increase defense-related spending by $54 billion while cutting other federal agencies by the same amount, an administration official said.

The proposal represents a major increase in federal spending related to national security, while other priorities, especially foreign aid, would face massive reductions.

According to the White House, the defense budget would increase by 10 percent. Trump also will request $30 billion in supplementary military spending for fiscal 2017, an administration official said.

But without providing specifics, the administration said that most other discretionary spending programs would be cut to pay for it. Officials singled out foreign aid, one of the smallest parts of the federal budget, saying it would face “large reductions” in spending.

It is the first indication of spending priorities by the new administration, with the president set to arrive on Capitol Hill on Tuesday night for a speech to a joint session of Congress. But the full budget negotiations between Trump and Congress will not be complete for many months.

In a statement at the White House on Monday morning, Trump said that his budget would put “America first” by focusing on defense, law enforcement and veterans using money previously spent abroad.

“We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” he said. “We can do so much more with the money we spend.”

The White House did not specify how Trump’s budget would address mandatory spending or taxes, promising that those details would come later. The vast majority of federal spending comes from programs Trump can’t touch with his budget. Social Security costs totaled about $910 billion last year, and Medicare outpaced defense spending with a total cost of $588 billion. Medicaid, interest payments on debt and miscellaneous costs made up an additional $1.2 trillion.
White House officials declined to answer questions about the president’s priorities on a host of other fiscal issues, including infrastructure improvements and plans to pay for a wall between the United States and Mexico. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), emphasized that the priorities outlined Monday do not reflect policy on broader fiscal issues, which he said will be addressed later.

“We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars,” Mulvaney told reporters. “A full budget will contain the entire spectrum of what the president has proposed.”
Defense spending accounts for almost the same proportion of the federal budget as all non-discretionary domestic spending, meaning that the Trump administration’s proposal will result in a roughly 10 percent across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs.

Budgets for most federal agencies would be reduced substantially, said an OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters to discuss the proposal.

The announcement marks the beginning of a process in which the OMB will coordinate with agencies to flesh out the plan.

Trump said his budget, which will be submitted to Congress next month, will propose “historic” increases in spending to bolster the country’s “depleted military,” and he said it will support law enforcement in an effort to reduce crime.

Trump noted that the country faces an urgent infrastructure problem, which he promised during the campaign that he would address with a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan. Although the administration has not yet outlined whether infrastructure will be part of Trump’s budget proposal, the president spoke about it at length before a gathering of governors at the White House on Monday.

“We’re going to make it easier for states to invest in infrastructure,” he said. “We spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, and we have potholes all over our highways and our roads.”
He added: “Infrastructure, we’re going to start spending on infrastructure — big.”

Republicans in Congress expect that the details released this week will be the first elements of a broader budget that will be rolled out next month. The Trump administration is expected to release a pared-down “skinny budget” the week of March 13 and a fuller list of requests by the end of March or early April, said multiple Republican congressional aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the process.

Democrats have warned that under the current circumstances, Trump would be hard-pressed to make significant cuts to domestic programs without significantly reducing some government services. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday that the scant details the Trump administration released probably would lead to cuts to widely used programs.

“A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water,” Schumer said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added that deep reductions could have a major effect on programs that keep the American workforce competitive.

“A $54 billion cut will do far-reaching and long-lasting damage to our ability to meet the needs of the American people and win the jobs of the future,” she said in a statement. “The President is surrendering America’s leadership in innovation, education, science and clean energy.”
Individual agencies were expected to begin the customary process of sending budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year to the White House beginning Monday, the aides said. The OMB will then begin drafting an official request for fiscal 2018 and submit it to Congress in the coming weeks.

Congress typically does not agree with the White House budget in full, even when the president and congressional leaders represent the same party. Republican leaders have not yet said when they will release their budget blueprint for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) told members at a GOP retreat in Philadelphia in January that he expects to act by July on a 2018 budget proposal that will lay out major spending cuts and begin the process of rewriting the tax code.

Philip Rucker and Ana Swanson contributed to this report.

Marshalls marks 71st anniversary of first Bikini tests

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 3, 2017 at 7:22 am

Category: Pacific/Regional News
02 Mar 2017
By Giff Johnson – For Variety

MAJURO — “Grief, terror and righteous anger” has not faded for Marshall Islanders despite the passage of 71 years since the first nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, President Hilda Heine told a Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday in Majuro.

