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Nuclear accident in New Mexico ranks among the costliest in U.S. history

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Workplace exposure on August 24, 2016 at 12:53 am

By Ralph Vartabedian

Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2016, 3:00 AM

When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations.

The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste.

But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.

Washington state officials were recently forced to accept delays in moving the equivalent of 24,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford site to the New Mexico dump. The deal has further antagonized the relationship between the state and federal regulators.

“The federal government has an obligation to clean up the nuclear waste at Hanford,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “I will continue to press them to honor their commitments to protect Washingtonians’ public health and our natural resources.”

Other states are no less insistent. The Energy Department has agreed to move the equivalent of nearly 200,000 drums from Idaho National Laboratory by 2018.

“Our expectation is that they will continue to meet the settlement agreement,” said Susan Burke, an oversight coordinator at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The dump, officially known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production since World War II into ancient salt beds, which engineers say will collapse around the waste and permanently seal it. The equivalent of 277,000 drums of radioactive waste is headed to the dump, according to federal documents.

The dump was dug much like a conventional mine, with vertical shafts and a maze of horizontal drifts. It had operated problem-free for 15 years and was touted by the Energy Department as a major success until the explosion, which involved a drum of of plutonium and americium waste that had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The problem was traced to material — actual kitty litter — used to blot up liquids in sealed drums. Lab officials had decided to substitute an organic material for a mineral one. But the new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35% of the underground area.

“There is no question the Energy Department has downplayed the significance of the accident,” said Don Hancock, who monitors the dump for the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.

Though the error at the Los Alamos lab caused the accident, a federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the dump. The dump’s filtration system was supposed to prevent any radioactive releases, but it malfunctioned.

Twenty-one workers on the surface received low doses of radiation that federal officials said were well within safety limits. No workers were in the mine when the drum blew.

Energy Department officials declined to be interviewed about the incident but agreed to respond to written questions. The dump is operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership, which is led by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM. The company declined to comment.

Federal officials have set an ambitious goal to reopen the site for at least limited waste processing by the end of this year, but full operations can not resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

In addition, the federal government faces expenses — known as “hotel costs” — to temporarily store the waste before it is shipped to New Mexico, said Ellis Eberlein of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

The Hanford site stores the equivalent of 24,000 drums of waste that must be inspected every week. “You have to make sure nothing leaks,” he said.

The cleanup of the Three Mile Island plant took 12 years and was estimated to cost $1 billion by 1993, or $1.7 billion adjusted for inflation today. The estimate did not include the cost of replacing the power the shut-down plant was no longer generating.

Other radioactive contamination at nuclear weapons sites is costing tens of billions of dollars to clean up, but it is generally the result of deliberate practices such as dumping radioactive waste into the ground.

James Conca, a consultant who has advised the Energy Department on nuclear waste issues, described the accident as a comedy of errors and said that federal officials are being “overly cautious” about the cleanup. “It got contaminated, but a new exhaust shaft is kind of ridiculous,” he said.

For now, workers entering contaminated areas must wear protective gear, including respirators, the Energy Department spokesperson said. She noted that the size of the restricted area had been significantly reduced earlier this year.

Hancock suggested that the dump might never resume full operations.

“The facility was never designed to operate in a contaminated state,” he said. “It was supposed to open clean and stay clean, but now it will have to operate dirty. Nobody at the Energy Department wants to consider the potential that it isn’t fixable.”

Giving up on the New Mexico dump would have huge environmental, legal and political ramifications. This year the Energy Department decided to dilute 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium in South Carolina and send it to the dump, potentially setting a precedent for disposing of bomb-grade materials. The U.S. has agreements with Russia on mutual reductions of plutonium.

The decision means operations at the dump must resume, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“They have no choice,” he said. “No matter what it costs.”

ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

Twitter: @RVartabedian

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UN Disarmament Working Group Calls for 2017 Negotiations to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 21, 2016 at 6:53 am

August 19, 2016

Geneva – A few minutes ago a special UN working group involving most of the world’s countries concluded its work with the recommendation that negotiations begin in 2017 toward a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

Of the countries present today, 68 voted in favor of the final report, 22 against, with 13 abstentions. The final report language and roll call of votes are not available yet.

One hundred and seven countries attending the working group at one time or another since February have variously stated their support for starting ban negotiations as soon as possible.

The United States did not attend the meeting. U.S. nuclear allies did however attend, and over months several of these states led what turned out to be an unsuccessful effort to block progress.

States which have pledged to support negotiations that would ban nuclear weapons now number 127, a strong UN majority which augurs well for success of pro-ban states this fall in the General Assembly.

Today’s press release of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a network of 440 organizations in 93 countries, follows. Further details will no doubt be available in the coming hours.

Majority of UN members declare intention to negotiate ban on nuclear weapons in 2017

United Nations disarmament talks concluded in Geneva today with the overwhelming majority of nations signaling their intention to launch negotiations in 2017 for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

One hundred and seven nations in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, together with several in Europe, united behind a proposal to convene a conference next year to outlaw nuclear weapons.

A small handful of nations argued that nuclear weapons are essential for their security and therefore should not be prohibited. However, these opponents failed to block the majority and prevent negotiations from proceeding.

The Geneva talks began in February and continued in May and August as part of a special UN working group established last year to advance nuclear disarmament negotiations, which have long been stalled at the UN.

The group today adopted its final report by vote. The report recommends that a conference be held next year to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law, despite their inhumane and indiscriminate nature. The proposed ban would address this legal anomaly.