The event included a parade, ringing of a bell 71 times to mark the years since the first Bikini tests, and speeches to mark March 1, the anniversary of the Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954. It is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands.

This year’s nuclear test commemoration did not end as usual with the morning program. A three-day “Nuclear Legacy Conference: Charting a Journey Toward Justice” kicked off Wednesday afternoon in Majuro with a keynote address by Ambassador Tony deBrum, and presentations by Marshall Islanders and experts from the United States and Japan who traveled to Majuro to attend the conference.

At Wednesday morning’s ceremony, President Heine said the U.S. government had not been honest as to the “extent of radiation and the lingering effects the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program would have on our lives, ocean and land.”

She pointed out that U.S. government studies kept secret from the Marshall Islands during negotiations on a compensation agreement reached in the 1980s “have now shown that 18 other inhabited atolls or single islands were contaminated by three of the six nuclear bombs tested in Operation Castle, as well as by the Bravo shot in 1954. The myth of only four ‘exposed’ atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, has shaped US nuclear policy on the Marshallese people since 1954, which limited medical and scientific follow up, and compensation programs.

“As your president, I cannot and will not accept the position of the United States government. Unlike the U.S., we acted in good faith. That is why ours is a moral case for which we are more than justified to seek redress.”

U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart honored islanders who suffered from nuclear testing and said “we will never forget Marshallese who sacrificed for global security.” Speaking about those who had already passed away, she said she was “encouraged by their and your courage for justice and your courage to build a better society.” Stewart said the U.S. “will continue to be your partner…for a brighter future for the Marshall Islands.”

Enewetak Sen. Jack Ading, speaking on behalf of other nuclear-affected atolls, pointed out that few survivors of the 1940s evacuations and nuclear weapons tests are still alive. “For most of us, the paradise that God created is just a legend from our elders,” he said. “By the time most of us were born, our paradise was a paradise lost.”

Ading said the 67 weapons tests left a “toxic legacy” that will affect the Marshall Islands for generations. Although 43 of those tests were at Enewetak, Ading said “my homeland was gone after the first nuclear device was exploded in 1948.”

The testing vaporized three islands in Enewetak, and a crater from one test was turned into “a massive dump for radioactive waste” that is now “leaking and devoid of warning signs or barriers. It is a constant source of concern.”

A number of doctors, scientists and researchers from the United States and Japan are participating in the three-day Nuclear Legacy Conference that started Wednesday afternoon.

In age of Trump, apocalyptic rhetoric becomes mainstream

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on February 23, 2017 at 9:06 am

By Jessica Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor,
Staff writer | @_jessicamendoza
FEBRUARY 22, 2017 LOS ANGELES

The longer President Trump is in office, the more Cat Deakins worries about the future – for herself and her children.

With every executive order and cabinet appointment, she envisions another scenario: an America that rejects immigrants, that succumbs to climate change, that erupts in war.

“It’s scary to me that [people within the administration] are promoting this idea of, ‘We are at war with Islam.’ That’s the kind of thinking that leads to World War III,” says Ms. Deakins, a cinematographer in Los Angeles. “I don’t think we can be alarmed enough.”

It’s a strain of thought that’s begun to take root in leftist narratives as the Trump administration enters its second month. The idea is that since taking office, the president has led the nation – and continues to lead it – down a path that will culminate in a dictatorship, a police state, or both. As Slate columnist Michelle Goldman writes, “To talk about Trump as a menace to our democratic way of life understates the crisis.”

To some degree, such statements reflect the pendulum swing of political power; conservatives made similar claims during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. And observers warn against reacting in an apocalyptic way to policies that are merely partisan.
Still, Mr. Trump is unpredictable, a president unprecedented in modern times, who has already used an expanded set of executive powers to pursue his agenda – one that many see as threatening widely held democratic principles.

“There is legitimate basis for concern,” says John Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “While apocalyptic rhetoric might be exaggerated, there have been real invasions of civil liberties, deep threats to civil rights. It’s perfectly appropriate to be watchful and wary.”

A sense of alarm

Sinister talk and ominous rumors are not new to American politics – from Ronald Reagan’s supposed propensity toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union to the Clintons’ purported involvement in the death of White House attorney Vince Foster.

“It was on the fringes,” Professor Pitney says. “But what we’ve seen since the turn of the century is the mainstreaming of apocalyptic rhetoric.”

During former President Barack Obama’s tenure, conservative pundits regularly made apocalyptic pronouncements about his heritage and religion. Some on the far right predicted his presidency would transform America into an Islamist or communist state.

Those prophecies proved groundless – and fed into a dangerous cycle of partisan antipathy, political analysts say.

Today, the sense of alarm has trickled down into the lives of some Americans who face a constant barrage of headlines and disputes, especially on social media.

Olaf Wolden, a documentary filmmaker in New York City, says he worries about Trump’s strained relationship with the press and the truth. “When information doesn’t fit the narrative he needs, he attacks it,” Mr. Wolden says. “That’s a classic move out of the playbook of [Joseph] Stalin or [Augusto] Pinochet.”

Others, like Deakins, are troubled by the upheaval in the administration’s early days, such as the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. “It’s horrifying to watch it roll out,” she says.

Still others point to the president’s attitude toward immigrants, which they say stokes racism and xenophobia.

“Building a border wall, scapegoating immigrants as one of the major problems for folks here in America – that is a threat to democracy,” says Alex Montances, an advocate for the rights of Filipino migrants in Long Beach, Calif.

That said, a line must be drawn between critiques of poorly crafted policies and apocalyptic concerns, says Peter Berkowitz, an expert on US conservatism and progressivism at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

There’s a difference, he says, between those who harshly criticized Mr. Obama because they saw the Affordable Care Act as government overreach and those who cast him as un-American and a tyrant based on false allegations about his race or religion

Likewise, a distinction must be made between those who are horrified by Trump’s immigration policy – like his border wall and temporary ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries – and those who say that the US is now a fascist state.

Journalists remain free to cover the news as they see fit, the Supreme Court to block executive orders it deems unconstitutional, and Congress to wrangle over laws they disagree about, he points out.

“Some of Trump’s rhetoric provides reason for heightened concern,” Berkowitz says. “That we are already fascistic – none of the evidence I see brought forward suggests that.”

Not being judicious in one’s criticism risks losing credibility, says Erik Fogg, co-author of the 2015 book, “Wedged: How You Became a Tool of the Partisan Political Establishment, and How to Start Thinking for Yourself Again.

“Regardless of what party you come from – but in particular for the left right now – the key is to be very, very selective about where they raise the alarm,” says Mr. Fogg.

A dangerous cycle

A key consequence – and driving factor – of apocalyptic rhetoric is political polarization.

In 2004, only about 1 in 10 Americans were consistently liberal or conservative across most values, the Pew Research Center reports. By 2014, the figure had doubled. The same year, Pew found that 27 percent of Democrats saw the Republican Party as “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” Thirty-six percent of Republicans said the same of the Democratic Party.

Such mistrust has paved the way for more extreme partisanship.

In one of countless tirades against the former president, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh – whose program remains one of the most popular talk shows on the air today – lambasted Obama in 2012 for saying that the rich often have help earning their wealth.

“Barack Obama is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “This is what we have as a president: A radical ideologue, a ruthless politician who despises the country and the way it was founded and the way in which it became great.”

Progressive pundits have since made their own proclamations of Trump’s evil intentions.

In January, Salon politics writer Chauncey DeVega accused the GOP of mobilizing “anti-black and anti-brown animus for political gain” and blamed “obsolete journalistic norms of ‘fairness,’ ‘balance,’ and ‘objectivity’ ” for failing to call out Trump’s fascism.

“Donald Trump and his supporters represent the tyranny of minority opinion,” Mr. DeVega wrote. “Consequently, they are the worst example of the will, spirit and character of the American people.”

“You have extremity on both sides of the spectrum. That’s what leads to apocalyptic thoughts about politics,” says Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “But there are probably apocalyptic thoughts that lead to polarization. It’s all rather cyclical.”
By making caricature monsters of the other side, “you make reconciliation harder and harder,” says Fogg, the author. And it also could affect both parties’ ability to see the real threat, he adds.

“You can’t write off the other team’s apocalyptic ideas as pure hysteria and embrace our own, and then when it doesn’t come to pass let it go,” he says. “I think the trick is going to be … figure out the real threat, and counter that. If we don’t, we’ll be scattered.”