“There can be no doubt that a majority of UN members intend to pursue negotiations next year on a treaty banning nuclear weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

“This is a significant moment in the seven-decade-long global struggle to rid the world of the worst weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “The UN working group achieved a breakthrough today.”

“We expect that, based on the recommendations of the working group, the UN General Assembly will adopt a resolution this autumn to establish the mandate for negotiations on a ban on nuclear weapons in 2017.”

UN talks recommend negotiations of nuclear weapons ban treaty

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on August 21, 2016 at 6:44 am

From ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)
August 19, 2016

In a dramatic final day, the groundbreaking UN talks on nuclear disarmament concluded by making a clear recommendation to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Known as the “Open-Ended Working Group” (OEWG), the talks have taken place in February, May and August of this year and have outlined a number of elements that should be included in a new legally binding instrument which prohibits nuclear weapons. The majority support for the ban treaty was clearly underlined by joint statements delivered by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as statements from several European states.

Resistance continued to come throughout the working group from a small group of states who continued to argue that nuclear weapons are essential to their national security. Despite threatening to block a report which contained a recommendation for a ban treaty, these governments did not have the leverage to thwart the successful outcome of the group.

After long deliberations, it seemed that States were going to agree to a compromised report which reflected the views of both sides of the ban treaty issue. However, after this agreement had seemingly been secured behind closed doors, Australia made a last-second turnaround and announced that it was objecting to the draft of the report and called for a vote. In spite of the opposition from Australia and several other pro-nuclear weapon states, the majority was able to carry the day. On that basis, the working group was able to recommend the start of negotiations on a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

This breakthrough is result of the new global discourse on nuclear weapons. Bringing together governments, academia and civil society, a series of three conferences have uncovered new evidence about the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the risks of their use, whether accidental or intentional. The momentum generated by the “humanitarian initiative” has now culminated with the international community on the verge of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law, despite their inhumane and indiscriminate nature. A ban would not only make it illegal for nations to use or possess nuclear weapons; it would also help pave the way to their complete elimination. Nations committed to reaching the goal of abolition have shown that they are ready to start negotiations next year.

It is now up to the October meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee to bring forward this process by issuing a mandate to start the negotiating process.

Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Workplace exposure on August 14, 2016 at 8:15 am

Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World

As citizens of this planet inspired by the Second Thematic World Social Forum for a Nuclear-Fission‐Free World, conducted in Montreal from August 8 to August 12, 2016, we are collectively calling for a mobilization of civil society around the world to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to put an end to the continued mass‐production of all high‐level nuclear wastes by phasing out all nuclear reactors, and to bring to a halt all uranium mining worldwide.

This call goes out to fellow citizens of all countries worldwide who see the need,whether as an individual or as a member of an organization, for a nuclear-­fission‐free world. We are committed to building a global network of citizens of the world who will work together, using the internet and social media to overcome isolation, to provide mutual support and to coordinate the launching of joint actions for a world free of nuclear fission technology, whether civilian or military.

We will begin by creating communication channels to share information and educational tools on legal, technical, financial, medical, and security‐related matters linked to

military and non‐military nuclear activities. We will pool our resources across national boundaries in a spirit of cooperation, allowing us to contribute to the formulation of a convergent and unified response to counteract the plans of the nuclear establishment that operates on a global scale to multiply civil and military nuclear installations worldwide and to dump, bury and abandon nuclear wastes.

We recognize each nuclear weapon as an instrument of brutal and unsurpassed terror, designed to kill millions of innocent men, women and children at a single stroke. We realize that even a limited nuclear war can provoke sudden extreme climate change on a global scale, crippling agricultural production and threatening the survival of all higher forms of life. We are grimly aware that a nuclear‐armed world will surely destroy itself and set in motion a process that will undo four billion years of evolution. We are determined to help guide the world away from the brink of nuclear annihilation.

We recognize each nuclear reactor as a repository of the most pernicious industrial waste ever known; waste so radioactive that it spontaneously melts down if not continually cooled; waste that, when targeted by terrorists or saboteurs, or by conventional warfare, will render large portions of the earth uninhabitable for centuries; waste that contains material that can be used as a nuclear explosive at any time in the future, for thousands of years to come.

We recognize uranium as the key element behind all nuclear weapons and all nuclear reactors, and we endorse the call by the International Physicians for the Prevention of- Nuclear War and by the 2015 Quebec World Uranium Symposium for a total global ban on the mining and processing of uranium.

We will use our networks

‐to pressure governments everywhere to put an end to nuclear fission

‐to expose the dangers associated with the export and transport of nuclear materials and nuclear waste;

‐to puncture the myths used to prop up and justify our irrational nuclear addiction;

‐to tell the sobering stories of nuclear victims and nuclear refugees;

‐to emphasize our moral responsibilities not to burden future generations with a poisonous nuclear legacy;

‐to warn governments without nuclear facilities to realize the dangers and avoid becoming enmeshed in this technology;

‐to disseminate the findings of engineers, doctors, biologists, ecologists, physicists and concerned citizens having special knowledge and appreciation of nuclear dangers;

‐to promote and popularize the wide variety of renewable energy alternatives that are green and sustainable;

‐to launch lawsuits and to support whistle‐blowers to halt the most egregious examples of nuclear malfeasance;

‐to promote non‐violent conflict resolution, and

‐to denounce the illegal, immoral, and insane obsession with nuclear weapons arsenals.

We invite all people, groups and organizations involved in the effort for a world without nuclear fission and uranium mining, to commit themselves to this effort. We also ask them to endorse this declaration and to transmit it widely in their networks.

This declaration is partly inspired by the Tokyo Appeal issued by the First Thematic World Social Form for a Nuclear‐Free World held in Tokyo and Fukushima in March 2016.

To endorse the declaration send name and e‐mail address to ccnr@web.ca and to JGerson@afsc.org

http://www.PeaceAndPlanet.org

Watching the Nuclear Watchdog

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on August 9, 2016 at 3:22 am

By Janette D. Sherman, MD

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Despite scientific findings linking low-level radiation exposure and cancer that go back as far as Madam Marie Curie in the 1930s, the nuclear power industry in the U.S. has evaded rigorous examination of the risks its plants pose to their neighbors and downwinders.

Senator Ted Kennedy demanded a study of cancer risks 27 years ago. For an industry that has been splitting uranium atoms to heat water and create electricity since 1957, one study hardly seems adequate. A second study is pending, but industry watchdogs worry it is so compromised that its results will be predictable.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board issued a “Phase 2 pilot planning report.” The report was designated “planning” because executives at the agency have yet to decide how to conduct the study.

The current federally-sponsored study of cancer rates near nuclear plants is now nearly six years old, and will take at least five more years, maybe more, to complete. The planning is being shaped by regulators closely aligned with an industry that stands to lose if nuclear energy plants are linked to cancer.

The current study of cancer rates near nuclear plants is now nearly six years old, and will take at least five more years, maybe more, to complete. The planning is being shaped by regulators closely aligned with an industry that stands to lose if nuclear energy plants are linked to cancer.

To appreciate how flawed the process has been, a little history is needed. The building of nuclear power plants in the U.S. began in 1943 to produce atomic bombs. It was not until 1957 that plants began to produce electricity. In the 1980s, the number of power reactors peaked at 112. That is now 99 and falling.

Despite known releases of radiation from these reactors into the environment and a connection between radiation exposure and cancer that is now widely accepted among medical researchers, federal officials spent decades declaring no risk of developing cancer to anyone living near a reactor—without conducting any studies to support their claims.

That ended in 1988 when Ted Kennedy wrote a letter to James Wyngaarden, director of the National Institutes of Health. Kennedy had learned of an article in the medical journal The Lancet describing high leukemia rates around the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station near Boston. Wyngaarden took the senator’s not-so-subtle hint, and responded three weeks later:

“The National Institutes of Health is actively involved in studying the adverse effects of ionizing radiation, and we concur with your view that the risks at low levels need further clarification … We are currently correlating county mortality data from the 1950s through early 1980s with reactor operations.”

Wyngaarden wasn’t truthful about his staff “currently correlating” cancer data. No such process had begun until Kennedy’s letter arrived. Wyngaarden also demonstrated his pro-industry bias by writing: “The most serious health impact of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident that can be identified with certainty is mental stress to those living near the plant, particularly pregnant women and families with teenagers and young children.”

Following Kennedy’s request, the National Cancer Institute issued a report in July 1990, concluding: “The survey has produced no evidence that an excess occurrence of cancer has resulted from living near nuclear facilities.” Researchers, however, for the most part only surveyed cancer deaths, not incidences, thus limiting the consideration of radiation-sensitive cancers like thyroid and child cancer, which most victims survive. The safety of nuclear plants was subsequently ignored by officials except when they cited the 1990 report as evidence that it is “safe” to live near nuclear plants.

Then in May 2009, seemingly out of nowhere, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) posted a “pre-solicitation” notice for experts to conduct a cancer study near U.S. nuclear plants.

As encouraging as that might appear, an NRC-sponsored study of cancer risks near the reactors it regulates is a blatant conflict of interest. Approximately 90 percent of NRC funding comes from licensing fees paid by companies that own the nuclear plants that the commission regulates. Bad news about cancer and nuclear plants means bad news for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Moreover, NRC officials do not have medical backgrounds. They are mostly physicists and engineers, typically moving through the revolving door connecting the regulatory community and the industry. Most employees either have worked at nuclear plants or they will work at nuclear plants when they leave the agency.

To direct the study, the NRC approved a no-bid contract to the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. Located at the world’s oldest nuclear weapons plant, the institute has extensive contracts with the U.S. Energy Department, which is strongly invested in nuclear development.

That conflict was too obvious. After protests by activists, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey intervened and the NRC responded by moving the study to the National Academy of Science, whose National Academy Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board would direct the project.

The Radiation Study Board’s chair was Richard Meserve, himself a former NRC chair—and an illustration of how compromised our nation’s nuclear regulators are.

Meserve has been a senior counselor to a law firm that works for the nuclear industry, a board member of nuclear energy companies in Texas and California, and board advisor to a French-U.S. conglomerate with plans to build new nuclear plants in the U.S.

Protests by anti-nuclear activists compelled Meserve to recuse himself from the project. Yet while other members of the study board are not as compromised as Meserve, few have backgrounds in public health or medicine, and none has ever published a peer-reviewed article on cancer near nuclear plants.

By now critics of this process expect a report that finds “no link” between cancer risk and living in proximity to a reactor.

Yet science uncompromised by relations with the industry has reached a different conclusion. At least 60 published, peer-reviewed studies have linked cancer to low-level exposure to radiation (particularly among children who are most susceptible).

Examples? A 2012 study of all nuclear plants in France found elevated levels of child leukemia in the vicinity of the plants. A 2008 study in Germany came to a similar conclusion regarding child leukemia and that country’s nuclear generating facilities.

A study in Archives of Environmental Health in 2003 found cancer rates in children that were 12.4 percent higher than nationwide occurrences in 49 counties surrounding 14 nuclear plants in the eastern U.S. (Note: The author was one of the five researchers.)