Trump and the Doomsday Clock

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 13, 2017 at 11:06 pm

By Jeffrey D. Sachs FEBRUARY 12, 2017
The most chilling concern about Donald Trump is the worldwide fear that he puts our very survival at risk. This is not loose talk or partisanship. It was recently expressed by the most thoughtful experts who monitor the risks to our survival: The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who are the keepers of the Doomsday Clock. These experts have just told the world it is “Two and a half minutes to midnight,” where midnight signifies the end of civilization. This is the closest to doom since 1953, when both the United States and Russia first possessed thermonuclear weapons capable of destroying the world.

Let’s not panic. Instead, let’s think, plan, and act. As President John F. Kennedy famously declared, “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man.” The problem of Donald Trump can be solved too, by the institutions of American democracy and the international rule of law.
The Doomsday Clock was created 70 years ago, in the early days of the Cold War and the nuclear weapons race between the United States and the Soviet Union. For the first time in human history, mankind possessed the means of causing not only great carnage and suffering, but also the very destruction of humanity. The early generation of atomic scientists recognized the profound and unprecedented dangers of the new weapons and sought to warn the world. In the first edition of the clock, in 1947, they set the it to seven minutes before midnight, nuclear Armageddon. As the Cold War intensified, and atomic bombs gave way to vastly more powerful thermonuclear bombs, the minute hand moved five minutes closer to midnight.

When JFK came into office he powerfully expressed the existential paradox of modernity. “For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” We never came closer to the end than in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when mistakes by both the United States and the Soviet Union led the world to the very brink of nuclear war. In 1963, brilliant diplomacy by Kennedy, supported by the moral leadership of Pope John XXIII and the bold statesmanship of Nikita Khrushchev, led to the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Humanity was spared. The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock moved back to 12 minutes before midnight, a margin of safety.

With America’s escalation of the Vietnam War under Lyndon Johnson, the minute hand began to move once again toward midnight, while Richard Nixon’s “detente” with the Soviet Union again reduced the tensions and put the minute hand back to 12 minutes before midnight. Then tensions escalated with Ronald Reagan’s new arms buildup, until Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev launched the process of political and economic reform, perestroika, that culminated in the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Humanity had, it seemed, reached a moment of relative safety; the minute hand stood at 17 minutes before midnight that year.

Yet if ever a historic opportunity for safety was squandered, this was it. Every US president since then — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — has contributed to a decline of global safety, with the minute-hand moving from 17 minutes before midnight to just three minutes before midnight last year, even before Donald Trump became president. And after just a few days in office, Trump has contributed to another 30-second jump of the minute-hand toward midnight.

What went wrong between 1991 and now? Two grave mistakes. The first was the failure to capitalize on the end of the Cold War by establishing a trustworthy relationship between the United States and Russia. While most Americans would blame Vladimir Putin for that, they should follow the Gospel advice of Jesus: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Instead of working with Russia after 1991, the United States unilaterally asserted its military power, expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders and invading several countries in the Middle East. The Cold War was revived, not ended.
The second mistake was to turn a blind eye to the second existential threat: human-induced global warming. While the threat from nuclear weapons was easy enough to perceive (though also easy to forget day to day), the existential threat from human-induced climate change was far more difficult. To understand it requires at least a basic awareness of quantum physics, the Earth’s physical dynamics, and Earth’s climate and economic history. Our presidents and Congress have lacked that. They understand money from lobbyists — oil and gas companies — not quantum physics.

There are dire risks of our continued burning of coal, oil, and gas. When these fossil fuels are burned, they emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has the special quantum-mechanical property that it absorbs infrared radiation and thereby acts as a kind of atmospheric “greenhouse” for Earth, causing the planet to warm. This is of course clear to atmospheric chemists but not to most politicians. The science and Earth history also make clear that we are recklessly gambling with future survival. The ocean level could rise by 20 feet or more as a result of even slight further increases in temperature. Only a fool would say that since such an outcome is not completely certain, we should simply continue to burn fossil fuels at the maximum rate.

After just a few days as president, Trump induced the atomic scientists to move the minute-hand another 30 seconds toward midnight. They explained their unprecedented move as follows:

“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute — something it has never before done — reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days. Many of his Cabinet nominations are not yet confirmed by the Senate or installed in government, and he has had little time to take official action. Just the same, words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways.’’