The obligation among government employees and scientists to maintain their objectivity and to protect human health is on the line with this upcoming study. That unbiased research is unlikely unless grassroots organizations and individuals keep the pressure on elected officials.

Five Things Scarier Than a Nuclear Trump

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health on August 8, 2016 at 2:01 am

By Ralph Hutchison, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

The specter of an erratic, impulsive person with the nuclear launch codes at his fingertips has people talking about nuclear weapons again. That’s a good thing. There are nearly 20,000 warheads and missiles distributed around the world. They are capable of killing hundreds of millions of people in one afternoon. They are a greater and more imminent threat to life on the planet even than climate change. They are, to put it simply, an existential peril.

So of course it’s scary to think someone who is likely to say or do anything that pops into his or her head might be in a position to set off the final conflagration that results in mass murder on a scale impossible even to contemplate, with nuclear winter to follow, and widespread radiation contamination that will last for hundreds of millions of years.

But if that’s your biggest worry about nuclear weapons, you haven’t been paying attention.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. A lot of the scariest stuff about nuclear weapons is discussed in classified briefings, things too devastating for our tender ears to hear—even though the policies and plans being discussed could turn our tender ears and the rest of our tender bodies, along with our children and everyone we know, to ash in a millisecond.

Here are five things worth worrying about more than Donald Trump’s crazy.

1. Anyone else with the launch codes. The downside to crazy Trump is he makes everyone else look saner. But saner is not necessarily rational. To buy into current US policy, you have to buy into an irrational policy that virtually guarantees any time we use nuclear weapons to advance our agenda or protect our interests, we are committing not only homicide, but suicide. Right now, more than 1,000 US nuclear warheads are on hair-trigger alert. Our policy reserves the right to “First Use,” meaning we can launch without a nuclear provocation, say, for instance, a pre-emptive strike. And our policy includes a nuclear umbrella that has promised many, many countries we will come to their defense if they are attacked—South Korea, for instance, and Japan. Central and South America, and eastern European countries in NATO. Would we, really, start a nuclear war because we gave our word? This is a profoundly important question, not debated in public—the fate of the Earth, literally, hangs in the balance.

2. Accidental launches, miscommunications and mistakes. The story of nuclear weapons is a story that includes way too many mistakes and accidents. Few people know we came within minutes of a nuclear launch in 1995, when Russia misread a weather satellite launch from Norway. Even fewer know of US accidents that have lost nuclear weapons over land and sea in other countries. Or that our “command and control” is so slack that six nuclear warheads were mistakenly flown across the US—officially, they were missing for several hours. Not even the pilot realized he had them. You might shrug it off and say, “No harm, no foul,” except for this: what if they had been diverted elsewhere, by someone else, and no one noticed for hours? What if they hadn’t been found “safely” tucked away on a US Air Force jet hundreds of miles from home—what if they had been taken somewhere else and weren’t found? Investigations have repeatedly found misbehavior on the part of US military personnel assigned to staff the missile silos that would launch Armageddon—the bottom line is it doesn’t necessarily take an act of the President to trigger disaster.

3. Dirty bombs. Nuclear weapons can kill millions without exploding in a thermonuclear mushroom cloud. Because their ingredients are, even without being detonated, among the deadliest toxins known to humans. The health risks of plutonium are measured in the millionths of a curie—a tiny amount, dispersed in the air, can kill hundreds or thousands of people, and cause cancers in many, many more. So a terrorist who gets hold of a bomb may not be able to detonate it without launch codes, but if he or she is willing to risk suicide, plutonium, lithium deuteride, and highly enriched uranium could be removed from the warhead and repurposed to make a dirty bomb—a terror weapon that, exploded in a crowded place, would poison and kill thousands and thousands of people.
It is impossible to eliminate the possibility of a dirty bomb as long as there is a “market” for fissile materials. With thousands of nuclear weapons deployed around the world, in various states of security — did you realize the uprising in Turkey in July 2016 placed 50 US nuclear warheads stationed at Incirlik air base at risk? That protesters denied military and other forces access to the base for several hours? That electrical power from outside the airbase was cut off for days?—the possibility of a sale or theft of radioactive materials on the black market is real.
It is this kind of scenario, the possible diversion of nuclear materials, that has brought people like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and scores of other military, security and diplomatic officials to the conclusion that we must abolish our nuclear weapons because their very existence makes us less secure, not more secure.

4. The new nuclear arms race. You should know that our nuclear stockpiles are not static. Over the years, arms control agreements have reduced the number of US warheads and bombs from the tens of thousands to less than ten thousand, and the number of deployed warheads is even less.
At the same time, the United States is committed to “modernizing” every facet of its nuclear weapons program—building new multibillion dollar bomb production plants, upgrading and modifying our current nuclear warheads, designing and building new missiles to deliver warheads, and investing hundreds of billions in new jets, submarines and bombers. All told, plans call for spending a trillion dollars over the next thirty years—four million dollars an hour, every hour, for thirty years!
Our plan to modernize hasn’t gone unnoticed. Russia and China are taking steps (albeit spending a lot less money) to upgrade and extend the lives of their nuclear stockpiles. We have entered a new global nuclear arms race, led by the policies and actions of the United States.

5. Inevitability. Although US and Russian nuclear policy is nothing if not irrational, that does not preclude us from applying a touch of simple logic to nuclear weapons. Do you think the likelihood of nuclear war is very small—but not zero? Most people would agree with you. But that means the probability of a nuclear war at some time—unless we get rid of them—is 100%. The question is “what does ‘at some time’ mean?” It doesn’t mean never, because the probability is not zero. Does it mean forty years from now? Or forty minutes?
There are lots of safeguards and procedures to guard against accidental launch; and we hope for leaders who are rational enough to refuse an impetuous launch. And we might hope a nuclear-armed leader faced with an apparent launch—like Boris Yeltsen was in 1995 when Russian radar read a weather satellite launch as a possible nuclear missile because somewhere along the line the standard communication lines had broken down—would guess conservatively, even if it means risking his entire country.
But it’s just that—a hope. Because the safeguards and procedures meant to secure our stockpile and control launches depend on humans. Who make mistakes. As in: “To err is human.” That’s not just a cute way to brush off our mistakes—it’s a fundamental truth about human nature. We are not able to be perfect every time.
When three anti-nuclear activists entered the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in the middle of the night in July 2012 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, if they had taken a left turn instead of a right after crossing the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Assessment Zone, they would have entered a ramshackle warren of deteriorating buildings where the US is actively manufacturing thermonuclear cores for the W-76 warhead. Unnoticed. If they had been armed, with malign intent, the resulting catastrophic chaos would be a mark in history greater than 9/11—an explosive device that caused the collapse of Building 9212 would have unleashed a cloud of radioactive dust that would have poisoned not only Oak Ridge, but nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, and who knows how far the wind would have carried the toxins—which would remain deadly for more than a hundred million years! If they had stolen even one warhead, or a dozen kilograms of highly enriched uranium, they would have triggered a global manhunt lasting until they were captured or until they used their uranium in a major metropolitan area to plant the seeds of hundreds of thousands of cancers.
The intrusion at the bomb plant was an important lesson to everyone who thinks nuclear weapons make us safe and secure.
These weapons, deadlier than we can even comprehend, depend on human beings to control them, safeguard them, and make decision about their use. In Oak Ridge, on that July night, expensive security systems, complicated physical barriers including four fences, high-tech warning equipment, and a guard force of hundreds failed to stop an 82 year-old nun and two 50+ year-old men from penetrating every security barrier and spending twenty minutes uninterrupted inside the lethal-force-authorized zone.
The security we think nuclear weapons provide is an illusion, just like all the security at Y-12. The cost of living under that illusion, without thinking about it, could be our very existence.

So next time someone asks about Donald Trump’s finger on the button, remember that behind that question of the political moment is a much more important question. Nuclear weapons are real. They threaten our very existence, and the threat grows every day, no matter who is President of the United States. Shouldn’t we do something—like everything we possibly can—about that?

Declaration of the International Meeting of the World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 7, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Declaration of the International Meeting

Seventy one years ago, the USA used nuclear bombs for the first time against humanity by releasing atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With tremendous destructive power and radiation, the two bombs burned out the cities and claimed the lives of about 210,000 people by the end of the year. It was a hell on earth. The Hibakusha who survived then had to suffer from latent effects and social discrimination for many subsequent years. Such inhumane weapons should not be used again in any circumstances whatsoever.

The nuclear powers still maintain more than 15,000 nuclear warheads. Not a small number of them are on alert for launch. The concern for the outbreak of nuclear war due to deteriorating regional tensions is real. A recent study shows that even if only a small percentage of existing nuclear weapons are used, it would cause serious climate change and would bring the human race to the brink of extinction. The elimination of nuclear weapons is an urgent task for the very survival of the humanity.

By international law and justice, weapons of mass destruction are widely perceived to be illegal. As biological and chemical weapons have been banned by international treaties, nuclear weapons should be banned immediately and made illegal.

At present, a new move to open the door to a “world without nuclear weapons” is developing. Substantial discussions for a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons have begun at the United Nations.

The 70th Session of the UN General Assembly adopted by majority a number of resolutions calling for the start of negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. With the support of more than 70% of the member states, it also decided to convene an open-ended working group (OEWG) to discuss “concrete effective legal measures” to achieve “a world without nuclear weapons”. The meetings of the OEWG turned out to be an epoch-making opportunity where substantive matters for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons were discussed, and the convening of a conference in 2017 to negotiate a treaty was proposed. We cordially request that the OEWG include the commencement of negotiations for a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons in the recommendations submitted to the coming session of the UN General Assembly.

The motive power of these developments is found in the anti-nuclear peace movement all around the world, including the Hibakusha who have kept warning about the inhumanity and atrocity of nuclear weapons. The appeals of Hibakusha in the international political arenas have elicited huge responses. Through the 2015 NPT Review Conference, where international anti-nuclear peace movements rallied, the voices demanding legally binding measures have expanded ever more widely.

The forthcoming session of the UN General Assembly in autumn will have discussions, focusing on the report of the OEWG. To ban nuclear weapons by treaty and eliminate them is the long standing core demand of the World Conference against A and H Bombs. Now is the time to make every possible effort to build overwhelming public support to achieve this goal.

The five nuclear powers of the USA, Russia, the UK, France and China are working in unison to counter this development. Their posture and that of their allies who follow them is clearly a major obstacle put in a way to achieve a “world without nuclear weapons”.

They boycotted the OEWG, and their allies who spoke for them, including Japan, oppose any immediate step to take to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons and insist that the “step-by-step” is the only practical approach. History proves, however, that this approach does not really lead us one step closer towards nuclear disarmament. It is an approach that puts off the abolition of nuclear weapons into indefinite future.

While being defensive before the argument on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the nuclear powers still cling to the “nuclear deterrence” doctrine, saying that the security aspects should also be considered. The essence of this argument is to try to justify the use or threat to use nuclear weapons against other countries to protect so-called national interest, which is the most dangerous concept. Besides, deterrence has actually induced nuclear proliferation in the name of “self-defense”, and thus helped spread threat to peace.