They then cite Trump’s recklessness both toward nuclear weapons and climate change. On nuclear weapons, Trump has casually suggested that Japan and Korea should become nuclear powers; that a new nuclear-arms race is welcome; and that the use of nuclear weapons (e.g., in regard to ISIS) is not “off the table.” Yes, for every statement such as these, there are equal and opposite statements as well. There is, in short, casualness, inconsistency, and incoherence.

On climate change, the inconsistencies are not the problem; denial is. Trump has completely turned his administration’s environmental policies over to the oil and gas industry. The State Department is now in the hands of ExxonMobil; the Environmental Protection Agency is in the hands of politicians like Scott Pruitt, long financed by the fossil-fuel industry. The word on Capitol Hill is simple: The mega-billionaire Koch brothers, who own the nation’s largest private fossil-fuel company, own Congress, or at least the Republican side.

Trump is a bully whose bluster is designed to intimidate and wrong-foot a foe, and in Trump’s worldview, just about everybody is a foe. As he has famously explained, in an attitude inherited from his father, there are “killers” and there are “losers.” The bluster is designed to put Killer Trump ahead of the losers. The key to survival in the Trump era is to look past the bluster, face down the bullying, and prevent Trump’s poorly controlled emotions from guiding the policies of the United States on these life-and-death issues.

Despite the bravado of the flood of executive orders, most of them are mere statements of intent, not legally binding instruments. The courts will have their say; and the regulatory agencies must follow rigorous procedures to change existing regulations, all of which are subject to court review and congressional supervision. This is not to say that bullies do not get their way; they can. But bullies only get their way when others back down.

Trump’s recklessness can be checked in five ways.

First, the courts will scrutinize these poorly prepared and ill-considered executive orders; many will be quashed. The Muslim ban on entry to the United States is now on hold, perhaps never to be implemented. Every one of Trump’s early executive orders is likely to face court challenges and prolonged litigation.

Second, it will just take a few patriotic Republican senators joining with the Democrats to put a stop to Trump’s mad rush of recklessness. Will Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski, or Ron Paul, among others, really stand by if Trump acts recklessly brings us to the brink of nuclear war? Or would these and other senators allow the corruption and greed of the Senate to gut the Paris Climate Agreement? Of course, that’s possible, but these senators have children and grandchildren too, and most are not as stupid as their party’s official position on climate change.

Third, Trump is rapidly uniting the world — against the United States. Within just two weeks of office, Trump had the European Union president listing the Trump administration alongside Russia, China, and the Middle East as threats to the European Union. China’s President Xi Jinping has offered to take up the internationalist mantle that Trump is so eager to relinquish. Almost all of the world is also united in urging the handful of nuclear-weapons countries to honor their solemn obligations, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to take concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament, and not to instigate a renewed and dangerous arms race.

Fourth, while consumers have little sway over nuclear weapons, they have considerable sway over climate change. America’s brand names need to be put on notice: If you cower to the Koch Brothers, American Petroleum Institute, and Chamber of Commerce, you will pay a price. General Electric, are you with us or against us on saving the planet? How about you, Pepsi, Walmart, IBM, Walt Disney, GM, and other companies on Trump’s “strategic and policy forum”? Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has already walked out of the forum because of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. For those who remain, the millennial generation of consumers will soon walk out on you if you are accomplices to Trump’s attempt to gut the treaty agreements restricting global warming and the domestic regulations to implement them.

Fifth, of course, is electoral politics. In moments of pessimism, it may seem that Trump will trample American democracy, thereby preventing a course correction in 2020 or earlier. Yet Trump is no Caesar or Augustus, and America is no republican Rome on the verge of succumbing to dictatorship. No doubt Trump can do great damage; our institutional checks and balances have been gravely weakened by decades of rule by the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Presidents indeed have the power to launch wars, even secret ones run by the CIA and special ops units that can kill vast numbers of innocents. Yet the first days of Trump’s mayhem show that the American people, and our political institutions, are not ready to accede to bullies. I’m counting on the millennials to lead the way.

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Jeffrey D. Sachs is University Professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and author of “The Age of Sustainable Development.”