Opening a door to a “world without nuclear weapons” will only be possible by defeating such absurdity in the posture of the nuclear powers.

The focal point today is a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. We must make every effort to strengthen the movement and public opinion demanding the commencement of negotiations and conclusion of such a treaty. No first use of nuclear weapons and ban on their use, ratification of the CTBT, ending the development, replacement and modernization of nuclear arsenals, and reduction of nuclear armament are also all important. These measures will become more effective, if the movement and public opinion demanding an agreement on the prohibition of nuclear weapons are mobilized.

The nuclear weapon-free zones are playing an important role for regional peace and security, and their further development is called for. As agreed upon by the past NPT Review Conferences, an international conference for the creation of a nuclear weapon and WMD-free zone in the Middle East should be convened with no further delay. The problem of nuclear development of North Korea should be resolved through diplomacy, including the resumption of the six party talks.

To achieve a “world without nuclear weapons”, it is essential to resolve regional conflicts and contentious problems by peaceful means based on the peace principles of the U.N. Charter and international law, excluding the use or threat to use force. International community in unity must isolate and root out terrorism, which resorts to indiscriminate killing, by non-military means. For the purpose of preventing proliferation, it is all the more urgent to reach an agreement to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Releasing greater resources by drastic cuts in military expenditures, including the cost for maintenance and development of nuclear forces, overcoming poverty and disparity, improvement of living standard and welfare, and protection of human rights and democracy are all integral parts of “a peaceful and just world”.

Although the Japanese Government is expected to play an appropriate role as the only A-bombed country, it is actually acting as a spokesperson for nuclear powers. At home, it forced through the security-related laws, or War Laws, disregarding the constitutional principles of peace, to consolidate its readiness to take part in war overseas. Relying on the US “nuclear deterrence”, it is even taking theposition of agreeing to the use of nuclear weapons. Underlying this is the absolute priority given to the Japan-US military alliance.

In the meantime, a wide range of people have risen in action demanding the abolition of War Laws and restoration of constitutionalism. Against this background, all opposition parties came together to field their united candidates in the House of Councilors elections in July. In Okinawa, a united candidate who opposes the construction of a new US base defeated a former Cabinet member. The Japanese anti-nuclear peace movement took active part in this struggle. The International Meeting of the 2016 World Conference against A and H Bombs expresses solidarity with the Japanese movement which stands in defense of the Constitution and works to establish a non-nuclear and peaceful Japan.

The movements and public opinion of the peoples of the world are the driving force to open a nuclear weapon-free, peaceful and just future. We propose the following actions:

— To build the “International Signature Campaign in Support of the Appeal of the Hibakusha, the Atomic Bomb Survivors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons” and other actions to build public opinion demanding the start of negotiations for a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons, with the goal of hundreds of millions signatures collected worldwide. To help to promote these actions, we will continue to make widely known the damage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and help Hibakusha to speak about their experiences internationally. We will carry out these activities particularly on such occasions as the nuclear disarmament deliberations of the UN General Assembly, UN International day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (Sept. 26) and UN Disarmament Week (Oct. 24-30).

— Let us extend relief and solidarity with the Hibakusha and support them to achieve their demand for state compensation. Let us call for the relief of the victims of the nuclear tests and nuclear plant accidents. Let us strengthen our support of the sufferers of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. We strengthen our solidarity with the zero NPP movement. Let us extend our support to the victims of Agent Orange and depleted uranium, and other war victims.

— Let us strengthen our solidarity with all such movements against war and for peace, reduction and dismantling of foreign military bases from Okinawa, Guam and other places, effective control of arms exports and military industry, cuts in military expenditures, improvement of living conditions, employment and social welfare, overcoming poverty and disparity, prevention of climate change, protection of global environment, elimination of sexism and other discriminations, overcoming social justice and for sustainable development.

The Hibakusha appeal: “It is our strong desire to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world in our lifetime, so that succeeding generations of people will not see hell on earth ever again.” Responding to their pressing desire, with fresh determination, let us make many steps forward to a “nuclear weapon-free, peaceful and just world”.

August 4, 2016

International Meeting, 2016 World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs

Update on Nuclear Weapons & Power

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 3, 2016 at 12:18 am

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation August 2016 newsletter, Sunflower, is recommended for its broad coverage of the current nuclear weapons & power issue. The many brief articles are very informative. Available at http://www.wagingpeace.org/sunflower-newsletter-august-2016

The Big Boom: Nukes and NATO

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on July 27, 2016 at 1:32 am

by CONN HALLINANhttp://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/22/the-big-boom-nukes-and-nato/

“Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”-William J. Perry, U.S. Sec. Of Defense (1994-97)

Perry has been an inside player in the business of nuclear weapons for over 60 years and his book, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink,” is a sober read. It is also a powerful counterpoint to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) current European strategy that envisions nuclear weapons as a deterrent to war: “Their [nuclear weapons] role is to prevent major war, not to wage wars,” argues the Alliance’s magazine, NATO Review.

But, as Perry points out, it is only by chance that the world has avoided a nuclear war—sometimes by nothing more than dumb luck—and, rather than enhancing our security, nukes “now endanger it.”

The 1962 Cuban missile crisis is generally represented as a dangerous standoff resolved by sober diplomacy. In fact, it was a single man—Russian submarine commander Vasili Arkhipov—who countermanded orders to launch a nuclear torpedo at an American destroyer that could have set off a full-scale nuclear exchange between the USSR and the U.S.

There were numerous other incidents that brought the world to the brink. On a quiet morning in November 1979, a NORAD computer reported a full-scale Russian sneak attack with land and sea-based missiles, which led to scrambling U.S. bombers and alerting U.S. missile silos to prepare to launch. There was no attack, just an errant test tape.

Lest anyone think the Nov. 9 incident was an anomaly, a little more than six months later NORAD computers announced that Soviet submarines had launched 220 missiles at the U.S.—this time the cause was a defective chip that cost 49 cents—again resulting in scrambling interceptors and putting the silos on alert.

But don’t these examples prove that accidental nuclear war is unlikely? That conclusion is a dangerous illusion, argues Perry, because the price of being mistaken is so high and because the world is a more dangerous place than it was in 1980.

It is 71 years since atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and humanity’s memory of those events has dimmed. But even were the entire world to read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, it would have little idea of what we face today.

The bombs that obliterated those cities were tiny by today’s standards, and comparing “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”—the incongruous names of the weapons that leveled both cities—to modern weapons stretches any analogy beyond the breaking point. If the Hiroshima bomb represented approximately 27 freight cars filled with TNT, a one-megaton warhead would require a train 300 miles long.

Each Russian RS-20V Voevoda intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) packs 10 megatons.

What has made today’s world more dangerous, however, is not just advances in the destructive power of nuclear weapons, but a series of actions by the last three U.S. administrations.

First was the decision by President Bill Clinton to abrogate a 1990 agreement with the Soviet Union not to push NATO further east after the reunification of Germany or to recruit former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact.

NATO has also reneged on a 1997 pledge not to install “permanent” and “significant” military forces in former Warsaw Pact countries. This month NATO decided to deploy four battalions on, or near, the Russian border, arguing that since the units will be rotated they are not “permanent” and are not large enough to be “significant.” It is a linguistic slight of hand that does not amuse Moscow.

Second was the 1999 U.S.-NATO intervention in the Yugoslav civil war and the forcible dismemberment of Serbia. It is somewhat ironic that Russia is currently accused of using force to “redraw borders in Europe” by annexing the Crimea, which is exactly what NATO did to create Kosovo. The U.S. subsequently built Camp Bond Steel, Washington’s largest base in the Balkans.

Third was President George W, Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the decision by the Obama administration to deploy anti-missile systems in Romania and Poland, as well as Japan and South Korea.

Last is the decision by the White House to spend upwards of $1 trillion upgrading its nuclear weapons arsenal, which includes building bombs with smaller yields, a move that many critics argue blurs the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.

The Yugoslav War and NATO’s move east convinced Moscow that the Alliance was surrounding Russia with potential adversaries, and the deployment of anti-missile systems (ABM)—supposedly aimed at Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons—was seen as a threat to the Russian’s nuclear missile force.

One immediate effect of ABMs was to chill the possibility of further cuts in the number of nuclear weapons. When Obama proposed another round of warhead reductions, the Russians turned it down cold, citing the anti-missile systems as the reason. “How can we take seriously this idea about cuts in strategic nuclear potential while the United States is developing its capabilities to intercept Russian missiles?” asked Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

When the U.S. helped engineer the 2014 coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine, it ignited the current crisis that has led to several dangerous incidents between Russian and NATO forces—at last count, according to the European Leadership Network, more than 60. Several large war games were also held on Moscow’s borders. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev went so far as to accuse NATO of “preparations for switching from a cold war to a hot war.”

In response, the Russians have also held war games involving up to 80,000 troops.

It is unlikely that NATO intends to attack Russia, but the power differential between the U.S. and Russia is so great—a “colossal asymmetry,” Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told the Financial Times—that the Russians have abandoned their “no first use” of nuclear weapons pledge.

It the lack of clear lines that make the current situation so fraught with danger. While the Russians have said they would consider using small,tactical nukes if “the very existence of the state” was threatened by an attack, NATO is being deliberately opaque about its possible tripwires. According to NATO Review, nuclear “exercises should involve not only nuclear weapons states…but other non-nuclear allies,” and “to put the burden of the doubt on potential adversaries, exercises should not point at any specific nuclear thresholds.”

In short, keep the Russians guessing. The immediate problem with such a strategy is: what if Moscow guesses wrong?

That won’t be hard to do. The U.S. is developing a long-range cruise missile—as are the Russians—that can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads. But how will an adversary know which is which? And given the old rule in nuclear warfare—use ‘em, or lose ‘em—uncertainty is the last thing one wants to engender in a nuclear-armed foe.

Indeed, the idea of no “specific nuclear thresholds” is one of the most extraordinarily dangerous and destabilizing concepts to come along since the invention of nuclear weapons.

There is no evidence that Russia contemplates an attack on the Baltic states or countries like Poland, and, given the enormous power of the U.S., such an undertaking would court national suicide.

Moscow’s “aggression” against Georgia and Ukraine was provoked. Georgia attacked Russia, not vice versa, and the Ukraine coup torpedoed a peace deal negotiated by the European Union, the U.S., and Russia. Imagine Washington’s view of a Moscow-supported coup in Mexico, followed by an influx of Russian weapons and trainers.

In a memorandum to the recent NATO meetings in Warsaw, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity argued “There is not one scintilla of evidence of any Russian plan to annex Crimea before the coup in Kiev and coup leaders began talking about joining NATO. If senior NATO leaders continue to be unable or unwilling to distinguish between cause and effect, increasing tension is inevitable with potentially disastrous results.”

The organization of former intelligence analysts also sharply condemned the NATO war games. “We shake our heads in disbelief when we see Western leaders seemingly oblivious to what it means to the Russians to witness exercises on a scale not seen since Hitler’s army launched ‘Unternehumen Barbarossa’ 75 years ago, leaving 25 million Soviet citizens dead.”

While the NATO meetings in Warsaw agreed to continue economic sanctions aimed at Russia for another six months and to station four battalions of troops in Poland and the Baltic states— separate U.S. forces will be deployed in Bulgaria and Poland —there was an undercurrent of dissent. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for deescalating the tensions with Russia and for considering Russian President Vladimir Putin a partner not an enemy.

Greece was not alone. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeler called NATO maneuvers on the Russian border “warmongering” and “saber rattling.” French President Francois Hollande said Putin should be considered a “partner,” not a “threat,” and France tried to reduce the number of troops being deployed in the Baltic and Poland. Italy has been increasingly critical of the sanctions.

Rather than recognizing the growing discomfort of a number of NATO allies and that beefing up forces on Russia’s borders might be destabilizing, U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry recently inked defense agreements with Georgia and Ukraine.

After disappearing from the radar for several decades, nukes are back, and the decision to modernize the U.S. arsenal will almost certainly kick off a nuclear arms race with Russia and China. Russia is already replacing its current ICBM force with the more powerful and long range “Sarmat” ICBM, and China is loading its ICBM with multiple warheads.

Add to this volatile mixture military maneuvers and a deliberately opaque policy in regards to the use of nuclear weapons, and it is no wonder that Perry thinks that the chances of some catastrophe is a growing possibility.
Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

Obama’s speech in Dallas

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Race on July 14, 2016 at 8:13 am

MODELS OF THOUGHT President Obama’s vision of hope amounts to a form of faith, and his Dallas speech showed the theological underpinnings for it.
By Harry Bruinius, Staff writer, Christian Science Monitor,  JULY 13, 2016

DALLAS — Again and again as president, Barack Obama has played the role of consoler-in-chief.

On Tuesday in Dallas, he incorporated another familiar role more conspicuously than usual: theologian-in-chief.

Speaking at first with a somber and quiet tone, Mr. Obama immediately invoked an idea central to monotheistic faiths, especially Christianity: In our sufferings, there is glory.

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“Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” Obama said. “Sometimes the truths of these words are hard to see. Right now, those words test us because the people of Dallas, people across the country are suffering.”

That suffering was not simply because of the numbing aftermath of killings in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana last week, he said, but because of the seeming intractability of the tensions beneath them.

“We wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged,” he added. “We wonder if an African-American community that feels unfairly targeted by police and police departments that feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs, can ever understand each other’s experience.”

In his speech, Obama sought to maintain a vision of meaning, even in the midst of confusion, doubt, and uncertainty – an assertion of faith.

On Tuesday, he offered a glimpse into the theological underpinnings for that faith – a belief that great things are often achieved over periods greater than human lifetimes and that the duty of each individual is to act, soberly and wisely, even in the face of enormous odds.

In Obama’s foreign policy, this longer-term view has often resulted in criticism that he has lacked urgency and “led from behind.” At home, critics have said the president promised more “change” than he delivered.

But on Tuesday in Dallas, Obama sought to turn his religious views into a rallying call: The fight to overcome racial tension is long and the progress slow, but the need endures.

“I’ve hugged too many families who have lost a loved one to senseless violence,” Mr. Obama said in front of some 2,500 public and law enforcement officials meeting in the city’s symphony hall to commemorate the five Dallas police officers shot and killed last week. “And I’ve seen how a spirit of unity, born of tragedy, can gradually dissipate, overtaken by the return to business as usual, by inertia and old habits and expediency.”

“I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change,” the president continued. “I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been. And so, I’m reminded of a passage in John’s Gospel, ‘Let us love, not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.’ ”

Frustrations and hope
At this point in Obama’s presidency, facing a polarized Congress, words are increasingly the only action left to him. By all accounts, he has poured himself into the task of his speeches, writing and revising much of them himself, as he works with his speechwriters.

And Tuesday was the 17th address he has given as president to console the nation after a mass shooting.

Yet even the frustrations inherent in that fact speak to Obama’s theology – and the basis for his hope.

As a senator in 2007, Obama expressed admiration for Reinhold Niebuhr, an early 20th century theologian. Explaining his attraction to Niebuhr, Obama told The New York Times:

I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief that we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.
The tension between hope and frustration, between unity and doubt, cascaded through Obama’s 40-minute speech, providing both a coda to the remaining months in office for the country’s first black president and a loudspeaker for the inner turmoil many Americans now feel as they seek to find a way forward.

But he always returned to exhortations for personal actions – to the need to reject “cynicism and inaction.” Both the nation’s law enforcement officials and Black Lives Matter activists, he said, must forge consensus and find the will to change.

“Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other?” the president asked. “Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? And it doesn’t make anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it just makes us human.”

Obama sought to show this spirit by inviting Sen. Ted Cruz, one of his fiercest Republican critics, to travel with him on Air Force One to the event in Dallas, where former President George W. Bush also made a rare official appearance.

America as a crucible for progress
In his book, “The Irony of American History,” Niebuhr wrote:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

President Obama echoed some of the same ideas.

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose,” he said. “But Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit – by shared commitments to common ideals.”

Indeed, Obama cast America itself as a crucible for an intense inner struggle.

“We don’t always have control of things – not even a president does,” Obama said. “But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control or how we treat one another.”

“America does not ask us to be perfect, precisely because of our individual imperfections, our founders gave us institutions to guard against tyranny and ensure no one is above the law,” he continued. “A democracy that gives us the space to work through our differences and debate them peacefully, to make things better, even if it doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like. America gives us the capacity to change.”

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